Project Arcana: Conjuration, Take Me Away!

So, Conjuration, one of the most basic concepts in all of magicalness. Conjuration, as a literal term, seems to exist in nearly every fantasy magic system. It’s been in D&D forever, Magic The Gathering has a card for it, The Elder Scrolls has a Conjuration school, and even World of Warcraft mentions it. What’s startling, then, is how poorly executed it is in Fifth Edition. Well, if you’ve been keeping up with any of Project Arcana so far, it actually isn’t startling at all.

Let’s dive in. What is the school of Conjuration all about?

Conjuration spells involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some conjurations create objects or effects out of nothing.

Oh for frick’s sake. You had it, 5e, you really did. Two solid sentences in and we were good to go: 1 – Conjuration transports stuff from point A to point B; 2 – here are some examples of that. What the hell happened on sentence number 3?

Some conjurations create objects or effects out of nothing. What? Where did this come from? Not only is this the definition of Evocation (create effects out of nothing, like a fireball), it has absolutely nothing to do with the stated purpose of Conjuration, which is, just to reiterate, to transport stuff from point A to point B. If this school description were a college essay, the first sentence is the thesis, the second is the supporting evidence, and the third is the non sequitur paragraph about your puppy that causes you to fail the assignment.

Now, to be as fair as I can, I understand that “creating stuff from nothing” is a totally valid use of the word conjuration. However, we have to expect that the first sentence of the school’s description outlines and summarizes what the school does. To tack on extra functionality at the end is either A) very poor planning or B) verbal retconning. I’m not sure which is the worse offense.

The absolute worst part about that last bit, of course, is it’s “catch-all” nature. By saying objects or effects can be created out of nothing, it would be feasible to argue that nearly any type of magic spell could belong to Conjuration. And that’s exactly what they’ve done by placing such varied (and non-teleport or summon) effects into the school as Produce FlameTenser’s Floating Disk, and goddamn Wish.

Wish? Really? Except for replicating a level 8 Conjuration spell, there’s only one effect in there that could count as Conjuration (make an item worth 25,000 gp). The rest of that spell belongs so hard in the other schools that I can’t even fathom why they decided it needed to go in Conjuration.

Okay, so let’s establish exactly what Conjuration should do, which, as we see it, is broken into three subcategories:

Intraplanar Travel

This category handles any spell which moves things between two points on the same plane. Though the spell may read as if it deals with other dimensions (I’m looking at you, Dimension Door), the idea here is that point A and point B are required to be on the same plane of existence.

In the grand scheme of Conjuration transportation, these are the easiest, and generally have the lowest levels in relation to their effects.

Examples of this include TeleportMisty Step, and Transport via Plants.

Interplanar Travel

Obviously, this category is the opposite of the former in that it deals with moving things from one plane to another. It’s important to note that a spell doesn’t have to move something between planes in every casting, but that it has the ability to do so. This is clearest with a spell like Instant Summons, which can summon something from across a room as easily as from another plane.

Examples of this include Gate and Plane Shift.

Incidentally, this also includes the “Illusion” spell Creation, which specifies that material is being pulled to you from the Shadowfell.

This category also takes care of spells which deal with demiplanes and extradimensional locations. Obviously, examples include things like Demiplane and Mordekainen’s Magnificent Mansion. It also includes Rope Trick, which is also pretty obvious. The spell deals entirely with an extradimensional space, yet it’s a Transmutation? That doesn’t make a damn lick of sense.

Unspecified Summons

This third category is distinct in that the caster doesn’t specify a location or even a specific creature, but instead calls forth a type of being. It is unimportant, and often unspecified, whether this being comes from a different plane or not. Sure, Conjure Elemental implies that it is coming from one of the elemental planes, but it doesn’t specifically say that. As far as the rules are concerned, there’s no reason that an elemental already bip-bopping about the material plane can’t be summoned to you.

Examples here include all of the Conjure XYZ spells. I’m also lumping anything that conjures “spirits” here, too, such as Find Steed and Spirit Guardians.

That’s it. That’s the entirety of what Conjuration should do. Again, it moves stuff from point A to point B.

So, what the hell do we do with all these other random spells that are thrown in there? They are going to be reassigned to their more obvious schools. All of the weather effects (Sleet StormCall Lightning) are going to Evocation while the spells which create things from nothing (Wall of ThornsCreate Food and Water) are going to Transmutation (we’ll explain this more fully in the Transmutation article).

So, here’s the Project Arcana school description:

Conjuration – The “magic of displacement.” These spells involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location.

Keen readers may notice that we simply dropped the offending sentence. Yeah, that’s all it took.

So close, 5e. So close.