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.
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.
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.
- 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 mein. 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 Meditteranean area, grotesques such as gargoyles and gorgoneia and other similar folk-works.