Magic, Power Sources and Iourn

Yes, it looks as thought I’m never going to get through the PHB doesn’t it?

Back in May, I uploaded a post to the website speculating how my understanding of magic and D&D could be made to fit into the new fourth edition game – or more accurately, how the new fourth edition game could be distorted to fit my understanding of magic. If you’re familiar with the world of Iourn, and you can remember the previous post then you have a better memory than I do. For the rest of us, here are a couple of memory-jogging links on the subject.

At the time, I was at a bit of quandary how I could possibly marry up the numerous power sources presented in fourth edition, with magic as I understood it. It seemed that a fantastic shake-up of the game and Weave was in order to force everything to make sense. A lengthy discussion ensued (thanks, Tim!) that came to no great conclusion, as the fourth edition rules hadn’t been published. Well now they have, and subsequently I have an informed opinion.

Power Sources

Player’s Handbook 1 presents us with three power sources, although reveals a further five sources that will be added to the game over the next couple of years. In the context of the game, the power source declares that certain classes have a degree of commonality. Wizards and warlocks both use the arcane power source, therefore their magic must be functionally similar. However, what PHB1 doesn’t do – and what I assumed it would do – was explain or describe what these powers sources actually are.

Rather than having a comprehensive origin and explanation of each power source, the game leaves the whole business rather vague. I suspect this is a deliberate decision, rather than one forced on the designers by lack of space, or lack of forethought.

However, the result is that we are left with eight power sources that don’t really mean anything – or more accurately, can mean anything that the GM wants them to mean. If I say that any one with the divine power source gains their magic by collecting the distilled sweat of the Obese Overpower of Step Aerobics in a sandwich tin, then that’s what divine magic means.

With this in mind I got to thinking whether I even need to bother using the 4e power sources in an Iourn campaign at all. I already have a perfectly good explanation of where all magic comes from and how it works, true it was born of a need to reconcile the third edition rules, but it’s served me perfectly well. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” is a thought that has kept coming to me over the past week or so.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. If I’m going to explain this properly then we should at least look at the eight official power sources. I’ll start with the three from PHB1 and then tell you what I know, or what I can guess of the others.

Martial Power: To my mind this isn’t as much a power source as it is the absence of one. Martial powers are extraordinary abilities. They may look impossible, but they are simply the product of a lifetime of training and skill. Bruce Lee’s iron fists, Jackie Chan’s acrobatics and Houdini’s ability to get punched in the gut without flinching (almost all the time) are all examples of such powers. Martial powers are called exploits, and these exploits are used by Fighters, Rangers, Rogues and Warlords. They are not magical; they may use the same mechanics as magical powers – which is a whole different can of worms I am keeping closed for the duration of this post – but there is nothing supernatural about them.

Arcane Power: Think arcane power and you think of wizards. Indeed, this is the power source tied to wizards and warlocks, and that will be tied to sorcerers, bards and swordmages when the rules for those classes are published. As in the game’s many previous incarnations, arcane magic is good at blowing things up, but not so hot on the healing. There are rumours that necromancy and illusion may be removed from the arcane power source and spun off under a source of their own, meaning that wizards are never necromancers – necromancer may well end up as a class in its own right.

Divine Power: This is an easy one. Divine power is a power that is drawn from a god. Divine powers are called prayers and prayers are cast by clerics, paladins and presumably a few other classes down the track. Divine prayers generally lean toward healing, smiting and incommoding the forces of evil. This tells me that after four editions they still haven’t got clerics right. The specialist priests of second edition were the closest things in my book. Oh well.

Primal Power: Now we’re getting beyond the PHB1. I can’t say much about primal power, except that it is a power rooted in nature. Druids, barbarians and (possibly) shaman will call upon the primal power source to cast spells, change shape, rage and so on and so forth. For the first time, the game clearly states that druids and clerics are entirely different entities – which is exactly what I’ve been doing with Iourn since it started. Handy, that.

Ki Power: This is the power of your soul. Some classes, notably the monk, can use that power to initiate any number of supernatural abilities. As the presence of the monk in next year’s PHB2 is in serious doubt, we have to wonder when we are going to be see the Ki power source in great depth. I suppose you could argue that the various classes and concepts from the third edition book, The Magic of Incarnum, could well use Ki if they were ever converted to 4e.

