Current Affairs: Thoughts on Magical Languages in Rolemaster and Shadow World.

Warning: this might be a whisky rant as well.

A recent THREAD at the Rolemaster Forums is discussing Magical Languages. Since I have some opinions on this subject I thought I would write a quick post. For those following my discussion on BASiL or have downloaded the spells probably know that I use a “no profession” system for my own Shadow World campaign.

After reading lots of comments I realize that most people only understand my reference to “no profession” as a direct reference to the RM system “no profession”. That’s not it at all! My players have profession names–but those are descriptors driven by the sum of skills and abilities of the character. With BASiL I allow access to all the realms (but  I have no hybrid realms which break logical mechanics). Professions and classes do reinforce group roles, but again, Rolemaster mostly broke that a long time ago…AND…that’s why players liked it! So having broad access to all realms has the appearance of unbalance but it’s really just the case of applying “free market” principles to control player skill selection. Early on, I decided to use pre-requisite lore skills to gain access or use certain spell lists. This would be similar to requiring advanced math to do astronomical calculations or basic anatomy for healing skills (spells or otherwise). So BASE lists might require more lore ranks to learn while OPEN lists only need a few ranks. To me that made sense. But BASiL is a work in progress and participation in the Rolemasterblog and RMForums has introduced me to new ideas.

So lately I have backed off on the Lore skill pre-req approach. It added too much to my skill offering and was not tight enough. Instead I have changed my approach to the use of Magical Languages. It’s such a simple, elegant mechanic and solves a lot of problems.

In the past, Magical Languages have been a “bolt-on” mechanic; introduced in Companions and referenced in SW for added casting bonuses etc. Spell casting requires certain mechanics: verbal, gestures, focus, components whatever. But what is that verbal and gesture component? Should it have an underlying science behind it? Is the verbal component linguistically diverse? Can a French person speaking french or a German speaking German recite the same words in their own particular language to cast? That makes NO sense! Immediately, it would be argued that they aren’t speaking French or German but reciting “arcane sounds”. Exactly!!–casting requires a power language of some time that is divested of speaking languages. Once that is accepted the conclusion follows the logic: spells need be cast using a magic vernacular, a magical language. This doesn’t have to be just verbal recitation but gestures, body motions, chants or katas.

If you accept that, than building a number of magical “languages” becomes a powerful tool to limiting spell list access rather than arbitrary “professions”. An Elemental Language might allow casting element spells, while another may allow for Illusions, Arcane or other.

From a mechanics standpoint, I use the Magical Language skill bonus for the SCR. How can anyone cast a high level spell if they have a kindergarten mastery of a language needed to cast the spell? Mastery of magical language is mastery of casting. Creating numbers of “Power Languages”  that are needed for certain types of magic limits a casters ability to learn a wide range of spells and therefore reinforces “class tropes”. (on a side note, to me, the very people that argue for professions LOVE the Arch-mage, Warrior-Mage, and other unbalanced classes).

8 Replies to “Current Affairs: Thoughts on Magical Languages in Rolemaster and Shadow World.”

  1. With magical languages, I’d actually like to develop an entire magical language for players to use. Which is admittedly a bit over the top, but a current project is to try and write actual, short, books, for players to read, just as in the Elder Scrolls games.

    I have a bit of a thing for written words.

    1. I can see the appeal of the player books. Part of the attraction of MERP and even the Forgotten Realms is the amount of fiction available for the setting. It means that players can get a real vision for the setting in their mind’s eye even before the GM starts to zoom in on the characters actual surroundings.

      1. Not quite sure that “101 Uses for a Dead Kobold” and “The Gourmet Troll’s Cookbook” are terribly useful for players though. More on the lines of odd props for games and LARPs.

  2. “This doesn’t have to be just verbal recitation but gestures, body motions, chants or katas.”

    Have you ever seen The Last Airbender? That is a prime example of Kata based spell casting.

  3. Ok, I am intrigued by the idea of limiting spell list access by magical language rather than by profession. That sounds pretty cool.

    How would it work in practice, though? Do you still spend development points to learn the spells, but now you have to use your skill in the appropriate magical language to cast it? Is it possible to have bought a spell (in terms of dps) but to not be able to cast it (in terms of not enough skill)?

    For the record, I am one of those people who likes professions, and loves the Archmage, Warrior Mage, etc. For me the thing that made these classes unbalanced were the spell lists: they were toned to be a little too powerful. But the high costs the classes paid for pretty much everything did help to keep them in check.

    1. First, I only use Magical Languages for Essence. Channeling is not language specific; the Priest is basically praying or appealing to his/her god and perhaps following some specific prayer in whatever language they speak. In fact, they don’t even need to pray out loud, but have a penalty if they pray silently–or a bonus if they yell/chant loudly. Mentalism uses “mind pictures” (I see it has mathmatics).

      So for Essence, there are 3 DP sinks to casting ability: learning a spell, Power Point acq.(which I rolled up into a Channeling Meta Skill) and whatever Magical Language is needed. I’ve co-opted the Shadow World power languages and added a few of my own as well. I would note that in the Master Atlas it handles this way:

      Essaence Tongues
      As a spellcaster advances levels in a given profession, he also
      gains skill in the specialized tongue of the Essænce realm. These
      languages are not really full languages, and aren’t useful for conversational
      purposes. Instead they are concepts and mental disciplines
      necessary to manipulate the power in a precise manner.

      So there is an implication of a needed skill but it’s left as a hand-wave. I just made it an actual skill and use that specific magical language skill bonus for the SCR. There are a number of limitations that could be created: can’t cast a spell of a higher level than the Magical Language skill rank etc. Interestingly, there are creative ways that magical languages can overlap or give an advantage or disadvantage. For instance, “Elemos” might be the language for Elemental Spells, but “Meanas” is the language for misdirection, shadow and illusion, but can be used to cast Light Law spells (but at 1/2 efficacy), while Nomos is a basic magical language that is used to cast Open lists. It keeps casters focused on a few core base lists, emulating normal profession restrictions, but if they choose to really commit to the DP’s could learn a wider range of spell powers. Much like the archmage. Again, these systems are “no-profession” or “open” but ultimately produce the same results as professions without the down-side of arbitrary rule making and the upside of more character making flexibility (w/o the need to create yet another profession template).

  4. So pg 232 of the SW Atlas (v4) lists the Magical languages. I really like the concept and think that the languages should be developed by the spell users in order to cast… perhaps lvl of language x2 or x3 for highest level cast on the list, to represent complexity… so a Character using Fire Law would require either 4(x2) or 3(x3) ranks in Uscarac.

  5. So pg 232 of the SW Atlas (v4) lists the Magical languages. I really like the concept and think that the languages should be developed by the spell users in order to cast… perhaps lvl of language x2 or x3 for highest level cast on the list, to represent complexity… so a Character using Fire Law would require either 4(x2) or 3(x3) ranks in Uscarac to cast Fire Ball (8th lvl spell). Once you have a 10 in the language, no issues.

    Sorry for the double post, got entered before I finished it.

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