What’s an Arcanist? Part 1

Author (in-game): Anonymous

What in all the realms of Oblivion is an arcanist? I’ve been asked this question by no fewer than a dozen students and half as many professors, and I desperately wish I could give you an answer that wouldn’t make you think I was pulling your leg. So let’s start with the basics and work our way out from there. Nice and easy, like extra frosting on a sweetroll.


Let’s start with a brief aside on organizational arcanum. If like me you’ve had the chance to talk to a number of adventurers in the last several years, no doubt you’ve heard terms thrown about that made you wonder if you missed a university flyer or two. “Templar, warden, nightblade.” Fancy titles that in the end mean precious little to the educator on the ground.

In an era when any kind of agreement on what magic “is” seems damned near impossible, why are these terms relevant at all? Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? You need only look to the free-form nature of arcane thought that rules the day to see how tempting, how seductive, any kind of compartmentalization at all can be!

You need only look to a recent interview with fellow Mages Guild member Dhulef, when trying to talk about what a warden “is,” to see how rife with potential these titles can be for a learned citizen of the world.

(As an aside, I would invite readers to revisit my “Schools of Magic” proposal based on my time at the Shad Astula Academy. While this ever-growing stack of rejection letters from Vanus Galerion likely means he still sees no interest in the subject, perhaps one of you will.)


Now that I’ve couched my answer sufficiently, I’ll attempt to directly address the question. As best as I can tell, an arcanist is a spellcaster who makes use of arcane spellforms learned from and driven by a mystic tome touched by the power of Apocrypha.

As most learned members of the university are aware, “Oblivion realms” exist as much as points along a spectrum as specific or constrained physical localities. We know from extensive documentation that creatures, spellwork, and even mortal beings transported to Oblivion realms will conform or change due to the influence of a Daedric Prince within their principality.

In the case of Apocrypha, the metaphor chosen (imposed?) by Hermaeus Mora is that of a grand and sweeping library. And so it makes sense that as beings entering a realm can shift to fit it, so too does a part of a realm exiting comport itself to fit the mystical metaphor in which it finds itself. That is to say, it’s my hypothesis these “books” are the cruft of Apocrypha itself. Oblivion substrate shaken loose and given a home on Nirn and—crucially—in a mortal’s mind.

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