Recently, I’ve been working on improving my improvisational skills – specifically, getting better at describing actions that occur during combat in a way that feels satisfying and contributes to the worldbuilding of our games.
One difficulty I had was in making the different varieties of spell caster ‘feel’ sufficiently different. While working that problem, I came up with the following guidelines for Divine and Arcane magic, which I hope you find helpful:
Divine magic is ultimately created by the gods themselves and gifted to mortals through prayer and devotion. These spells are natural in that they are created by the same beings who made and sustain the natural order. Whether gifted by beings of Law or Chaos, Good or Evil, these magics have been finely crafted over millennia by the architects of the universe itself to serve their purposes.
A divine spell is like an AppleTM app running on iOS. Made by the original manufacturer, it runs seamlessly like the proprietary, user-friendly masterpiece that it is.
When describing divine magic, emphasize its harmony with the universe and its precision. Many of its spells carefully target only enemies or only allies, as if the spell knows which are righteous and which are wicked. Spells like ‘Tongues’ may be pricey (in terms of spell level) compared with arcane equivalents like ‘Comprehend Languages’ but it works, smoothly and perfectly translating the true meaning, not just a mechanistic facsimile.
Even the most destructive of divine magics use natural elements like fire, and tend to do less damage (collateral and otherwise) than their arcane counterparts. After all, the gods don’t want to destroy the world (well, not usually); they want to rule it.
If divine magic is a natural part of the grand design of the cosmos, arcane magic is an aberrant exploitation of the laws of the universe invented by mortals dabbling in matters beyond their understanding. While divine magic has been refined since time immemorial by neigh-omniscient super beings, arcane spells are young, raw and imperfect. Divine spells are carefully tuned to give a precisely-dosed morsel of power to a closely-vetted cadre of clerics. The inventors of arcane spells rip and steal as much power from the weave as they can control – and sometimes more. Instead of naturalistic energy – fire, light, cold – arcane magic can conjure pure force of a kind lot occurring in nature.
If divine magic is a committee-approved proprietary app, arcane magic is a command-line exploit practiced by those who have managed to hack the fundamental laws of the cosmos.
When describing arcane magic, emphasize its aberrant character and it’s dangerous, barely-controlled power. It’s spells rarely distinguish friend from foe, bursting forth with wild destructive energy. Creatures buffed by Haste move tear through the air, cutting paths through grass as sonic booms crackle in their wake. Those affected by Dominate are stripped of their free will, their minds held captive by a mortal in mockery of the proper devotion demanded by the gods. At higher levels, these spells permit their masters to usurp god-like powers themselves: creating life and demiplanes from nothing, stopping time or directly bending the universe to the mortal’s will. Such power is not sanctioned by the gods, but aims to supplant them.
Please let me know what you think – and offer any suggestions you might have!
- How are the classes seen in your games, or what factions are there to represent them?
- Capping Spells Learned on Level-Up to Fit Setting [5e]
- Aspyrant v2 (Ranged/Intelligence)
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Differentiating Divine and Arcane Magic" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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