HARP Read Through – Magic & Spells

Of all the features of HARP that stand out, it is the magic system that seems to get the most admiration.

There are some similarities with Rolemaster but a lot of differences.

Most obvious is that there are no realms. There are two suggested sources of magic in the core book although more are hinted at in College of Mogics. These two are Divine and Personal.

HARP also describes spheres. There is a universal sphere which would be roughly the same as our ‘open’ lists. Then there are professional spheres. The ones in the core book are Cleric, Harper, Mage, Ranger and Warrior Mage. So Professional Spheres are basically our ‘Base’ lists, but without the list.

Ever spell is learned individually so there are no lists. If a spell takes 5 power points to cast then you need five ranks in that spell. So spells are learned just like skills and you buy ranks in your spells as you level up.

Taking that 5 powerpoint spell as an example casting it with 5 powerpoints will just get you the basic spell. As your ranks improve then you can do more with the same spell. This is similar to a list that has Light I, Light II, Light III and then Light True. They are basically the same spell but they are doing more by using more power points.

Rolemaster has lots of spell classificataions such as elemental (no resistance roll), force (resistance roll allowed), utility (cannot be cast on an unwilling target) and so on. HARP has three classifications. These are Utility, Attack and Elemental.

Utility spells encompass things like healing and what RM players would consider a utility spell. These cannot be cast on unwilling characters and it is the recipient or target of the spell that gets to decide if the spell works or not. 

Attack spells cover all attacking spells that do not fall into the Elemental category.

Elemental, these are almost identical to RM elemental spells in resolution.

Spell Casting

Basic spell casting in HARP requires the ability to move at least one hand and to be able to speak in a normal voice. If you cannot do that then you cannot cast the spell.

Scaling Spells

This is the big feature of HARP magic. Each basic spell has a menu of options. Each option on the menu has a cost in power points. So if you want to increase the range for example then you can spend more power points on casting the spell and you get the added range. As long as you have enough power points and ranks in the spell then you can mix and match options to tailor your spells.

Here is an example spell from the universal sphere.

Arcane Bolt

PP Cost: 3
Range: 50’
Duration: —
Spell Type: Attack
RR: Magic
Sphere: Universal
Description: When cast, this spell sends a bolt of blazing magical energy to strike the target. This bolt of energy does 1d10 points of damage to the foe if he fails his Resistance Roll.
Scaling Options:
Increase Damage (each 1d10 hits– 5d10 max) +3 PP
Stunning Force (per round of Stun) +4 PP
Increase Range (per +50’) +1 PP
Increase Targets (each additional target) +4 PP

This is very different to a Rolemaster spell! This reminds me of casting a D&D fireball but with rolling a handful of d10s rather than a bucket of d6s. This is really the HARP version of Shockbolt but to me at least it looks a lot more fun.

Transcending armour is also handled by increasing power point costs. The heavier your armour then the greater the cost of the spell to cast. The rational being something along the lines of the armour acting as a sink for the magic.


This is another excellent feature. If an enemy caster is casting a spell then you can cast an instantaneous counter spell. Here is the description of the mechanic:

In the Universal Sphere, there is an instantaneous spell
named Counterspell. It is used to counter and disrupt a spell
being cast by another spell user during the actual casting of
the spell.
The spell user who is casting the Counterspell makes his
casting roll and then looks up the result on the RR column
of the Maneuver Table. The spell user, whose spell is being
countered, must then roll higher than this number with his
casting roll or the spell is countered, and he loses all Power
Points that he has put into the spell.

I really like that. RM has that whole power projection skill thing and in all my years of gaming no one has ever used it. HARP’s counter spell on the other hand I can easily see being a regular feature. Of course it doesn’t mean you can stymy an enemy caster every time but it does mean you can at least do something. Counterspell costs 1PP to cast.

Casting Times

Casting times are based around 3 rounds. If you cast faster than that then you take a -20 to your spell casting roll and in applicable a +10 to your fumble. You can also take longer than necessary to cast a spell to get a bonus to your spell casting roll.


