Understanding Evocation Magic
The School of Evocation is the school of power. No other school of magic contains as many potent damage-dealing spells as this spell list. Whether it is divine, eldritch, or elemental energy, this school specializes in harnessing the tendrils of the Weave to create a desired effect.
The ‘evocation’ is simply the noun form of the word ‘evoke,’ which means to give rise, draw forth, or produce. In essence, that is exactly what this school of magic does.
Casters who draw upon the School of Evocation are masters of the Weave. With the right words and components, they reorder the pattern of the Weave to call forth the manifestation of their will, usually (but not always) in quick, isolated bursts of power.
I think of evocations as magical chemistry. The evoker knows which threads to tug together to make the Weave combust, shock, or freeze, etc. They also know just how much or how little to add to produce either a tiny reaction or a massive burst of power.
Just as dropping a piece of potassium in water will cause a spectacular reaction, so the results of evocation magic will dazzle the eyes of those around to see it.
What makes Evocation Magic Different from other Schools
I often joke with my other DM friends that if they are not sure what school of magic something belongs to, just call it an evocation and you’re probably right. This is because the School of Evocation has such a wide variety of uses that sometimes it’s hard to tell what makes it different from the other schools of magic.
Like the School of Conjuration, the trait that makes evocation magic unique is the way in which the magic is manifested, rather than the manifestation itself.
Both conjurations and evocations can produce fire, but conjurations summon that fire from elsewhere. The School of Evocation creates fire from the magical energy that exists around the caster.
While the School of Necromancy is the magic of life and death, in D&D 5e, your healing spells are found on the list of evocations.
Usually, evocations produce magic that is elemental in nature. This isn’t a hard rule, and there are always exceptions, but in general, evocations produce one powerful effect that dissipates quickly.
For example, without material to burn, the flames of fireball will fizzle out, whereas the fire of flaming sphere (a conjuration) will continue to burn until the caster dismisses it.
These spells are designed to hit hard and fast and deal massive amounts of damage. That doesn’t mean there aren’t spells that do things other than damage, it just means that the main point of these spells is to make your enemies think twice about rushing into a spellcaster’s line of sight.
The overlap between the School of Evocation and other schools of magic can sometimes be headache-inducing, but it does make sense. An evoker works their will by taking the magic that permeates the very air our characters breathe and putting it to use.
Since the Weave is the tangible raw energy that our characters can access, it can be twisted and folded to produce any number of things. The only real limit is the caster’s own spell list.
How to Use Evocation Magic in your World
Since the School of Evocation is mostly designed to be spells that destroy, we as DMs must ask ourselves–what are the consequences of this type of magic existing in our worlds?
How has warfare changed with the advent of spells like fireball and lightning bolt?
It’s no longer enough to line up your soldiers in neat little rows and send them marching to battle with swords and shields. Now they have the very forces of nature to contend with, and if a general isn’t wise enough to plan for that, it will make for short combat.
In a level 20 one-shot I played in once, we were facing down an ancient bronze dragon. All of our PCs started their turns getting ready for the battle and standing defiantly to face down the threat of the beast–in a perfect line.
Our DM graciously and casually mentioned, “are you sure you all don’t want to use your movement to…I dunno…get out of a 120x10ft straight line?” He then mercifully let us panic and retcon our turns to take cover. If he hadn’t, it would have been one of the shortest boss fights in history.
I tell that story to show you how strategy and tactics change in a world where fireballs and lightning bolts and moonbeams exist. As second and third-level spells, it doesn’t take too much time or study–in the grand scheme of things–for many spellcasters to learn to master such destructive power.
If these same spellcasters join armies or, worse, build their own armies, how do the powers that be contend with such forces? Do they actively recruit mages? Do they force mages to do 2 years of compulsory military service after finishing “school?” One way or another, you better believe the government will find a way to use that kind of power to their advantage.
Consider how the advent of automatic weapons changed the way our own world went to war at the turn of the twentieth century. The scale of violence escalated quickly, making this century the bloodiest century in our world’s history yet.
Now, I’m not suggesting you need to make this parallel in your world with the School of Evocation (but it would be cool!). We often play D&D 5e to escape the struggles of the real world for a while.
But the reality is, violence is often a result of conflict, and good stories thrive off of conflict. Consider what role the existence of evokers plays in these conflicts, and what reputation this may have earned these mages.
One effect this threat might have is causing nations to be more reluctant to go to war. If a battle over trade routes results in burned villages and shattered walls, not to mention thousands of dead citizens, is it worth it?