Psionic Power:It had to come didn’t it? Psionics, when it appears in the fourth edition game, will have a separate power source. It will be different to arcane and divine magic and everything else. There’s a whole laundry of psionic characters released in third edition. The most notable of these is the Psion, the psionic wizard – although he’ll always just be an electronic personal organiser to me. Psionics is the power of the mind. Many of the charm and enchantment spells that wizards used to have are going to find themselves in the hands of the psionic characters. Psionicists will specialist in these. I doubt we will see psions teleporting or throwing balls of elemental fire quite as much as they used to.

Shadow Power: In fourth edition shadow means the Shadowfell, which is strongly connected to the undead and necrotic energy. The shadow power source will undoubtedly be the domain of necromancers and like character classes. Because shadow can also be used for concealment, I am sure some rogue-type classes (perhaps even a ninja) may make use of this power source. There has been talk that an Illusionist class will be shadow-powered. Personally, I think illusionists are more likely to be arcane. We’ll see.

Elemental Power: The distinction between elemental and divine power seems to be based solely on the official Points of Light cosmology – with all the gods sitting in the astral sea, and all the primordials lurking in the elemental chaos. Elemental power (my guess) will be granted by the primordials, and we’ll have a second bunch of cleric-like classes as well as the predictable collection of fire/air/earth/cold wielding maniacs.

So, that’s the eight power sources. But, there’s no great incentive to use them. As I stated, there’s nothing in the game system that makes a (e.g.) warlock an arcane character. I could rule that all warlocks used the divine power source and it would not make an iota of difference to the game. With this in mind…

Magic on Iourn

As a note, the following ignores the Martial power source. The non-magical classes can bimble along quite happily without me reaffirming or re-interpreting anything. Clear? Good, let’s move on.

On Iourn, all magical power comes from the Weave. The Weave is basically a big bucket of power that magic-users of all types and colours can access. What makes these magic-users different is how they access the power. Each need a means to tap and form weave energy into a magic. This means creates all the various branches and sub-sets of magic-users, but all magic comes from the same source.

This was a handy way to explain why dispel magic could affect a psion, a wizard and a cleric equally. This is still the case in fourth edition. The utility of dispel magic has certainly been reduced in the new edition, but it is still there, and can still be used to bring down zones and conjurations regardless of what class (and what power source) cast them. All these various casters still need commonality to explain why that would be the case. The need for my interpretation of magic still exists.

On Iourn, there are no power sources per se. Instead, we have traditions – broad areas that access and utilise the weave in different manners. What follows is a reinterpretation of the magic section of the Iourn website with a fourth edition hat on. Nothing has really changed, but a few things have been tweaked. I think this makes sense.

Arcane Magic

Arcane magic is a birthright. All arcane magic-weavers have some unquantifiable running through their blood that allows them to tap into the weave directly, without the need to go through an intermediary force or power. Sometimes arcane practitioners display their magic powers from birth, in others it does not manifest until later in life – it may never manifest, or may need to be awakened by particular circumstances or rituals. Arcane Magic and the 4e arcane power source are a close fit.

Draconic Magic: The consumate arcane magic-weavers are dragons. In fourth edition, dragons are no longer spell-casters, in that they do not have the same powers one would associate with wizards and clerics. However, in 4e this is petty magic at best and dragons are far better served relying on their powerful physical prowess as well as their signature breath weapons. The magic power of dragons manifests in the rituals that they know and that they can call forth.

Sorcery: Sorcerers are the mortal descendents of power arcane magic-weavers. This does not necessarily need to be dragons (as it was in third edition), but the ancestor must have been an arcane pracitioner. Sorcerers instinctively know their spells with no need to study. Casting such magic greatly fatigues them, and they were never able to master anything but the most rudimentary healing. As sorcerers have yet to have the fourth edition make-over, I don’t know how well they continue to serve in this role. I suspect it will be easy to bend them into it.

Wizardry: Wizardry is not true arcane magic. The practitioners of wizardry were not born with the skill, they learned it. Wizardry is an attempt by the non-magical mortal races to copy sorcery. It is not an art, but a science. Wizards use spell-books, complicated formulae and years of study to attempt what a sorcerer could do without a second thought. Wizardry has the same limitations as sorcery (no healing) but few of the fringe benefits. However, because wizards never truly know the magic they are casting, they can chop and change their spells, and have access to a larger repetoire than a sorcerer.

