Project Arcana: Divination – in Sensurround! 2


Divination is all about knowing things that aren’t normally knowable. Most Divination spells reveal knowledge by extending the senses through the use of magic. In theory, this mechanic should allow all senses to be extended (Gene’s Enormous Tongue, anyone?), but in practice it’s generally specifically limited to sight and hearing, although the use of other senses is strongly implied.

Divination spells reveal information, whether in the form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places.

Divination has the same root word as ‘divine’, which implies that the knowledge gained by divination is granted by gods. sort of whispered into the ear. But, while there are definitely divination spells that allow interface with gods, that would be way too easy a mechanic. It would also be totally out of character for how 5e treats arcane MUs as opposed to clerical MUs. PA takes that into account, and it’s not too much of a stretch to understand there are different mechanics at play for many divination spell effects.

Okay, you know the drill by now. Here we go, Troopers. By the numbers and on the bounce:

Divination spells reveal information,

Yep, got that.

whether in the form of secrets long forgotten,

Diviners – wait, those are those guys who find water with sticks. Divinators? Divinationists? Divers? Shit. – Diviners access information that exists somewhere, remembered or discernible by someone. The secret may have been long forgotten by most, but someone remembers. Finding that someone and getting that secret is the power of Divination.

glimpses of the future,

I mean, I guess..? But these glimpses are kind of shitty. Augury is about as useful as a fortune cookie. And how could it be otherwise, really?

Divniner: “Will our attempt to kill the dragon be successful.”

GM: “Uh… Weal..?”

I’m sorry to ruin Christmas kids, but the GM doesn’t know the future. Even if the GM felt like you could take the dragon, he has no way of knowing if your fighter, Sir Clodumbo of Bonehead, is going to roll a critical fail early in the encounter and cut off his own dick with his +6 long sword. These four words might as well not even be there, for all the truth in the assertion.

There are some valid and stringently limited ‘see the future’ spells, like Foresight, which keeps a creature from being surprised. This is a perfectly acceptable and workable mechanic, even if it is a surprisingly crappy effect for a 9th level spell. Well, okay, advantage on everything for 8 hours is pretty good, I guess, but it seems paltry compared to other 9th level spells (I.E. Wish).

the locations of hidden things,

Yeah, this makes sense in a lot of cases. Divination can extend the senses with some spells, giving Sherlock-like powers of observation, or a Mom-like sense of smell.

the truth behind illusions,

This also works just fine. If a Diviner can draw upon heightened senses, or get information from other beings or places, then he can use those methods to see the lie in an Illusion.

or visions of distant people or places.

Absolutely, falling back on the heightened senses and arcane information sources.

So, what might Divination’s three forms be?

The first is Arcane Knowledge. These are the spells which clearly rely upon information the Diviner is gathering from other creatures and planes, etc. Spells like Speak with Animals, Detect Magic, Legend Lore, and Identify. I think an argument could be made that detecting magic should be a common ability among MUs of all flavors, putting this firmly in Abjuration, which in Project Arcana is the foundational magic that every MU knows. But that’s a discussion for another post.

Mind Meld is a form that has spells in which the Diviner is sharing thoughts with or reading the thoughts of another. This is Rary’s Telephathic Bond and Detect Thoughts.

The Extended Senses form is the bulk of the Diviner’s abilities. These are spells that enhance the senses, sometimes in seeming miraculous ways, to discover surprising things. This includes Detect Poison and Disease, which is based on amping up the sense of smell, and Find Traps, which implies improving several sensory abilities, in order to ferret out dangerous devices.

“Whoever touched this door didn’t wash their hands after going to the privy! I smell a trap!”

So, let’s do a Project Arcana reworking of the description for the Divination School:

Divination These spells reveal information, uncovering rare knowledge, lost secrets, and hidden things. They reveal the thoughts of others, including the minds of gods. They can show the truth behind illusions, visions of distant people or places, and even small glimpses of the likely future.

