A spell is a particular manifestation of magic, caused by the (usually) conscious actions of a living being. (Occasionally the word is also used to refer to a lingering magical effect, but for this meaning celemologists prefer the word "enchantment".) To bring a spell into effect is known as casting the spell. The exact means of casting a spell vary widely by arcanum and, to some degree, by the particular spell being cast; it may involve magic words, gestures, material reagents, and other factors, and may be achievable with only one caster or require multiple casters working in tandem. Regardless, however, a spell is, by definition, a learned skill (rather than an innate ability); even if the ability to cast spells is an inherent gift that not everyone has—or even if some people have an inherent ability to cast some spells—, it is still something that casters must learn to use. Furthermore, while other entailments may be useful or necessary, the mental effort of the caster is a key ingredient in spellcasting. Magical effects achieved by other means are called paracarminical magics.
Celemologists use the word "carminical" (pronounced /kɑrˈmɪn
ɪkəl/) to mean "of or pertaining to spells". The study of spells is called aoedeology, though this term is relatively little-used. (There are few scholars who study only spells to the exclusion of other forms of magic.)
Casting a spell
Although exactly what is required to cast a spell varies widely by spell and by arcanum, the one near-constant is that it always requires some mental effort on the part of the caster. (Even here, there are possible exceptions; spells exist on some arcana that require nothing more than the utterance of a magic word. Still, it could be argued that remembering the word is itself a mental exertion of some sort, albeit a relatively facile one.) The intensity of this effort is an important factor, however. Depending on how much concentration the spell takes, the caster may or may not be able to do other things while casting a spell (at least, without risking a miscast), and may or may not become fatigued or weakened afterward.
In some cases, the timing is important when casting a spell. Some spells may only be possible at particular times of the day or year—at midnight or dusk, for example, or at solstices or equinoxes, or perhaps during full moons or eclipses. This is more likely to be true for the most powerful spells, but in some arcana such timing conditions are common—and the same spell may have very different effects depending on when it is cast. Timing conditions need not depend on astronomical universals, but may be more local; a spell may need to be cast on a subject's birthday, for instance, or during certain weather conditions.
In some arcana spellcasting requires the aid of helper beings of some sort, called by celemologists opitulators, who are either the actual source of the magic the caster uses, or the only beings capable of channeling it. In this case, spellcasting involves either forcing the opitulators to the casters' will or negotiating with them to do what the caster needs.
Casting a spell almost always requires an expenditure of some sort. Even if all that is necessary to cast a spell may be some mental effort, there may be some kind of magical energy that must be outlaid (more technically known in celemological circles as numen). In some cases, however, other elements are necessary. These elements, sometimes called entailments, can be verbal, gestural, or material. In some arcana, these entailments are always required; in others, they may be necessary only for some spells, or act as crutches for inexperienced mages, or boosters to help them make spells more powerful.
The fewer entailments are necessary, in general, the more powerful magic is. If nothing is depleted with spellcasting, no actions must be taken, and the caster is not harmed or tired or otherwise inconvenienced by the process, then spellcasters may be virtually omnipotent, limited only by what spells they know and the time it takes to cast them. This is seldom the case, however; even if the only entailment is some sort of magical energy, as long as this energy is limited or finite it still places restrictions on spellcasting.
Sometimes spells need to draw upon more esoteric sources of energy. Spells may draw on the caster's life force, if that is a meaningful concept in the particular cosmos. Many other miscellaneous properties of the caster and his environment, tangible and intangible, can serve as possible entailments of certain spells.
In some arcana, spells may need to be (or may optionally be) cast in multiple phases, perhaps with the bulk of the time spent in an initial preparatory phase, and then a relatively quick activation phase that triggers the spell to go off. More than two phases are possible, albeit rare; an intermediate phase, longer than the activation phase but shorter than the preparatory phase, may, for instance, be necessary to renew the preparation if too much time has passed since the preparatory phase. The reasons for the multiple phases vary; it could be that different parts of the spell require different casting conditions, and therefore cannot be cast at the same time. Frequently, however, it's just an optional maneuver when the full spellcasting process takes too long to be manageable in a crisis situation; by pre-casting most of the spell during a preparatory phase, the spell can be activated relatively quickly when it counts. The disadvantage to this process, however, is that it requires the caster to anticipate which spells he will need before he actually needs them, so that he makes sure to perform the initial phases of the correct spells.
Many spells—perhaps in some arcana all spells—bring about side effects in their casting. These side effects, known as corollaries, may involve some visual display, such as a burst of light, a colored ray, or a puff of smoke, or possibly a visible glow in the caster's eyes. They may be discernable by other senses; a spell's casting could be accompanied by some audible sound, or a smell, or a tingling sensation, or a taste in the mouth. The corollaries may be something subtle not readily detectable without the use of instruments, such as a slight fluctuation in the surrounding electrical field.
