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 The flavour of magic

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Ayrik Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 18:02:03
The Realms is traditionally a "high magic" setting. But is the appearance and tone of the magic too rudely obvious, too over-the-top?

A wizard casts a fireball.
Does this mean a flaming vortex forms in front of him which he then directs towards a target?
Does it mean that flames ignite in his palm, a little expanding ball of fire ready to throw towards the target?
Does it mean he makes a pointing/throwing/pushing motion and a wave of air gradually heats then bursts into flame while travelling to the target?
Does it mean that an explosive fireball spontaneously appears right on top of the target?

A priest casts create food and water.
Does this mean a sparkling glowing sumptuous feast is conjured from nothing onto the nearest convenient surface? (And does this feast use disposable serving dishes, plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery? Or are they suitably magnificent items which promptly disappear at the end of the feast or spell duration? Was this a "takeout" meal originally prepared as a sacrifice by some other followers of the faith?)
Does it mean that he suddenly finds small bits of food on his person (as tasty and filling as an entire meal)?
Does it mean a random peasant kindly brings a warm meal for the weary travellers?
Does it mean that somehow the land magically provides food, a small animal waits by the cookpot, a loaf of bread falls from the sky, a brief gust of wind blows a barrage of fruit into the camp, the priest's gaze is directed to a previously unseen yet freshly-abandoned picnic basket?

Just curious what other sages might say about this. I personally think magic in D&D is a little too garish and artificial, I'd prefer magic to still work as expected yet somehow always in plausibly "ordinary" or mysterious ways. Flashy powerful spells and miracles should be unashamedly magical, but other manifestations of magic should appear almost more like coincidences and good fortune and "explainable" events as much as possible.

Mod edit: Found this one floating in the ethers and moved it.
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cpthero2 Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 23:16:00
Senior Scribe Demzer,

I agree with that as well. What I do with druids, depending on their current environment, is try to find a good improv way to describe the interaction of slightly "incompatible" magics. So, if a druid is native to the Wealdath, but finds that he is in the middle of the Anauroch, then I may describe the outcome as some temporary infusion of forest like Druidic magic into the desert. Kind of a signature in a way.

Best regards,

Demzer Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 23:11:16
I always assumed druidic magic (and to some extent some subsections of divine magic) to be a lot more "explainable" as good fortune and happenstance and such.

A few select arcane casters (including a player of mine who under the 3.5 ruleset always took the silent and still spells feats) went for more subtle approaches and tried to be less "in your face". Another player really liked to make a show and let people know it was him.

With the 3.5 ruleset I also had a Sharessin bard NPC with the disguise spell feat (from Complete Adventurer) which meant she could cast unobtrusively all her stuff while singing, dancing and err... performing in other ways ...

Highly powerful spellcasters of every description (divine or arcane or whatever) always have something peculiar to their spells, a theme, a colour, some underlying effect which may or may not actually affect gameplay.

I agree with Ayrik that "strange"/non-standard spellcasting always put my players on edge.
cpthero2 Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 22:41:13
Great Reader Ayrik,

Fantastic! I loved your example.

I actually change things up in spells all the time in terms of sense based interaction with them in order to determine what it is, etc. I think the need to mix things up and keep characters on their feet is really important.

I definitely incorporate a lot of illusionary complementary affects to facilitate that too.

Best regards,

Ayrik Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 21:09:03
I've used the "2.5E" rules for spell signatures and spell subtleties before.

I've even scared the party with sense-shifting and low-level illusion magics for conscious cosmetic effect ...

Me: "The guardian speaks a mystic word and points. Three bolts of glowing blue-magic energy fire from his fingertips and immediately strike you. Take 3d4+3 points of damage, no save."
Players (bored): "Yeah, yeah, low-level wizard casting magic missile. He can cast it once or twice more. We can soak the damage and drop him easy."


Me: "The guardian speaks a mystic word and points. Three insubstantial toxic-green glowing skulls covered in evil-looking glyphs launch from his fingertips and scream in silent rage as they strike your heart. Take 3d4+3 points of damage, no save."
Players (panicked): "What the hell? What kind of sorcery is this? I've never seen that spell before, what else can he do? Am I cursed? Am I poisoned? Is it necromancy? Run! We'll deal with this guy later. We need a plan."

But for the most part I prefer "subtlety". It helps emphasize the apparent danger and wonder of the obvious magics.

And I find myself preferring that subtlety to be a feature of how magic expresses itself. Not caused by an extra deliberate suppression effort from the spellcaster.
Bladewind Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 20:11:48
I prefer the garishly colorful and vulgar components of magic to be certainly obvious and needlessly loud.

I even tried my hand on coloring the opaque weave energies to make describing magic more meaningful. Purple and green as the dominant weave energy color would mean necromancy; with blue and green for transmutation, red and blue for evocation, steel grey for abjuration, blue and yellow for conjuration, red and black for enchantment, and all colors for illusion (dominated by black for shadow spells and by rainbows for patterns) and divination (which sometimes look as a fractured real-space allowing a peek unto the vision of the spot or scene).
TheIriaeban Posted - 20 Oct 2020 : 19:05:04
From page 367 of the 2e WSC2:
"The wizard points his finger and speaks the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A streak flashes from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball (an impact results in an early detonation)."

In the 2e PO:Spells and Magic, they had an interesting thing called Casting Subtlety (pg 117). That sounds similar to what you are asking about where if someone can cast a particular spell unnoticed (so that only the effect is seen and not who did it). Unfortunately, I haven't seen that mentioned anywhere else.

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