Spell Law Deconstructed. Channeling & Spell Failure.

Happy Holidays! A couple interesting threads over at the RMForums worth reading, but many of them touch upon a favorite subject here on the RMBlog: the relationship between rules and setting.

Someone raised the issue of the realms (Essence, Channeling, Mentalism) as being integral to a setting. I’ve already ret-conned my own version of Spell Law to better fit into Shadow World but continually tweak it as my views change or someone raises a compelling argument.

My most recent thought, part of my attempts to REALLY differentiate the realms, is whether Channelers should even be subject to spell failure. If you see all the realms as relatively the same (casting time, casting roll, etc) then this wouldn’t make sense. However, if you see each realm as functioning quite differently, then casting times, casting rolls and even spell failure can be adjusted. That gives each realm clear advantages and disadvantages. If Channeling spells are drawn from a Diety you could make the argument that the caster will either have the spell “bestowed” upon them or not, but it shouldn’t work as capriciously as Essence or Mentalism spells. The outside agency the Diety represents might shield the caster from mundane failures.

It’s just a thought–not fully fleshed out yet but worth pondering further.

14 Replies to “Spell Law Deconstructed. Channeling & Spell Failure.”

  1. I agree. But a way of making sense of Channel Spell Failure might be a bit of a moral one. A Channel spellcaster might have a temporary lapse of faith (like the priest before the vampire in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot). Or it just might be that the concerns of the flesh or the ego have momentarily distracted the caster or got in the way of the channel, resulting in holy (or unholy) energies malfunctioning within a temporarily unclean or unworthy vessel. I expect, in most instances, it would be difficult to incorporate this reading into the story.

  2. Interesting idea. I’d suggest that your view of spell failure depends on how you see the spell casters relationship to their deity/power.

    (A) I lean towards the idea that the spell caster has to have a clear mind and make some kind of mental gymnastics or mental effort to tap into their deities “power delivery network”. Add in some caster manipulation of said (raw) power and I see the reason/ justification/ need for Spell Failure.
    Heck you could even argue that the spell caster has to, in a sense, mentally justify the use of the spell to their deity/power, thus having to have a coherent and acceptable justification for the use, which too would provide a reason for spell failure.

    (B) If on the other hand you see the spell caster requesting some spell, then I could see the lack of need for spell failure. In this view, the caster would request “Summons V”, then the deity/power would grant them the power and the knowledge of how to properly apply/direct the power. I like this method, but I have a hard time conceiving of how this meshes with the idea of a “Spell List”. Could be that I just haven’t had enough coffee. =)

  3. So given that Middle Earth is the setting for my regular campaign, channelling is more about drawing on the same power of creation in different ways. However, back in the early days with a homebrew setting I used the list as a menu for the Cleric, who then petitioned for the spell on a reverse RR roll with modifiers for piety. Fumbles still applied but reinterpreted for religious leanings.

    What I would do now is have a running pool of failure points which if the PC fails to cast slowly build up for some effect on the cleric and perhaps the party.

  4. SL actually says the power can be a deity, demon, or even a super computer as long as loyalty attunes a person to the power source. Having a deity source makes the most sense to me for a default setting. Elric settings might have a great demon as the source, like Arioch. SpaceMaster might use super computer or ancient alien life force/technology.

    As for clerics with armor, having cleric rely on mystical armor through the closed class list via the spell list series of DB and AT increasing spells makes sense to me, rather than saving up for expensive plate armor which wouldn’t be affordable for many levels anyway. A logical argument might be, if the cleric’s petition for protection to the channeling source fails, then the cleric’s life is in danger. And as their reliance and devotion increases, the protection benefits of the spell list increases. Would a higher power help a follower that instead puts on metal instead of trusting in available the protection powers. “I trust in you entirely,” the cleric petitions to the great spirit, grabbing an ornate sparkling silver breast plate. “I put my life in your hands,” the cleric says and then grabs a matching helmet. That don’t seem right.

    Paladin absorbing damage, mystical shield, turning away arrows, and turning blades with channeled help fits the same logic. Why would a believing follower distrust in the power? Paladins do get at higher levels some sort of mystical plate armor, but it’s not metal.

    Sticking a cleric and paladin into tank armor, to me, is a sign of disbelief or lack of trust in the higher power source. And doing so, the higher power source should find it more difficult to send more power, hence a penalty.

    As another result, metal plate helps fighters, bards, and dabblers, who might be more apt to wearing plate armor, resist against cleric, paladin, ranger, druid, and evil channeler powers such as curses, dark channels, disease, and wounding list. This might mean that those professions also might have less belief in the source power and the powers are still less effective.

