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History of combat magic in epic fantasy

Discussion in 'Games' started by Peregrine, Oct 2, 2019.

  1. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

    In this thread I want to discuss the history of combat magic in epic fantasy itself, with an emphasis on projectile-based magic.

    In Lord of the Rings, magic is rare, and it is nothing like magic in many books and video games of today. In Middle-earth there are no mages trained for wars, sorcery as a profession/class (sorcerers, mages...), magocracies, magician guilds, commoner's magic, elemental magic or combat spells.

    There are no combat spells in Middle-earth during battles, battles are fought like in real life history. When elves fight orcs they use their weapons, not spells or fireballs.

    The first combat magic in fantasy started with D&D. How did Dungeons and Dragons shape our perception of what magic is, in epic fantasy? Why is there such a contrast between the low magic of Middle-earth and high magic of Dungeons and Dragons?

    I think that Dungeons and Dragons included combat magic because it wanted to have a class for magicians. The inspiration behind the creation of a class for magicians/sorcerers are the wizards of Middle-earth (the Istari), but we shouldn't forget that the concept of a sorcerer/witch/magician existed centuries before the Lord of the Rings was written. These figures often appear in folklore and fairy tales. Mythical or semi-legendary figures who have the ability to manipulate the reality around them (Koschei, Merlin, Faustus...). Therefore the original idea for creating a secular magical class in D&D is also inspired by the concept of the magician itself.

    The D&D creators of this class thought this class would feel kind of empty or unsubstantial if it didn't have a unique way of fighting. So to remedy that they invented magical projectiles. Along with magical projectiles hundreds of projectile-based spells were invented. The D&D secular magical class was envisioned as a non-melee class, that's why magicians have staves and not swords as primary way of attack.

    Merlin for example, didn't shoot purple mysterious energy. I have never ever read a single fairy-tale, legend or myth that describe fights with projectile-based magic. Magical projectiles seems a purely modern thing, a invention of D&D. Zeus for example might throw bolts of lightning, but that's not close enough (because no mortal dares to fight back Zeus), and he is a god after all, not a magician. And Greek gods don't exchange projectile-based magic with each other unless you are playing SMITE.

    Do you think that the elemental magic system (air, water, fire, earth) is a invention of D&D? If you disagree, note that the media you are referring to must have all four elements in its setting. Be aware that I am not talking about the classical elements by themselves, but the use of classical elements to manipulate reality.
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I think I remember a ball of fire as a weapon in The Nibelungenlied but that might have been a description of the Dragon's breath.
    Actually I don't think I've read a book where there has been Combat Magic [elemental based or not]. Maybe I don't read enough or the right type of epic fantasy.
    If elemental magic was a device for D&D, I don't know. I don't think it was there in the first version of D&D, but so much of what we now call D&D wasn't in the first edition.
    Elemental magic is a useful and simple way to create a difference between magicians without favouring one type with more power.
    What I didn't like about Warhammer [when I payed it] was that Chaos magic was so much more powerful that the other forms available. One decent Chaos Mage could lay waste to a small army if played right.
    As an aside I know plenty of people who in real life describe themselves as elemental magicians/mages and follow traditions that are at least 80 - 120 years old [they say millenia but I go from the date it was first printed out and became better known]
  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

    The thing with Dungeon & Dragons is that when it first began and established most of the standards for what would come after, it was designed as a pure dungeon crawler. Go into caves and ruins, navigate around the obstacles, and haul out as much treasure as you can. That was it. It didn't have any narrative overlap with the epic genre. Elves, dwarves, hobbits, and orcs were in the game because Lord of the Rings was the big famous fantasy thing at that time, but that was really purely cosmetic at that point.
    There also was only very little elemental magic at that time. There was a fireball, a lightning bolt, a wall of flames, a wall of ice, and a wall of stone. Most magic was still subtle spells to manipulate and deceive or to gain knowledge of what lies ahead.

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