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Spell Construction

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Hooray, you've got phenomenal magical powers! Mastery of the universe is in your hands… at least the parts of the universe that let you throw fireballs or turn princes into frogs. But wait… in order to command the elements or the spirits, you'll need to follow very precise instructions and use just the right ingredients. Casting a spell, it seems, is less like pulling a trigger and more like baking a cake. You might find the recipe in a Spell Book.

There are seven different types of component that may be involved, each with associated tropes.

A setting's Functional Magic needn't use all of these, but which it uses makes a big difference to how the wizards in that setting work. If all magic needs is the right words, spells can be cast fast but a gagged wizard is powerless. If all magic is requires drawing complex diagrams, it won't be as fast, but even a bound and gagged wizard might be able to draw an explosive sigil with their elbow. If it requires a complex and demanding ritual, then magic will be very hard to cast even unopposed.

Note that the spells do not neccessarily need to be cast as soon as they are created. If the setting allows for the user to hold onto a spell after construction to be used later, then it can have a construction method that takes very long such as Ritual Magic, and still allow for spells that are cast instantly when they are needed, or to be used for fast-paced magical battles. See Vancian Magic for this kind of solution.

This also means that we often make a distinction between preparation and activation. Both still use the above the list of components, but some of them may only have a role in creating a spell, while other will serve as a trigger to make it go off.

The more unusual examples of each component may blur into each other, but they can be distinguished by the way they are handled. if it's kept in a bottle, it is Eye of Newt, even if it's the sound of a child laughing.

Sometimes, if the caster is sufficiently skilled or resourceful, they might be able to forgo some of the usual in-universe requirements to a spell. That is Simplified Spellcasting.

Compare The Law of Power Proportionate to Effort, for the kinds of efforts needed to use a superpower.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • In With Strings Attached, spells are cast by drawing raw background magic into one's body, pinballing it around, and sending it out through a conglomeration or succession of “spellfuel” bits. The easiest spells require only simple pinballing. Harder ones require more complex pinballing and an assortment of spellfuel, and it's easy to screw up the process.


    Live-Action TV 
  • The British TV show Knightmare featured spellcasting which was literally having to spell a specific word. However the spell first had to be taught by an NPC or found within the dungeon (most often in pieces)
  • In the Wiz Biz series by Rob Cook, traditional magic happens spontaneously as a combination of words, gestures, and environmental factors. Wizards spend a great deal of time and effort to determine the variables involved so as to create the desired outcome without side effects. A particularly powerful spell such as summoning someone from another world might involve an exacting ritual that can only be safely performed at certain times of the year. More minor magics are more accessible and repeatable. The key to Wiz's spell compiler is that he develops a method to repeatedly invoke these small magics to create larger effects that are predictable and repeatable.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons spells typically use material, somatic, and verbal components (However, any arcane caster can take a feat that removes the need for material components that don't cost money-useful in the middle of a dragon raid and you're out of fireball components). It also has focuses that are reusable but specific to a particular spell, and a few Prestige Classes that use Geometric Magic. Divine magic rarely uses material components, and its gestures are simple enough that they can be performed in armor, but often requires holding a holy symbol.
    • Dungeons and Dragons can use all six depending on the spell and the person casting it, but it is also possible to cast a spell without any construction, typically by taking certain feats. The construction is mostly a helper.
    • Pathfinder kept much of Dungeons & Dragons components, but also gave Sorcerers (mages that gain power from their blood, not their knowledge) the ability to cast without material components for free (Wizards still had to burn a feat for it).
  • Magic in GURPS requires Mana, Magical Gestures, and Magical Incantations. Certain spells also need Eye of Newt and complex designs. Energy requirements often necessitate items that provide additional power. Casters can ignore most of these (but never the mana) with sufficiently high skill or by taking penalties when casting.
  • In Mage: The Ascension, every magic wielder pretty much defined his own "foci", as they were called. And while each Tradition had classic types of foci associated with them, you could have your own as long as it made sense within your belief system. For example, a mage who was also an archaeologist might use his bullwhip to affect physical changes, while charging bullets with magic for destructive effects. Later on, however, as the mage became "enlightened", he could begin to use various types of magic WITHOUT his foci, though using them still made it easier.
    • Mage: The Awakening runs the gambit. Improvised magic can be cast without any of the construction methods, buts its pretty unreliable so most mages use rotes which require mudras. To get more benefits mages often also use, High Speech incantations, dedicated magical tools, and less frequently runes and sigils. If they really need to increase the power they can use a ritual with the right sacraments. Also, while they can usually get enough from the ambient magic, but some spell require them to spend mana.
  • Shadowrun has all of the above as entirely optional. By default, no magic requires anything (except the specific combination of hermetic conjuration always requires expensive components and a summoning circle). Otherwise, you can accept any of the above as a limitation to offset the magical power lost because Cybernetics Eat Your Soul (at the cost of not being able to use magic at all when you don't meet the requirements). Alternatively, or even on top of this, you can learn individual spells with such limitations in order to make them even more powerful (but likewise, you can never cast that spell, even a weakened version, if you can't meet your self-imposed restriction).

