Revisiting Spell Law: Spell Casting Mechanics Pt. 4 Notational Magic

Welcome to the fourth part of my Spell Law Series.  In Pt. 1 I discussed Spell Law and BASiL in overview. In Pt. 2 I delved into the mechanics of the Essence realms, Pt. 3 into Channeling and now is Pt. 4 I wanted to discuss “Notational” Magic, or written/inscribed magic. Rather than offer my own solutions, I want to open the conversation up from a deconstructive standpoint.

So what is Notational Magic? It’s any magic that requires pictograms, symbols, drawing or writing as part of it’s mechanic; in short, “written or inscribed magic”. In Rolemaster that could include Runes, Glyphs, Sigils, Heiroglyphs, Circles, Magical Tattoos, Blade Runes, Marks, Signatures, Signs and Wards. Over time with various optional rules, settings and companions, many of these words have been used interchangeably and muddied the rule mechanics. For instance, typical “Runes” are written on special paper, can be used to learn a spell or can be cast which then depletes the Rune. Battle or Weapon Runes (RMCI) are temporary spell charges that are cast on weapons and armor. Obviously these are two different mechanics with differing functions, but both are called “Runes”. However, these Runes and the other types listed above share a single trait: all imply a functionality  based on a written/drawn parameter. This similarity is be enough to group these types of magic under a cohesive mechanic, rather than shoehorn it into Essence, Channeling or even Mentalism.

Rolemaster Companion II officially tackled part of the issue with rules around Summoning Circles. While the spells themselves followed standard casting mechanics (SCR, Class I-III etc), there was an acknowledgement that drawing a 10′ diameter circle of arcane symbols might take longer than the 30 seconds it might take to cast a Class III spell. But don’t Runes, Glyphs, Symbols or Sigils need to be “drawn” as well? Or do you feel that the spellcasting itself creates the resulting shapes or symbols?

But stepping back a bit further, we should ask what is actually being drawn or written? A written language? Forms that hold/create power? Power symbols? Is it a written magical short-hand? Something else? Is the shape or form of “scroll runes” different than Glyphs or Symbols? How can a channeling spell be imbedded into an object or rune paper if the spell requires the basic consent of a God? Doesn’t that amount to a work around? If each is it’s own language do casters need to learn different written forms similar to magical languages?

For me, the number and type of the above questions indicates that there is already a massive gap in the rule constructs for written magic. Essence we can subscribe to chanting and waving hands, Channeling to prayer and Mentalism to mental focus and concentration but the similarities AND the established differences in these varying types of magic require quite a bit more organization work.

Finally, if a rune or symbol spell requires writing or drawing, shouldn’t the spellcasting roll be based on the casters skill in writing or drawing? As previously argued regarding magical languages, you can’t use magicial languages to cast high level spells if you have a 1st grade ability in a magical language. Shouldn’t the same be true for written magic? If you can’t draw, write cursive, do calligraphy or draft how can you effectively draw a working summoning circle?

What are other possible issues around notational magic?

  1. Surfaces. What can notational magic be used on? Runes require a special paper. Glyphs can be written on a flux: fluid or air? Symbols require a large heavy stone, blade runes require a weapon but depends on size. Basically it’s all over the place.
  2. Mediums. Is there a medium needed to inscribe the spell? Ink? Paint? Oil? Blood? What about acid etching, chiseling, carving or tattoos? How does the strength or permanency of different mediums interact with the spell, spell casting for general duration? Should it matter?
  3. Analysis. If notational magic has structure should a skill like Runes or Rune Language allow someone to interpret the rune or similar symbol? Should they be able to decipher the rune, it’s power, effect or level?
  4. Visibility. Which types of notational magic or visible to the naked eye? Do they glow, do they fade until triggered?
  5. Casting Time. How long should it take to write and cast notational magic? It should probably depend on the type of writing, the surface and the medium, right? That means a varied system of casting times that break out of the standard Spell Law mechanic. In some respects this is closer to the rules around ritual magic.

Compared to other realms, notational magic has some real disadvantages: needed materials, complexity, casting time etc. This should be offset by some advantages: duration, power or flexibility. That will need some thought.

Finally, last thought. This is really setting dependent but there are opportunities to create some really unique magic styles that could differentiate your campaign. So what are your thoughts? If you could start from scratch (deconstruction) would Runes and similar types of magic work differently than the 3 realms? What other types of notational magic can you think of?





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