The corollary of a spell may be mostly, or entirely, mental, affecting only the minds of those nearby. Perhaps the casting of a spell causes them to see an illusionary vision, or to have a feeling of unease, or some other psychological sensation. Perhaps a spell causes witnesses to relive memories of some particular type of past event. These psychological effects may be innocuous, but this isn't necessarily the case; it's possible that too much exposure to such influences may cause people to go mad; a mage who uses magic too profligately may drive himself (and his companions) completely insane.
Spells may have more lasting physical effects, too. Casting a spell may cause a temporary—or permanent—deformation in the caster. Or it may affect the environment—raising or lowering the temperature, harming or killing nearby plant life, or producing some perceptible chemical change in the air. These effects may accumulate, such that too many spells cast in close proximity may turn the caster into a horrible monster, or raise the temperature to unbearable degrees. Entailments may carry side effects in themselves, of course; if casting a spell draws upon the life force of the caster, for example, then that in and of itself constitutes a corollary that must be taken into account.
Casting a spell is (in most arcana) a difficult and exacting art, and one that isn't always done successfully. Particularly if the caster is under stress at the time of the casting, and/or if the spell requires many complicated entailments, he may get some detail of the casting wrong. When this occurs, it's known as a miscasting. The effects of a miscasting may involve nothing more than the spell not taking effect, but there may be more serious consequences. A miscast spell may take effect, but not the way the caster intended—affecting a different subject, or lasting a longer or shorter time, or with some other variable altered. It may have its usual effects, but also bring about corollaries it wouldn't otherwise carry. More severe differences are possible; a miscast spell may produce effects completely different than those of the spell the mage meant to cast.
Generally, the more skilled the mage, the lower the probability of miscasting, though the extent to which this is true depends on the arcanum. It may be possible, by taking more time or using more entailments, to reduce the chances of a miscasting; still, there may be no way of entirely eliminating the possibility.
Spells can frequently be stored in specially prepared objects, to be called forth at will. These objects in which spells may be so stored are called dochia. Casting a spell from a dochion may provide several advantages over casting it directly: it may be quicker to cast the spell from the dochion; there may be less risk of miscasting (though that risk may still exist when storing the spell in the dochion in the first place); it may be possible for people other than the original caster to cast the spell from the dochion, including people who have no spellcasting ability of their own.
One common form of dochion is the scroll, a parchment or other writing surface that holds a spell stored in written form. Magic rods are also often used as dochia, however, and virtually any object could potentially be a dochion.
Common spell effects
The possibilities producible by spells are nearly endless; in many arcana, anything that can be done through magic can be encapsulated in a spell. Be that as it may, there are some particular types of spells that seem to be particularly common, and found in multiple arcana. Not every arcanum will include each of these spells, certainly, but it's a good bet that at least some of them will be present.
- Translocation, perhaps including interplanar travel
- Transfigurement, either voluntary (on the part of the caster) or involuntary (turning enemies into inoffensive creatures and objects), or both.
- Thelxis in various forms
- Size change, age change, transubstantiation, and other transformations.
- Discernment of enchantments
- Creation of fixed enchantments, including magical talismans and the granting of powers
- Creation of objects or creatures, including perhaps the creation of undead from corpses.
- Healing, possibly including regeneration and resurrection
- Auguries, mind reading and other divinations
- Curses and blessings
- Inducing of various physical conditions, including disease, sleep, and insanity, and/or curing these same conditions.
- Animation of objects
- Weather control
- Communication with speakers of other languages, with the dead, with animals, with plants, or perhaps even with inanimate objects.
- Slowing or stopping time, or even time travel
- Metacelemic spells
- Multum in parvo
- Body swapping
- Accelerating plant and animal growth and/or fertility
- Suspended animation
- Creation of light
- Opening locked or stuck doors or portals
If these spells are widespread, then counters to them are also likely. For instance, if invisibility is common, there is likely to be a spell to allow the detection of invisible objects; if petrifaction is common, there is likely to be a spell to restore petrified creatures and objects to their original forms; if scrying is common, there are likely to be means of protection from it.
Where magic is common, mages may use it as a weapon, and develop a number of offensive spells. Some such spells may bring about their damage through fire or cold, or through the creation of objects and forces that slash or pummel their victims, but they may also use more roundabout means, by opening pits below their victims, perhaps, or by summoning creatures to attack them. They may just as well do damage more directly, by opening wounds in the victims' flesh or by draining his life force.