Divine Magic

When a character uses the power on an outside agent or god to access to the Weave, then it is considered divine magic. These characters do not learn magic, and they are not born with inate magical knowledge. Intead they must supplicate themselves before a greater power who does have such understandings. These characters focus outside energies, take away their patron and they could no more access the weave than any common man.

Clerical Magic: This is the power wielded by priests and paladins. They pray to a god, the god grants the cleric the ability to tap into the power of the weave, and then channels that weave into his servant. The god only grants access to the pot of power, it is the cleric himself who interprets that power and determines how it should be used. Divine spells (prayers) tend to be the province of churches and organisations, not gods. The prayers are always in keeping with the deity’s ethos, but churches often copy one another.

Pact Magic: Some individuals make imprudent bargains with forces beyond their ken. These are not respected clerics, acting as part of a massive organisation for the betterment or detriment of mankind. These are solitary figures, occassionally gathering in covens; acting for their own ends while at the same time battling for control with an outside entities. Warlocks use pact magic, therefore on Iourn warlocks are divine rather than arcane casters. Not that it makes any practical difference.


Sonorism, or song magic, is a tradition of spell-casting as ancient as arcane. Sonorism is a learned skill, but it lacks the dry books of wizardry. Sonorists charm the weave into obeying their commands with nothing more than their voice. Sonorists sing to the weave and make it dance to their tune.

Sonorism: The greatest sonorists are the ancient elves (what would be called eladrin in fourth edition). I’m not yet sure how sonorism will mechanically work in fourth edition. But, as I can’t see any player character getting their hands on it any time soon, this is a small problem. Sonorism is largely unknown on Iourn as the elves took it away with them to the Greymere one thousand years ago. It should probably incorporate the advantages of sorcery and wizardry, but with none of the drawbacks.

Bardic Magic: On Iourn, bards are not arcane like wizards. The magic that they use is a bastardised version of ancient sonorism. Bards use the song magic of the elves in their spells and their inate abilities. As I haven’t seen a 4e bard, I don’t know how well this interpretation fits. I’ll do all I can to keep it though.

Primal Magic

Okay, I used to call this nature magic, but primal magic just sounds much cooler. Not much to add here. In third edition, this magic was used by druids, rangers and healers. Rangers aren’t spellcasters in fourth edition, so we are generally looking at the druid as the main practitioner of this type of magic.

My interpretation of primal magic has always been something akin to preservers and defilers in the Darksun campaign setting. However, I’ve never had a solid enough mechanic to make this more than just flavour-text. Assuming Darksun is released for fourth edition in 2010 (and it seems the most likely setting, in my mind) then I may have something then.

In the meantime we await the 4e druid in PHB2.


This is the ability to tap into the weave with the power of your mind. A wholly different tradition to anything else, psionics can be learned or it can be instinctive. Some wild talents have such powerful, or such idiosyncratic, minds that they cannot help but manifesting magical powers. There’s not much difference between this tradition and the psonics power source.


The ability to tap into the energy of your soul and use it for magical effects. Everything in Magic of Incarnum fell into this category. It is not a stretch to say that this is where the magic power for monks, kensai and everyone who relies on “Ki” also comes frm.

True Magic

In the Iourn setting, I mention a time before the Cataclysm when magic worked differently. Then true magic (third edition epic magic) was the norm and castable by anyone who could cast magic. That may require a little tweaking, but as this is simply information about the way things used to be, then it can stand more or less untouched. It’s not as though I ever have to worry about the mechanics of it.


Introduced in the third edition Unearthed Arcana, incantations were complicated rituals that let anyone (even the non-spellcasting classes) cast spells. It seems now that these rules were the prototype for the rules on Rituals that we find in fourth edition. I like the idea of non-spellcasters being about to find a complicated ritual and do their best to master its effects.

However, I think that such rituals should be few and far between, as well as extremely specific. The Rituals presented in PHB1 are not such entities. Frankly, I’m all for assigning a magical tradition to each ritual and only allowing spellcasters of each tradition to cast it. As it stands in 4e at the moment, the local herbalist might not be able to manifest one spell, but could still know how to raise the dead. I don’t like that – or at least, I don’t like the world a simple extrapolation of such rules suggests.

