Spell Law Deconstruction: Building Spell Lists to 50th lvl.

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Now that I’m posting up some more spell lists–Mentalism primarily, I’m tracking comments and feedback on the forums and here at RMBlog. The number one issue I see is the desire for spell list reductionism, maybe build 10 spells per “list” and allow for creative scalability similar to or identical to HARP.

That is a compelling thought, but after writing a ton of spell lists I wanted to put my own thoughts in order.

  1. Distillation. Rebuilding classic RM spell lists typically requires some trimming. Many spells within a list are redundant: not just the spells that progress as I, II, III etc, but different named spells that do similar things. Distilling the essence of a list can really reduce the total number of spells which makes a scalable spell system very appealing!
  2. Spell scope. I’m not a fan of kitchen sink style spell lists, but do see a fundamental difference between the realms. Essence should be very tightly focused around a key aspect, Channeling should allow for much more variability based on the particular god and I see Mentalism lists following a shared mental mechanism. Using these basic rules provides different ways to build lists in different realms.
  3. Compatibility. A major motivation to maintain the 1-50th spell lists is basic compatibility with RM and Shadow World.
  4. Built in scalability. Many of my lists are built around 3-6 spells, that progress from I-V and maybe include a mass effect. If each spell repeats every 5 levels that takes up a chunk of the list, but also gives a repetitive appearance that seem suitable for scaling. However, the spell versions don’t just scale progressively, but change in target size, AoE, Range and other aspects that provide “more bang for the buck”. General scaling assumes increased power point cost/expansion of range, area, damage etc. So from an efficiency standpoint, higher versions of the spells in BASiL provide a better impact/PP than just linear scaling. “Spell II” isn’t just 2x better than “Spell I”, it can be 3x better or have expanded efficacy or powers as well.
  5. Opportunity and tactical cost. By having built in scaling, players can use higher or lower level spells based on the target, PP consumption and risk/reward calculations. Of course, that’s also one argument for Scaling spells, but the PP usage will be much different per #4 above.
  6. Level assignment. One of the more difficult aspects of designing a spell list is deciding what level to make a spell. Part of me wants to calculate an estimated “power cost”, while other times I’m thinking of utility and game balance. For instance, the big three: Charm, Fly and Invisibility can be very unbalancing to the game, but perhaps shouldn’t be based on “power needed” or some other arbitrary assessment. Some lists just can’t be distilled into 10 spells with scaling options. Some spells need to be higher level to reflect their real power and also make them unavailable to lower level players.
  7. Vertical versus horizontal acquisition. RM (and probably RMU) is build around horizontal model of spell acquisition. Generally players will know more spell lists than overall spell levels. For instance, a 5th lvl caster may have access to 5-10 lists but can only effectively cast to 5th level without risk of failure. In BASiL, it’s the opposite. I use a levelless system so players generally know a few spell lists to higher level. That gives them more powerful, niche abilities. It’s just the way I like my game to run–hard specialization versus the generalization of RAW.
  8. Keystone spells. I still like cool spells that can be found at 10th, 20th and certainly 50th level. I try to add something unique or interesting at these levels for players to look forward too, or to give the list a “bump”!

I guess sticking with RM I wanted to improve on the originally 35+ year old Spell Law and incorporate spell ideas and powers introduced since then. But if I were to start over, I would take a hard look at a HARP scalable system. Or maybe just use HARP rules?

Many of you also build your own spell lists. Do you have build guidelines, mechanistic philosophies or other design criteria that help you in the process?

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”.

Rolemaster Profession Review: What’s up with the Druid?

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The Druid Allanon

I was busy writing a Spell Law related blog but we are powering along discussing professions so here we go with Druids!

First off, Peter covered all the bases with his overview of Druid spells in his last POST. I was going to go over the various RMC spells he discussed, but I’m sure I did it back in the day when working on BASiL and it sounds like he hit the nail on the head. For the most part, the first few RM Companions seemed like an attempt to power up various RM professions: Animists into Druids, Warrior Monks became High Warrior Monks, Mages became Archmages, semi spellusers expanded to include Beastmasters, Paladins and Warrior Mages etc.

Per recent blogs here on on the RM Forums, I think it’s clear that the real differentiation between professions is: the general classification of Non, Full or Semi; and the “base” lists of each class. There has been lots of debate and parsing of profession skill costs but in reality it doesn’t much matter after 6-8th level. By then, most core skills have peaked out their contribution bonus and stats, magic and professional level bonuses carry the weight. So let’s take each of these in turn:

General Classification of a Druid. One argument someone could make for a more martial animist is just to make the Druid a semi-spell user. That way you avoid the seeming duplication of the Animist-Druid dynamic and bestow better combat abilities on the Druid. By doing so you don’t have lean so heavily on overpowered/unbalanced combat spell lists to bridge the gap. Of course, this might depend on your vision of a Druid (we’ll get to that), and it steers very close to the Beastmaster and Ranger but it’s clear that much of the RM communities loves lots of Professions, no matter how similar they might be.