Not all offensive spells necessarily deal physical harm to the opponent, however. A spellcaster might find it almost as useful to hinder or weaken an opponent, thereby allowing allies (or themselves) to more easily do the actual damage. Spells to slow, debilitate, daze, or immobilize opponents may exist, and can all be useful in a fight. Likewise, instead of (or in addition to) dealing the damage through magic, casters may find it useful to enchant weapons to deal damage more effectively, again aiding the caster in battle.
If mages have developed offensive spells to attack their enemies, defensive spells are likely to arise as well—not just metacelemics to defend against magic, but spells to defend against physical damage as well. Of course, some of the miscellaneous effects listed above can be very useful for defense—invisible creatures, for instance, are hard to hit. More direct forms of defense are also possible; a spell might toughen the subject's skin, make him more agile, or make him regenerate any harm almost as soon as it's inflicted. A spell may also confer "immunity" to certain substances (such as metal, since that's what most weapons are made of), causing those substances to pass through them without effect.
In general, the more offensive spells are created within a given world or arcanum, the more defensive spells tend to be created to balance them. In lands where battle is a frequent occurrence, and wizards are in the employ of (or are themselves) warlords, a carminical arms race can easily develop, with each side trying to produce defensive spells to withstand the other's offenses, and offensive spells to top the other's defenses.
Spells may vary in other particulars than their basic effect. Two spells may be otherwise identical, but have different types of subject, one affecting only a single object, one a collection of discrete objects, and one every object within an area. They may differ in the distance they are able to act at, one spell perhaps requiring the object to be touched, another requiring the subject to be within five meters, another only requiring the caster to be able to see the subject, and yet another to allow the caster to affect the subject regardless of distance as long as he is aware of its existence. They may differ in the time the spell takes to cast; one spell may be cast in an hour, while a similar spell may take but a moment. A spell's corollaries are also a variable, of course; two otherwise identical spells might have very different side effects. A spell's versatility can itself be a variable; one spell may be able to produce the same effects as another spell, but also be capable of other similar effects as well, while the first spell is limited to a particular application—perhaps the first spell creates a soft yellow light, while the second can produce light of any desired color.
How these variables work depends on the arcanum. In some arcana, an entirely separate spell must be created for a change in any variable; a spell to petrify one enemy would be a completely different spell than one that petrifies multiple enemies, and a spell that works by touch would be an entirely different spell than one that works at a distance, even if the spells are otherwise identical. For other arcana, any variable can be altered merely by the expenditure of more numen; the same spell can affect one opponent as many, but would require more numen in the latter case. Or perhaps other variables affect the time it takes to cast the spell; in still others, spells have default parameters that can be altered by combination with metacelemics; perhaps all spells inherently work only by touch, but a metacelemic spell exists that allows them to work at a distance. Various combinations of these mechanisms are possible, and don't always apply consistently to all spells within a given arcanum.
Naturally, in most arcana the more useful, the more powerful, or the more versatile the spells, the more difficult they are to cast. Casting a more difficult spell may require more skill on the caster's part, or more (or more difficult to master or acquire) entailments, or more time, or all of the above. (Where the corollaries of a spell may vary, generally the spell with fewer or less noticeable corollaries is harder to cast.) If the time taken to cast a spell is not itself determined by the other variables, then the shorter the necessary time, the more difficult the spell; a spell that can be cast in a fraction of a second is obviously more useful than one that requires several minutes to take effect, especially in the heat of combat or some other time-critical situation. A spell that takes days or even months to properly cast won't be useful in emergencies when time is short... but may have earthshattering effects that make the long casting time more than worthwhile.
The results of trying to affect more with a spell than is possible (with a particular expenditure of numen, if applicable) depend on the arcanum, and perhaps on the specific spell. Most often, the spell simply doesn't work, although this may bring with it the usual consequences of miscasting. It could be, however, that the spell works on only part of the subject. Depending on the spell, this could have very interesting effects.
There are various passive defenses against spells that may apply. For some arcana, people and creatures (and perhaps even objects) may develop—or be born with—magic resistance that allows them to possibly lessen or shrug off the effects of spells cast on them (or possibly on their surroundings), or complete immunity to certain spells. Some spells may provide temporary (or possibly permanent) resistance or immunity to other spells, as well. Spells also often exist to remove continuous enchantments, a process known as cassation.
However, in some cases, active defenses may be possible against spells as well. Many spells take effect by shooting out rays and beams that can be dodged. Some spells might be reflected or countered by other spells, or even perhaps by mundane actions and objects such as mirrors. As with much else, the details vary by arcanum even more than between spells within an arcanum, and means that work reliably to divert or defend against spells in one arcanum may be utterly useless against spells of another.
