Predictive Spells in Spell Law

Some recent comments on the Forums or Discord had me collecting my thoughts on all of the predictive spells in Rolemaster. I’ve always had trouble incorporating comprehensive divination/augury in my games. My experience has been that I go one of two ways:

  1. Make the divination result vague enough to be virtually meaningless
  2. I have to build the spell result into my game, either by incorporating that content into the game world, or by bending the game results to meet the predicting outcome.

I find neither are good choices and I’ve also struggled with those personal biases when designing BASiL. So purposes of this blog post, I’m going to ignore various “Finding Spells” which provide information about a thing or a topic. Most of the spells are poorly designed, but ultimately those spells help provide necessary exposition; useful in a dense world build like Kulthea!

Instead, let’s delve into predictive or forward looking spells that provide information about an event. The first spells that are troublesome are found on the Astrologers Time Bridge list. I already wrote about Astrologers HERE, and since then, several others have tackled a redesign of this admittedly cool profession concept.

Guess. The first level spell just biases the players choice by 25%, perhaps a bit much for a 1st level spell and might encourage guesstimating actions, but it works well in a random rolling game system.

Intuition. Now we start down a slippery slope, with each successively higher level version looking further into the future: 2nd level peers 1 minute into the future while 15th lvl can look ahead 1 min/lvl. How should one DM that without having the “fix in”? Sure, it’s easy to match a few minutes into the future with a quickly generated answer, but isn’t this just predetermination?

Spell Anticipation. This type of spell really makes me feel constrained. First, I actually try and write out spell casting preferences for my NPC’s when designing an adventure: this was common in earlier AD&D modules (see the Slavelord series) but it’s harder to do in RM when RAW can have a spell user with 150 spells by 10th lvl! There is a lot that happens in RM combat, lots to track and NPCs and critters should be played intelligently and to the best of their ability. How can I as a GM lock a spellcaster into a particular spell they may cast in the future? And if I lock it in, how much can that tilt the balance of the combat to the PC’s favor? And is that bad?

Dreams. This is the grand daddy of railroading a party. This literally enables a GM to guide and direct the party exactly as needed: hints about which direction to go? check. Background info on a foe or item? no problem. Provide the party advice on resources and assistance? Sure, they “dreamed” that.

Thinking back, these spells are cool and I probably enjoyed and appreciated them more when I was much younger and starting out in RPG’s. And looking back at the early version of Spell Law it’s easy to see some of that influence: what D&D established, what works for a dungeon crawl, railroad vs. sandbox. But now, these spells are a real hindrance for my GM style and feel very much deux a machina.

How about you? How often do you use predictive spells in your game?

2 Replies to “Predictive Spells in Spell Law”

  1. Cool topic!

    “Guess” is fine especially if the DM has a good poker-face. The player(s) really have no idea if they are taking the right action and if they were doing a coin flip anyhow, this just gives them a slightly better coin flip. It’s also hilarious once they realize the guess was quite wrong (with dire consequences).

    “Intuition” is rough, but again the DM can give a few different things that might happen, sort of like the timeline splitting into uncertainty. “Will this cave troll wake up and attack us if we cross the room?” leads to “He wakes and attacks, or he wakes and runs away [from their torches], or you are attacked from behind that pile of debris [due to the trolls pet wolf]”. It limits the set, but doesn’t make it guaranteed and possibly makes them paranoid. I also gave a much more exhaustive use of “Intuition V” in your recent post about your delayed $279M 🙂

    “Spell Anticipation” we always treated as just “information for reaction” at the moment it happens. Almost like a contingency spell “if this then that”. So if it is a fireball, then they have a better chance of taking cover, but not guaranteed. There is a slight cost to it since that caster isn’t doing anything else useful that round, and has to possibly shout out what is about to happen to others. It’s like a blade turn spell but more information than purely mechanical [combat] effect. It does have uses especially if fighting a mentalism user.

