Rolemaster Profession Review: The Many Flavors of Magic-Users.

I got a couple emails on my last blog regarding Shamans so I thought I would expand the conversation to include “Magic-Users”.

First off, my over-arching point about Shamans is an extension of my discussions on Clerics and Priests in general. The Rolemaster Cleric is really just the Channeling archetype; there are numerous variations that could be treated as “sub-classes” or unique Professions (like Shamans or Animists). Herein lies a systemic problem with Rolemaster–what determines whether a class idea needs a whole new profession with base lists and individual skill costs or whether it can just be a variation of skill selection using an established profession? Why have an Animist/Druid and not the Shaman? Why should there be a “Barbarian” profession and not a “Mercenary”?

The same could be said for Essence users–why is there just a “Magician” and an “Illusionist”? To fit into the D&D system? Instead, let’s flip our viewpoint–there are just Pure Essence Users, but their title (professional name) is dependent on the class or type of spells they master. Since I’ve expanded the elemental lists with BASiL, there are now enough spell lists for each elemental type that there at least half a dozen Magician types. Add in a few other tropes and the Essence Caster can be expanded just like the Channeling Caster.

Here are some templates that I use in my SW campaign:

“Elementalist”. This a broad term for a Mage that has mastered one or more of the Elements: Wind, Water, Earth, Cold, Fire, Light, Dark. Depending on that focus they may have a more specific professional name: FireMage, Windlord, Earthcaster, Dark Magician, Light Wizard etc. (In our campaign, “Elementalist” is the moniker for a Mage who masters 3 or more Elements and an Archmage is a caster who masters 3 or more “realms”).

“Aspected Mage”. This is Mage whose core powers are focused on an aspect or discipline: “Sound”, “Defense”, “Dimensions”, “Necromancy”, “Magic”, “Demonology”–really the sky is the limit. Generally I like to have at least 3 similar spellĀ  lists to define an Aspect or Focus; otherwise I’ll just throw the list into open or closed. Obviously, I stick to BASiL, but with the various Companions including Elemental Companion, Guild Companions and user generated lists, you can put together a HUGE list of possible Mage focuses.

This process creates very diverse but specific Mage types; each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Peter has discussed rolling Channeling into Essence–doing that would greatly expand the various Mage disciplines: you could have “Healing”, “Creations”, “Weather”, “Flora and/or Fauna” aspects for Mages along with the traditional elements and other standard RM Essence lists.

Now, imagine if you will your players encountering their opponent: a Mage surrounded by his minions for the final battle. They know the Mage is an Essence user…but what else? Now it’s not just a binary choice between a Magician and an Illusionist. Do they buff themselves against heat? cold? electricity? What if the Mage has mastered the Shield Law spells (BASiL). He would be able to buff his followers and himself from Elemental attacks, spells and missile and melee damage to a great extant. That’s a whole different tactical situation than what the PCs may be use too!

By simply broadening the spell lists and grouping them thematically, you can create dozens of distinct Mage types. This is not the same as allowing players to cherry pick the very best lists for their BASE. This doesn’t ‘break’ the game but adds a tremendous variety to it.

9 Replies to “Rolemaster Profession Review: The Many Flavors of Magic-Users.”

  1. I have no issue with archtype systems. I also had a similar criticism of RMU beta1 when the ‘Cleric’ and ‘Paladin’ classes turned out not to be very good in metal armor, and the Cleric was no better than any other caster with weapons. That seemed to me to contradict the very concept of the class. I suggested ‘Cleric’ be renamed ‘Priest’ and Paladin ‘Champion’ or something like that. Now at least that issue has been partly rectified.

    So I see your point about archetypes. The problem is that in an archetype system, while spellcasters will have spells to distinguish them, arms users will have very little to distinguish themselves from other arms users. This problem is compounded by RMU’s decision to break with Rolemaster traditions by getting rid of individual skill costs; now each cost in a category is the same for the class in question. So a Ranger has the same cost for Beast Lore as he has for Philosophy, and the same cost for woodcrafting as for making gems. That is going to REALLY erode the differences between the classes, and make it almost impossible to justify the introduction of any new Arms classes. The main justification for new classes — the main way Arms classes were distingushed — was their costs for skills. But now the costs for skills amongst the Arms users are going to be much closer than they have ever been before.

    So I guess my question is: in an archetype system, what distinguishes the Arms users? I like what you’ve done with the spell users, and having Elementalists and Aspect Mages is a cool idea that I can get behind (we kind of already had Elementalists with the Elemental Companion). But where does it leave pure Arms users? What would be the difference between a Barbarian and a Mercenary? They used to be distinguished not just by professional bonuses, but by their costs in armor, movement, outdoor, and other skills. Now, I don’t see how they could be.

