Rolemaster Spell Law Deconstructed: Are Summoning Spell mechanics broken?

I thought the commentary on “Illusions” in my last blog post was pretty good, so I thought I would discuss another spell mechanic that might need to be re-examined: Summoning.

Spell Law contains a number of spells to summon/conjure Demons, creatures and other beings in Essence and Channeling.  But really it’s a just a big hot mess of vague, confusing spells.

The 2nd level spell Summoning (Evil Magician Base) says “Caster can instantly summon a first level non-intelligent creature”….  Does this mean that the creature teleports to the caster or does the creature have to travel to the caster. Is a teleport affect powerful for a 2nd lvl spell? Is this a Summoning spell or a Gating spell? Per the spell, the duration is 10 min/lvl normally (or 1 min/lvl when put in danger). What happens at the end of the duration? Does the creature disappear and teleport back from whence it came? Does that mean the spell generates 2 separate teleport effects?

Now lets contract that with a 9th level spell “Animal Summons I” from the Animist Base. You would assume that an Animist would be better at summoning general creatures than an Evil Magician? Well, you would be wrong. The spell states: “Caster can summon any 1 animal within radius (1 mi/lvl). That’s a ninth level spell compared to a 2nd level spell and implies that the creature has to travel to the caster. Yes the Animist has a built in control function when concentrating but the duration is only 1 min/lvl. I think there is a discrepancy here.

“Gating” also opens a number of questions about spell mechanics. (Some of this really depends on the setting and implied meta-physics of the world.) I’m finishing up “Book of the Pales” which is expansion material on the Demonic Realms: more creatures, environment, adventuring in etc. That effort along with my re-write of Demon summoning spells made me think about the whole premise. Let’s review:

Spell User casts “Lesser Demonic Gate”, a 5th lvl spell on the Evil Magician base list Dark Summons. This calls a Demon (Type I-III) that will slowly appear over a few rounds. If the Demon is not controlled in some fashion (control, master, barter, binding etc) the Demon “leaves”.

So what’s going on here? Does the spell open a doorway to the Pales and call a Demon through the gate or is this just a materialization? Now let’s assume that the Caster Masters the Demon in some fashion. Demon Mastery has no duration, just contingencies (range, kill or release).  But how does the Demon eventually return to it’s world/plane/Pale? If the Gate is now closed by what method does the Demon dissipate? Is there some spell reserve around the Demon that activates another Gate?

Some would argue that Demons  are just physical projections created by magic. When the spell “ends” the magic unbinds that projection and the Demon disappears. That’s a good solution but pretty powerful. In effect it’s creating a powerful physical form for a spirit creature from another Plane! And what about the other Summoning spells that work the same but on real creatures of the game world? They aren’t spirit beings given a physical form through magic. What about existing Gates that allow Demons to enter the world? Do the Gates have some implied “form physical body” ability?

For my own game, I am more interested in Shadow World and how Demon Summoning would work; and that required a spell re-write. Under my game, the Pales are other planes of existence and most Demons are physical creatures (thematic Demons are manifestations or possessors). That means that Demons do need a “Gate” or doorway to go from the Pales to Kulthea–or vice versa. This can be a spell, conjuring circle, natural Essaence Gate or other construct. Like any door, if it’s present and open it allows for 2 way travel: once a Demon enters Kulthea it’s there unless it returns via a door/gate willingly or sent back the same way. How else does Kulthea get populated by Demons? (Under Spell Law RAW I think  they would de-materialize when no longer controlled.)

For purposes of this discussion let’s delineate two different types of mechanics (despite naming conventions used in Spell Law) and use Shadow World for the default setting:

  1. Summoning. This “calls” a specific or general creatures from the local area to come to the caster. The creatures must physically travel to the caster.
  2. Gating. These spells create a magical “doorway” that teleports a creature directly to the caster.

So far so good, right? This is a simple differentiation that lays the framework for a variety of spells. The second part of the equation is “control”. I like the established vernacular used by RM: Control requires concentration. Mastery does not. Ranges and duration can be set by spell level, base list, profession etc. The final piece is protection. Without Control/Mastery there is no implied protection for the Caster. The Gate itself is a doorway, not a Circle of Protection or Ward. Opening a Gate and calling forth a Demon is no guarantee that what you want is what shows up!! Even a normal animal may not react well when Summoned and end up attacking the Caster if uncontrolled.

In conclusion, while various types of Summoning/Gating should be dependent on the world or setting, a few basic tweaks can vastly simplify these Spell Mechanics.


9 thoughts on “Rolemaster Spell Law Deconstructed: Are Summoning Spell mechanics broken?”

