I thought I would put in my two cents but really what I'd rather do is break a 20. Do you have singles?
Here are some assorted and somewhat random thoughts on Magic from a discussion I had on the private board of one of my gaming groups. The dialog has been edited to make it make sense as a blog post and not a board discussion, since I am only posting my parts of the conversation anyway.
"Lets say you create a universe in which the laws of said universe say, "Magic can be understood, harnessed and utilized in formulas, called 'Spells', to generate a variety of different uses and effects. Those formulas can then be taught to others and duplicated by those individuals in predictable and reliable ways." This is fine, even cool, if kept internally consistant.
What I prefer is folklore and fairy tale magic, where those who understand magic are rare and otherworldly in their own right and those who don't or only think they do quickly find themselves in way over their heads."
By way of example, here is story of folklore and fairy tale magic in use in one of my Ars Magica campaigns...
"In one campaign (of Ars Magica) I ran some years ago, the Devil himself stole a man's Whistle from him. Unable to Whistle and with nothing else going for him, he was prepared to end his own life.
The PCs, who had been helped by the man and his spirit lifting Whistle, went to get it back from the Devil. They traveled south until they felt ill, til the ground turned cold and the air too hot to breath. There they found a hole that lead to the Gates of Hell. They tricked the demons at the gate into letting them in. When they found the Devil he was happily whistling with the man's Whistle.
The Devil said it was pride that made the PCs think they could retrieve the Whistle, so if they could best him at the things they prided themselves in, he would return the whistle to the man. If they failed, the Devil kept not only the whistle but the Archer's Skill, the Warrior's Strength and the Magi's Gift. In the end it was the Devil who was fooled, for the Magi did not pride himself on his Gift. There were many Magi with far greater magics then he. He prided himself on his wit and wisdom. He refused to partake in the Devil's contest, knowing full well the Devil had better spells and was very likely to cheat. With that he won and all went home, whistling the smoothest and sweetest of tunes.
That is magic to me."
"The nature of magic needs to be inspiring, frightening, amazing, confusing and unusual to seem magical to me. It shound be performed only by the fool hardy, the brave, the desperate, the willful, the quietly introspective and definitely the slightly mad."
On a more D&D approach...
"I don't really use 'Schools' of magic in the traditional D&D sense.
Magic is a force of nature, a cosmic, universal power like gravity, magnetism and thermal dynamics. Magic is what the universe is made of. It's unified field theory, intrinsic energy and much more. Unlike those sciences however, a great many people in my world understand (or think they understand) magic to some degree. This means they focus on the how and where but rarely on the what or the why. Magic is magic. In true medieval fashion, my campaign's peoples don't question what magic is or why its there. They are interested in how to use it and where they can get more or where it can be found in order to possess it or avoid it. The study of rotes (spells), arts, techniques, magical creatures, etc., lends itself to styles of magic such as elemental, primal, infernal, divine, faerie, etc. but not so much to technical breakdowns like evocation, illusion, conjuring, etc.
Now certainly there are those in my universe that do follow that concept. We do have Wizards who could be called Summoners, Illusionists and/or Evokers. These individuals are the exception however, not the rule.
Pretty much all my wizards conjure, summon and cast illusions. Though some specialize to some degree. Everyone has favorite approaches...
A High Elf of the North conjures a gust of wind because its the wind not because he's a conjurer.
A Gretho-Novan Priestess summons the aid of Cerebus because it guards her people's land of the dead, not because she's a summoner.
The Druids of the Western Coast are hard to find because faeries fool trepassers and lead them astray, not because the Druids are 'Illusionists'."
On the subject of summoning spells, a D&D appropriate setting and the instances in literature where some shmoe summons a demon prince that proceeds to eat him (my response being somewhat in jest)...
"Why would you go through all the time, energy, expense and potential backfires to design a spell that has a good chance of bringing you something you can't control? Such a spell seems poorly thought out or badly designed on the part of the creator. A spell that summons Demogorgon should have us questioning the wisdom of its originator."
"My world's fire fighting wizards are going to Summon water elementals to put out fires so homes don't burn down. The elementals are not much more powerful then the summoner but they can do something the summoners can't or they have a power the summoners need like generating and controlling water. When battling an army of undead the party mage might summon a celestial being but that same being could be beaten in a one on one fight with the party's Paladin. So why summon it? Because it has numerous anti-undead powers and can fly out of the enemies reach."
And finally, Magic Missile was mentioned by Zak as a spell he doesn't like because all it does is fly out and cause damage. I totally get where he's coming from but I'm not sure what would be done about that in the D&D games most people run. To clarify, if you are running a game of D&D style D&D, don't you need a spell that does that? Like, reeeally often?