It sometimes may be useful to jointly cast more than one spell together. Metacelemics are a notable example; they exist only to modify other spells, and generally have no effect when cast on their own. Sometimes, however, casters may find reason to cast spells together other than metacelemics. This might be because their effects complement each other; if a caster knows how to create a visual illusion and an auditory illusion through separate spells, he might want to cast them simultaneously to create an illusion with both visual and auditory components for greater verisimilitude. Or it may be only to save time; even if two spells would ultimately have the same effect if cast at the same time than if cast in sequence, a mage may still want to try to cast them together if time is pressing.
In some arcana, unfortunately, such simultaneous casting may be impossible. Where it is possible, it's almost certain to be more difficult than casting the spells separately, and might carry a higher risk of miscasting. Combining spells may require extra corollaries, or may even be a separate skill that casters must learn... or it may involve nothing new, but merely be more challenging and require more numen.
Sometimes spells may be combined in other ways than mere simultaneous casting. It's possible that nearly any spell can be used as a metacelemic of sorts, some of its parameters modifying the other spell. The details of this, however, vary highly by arcanum.
Spellcasting is a learned skill, but in some arcana once one knows how to cast spells, one's choice of spells is unlimited. Anything possible in the arcanum can be done on the fly, with no need to learn how to do particular effects. More commonly, however, mages must, in addition to learning how to cast spells in general, devote some time to learning the more specific types of spells they want to cast. This may mean learning specific spells, each spell requiring separate study to master; or it may be possible to learn a group of spells at once. Some sort of hierarchical combination may also be possible, in which, for instance, one must learn the general rules for a particular grouping before learning spells within that group, or one can learn how to better use a group and enhance one's skill with all spells within that group at once.
There are several different ways to learn spells, not all of which may be available in all arcanum. One basic way almost universally available is to be taught spells from other spellcasters. That this method is usually available, however, only means that it is possible in principle, not that it would necessarily be easy to find a spellcaster willing to devote the time to teach it. It may also be possible to learn spells from books and other recorded instructions. Spells stored within dochia might lend themselves to analysis and learning, and maybe even studying other talismans may make it possible to learn a spell similar to their powers. Particularly observant mages might be able to learn spells from seeing them cast—though this is more likely to be possible (or at least is likely to be easier) if the spell depends greatly on highly visible (or audible) entailments.
In some arcana, it may not be possible to completely learn a spell at all; spells may be so complex that they can only be cast from books and scrolls, unless one has a photographic memory (and perhaps even then). It may be possible to imprint a spell into one's brain, but this may be a temporary measure; the spell may fade after one casting, or after the lapse of some period of time. Even if all this is true, however, and one can never cast a spell without aid, it may still be necessary to familiarize oneself with the particular spell and learn the procedure before trying to cast it.
Creating New Spells
Where the whole range of magical possibilities is open to any spellcaster and there is no need to learn particular spells, then the notion of creating a new spell is meaningless (though perhaps there may be avenues of magic left to explore). When discrete spells do exist that must be learned separately (or in groups), however, at some point many mages will want to create their own.
The details as to how this is accomplished, like much else about magic, differ from arcanum to arcanum. Creating a spell may be an artistic pursuit, akin to writing a book or painting a picture; the mage simply combines the magical elements he wants in a particular way to get results he wants. Or it may be a matter of much calculation and care, with the mage having to balance a number of variables to yield his intended effect. It could be, in some arcana, that spells are only ever created by chance; there is no way in advance to figure out what an unknown spell does, and the best a mage can do is try something at random and see what happens.
In any case, once created, a spell is generally known only to its creator until such time as he chooses to share it with others, or others learn the spell from his writings or from seeing him cast it. However, it may be possible in some rare arcana that any spell created becomes instantly known to all spellcasters, or at least all spellcasters meeting certain criteria.
With practice, it may be possible to learn to recognize spells as they're being cast. This is easier if the spells involve magic words or other characteristic entailments, or distinctive corollaries such as unique patterns of light. Even if no such diagnostic entailments or corollaries exist, however, it may be that one can learn to recognize spells by feeling some disturbance in a magical field, or through some other subtle method.
Being able to recognize a spell may bring with it a number of benefits. A spellcaster may be better able to counter a spell if he knows specifically what spell is coming; even a non-spellcaster may be able to be ready for the spell somehow. Even if one doesn't react in time to cancel or mitigate the spell as it's being cast, knowing what the spell was that was cast may make it easier to reverse or allay its effects afterward.