Thursday, April 16, 2020

Weave Magic and Unbound Magic

Magic is one of the biggest parts of the D&D system. Taking up over 80 pages out of the Player's Handbook's 300+ pages, it's fair to say it is important to most players. With the recent release of the new Psionic Options Unearthed Arcana, we've got some extra lore on the psionics. And while previously I found presence of psionics to be fairly pointless since it's basically fancy magic, upon reading this lore it made me realize that this is an untapped space of potential out there for everyone to explore. Quoting the Unearthed Arcana:

Is Psi a Form of Magic?

Psi is a supernatural power that emanates from the mind. Like other forms of supernatural power in D&D, it can be used to create magical phenomena, yet it can create other sorts of phenomena as well. In the game’s rules, only certain supernatural effects are classified as magical: magic items, spells, spell attacks, powers fueled by spell slots, and any other effect that the rules explicitly call magical. This distinction is rarely relevant in play, typically coming up only when something like an antimagic field shows up.
From a storytelling standpoint, some supernatural effects in D&D weave their power into a formalized form—a spell, for instance—that other effects can disrupt. In contrast, there are other supernatural effects that are so wild, formless, or subtle that it is difficult or impossible to disrupt them. In this article, some of the psionic powers create what the rules consider to be magic and some don’t.

Artwork from the TavernTales RPG

With that out of the way, I would like to propose that there are two types of magic in D&D. It's not just inborn vs. gained, or arcane vs. divine this time around. This time, we're looking at a much bigger pictureWeave magic, and Unbound magic. And while the original definition of the eight caster classes in the game stay for the most part the same, some rewording to the usual explanations is necessary.
(Note: After rereading and researching online, I found out that Unbound Magic is a term used in Guild Wars 2. But I don't think renaming it is a good idea for now, since this is the best term I could come up with for magic that doesn't rely on Weave. If anyone has suggestions for a better name, feel free to tell me in the comments!)

Weave Magic

For the sake of clarity, I'll begin with the classes that are already in the game. Notice that each of these is important in how they manipulate the Weave.
  • Bard is characteristic for using their power of heart and/or soul through performing their art of choice to manipulate the Weave.
  • Cleric harnesses the divine magic that comes from the deity it worships and uses that to manipulate the Weave.
  • Druids live in harmony with the nature, which is why they can manipulate the Weave.
  • Paladin magic comes from the power of their devotion. This is what lets them manipulate the Weave.
  • Rangers have learned how to survive in the wilderness, and in doing so they learned how to access and manipulate the Weave.
  • Sorcerers can manipulate the Weave because it's a talent they were born with. They just need to develop it.
  • Warlocks have been given power to manipulate the Weave by an otherworldly patron.
  • Wizards have studied how to manipulate the Weave by memorization and experimentation.
Sorry for so much repetition of "manipulate the Weave" line above, but it is important to today's article for one simple reason: antimagic field. This spell, or a magical effect (non-magical rather maybe?) is what is used for defining which magic comes from the Weave, and which is Unbound. Simple test of "does it work in antimagic field?" can answer our questions, because antimagic field literally prevents access to the Weave. To answer a possible question of "how can a spell do this?", I suggest a simple answer of the spell "pushing" the Weave away from the point of origin. There are of course dead magic zones and such too, but I'll just label it all antimagic field to be consistent.

Now we are finally ready to delve into the other type of the magic.

Unbound Magic

Since antimagic field cancels only spells, magic items, spell attacks, powers fueled by spell slots, and other effects that are explicitly called by rules "magical", that leaves some stuff that's not magic RAW, yet it is supernatural.

Our first example will be something already defined by the official rules: Monk. That's right, monk's abilities are our first case of the Unbound magic. Just as a proof, here's a short list of some of the supernatural effects level 20 monks can manifest even while fully inside of the antimagic field:
  • running up the walls to a height of 60-ish feet in 6 seconds (120 if they Dash, 180 if they also use bonus action Step of the Wind to Dash),
  • talking in all languages at once and understanding all languages,
  • turning invisible for 1 minute.
Last time I've checked, someone running up a 50 meter wall in 6 seconds without falling and turning invisible were supernatural. The lore says it's magic. Yet, these abilities are not described RAW as magic. Previous editions have stated that monks basically use psionics. Some folks said that what psionics are to mind, monks are to body. I kinda like the latter explanation more, monks on their own don't seem psionic to me personally. The only things a monk can't do in antimagic field (ignoring subclass-specific stuff) are not being able to cast astral projection, and depending on the DM not being able to use Ki-Empowered Strikes.

Our next example, which doesn't really need much introduction or detail since it's still in a playtest form, is the various forms of psionics. They can be used to cast spells, they can also be used to do other supernatural effects without them really being stopped by antimagic field.

My final example that I'll talk about in a bit more detail is a full class made by Genuine Believer, which I decided I'll test out by including it in my current campaign's world. Icon is described as a martial class that wields magical masks that grant them various powers. Another interesting explanation for their power is this coming from a minor form of divinity. However, curiously enough, there aren't that many class features, which are described as "magical". The only spell present in the entire class write-up is the capstone feature of the Dragon mask, which allows the wearer to cast the shapechange spell, turning into a dragon. Some of the masks allow to deal magical types of bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage, so those could also arguably be rendered nonmagical while in the antimagic field. But other than that, this class can work just as well in the field. Here are some supernatural effects that Icon is capable of even while in the antimagic field:
  • wearing a mask that can't be removed without its permission,
  • healing through sheer willpower,
  • cause creatures around you to identify some traits of your choice just by a glance,
  • not aging, not needing to eat, drink, or breathe,
  • and gaining immunity to four types of damage.
Some other examples of Unbound magic classes that I found for now but don't feel like describing in detail are the following:


Weave magic is only one side of the coin when it comes to the worldbuilding using D&D 5e. A far scarier side of the coin is Unbound magic. Magic that can't really be detected with detect magic, prevented with dispel magic or antimagic field, something beyond the regular rules. Whether it's psionic, iconic, monastic, or of some other nature, Unbound magic holds, just as the name suggests, unbound potential for exploration in homebrew D&D design.
One last note - if you liked this article, you might also like my four different takes on psionics!

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!