All in all you probably get 90% of what we get in Spell Law in a well laid out 32 pages. What at first glance appeared to pretty basic actually has a lot of flavour and variety. I am pretty sure that HARP players reading this will tell us that there are loads more spells and spheres in College of Magics but I don’t own that so I cannot comment but it goes without saying.

Next time I am going to cover two chapters, Herbs & Poisons and Encounters & Monsters.

17 Replies to “HARP Read Through – Magic & Spells”

  1. There’s definitely some rich food for thought there.

    The scaling spells idea is pretty cool, even a die-hard RM guy like me has to admit. DnD 5e by the way has also gone all-in on the idea of scaling spells, extending it beyond the ones that had it in previous editions (like Fireball).

    Counterspell seems very powerful. Does it cost any actions or activity? 1 PP seems a very low cost, so I am assuming it must cost something else in terms of activity.

    But the idea that most intrigued me was the idea that heavier armor sucks up PP. I can actually see myself applying that to my Rolemaster games (RMU in particular). You could for example say that Channeling spells cost 5% more per Armor Type, Essence spells 10%, and Mentalism spells 25% x helm type (light = 1, medium = 2, and heavy = 3). That would allow you to do away with Transcend Armor altogether, and significantly simplify the casting rules (albeit at the cost of some more fiddly calculations for individual spells).

    1. The actual values are these:
      Table 10.1 Full Sets of Armor
      Soft Leather Armor +2 PP
      Studded Leather Armor +4 PP
      Chain Mail Armor +6 PP
      Plate/Chain Armor +8 PP
      Plate Armor +10 PP

      Those values are for a full suit.

      If you buy armor by the piece then each part has a casting penalty. These are the values for a set of gauntlets.
      Soft Leather Gauntlets +0PP
      Rigid Leather Gauntlets +.5PP
      Chain Mail Gauntlets +0PP
      Plate/Chain Gauntlets +0PP
      Plate Armor Gauntlets +1PP

      And so it goes with every part of a full suit. Any halves you round up once you have your total.

      1. Hmmm… I did not expect set values. I’m not sure that would really work so well, since it would impose much more of a burden, relatively speaking, on low level spells than on high level spells. If you were casting a level 50 spell, the penalty for doing it in plate armor would be only 20% of the spell (10pp), but the penalty for casting a level 1 spell would be 1000% of the spell.

        I’d like to see a more evenly scaled system. I’m not sure what the best way to do that would be.

        RMU already divides armor into light, medium, and heavy. Perhaps to keep the numbers easy, you could say:
        –Casting in light armor adds 50% to the cost of the spell.
        –Casting in medium armor adds 100% to the cost of the spell.
        –Casting in heavy armor adds 200% to the cost of the spell.

        1. HARP doesn’t have the concept of 50th level spells so that is rather moot. The simple answer is to use x2 cost for light, x3 for medium armour and x4 for heavy. When someone is using armour by the piece then decide proportionally which armour penalties should apply. For mentalism only the helm should apply.

          1. Yeah, that might be best. I would probably reduce the number for Channeling users, so we could have viable Paladins. Maybe something like:

            Light: x2
            Medium: x3
            Heavy: x4

            Light: x1
            Medium: x1
            Heavy: x2

            Light Helm: x2
            Medium Helm: x3
            Heavy Helm: x4

            I’m not sure how we make a Warrior Mage now though!

              1. I’m thinking one of two things: either it is a skill that can reduce the number (from 3x to 2x for example) at certain thresholds; or we just do away with it altogether and accept the hard limits, meaning Warrior Mages can go nova like no other class but burn out very quickly.

                But I am definitely open to better ideas!

                1. If we abandoned the casting penalties for armour but increased the PP cost as you suggest then there is no need for Transcendence at all.

  2. That is a great system. It’s a lot simpler than RM## methods.

    I agree with Hurin on the Counter spell cost. If there is a universal spell that can interrupt EVERYTHING… it should cost a bit more than 1PP. I’d love to introduce this into RM2 with my group. I know the spell casters would love it and I would get a coupe more players interested in trying it out.

    1. Having never played HARP I cannot say if counterspell is too cheap or not. I have never heard a complaint against it on the forums. It would be great if one of the HARP players who read the blog could tell us how well counterspell works in practice.

