The powers of a novice mage manifest in weird and unpredictable ways. The magical energy is channelled into effects, but since the mage has no real idea what he’s doing it’s anyone’s guess what the result will be – they’re incomplete, uncontrolled, and often dangerous.
At some point – sometimes sooner, sometimes later – a mage realises that he’s the source of the weirdness that keeps following him around. He begins to understand his power, and starts trying to master it. He learns to keep his abilities dormant when he doesn’t need them, and learns to send a surge of magical energy at something when he does.
Mages who keep practising start to develop a finer control over that magical energy. Over time they notice that their magic can be shaped to form patterns. By using these patterns in certain ways they can create consistent effects that do the same thing each time. These patterns are called spells.
What Is A Spell?
A spell is a magical formula. It’s not exactly a step-by-step process like a cooking recipe, or a technique like an athletic skill, or a principle to be applied like a mathematical theorem, or a meditative practice to achieve a certain internal state, but it has elements in common with all of those things.
It’s hard to generalise about spells because the spells of different types and families of magic work in very different ways. Elemental mages tend to think of their spells as similar to skills – for them, learning to use their magic in a different way is like learning how to kick a ball or throw a dart. Living mages usually develop their skills by interacting with other people, and they’re more likely to compare a spell with some kind of social activity. For universal mages, spells are more like abstract principles that they understand and apply.
That said, there are a few things all spells have in common.
The Things Spells Have In Common
Spells are mental: Although spells can contain other components (see Encyclopaedia Arcana #12 for details) the core of a spell is concentration and will. In theory a mage could use their magic without moving, speaking, or even opening their eyes (though as will be seen, it doesn’t always work that way in practice).
Spells are personal: Every spell is designed to work with the unique magic of the mage who developed it. It’s possible that an unaltered spell will work for another mage, but it’s pretty unlikely.
Spells need skill: Learning a spell is just like learning any other skill – it takes practice. No mage, no matter how talented, can pick up a new spell and use it perfectly on the first try. To get good with a spell takes time and hard work.
Spells take effort: Using spells is tiring, just like any other physical or mental activity. How tiring it is depends on how inherently difficult the spell is and upon how well-practised the mage is with the spell.
Practice Makes Perfect
For a novice, casting a spell is a draining experience. They have to try several times before they succeed and the mental focus required to perform it exhausts them quickly. As they practice they learn to perform the spell more and more efficiently until they can do it with only a few seconds’ concentration.
Mages who are really determined to master a spell keep going. They practise over and over again until it becomes as natural as breathing, reducing the amount of effort the spell consumes and the amount of concentration it requires until they can keep it active without trying. Once they reach this point, they become able to maintain the spell even while casting another one. For everyday use this kind of mastery isn’t really necessary, but for mages who regularly find themselves in difficult or dangerous situations it’s crucial.