Dragon Heresy Arcane Tradition: School of Essence

A while back, I asked for help on choosing arcane traditions for the Wizard for the Dragon Heresy RPG. I created four schools of magic – doors, essences, might, and mischief, which are themselves combinations of two of the spell types from SRD5.1.

Since the game’s launching zone is Norse-flavored, the schools are flavored by futhark runes, with the following associations:

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a
case of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.

The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
  • Algiz (Abjuration).
    The rune magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have
    aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm
    trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz
    means protection, or a shield, used
  • Ansuz (Divination).
    The magic focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the
    form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden
    things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The
    meaning of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is
    also the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing
    and deep knowledge
  • Dagaz (Illusion).
    The rune magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others.
    These spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that
    are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened.
    Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
    insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
    meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness
    and blindness
  • Ehwaz (Conjuration).
    The spells of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from
    one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the
    caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location.
    Some Ehwazs create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents
    a horse or horses, and connotes travel
    and journeys
  • Gebo (Transmutation).
    Spells invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change
    the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy
    into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move
    at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
    rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
    fair exchange – giving up one thing to
    gain another
    of equal or higher value.
  • Jera (Necromancy).
    The rune Jera signifies the life cycle
    and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such
    spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from
    another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. A
    complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is only part of its
    meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life, death, and
    life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘resurrection’ but is also
    ‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
    good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
  • Mannaz (Enchantment).
    Spells cast with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or
    controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a
    friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another
    creature like a puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,”
    and has a particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and
    relationships in general.
  • Thurisaz (Evocation).
    The primal energy of magic, the directed
    of destruction and defense, is symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells
    manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of
    fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has
    many connotations, all of which derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom
    in matters that must be resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.

With that introduction, I wanted to list out the current ideas for the schools of magic, to provoke comment and discussion. Appropriate abilities per level are a bit of an art form, so a broad commentary will save angst later. Any and all commentary is appreciated, especially suggestions to modify or replace abilities. 

One caveat: this will be an OGL/SRD5.1 game, so avoiding abilities from official material is a good thing. Not only for the usual reasons, but keeping the flavor of the game unique makes it more interesting!


The study of wizardry is ancient, stretching back to the earliest mortal discoveries of magic. It is firmly established in fantasy gaming worlds, with various traditions dedicated to its complex study.

The most common arcane traditions in the multiverse revolve around the schools of magic. Wizards through the ages have cataloged thousands of spells, grouping them into eight categories called schools. In some places, these traditions are literally schools; a wizard might study at the School of Illusion while another studies across town at the School of Mannaz rune. In other institutions, the schools are more like academic departments, with rival faculties competing for students and funding. Even wizards who train apprentices in the solitude of their own towers use the division of magic into schools as a learning device, since the spells of each school require mastery of different techniques.


No matter which tradition you select at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy spells with the runes incorporated by that tradition into your spellbook are halved.


The school of essence concerns itself with how things are, and how they might be. Practioners develop an affinity for the runes of ehwaz and gebo, which allows for the creation and transformation of many types of matter and beings.

Control Essences
Starting at 2nd level, you may subtly manipulate the effects of your spells, as well as performing minor workings of ehwaz and gebo rune magic.

  • When you cast a spell that usually has an effect in a symmetric area, you may instead shape the area so that it occupies an equivalent area, so long as it is contiguous. The smallest increment is 5’x5’. This does not work on spells that impact a volume (such as a 20’-radius sphere).
  • You may create a simple object weighing not more than a pound that has no complicated moving parts and is made essentially of one material. Iron pliers, a wooden rod, or a pound of water would all qualify. This construct will detect as magical and exudes a weak magical aura (but is not a magical weapon!) and will disappear in 10 minutes. Created water could thus be used to put out a small fire or wash one’s hands, but cannot provide hydration.
  • You may also alter the properties of a simple object weighing not more than one pound, changing it from one material to another. This could include valuable metals, such as turning a wooden ring into gold, but again the object exudes a faint magical aura and will revert back to its true form in ten minutes.


When you reach 6th level, your understanding of the fundamental nature of creatures has increased to the point where you can bestow some of the abilities of one creature upon another.

By taking the pelt of a person, creature, monster, or animal and spending a day and 100 GP, you can construct a Skin. A Skin can be used by anyone whose size class is not less than one level below that of the being that gave the skin, and who has spent the time to become attuned to the skin.

When you don a Skin, you take on some of the the physical attributes of the being whose pelt was used for as long as the Skin is worn. To change back, you have but to remove the Skin and you return to your original form.

When using a Skin, you have the speed, DR, vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities, senses, and skills, of the being whose skin was taken. You also gain the being’s Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores, but retain your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Using a Skin’s form, you cannot speak if the original form could speak; cannot wear your armor if the original form could not fit into it; and cannot hold items, wield weapons, or use equipment if the original form could not do these things. If you cannot speak you cannot cast spells with verbal components; if your Skin form does not have grasping hands you cannot cast spells with Somatic components.

The Skin is exactly that – a skin. You retain your own wounds and vigor.

Destroying the Skin. The Skin is subject to Dispel Magic, and behaves as if it is a 3rd level spell. It may also be physically destroyed, and it takes damage along with the wielder – treat it as having a wound maximum equal to the creature whose skin was used to make the device. Healing magic, rather than the mending cantrip, is required to restore wounds on a Skin.

Durable Essence
Beginning at 10th level, any spells cast using ehwaz or gebo have their duration extended by 10×, though of course such spells can be dismissed at any time. Spells that require concentration to maintain still require concentration, though you have advantage on attempts to maintain your focus for these spells.


When you reach 14th level, you can recognize and overwhelm or dismiss lesser ehwaz and gebo effects. When casting Dispel Magic and the spell or effect you are trying to dismiss was created by an ehwaz or gebo rune, the spell slot you must expend is two levels lower than the spell you are trying to dismiss. Note that you may not have a dismissal effect higher than 9th-level – while it will only cost you a 7th-level slot to attempt to dismiss a 9th-level spell, spending an 8th- or 9th-level slot will not automatically dismiss a 9th-level target spell.

Example: you wish to dismiss a 4th level spell, so you must usually expend a 5th level spell slot to automatically dismiss the spell, or a lower-level slot which requires a saving throw. If you are trying to dispel ehwaz or gebo rune magic, you expend a 3rd level slot to achieve a 5th-level effect.

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