    Video Games 
  • In Academagia, magic spells are cast using special symbols, called "phemes", that are combined to produce spells a bit like phonetic sounds are combined to produce words. Spells are usually inscribed on magical three dimensional space, called a "palette", using a wand. However, it is the phemes that are essential to spell casting, specialized tools like palettes and wand are helpful in a number of ways but not necessary. Theoretically, a skilled mage could draw the phemes in dust or mud with a stick and still cast spells, provided the phemes are made accurately.
  • Cultist Simulator uses something of a freeform system. All a Rite does is establish what combination of Magical Incantation, Eye of Newt, Magic Wand, Insubstantial Ingredients, and assistant you'll be using (pick three), and what you'll be sacrificing (pick one). Each card has occult properties, and it's the combined properties of everything in the rite that determines the end result. A healing spell can be performed by going to the waterfront with a Grail cultist and throwing old bronze coins into the water while reciting a Shaping Chant, or by whispering a Red Secret into a Forge cultist's ear before killing them with a hammer made from a human ear bone.
  • The Sims 2. All spells require reagents (except for teleportation). Strangely, all the potions only require a cauldron and level 2 magic.
    • In The Sims 3, spells require a Magic Wand, which can vary in quality (the more expensive, the more likely the spell is to succeed) and also a certain level of magical skill.
  • Several spells in World of Warcraft require reagents, although they're generally very easy to get. It's also possible to use "Glyphs" to remove the material requirements for some spells.
    • The enchanting profession follows this much more, requiring specific types of magical essences, dust and crystals, as well as special enchanting rods.
  • Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth: Once you've learned some of the Wisemen's Syllables, you must enter a special screen, where you make specific groups of three Syllables (using some instructions you find in the Bouzouk throne room) to create some magic Formulas.
  • Arx Fatalis has you collect runes that you can use to make into spells, including an auto-updating spellbook as you have to cast the spells with mouse gestures. Of course, not all of the spells are listed.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night requires Mana and an incantation for magic to be cast — higher rank spells require several verses (one verse is equivalent to 4-6 lines) in order to cast. Caster bypasses this because she has access to the skill "High-Speed Spellcasting", which allows her to use the language of the Gods and significantly reduce casting time, and of course allowing her to use Rank-A spells with ease. In addition, more complex magic rituals require runes (the Servant summoning ritual requires a circle made from blood) and a catalyst for the reaction (the aforementioned ritual requires something possessed by the Heroic Spirit in question).

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, chi spells were typically prepared beforehand as potions, which either had magical effects directly or were stored in a magical item (such as Uncle's blowfish) for later use. Casting spells usually also required a Magical Incantation, usually "yu mo gwai gwaai fai di zao"note .