Magical Schools of Thought

Mage classification: School >> Tradition >> Working Group
Schools at a Glance: The attitudes distinguishing the major magical schools.
Source of Spell's ... Control
Internal External
Power Internal Volitionist -
External Directivist Externalist
Pragmatists: Combine approaches.
Apathists: Have no coherent theory.

On one level, a mage is a mage is a mage: anyone who can "cast spells" is applying their willpower to produce direct effects on reality. But mages have very different ideas about where that power comes from, how to access it, and the constraints under which they operate.

A "magical school" is a collection of these most fundamental ideas. To use an analogy with spirituality, it is something like a mage's religion (whereas a tradition is a denomination, and a working group is a church). Each tradition subscribes to a single one of these schools -- although they will not agree on the details with other traditions in that school! Intra-school disagreements are, if anything, more heated than the external ones.

Although a mage's school tells you nothing about their beliefs, style, ethics or power level, it has an enormous impact on what they are capable of. Magic is about belief shaping reality, after all -- so what one believes about magic makes a difference!


Beliefs: Magic is generated by our very existence; the simple fact of our being alive, instead of chunks of unmoving meat, is an act of magical volition that our inner mage is continually casting to sustain our existence. A spell is simply redirecting some of the internal energy that animates our bodies into also animating things outside of us. Anyone can be a mage by learning to consciously direct that energy.

Major figures: CharacterDennisRedwing. Many volitionist traditions take his chapters on magic from "We Walk Among You" as foundational, and some take his word on magic as gospel. He seems to find this flattering but doesn't do anything to actively encourage it.

Advantages: Spells are flexible, spontaneous and direct. Since they believe spellcasting is inherent to life itself, volitionist traditions are generally egalitarian (though some schools are therianthrope elitists). Their idea of soul/body "resonance" is by far the simplest theory to explain therianthropy (see ShapeshiftingInTTU), and by fiddling with resonance they've become the only school to create reliable shapeshifting spells.
Disadvantages: Spells are physically draining -- and actively dangerous to the mage's body if unwittingly pushed too far -- since they are inherently self-generated and self-sustained (even when tapping external power sources). Also, their theories have some implications that are demonstrably wrong -- such as, animals should also be capable of magic and/or therianthropy, which they aren't.

New mages: Find spells intuitive, flexible and powerful, but have to really work at it to create any effects at all, and may be discouraged by the sheer mental exertion for even minor payoffs. Worse, many traditions keep advancement deliberately slow for reasons of personal safety.
Experienced mages: Learn quickly to tap into external sources of power to work around the worst of the school's disadvantages, and weave effects into their own resonance to augment their natural abilities.

Opinions on other schools:
Externalists: "Dangerously disconnected. Magic's about projecting your willpower, and they aren't even consciously directing what they do."
Directivists: "They spend so much time on their toys and their foci, it's a wonder they ever manage to cast spells at all."
Pragmatists: "A great-sounding theory, but in practice, pretending that the universe can do your spellcasting for you just slows down your own magical development, and they'd do better to focus like we do."


(AKA: "Theist")

Beliefs: Magic is generated by God (or another higher power, space aliens, spirits, etc) and shared with us as a gift. Some people's faith/desire opens a channel to that source and allows them to manifest its power. Many traditions say that only certain people -- or certain faiths -- are capable of doing this. (Other mages who don't follow this path may be explained as blasphemers, perverting the gift for evil purposes; or may be explained as channeling power from a different source such as Satan.)

Advantages: Channelling an external power is far less exhausting than volitionists' self-generated effects and far less rigid than directivists' rituals. Theist mages also generally worship the source of their power, getting enhanced spellcasting effect from their synergy of magical faith and religious faith. Their explanations of The Changes don't stumble as much over the "why now, why this" factor. Also, their ideas credit large external agency to the power they wield, so they're the only school that can generate dramatic effects from vague intentions.
Disadvantages: Spells are prone to erratic failure, and they have little recourse when that happens ("oh well, that must not have been God's will"). Traditions are insular and exclusive. Much hand-waving is necessary to explain how mages of various faiths can all make it work. Leads VERY easily to hardcore dualism and frightening eschatology.

New mages: Are basically a self-selected group, because strength of faith simply can't be taught. Even so, they may be discouraged by a power that is essentially out of their hands, and the sometimes trial-and-error nature of growing into their skills. (Some traditions hold that people are either meant to be mages or they're not; their mentorship is naturally horrible.)
Experienced mages: Start stronger and plateau sooner, and their advancement past that plateau is heavily self-directed. Most become very rigidly ideological. Some start letting their old life and identity fall away and grow to identify themselves more and more as mere agents of the force they wield. Some, as they grow beyond what their mentors and peers can teach them, start looking to other traditions for inspiration - and risk a serious crisis of faith.

Opinions on other schools:
Volitionists: "They don't understand the true source of their power, and by dealing with it as a human rather than divine phenomenon, they are weakened and distracted."
Directivists: "Dangerously wrong-headed. They pervert the power we are given by believing they can control its every aspect."
Pragmatists: "Their intention to learn something from everyone merely guarantees that they'll dabble in dark and dangerous forces."