Fourth Edition vs. Iourn

So, some changes then. Warlocks are divine casters, and not arcane ones. Bards are sonorists, and not arcane. The Elemental and Shadow power sources are not mentioned at all. I believe that any character class assigned the Shadow or Elemental power source can be easily explained using the six traditions (or sub-traditions) above. A necromancer may wield oodles of necrotic enegy, but if he’s still learned his skill then he’s a wizard and therefore an arcane caster.

Supernatural Abilities?

In third edition, there was also a host of supernatural abilities, that were magical but not in the same way. I explained these powers by saying they tapped into a power outside the weave – a cleric’s supernatural abilities were a direct line to his god. In fourth edition there are no such abilities. Everything falls into one power source or another.

I think that I am happy to let supernatural abilities die with third edition. They always seemed something of an artificial distinction. The monk, whose abilities were always supernatural, is now of the incarnum tradition. He uses the weave like everyone else. His abilities cannot be surpressed or dispelled because the game just doesn’t work that way any more. Balance is not going to be an issue.

Yes, I know this will require a further explanation of Corrupt and Exalted magic, but I’m sure I can find one that fits and doesn’t contradict events in the established campaigns.

So what do we need to change?

Certainly, a vast over arcing apolocalypse that would change the face of magic forever is not really needed. However, there are a certain number of conceits and concepts in fourth edition that are radically different than third, and these might still require an in-game explanation. Here’s a list of what I can think of:

  • Spells cast by wizards, clerics et al. are not as powerful as they once were. The sort of magic these classes can use off the cuff no longer have the same massive effects. Why?
  • Spells are much harder to maintain than before.
  • The greatest spells can now only be cast as rituals. By and large these are the same spells, but they take anywhere from ten minutes to a day to cast. Why the change?
  • Raise dead and similar magic is harder than before. Why?
  • Long distance teleportation is gone and replaced with a Stargate system. Why?
  • The ethereal plane doesn’t exist. It seems to have been replaced in theme and content by the Shadowfell. But do I need to explain why?

However, all the above is extremely doable – much of it in the context of adventures I had already planned for the next year. After having read and digested the core rulebooks, I am confident that Iourn’s magic system can be converted, and that it can retain the same flavour and fundamentals that it had in third edition.

5 thoughts on “Magic, Power Sources and Iourn

  1. Remember all the petty magic – cantrips/orisons – that we all cast since they were free… the prestidigitation from wizard class is there, however it is a class feature for them alone…

  2. Nothing really to say for this one, as they are more fluff rules than mechanical changes :) It sounds like an interesting homebrew world, and the changes all sound quite reasonable. Will be interesting to see how the rest of the ‘power sources’ turn out… (in the future PHB’s, that is)

  3. Cantrips and Orisons… yup, them too. I think they’re less of a concern to be honest. The only cantrip/orison that got significant mileage in the game was detect magic, and that’s been folded into the skills system.

    Looking at the others… most of them seem to replicated by either at-will or encounter powers. So, you could chalk up the lack of 0-level powers as an example of how magic isn’t working quite the way it once did. Some things that were easy, are now that little bit harder. Worth noting though. I’ll add it to my list. It’s a long list.

  4. Neil – Question.
    Madness Rating.
    Effect on losing all those Cantrips on Madness Rating – what will happen to all the spells Ravenna has learnt…?

    I can see the changes to the Astal forcing a stargate like system (excellent – how long before the Arcanum incognita start Acting all Goa’Uld like and pretending they inveted it….). Ok Not going to start that Rant.

    What will be the limit on learnt spells for Sorcerers ?

  5. Jon, Jon… your unreasonable prejudice toward those lovely people at the Arcanum Incognita continues to baffle me. You’d think that any organisation that takes such a keen interest in your well-being would be at the top of your Christmas list.

    I’m afraid that the answer to your questions is a big fat “Dunno” at this point. While I intend to keep the same flavour for sorcerers, the mechanics will have to be altered to fit in with the rest of the 4e game. Ravenna will have powers like everyone else, no more casting spells with subdual damage. As the 4e sorcerer won’t be published until next March, I want to wait until I see the rules before I start making predictions.

    Will sorcerers be able to get access to more spells at the expense of their sanity? Maybe. Definitely maybe, but a big part of that decision will be seeing how the powers, and 4e in general, actually play in an ongoing campaign. Ask me again at Christmas.

    As for cantrips… as 0-level spells, cantrips don’t count to your madness rating anyway. They used to, but I changed that when we went converted to 3.5.

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