Understanding Abjuration Magic
The School of Abjuration is known as the magic of protection, but don’t let that distinction fool you. Some of the spells in this school can do some nasty damage. Just as a shield can be as deadly as the sword it is paired with, so abjuration magic can be a surprising tool for your glass cannon casters.
Sure, it might lack the flashiness of some evocations and conjurations. But to that fiend who takes 5d10 radiant damage when they try to teleport into your party’s 40,000 square foot Batcave-like lair only to be forbidden by forbiddance, it’s no joke.
A mage who uses spells from the school of Abjuration bends the Weave to form magical barriers and shields. They can also negate harmful effects such as poison or curses, set some nasty traps, and even banish dangerous enemies to other realms. The focus of these spells is to repel bad things and keep good things (or people) safe.
Mechanically speaking, this is the AC-boosting, HP-raising class of magic. It is the ultimate support school. The best defense is sometimes exactly that–defense. You don’t have to heal what isn’t wounded. No one ever said that defense had to be boring.
What makes Abjuration Magic Different from other Schools
The School of Abjuration gets its definition from the motivation behind the magic rather than the magical source or effects themselves. There are several different ways that abjuration magic manifests that it can sometimes be easy to confuse the spells with evocations or conjurations.
What truly sets the School of Abjuration apart from the other schools is not the form of the magic, but the purpose behind the magic.
Abjuration magic is specifically geared towards defense and protection in a way that no other school fully excels at. Other schools of magic can be used defensively, but none of them do so as effectively as abjuration.
Even the abjuration spells that have a damaging effect, such as armor of Agathys or forbiddance, do so as a secondary effect. The first and primary task of any School of Abjuration spell is to keep the spellcaster and/or their allies safe.
Whether it be from imminent, physical danger, a poison that creeps through your veins or prying eyes and ears, the one thing all abjuration spells have in common is their purpose to protect.
How to Use Abjuration Magic in your World
I won’t lie, I am a bit guilty of abusing the School of Abjuration in my games. It’s just too tempting! “Can I misty step through the door to get to the bad guy?” Er… uhm… no… because… magic… yeah.
Okay, so that’s not exactly how abjuration works. But if my warlock uses detect magic on my DM-BS, I’m going to tell her that abjuration is the reason I’ve railroaded her into solving the riddle instead of teleporting past my not very well-thought-out plans.
No, don’t judge me! We’ve all done it at least once in our DM lives! It was a cool riddle!
Okay, okay. All jokes aside, the School of Abjuration really is a great tool to have in your toolbox when it comes to designing challenges. Since most D&D settings are highly magical in nature, there needs to be some sort of counterbalance to seemingly unlimited abilities.
That counterbalance is abjuration.
Could you imagine living in a world where a few spoken words and components could turn a less-than-savory individual invisible?
Or a fancy magical item could make an assassin look like an innocent bystander? That kind of power is scary if you really think about it. And if you’re a monarch living in a world like that, you’ve definitely thought about it.
Depending on what your players are trying to do, abjuration magic is probably in the way. Someone who has something worth questing for is someone who has something worth guarding.
Important people and villains probably have alarms set to warn of intruders. Depending on how secret their secret base is, they may have traps and snares set up.
Just looking through the list of abjuration spells gave me a whole new roster of inspiration for dungeon traps and encounters.
There is really no limit to how your NPCs and villains could be using protection magic to guard themselves and their loot. It’s a scary world out there, with adventurers and dragons running rampant. It only makes sense that the world is prepared to fight magical threats with magical defenses.
Common Abjuration Spells
According to my research–which consisted entirely of filtering by abjuration on the D&D Spells 5e app–there are 52 spells in the School of Abjuration. That’s 52 different ways to just say “no” to whatever situation you don’t want to happen.
No, you can’t teleport here.
No, actually, you can’t see me.
And, no, thank you. I don’t feel like being blinded right now.
There is a lot that the School of Abjuration can do, but in general, the spells fall into one of five types of effects.
Spells that buff are spells that alter some type of score. In this context, it is usually armor class or hit points.