    1. There is an old joke about faith.

      There is a vicar who is walking along the coastal path admiring God’s creation when he slips and falls down a cliff. Hanging on to a branch to save himself from falling to his death the vicar offers up a prayer saying “God I have total faith in you and that you will deliver me, your servant from this danger.” Following the prayer absolutely nothing happens. As it happens a fisherman sees the man hanging from a cliff and calls the coastguard who call the fire brigade who rush out to the cliff edge and they lower a man down to the side of the cliff and try and rescue the vicar. When the fireman gets down to the vicar he says “Put this harness around you and we will lift you to safety.” The vicar replies “Have no fear for my safety. I have total faith that god will save me.” The fireman has great reservations about this but the vicar does not want to be rescued so they pack up and leave. Anyway they get about a mile away and then decide they cannot leave a man hanging from a cliff and so turn around and go back and lower the fireman back over the cliff. When he is down beside the vicar he says “Father, we could not leave you please let us bring you up off this cliff.” The vicar is adamant and says “God will protect me, have no fear.” So the firemen drive away again. The get to about the same place and decide they really cannot leave the man there, so they must do something. The drive all the way back and start to lower the fireman back over the cliff but as soon as the vicar sees him he shouts up “I don’t need your help, God will save me!” at that the branch snaps and the vicar falls to his death.

      When the vicar gets to heaven he rounds on God and says “I put all my faith in you and you didn’t help me in my hour of need!” and God says “I sent the fire brigade three times, what more do you want?”

      So what would the Paladin say when his soul turns up at the afterlife and his god asks him if he was wearing the plate armour that the god had provided?

  5. There are some great ideas and thoughts on this topic here. The first thing I have to comment on is that there has to be some sort of ‘failure’ model built into spell casting for all realms to keep it balanced. If 2 out of 3 realms have spell failures, then everyone will flock to Channeling as there is no chance of a spell failing. Why take any other realm of magic?

    With that in mind, lets build in some sort of “non-successful” spell component. Looking at this from the outside, if a channeler always gets the spell cast/granted whenever he wants, who is the greater power, the spell user or the deity? If I can command a deity to grant me a spell whenever I want, without chance of failure… I’d say I’m more powerful than the deity since I always get what I want whenever I want, without failure. The deity can’t refuse me.

    The spell user can ask for a spell from the deity and hopes that it is granted, that at least builds in a mechanism to make the caster want to continue to appease the deity through thoughts, deeds, actions. That mechanism is lost when the spell caster controls the deity.

    As for casting in plate armour, the spell is coming from a deity, plate mail shouldn’t be an obstacle for a deity, I hope. The spell user is merely a conduit for the deity’s power to manifest in the physical world. Besides… metal is a great conductor!

  6. Another interpretation: what if Channeling casters aren’t being GRANTED their powers but STEALING them in some way from their respective deities, often with the permission of the deity itself? A better analogue might be Druid or Animist types who, it might be assumed, aren’t being granted spells by Nature but are harnessing and channeling the elemental forces of Reality (but not manipulating or recombining as Essence casters might do). In both these cases failure would be justified by a bungled Channel.

    1. Excellent point, and thank you for bringing attention to the non-pure divinity Channelers.
      I decided to check into what RMU Spell Law (2015 is the version I have) has to say about it. Not much, but it does specifically consider the idea that a Druid might draw power from “Nature” instead of a supernatural deity/power. In that case, they say the GM might consider moving those spell lists over to Essence, where it might fit better.
      Vis-a-vis the metal armor argument, in that case I can see it strengthening the case for dropping the failure chance for those “divine” type casters. As someone else said here, why would any pathetic metal armor prevent a superpowerful being from granting power?
      I’d hate abandoning the Channeler spell lists to pure divine-source casters, but your points bring up some interesting thoughts.

      1. Gabe, Dave – if you go down the druidic route then really we should still be dealing with some version of a nature goddess/god/spirit. Its pretty much recounted in all Shaman/druid traditions. Asking for a boon or forming some sort of ritual barrier to prevent the malicious spirits from harming you.

        1. Aspire – You make a good point, and I wonder if my thinking comes down to the intelligence behind the power source.

          I’d say case A (probably the more conventional one) takes the point of view that there is spirit/power/source that provides that power. Implied, I would argue, is that the power deliverer has some kind of knowing, rational, thinking
          aspect/component it. I.e. a traditional god aligned to nature (Iloura in Shadow World(SW)) or perhaps some kind of Nature spirit. Looking at SW Master Atlas 3, it states “Users of Channeling gain their powers not from the Flows of Essence but from the very energy of their patron god.” IRT spell failure, I think you have the same points discussed above:

          1) That the deity is allowing access or providing (assuming proper loyalty/devotion) to the power network, and it’s up to the caster to manipulate it correctly. Kinda like my teenage daughter making a sandwich: I give her all the components to a sandwich, but how it gets assembled and how closely it looks like a sandwich anyone else would recognize is completely up
          to her.

          2) That the deity is delivering the whole spell, and required knowledge of how to cast that particular spell. As in the above example, this would be me giving her the sandwich already made and ready to eat. All she has to do is eat it (before being distracted by her cell phone)! =D

          Conversely, I’d say in case B, that there is no intelligent component behind the power delivery. That the druids are simply tapping into a particular flavor of power, which happens to be closely related to Deitic power (Channeling) Downside here (at least to me) is that it seems awfully close to Essence casting. I say so because I don’t think it’s widely assumed there is any kind of motive/intelligence behind the Essence flows; it’s there, and people have learned to access it. IRT spell failure then, I’d argue you do need it here, as there is no “here’s the spell in a nice pretty bow” assumed, just like Essence casters.

