Spell Law Deconstruction: Base Lists

RM Spellcaster Professions are defined by 2 game design factors: skill costs and base list. Skill costs are only significant for levels 1-8th (due to declining rank bonuses and professional rank bonsues), while Base Lists have since taken on a disproportionate share of Profession identity and ability.

I have two issues with Base Lists: the “forced-learned” aspect and the “all-profession” trend that started with the Rolemaster Companions. (further explanations forthcoming..)

First lets consider the “force-learned” angle of Base Lists. It’s argued that Professions, and their associated skill costs, model aptitudes of learning. While I don’t particular buy that argument, I at least understand it. But how does one’s aptitudes apply to spell lists? Isn’t any education/learning dictated by what’s available to learn? Whether that’s through books, tutors, mentorship, institutions or guilds, education (skills) should be driven by availability and access. So yes, I can see that a character may have an aptitude for spell casting in general, and even maybe an aptitude for a specific spell realm, but I can’t get my head around the idea that by merely selecting a Profession then mandates a specific set of 6 spells lists they are inclined to learn. Of course the larger argument is that game design requires that a Profession template drives skills and spells, and in return skills and spells reinforce the template. A virtuous loop.

My second issue with Base lists is the “all-profession” trend that I feel has crept into the design process. What do I mean by that? It feels that new Base list builds are driven by the desire to balance all aspects of the character–regardless of traditional non/pure/semi trade-offs. In other words, many newer spellcasters have a mixture of offense, defense and utility spells that make the Profession independent of group balance-they basically have no “flaws” or shortcomings! Starting in RMC I, this idea has been wholly adopted without a second thought. What are some examples:

  • The inclusion of a “Self-Healing” spell list. What’s better than not having to rely on a Healer, Cleric or Lay Healer!
  • The addition of a elemental spell list with major attack spells. Everyone wants at least one directed spell or AoE elemental spell.
  • Use of spell lists and spells that just give significant bonuses to skills or actions. Instantaneous spells that give +25 to the next melee attack? Very nice.
  • “Potpourri” spell lists that are a grab bag of the most useful or effective spells in category spell lists. Why bother with 2, 3, or even 4 Open or Closed lists when all the best spells are distilled into a single Base list!

I think there are many reasons for this:

  1. “Power Creep”. Many new classes were designed to improve upon original RM professions that were deemed too weak or game ineffective.
  2. Blank slots. If you have older spell lists with lots of empty slots it makes sense to fill them in. Making new spells is NOT that easy–so it’s a quick solution to just drop in spells that replace core skills OR spell abilities that flesh out the profession.
  3. “Balance”. For some, each Profession should be internally balanced: have a mixture of skills, abilities, combat effectiveness and defensive capabilities that make them balanced.

Rolemaster already allows Professions to build non-core abilities, at a cost, through the skill system. My concern is that there is an easier path to just build Base lists that replicate expensive skills or abilities without the associated costs or skill ranks.

In the end, a lot will come down to the GM’s perceptions on “balance”, but when reviewing new Profession base lists let’s ask ourselves if the Base Lists are supporting the Profession theme, filling in the traditional weaknesses of a given class or just making an “uber class”.

5 Replies to “Spell Law Deconstruction: Base Lists”

  1. The first issue I think goes back to the old debate during RMU’s first 1/2 decade of development; namely of Individualized skills vs Category / Profession skills. I’ve had occasion lately to review some of the old posts in IC’s first half decade of development (2015/2016) lately, and I can see a lot of those design decisions in the Base List. Too, absent a way to scale spells (such as in HARP), you have to fill the list with something to get to 50 spells (your point about “Blank Slot” filling). Causes me to wonder (unwillingly mind you) if the list-to-50 is more trouble than it’s worth. If you were starting from scratch, maybe it’s better to have smaller scaled spell lists; say X profession could take 6 small scaled Base lists, and then allow access to the former Open, Closed and Arcane lists (which would be split and scaled as well). Those latter three would have access limited in some way, such as per-requisite lists, Pure vs Hybrid, level, or skill ranks. Get rid of a damn lot of spell duplication as well.

    Your second point is something that has been noticed in a lot of RPG’s, but not much talked about. For example: I recently watched a ‘Web DM’ video over on Youtube called “The Tyranny of Fun”. Now it’s a D&D focused show, BUT they talk about how you can see the gradual removal of all restrictions from spell casters in D&D from starting with 3rd edition. That it was better to remove all spell casting restrictions than to limit the player in any way (because it got in the way of FUN). I.e. if you have ‘x’ school of magic, you couldn’t have ‘y’; the de-emphasis of tracking Materialized Components, or dropping (for everyone) encumbrance rules. Granted it made the spell casters almost homogeneous, but hey, they have FUN!