Beliefs: Magic is not "generated" so much as it is an inherent capability of the universe that some people have gotten smart/advanced/spiritual enough to unlock and access. Spells are the universe doing some heavy lifting in response to our conscious command; mages are much like programmers getting access to the universe's compiler and directly sending it instructions. Traditions may believe that anyone can become a mage; or that a certain insight or background is necessary to even approach spellcasting.

Advantages: Spells inherently require less effort, since they are simply generating directions for the universe to process and the only "willpower" needed is to access that control connection. Their approach to casting is the most effective at generating lasting or permanent effects, and they're the only school that can reliably produce enchanted items.
Disadvantages: Very heavily ritual-based -- slower, and difficult to adapt to new circumstances, since those directions have to be precise, and deviating from a known effect can cause unpredictable reactions. Directivist traditions tend to the egotistical, and most are historically secretive (a reflex that they have trouble shaking even after magic arrives full-force). Their theories about a universe designed to be shaped by human input can lead to hairy questions about "consensus reality".

New mages: Find their simplest few spells reasonably effortless (at least if they've got a good hands-on tutor), but quickly slam into a wall of esoterica as they try to expand their repertoire. They may be discouraged by the discipline necessary to dig their epiphanies out of a mountain of theory.
Experienced mages: Often keep the same spellcasting structure, but in order to work around the disadvantages of their school, spiral up through successive levels of meta in their approach to it -- choosing their effects from a tree of diligently memorized variations of the spells they've studied, and then combining and crudely modifying them on the fly to build spells complex and specific enough for their situation.

Opinions on other schools:
Volitionists: "Dangerously irresponsible - using themselves as components in their spells, without adequate preparation, ritual focus or safeguards."
Externalists: "They could do so much more if they took personal responsibility for their magic and applied more rigor, but at least they recognize they're working with something greater than themselves."
Pragmatists: "Their attempts at synthesis are a search for shortcuts that don't exist. Real magic doesn't have shortcuts. Their struggles prove this."


(AKA: "Synthesist", "Eclectic")

Beliefs: Look, magic works (and works differently) for people no matter what school of casting they use. That could only happen if everybody were simultaneously right -- or nobody was. If we combine/transcend their approaches and search for a better explanation, we can cast spells more effectively than any single school could -- and we can reach the truth about magic.

(Note that most mages will pick up a few tricks from friends and colleagues in other schools as a normal part of their learning process. This does not make them capital-p Pragmatists. What distinguishes a Pragmatist is the philosophical belief that a single approach to spellcasting is insufficient; and the determination to incorporate anything that works, even when it means relearning the same spells in different ways.)

Advantages: Can adapt their spellcasting style for situational advantage, working as any of the major schools would. Plays well with others; can contribute to other schools' rituals at full effectiveness. Pragmatists' outside-the-box approach gives them the ability to tackle problems other mages have written off as insoluble or dangerous -- for instance, after the EventBrogiAccident, mages from this school are the only ones who can safely teleport (not that anyone believes them when they say so).
Disadvantages: A niche style with no real traditions to speak of (though there are a few working groups that haven't quite reached the critical mass or academic weight to hit "tradition" status). The training necessary to reach a given power level is immense compared to the major schools -- you don't learn this school of magic so much as derive it yourself from scratch. Requires superhuman discipline, insight, introspection, time commitment, and the ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast. And yet everyone else still ignores them or views them as unserious cranks.

New mages: Very rarely start here; usually they migrate over from another school after reaching the limits of their prior approach. Mages who start here from scratch typically have a "preferred" school and dabble in the others, and go through their learning process in a similar way to members of that school.
Experienced mages: Always have something new to learn; however, the fact that they never seem to plateau is offset by the fact that a large number of their discoveries force them to undo and relearn their old patterns in order to take advantage of their new insights. They may get discouraged by the elusive nature of the "truth" about magic and the Sisphyean nature of their journey, but they become truly formidable spellcasters along the way.

Opinions on other schools:
Volitionists: "They most directly acknowledge the role of willpower in spellcasting. That's a great, and necessary, foundation! But they're limiting themselves to an exhausting and dangerous style."
Externalists: "Most of them are cranks and hacks, but the fact that they can cast such effective spells despite their crude ways means there's a lot to learn here."
Directivists: "They have incredibly powerful tools. It's sad to see them use their tools as crutches."


Beliefs: Magic is hard. Let's go shopping! (*)

Advantages: Uncannily popular with non-mages. Requires no late nights of wrestling with cosmology or mind-numbing training. Just buy the latest "CAST SPELLS NOW!" book or gizmo and follow the instructions.
Disadvantages: Expensive. Even if you avoid the snake-oil salesmen, spells have an abysmal success rate and little power. Intellectually unsatisfying. Real mages will laugh at you.

New mages: Are overwhelmingly likely to be discouraged by the disadvantages above. Occasionally might break through if something genuinely clicks and the advice they got isn't too horrid.
Experienced mages: Don't get far without picking up some crucial insight through self-study of one of the other schools -- at which point they abandon this one. On the other hand, a few turn around with dollar signs in their eyes and make money selling What Worked For Them.

Opinions on other schools: "Huh? Magic's just magic, right?"

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