What are the Schools of Magic?

Do you groan internally when one of your players says “I cast Detect Magic”? I do – because I know they’re going to ask me what school(s) of magic they can detect, and I can never remember which is which.

So I’ve made this cheat sheet, and this summary to try to help me in future. Maybe you already have them straight, but if not, I hope it helps you too.

First things first – what are the schools?

Quotes are from the System Reference Document 5.1 (Creative Commons version) by Wizards of the Coast.


From the SRD:

Abjuration spells are protective in nature, though some of them have aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence.

Representative spells: Blade Ward, Absorb Elements, Alarm, Armour of Agathys, Protection from Evil and Good, Sanctuary, Aid, Counterspell, Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, Dispel Evil and Good, Symbol.

So: protection, and removal of bad effects.


From the SRD:

Conjuration spells 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 conjurations create objects or effects out of nothing.

Representative spells: Acid Splash, Call Lightning, Cloudkill, Conjure Minor Elemental, Dimension Door, Create Food and Water, Find Familiar, Gate, Grease, Insect Plague, Mage Hand, Misty Step, Plane Shift, Sleet Storm, Teleport

So: creating things and transporting things


From the SRD:

Divination spells reveal 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.

Representative spells: Clairvoyance, Comprehend Languages, Contact Other Plane, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Magic, Detect Thoughts, Identify, True Seeing

So: finding things out.


From the SRD:

Enchantment spells 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.

Representative spells: Animal Friendship, Bless, Command, Compulsion, Confusion, Feeblemind, Heroism, Hideous Laughter, Hold Person/Monster, Power Word Stun/Kill, Sleep, Zone of Truth

So: mind control (interesting that Hold Person and Power Word Kill fall into this category)


From the SRD:

Evocation spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds.

Representative spells: Acid Arrow, Blade Barrier, Burning Hands, Chain Lightning, Cone of Cold, Contingency, Cure Wounds, Fireball, Heal, Hallow, Ice Storm, Magic Missile, Light, Meteor Swarm, Scorching Ray, Sending

So: magical energy. Somewhat vague – why is Ice Storm Evocation while Sleet Storm is Conjuration? And why is Sending Evocation rather than Divination? (Actually, I see they are correcting this second one in UA2022-Expert-Classes.)


From the SRD:

Illusion spells deceive the senses or minds of others. They 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.

Representative spells: Dancing Lights, Illusory Script, Blur, Invisibility, Phantasmal Force, Colour Spray, Hypnotic Pattern, Mirage Arcane, Silence

I think this one is actually pretty clear


From the SRD:

Necromancy 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.

Creating the undead through the use of necromancy spells such as animate dead is not a good act, and only evil casters use such spells frequently.

Representative spells: Animate Dead, Bestow Curse, Blight, Blindness/Deafness, Clone, Contagion, Magic Jar, Resurrection

So: managing the lines between life and death


From the SRD:

Transmutation spells 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.

Representative spells: Alter Self, Barkskin, Blink, Control Water, Darkvision, Disintegrate, Enhance Ability, Feather Fall, Fly, Goodberry, Heat Metal, Levitate, Magic Weapon, Transmutation, Mending, Message, Prestidigitation, Purify Food and Drink, Shapechange, Spider Climb, Thaumaturgy, True Polymorph

Hmmm. Changing things. But a lot of inconsistencies here. Why is Disintegrate not Necromancy? Why is Purify Food and Drink not Evocation like other healing spells? Why is Message not Divination? Why are Prestidigitation and Thaumaturgy not Illusion? It feels like this has been the box they put all the spells that didn’t fit anywhere else.


Okay, how’s this for a summary

  • Abjuration: protection, defence, and removing bad effects
  • Conjuration: creating and transporting things
  • Divination: finding things out
  • Enchantment: mind control
  • Evocation: manipulation of energy, healing
  • Illusion: make people see things which aren’t there, or hide things
  • Necromancy: the borders between life and death
  • Transmutation: changing things from one form to another, also miscellaneous

Other takes on this

My favourite: The Alpine DM


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