Weekly Dump, Vol. 5: Connective Magic – Why Project Arcana Isn’t Easy 4

These Monday Dumps are supposed to be an opportunity for us to get an opinion off our chests, maybe even vent about something bugging us in the rules. So, of course, I get to do none of that today, because one of our readers’ comments spiraled Dad and I into a foundation-shaking argument,

It hurts so good…

Really, it’s the first part that’s important here. Dad read this comment and, when his anger-induced stroke had finished, he called me up.

Dad – What are you doing!?

Me – Um, nothing. Just putting Planar Binding here in Neutrum…

Dad – SHUT UP, BITCH! *smack*

Okay, it was a little more civil than that, but probably only because he couldn’t figure out a way to smack me through the phone. To be up front, we are still not quite sure what to do with Planar Binding. Or rather, we are both very sure what we want to do with it, but we want two different things. However, it was a useful platform from which to question some of the other spells in the school, like Cordon of Arrows and Symbol.

As it turned out, working on the Neutrum spell list was a significant wake up call for PA. Doing Neutrum (originally ‘Abjuration’) first had broken our original categorization. The vanilla 5e schools were loosely based on the application of the spells. So, Abjuration was (nominally) about magic that protected or prevented things from happening. But, the example of Arcane Lock being prime, protection is in the intent of the caster, not in the mechanism of the spell. A lock that keeps a creature out and keeps you safe could just as easily lock you in a room with a monster that wants to eat your face.

So, after the original analysis of Abjuration, we settled on the concept of splitting the spells into schools based on the underlying mechanic of the magic – what made the spell work – rather than what you did with it. We felt that by analyzing from the other side, we could create schools of similar spells that were cleaner, made more sense, and allowed for interesting options down the road.

We did that. We have almost a dozen articles doing that. On a roll and cooking with gas.

Now, Dad has been going on about ‘connective magic’ for weeks. He shouts it out almost involuntarily whenever we have Project Arcana discussions. He feels that there is an underlying series of steps or instructions that every caster must know in order to make their spells work. Kind of a ‘glue’ that ties things together. And that you can see this glue if you look at common themes or capabilities among spells in very different schools of magic.

For example, there are several spells that are clearly combinations of other spells, such as Mislead and Project Image. There must exist some sort of magic that both binds spells from different schools and allows a caster of School A to execute a spell effect that is clearly in School B.

This is ‘connective’ magic. It is magic that affects magic, and that is clearly in the Neutrum School.

One of the big fights we had was in discerning the difference between Neutrum connective magic and School magic, the focus of that being triggers. Triggering, where a spell waits for some event before it takes effect, can be seen in spells such as Guards and WardsMagic Mouth, and even Fireball (the ball of fire remains in a ball until it gets to the target point designated by the caster). The trigger magic itself is very flexible (“When a human wearing an orange shirt passes by…”), but it’s common across all schools and it’s used to enhance other spells. This indicates that it’s both neutral by nature and connective by function.

The discussion hinged on if the ‘trigger’ was the determinant feature of the spell, or if the school of magic providing the effect was the determinant feature. The fight was long, bloody, and full of vitriol and vulgarity, but we finally decided to evaluate the spells with an eye toward the school that provides the effect rather than worrying about the trigger. The trigger, we decided, was Neutrum, the common magic that affects magic, and that Neutrum magic is available to all schools.

The reasoning turned out to be fairly straight forward: if Neutrum effects are truly “neutral” magic, then even a sprinkling of any other school’s effects will force the whole spell into that school. In a way, you can think of it like an atom in that no matter how many neutrons there are, it is the number of protons vs. electrons that determine its charge. So, even if a spell is 90% triggering mechanism and 10% school-specific effect (as with Cordon of Arrows and Alarm), that little 1’0% is enough to make those spells belong to Evocation and Illusion respectively.

This, of course, further reduces the Neutrum spell list. However, keep in mind that it isn’t important that Neutrum have a lot of spells exactly because of its connective nature. It’s important to understand and codify that this mechanism must exist, and it is an integral component of every spell. Formalizing it also allows us to create a few simple rules that will allow new spells to be created that aren’t completely crazy and don’t unbalance the game. And while these simple rules don’t guarantee the resulting spells aren’t crazy or unbalanced, they at least provide an initial, easy metric.

So, here’s the new Neutrum spell list with notes on where the spells went.

