Magic is a great part of fantasy. As much as I am a Science Fiction guy, and the definition I work off of does not allow for magic (check out the definition here), the escapism of Fantasy (check out the definition here) can be a lot of fun. Fantasy and that level of escapism better lend themselves to gaming, because in gaming you can work outside of the bounds of reality, outside of our normal physics.
A fun sort of thought experiment, here I have a list of the ten best spells – with the thought being that you’re coming up with a spellbook and using them all together. Many spells or spell effects are duplicated, in various ways and various manners, in all sorts of books, video games, and tabletop games. So many of these have a variety of analogs, and are a good bet in most of these circumstances.
There are some spells, of course, that are a bit much. Are almost too powerful for regular sorts of use. The king of these spells is the Wish spell, from D&D – basically, it does what all these spells do, and just about anything else. It’s a plot-changer, game-breaker, and is a bit too much. So maybe it’s better to say, these are the tops of spell types, the best for use, for your gaming wizard or fictional mage of choice!
If you know me, or read my recent blog post about Nightcrawler, you know I love teleporting. So instead of this just being a personal choice about how good teleporting is, let me convince you on the inclusion of a good teleport spell on the list.
There are a lot of tasks that are often accomplished by magic in worlds that have magic. Things like climbing, moving things, strength and acrobatics. Things like invisibility, or flight. Are any of these sorts of skills, abilities, powers, or spells needed when you can teleport? With teleporting, you can avoid hazards, get in to place, or get out of a tight spot. Kind games leave teleport spots at the end of dungeons, so you don’t have to walk back out, after all.
The most powerful representation of teleporting would have to be Hiro Nakamura in Heroes, who can move in both time and space – can even stop time in doing so. Lower levels of teleportation are shown in spells like Dimension Door, or Blink, which can be used for closer-range movement and escape, more like Nightcrawler. Long range teleportation, like Manifold can use in Avengers, is the sort of middle-ground teleporting that deserves a solid place in any spellbook.
Scrying, or other sorts of divination, are a common sort of spell with many manifestations. If knowledge is power – and School House Rock always said it was – then a good divination can get you all sorts of power.
Lower-end scrying would let you do things like see through illusions, find something closeby, or otherwise see something beyond normal perception. Higher-end scrying is more like Dominic Deegan, able to see thing happening anywhere, able to see the past, able to see the future. You might have to focus through an implement (crystal ball), or might not have full control of it, but scrying is really powerful.
If you don’t believe me, then try getting your hands on the ability to scry in a D&D game. Spy on the Dungeon Master’s secrets. Make them reveal things. I am currently playing in a campaign where I have a teleporting character (of course), but the DM made teleporting dangerous – I roll on a table each time I teleport. On a bad roll, things go poorly; on a 20, though, I get to see everything in the area – and teleport everyone around me to a place of my choice. Having the DM reveal a whole dungeon to me, and have me move myself into the best spot in the place? Priceless.
Yes, I have used this to teleport directly into a treasure room before. Scrying + Teleport = the world is yours.
There are various summoning and telekinetic powers out there, but none work quite as well as Accio in the Harry Potter series. Able to call to you whatever item you ask for, Accio is kind of just straight-forward useful. And because it works off of your mental image and meaning of the item you name, it can accomplish a lot for very little.
The range on the spell is incredibly useful, too – remember in Goblet of Fire, when Harry summons his Firebolt, from way inside the castle? Handy trick, that. For the wizard on the go, being able to summon what you need to you is a good ability.
I’ve mentioned summoning and illusions, but the best of these as far as I’m concerned is Mirror Image. It takes many forms, but basically, the ability to duplicate yourself is incredibly powerful. Especially if it’s believable – illusion spells usually move up from being silent images, or sounds with no substance, into full images with sound. A good mirror image does this.
A better mirror image can help you move and interact with the world – can maybe cast your spells, or at least seem to. Mirror image is a good defense, with your true self hidden and disguised amongst copies. And with fully manifested copies, it can also be incredibly useful.
For the best example of this, there’s no one better than Naruto. He maybe creates more mirror images (Shadow Clones for him) than are really practical, but they get the job done. They are defense, distraction, they help him channel energy, buy time, and fight. Combined with his other Ninjutsu, he can do all sorts of things with them. The best summon to have is, it seems, yourself.
There are all sorts of spells to increase yourself and your own power. Spells to increase strength, defenses, and just about everything you can think of. However, of all of these sorts of spells, If I had to pick one, it would be haste. The ability to move faster has a lot of applications. Usually, you see effects that include increased dodge ability, the ability to get in more actions in less time, and of course moving faster. So whatever it is you are trying to do, haste lets you do more, faster.
There’s been a lot of buzz about Flash lately, as he’s going to be added as a character in Arrow. But really, moving fast is not a bad thing, and I am excited to see Flash. With Arrow, really, the question is whether this is going to be a man with super powers, or just the physically fastest man alive. We shall see!
Haste effects show up in all sorts of games, and I’ve seen it most recently in Knights of the Old Republic, as one of the Jedi powers. This increases defense, movement speed, and adds attacks per round – all of the highlights of a haste spell, in Jedi form. One of the more interesting situations with Haste I have seen in gaming is the difference between Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. In XIII, Haste was a spell, and was the one that your characters were programmed to cast first if they were the support class. In XIII-2, Haste is not a spell you can cast – instead, if you get a pre-emptive strike in battle, you have Haste automatically cast on you to start the fight. It played into the hyper speed of the Final Fantasy XIII games, but it was weird to not have this spell under your control.