Staples of this category are mage armor and shield. These spells increase armor class and are intended to make a target less easy to hit. Aid is another great buffing spell, which gives temporary HP.
One of my favorite buffing spells is ceremony, which gives a wide variety of benefits depending on how it is used. You can bless converts, make holy water, or even give a bonus +2 AC as a wedding gift to a happy couple for 7 days!
I’m still trying to figure out who gets married and then chooses monster-slaying as their honeymoon destination…
(Is that why Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann decided to get married in the middle of that boss fight in Pirates of the Caribbean?)
This isn’t about love, it’s about the meta!
A spell that negates effects makes a bad thing that happened stop happening.
These are the spells that I often forget my players have until they casually whip them out just in time to thwart my diabolical schemes.
(Or, if you’re a player like me, you also forget you have them and spend three rounds of combat blinded until the effect wears off on its own…)
Greater and lesser restoration, protection from good and evil, and dispel magic are all great examples of spells that negate effects that every adventuring party and evil NPC enterprise should have access to.
These spells remove certain pesky conditions such as blinded, poisoned, deafened, or paralysis. In the case of protection from good and evil, the targeted creature is immune to certain conditions based on the parameters the caster chooses.
The “Keep Away” spells are spells like arcane lock, forbiddance, and alarm.
These spells keep out intruders of various types in various ways.
From as simple as alerting the caster to the presence of uninvited guests to an explosive reason not to try and barge your way in, these spells make long rests actually restful.
Every locked door that requires a riddle to open is a door enchanted with arcane lock. It can only be opened by those who know the right password. Assuming your players don’t have access to dispel magic, this is a great time to throw in that riddle you’ve been holding onto for so long.
Banishing spells are one of my favorite mechanics of this school of magic. Nothing says “I can’t even with you right now” like casting banishment on a Balor to send them back to their home plane. It’s like hanging up on a telemarketer who won’t leave you alone about your nonexistent car warranty.
Even better than banishment is banishing smite, if you’re a paladin. It’s essentially the same as banishment, except you cast it with a righteous smackdown in the name of your deity or oath.
True, you have to knock it down to a certain level of HP for it to work, but just think of that sweet satisfaction when you slap that monster out of contemporary existence.
Sometimes the best way to defend yourself is to just not get caught, and the School of Abjuration has spells for that, too. Pass without trace and nondetection are prime examples of this. One adds +10 to your stealth rolls while the other protects you from divination magic.
In addition to these, I also include mind blank as a spell to avoid notice. This spell is so powerful, not even wish can get around it.
Mind blank makes it impossible for any creature to penetrate your mind. They can’t divine your thoughts, sense your emotions, or damage you psychically.
As far as your nosey adversary can tell, there is nothing going on in that head of yours. It’s a really useful spell when you’re the only one in the world with the nuclear launch codes, or when your jealous ex-supervillain doesn’t understand that you blocked them on Instagram for a reason.
Common Abjuration Items
Magic items that produce abjuration effects are incredibly useful for a party of adventurers. In my experience, my players always want to build their characters to do the most damage. While this isn’t true for absolutely every party, it is a common trait among my circle of players.
One way to help your party play the characters they want to play without having to sacrifice spell slots on support, (more slots to go boom!) is to give them magic items from the School of Abjuration.
Unlike in previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons, magic items in D&D 5e don’t actually have to belong to a school of magic.
That means when your warlock finds that cool magic trinket and casts Detect Magic on it, you don’t actually have to tell them anything more than the fact that it is magical.
That’s a little-known fact I would have liked to have known when I first started DMing! (so many panic searches…)
But for those moments when the mystery of the item isn’t the point of the adventure and/or your players just won’t let it go, (“ACTUALLY, It says RIGHT HERE I get to know the school of magic!” …can it, Kevin.) here are some nifty magic items I would label as belonging to the School of Abjuration.
Orbs of Shielding (wondrous item, common):
These little crystal balls come in every flavor of the magic rainbow. From Acid to Thunder, the Orbs of Shielding allow the holder to reduce the damage of its allotted type by 1d4 to a minimum of 0.
