(This thread was born out of an old forum post called ‘Magic and Animals’. Note how it eventually grew out of that name.)
No, I am not thinking of spellcasting beavers, or the strange abilities of magical creatures. I am thinking about common animals in a fantasy world, where magic is a part of everything.
Why animals? Because it would take at least some relative size (comparable to humanoids) to get a usable amount of magic to achieve any visible effect. Incidentally, if we consider mammals as more evolved, they might be better adapted to magic; though the true reason may their rising intelligence (or more and better instincts, depending on how you see it), and social living common to many of them.
Indeed, if animals have to make magic useful, they need more than any single one of them has. What is more, since their “spellcasting” is more of an instinctive process, they need a clear purpose they can identify with, and can concentrate on. No abstract ideas or wishes are will help them in survival.
So let’s have a look at the profile: animals of some decent size, living in groups, the larger the better, with some capacity to think.
Reminds me of the fact that chimpanzees, when preparing for war, work themselves into a frenzy through rhytmical sounds and “dance”. Could this be a primitive ritual, focusing the magic to a spell that gives a bit more offensive power, or protects all members of the squad?
(Ironically, primitive tribes may have exactly such rituals for the same purpose. In such a world, the more evolved know to use magic better…)
Have a look at a great herd of wild horses, as they run freely on the plains. In some moments, even their great speed is not enough to help them from their enemies. Could not this many animals concentrate on a single purpose, if it becomes necessary?
One case would be riding through an area beset by fire - at least a partial immunity would be more than useful.
What may look wonderfully with such a majestic beast a horse is, may be horryfying with some other creatures. Imagine a pack of wolwes, howling together to get just that little speed bonus, and imagine yourself as the prey. Not nice, I guarantee you…
Additional Ideas (12)
Some large birds have complicated mating dances in which the male and the female birds court each other. In our world it is thought that this is something to do with showing their flying skills in order to ensure that they are a good mate; however, maybe in your world the patterns in which they fly actually call forth some minor fertility cantrip.
If size (compared to humanoids) and intelligence are factors in determining the amount of magic that a creature has, then surely the mighty songs of humpback whales, heard over thousands of kilometres, contain mighty magic indeed.
Maybe the darting shoals of fish, tens of thousands strong, call forth some magic that blurs their outline, making them harder for predators to spot precisely where each fish is.
If magic is scattered everywhere in your world, then it is presumably more concentrated in some places than others. Just like any other natural resource (such as an upwelling of nutrients in the sea), such areas will be rich and abundant in animal life (unless the area is totally barren in other ways).
Druids may pursuade the groups of animals to share that magic with them, so when they are around a pack of creatures, perhaps they can cast more powerful spells more easily.
And as for necromancers, crushing the life out of each of these creatures and absorbing their life force as their own (Such as my soul mage, Tarquin, does), could mean more power for them. Which could also be a plot idea, in that in a community of druids, an unnamed foe is destroying all animal life around, the adventurers are either druids who used to share life with these creatures, or are outsiders hired by the druids to put a stop to it.
A nice thought - would be good for Mojena: what if plants had the same thing - as more of them grow in groups, woodcutters may find forest trees more difficult to cut down than lone trees. Or large bunches of poison ivy more irritating to the skin than small amounts.
Perhaps, in the focus of Mojena - a group of trees together casts an increased growth on themselves, meaning that the more they are, the more powerful this spell is. Perhaps this is how the Mojen'lar tree spread throughout the entire world - they grow exponentially as more arise.
In my campaign, an entire nation is based around the magic of plants: great trees called the 'Ollwen' raise the local mana level to the point other, less enduring magical animals and plants can take hold. Spellcasters may recieve aid from an Ollwen tree if the tree's alien and simple 'mind' can comprehend him and deems the purpose right (grow...mate...feed...heal...blossom :) )
Some plants use magic to warm/cool themselves in harsh climates, while others use it to kill off competition and pests.
Large groves of ancient trees can develop a consciousness very unlike our own, and cast spells like a circle of mages, used to heal those who come inside, call rain and scare lumberjacks.
Small animals, or whole colonies of them, may erect a somebody-else's-business field around themselves, thus vanishing from notice, while plants may use the exact opposite and cast Lure or Presence (see GURPS Magic) to increase the attractivity of their fruits or flowers. Other plants may use telekinesis or teleport to spread their seeds farther. Some especially hard plants could use Body of Stone or Stoneskin to endure, while casting Stone to Earth and Essential Earth around themselves. Other plants or animals could use Body of Fire to cleanse themselves of pests!
Snow Shoes is certainly an efficient spell for any arctic animal, while Walk on Water or Walk on Air could be used to hunt or escape predators.
Some animals do truly different things though: in my world, the Warlock Cats living in groups of up to thirty, can build Golems to gather food for them, or magically Enslave people to do their work. They are lazy, cynical, and proud about it. (yeam, I read Garfield, and yea, I've got two cats at home)
So, they can cast say Bless Plants around their hive, use the patterns they fly in to telepathically communicate with the queen, or use their magic to strengthem their dwellings.
Beware the power of the bug, millions of tiny magical charges dancing in unison to a tune only they can hear...
Why not extend the symbol theme of the termite mound to plants? Some could grow into patterns of magical power, and when any sort of energy flows around them, the pattern could be activated: the sun shines throuigh the boughs of an ancient tree, revealing strangely twisted branches, and suddenly...
