Project Arcana: I’m Gonna Rock Down To Evocation Avenue.


Evocation… I’m evoking something. Like memories of a summer day, or laughter from children, or a bright streak that flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame!

So, not pleasant memories of a happier time then? Well, maybe, depending on who you toasted and why.

Clearly, we’re not ‘evoking’, we’re ‘invoking’; as in, to call upon or to summon. Dammit, Jim! Gygax was an accountant, not an English professor. Didn’t anyone else think through this stuff?

Evocation is an enormous school, with dozens of spells; by far the longest list in 5e. That’s probably because the description of the school is vague enough that it can serve as a catch all; especially because the other schools don’t know what they are either. So, when you don’t know where something should go, you also don’t know where it shouldn’t go.

Evocation spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds.

Seriously, does anyone think through this stuff?

Aww, man…

In PA tradition, let’s break that down. So, the first thought:

Evocation spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. 

I honestly can’t imagine a more useless or generic description of a school of magic. All spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. That’s what magic is! We could drop the word ‘evocation’ and the sentence would still be perfectly true. Oh, and in related news: Water is wet.

And yet, it’s not far off the mark. In the thinking of Project Arcana, Evocation is magical energy expressed as mundane energy. We’re talking about using magic to directly affect the amount of energy in a system, and the form that energy takes. If we swap two words in this first sentence, we’re golden.

Moving to the next sentence…

Some call up blasts of fire or lightning.

So far, so good; although fire and lightning are just two of the ways that evocation spells express magical energy. In Evocation, magical energy is also manifested as pseudo-physical objects, like the various flavor’s of Bibgy’s Hand. Another way magical energy is expressed in Evocation are spells that extract energy from a system, such as Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere.

Others channel positive energy to heal wounds.

No, seriously, does anyone think through this stuff?

Positive energy? Really? For someone who survived the 90s, this is too much ‘new-agey healing pyramid crystal’ gibberish for me. Why not just put a yellow smiley button on him and tell him to ‘have a nice day’? That sentence is a throwaway, stuck in to explain why healing is part of evocation, when it should clearly be part of Necromancy. What’s that you say? Necromancy is about death and undeath? Not even, as Matthew will explain in his still-to-come take-down of that School. So, since there are other schools that deal with life energy, let’s figure on chucking any healing spells out of Evocation.

They’re just pretty rocks.

So, if we add in something about removing energy, and about manifesting energy, and fiddle with the first sentence, we get this:

Evocation spells magically manipulate energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning, others affect the weather, and some produce palpable shapes or directly affect physical objects.

Wait… Did that say ‘…affect the weather‘? Oh, yes it did. But Control Weather is a Transmutation! Is it? Is it really? I say: No! First, transmutation is turning one thing into another. If I change the weather from warm to cold, or from dry to rainy, what am I transmutating? Not a blessed thing. Water is still water, air is still air. But what I am doing is changing the amount of energy in the system, the ‘system’ being the local climate. After all, that’s what weather is: An effect created by energy introduced into our atmosphere. The wind doesn’t blow because something transmutated, it blows because there’s a pressure imbalance. Here, instead of concentrating energy into a fireball, I’m scattering it into the air at a certain point. That air is rising, causing denser air to rush into the void. Evocation = Energy = Weather.

Control Weather also resolves the completely ridiculous use of some Abjuration spell or another on page 112 of the just-released Tales from the Yawning Portal, which states:

Abjuration magic keeps the dungeon dry and at a comfortable temperature. A detect magic spell reveals this magic as a faint aura on all the Doomvault’s surfaces.

I’m not sure what Abjuration spell that is; it’s not any that I recognize. Moisture Ward? Aura of Flex Seal? Maybe Protection from Discomfort? Nah. It’s Control Weather. “Schmendrake! Can you do 72 degrees and 35 percent humidity in here? The cold and damp are making my old football injury flare up wicked bad!”

Now that we’ve said all that, we’re going to move to the arbitrary and elegant PA convention of splitting the school into three forms. Spells in the first Evocation form use magical energy to express power as palpable force. The second form contains spells that convert magical energy into various types of mundane energy, or add energy to a system. These energies include heat, light, and electricity. The third form in Evocation has spells that use magical energy to absorb or negate mundane energies within a system. These energies include heat, light, and electricity.

Evocation’s three forms are ‘Force’ (Bigby’s Hand, Tenser’s Floating Disk), ‘Expressive’ (Fireball, some aspects of Control Weather), and ‘Suppressive’ (Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere, other aspects of Control Weather). This also covers spells such as Darkness, where light energy is being absorbed, and Silence, in which sound energy is being absorbed.

In addition to healing spells moving to Necromancy, there are some other oddballs that are going to need to be scrutinized. For instance, what the hell with Melf’s Acid Arrow? I have serious heartburn with the concept of ‘acid’ as an expression of energy, but it’s been that way in D&D as long as I can remember. Dammit, Jim! Gygax was an accountant, not a chemist. Someone needed to think through this stuff! A decision has yet to be made, but Melf’s Acid Arrow could either end up in Transmutation, or be left in Evocation and tweaked into a better version of Magic Missile.

Screw you, Melf.

Oh, wait: While we’re talking about Melf’s Batshit Arrow, can we talk about Protection from Energy? Because WTF? Let me quote from this gem:

Protection from Energy – For the duration, the willing creature you touch has resistance to one damage type of your choice: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. (Emphasis mine.)

If you’ll indulge me while I quote my favorite western: “Hold it, hold it! What the hell is that shit?”

I’m going to reread that slowly… Uh huh… Yeah… And then… WTF!?! So ‘acid’ is a type of energy? I mean, I’m not a rocket surgeon, but I’m fairly sure that’s not how a battery works. Or maybe it’s protecting from the ‘energetic effect’ of acid? But bases, which are just as corrosive, are okay? “Okay, Maaar. After I wave my wand you can go swim in a vat of acid, but don’t even think about washing with lye soap; it’ll dry you out and make you all ashy!”

Sure, cold, fire, lightning, thunder; all of those can be countered by Evocation magic, by either adding or removing energy in a protective aura around the creature. But acid? No. Just, no. This is another one of those times when PA is going to recommend that a spell be split, or bent, or partially discarded; because protecting from acid is clearly a Transmutation effect.

But we’ll talk more about that next time. Stay tuned…