It is also able to be used by a spell caster as a spellcasting focus! Two birds, one polished spherical chunk of crystal!
Orbs of Shielding are particularly useful when you know you have an encounter coming up that will deal a significant amount of one type of damage. It’s also incredibly useful to you as a DM if you have a sorcerer who flavors all their spells as one type of damage.
If your pyro-mage likes to spam fire bolt on command, consider giving an enemy an Orb of Fire Shielding to make the fight a little more challenging. Then, depending on how you feel about giving your players magic items, let them loot it for a fun reward!
Lock of Trickery (wondrous item, common):
The Lock of Trickery is a fun little magic item that has the potential to frustrate your players. This lock appears to be just a normal, ordinary, average, everyday, run-of-the-mill lock.
Until your rogue tries to pick it.
The tumblers within Lock of Trickery magically adjust to thwart those who would break into it. This means, mechanically speaking, that dexterity checks to pick the lock have disadvantage.
I like to imagine that the lock snickers a little bit every time a rogue fails to defeat its machination (just like I do, hehe).
The Lock of Trickery does come with one key, so there is potential to make a quest out of finding the key to get into whatever is locked up.
Perhaps after a failed attempt or two, the party moves on and discovers the key hidden in another room. Perhaps they have to smooth-talk it out of someone or pickpocket it from the owner. There is plenty of potential to make an ordinary locked box something a little more fun with the Lock of Trickery. Just make sure whatever is locked up in there is worth all the trouble.
Amulet of Proof against Detection and Location (wondrous item, uncommon):
Wow, that’s a doozy of a name. The Amulet of Proof against Detection and Location does exactly what it says it does: it protects the wearer against divination magic. While wearing this trinket, you cannot be perceived by magic scrying or sensors.
This magic item is an INCREDIBLY important tool for us Dungeon Masters. Because, finally, I have something that will thwart my paladin’s divine sense.
Nothing kills intrigue and suspense faster than, “I cast Divine Sense.” Any chance the vampire BBEG had of trying to convince the players he was good went right out the window.
But now, with this simple piece of fashion accessory, I can create a bit more mystery in my games. And while it is true that divine sense isn’t ‘labeled’ as divination magic, it works exactly like the spell detect good and evil, which is a divination spell. There is enough ambiguity in the item and the feature that you could justly rule one way or the other. (don’t ya just love the magic system?? *rubs temples*)
Either way, this amulet, along with other School of Abjuration items, is an excellent way to keep a bit of mystery and fun alive in your D&D adventures!
Describing Abjuration Magic in Your World
When it comes to describing the School of Abjuration in your world, consider what makes Abjuration magic abjuration. Even though there are many different types and flavors of abjuration spells, we know that they all have the goal of protection in common. So with that in mind, let’s look at some ideas for describing abjuration magic.
The way a spell looks when it manifests is probably the first thing a person would notice when an abjuration spell is cast. Consider something that would fit the theme of your world and the person casting their spell. As an example, let’s look at shield.
Shield is a reaction spell that increases armor class temporarily. There are myriad ways that could look, though. Maybe it’s as simple as a glowing, ethereal bubble between the caster and the attacker.
Perhaps it manifests as a full suit of magical-glowing armor, or just a light that shimmers over the character’s skin. It could appear as a literal shield that arises just in time to protect the target of the spell.
The description of the appearance of a spell is a prime opportunity for you to incorporate your players into the building of the game.
Ask your players what makes their character safe and protected, and consider using that to shape the elements of their abjuration manifestations.
There are two ways I think about describing the sound of aberration magic in my games. The first is the actual sound of the chanting.
Most spells require some sort of somatic component to cast them. You and your players don’t necessarily have to come up with the chants and the words themselves, but think about what a protection spell might sound like.
The words are probably bold and forceful, a verbal representation of a boundary that can’t be crossed. They are words that, under no circumstance, are meant to be argued with.
Another way of looking at sound in magic is the sound of the manifested magic itself. Let’s look at snare as an example.
