I remember when I first saw Spell Law, the rolemaster magic rule book, I was not overly impressed. When dealing with magic my background was largely D&D with the hundreds of PHB spells and probably an equal number of add on spells from Dragon magazine and from the backs of modules and such. Spell Law and the Rolemaster magic system takes a bit of getting used to but if you leave your preconceptions at the door it is an amazing system.
The first danger facing a new gamemaster is to make learning magic too easy. There are several optional rules about learning spell lists and entirely alternative learning methods availabel to the GM in the core rules and companions. Every one of them makes magic easier to learn. I have tried most of them over the years and have come back full circle to using the strictest rules and these give the players the most fun. There was an awful lot of moaning from my players when I did impose the strict rule set but that was because they had become spoiled by the overly generous rules they had been playing under. It doesn’t help that in our gaming weekends we have spent half the weekend playing 20th level characters created under the generous rules and half playing 1st level characters under the strict set. That is one hell of a culture shock.
At first glance it appears that Spell Law gives distinct sets of spells with each ‘set’ or list going from 1st to 20th and then 25th, 30th and 50th. The spell caster can cast all the spells of his level or lower from all the sets they know. Lists have to be learned in blocks of 1-10, 11-20th and then the three highest level spells are learned as up to 25th, up to 30th and up to 50th.
The first thing to realise that that basic model is not always true. Some character classes, ‘professions’ in RM, have specific lists that work differently. The two that spring to mind are healers who have a transference list that is a list of just one spell and illusionists who have their prime illusion lists completely interconnected so that they would all have to be learned before they can effectively create illusions, more on this below.
What you can do within rolemaster’s magic system is layer spells. Many spells work on the next spell you cast for example to increase the duration of a spell you would cast and Extension spell followed by the spell you want to extend. Runes can be written to specially prepared paper the same way and a door could be warded or a standing stone inscribed with powerful symbol. Other lists need to have their spells used together, different protective spells will only protect against one type of magic and so you will have to layer different protective spells.
There are rules on which spells ‘stack’ and which don’t. The rule being that spells with the same name do not stack. Using Extension as an example Extension II is a 3rd level spell and doubles the duration of a spell, Extension III is a 7th level spell and triples the duration. Despite the numbering these are the same spell so you could not cast both and try and get six times the duration on your spell. Certain spells do not stack simply because they are contradictory. There is a spell called Aura that makes the caster appear incredibly powerful and adds to the caster’s defence. There is another spell that makes the cast hazy and indistinct. It also adds to the casters defence. You cannot use Aura and Blur at the same time. Apart from a few exceptions like this you can stack pretty much anything and use that option to create so many more magical effect. A mid to high level magic user of about 10th level can litterally have more than 100 spells to choose from. Although many spells are very specific and of limited day to day use having them to hand for that one time they are just the right tool for the job is invaluable.
If you are new to Rolemaster then it is certainly worth reading all the spell lists available to a profession and seeing which lists work together before planning which lists to learn.
Now Illusionists in Rolemaster are NOTHING like a D&D illusionist! Firstly, you cannot disbelieve and illusion. There is no saving throw, Resistance Roll in Rolemaster parlance, as the illusion is actually created. What I mean is that a simple light mirage spell does actually create the image, if you stick your hand through it then you will know it isn’t a real elephant or whatever but the image is really theree. If you create an sound mirage of a claxon to raise the alarm then there really will be a big loud noise, the device that made it may not exist but the noise does. Illusionists have seperate lists for dealing with light, sound and touch/feel etc. They then have a master list called Greater Illusions but you can only use the ‘senses’ in your greater illusions if you know the corresponding spell for that sense. What the illusions (stationary) and phantasms (mobile) do is combine the different mirage spells into coherent multisensory illusions. If the illusionist know the touch/feel mirage then you can actually touch the illusion, pick it up and carry it off if you wanted or on the other hand it could fall on you and do real damage. For the duration of the spell an illusion is on the verge of being a real thing under the mental control of the illusionist. I would not recommend an illusionist as a first character in Rolemasters until you are really au fait with the magic system.
I have writen about this before but there are so many more types of magic using profession in Rolemaster that you will have to leave a lot of your D&D preconeptions behind. The sheer power of many spells simply is not apparent from reading the description in the book, you have to see it in action. There is a spell that make herbs more effective. Healing herbs play a big part in most rolemaster games. A typical common healing herb is Rewk, you brew it up and drink it and it heals 2-20 hits. Most mid to high level characters have 130-150 hits for comparison purposes. Rewk is both common and cheap to buy but is often over looked by characters because they would have to carry so much of it because of the disparity of healing to total hits. As an animist goes up levels they can double and triple the effectiveness of herbs and by 15th level they can times that by 10. Now you common or garden Rewk is healing 20-200hits. Rewk costs 9sp, less than one gold piece a dose. Yavethalion is a herb that heals 5-50 and costs 45gp, Gefnul heals 100 hits and costs 90gp. A starting character starts the game with 3gp typically (I seem to remember about 150gp was common in D&D as starting money) so you can see that that simple spell can mean the difference between life and death or at the very least empty money bags!
Spell Law I believe contains about 2000 spells split between three realms of power and those can be stacked and combined to make a lot of variations to fit your characters vision but the spell lists as presented only account for one part of the magic system within Spell Law.
Next time I will give you a primer on magical research.