Summoning – Concepts and Mechanics

Summoning is a concept that I’ve always been fascinated by in the fantasy genre, and yet never quite able to put my finger on in terms of how it should play out in terms of mechanics. I think that it’s a great niche of spell casting that can add flavor to a game system, so I wanted to explore some of the influences and how it could work more effectively in RMU, especially in light of my latest piece of the RM2 ➡️ RMU profession conversion project. I would love for the conjurer/summoner to rejoin the ranks of playable professions.

My earliest exposure to the concept comes from video games, and the Final Fantasy series in particular, so you’ll have to forgive my heavy leaning toward that framework. In basically every version of those games, Summoning magic was essentially just elementalism on steroids: A Mage could throw a fireball, but a Summoner could bring an ifriit itself to the battlefield in exchange for more magic points and more time. Later iterations became a little more utilitarian as they allowed the summoned creature to have aspects other than attacks: magic shields, invisibility, and other fun mechanics were available, again, at the increased cost/time model. It wasn’t overly complex, but the concept was clean and it worked.

At least to me, as an RM2 veteran, Rolemaster has always seemed to have very underdeveloped summoning mechanics, or at least very unexciting ones. Clerics could summon demons, various other magic users could summon mundane creatures, at higher levels there was some potential for some fantastical elements, but nothing overly exciting. Not only that, the mechanisms for controlling these creatures were hodgepodge; demons had to be controlled through still separate spells, while the animals summoned sometimes had the ability to be controlled and sometimes not. Overall, neither I nor my players were ever impressed enough to give it too much attention. I did dabble with some necromancy but that’s a tale for a different time…

After some invigorating discussion, I think that the Conjurer and some of the mechanics from its lists in Rolemaster Companion II hold the secret to making this profession viable and summoning at least a bit more consistent and interesting. There are a few concepts I’d like to propose for summoning in the new order:

🔸 Power: Summoning magic is supposed to be powerful. You aren’t flinging a temporary manifestation of elemental magic like a Bolt, but dragging a being of some kind across space/time in a more lasting fashion (even if it’s only a few rounds).

🔸 Circles: The use of circles is an essential part of the Conjurer (hereafter referred to as the Summoner) so that concept may be part of the balancing act. If summoning magic is to be more/bigger/powerful/impressive, then the requirement to have to draw/cut/create circles can add time element that balances the Power concept above. This helps create the idea of a “bunker” style caster that needs time to set up but has a trade-off in power to do so.

🔸 Components: Rolemaster has (to my knowledge) never really required these, which is a welcome departure from D&D, but maybe there’s some room for them here. What if summoning can be more finely tuned or sped up through the use of components? A Summon Elemental spell could summon a specific type of elemental if the caster has the requisite element (enchanted rock, magical water, etc from the elemental in question).

🔸 Control: I personally like the idea of control mechanics built into the spells themselves, or at least dependent on certain conditions. If a Summoner wants to control the creature he summons, a circle is needed. But perhaps he can summon it without the circle if he has the components (which are then consumed). Or perhaps the control doesn’t require concentration if both the circle and the component are used. Lots of possibilities here.

🔸Utility: Jdale mentioned this on the forums, but not all summons have to be battle-oriented. Some creatures can be used for travel, some for more utilitarian purposes like construction, but these diversified uses make the Summoner more useful than simply a magical siege engine.

This is just one possible way of looking at summoning magic, but I think that using some old lists with new ideas about mechanics might just make the profession work a bit more smoothly, and make summoning as a whole something that more players would use. I also envision a multitude of summoning lists so that there is at least some diversity in each build (Divine Summons, Elemental Summons, Animal Summons, etc), along with some of the utility circles that existed in RoCo2 like Circles of Power. Any thoughts?

Author: Eladan

High school English Literature teacher, coach of soccer, swimming, and track, lifelong RPG gamer, and husband/father of three. Hobbies include writing, reading, scotch, and backyard sports.