This spell requires a rope in a 5-foot circle to be enchanted into a magical trap. Specifically, the spell says it is nearly invisible and must be discerned with a check against the caster’s DC check. In addition to describing the faint visual light one might see, you could also opt to describe a low thrumming sound from the spell’s location.
I like to imagine abjuration magic as having a deep, low sound, like that feeling when the bass drops and you know something is about to go down. It’s like the rattle of a snake warning you that it is about to strike, telling you to back off and give it space.
Your players automatically know it’s time to gear up and be on their guard.
Whatever safety and protection sounds like to you and your players, that’s the sound you’ll want to describe.
Scent is probably one of the least described senses in most games, but it can create the most interesting sense of realism.
When I think of “safe” smells, the first thing that comes to my mind is metal and oil. That might seem a little strange, but it’s the smell I associate with old locks and vaults.
Of course, not every spell is about locking things up and keeping them safe. Perhaps lessor restoration leaves a cleansing smell, such as myrrh or sage or other herbs and spices generally associated with cleansing. Or maybe, it just leaves a smell of bleach. Whichever one fits your setting better.
When it comes to the banishing smells, I like the idea of the scent of the other plane of existence lingering in the air afterward.
Did your players send a Balor back to whence it came? Describe the acrid scent of sulfur and death from its realm. Let the air be permeated with the reminder of what your players almost had to face. If the concentration is broken and the creature is able to return, let that scent be the warning to your players that it’s not over yet.
I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t recommend players or NPCs make a habit out of licking magic, or strange magical objects, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for any situation. That being said, when it comes to ‘tasting’ magic there are more options than just describing the flavor of a potion.
Even if your players aren’t actually licking anything, taste can still be a strong sensory stimulant. As an example, let’s look at protection from poison. Regardless of how a player became poisoned, a bitter taste in the mouth is a common symptom. When a player is cured by this spell, consider how a sweet taste might replace the bitter one.
If you’re casting absorb elements, what do those elements taste like?
They’re absorbed into your character, and everything is connected. Odds are you’re going to taste it. Is fire smokey, or lightning spicey? Does cold remind your character of shaved ice, or does acid taste sour? Coming up with different flavors is a great way to engage your players in the story and the world.
Feeling Abjuration magic can be a two-fold experience. There is what the caster feels when they twist the Weave, and there is what those who experience the magic feel.
Because of the nature of the School of Abjuration, I always imagine the magic feeling strong and solid. Shield ought to feel like a heavy, protective shield. Banishment should have all the force of a bouncer tossing rowdy tavern goers out the door.
When my spellcasters cast some type of abjuration, I want them to feel the force of their will snapping into place.
On the other hand, when someone is on the receiving end of an abjuration spell, I want them to feel that force working against them.
When shield prevents my wizard from getting sliced, I want that NPC to feel the reverberation of their blade striking the magic all the way up their arm. We all know that feeling, when an unstoppable object discovers it is not so unstoppable after all.
Worst. sensation. ever.
That’s the kind of description I want to leave my players with.
Of course, not all abjuration is forceful and strong. Lessor restoration might not manifest as kicking poison out of the body, it might feel like hot soup on a cold day. Subtle, reviving, comforting.
One of my absolute favorite descriptions of magic comes from the Players Handbook on page 205, when talking about the Weave. The book describes dispel magic as “smoothing out the Weave” that has been twisted by another’s magic. What a beautiful and relatable image!
As with anything in D&D, it is important to remember that the story belongs to you and your players. The suggestions above are just that–suggestions. Hopefully, they will inspire you to come up with your own creative ways to describe Abjuration magic in your world.
To better engage your players in this, when they cast an Abjuration spell, ask them about one of the senses and let THEM describe it to the table!
Ask questions like, “You cast Dispel Magic and you can feel the arcane nature of this item falling away. What does it feel like?”
“You cast Greater Restoration, the person breathes in deeply, what do they smell?“
Asking specific, guiding questions will allow your players to know what they should describe and give you some fun details to work with!
I hope this gives your game advantage, my friends!
Until next time,