Or, would it be better to send a party of plucky adventurers to take care of some minor border raids? If that party has an evoker, they’re likely as destructive as a small army would be, anyway.
On a more micro level, what defenses are made against such magic users? A mage with their magic focus or component bag is a walking weapon that can’t necessarily be disarmed at the door of the swanky party your players are infiltrating.
No one is going to just let a walking bomb enter their event without some measure of protection. Consider how your more prominent settings protect themselves against mad wizards who threaten to unleash earthquake if their demands aren’t met.
Evocation is an incredibly powerful school of magic, and to quote the age-old adage, “With great power comes great responsibility.” No matter how scarce magic is in your setting, your world is shaped and affected by this magic. Our job as DM’s is to decide how.
Common Evocation Spells
There are 109 spells that call the School of Evocation home. As we said before, there are so many different types of evocation spells, it’s hard to classify them all into sub-categories. This school is about how the magic is made, not what the magic does.
With that being said, evocations can generally be sorted into one of three subsets.
The usual go-to evocations of the Arcane practitioner, elemental magic is magic that takes the form of one of the many types of damage found in D&D 5e: acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder. These are spells such as ray of frost, chromatic orb, chaos bolt, and of course, the infamous fireball.
All of these spells are the result of the Weave twisting to create the desired element. Ray of Frost does exactly what the title of the spell says–it shoots a ray of frost. On a hit, the target not only takes 1d8 damage, but it also reduces their speed by 10 feet. Not bad, for a cantrip.
In the case of spells like chromatic orb, the spell caster gets to decide which element to use. Similar to this spell is one of my personal favorites, chaos bolt, which has its element determined by the roll of the dice. I like to think of these as more volatile concoctions of the Weave–not because they do more damage, but because you never know just how they are going to blow up.
Of course, when it comes to explosions, few things can be more destructive and awesome than fireball. Even people who don’t play D&D have heard of fireball. It is one of the most popular spells and the subject of many D&D memes, for good reason.
This 3rd level (seriously??) evocation does massive amounts of damage, even if the creatures in range pass their dexterity saving throws. Just remember, all creatures in range take damage. You and your party included.
Energy evocations are spells that use a more abstract form of magic. These spells do not manifest as elements common to nature. Instead, the caster wields energy that only exists in the realm by magical or divine intervention. Such spells are eldritch blast, sacred flame, spiritual weapon, and magic missle.
We said that these spells are made of unnatural energy, and we find a prime example of this in eldritch blast. The word ‘eldritch’ literally means otherworldly and supernatural.
This cantrip manifests as crackling energy that deals 1d10 force damage to a target on a hit. The spell only exists on the Warlock list, and is meant to be a manifestation of the power they received from the pact formed with their otherworldly patron.
Eldritch blast generally carries with it a connotation of dark magic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stereotyped that way in your game. There are many types of creatures that form pacts with mortals, including celestial beings.
Consider how the type of patron might affect the appearance of your warlock’s eldritch blast.
Another spell that is described as glowing magical energy is magic missile, which also deals force damage instead of elemental damage. Although the spell is never officially linked to eldritch blast, these two evocations are incredibly similar.
Though one is learned through study, one is given by a higher being, both could be described as ‘eldritch’ in nature.
On the other side of the coin from eldritch power are spells like sacred flame and spiritual weapon, which are supposed to represent magic from the divine and heavenly realms. These spells are only found on the Cleric spell list, implying that only those whose connection to the Weave is mediated by a deity can access this type of magic, no matter how hard they study.
Sacred flame is a cantrip that summons divine fire onto the wielder’s enemy, causing 1d8 radiant damage on a failed saving throw. Spiritual weapon is the manifestation of a spectral weapon that can be controlled by the evoker to deal additional force damage to their enemies.
Both of these spells are generally thought of as ‘holy’ magic, which purges evil and purifies the wicked. Yet like eldritch power, this stereotype doesn’t have to persist in your games. Not all clerics work for good deities, after all, which might affect the way these spells are perceived.
Support and buff Magic
While most spells in the School of Evocation deal damage directly, there are still some spells that exist to support, strengthen, or protect your characters in a fight. Some examples of these are spells such as cure wounds, divine favor, and Leomund’s Tiny Hut.
Quite frankly, all of these spells could exist in other schools of magic, and have existed in other schools in the past. But for 5e, they have been categorized as evocations, so that is how we will think about them.