So, what about things that aren’t necessarily in Divination, but maybe should be?

Speak With Animals is a Divination spell, but Speak With Dead and Speak With Plants are not?

Okay, I guess I can see Speak With Plants not being Divination. The spell doesn’t actually let the Transmuter speak with plants; it allows him to create little plant creatures. Really, it should be called Animate Plants. Oh, wait; that’s what Awaken does. So, Speak With Plants is really a shitty Awaken. So, let me backtrack: Speak With Plants should be a flora equivalent of Speak With Animals, and the current Speak with Plants should be renamed Animate Plants.

Speak With Dead as Necromancy, on the other hand, makes perfect… Wait… No, it does daggone not. The spell should allow the caster to speak with the spirit of the dead creature, kind of like a seance. This is perfectly within the sphere of Divination. Instead, it goes on about the Necro returning the ‘animating spirit’ to the corpse (but absolutely not the soul). That smells like bullshit to me, unless we’re getting into some Christopher Moore A Dirty Job/Secondhand Souls metaphysics here. Which we’re not. What we have is a half-baked way to avoid clashing with Resurrection.

Now, it could be that Speak with Dead is merely animating the meat and running a ‘spark’ through the existing brain pathways. I can buy that, I guess. But even so, Speak with Dead fits perfectly with the rest of Divination’s Arcane Knowledge form.

That leads us straight into a spell breakdown for Divination. And that also wraps up the Project Arcana series of discussions about the mechanics of 5e’s spells. The next step is to lay out the spells for each School and Form, along with an explanation of the underlying spell mechanic for each. And once that’s complete, we should see some very interesting possibilities open up!


2 thoughts on “Project Arcana: Divination – in Sensurround!

  • Corsair

    Wouldn’t those spells under Extended Senses be Transmutation because you are changing the way your body sees/smells/touches in order to achieve the desired result? At least as you have it here. Or is the magic itself doing the sensing and passing that information onto you? If the former, it really should be in Transmutation, if the later then it could be in Divinination. Find Traps even lets you know if a trap is magical in nature which sounds related to Abjuration.

    • Shawn
      Shawn Post author

      Hi there.

      Thanks for taking the time to reply!

      Let me answer your second question first: Within the School of Divination, the magic itself is doing the sensing and passing that information back to you. I used the image of Marvin the Martian peering through a telescope because it perfectly demonstrates the concept of the underlying mechanic of Divination. Marvin’s eyes haven’t changed, but the telescope is changing what goes into them. That’s essentially how Divination works: it doesn’t change your senses, but it changes what goes into them.

      To your first question: Yes, the Extended Senses spells could be accomplished with Transmutation, and I would fully support versions of those spells that worked that way. I believe that one of the keys to getting things done with magic is to start with the effect you want to achieve, and then to consider how you can use the tools at your disposal to achieve that effect. With Project Arcana, we’re talking about the underlying mechanics of each School of magic, and Transmutation alters creatures and materials. I can easily imagine a spell called ‘Bloodhound’s Nose’ that would give you a super sense of smell.

      As for being able to find magical traps: That could also be an Abjuration effect, since the underlying mechanic of that School is magic that directly affects magic. (Just between you and me, before we’re done tweaking Abjuration, we’re going to completely change its relationship to other Schools and there’s a good chance it will be renamed ‘Neutrum’. Shh…). However, since Divination is using magic to detect magic, we can imagine that magical traps appear to us as a glow in our vision, or maybe an itch in our fingertips as the spell interprets the information into something our senses can understand.

      So, here’s the interesting thing about your first two questions, and why magical sight and such remains in Divination instead of moving to Transmutation: I can use magic to defeat magic, so as Antimagic Field will defeat Divination. However, it won’t defeat the Mark I Eyeball, even if it is enhanced with ‘Eagle Vision’.

      Again, thanks for commenting and thanks very much for reading.

      Take care!

      Shawn

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