Earlier this year, I blogged about the concept of players channeling power and or spells to “followers”. To me, this was a natural progression of the original Channeling Skill & Spells found in the earliest versions of Rolemaster. I was always intrigued by the channeling concept in RM, but we never, ever used it in any of our games. It’s a powerful concept, especially for game system in the early days of RPG’s, but the game mechanics were clunky and the upside benefit during gameplay was never really clear.
A workable Channeling mechanism is the first step towards a character gaining “followers” and having the ability to send power or spells to these acolytes. Isn’t that flirting with some concepts of deification?
This topic has now come full circle for me and I wanted to think it out via this blog. I’m working on multiple projects, but most actively on my 50th lvl adventure series and re-examining high level spells in my Spell Law re-write. These adventures forced me to think about high level challenges, the power curve of skills and spells, and the general ecosystem of 50th level characters.
Rolemaster is not “epic” in the sense that characters are granted special abilities upon reaching certain levels. So while most players might think that attaining 50th lvl would somehow bestow a special capacity upon a character it’s not the case. For spell users, 50th lvl spells might be cool, but I don’t think particularly revelatory–and in many cases, not that powerful. Obviously arms users don’ t have access to any transformative abilities at 50th level.
Some game systems have introduced game mechanics that allow powerful characters to receive special abilities at high levels. (did the Expert Immortal set do this first?). My favorite example in fiction is in the Books of the Malazan. In this setting, which is based on the authors own RPG campaign, Erickson clearly establishes the concept of “Ascendancy”. Since he doesn’t spoon feed exposition to the reader, it wasn’t clear what the mechanism is exactly; or even what special abilities are imparted upon such. Now we have much more info on the setting, and per the Malazan wiki we have:
Ascendants were individuals who had transcended death. They formerly had been called First Heroes. Ascendants could become gods if they gained sufficient following among mortals but they were not gods by default. They were more or less immortal, but could be killed. They had access to magic, even if they were not mages prior to their ascension.
So it appears the benefits are: immortality, one step closer to Godhood, access to magic. That’s interesting and certainly reasonable to incorporate into most fantasy settings. Immortality is an easy one–it’s not like players are going to game out a 1000 years of life and longevity doesn’t really impact gameplay. But does immortality include self-healing or regeneration? That’s unclear. Access to spells/magic seems reasonable as well. Rolemaster is flexible enough that it would be simple to create special Closed lists for Ascendants. So it seems to me, dependent on the setting (it’s always about the setting!), including Ascendancy is relatively easy to do in Rolemaster!
So why would a GM want to add this functionality into their RM game? Becoming a God (via an Evil Ritual) is a common plot meme for evil foes. Once you establish something is possible than it needs to be allowed for all characters, right? Is it unbalancing to have a long term goal of a player becoming MORE? Perhaps not a God, but a Demi-God or Ascendant or Hero? Isn’t that the basis for fantasy RPGs?
Since this is also dependent on the meta-physical underpinnings of the setting, does this work for Shadow World? The Gods of Orhan/Charon aren’t “Gods” in the strictest sense, just powerful beings from an alternate realms. Kulthea has “local gods”, demi-gods and other powerful beings. So while there might not be a strict classification of Ascendants, it seems there are some. I introduced Ascendancy in relationship to the Dragonlords in my own campaign. (See HERE at the end of the post). I was trying to tie up loose ends and wanted an explanation for the origins of the Dragonlords. The Earthwardens, via a ritual, Ascended to a higher state, beings of raw, elemental Essaence.
So, how else could Ascendancy work in Shadow World? The setting has many local gods, spirits and avatars…could a player become one of those? My own version of the Channeling Spell list discussed in the other blog is the stepping stone to Ascendancy. Players gain followers and create a feedback loop of power and spells. The more followers the more power the character has. But is this enough to establish “godhood” or some derivative of it? What other mechanisms could be put into place?
- Special access to Essaence Foci or Flows. One commonality of local gods is that they are centered on special locations, geographic features or an Essaence Focus. Perhaps a bonding or imprinting between the character and Foci could be step?
- Access to “Arcane” spell list(s). RoCo I established some of the baseline of this topic: Focuses, high level spells to become Dragons etc are in the DNA of Shadow World.
- “Granting”. Perhaps the Lords of Orhan can give a character lesser access to the Essaence “aether”. This might be raw power, special spell abilities or some aspects of immortality. Sort of like accessing a wifi signal on a local hub.
For a game system that is pure skill based, the “high fantasy” aspects of Ascendancy mechanics are intriguing to me. What do you think?