In past editions, cure wounds has belonged to the School of Necromancy, where it was the work of a healer calling life back into a wounded individual. As an evocation, we can think of cure wounds as a magical first aid kit.
The bandages are made out of the Weave itself, and heal instantaneously as the evoker twines the tendrils of magic together.
As for divine favor, this spell grabs hold of the Weave to fill your character with divine radiance. This radiance then bursts forth from your weapon, like a paladin’s smite, and deals additional magical damage.
Finally, there is Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which many would argue belongs on the abjuration or conjuration list. And, honestly, I don’t disagree. But since it is considered an evocation, we know that this hut isn’t something being conjured from nothing or summoned from somewhere else.
Instead, this hut takes the Weave and hardens it into something solid and strong, building it up with the raw materials of magical residue in the atmosphere.
Common Evocation Items
As we have mentioned previously, magic items in D&D 5e are not required to have a school of magic associated with them. This fact, along with evocation’s eclectic nature, can make it difficult to classify many items as evocations.
On the other hand, one could probably say most magic items are evocations and it wouldn’t be technically wrong. It all boils down to how the item works, not what the item does.
All of the being said, here are three items that I think could be classified as belonging to the School of Evocation that would be handy to add to your games.
Circlet of Blasting (wondrous item, uncommon)
This fancy piece of bling does more than look shiny. The Circlet of Blasting is a magic item that allows the user to cast the evocation spell scorching ray once a day. Anyone using this circlet to cast the spell has a +5 to hit.
Evocation items like this one are great ways to give a little more umph to your squishy spell casters. It allows them to use less of their precious spell slots so they can remain useful in damage dealing for a lot longer in a fight. There are few things more frustrating than running out of spell slots before the monster even looks bloody!
Dagger of Venom (weapon, rare)
The Dagger of Venom is a weapon that could become a quick favorite of the rogues in your party. Not only does this give your character a +1 to hit, but it is also considered a magic weapon even when you haven’t activated its perk.
As an action, the user can evoke a thick black poison to coat the blade, which lasts for one minute or until it hits a creature. That creature must then succeed on a DC15 constitution saving throw or take an additional 2d10 points of poison damage, as well as suffer from the poisoned condition for one minute.
Could you imagine if a rogue hit with one of these while hidden and landed a crit? Those damage dice would add up fast. Fortunately for the sake of your epic boss battle, the dagger can only be used to evoke the poison once a day, so once it hits it is done.
Driftglobe (wondrous item, uncommon)
At first glance, the driftglobe might not seem like an exceptionally useful or interesting item. All it does is float and emit light. At least, that was the uninformed and rookie mistake I made when I hastily gave one out to my party when I needed to come up with a magic item to reward them with on the spot.
As it turns out, this little glass sphere doesn’t just emit light, it emits the evocation spell daylight. And, as it turns out, my party was questing on their way to face down an evil vampire lord who might not appreciate their piece of portable magic sunlight.
Anything that gets disadvantaged with sunlight would suffer from the effects of this little wondrous item. So if your party is planning to raid some undead-infested crypts or adventure into the Underdark, this would be a nice little boon for them to take with them.
Like the other evocation items we discussed, it can only be used once a day, so your players will have to strategize what their best moment to use that sliver of daylight would be.
Describing Evocation Magic in Your World
Of all the schools of magic, evocation is hands down the easiest school to get descriptive with.
It’s flashy, it’s fun, it’s even explosive at times. All of your senses can easily be drawn into this powerful manifestation of magic. There is very little that is subtle about evocation spells. With that being said, let’s take a look at some ways you might consider describing this magic in your world.
Sight is by far one of the first things you will think of describing when it comes to evocations. Just the names of some of these spells evokes powerful imagery. Ray of frost, burning hands, chaos bolt.
All of these names spark images of colorful wizard duals in my mind even before I read the descriptions of what these spells actually do.
But just because a spell tells you what it looks like doesn’t mean you can’t decide for yourself what it looks like. Spell manifestations are a great way to invite your players to the creativity of the table. Let them decide, based on the flavor of the character they are building, how their spells look.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gives some guidelines to keep in mind on personalizing spells on page 116-117, starting with a fun anecdote from Tasha herself about adding chicken legs to all her spells for her own amusement.
This is a great resource to reference if you are looking for inspiration. But in case you don’t have the book, here are the most important things to keep in mind when altering the traditional appearance of a spell:
- Visual alterations are for flavor only, and shouldn’t change the effect of the spell unless you as the DM approves it.