Antimagic FieldContingency (Evocation)
CounterspellDruidcraft ** (*Transmutation)
Dispel MagicGlyph of Warding
ForbiddanceMagic Weapon (*Transmutation)
Globe of InvulnerabilityPrestidigitation ** (*Transmutation)
Mind BlankShillelagh (*Transmutation)
Mordekainen's Private SanctumThaumaturgy ** (*Transmutation)
NondetectionWish (*Conjuration)
Nystul's Magic Aura (*Illusion)
Remove Curse
Circle of Power
** Druidcraft, Prestidigitation, and Thaumaturgy are included in Neutrum as 'training spells' with minor effects from many schools that any caster can learn.

Alarm This is now Illusion as both versions of the alarm component are types of Illusions.

Cordon of Arrows Moved to Evocation due to it being force magic which is flinging the arrows.

Elemental Weapon The actual magic being infused is Evocation as it is one of the elements (Acid damage? Really? Sigh…)

Magic Mouth Illusion per you just think there’s a mouth there.

Symbol This is going to Enchantment, though the “Death” option is clearly Vitae. However, 7/8 of it is Enchantment.

We are still hashing out what to do with Planar Binding and Warding Bond. I am of a mind to leave them here as they are forming magical connections between caster and target while Dad is convinced that they are doing more mundane school effects. We’re going to leave them here for now until we fall one way or another on them.

Remember, your comments do affect this, and we take your input seriously. If you have opinions, let us hear them here or on Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Weekly Dump, Vol. 5: Connective Magic – Why Project Arcana Isn’t Easy

  • Scott

    From what I could find on Roll20, Planar Binding should probably be in Enchantment or Illusion, whichever has the compulsions in it; it binds a summoned entity to a for a period of time, and can modify the summoning spell to the time frame of the task binding. It’s primary mechanic (as I saw it) is binding the actions of an entity, not effecting other magic.

    • Matthew Stanford
      Matthew Stanford Post author

      Putting it in Enchantment is Dad’s suggestion for the reason you say.

      I’m hesitant because of two things: 1, extending the length of a magical effect is magic affecting magic which, in my mind, belies the underlying mechanisms of connective magic. 2, the creature has an ability to resist or warp the commands its given, a property unseen in any other Enchantment spell.

      I see Planar Binding as a pure magical connection between target and caster. The caster can give it a command, which the target will obey, but that command is not affecting the target’s mind, per se, it is simply a magical requirement of obedience. That’s why it gets to twist the caster’s intentions.

      • Shawn

        And this is why we posts these little dumps: So you people can see what I have to deal with on a daily basis.

        I see magical energy sort of like electricity: It’s an energy that can be harnessed to do things, but it does almost nothing in its native form. In order to be useful it has be be converted into some form of work. I can’t just put electricity into a Prius and have it move, the electricity powers a motor that moves the wheels.

        It’s the same thing here. I disagree that magical energy has an innate ability to compel you to do anything; I think that energy needs to be converted into something else that can affect the creature. In this case, the magic is affecting its brain to create the compulsion. That’s clearly Enchantment, and I don’t believe the creature’s ability to attempt to warp or try to resist the compulsion is enough of a reason to move this out of Enchantment. The compulsion works like an addiction. You don’t want to bet on the horses and you try everything in your power to stay away, but eventually you will, because you must.

        Or, to put it into PA terms: Neutrum is magic that affects magic. When I affect your mind by creating a compulsion, I’m not affecting magic, I’m affecting your mind. When I affect your mind, it’s Enchantment.

        Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott. You’re obviously clear-headed, logical, and of above-average intelligence!

      • Scott

        Resisting or warping compusions is extremely common, and often seen in other things, like Wish granting; whatevwr force grants wishes often had it’s own agenda, and goes for whatever is least expensive to it, and follows the letter of the wish; same with compulsion magic and binding pacts throught lore and literature, as well as D&D. Summon and bind a demon, it’s going to fulfill it’s interpretation of the letter of the agreement, and, if it can find a way to do so, kill you; maybe screw you ocer first, if it’s particularly irritated.
        You cite the extension of the summoning as reason to put it in Neutrum, but that extension is not the primary effect; the compulsion is. They way I would see it, is the summon occurs, bringing it into the plane; you use Planar Binding to compel it, and that compulsion has enough power to either force the entity to expend magic to maintain itself, or it directly charges the binding with magic enough to maintain the entities connection to the plane.
        Kinda how somebody could build a vehicle, then decide how far they need to go, and find ways to limp the vehicle along past it’s usual breakdown time, a la duct-tape-and-bailing-wire MacGuyvering.

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