Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planes
Luc Moonraven looked up from his spellbook as his friend, Imrael Almeras, entered their shared, temporary headquarters (which was really nothing more than a hole in the ground) and angrily slammed the makeshift, wooden door behind him. Even if Imrael hadn’t been grumbling to himself as he pulled off his armor and tossed down his longsword, Luc could still make out, in the dim light of his single candle, the scowl Imrael held. “Is something wrong?” Luc asked, feigning ignorance.
Imrael turned on his heels towards the wizard, visibly furious and still covered in mud and bruises. “Is something wrong? Everything’s wrong! Thanks to your damn experiment, we’re stuck in this godforsaken forest on this godforsaken Shadow-whatever plane—”
“Shadowfell,” Luc pointed out, in an unsuccessful attempt to cut short a speech he had heard multiple times over the last week.
“Don’t be so cheeky, Luc.” Imrael retorted acidly. “You’ve had me running all over the place collecting plants and minerals while everything that moves here wants me dead, and in the meantime you’ve sat here comfortably all week with your nose in those damn books doing absolutely nothing!” Luc looked down at the hard stone floor, but decided not to point out how uncomfortable he thought it was. “And now,” Imrael continued as he slumped dejectedly against the wall, “those little bastards have destroyed my shield.”
“Not the one you got from your father?” Luc asked with false concern.
“Don’t remind me.” Imrael growled at him.
“Well, to be fair, I haven’t been idle either.” Luc replied evenly. “I’m trying to invent a spell to get us back home. Magic takes time to perfect, even for a genius.”
“Gods, I hate you sometimes. Why don’t you make something more immediately useful and make me a magic shield or something.” Imrael grumbled, as he lay down and turned his back to Luc.
Luc’s eyebrows rose and he grabbed a book from the stack of study materials he had brought on their excursion. “Very well, let’s see what I can whip up. Rest, my friend, and leave everything to me,” Luc said softly. But Imrael had already fallen asleep.
Origin: Multiple Starting Points
It is difficult to say who exactly invented the spell. Indeed, Shield has been part of every arcanist’s basic toolkit for a very long time, and it’s more than likely that the many precursors to the modern iteration of the spell would have cropped up all over the place. Of course, the concept itself is as old as the practice of the arcane arts. After all, violence and warfare have been around just as long, necessitating easy access to a variety of defensive options.
Before magical research began to circulate around the globe and spellcasting methodology became homogenized, each region had its own way to achieve the practical effects of Shield. The mystics of Caelor learned to draw upon dirt and stone around them to make a solid wall the size of a man; they would later adopt the walls of force energy used by the wizards of the empire of Alriel. However, this process was a slow one; early prototypes of the spell were excessive. History books suggest that the arcanists of old believed more magical input and power to result in more effective spells, and as such, early Shield spells would envelop the user in walls as thick as a foot or more, last for hours, or have extra effects like pushing away aggressors. In the end, casting Shield would drain more resources than it would preserve, limiting the spell’s progress for a long time.
Evolution: An Arms Race
As nations began to invent more effective blacksmithing practices and weapons became deadlier, the need to supplement armor with magic forced Shield to become efficient enough for use by the regular mage or spellblade on the field of battle. Researchers began cutting the fat, doing away with alternative effects that were covered by other spells and reducing the required energy input. Those who learned from intellectuals that preached the benefits of excessive power quickly realized that efficiency was the key. Shield went from a bulky, unwieldy mess to a streamlined, simplistic charm that any halfway decent caster could use without draining themselves.
While most worked on making Shield as efficient and resource-light as possible, some continued to explore the complex defensive options they could implement. Namely, the evolution of evocation spells was proving to be a bigger and bigger threat to abjurers everywhere. Spells like Fireball and Lightning Bolt would engulf the target, making Shield all but useless, and one particular issue that stood out was how effectively Magic Missile could slip past or punch through Shield. The good news is that the modern iteration of Shield is quick and maneuverable enough to catch the rapidly incoming bolts of Magic Missile and the wall’s thickness has been perfected to a point that it will deflect magical bolts of energy as well as sword strikes without excess power input. The bad news is that researchers have yet to figure out how to stop area-of-effect spells. But as abjuration research continues, we may yet see continued upgrades to Shield.
Modernization: Shield As It Is Today
Now, Shield is taught by nearly every arcane academic institution, and comes very easily by imitation for those naturally gifted in magic. Schools teach of Shield’s historical significance (most notably of a siege on the city of Cyna, which held for days longer than expected due to wizards blocking incoming catapult fire with amplified Shields), and armies have Eldritch Knights who learn Shield before any other spell. It has become accessible for nearly anyone with basic arcane ability.
Of particular note is the variance in Shield’s appearance; casters customize the size, shape, color, and brightness of the spell at will. The Knights of Cyna create tall, rectangular Shields that have the royal crest emblazoned on the front, signifying their unbreakable loyalty. The mysterious cultists of Beshaba shape red triangles with black antlers when they cast the spell. Creatures with magic that live deep beneath the surface mute the glow of their Shields to account for their sensitivity to light.
A similar degree of variety exists with the verbal component of the spell. While students may stick to, “Shield,” or “Block,” experienced mages might put their own flair in their choice of incantation, while usually keeping it to one word for brevity. A notable exception is Krag the Foul who, after rising to fame, was known for using, “Piss off!” Indeed, the only commonality between different people casting Shield is the hand gesture: palm open, fingers splayed out, thrust forward with your arm. The simplicity of the spell makes learning it child’s play. Those new to the spell may only have trouble with the timing. Cast too early, and your opponent changes tactics, or the spell wears off before the attack reaches you. Cast too late, and now you’ve been wounded and wasted some power. But get the timing down perfectly, and Shield can protect against a barrage of attacks from multiple assailants. For the aspiring abjurer, or really anyone who prefers to avoid being gored by a spear, Shield provides a reliable, on-demand defense.