- Any positives you allow to be added to a spell should come with an equal number of drawbacks.
- Creativity is King. If your player wants to cast a spell but is out of the compoents they need, they can try to subsititue, but the results may be…interestesting.
The best thing to keep in mind when changing the way an evocation looks is making sure the alteration doesn’t change the mechanics of the spell.
As we said before, there is very little that is subtle about evocations, so changing a spell’s appearance to look either hyper-realistic to blend in or completely invisible to go on unnoticed could be potentially overpowering a spell. There should always be some risk in casting magic, and that risk could be getting caught and being seen.
Like sight, the sense of hearing is another easy way to describe your evocations. The roar of fireball as it crashes down or the boom of thunderwave as it echoes out its 300 feet are all easy to reference. And really, there’s not much need to grab for more than that. Oftentimes, the simplest description is the best description.
People connect to references they understand and will create vivid pictures in their minds based on the smallest description. If we try to be too creative, we might lose the audience.
Like sight, sound can also be flavored to suit the theme of the character. If you change the visual effects of a spell, the sound effects will probably be altered as well. For example, if your warlock has a pact with an archfey, their eldritch blast might not crackle. It might be accompanied by birdsongs or the childish laughter of pixies.
Scent is always a great detail to add to magic, and as you have probably picked up by now, I’m a big fan of magic having its own unique scent. Especially if your character has a specific theme that accompanies it. (check out my YouTube video below for more on this crazy idea)
Clerics who work for sea gods might leave a trace of brine on their air with every evocation they cast, signifying the hand of their god on their magic. Warlocks belonging to demon lords may leave sulphur and brimstone.
Rather than personalizing each scent marker, you could also unify this school of magic by giving it one scent.
Consider giving the Weave its own specific aroma, and for the sake of this example, I’ll say it has a clean linen scent (it is called the Weave, after all). Because all evocations have the source of their magic in common, perhaps all evocations leave a faint hint of fresh laundry behind, signifying the way the Weave was touched and rearranged to form the magical effects.
This would be a great way to reveal this school of magic to those who cast detect magic. It could also be a way to feed information to your players that magic has been cast recently in the area they are exploring, perhaps warning them to be on their guard.
There are two things that come to my mind when I think about describing evocation spells to my players. The first is how the magical effect feels to the target of the spell.
Since evocations are spells that generally cause pain, pain is generally what I describe. The amount of damage rolled will determine how much pain I describe. One magic missile might feel like a bee sting, whereas all three magic missiles targeting the same character might be more like a bullet ant bite.
We all know what it feels like to get burned and some of us may have even experienced being frostbitten before. If not, you can always spend a little time researching the effects of certain injuries, such as acid spills or sound concussions.
Be sure to reassure anyone who looks over your search history that you’re a DM, not a psychopath!
The second way I think of describing evocations is describing how it feels to cast such spells.
This ranges from what the Weave feels like in the palm of the weaver. Does the magic feel warm? Cold? Threadlike? Slippery? Does the mage reach out and grasp fire-element threads or water element threads? How does the wizard know they have caught the right threads of magic?
When they do catch magic, consider what it feels like for the caster. In one of my games, my druid asked if they could use some recent emotional trauma to change their subclass from Circle of Life to Circle of Wildfire and I allowed it.
When it came time for them to start casting spells, my player did a fantastic job describing how he started to gather the Weave to heal a fallen companion only to realize he was gathering heat in his palm, not the cool healing energies. The character quickly changed course and cast burning hands at the enemy instead.
This is a great example of how you can use the sense of feel to flavor combat and magic casting in your games. That character could have just said, “I cast burning hands.” Instead, they worked the feeling of magic into their description to help tell the story of his character discovering that magic no longer reacted the way she expected it to.
Since evocation spells are so powerful visually and sonorously, it’s probably safe to just stick with these descriptors and not worry about what flavor your lightning lure is. But, just like scent, taste can be used to add a little extra unexpected detail to your evocation spells.
Many of the suggestions applied to the sense of smell can also be applied to the sense of taste, since these senses are so closely related. The difference is only the way the sense is perceived.
Those around the caster of a spell might pick up on that scent of magic, whereas those casting the spell might taste the magic as well as smell it. As they draw the Weave in and through them, some of that residue might linger on their tongue, especially if your spell has a verbal requirement to it. A wizard or sorcerer might literally be able to taste the magic on their lips.
I hope this gives your game advantage, my friends!
Until next time,