Todd Kenreck: Magic can have a lot of different purposes and also come from so many sources in the D&D multiverse. I talked to Jeremy Crawford about the difference between arcane magic and divine magic.
Jeremy Crawford: The D&D multiverse is a fuse with magic. In many ways, the background magic of the multiverse is really its physics. It's what makes so much that happens in the multiverse possible. The fact that even dragons can fly, these creatures of such amazing weight and mass, like their wings probably could not in our world hold them aloft, unless they had amazingly brittle bone structures and a number of other physical characteristics were in place. So much of what happens in the D&D multiverse, Beholders bobbing in the air, shooting rays out, people reading each other's minds, not to mention spells, magic items. It's all about this background magic, this raw power that keeps everything running.
Now when it comes to spells, spells draw on what in some D&D worlds is called the weave, and the weave is when you take this raw stuff of magic and give it structure, and then spells tap into that structure and using various formula and gestures and words and material components, you pull forth magic from that weave and create a particular defined effect. That effect and those effects that are created by spells and the spells themselves, they in general get divided into two large categories; arcane magic and divine magic. Now at the end of the day, that distinction has no mechanical significance in the games rules because a spell is a spell.
No matter how you learn the spell, how you're casting the spell, you are drawing on again the magic that suffuses the multiverse in creating this particular effect. Really arcane magic and divine magic are storytelling categories. They're really about where are you getting your magic from and how did you learn your magic. For example, divine magic, which is mostly associated with clerics and paladins, but it's also associated with druids and rangers. Divine magic is all about drawing your magic and learning your magic through a divine lens, whether that's Gods, nature spirits or nature itself. Some cosmic force usually that has consciousness that is bestowing power upon you or that you are tapping into.
There is also an implied sense of limit when it comes to the spells that we give to divine spellcasters. What I mean by that is when you look at the spell lists for different divine spellcasters, whether it's a cleric, paladin, druid or ranger, you'll notice that those lists lack the most destructive spells in the game. Those lists do have some destructive spells, but they tend to be filled with healing magic, magic that protects people, some destructive magic but usually very themed toward either like divine light or natural forces Something that's appropriate to the class that wields that magic. Those spells also don't tend to have many illusion spells.
They tend to not have many spells that are about subverting other people's control over themselves, over the long term, although again there are exceptions. Clerics have the command spell for instance, although that really is there to represent what you see in a lot of folklore and myth of our own world when you have high priests and others filled with divine power basically being able to tell people to submit and obey their command. Divine magic tends to be nurturing, protecting only as destructive as it means to be to fulfill some divine aim. Arcane magic in contrast tends not to come from a particular being. You might have a being with consciousness who's working as a intermediary.
The warlock as an arcane spellcaster is a great example, of someone who has a relationship with an otherworldly entity, but that entity is not necessarily the wellspring of the warlock's power. The warlock might be getting some power from that patron, depending on the patron and the nature of their relationship, but the warlock is also getting their power just from the cosmos around them because arcane power at its heart is really in a way about hacking the multiverse. It's about taking a code and messing with the code around you. If you imagine the D&D multiverse and its magic, almost being like the matrix this world created by this magical code, arcane spellcasters are basically messing with it.
Divine spellcasters are also doing that to a certain extent, but again with more limit. It's on the arcane side where you see very destructive spells. You see way more spells that change the form of things, transmutation magic that completely alters the shape of something. You see more spells that will just alter reality culminating with the spell of spells wish, which again is on the arcane side but not on the divine side. There's no mechanical reason for that. Honestly, we could put wish on a divine spell list. The reason we don't is because of this thematic difference that if you think about arcane magic as hacker magic, attacking the cosmos, it makes sense that the culmination of that magic is wish, the ultimate way of rewriting reality in some way.
Arcane spellcasters are everybody else other than the clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers. Wizards, they are the classic preeminent arcane spellcaster, but at their side are sorcerers, warlocks, and bards. Then you also have arcane spellcasters hiding out in some of the subclasses of our other classes, the eldritch knight and the fighter, the arcane trickster in the rogue where the word arcane is in the subclass's name itself. Now both types of magic can be destructive, both types of magic can even heal. I mean we have cases of arcane spellcasters healing.
The main example of this is the bard where the bard is using, and this is especially influenced by Irish mythology, is using music and storytelling to weave together this magic to restore vigor and health to other people. Sometimes people have thought well the difference between arcane and divine is one can heal and the other one is mostly destructive. That's not actually entirely true, and again the bard is a great example of how that's not true, that the bard is actually a formidable healer, and the bard also has quite a bit of destructive potential.
Not nearly as much though when it comes to some of the spells in the spell list as say the wizard or the sorcerer in particular where on one hand, the cleric and also the druid to an extent have some really powerful healing abilities that no arcane spellcaster has except for the bard. Then the wizard and the sorcerer have certain destructive spells on their lists that you would not find on the divine list, except again it's both families have a class who's exceptional. On the divine side, actually the exception is the druid.
The druid spell list if you decide particularly to follow the circle of the land where you're much more of a spellcaster than a shape changer, the druid spell list has many spells you can take that are very similar to wizard spells, and in some cases are the exact same spell that you would find on the wizard spell list. Most of those spells involve channeling the elements to create extremely destructive effects, but that's an example of what I talked about earlier of when the divine spellcasters are destructive, it tends to be very fanatically appropriate for the powers they serve, whereas arcane destruction tends to be way more open-ended.
You look at the wizard and sorcerer spell list and it's basically destruction of all flavors, and it really is up to the spellcaster to choose what path they're going to follow in terms of the types of spells that they cast. The warlock again because we like having paragons of different archetype, but then also other classes that mix archetypes. The warlock is firmly in the arcane camp, but with elements of what we would normally do for a divine spellcaster. The patron flavors a warlock's spell choice the way you would expect to God to help flavor the spell selection of a cleric. Again, the warlock is on the arcane side of the fence because the warlock in our mind is at the end of the day is a hacker, and the warlock also doesn't serve that power the way a cleric serves a God.
The warlock might serve their patron almost like say a person service serves their boss, whereas the cleric serves the God in faith and will often love their God. Many warlocks do not love their patron. In fact, many warlocks hate their patron just as unfortunately many people hate their boss, but you can of course have that rare warlock who loves their boss. I've even seen some online players who have some really great stories, even of wonderful love affairs between a warlock and their patron, but I think that mostly happens when their patron is not evil in the case of say an archfey, that kind of thing.
There is a lot of intermingling when it comes to the sort of spells you would see for a divine spellcaster and the sort of spells you'd see for an arcane spellcaster. That's intentional because as I said earlier on magic is magic. The multiverse doesn't care if a divine spellcaster casts that fireball versus an arcane spellcaster. When that spell unleashes the magic that is all around you in the D&D multiverse and causes that explosion of fire, it's just a fireball.
That divide between arcane and divine ultimately is way more about the spellcaster than is about the spell much more about again where does that magic come from, why am I a spellcaster, and what are my goals as a spellcaster down the road, is it to serve a great God, is it to protect nature, do I wield this magic to gain knowledge, am I trying to rewrite reality according to my own whims, am I seeking immortality for myself, am I seeking to just bring some happiness to the world, am I protecting justice. So many different motivations can influence how magic users use their magic and to what purpose they put it.
Your class helps determine that, and again this meta divide between divine and arcane can also provide a role-playing framework, and is this magic coming in service to a being or cause or are you in way manipulating reality to your own designs. Those are the questions posed by arcane magic and divine magic.