  1. The problem with your summoning definition being real creatures being called to the caster is that it does not fit with the spell descriptions in Spell Law. Unless you are going to rewrite the spells to fit your description.

    One issue is that with summoning the caster desires a type of creature but has no actual control over the exact creature. You want a hoofed creature and you may get a horse, camel or zebra.

    If the creature needs to travel to you then a Zebra would need to set out months or years before the caster cast the spell to arrive at the time of casting.

    Another point is maybe not an issue at all. It may be your intention. I was once an 18th level illusionist. I was confronted with a charging column of cavalry intent on turning me into a kebab. The one spell I got off was to summon a large whale about 90′ above and slightly in front of the column. The GM made me make some math skill rolls which I made easily and the I ended up summoning a blue whale the decimated the front of the column and certainly surprised and disrupted the charge of the rear. Under your rules there was little chance of summoning a whale if it had to swim to me and they are terribly at flying so getting it 90′ up in the air would be hard.

    Even if I built a huge water tank I could never summon a whale to fill it.

  2. I am also thinking if you were eight levels down in some mega dungeon how would anything survive its journey to you? Summoning spells would be effectively useless.

    1. All good points. I think “summoning” maybe better named “calling” which works well with animists and similar spell lists and works well with lower level spells. I just have an issue with gating in creatures at very low levels–from a process standpoint its much more powerful than Long Door 100′. The spell needs to detect a creature and then gate it in over a much longer range; I don’t see that as a 2nd level spell. Then the idea that at the end of duration their is another latent spell that gates the creature back to where it was seems problematic.
      Or you could argue that it’s a “conjuration” spell–the creature is magically created. That also seems incredibly powerful–maybe only possible through divine/channeling magic?
      I’m just starting a dialogue on the HOWS of these spells in retrospect. Of course I’m staying away from RMU which may have addressed some of these issues with summoning/illusions.

      1. I have always imagined summoning and gating spells using two different mechanisms.

        In summoning I don’t think the creature is real. It is probably the ‘soul’ or consciousness of a sleeping creature who just has a bit of a vivid nightmare that night. The body is little more than a subconscious illusion created from magic and it dissipates as the end of the spell. The shape and form of the magical body is formed from the bodily awareness of the summoned creature. That is why the caster has little control over what creature they actually get.

        Gating on the the other hand works like a transistor in electronics. With a transistor a very small current can be used to switch a much larger current. When you cast a gate spell you are only applying the very small current. The demons are by their very nature trying to invade our plane anyway so when the small current is applied on this plane it is sufficient to allow the much greater magical force to open the gate from the other side.

        At the end of a summoning spell the consciousness of the animal is released and the magical body disperses.

        A gate spell on the other hand just as with a transistor taking away the small current switches the greater current off. So by setting the ending condition for the small current/magic you can control the greater magic even though it is not yours.

  3. This might be another leftover from D&D. I was looking at the Pathfinder Summon Monster I spell. This is a 1st level spell that summons the actual creature from another plane of existence. Which, when you think about it, is pretty powerful.

  4. I have had a thought about the deconstruction and the issues you are highlighting. Possibly this deserves a post in its own right but here is the idea.

    Imagine you junk all the game mechanics for all the spells. All you are left with is a structure of labels organised from Magic->Realm->List Type (open/closed/base)->List->Spell.

    Now if you took a game like Champions/Hero System that just lists ‘effects’ and a point buy system where you can construct super powers by buying combination of effects you could start to reconstruct all the spells with 1st level spells being bought with 10pts, 2nd level spells 20pts, up to 50th level being 500pts. You are absolutely guaranteed that all the spells on all the lists will be of equal power.

    This leads me down a chain of thought. If these point buy powers were published as a drop in alternative magic system for D&D and Pathfinder and was also compatible with RM and shadow world you are completely free from ICE intellectual property issues. In a similar way that Creature Law for RMU has the archetypes so a GM can construct any creature so an alternative Spell Law could have all the magical effects and the point costs so any player could research any spell in the same way that Hero System players can construct any super hero.

    That way you get your balance built in from the ground up.

      1. Yes, I have played Morrowwind and that would work just as well.

        The thing is that it is extremely hard to make a magic system that is independent of setting. Almost all magic comes with some kind of emotional baggage. You cannot Gate in a demon if you don’t have demons or planes of existence. There are lots of things you cannot do if you don’t have a souls or spirits.

  5. I think the distinctions Brian makes between summoning/calling vs. gating and controlling vs. mastery are very useful ones. I believe that RMU Spell Law is not finished yet, so perhaps these can be consistently applied to the spell descriptions in it.

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