It’s been quite a long time since I delved into my BASiL project and in the interim there has been several interesting threads over at the Forums that have made me reconsider (again) the scope and nature of spells in Rolemaster and FRPG’s in general.
In my mind, I’ve divided spells into four rough classifications: “keystone”, “mechanic” and “gameplay”, “weapon”. Those aren’t very descriptive, but it’s just my mental model, so let’s dive down into them.
“Keystone” spells are iconic spells/spell ability that are generally found in almost every magic system. These are so ingrained into fantasy DNA that we rarely challenge them even if they imbalancing. Three big “keystone” spells are Invisibility, Flying and Fireball. If I think a spell is in Rolemaster “just because” I spend time really thinking about it.
Mechanic spells are those spells that are the primary result on the game system. A good example in Rolemaster are all of the spells that add a bonus to some action or specific skill. Converting Spell Law to a non-skill based system would render many of the spells useless or irrelevant. Generally, I’m not a fan of skill bonus spells–feels lazy and diminishes the value of skill acquisition.
Weapon spells are the casters version of a sword, bow or dagger. They allow the caster to inflict melee or missile damage in generally the same way a fighter can. Firebolts and Magic Missile are good examples. Firebolts, Ice Bolts, Shock Bolts–all pretty much the same thing but necessary nonetheless.
Gameplay spells are the rest–spells with varying utility, scope or benefit that provides for interesting gameplay, solutions to problems or adds atmosphere. These can be the most challenging because they can be the most open-ended.
So what does this mean and how is it important or relevant? For me, understanding a spell’s role or objective in the game was critical to my re-write. Let’s take Fly as an example-a spell that is often abused and sometimes despised by GM’s. Was Fly just a keystone spell that had to be included in BASiL? Is it a critical ability necessary for fantasy? With so many powerful spells available in spell law how could Fly NOT be a magical spell?
So then I looked at the spell from a gameplay standpoint. Is Fly about allowing the magic-user to hover over a combat and fling spells from a safe distance? Is it just a combat exploit? I came to the conclusion that Fly is really about transportation in the game system. Once I accepted that, then a whole range of possibilities presented themselves and Fly was just one method of magical transportation. In fact, I made Fly a function of “wind” or “gravity” and removed it as a general (open or closed) spell ability. Other magical aspects were given different transportation spells: Long Door, Fire Travel, Shadow Skipping etc. Can the Wind Mage that has Fly still hover above the group and cast spells. Sure, but not every Mage will have access to Fly and other transport spells will provide different types of benefits.
So if keystone spells are ubiquitous, weapon spells are fairly straight foward and mechanic spells are system dependent then we are left with gameplay spells as the real creative task. I’m endlessly fascinated by gameplay spells, especially in the context of Shadow World. Coming up with new spells can be difficult, and coming up with new spells that enhance gameplay is even more challenging. Rather than measure a spell by it’s overall utility, maybe think of a spell’s role in enhancing gameplay. What spell in Rolemaster is the most interesting?