  3. I would like to start by saying how much I have been enjoying your series on HARP. It is very interesting seeing the game from a different angle. Thank you for taking the time to do this series.

    Being a HARP enthusiast, I wanted to add a couple of clarifications on spell casting in HARP.

    When a spell in HARP is scaled, each PP over the base incurs a -5 modifier to the casting roll.

    The casting time for spells in HARP is based on the total power points expended on the cast using 5 PP or portion thereof per round. The penalty for casting in a shorter time is -10 per round. Additionally, a player may take longer to cast the spell, gaining a +5 modifier per round to a maximum of +30.

    Counterspell is used often in my games and is quite fun making for loads of drama and emotional demonstrations. It is listed as a base cost of 1 in the book, but that is misleading. The final cost of Counterspell is the total PP cost of the spell being countered, plus any additional scaling required for range. This requires that the character casting Counterspell has enough ranks in the spell to reach the final PP cost. When casting Counterspell, the modifiers for scaling apply, but the casting time modifiers do not apply to as it is an instant cast.

    These rules are outlined in HARP Fantasy on pages 114 and 115. There is also a very good example of the how Counterspell and the modifiers for scaling work on page 115.

    1. Welcome to the blog!

      Stupidly the casting time based on PP used is in my notes but I just used the timings from the example I was looking at.

      So counterspell is similar to RMs spellstore. It list listed as 1st level, so 1 PP to cast. In used it Ctually costs the PP of the spell stored.

  4. Another good article, I’m really enjoying these. Looking forward to the next.

    RE: Counterspell

    Yep, it works exactly as ImaginosMusic said.

    One thing that may not be immediately obvious to someone who doesn’t play HARP is that the scaling penalty (-5 to your casting roll for every extra PP) affects the resulting target RR (see the RR column on the Maneuver table). e.g. if you’re counterspelling a 5 PP spell, your Counterspell roll is made at -20, if it’s a 10 PP spell then your Counterspell roll is at -45.

    The caster you’re trying to Counterspell then has to roll higher than this RR target when they roll their own spell’s casting roll (taking their total skill bonus for that particular spell and any other modifiers such as scaling penalties into account). e.g. if they’re casting a Utility spell, they not only need a total roll higher than 70 (utility spells succeed on a total roll of 71+), their roll also has to be higher than the Counterspell RR (which could be anywhere from 65 to 260). BTW, only one roll is needed for this – the casting roll resolves both the casting success/failure AND the RR.

    BTW, HARP’s Maneuver Table is a thing of beauty and genius. It’s ONE table to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them :-).


    RE: spell scaling, armour, paladins

    In HARP, there are items called PP adders. If you have one, it provides a number of PP towards **every** spell you cast. So if you have a +2 PP adder and cast a 5 PP spell, it will only cost you 3 PP to cast. The adder can also offset the extra PP required for wearing armour or scaling up a spell. i.e. it can provide some of the PP required to cast a spell, no matter what the source of the PP cost (e.g. a +2 PP adder allows a caster to wear Soft Leather with no armoured casting penalty).

    BTW, with a PP adder, you always have to provide at least 1 PP yourself when casting a spell.

    There are also Spell Adders, which allow you to cast any spell (with any scaling options, limited only by your ranks in that spell) at no PP cost to yourself. Armour penalties still apply, but scaling penalties do not (so if wearing Soft Leather, you’d cast at -10 for the 2 PP penalty that incurs, but scaling up a fire bolt from tiny to huge wouldn’t incur any penalty – normally that would be -40. Or you could cast a greatly scaled-up Counterspell with it). A +1 spell adder allows 1 such “free” spell per day, +2 spell adder allows 2 per day, etc.

    Spells cast with a Spell adder take the normal amount of time (1 round per 5 PP or part thereof), which can be reduced as usual (i.e. -10 for every round faster).

    You can only benefit from 1 of each (PP or Spell Adder) in any given day, so having a +2 PP adder and a +1 PP adder doesn’t combine into the equivalent of a +3 adder – you pick one, typically the best one you have.

    You can get a +1 PP or +1 Spell adder during character creation by spending DP.