Now Jeff has given a variety of alternate fluff names and possible descriptions for the spell but unless I am miss understanding Zak, it's not about calling a water balloon a brick. It's about a water ballon doing more then just getting you wet.
That made me think of some of the fireballs we use in my campaigns...
"High Elven Fireball
(AKA HighFire Ball, Elven Army Fireball, Sharpshooter Fireball)
Smaller in size with a smaller blast area, this Fireball causes less damage but travels twice as far. Accomplished High Elven Warrior-Wizards have been known to fire these with pin-point accuracy (for Fireballs anyway). Created by the militant High Elves soon after coming to my campaign world.
Dwarven Forge Fireball
(AKA Dwarven Army Fireball, Backdraft Fireball)
A shorter range though standard blast area Fireball with a slightly higher damage yield. The Dwarves' natural resistance to heat means they can handle the shorter range. Originated by the Dwarven Armies of the North Western Mountains near the Edge of The World. The spell has spread to some nearby Human settlements and the homelands of other Dwarves.
(AKA Shining Fireball, BrightSphere)
A very bright, golden Fireball that causes only 2/3 the damage of a standard Fireball with about 2/3 the blast radius. However, in addition to the damage, the Fireball explodes with a powerful blinding flash. Created by the Elven Warrior-Wizard known as Starshine, a member of The Order.
(AKA WildFireBall, Emerald Fireball, Melf's Mad Fireball)
An incredibly rare Fireball, with only two spellcasters ever having been known to master it. The spell generates a coursing, roiling globe of twisting emerald flames with flares licking out in all directions. It takes a few moments to cast and then it must be hurled away before it goes off prematurely. Upon impact, the Fireball explodes with about twice the area and damage of a standard one. In addition, random jets of fire lash out from the explosion in all directions. The Chaos Fireball is very difficult to cast, prone to misfiring and is considerably inaccurate. It also scares the crap out of any opponent intelligent enough to realize what is coming at them. Only the mysterious Elven Adventurer and Scoundrel 'Melf the Elf' and the similarly roguish Warrior-Wizard Half-Elf EverburnGreen (an Order member) have used this spell reliably
(No known aliases)
Not really a Fireball at all, this spell utilizes similar principles and techniques yet a very different power source and dynamic. The spell creates a tightly condensed sphere of whirling air, similar to a compacted tornado. Upon hitting its target, the tornado unravels, hurling people and objects in all directions. Although it causes less direct damage, WindSphere throws things as far as 50-100 ft into the air. Its an excellent spell for dispersing enemy forces and crowd control. Created by the Elven Warrior-Wizard WindDrake of The Order (originally of the High Elven Army).
(AKA The Beautiful Fireball, The Ultimate Fireball)
The exact details of this special variant are unknown to all but its creator who claims she is "simply casting a Fireball". The spells forms very carefully and precisely and grows to about a foot and a half in diameter before being 'launched'. As it travels, the fireball grows in size. At maximum range it is nearly 3 and a half to 4 feet in diameter. The blast is immense, but the flames will mystically avoid anyone the caster deems an ally. Enemies who recognize the spell during its considerably increased casting time must save vs. fear/will to avoid panicking at the thought of this monster heading toward them. The only Wizard known to possess this spell is the Human woman Omalphia of The Order.
(AKA Make Believe Fireball, Dream Fireball)
A Gnomish invention, this Fireball appears normal, if slightly larger in size during formation. If carefully observed by a learned magic practioner they will notice tiny, random sparks and licks of oddly colored flame (mostly green, blue and purple). Once released this Fireball acts like the Grand Fireball and grows larger and larger. A will save or morale check is made against the target and any of their allies in the vicinity. If the save fails, everyone in the blast radius takes additional damage equal to the combined number of points they all failed by. The truth of course is that this is not a Fireball at all but a sophisticated illusion. Anyone who realizes this during its formation will be completely unharmed by the spells detonation. It is especially effective against large groups of dimwitted opponents.
(AKA Seeker Fireball)
This is a low yield, long range Fireball that was invented by an ancient tribe of highland Humans with Elven assistance. It is the only specialized Fireball regularly found in use by both Human and Elven BattleMages and Warrior-Wizards alike. This Fireball uses principles found in the classic Magic Missile (or Arcane Arrow as the Elves once called it) to generate a Fireball that chases its target. While it can be interrupted and prematurely set off, a Seeker Fireball can not miss.
The Halflings have a variant of this called the Heatseeker Fireball that chases a target based on its heat signature or source. Originally developed to battle Kobold Fire Shamans it is now often used to target and destroy enemy Fireballs. It must be used carefully as the spell does not discern between heat sources except to go toward the hottest thing in its immediate vicinity. Improper positioning in combat can easily make a bad situation much worse."
Well that's it. Now back to...whatever comes to mind.