6 thoughts on “Summoning – Concepts and Mechanics”

  1. One other thought on circles. I’ve done a bit of this for BASiL already, but I was intrigued by the mechanics of drawing or writing circles (and similar inscribed magic). This was illustrated quite a bit in Peter Bretts Demon Cycle. Circles, their strength and vulnerability are a function of their medium: paint, drawn in sand, inscribed in stone etc. I have a chart somewhere but much of the work was done in a Guild Companion. Maybe Tim Taylor wrote it?

  2. Ha thanks… glad to be a part of it. Wow… I essentially necro’d your post without realizing it. I hadn’t really considered the nuances of summoning vs gating vs calling. There are some interesting and potentially destabilizing implications in all of those mechanics.

    I think that I lean toward the FF model of “gating” in a creature simply because it’s cleaner, with the notion that a summoned creature is essentially tethered to an isolated/individualized wormhole of sorts (in this case, the summoning circle). It can leave the circle, but the circle is the anchor to the other location. This also keeps the circle from being exploited as a gateway for others to use. Oversimplified perhaps, but a bit a of handwaving here avoids problematic (creative?) PC’s looking to break the game.

    I agree that this type of magic is really very setting dependent. In a “generic” fantasy setting it probably works, but that’s going to depend on how balanced a GM thinks these mechanics are. Also, I really picture a Summoner as an Essence user, but I can see arguments for Channeling, or even a Hybrid. That will be affected by game setting as well. My weekend project is to try to get some basic rules for this written down so we’ll see how this goes… I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

    1. I look forward to seeing your conclusions! I just got back into BASiL revisions and will be diving into circle and such again fairly soon. So hurry up! I don’t use hybrid realms–it doesn’t make sense to me and I’ve broken up magic into 7 “realms” (defined mechanistically): channeling, essence, mentalism, incidental, investiture, rendered and notational. (some of these names need some work, but they are descriptive for reference). Anyway, notational is written magic and I’m re-defining each category: wards, signs, symbols, glyphs, runes, sigils and circles so they have specific limits, parameters and powers. I would note that circles can be used for “summoning” but control/master spells might be classified as Essence or Channeling.

  3. As is the way with these posts, you actually hit upon another area that is linked to the very idea of circles and how they should operate, which is what I refer to as “Spheres of Magic”. Like you, I’m rethinking the concept of Realms of magic… for me it doesn’t seem to fit into my vision of how magic really should work. Example: every realm has a “defense” list with variations on the same theme (turning spells, a shield spell, etc). Couldn’t various professions just have access to a Defense Sphere that gives access to lists that fall into that category? Make it more expensive to learn for some professions, while other professions maybe don’t get it at all? Just a thought… from what I’ve read your BASiL project is similar in concept.

    Where this connects to the circles and the Summoner/Conjurer is when we consider what the focus should be. I’ve read a lot of from the gurus that at least pure spell users should have more than 6 base lists to choose from, and I agree with this wholeheartedly as its promotes build diversity. But that slightly changes the interpretation of how classes should work. A Summoner who has say 3 lists for Circles of Various Creature Summoning and then 3 lists of Circles of Power may be different in concept than someone who leans more toward pure summoning. Does that change the realm? This is where the realm model falls flat. Admittedly it’s easier, but I think the more I deconstruct professions, the more these issues arise. Part of my initial conversation regarding revamping the Conjurer was whether it should lean towards Summoning or “notational” magic as you put it. A very cool concept but one I’m not quite ready for!

  4. Welcome to the Blog Eladan!

    I’ve commented on some of your ideas on the ICE forums, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I did just want to say that I love your project of reviving old RM2 professions and lists for RMU. I’ve of course done some of the same with my RMU versions of the Warrior Mage and Armsmaster, and revamped spell lists for various classes too.

    I like the idea of the Summoner as a ‘bunker caster’, and I look forward to a new and flavorful balance of powerful summoning spells limited by the requirements of circles and such. I think the idea of circles being required to control (but not necessarily summon) a creature is a good balancing principle.

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