Base Lists of the Druid. Looking at the lists from the companions it’s hard to justify playing a regular animist! Peter has pointed out some problems with the Druid spells, and Hurin will be suggesting his own versions but for me the problem is not the lack of offensive/combat spells for the Animist–it’s that most Animist spells basically suck in general.

So what might a Druid look like? Perhaps the most well known fictional Druid from early RPG is Allanon from the Elf-Stones of Shannara. Allanon was a Druid more in the line of Gandalf, with wizardly power, understanding of Old Magic (technology) and Lore. If you compare Allanon to our western mythology, “Druid” is more of a title and not a class trope. Allanon is basically a Loremaster with lost knowledge and power.

Another concept for a Druid is a spellcaster that specializes in natural magic–this could also include elemental magic. So really there is no reason why a RM Magician can’t be called, or be part of organization, that calls themselves “Druids”. Magician spells of Wind and Water contain plenty of spells to affect weather or the natural world around them. From the outside, this could seem very “Druidic”. I see no issues with a Druid that is an Essence user.

A third way to look at the Druid is it’s professional realm designation. Druids are Channelers. By definition that implies that Druids powers come from or are granted by a God or pantheon. A Druid isn’t going to be granted offensive spells and combat acumen by a god that is a pacifist. If your vision of a Druid is a “combat nature priest” then their God should reflect that. Do you really need to parse out skill costs for all of these slightly different “Nature Channelers”: Clerics (of a nature god), Animist, Druid, Beastmaster, Ranger, Shaman and maybe even a Witch?

I take a diametric view of this situation–each profession isn’t a different set of skill costs and base lists; as Channelers, each represents a servant/priest of a specific God or type of God:

Cleric/Priest (nature aspected God). A general priest with a mixture of general Cleric lists and Animist/outdoor lists.

Animist: A Priest of a very nature oriented god or a local god. Spells focused on Flora And Fauna.

Druid: A Priest of a Elemental God or temperamental god of nature. Spells of Wind, Air, Weather and perhaps Earth.

Beastmaster: A Priest of a Animal God or Totem style god. Animal Control and Bonding.

Ranger: A “Holy Warrior” type of a nature god, or an outdoors man that has loyalty to a nature god. Survival and Weather spells.

Shaman/Witch: like Hedge Wizards they may serve a local god or ancient elemental god. Grab bag of spell lists.

I see variations of Druids that are Essence users, semi-spell users and even just “re-badged” Rangers! If a GM is willing to be flexible with spell lists, it’s easy to create a Druid that meets your concept or setting.

Three Tales of Ranger Magic.

Several days ago, Peter blogged about the Ranger and then Hurin responded with his own blog post and thoughts on the Ranger. Since they both weighed in, how I could resist not adding my own ideas on the Ranger! Since there have been two previous posts, why not “Three Tales of the Ranger”? ( a subtle reference to the writings of Elor Once Dark and the three tales of Tor’lan p. 26)?

Peter. First let me tackle a few items from their posts. Peter, while you titled it regarding RMU, you also needed to drag in a 20 year old spell list from RM Companion to flesh out the Ranger. Fair enough, but that allows me to utilize other non-RMU spell lists for my own Ranger build! Yes?

Hurin. Welcome to the club! While you fully didn’t embrace “no-profession” in your post, you clearly embraced the spirit of flexible chargen. Your story about your Thief character that had convincingly played as a “Scout”, “Ranger” and even a “Paladin” is great anecdotal evidence that skills define the character and not an arbitrary profession designation! If your Thief was spending DP’s on spells, transcend armor and other non-core skills is he really a Thief? I also appreciate your eagerness to adopt Mentalism or Essence realms to build your ideal character. With some type of no-profession philosophy you can build whatever type of PC you want; and call him whatever you want. You didn’t transcend armor, you transcended class tropes! Congrats!

While I don’t use standard professions and build off a profession DP template, it’s easy to build a “Ranger” in my ruleset. Not only build a “Ranger”, but virtually any type of Ranger or subclass concept the player wants. However, I’m not going to dive into skill minutia, but instead define a Ranger via spell lists as Peter and Hurin have done. Luckily, I have a whole slew of non-ICE spells to choose from, that were designed for exactly this type of flexibility: BASiL Channeling! And guess what–they are non system, general d100 spells that could be PUBLISHED shortly for any d100 system.

But wait, doesn’t that conflict with some game company IP? NO.

RMU RANGER LISTS.

First, I wanted to address my personal issues with RMU Spell Law/Ranger lists. These are my opinions, not mean to be criticism since RMU was meant to be the gentle arbiter of all RM and ICE conflict.