    1. Hi Hurin. Re your question on arms users – and how they might be distinguished in an archetype system – I can offer one possible solution. Its a borrowing from d20-type systems and Fantasy Hero (which I played and ran a long time ago), and pretty simple: give Arms types their own unique talents and allow them to use skills in ways that only they can access. I do think that the problem resides, at least in part, in RM’s fairly strict reliance upon skills and spells to define a character. Either you get a vast proliferation of professions/training packages to reflect differing archetypes or rather bland and monolithic professions a la RMU, where only minimal tinkering is possible (you can’t really build a Barbarian as per earlier RM iterations under the Beta rules).

      So you get a package of ranks with your archetype and access to special talents (maybe the Barbarian has a few limited Druidic- or Shamanic-type powers, unique abilities when using tracking on his or her home ground and a bunch of ranks or a large bonus in Adrenal Defense/Dodge/whatever).

      1. Those are some good ideas. I think that giving each class unique mechanics would be taking it too far, and everyone can see the problem with DnD 5th edition: every class having its own mechanics means a lot of needless complexity, as there are subsystems within subsystems. When my players started 4th edition DnD, which does away with the unique mechanics in favor of a more universal system, my players found it much easier to build their characters.

        But I think if you limit what you give to each class to talents, as I think you are suggesting, then I think you really can distinguish the classes better. We did discuss this a bit on the ICE forums when the beta rules came out. I and some others (maybe you too?) threw out the idea of giving each class its own innate talents. So for example Rangers might naturally have a bonus to Multiple Attack (dual wielding– the legacy of Drizz’t), Beast Lore, and Bows. Essentially you could give each class a talent pool of 10 or 20 points to buy talents with. You could even just give characters a choice amongst a range of innate talents when they pick the class: pick the melee Ranger subclass and you get the Beast Lore and Multiple attacks, while if you pick the bow Ranger you get the Beast Lore and Bow skill.

        It would also help to make first level characters a bit more viable if they had these innate talents too.

        1. Yes, I agree entirely: you don’t want to go too far down the unique subsystems road, especially if you want to appeal to a broad base.
          Personally, I’d have a few options for the Ranger: the two you mention, plus a really purist spiritual Ranger (more comfortable among the beasts than people, with an emphasis on Meditation and Survival), an explorer-type (with better Trading/Language/Influence and minor charm-type powers) and maybe something a bit different, like a botanically focused alchemist-cum-ranger who brews minor potions, creates organic items and wields unusual abilities drawing on the power of plants, wood, soil and earth.

          Each would begin with a few (bonus) ranks in key skills, variant ‘profession bonuses’ (if using RMU) and a pool of talents appropriate to their Ranger subtype (and rangers in general).

    2. I don’t see the need to create differentiated sub-classes of “Fighters” (barbarian, duelist, mercenary, mongol etc); the differentials can and should be made through starting cultural packages. The larger issue is not the fighters and non-spell casters are weak at higher levels, it’s that spell users are too broadly effective. Between 10th and 20th lvl most Pures will have at least 1 offensive spell (bolt), magic defense, adventure capabilities and skill replacement spells. If you reduce the # of spell lists and broad range capabilities you push Pures into 1 or 2 or maybe 3 at best of those 4 pillars of spells (offense, defense, utility, informational). That in effect, pushes them back into the need for a balanced party to fill gaps they can’t have. A 15th level pure that has all BASE, OPEN, Closed to 15th or 20th level are both boringly generic and too capable–in my opinion.

  2. Well, I was quite excited by this exchange, and couldn’t help myself: I put up a document outlining possible changes on my blog. Notwithstanding BriH’s comments above (with which I am mostly in agreement), I wanted to find a way to make specific builds within a profession and see how well it worked. As is usual with me, I got a bit carried away and ended up making something far more complex than it probably needs to be.. .

    Anyways, comments and criticisms are most welcome.

    1. I like what you’ve done, and I think I would like to do something similar for RMU, just with a bit less emphasis on changing skill costs. I’m personally thinking of just providing innate talents and additional starting ranks. But the central idea is the same, and I think you’ve demonstrated how cool it all could be.

  3. I still think some of this could be accomplished by expanding the Combat skill model (player-assignable costs) to more skill Categories. Then GMs and players could create modified versions of standard Professions without having to go through huge hurdles or anything else. And while I agree cultures and backgrounds are a big help, especially for starting characters, they don’t address focused learning as a character advances.

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