When you are in a world of magic, and you have to use an implement like a wand to cast a spell, then is there a better spell than disarming? I’m thinking maybe not. Disarming a mage means they are at your mercy, and then you’re pretty much done. One spell to rule them all. And a central point to the Harry Potter series is the pivotal Expelliarmus spell, which he keeps using to try to disarm the Big Bad. Because to him, it keeps seeming like a good idea.
Disarming in general is bigger than this, even, however. I remember back playing World of Warcraft, where disarming abilities could completely shut down weapon-based characters. So more broadly, if magical disarming could remove an opponents weapon or whatever they are carrying, then you would be hard to stop. Swords, wands… heck, guns! Remember the scene in X-Men where Magneto disarms all the cops and turns their guns on them? An army couldn’t stop him.
So while I have a very specific spell in mind here, the concept behind it ought to make sense. I’m thinking of the spell Refresh from Final Fantasy XI, which higher level Red Mages got. A class which is known for being strong in early days, and then topping out in power while others pull past it in power. Then, suddenly, a single spell was added and saved the Red Mage class, keeping it in the game all the way to maximum level. Refresh was simple: it regenerated a mage’s Mana over time.
That’s it. Simple, elegant. In a magic system where you have to use Mana to power your spells, any effect which generates more Mana than it costs can keep you going over time. With limited resources, not being out is the difference between life and death.
There are other spells like this in other games, like in Dragon Age: Origins. And in most game systems, there is a resource to limit spell casting, and many of them have effects, if not spells, which increase Mana regeneration. But being able to actively cast this on yourself, to kick it into overdrive, is powerful.
It’s interesting, then, that in most of these sorts of systems, there is not a required implement to cast spells. So in most magical worlds, either Expelliarmus or Refresh would be needed, but maybe not both.
Another really specific spell, with a more general system that makes sense. Triple was an amazing addition to the Final Fantasy series in Final Fantasy VIII. Most of the games in the series have some form of double-casting, to cast two of a spell rather than one. After VIII, they added far more area-of-effect spells, both offensive attacks for hitting all the enemies, and defensive buffs for helping all your friends. And thus, there had never been Triple before, and it didn’t come back again after.
And while these area-of-effect spells seem to cover the needs for which Triple was created (since Triple let you buff all of your three-person party all at once, with great spells like Haste), stop for a moment and think about Triple out of context. With area spells, for instance – three of these would still probably be better than one, or even two.
The other thing about Triple was that it let you select different spells and targets for each of the three. So you not only could do three of one, but you could do three different. Haste, Mirror Image, Teleport. You’re now somewhere else, defended, acting faster. And Triple lasts, so it’s more than just one casting – you can keep doing it. Combined with Haste, it’s almost like your opponents are standing still.
Fireball, or Horrid Wilting?
I am realizing that there aren’t really any attack spells on this list. Attack spells make up such a large part of magic in games, because in general these sorts of games are about fighting off villains and monsters, and you need some offense. However, because there’s such a variety of attack spells, how do you choose just one? Or even ten? I could probably do a list post of ten great attack spells, which would probably range from Magic Missile to Ultima.
The base sort of attack spell, though, is Fireball. It’s not the most basic or starter sort of spell, like a Magic Missile; but it’s also not a massive world ender, like Ultima. I’m mixing my D&D and Final Fantasy, I suppose, but there are plenty of Ultima-type spells in all sorts of games – giant, world-devastating explosions. And plenty of basic, single-target shooter spells. But Fireball, a shooter spell that then explodes into an area, is great. It lets you fight at range, and fight many targets, and it crops up in all kinds of systems.
However, if I have to pick one sort of attack spell, then I can do better than Fireball. Going back to my Baldur’s Gate 2 experience, the idea that comes to mind is Horrid Wilting. A wide area attack, which does heavy damage, and which only hits your enemies. You can drop it right in the middle of a mixed-melee, into a group of people, and only hit the targets you want. And this is the sort of attack spell that is best.
You see the distinction made very subtly in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, and in our D&D campaign, leads a lot of our decisions on powers to learn. There are spells that hit every creature in an area, and then spells that hit every enemy in an area. The latter is your Horrid Wilting sort of spell, the one you can drop in the area you want without fearing for your friends; but meanwhile, attacking more than just one singular target. This is also kind of how much of the Final Fantasy spells work, but in part because space isn’t part of the concern: instead, there’s the friends, and there’s the enemies. But identifying friend-from-foe like this is incredibly powerful, and is most useful in a damaging attack.
The last type of spell would be a healing spell, which is one of those handy things to be able to do with magic. However, if I were to pick one, it would have to be a Resurrect spell. Because healing damage is great, but overcoming death is amazing. And doing so without the target just being a Zombie is even better.
Honestly, this is the most powerful spell on the list. It’s a power that makes up one of the three Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter. It’s kind of the underlying basis of the Christian faith, for instance, and is something Science has yet to be able to replicate. It’s something that’s used as a major plot point almost every time it’s used, except perhaps in comics. But it would be a handy spell to have.
And, for the lone wizard, Auto-Life spells are a thing, and are a pretty good bet, right?