Beastly Ways. Generally I think this is a great list and improvement from RM Spell Law. First, I’m not sure it’s “Ranger” spell list as I conceptualize the profession. Druid? Sure. Beastmaster? Absolutely. Shaman. Of course. I think it needs some tinkering and I would use SW specific names (rather than Terran animals). Definitely could be treated as a Mentalism or Essence list as well.

Inner Walls. Another improved list and a good generalist list for any spell caster. I think there are some small logic errors and OOP spells: Sterilization which affects other than the caster, and Martial Wall should have some logical mechanism for it’s implementation.

Moving Ways. Great spell list and probably what I would consider the “Core” list of the Ranger concept: it has to do with travel, movement and traversal. I would tinker with it and the 50th lvl spell “Submarine Ways” is a horrible 50th level spell. (allows a 50th lvl caster to swim 50 miles w/o fatigue!!!! WOW!!!!). That should be a 10th lvl or under spell. The 35th lvl spell Distance Running should be a 5th lvl spell–especially with groups that don’t focus on fatigue mechanisms.

Nature’s Guises. Good conceptually, but really just a grab bag of ideas. Not sure what 3rd lvl “Freeze” is doing in this list (should be in a “Nature’s Manipulation” list, and “Animal Thought” is a bit of an oddity as well-That should be in “Natures Communing”). Pruned and tightened up a bit and it’s a great spell list that would work for a Ranger, Shaman, Druid or Animist–if you even think there is a needed mechanistic difference between those classes!

Pathmastery. This is another list that seems tailor made for a type of Ranger. Again, there are some outlier spells that don’t fit thematically in the list: Nature’s Tongue comes to mind. I’m also not a fan of bonus to skill spells. It just feels lazy and it undermines the value of the underlying skill itself. At third level a +50 bonus to Tracking? Why would the player even bother with taking more than a handful of tracking skill ranks at lower levels?

Survival’s Way. This is a solid spell list with some problems. Again, bonus to skill spells like the 3rd lvl Wound Tending I find problematic. How does that work? Does it bestow knowledge to the caster? Better coordination? A steady hand? Divine intervention? Also the 35th lvl Adaption should be moved to the “Inner Walls” spell list.

To be clear, these RMU Beta lists seem like a solid improvement over past Spell Law iterations. If there is a requirement for 6 base lists it will suffice. However I feel that a this archetype needs around 2-3 lists: some type of Moving Ways, Pathmaster and Survial Ways. All three RMU lists above need tweeking but certainly act as a foundation for the character trope. Looking at the remaining lists, I would combine some of the spells in Survival’s Way into Pathmastery and Inner Walls, move the Change spells into Natures Guises and Beastly Ways and maybe make a new list Natures Commune for plant/animal speech, thoughts, control and mastery.

BASiL “Ranger” Lists.

So writing this blog to the “Ranger Series” of blog posts, I hadn’t reviewed my BASiL channeling in several years (working on Mentalism final revisions). Luckily, these changes were prior to RMU Beta spell lists. I’m going back to review and revise, but this was a great opportunity to analyze them after several years!

While I purposefully didn’t organize BASiL to track with Open, Closed or Base–it’s fairly evident that it can easily follow along with this process. So for a “Ranger”, “Druid”, “Animist”, “Beastmaster”, “Pathfinder”, “Scout”, “Warden”, “Hunt Master”, “Shaman”, “Witch”, “Forest Wizard”, “Path Blazer”, “Elf”, “Liberal”, “Eco-Terrorist” or any similar ridiculous class or profession name, these are the following BASiL core spells:

Natures Guises. This is a cleaned up version we discussed above. Discarded nonconforming spells, adjusted powers to level and attempted to increase utility of ALL spells in the list (rather than meaningless placeholders.) All these spells are about concealment, disguise, misdirection etc.

Natures Lore. This spell list consolidates “Divination” style spells for the Ranger or similar class. Spells are entirely informational or predictive.

Natures Defenses. This spell is purely self-reliant, with all spells about personal survival and protection vs. disease, poison, tainted food and water or extremes of temperature or elements.

I think these are CORE spells for any “Nature” style character. However, if I wanted to add some more specific powers that seem Ranger specific:

Natures Movements. This is a cleaned up and focused “movement list” for a Ranger. It covers different terrains: water, ground, air (not just a forest ranger from Tolkien!)

Locating Ways. This is meant to be the core locating power of a Ranger, Bounty Hunter (fantasy Mandalorian!), Beastmaster, Detective etc. There is a light overlap with Nature’s Lore, but far less than the overlap and redundancy of RM spell lists. None of these spells devalue, replace or simply add a bonus to RM skills.

Finally: though not really “Ranger”. Weather Mastery. This is more a Druid/Animist or Nature Cleric style spell, but depending on the campaign or setting could be used by a Ranger type for some weather and elemental control.