          Of course then you can have the “ol’ switcheroo” like is stated in SW Master Atlas (3). There is states: “…Animists, Sorcerers or (in RMC) Druids are inclined to be associated with sites which are actually Channeling foci, remainders of a god long gone. Though the god is no more, the site/artifact acts almost like a passive god.”

          LOL… here I’d again assume spell failure, as a “passive god” certainly isn’t going to be providing the spell instruction manual.

          At the end of this verbose diatribe, I guess my thinking comes down in two ways:

          1) If the GM wanted, I could certainly see a rational argument for spell failure free Deity provided Channeling power. Not saying there wouldn’t be other concerns, balancing issues, etc.. but rationally the point of view is understandable to me.

          2) That there is always a chance of spell failure, regardless of the power source. Yea, it’s kinda naive to assume a thin piece of metal would impede anything that could be mistaken for a deity, but hey, rational consistency requires some give and take. =)


  7. Most of the argument for RM Channeling seems to revolve around clerics and paladins, from what I have heard, rather than from druids and rangers. And mostly from comparing those two to other games, primarily D&D.

    I heard someone once claim that RM setting was “… but RM is not truly generic. It actually has so much of DnDs emotional baggage …”

    I believe that paladins and clerics (3 of 5 domains) without any penalty in plate armor are part of another D&D emotional baggage. Trying to make RM channeling into a more metal friendly professions by changing the current channeling penalty is taking something that is unique to RM, remove that unique piece, and add D&D emotional baggage. RM does allow any profession to wear any armor, unlike D&D where you have to have class proficiency to even put it on. It’s like something is mystically keeping those wizards from putting on a suit of armor. It doesn’t explain why. It just says that they can’t wear heavy armor. Half of clerics can only wear up to medium armor, for no stated reason. I don’t see anything in RMU that says that a Magician can’t wear plate armor. All clerics and paladins in RMU can wear plate. It’s not always beneficial, however, all the time. Even a monk in RMU can wear plate armor. It’s not always beneficial to do so.

    In my D&D 5e group, no one picked a paladin. If a future player wants to play a plate wearing paladin, I recommend them joining that group, but the cleric in that group is already doing most of the D&D paladin’s job. True, at 5th level a paladin gets a 2nd attack. But the cleric in the group got and uses frequently Spiritual Weapon which is a magical animated weapon that attacks 60 feet away using a bonus action and currently does more damage than a sword. His Lightbringer mace does as much damage as most swords. The fighter of the group takes care of most of the main melee. But Adrick has jumped in a few times when the fighter had a few unlucky rolls.

    I think that the line between D&D clerics and paladins is very thin. There is very little class distinction. D&D magic gives very little defensive protection, only a few spells, with a lot of overlapping shared spells. Most of the D&D Paladin and Cleric spells are like RMU Open realm spell list type spells, underwhelming. A D&D Cleric maximum total number of known spells that a character knows is 30. It’s 22 known spells at level 20, plus 8 domain spells. Should I limit my RMU spell lists to only 30 picked spells from the various lists as well at level 20 so that I can make RMU into D&D?

    In RMU, receiving a metal penalty makes the defensive spell lists much more important to increase AC, absorb blows, ignore pain, turn away arrows, and turn away blades (and eventually get that plate-like mystical armor). That sounds like a good magical solution rather than the relying on mundane armor solutions. It creates a need for the almost all of the spells on that list, yet the laws of RMU magic remain consistent. And if someone decides to equip the armor, I have no issue slapping that -50 penalty or whatever metal penalty on their spells.

    In RMU for clerics, the spell list gives the AT. It progresses from AT4 (like hide scale), to AT6 (like rigid leather), to AT8 (like mail), to AT10 (like plate), to mass AT10.

    In RMU for paladins, you can instantly cast to take more pain (+25% hits, +50% hits, +75% hits, +100% hits) , instantly cast to deflect arrows headed towards you, instantly cast to turn away blades swung or thrust at you, and cast auras to subtract from attacks.

  8. I think of channeling magic as power that has been granted to the faithful, but they need to manipulate that power on the fly to get the effects they require. This isn’t D&D where the cleric has prayed to receive X, Y, and Z spells and they are granted; the RM channeler can decide how to use the power as circumstances dictate. I don’t image such a hands-on god that they are directly and personally intervening each time a spell is cast.

    But if you do imagine that, it might make sense to get rid of spell failure and instead track the strength of the channeler’s connection to their deity. This is not something that can be expressed merely in DP purchases with such a hands-on divinity, but something that changes for better or worse each time the character is faced with a moral quandry or even a decision between the easy and the hard path. If the god is directly shaping the magic, I expect they will also want to be directly shaping the cleric, and will be considering carefully whether the cleric merits that level of favor.

    I also expect that sometimes the god may decide the wrong spell has been requested and take things in an unexpected direction…

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