Or the wind - a tree on the top of a hill could certainly use the elemental energy flowing through it to a) ward itself from lightning, b) let its pollen fly farther, c) attract rain and create soil - a pioneer plant.
Or: the pentagram tree - beware! it will grow roots or brances in summoning patterns, but when the beast arrives, it is captured and the tree draws energy from it until the demon/extraplanar critter is sucked dry...
If there is musical magic in the world, some plants could also use the sound the wind blowing through them causes to cause some effect - a constant whistling as the wind blows over a prairie of magical grass...
In one of my fantasy world, Cats are magical creatures. They are considered "people" rather than just dumb animals. Now they don't think or talk like people, but they are smart... and magical. Now none of this really contridicts what you normally see about cat's and their behavior. However, because Humans on this world are actively aware of a cat's magical nature, they can "see" the magical effects AND the cat's do not bother to "hide" their magics from people.
They all have "magical" and "spirit" sight - Called The Vision in Humans. Thus they can see spirits and spells. Cat's often staring off in space is actually a Cat viewing "The Unseen" with it's Vision. Cat's also have the ability to see into the past and the future. (Though their lack of human understanding communication limits this advantage for their human companions.)
A cat companion around The Hold is something one could find useful. They spot spells. They hunt down rats, demons, and ghosts. They sometimes help out with their cantrips. They tend to protect the children. There is a reason why people have cats around.
As for their magics....
Cat's have the ability to perform Hexing Cantrips, grantable to themselves or anyone near them. Cat's abilities to cantrip requires no props and a moment less time.
They know other cantrips as well. This is how they make up for the lack of thumbs. However, since they are not orriented towards things like people are.
They have the ability to enter The Astreal/ The Unseen at will. So much of the time they are apparently sleeping, they are hunting astromorphs (usually little spirit forms that cause problems). They treat most humans as unimportant- because to their view, they only live in a limited world instead of the full world of cats.
Their ability to strike at spirits, even while "inbody" is well documented by mages. This same ability allows them to "pick apart" the threads that are woven together to make spells, much the same way they like to pick apart balls of thread.
Cat's have a special magic, a flash magic that will help them to "renew". It allows them to heal themselves from grevious injuries. Each time a renew is performed, the cat performing it permanently loses a point of manna (or spell slot). (Since a cat might have 10 slots, it comes forth with the 9 lives myth) Note: a group of cats can cast this upon any being they find worthy. Being "Catborn" as it is called is normally performed for great heroes, nice children, or people of destiny. (And since cats can see the future....)
Older Cats find apprentices in the younger litters. They pass on pieces of magical lore to their young companions. So cat might know other cantrips as well.
In fact, the art of magic was actually learned from watching Cats, much the way many martial arts were learned/ patterend from observing animals.
Of course, the cats will serve someone thusly ONLY if they like the person, and are attached to him or her. Most of the time, a magic-user has to literally raise this security force, and keep up with lots of cat-related problems. :)
Many have seen the flying swarms of starlings, thousands upon thousands of black birds flying so close together they look like a cloud of darkness in the air. While they fly like this for protection, few know that this is a primitive somantic power that the birds use to Summon Insect Swarm so that they can feed easily.
Most are thankful when the starlings come since it alwyas coincides with an insect infestation. Some druids might suspect the nature of this power.
Mice are such unassuming creatures. Imagine if they had the ability to offuscate themselves, becoming invisible. You might be able to hear their ninja steps, but you will never see them.
While they eat food, they might also nibble on dreams and dream energy. Thus they can "feed" on sleeping figures. In addition to absorbing unused dream energy, they will cause fatigue and weaken the emotional resolve of their victims. This explains many a "high strung" person response to them so extremely. They instinctively know that mouse is a danger to their control.
Of course, Cats, with their "Vision" would be able to hunt these creatures. Another way this species could help humanity.
In keeping with the thought of animal magical effects, what about beavers? They make dams that are sturdier than most other things their size and material, so the style of the dam must have something to do with it. The truth is, while the beavers make their dams they enchant them with a primitive Strengthen spell. Such dams would be able to take much more abuse before breaking down, and wouldn't rot as quickly.
Perhaps the mere presence of a beaver bestows an aura of protection upon barracades and walls, providing a benefit against seige weapons. Suddenly controlling the riverhead seems much more important...
Rats can survive as solitary creatures, but it is the swarm that truly defines them. In such a group, they can call on simple fertility magics, much to the chagrin of humans they live off. A swarm may have other rare abilities, creating a Fear effect and the like.
What they have learned in their long coexistence with civilization, is the knowledge of structures, and the art of infiltrating them, in ways human spies can not even dream to come close. Theirs is an ability to weaken structures to claw and bite their way to places where the swarm needs access to - typically to the sources of food.
But more interesting is there sense of stability: in their pursuit of entry they will not damage supporting beams, or sensitive locales. That collapsing the roof is not in the interest of a swarm, is clear. How it could learn this magic, is still researched by wizards, who would like to reproduce the effect.
Note: this is one of the reason a controlled swarm (say, by a wererat) is much more dangerous - it can undermine the stability of whole houses, and even collapse them.
The old Matriarch in charge of the herd may be able to draw upon magics to help find water, navigate generally and to perhaps communicate over distances their already awesome abilites do not allow. The Elephant's graveyard may be a place the Matriarch would go to to commune with their ancestors.
Magics to help calm males in frenzy would be useful also and to counter that of any predator creatures. Perhaps they can sustain longer migrations then one would believe partly though the intercession of magic.