I sometimes use the term “conceptual” to mean “based on ideas, rather than on measurable quantities”. I seem to remember that I described astral travel as conceptual, meaning that the “distance” to a place is based on how well you know it or how “close” it is to you on an emotional or psychic level. Places you’ve been to many times are very “close” and easy to get to, places you’ve vaguely heard about or that are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced are very far away.
In the same way, a conceptual approach to magic would be based more on things like the laws of sympathy and contagion rather than on hard numbers. For example, touching someone is the shortest possible range, not because the measured distance is short, but because of the physical contact. Close visual range would be a little farther, using a possession or piece of the target would allow spell casting over greater distance, and you might need a being’s true name to have any hope of casting spells across enormous distances.
“Mechanistic” magic, in contrast, is what I’m calling the AD&D approach, where everything has hard numbers, and higher caster levels means greater range, more weight affected, larger areas, and longer durations.
Somewhere in between these two extremes is what I call “abstract spell stats”: ranges and areas affected are expressed in terms like “everything in the room”, “everything within reach”, “everything visible” or “everything on the same level”.
I will probably still use “mechanistic” stats on the low end for many spells, such as those give in the spell stat table. And some of the effects of conceptual magic will overlap with the “abstract” stats approach. But the maximum ranges, areas, and durations would be truly conceptual, and the conceptual approach would be the only way to extend the range, duration, or other stats. No “Extension I/II/III” spells, no 5th level “Long-Range Fireball” spells, no metamagic feats.
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