So this is just a classic Ranger build. If you want more Tolkien I would add a lesser healing spell list, lower level weapon rune spell list or even a lesser fire law list! (all can be found on BASiL spell lists btw). If you want a more martial Ranger, I would replace a few lists with some Mentalism lists for Warriors, Monks, Disciplars, Weapon Masters, Erudites etc :

So, lots of options, cleaned up spell lists, flexibility to build YOUR idea of a Ranger AND a real functional Ranger. Whatever that means to you! That is my Third Tale of the Ranger for the Rolemasterblog.com!

Rolemaster Profession Review: taking another look at the Shaman.

The original Rolemaster probably ignored a few key class tropes in their original work. Paladins comes to mind of course, but in my mind one of the most important is the  Shaman!

If Clerics/Priests are defined as members of an organized religion, than perhaps we can define a Shaman as a leader of a decentralized or non-organized religion.  Maybe the society or group worships a local god, or a real god under an avatistic identity, but the belief system lacks the more coherent structure and trappings of an organized religious institution. If you are gaming in a “classic” fantasy setting, you’ll probably have, or encounter a variety of primitive societies: Orcs, Goblins, barbaric tribes etc.  These groups will most definitely have  a version of a “Cleric”, but different than the type found in Rolemaster that casts Absolutions and Channels.

A Shaman can make a great foe or adversary for the PC’s. They can have a interesting mixture of spells that give them offensive and defensive capabilities, and they could even be designed as a Hybrid caster to allow them access to Essence or Mentalism. This can keep the players on their toes if they are expecting the Shaman to use the “same old” Cleric Base lists!

The Shaman’s spell lists should be defined by the particulars of the culture. A Orc Shaman should have different spell lists than the Shaman of a barbaric jungle people. The Rolemaster Companion offered up “totems” and “animal spirit” lists for the Shaman, but I find that too culturally defining while creating clunky spell mechanics. What’s probably required is to create a number of different Shaman types whose spells reflect the needs and belief system of the culture.

Here are a few ideas or templates from Shaman that I’ve used in my SW campaign:

Kuriis Truthsayers act as tribal guides, healers and priests and stay loosely united through their ability to communicate with one another over long distances.These people worship “Shral”, which is a hybrid of Shaal and Ulya Sheck (the ostensible Empress of the region).

Profession: Using RM I would classify them as either Pure with some flexibility on lists or Hybrid using Channeling & Mentalism.

Base Lists:

  • Simple Imbed. The Truthsayers wears many charms and fetishes and will make them for the community when needed. These charms are usually necklaces and bracelets made from colorful and iridescent shells.
  • “Water Law”. As followers of Shaal/Neela, Truthsayers have access to Water elemental list(s). I use Command Water from my BASiL lists.
  • “Divinations”. I use Visions from BASiL: Channeling.
  • “Far Voice”: The Truthsayers have the Astrologer base list that they use to communicate with one another.
  • Natures Defenses: From BASiL: Channeling.

Vakshs Rune Priestesses. The Vakshs are cannabilistic Eritera living in the Jungles of Chaal-Chu. They have powerful Priestesses that use Rune Magic: magical tattoos embedded all over their bodies.

Profession. Use Cleric/Priest or Hybrid Channeling/Essence

Base Lists: All of the Priestesses magic is derived from permanent tattoos inscribed into their skin. They have a mixture of Evil Cleric and Evil Mentalism plus access to the Demonic Gate & Mastery spells plus some contingent powers in their Runes:

  • Skin Runes. The Rune Priests are covered in potent
    tattooes that provide “contingent” protection, Daily X
    and regular spells casting. The particular rune will glow
    red when activated.
    Constant: Fear 1st lvl to 20’.
    Contingent (activate automatically): Stun Relief III; Deflect I; Bladeturn I
    Daily V: Question; Mind Speech; Light Eruption; Vision

Shaman Warrior. These Shaman can be used in primitive martial tribes/cultures: Lugroki, Goblins, Barbarians etc. They have competent spell-casting ability but are also combat effective.

Profession: Semi. Use Ranger skill costs.

Base Spell Lists: If the culture follows the Unlife or Dark Gods, they’ll have some aspected list or Demon Gate/Mastery. Other ideas:

Those are just 3 ideas for creating more interesting “Shamans” in your game world. Of course, our house rules allow much more flexibility in character creation and mixing spell lists, but GM’s shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match lists to make the Shaman fit the culture. Channelers especially should have some variety as their Gods can and should provide the spell ability!

For more primitive cultures that lack formal educational systems, Shaman may be the only significant spellcasters in those societies–they should have a mixture of lists that provide best for their people and reflect the environment and belief systems.  Shaman with a creative mix of capabilities can be great opponents for you group–or interesting PC’s!!