    Also, some spell-casters have spells that allow them to create PP or spell adders for themselves. e.g. there’s a Magestaff spell in CoM (base cost is 13 PP, so requires minimum of 4th level) that allows a Mage to turn their staff into a +1 PP adder. With later scaling options, it can be improved up to a dual +5 PP and +5 Spell adder (but IIRC you need about 45 ranks in the spell, so minimum 14th level). Clerics have a similar spell called Holy Symbol, but instead of allowing dual PP & Spell adder, it allows creation of a holy symbol that acts as a PP adder and provides a bonus to all RRs, and (at much higher levels) add Minor & Major Holy Abilities (holy abilities vary according to the nature of the deity).

    (Oddly, Holy Symbol is in the HARP core rules, but Magestaff is not)

    BTW, RM’s PP multiplier doesn’t exist in HARP. It’s not really needed in as even 1st level spell-casters will typically have at least 50 or more PP anyway: 6 ranks of PP Dev = 30 PP + racial bonus + stat bonuses. Racial PP bonuses vary from 0 to around 40. And a caster gets back 1/4 of their PP every 2 hours of rest.

    PPs are not in short supply in HARP….it’s scaling penalties and casting times that are the bane of HARP spell-casters.

    BTW, in earlier articles you mentioned racial RR bonuses and racial PP and Endurance (hit points) bonuses. I don’t know if you noticed this or not, but each race divides up 30 points between the three RR types (Will, Magic, Stamina), and another 60 points between PP bonus and Endurance bonus (so a Dwarf has +50 Endurance, +10 PP, while an Elf has +20 Endurance, +40 PP. Humans are average: +30 to PP & Endurance, and +10 to each of the three RRs).

    Finally, re: Paladins. In standard HARP, a “Paladin” is a Cleric who selects “Combat” as one of their favoured categories….but in one of the old Harper’s Bazaar supplements (which are no longer available, but it’s still possible to find the old Harpers’ Bazaar Annual 2005 on ebay sometimes) there was an optional profession called Paladin.

    One of this profession’s abilities was that they reduced the armour PP penalty by 1 for every 5 levels of Paladin they had. It was specific to reducing armour casting penalties (i.e. was not a PP adder) could only reduce any armour penalty to a minimum of 1. So a 5th level Paladin could wear soft leather and have a casting penalty of 1 instead of 2. If they also had a +1 PP adder, it would be 0.

    BTW, the Paladin profession also had a Holy Weapon spell that was similar to the Cleric’s Holy Symbol spell but provided bonus to the weapon’s OB instead of RRs, as well as being a +1 adder and later adding minor and major Holy abilities.

    IIRC, a new version of the Paladin professions is supposed to be coming in the long-awaited Something Wicked supplement, along with Druids and Mystics and Shadowblades and other professions that Harpers’ Bazaar & The Codex cloned from RM & other sources.

    BTW, I have my own house-ruled Transcend Armour skill that reduces the armour penalty by 1 PP for every 7 or 8 ranks you have in it….very expensive, but if you really must have a Wizard in Plate you can do it (reducing the +10 PP penalty to 0 would require 75 ranks = 150 DP. a minimum of 24th level). Saner casters would stop at either Soft (+2 PP, 15 ranks) or Rigid (+4 PP, 30 ranks) Leather.

    I also have two other house rules that reduce scaling penalties and casting time based on how many ranks you have in that particular spell….this makes it really worthwhile to buy more ranks in a spell even after you’ve got enough ranks to do all the scaling you want/need to do. The basic idea is that the better you know a spell (i.e. the more DP you spend on it), the easier and faster you can cast it.

    BTW, if you don’t have College of Magic, I highly recommend getting it. It’s got lots of great stuff in it (more professions, more spells, blood magic, alchemy, charms, magic rituals, item creation rules, and more), but it’s worth the price just for the spell creation system in Chapter 5 that details the Action aspects, Object aspects, and Attributes for making up your own spells…or just modifying existing spells to suit your own taste.

  5. It does seem like HARP has really cleaned up RM casting. I don’t know how RMU is going for spells but hopefully they have similar ideas.

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