    I’m with you; restrictions, flaws and trade-offs are something I feel makes a system worthwhile and believable. Nobody is perfect, nobody is flawless (other than maybe the NPC Gods), yet you certainly point out an attempt (conscious or not) to make spell casters lean that way. Phah…. there’s no reason why a vanilla Bard Profession should be able to case a healing spell. That’s what the Medical Skill is for; to stabilize until you can get a real healer. I mean heck, if every caster has healing spells, I guess that makes the Medical Category an Arms only skill list.

  2. Those are definitely some tough questions Brian!
    I understand what you are saying about the ‘all-profession’ trend, but I would say a few points in response:
    –Rolemaster has always opened the door to this sort of thing because open and closed spells already offer self healing lists (in two of the three realms at least) and elemental attacks (all three realms). I don’t think RMU has made much of a change here, other than renaming the Animist the Druid and giving it a bit better offensive list.
    –I personally have no problems with spells that give a boost to skills, especially combat skills. Why? Well, honestly, RM’s spells have always been too focused on utility and not enough on combat, imho. There are whole classes in RM2 that have no good offensive spells at all, such as Ranger (and Animist before he became Druid). This means that my players will simply never play them. I ran into this problem still when making characters for RMU: there were still several classes (Ranger and Dabbler in particular) that pay a lot for the ability to have spells, but then get no combat spells. Honestly, take a look through the various spells in RM and compare how many are combat spells vs. how many are utility. I just find the balance a bit off, especially in comparison to DnD. So when I see a spell list that adds some combat punch to a class, I am generally in favor of it — especially for semi-spell users who pay a lot for spells.
    There were also classes in the RM2 core that simply didn’t work. The Warrior Monk was a poor warrior because his costs for martial arts (all four ranks at least) were simply too high; this had to be corrected with the High Warrior Monk in RoCoI.

    I do agree that, when devising spell lists, one should try to avoid just making an uber-class list and cherry picking all the good spells from open/closed lists and concentrating them into an uber-list. That of course was the problem with the Warrior Mage’s spells, and we don’t want to repeat that mistake. Making spell lists is hard. I have learned that over the last couple months, as I just started making my own. They really do need to support the class theme without just filling its weaknesses with generic spells; I think Brian hit the nail on the head with that.

  3. Dave, I totally believe that a 50-spell list is more trouble than it’s worth! I think a feature of Rolemaster, for all its glory (and this contributes to its glory, too) is how excessive it is. When a spell is the same, but just BETTER, I tend to roll my eyes. D&D has this problem, too (hello, Cure Moderate and Major Wounds). I’ve tried to do better, and I agree with you: it’s hard.

    This is why I’m impressed with Against the Darkmaster lists. They go only to ten, like MERP, but many of them scale, like HARP—a bit of the best of both worlds, because a small list means that some of those redundancies or silly utility spells can be cut away. And it’s easier to write for this pattern, too.

  4. Way back in time I was given a Lay Healer as a pregen in a game. I was not that impressed at the time as when I was offered a chance to play in an RM game I rather fancied playing a Mystic.
    Playing the Lay Healer was an eye opener. The profession was an All Profession, as you term it. He took a few levels to get going but they could fight, attack at range, had good utility spells from the realm lists and obviously they could heal themselves and others. The Lay Healer, along with Monks may have created the template for the All Profession, with them being core professions right from the start.

    Regarding blank slots, I have always encouraged players to fill them with their own spells. It gives casters something to do while the fighter is broken, a reason for all sorts of quests to find rare books or teachers and it individualizes characters. Not all magicians with Fire Law are identical.

  5. Blank spots – those weren’t blank they just represented the greater difficulty in learning the next level of spell. Well that is how I sold the idea to my players. However, I do have an issue with the scaling up as you go through the levels. I would rather each spell (formae) did something different and the spell caster had skills in increasing the effect of the spell which also drew on powerpoints to implement. So you learn a blood clotting spell but the skill is putting more power into it and the control required. Or you learn to create a flame and with skill, you can turn it into a fireball. Restrictions based on the world view of professions then could be overlayed on top rather than being linked to a professional class. Perhaps it is my inner Gandalf coming out.

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