    “Dream” to me has always been a bit odd, but we treat them as “guaranteed [but vague] perceptions”. So the person dreams, fine. They burned those PP and they count against that next morning (i.e. “cost”). Well who says they remember the dream? So later on in a specific moment, the DM can chose to notify that character (ex: in secret) that they get a strong sense of familiarity and that so-and-so fell through a trap door in a hallway that looks just like this one! Doesn’t seem like the specific topics the player uses have to guarantee perfectly clear information from “on high”. And of course if the players are legit stuck, yeah the DM can urge them in a direction.

    There are tons of spells that present troubles like this. For example the “question” spell is basically a gold mine for players if they capture an enemy alive. So a lot of times we skip roleplaying that part, and the DM gives us a couple pieces of info we didn’t have before (still using PP). Mainly a time saver. Or the DM may just say that the person we are questioning doesn’t know, or “thinks” they know (and gives us the wrong info but players can’t tell). I mean, lots of ways to handle it that are fun and realistic. We actually had one time questioning an evil mage where we had to make SURE he couldn’t try to overcast a spell to cause himself an ESF and go into a coma (another funny loophole in RM).

    Another way to handle these more esoteric and possibly game breaking spells is to add additional “cost” to them above and beyond the PP. A rare component (ex: “dream candle”). Or some tolerance threshold from their god (if channeling). Or they can only be used near an Essaence Foci. And/or add in a skill check, ex: Memory check for Dream. If going homebrew/offbook.

    For sure a bit unbalanced, but it definitely adds some spice to the game that’s for sure!

  2. My group relies heavily on Intuitions before going into portals or operating weird machines.

    If it’s just 1 minute, most likely it’ll just be the effect and done: “you see yourself talking to the part on the other side of a portal, it seems you are in a jungle” or “you are still pushing buttons”. Because I describe the scene of what happens EXACTLY at 1 minute, and centered around the caster, like 5′ around them. Also, they need to declare intent when they cast the spell, and it has to be the caster performing an action. They can’t ask “what happens in 1 minute if the thief goes through the portal?”.

    Then, if they use the higher level spells, I think about things that might vary or be affected by chance, and I roll 1D100 for each such event, and quickly make something up with that.
    For example, the party wants to go through a portal, a group of enemies lies in ambush on the other side.
    They use Intuitions V, and ask “what happens in 5 minutes if I go into the portal?”
    I’ll roll 1D100 to see how likely it is that they detect the ambush and can position themselves (based on my estimation on the party skills to detect an ambush and the enemy skill at executing it).
    I may roll 1D100 to determine how much their normal attitude the players will act, for example if they might decide to go all together or if they will prepare some setup to help warn those that go after the caster.
    If I roll a 90, then a 50, I would tell them something like “you are huddled behind a wall, your weapons ready, you see this or that party member next to you in the same position”.

    They sometimes try to use Dreams, but then usually complain that I’m too cryptic with the result. They choose a topic, and then roll between 1 and 3 Story Cubes (I have this set
    Then I’ll ask for a minute or two to think, then describe a dream that somehow uses the symbols in the dice to talk about a scene or story related to the topic.
    For example, the party had a shared dream as part of the adventure, so on walking up the cleric cast Dream to learn why they had had a shared dream, and rolled a backpack, a tent and a map.

    She dreamt about kids playing in a yard, who come nightfall went together to sleep in a nearby house, and put items from their pockets underneath their pillows.
    While asleep, a wind (spirit?) entered from the window and seem to move the pillows to check the items, then stayed near the foot of the beds, then went out the window, and buried something outside the front door.
    When the kids woke up, they see a hole near the front door, with a buried scaling equipment made of a shining metal. The kids celebrate their newfound toy.

    The tent was the house, the backpack was the focus on items, the map was the buried treasure.
    The message was that someone was looking at their dreams, learning about their skills, and would eventually leave them shiny new items to use in their adventures.

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