Magic is the collective human term for nearly all phenomena that seem to violate or in any other way disregard the laws of nature. Magic itself, however, is split into as many different fields as any other science, and many of these are only barely related to each other.
Virtually all fields of magic rely on the use of magic spells. Spells are controlled, clearly defined processes that are activated at will by a sentient magician (as in 'the caster') and have a certain reproducible effect. Given the proper materials, knowledge and skill any wizard could mimic and cause the same effect again.
While new spells are occasionally being invented in magical research -- which may involve risky experiments, necessitating the usage of a laboratory -- most spells are quite old and have long become part of the so-called spell canon. This canon is maintained and updated by a consortium at the imperial schools of magery in Pralgad, and although the Tower of Magi in Avernum was never a formal member of this process, the peace treaty negotiated by Prazac and Micah involved a limited exchange of knowledge and technologies between them, synchronizing the spell canon once again.
Spells, once invented (or rather, discovered) by a wizard, are documented in a set of instructions and formulae. Sadly, these instructions have never followed a standardized notation, making the process of learning a spell anything from easy to an impossible feat depending on the instructions' clarity. Scrolls wands and other similar artifacts can be created or crafted that emulate most spell effects, but the process is quite a different one.
Sources of Magic
There are three major components in a magical reaction. The caster channels and directs the power of a magical source, causing a certain magical effect. The same source can typically be harnessed for a variety of effects; likewise, the same effect can be created using many different sources.
The most common source of magic is arcane. Wizards, and most other spellcasters, have learned to absorb the arcane energy that permeates everything. (This energy is densely present in energy potions.) The spellcasters can then release this energy in the form of a spell. Divine and demonic sources are tapped by priests and shamans. Finally, highly magical creatures such as dragons often have innate magic, a natural fount they are able to draw upon in order to use their abilities.
Sometimes magic-users employ an auxiliary source, which can greatly enhance their ability to shape a magical effect. Crystals are most commonly used for this purpose; of particular note and power are the Emerald of Avernum and the Crystal Souls of the Vahnatai. Enchanted objects, such as jewelry, may be crafted just for this purpose. In some cases, objects with great size and complexity are used in this way, such as teleportation augmenters.
Fields of Magic
While the effects of individual spells can be quite diverse, most casters focus their magical learning on a single type of effect. This allows them to develop greater precision in manipulating the relevant magical forces. Some of the most prominent fields include:
Magical effects which are hard to categorize are often lumped into evocation, the broadest field of magic. Stricter definitions of evocation hold that it is limited to effects that deal solely with insubstantial forces. For this reason, its magic includes some of rawest, most powerful, and least delicate effects. Unlike other fields, its spells are rarely used in conjunction with nonmagical crafts.
There are two major branches of this field. The evocation of elemental forces, the trademark of the mage, is concerned with the creation and control of fire, water, lightning, and so on. This also covers the creation of related substances, such as poison, acid, and quickfire. For all the power of a fireball, elemental forces are relatively easy to manipulate, perhaps explaining why nations like the Empire are so quick to control the teaching of magic. The magic innate to many beasts, such as dragons and drakes, also belongs in this category.
The manipulation of energy covers effects that harness raw force, such as magic barriers and basic magical shields, as well as those that organize magical energy for a specific purpose, such as disrupting other magic.
Evocation is very widely used. It is honed by battlefront mages like Silverio, Mairwen, Konig, and Kyanan, and slobbered over by adventurers, though it is also a field in which the expertise of archmages like Rentar-Ihrno is readily apparent.
Mages practiced in this field are able to scry at vastly greater distances, and are often sought after by military operations for the great strategic advantage this can provide. Career mage-sages, however, tend to be recluses, often using their magic to hide from others.
See Teleportation. Teleportation is the art of moving things from one place to another, usually via portals. It is a complex and difficult field, but is intensely studied because of its many practical applications.
Most spells, when cast, have an effect which takes place immediately. In a warding spell, the spell effect is instead woven together with an object or creature. The resulting ward functions similarly to an enchantment, and can be activated later under certain conditions. Unlike enchantments, wards simply attach themselves to their target; they do not actually alter it.
Wards are permanent. They require intricate construction; nonmagical aids such as runes and tattoos are usually employed to help guide their creation. Wards are very difficult to remove without damaging the object or creature they have been placed on.
Specialists: Nekaros, Hrickis, Nociduas
Necromantic magic is that which concerns the life force. Technically, this includes most healing magic and many spiritual rituals. However, because such magic is practiced mainly by priests, the field has instead come to refer solely to two of its darker aspects: death spells which drain life force, and the creation and control of the undead.
See Demons. Demonological magic attempts to summon, bind, and otherwise manipulate demons, who make powerful servants. It is inherently dangerous, in that the user is pitting his own magical skills against the often considerable skills of a demon, and it is forbidden by the Empire and the Kingdom of Avernum. It does not include exorcism and disruptive spells, which are evocative magic.
A relatively demanding field neglected by most magic-users, of which Cheeseball once said: "It's like playing chess, but with hot irons shoved through your mind." Significant psionic magic includes dumbfounding, terror and charm spells, the delusions caused by rakshasi, minddueling, telepathy, and mindreading (a secret of the Vahnatai). Crystal Souls are particularly reliant on the field as they can only communicate through telepathy.
The most complex and difficult of all magical arts, transformation is only undertaken by the greatest archmagi, and then at a tremendous effort. Transformation can permanently alter the structure and form of just about anything, and it is capable of doing so throughout a great area.
When precision is not required, other arts, particularly evocation and stone shaping, can often duplicate its effects more easily. For that reason, transformation is usually used for delicate operations, in particular slight modifications of plants and animals. It has even been used to alter entire species at once.
It was transformative magic that created glowing fungus, fast-growing mushrooms, cavewood, aranea, mutant giants, many of the plagues of Valorim, the sea monsters of Exile, and greater Black Shades. Lesser transformation, such as the creation of automatonic living statues and golems, is more widely practiced by magi.
The production and enchantment of artifacts, or powerful magical items that usually carry a permanent enchantment, is another field which is hard to master. However, this field also has its simpler parts â€” the enchantment of blades or armor with extra protection or special abilities, and the crafting of less powerful jewelry items like Rings of Shielding. The more powerful and experienced enchanters have little time for such trifles, and instead spend their lives creating legendary objects like blessed athames, the blade Demonslayer or the Orb of Thralni.
Enchantment requires tremendous resources to be successful. For this reason, the Kingdom of Avernum was completely unable to support the craft until after the Empire-Avernum War, when it was able to secure more magical resources from the Empire and the Vahnatai.
Alchemy, by laypersons sometimes believed to be limited to the synthesis of gold or other precious materials, in fact extends to any process by which components are mixed and undergo an alchemical change to form a so-called potion. These potions are usually made to be ingested, but can be quite versatile in their field of application.