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The proudly-presented 1st edition of Houserule gives us a view into the world of magic.
Magic can, in most settings, be described accurately as a science. It follows rules and laws, causes tangible effects on the environment, and it can be studied and understood. Also like a science, there are many theories and hypothesis among arcanologists as to what makes magic tick. Some theorize that lightning bolts are called from the god of lightning through prayer. Some theorize that the air itself is made to rub against itself, producing static electricity much like in a cloud, and this natural product of physics is manipulated to form lightning. Still others theorize that what actually happens and why the spell occurs is based purely on what the spell-caster believes happens. If the caster is a follower of faith, the gods produce it. If the caster is a true "scientist", as much as a wizard can be, he may understand physics and nature, and assume he is replicating the effects present in a storm cloud. The method by which magic occurs is mutable, but a good DM should determine the rules his setting follows in order to provide creative scenarios for his player, such as making lightning bolts fail in a room with no air because there is no air to move and produce friction.