Ward Magic
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Basic Information

Ward magic is the field of magic that deals with the creation of magical barriers and protections.

This may include "magical forcefields" usable in combat, the enchantment of magical armour, larger "forcefields" screening off areas1 and less tangible barriers that exclude spirits, scrying or hostile workings. Other applications are likely to include magical amulets, charms etc.

In a (relatively) high magic setting, ward magic may also be the stuff used to create high end locks, encryption and other security devices, and possibly more aggressive countermeasures such as magical traps.

In some settings ward magic is taught as part of summon magic or invocation magic to contain the summoned entities, which can drastically alter the "flavour" of the field - although there may even be a split between the summoner/warders and the regular warders.

This style of magic may also be termed abjuration magic - particularly if conjuration isn't just limited to objects - and may then include magics that repulse, expel and exorcise summoned creatures.

Sociologically speaking, practices designed to ward off bad luck or evil influences are referred to as apotropaic (A.Gk "turning away"), and many of these would fit into the category of low end ward magic (such as might be practiced by a cunning man or hedge wizard).

In mechanical terms, expect a magical barrier against incarnate creatures to be far harder to achieve than one against insubstantial entities such as spirits - manifest entities, with a pseudo-real physical body, will fall somewhere in between. Potentially they might be expected to be able to overcome either of the other kinds of ward at the cost of pain and/or injury. Any barrier which wards out spirits can reasonably be expected to extend into the spirit world, so that it cannot be bypassed by a simple plane shift. Barriers against mortals, on the other hand, might not have such extensions. Also, any magical barrier against mortals short of a physical "force field" might well rely on fencing out the intruder's soul - soulless creatures such as animals or fae may be harder to exclude and/or may need different forms of barrier. Barrier wards traditionally need to be anchored to some kind of physical demarcation - like a magic circle or a series of glyphs. A caster may be able to maintain a barrier themselves, but that likely requires continued attention and effort. It would be entirely congruent for a competent and familiar caster to be able to supplement an existing ward, actively reinforcing it for a period.

Protective wards could also include designs painted onto the user's body to protect them - this may or may not be a good idea… possible drawbacks including having to have the designs exposed for them to work (which would be entirely authentic for protective "war paint" in many traditions) and potentially a risk of "blow through" damage if wards are prone to explosive failure. Such designs are also prone to being short lived - especially if the user insists on washing (or even just sweating) and may come off on clothing, terrain and suchlike. Tattooing them on might be more permanent … but on the other hand is more permanent and may have other side effects and/or need to be recharged regularly2.

"Destructive" wards - usually basilisk images that damage the reader or other harmful effects are also quite popular. Most fRPGs will have some variant on "explosive runes" or the various glyphs and symbols commonly associated with this sort of thing. Even curses may have a place - the infamous curse on the despoilers of Tutankhamun's tomb would appear in context as a ward.


1. full source reference

See Also

Game and Story Use

  • This kind of magic might not appeal to PCs - if there's fireball throwing magic as an alternative they'll usually prefer it - but it might suit the mage-knight character who likes to power up his defences and then pile in to melee.
  • The weirdly named diabolist class from the Palladium fRPG is pretty much made of ward magic.
  • Expect a warder to be a careful, defensive type of person - maybe even paranoid. The sort of person who measures twice, cuts once and then double checks that it is working. They are likely to be the magi-tech equivalent of a security specialist.
    • They may also be useful consultants to call in when faced with a magical barrier in need of breaching.
    • Although to play against type, a warder might be overconfident, relying on magical shields to protect against harm.
  • The summoner/warder is likely to be even more so - if a little more sinister of mien. If not being torn apart (at best) by demons depends on the quality of your wards, paranoia isn't excessive.
  • Low end ward magic would include the many precautions taken against the evil eye in the Mediterranean area, grotesques such as gargoyles and gorgoneia and other similar folk-works.
  • Dungeon punk settings, or those with some other reason for industrialised magic might well have wards sold in pre-prepared pads, from which the user can tear one off and stick it to something.
    • The Laundry, courtesy of Mr Stross, uses just such pads of emergency wards - of course, being The Agency in a modern wainscot fantasy setting helps a great deal.
    • For the less intrusive end of this, recall the sanctuary scrolls in Nethack - almost guaranteed protection as long as you are standing on it. Easily recyclable in an fRPG as a scroll with a protective circle drawn on it - unroll and deploy, single use only.
    • Such wards might also include temporary armour enhancers or versions of some of the damaging wards discussed above and may wander in and out of charms territory.
  • The idea of having a set of pre-cast, passive wards and then having the duty warder on hand to reinforce them against attack seems appropriate in many fantasy settings. As does the possibility of a set of ancient wards that an enterprising PC wizard might power up and man to give the group an ace in the hole during an encounter that would otherwise be hard to win3.
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