Experimenting with Level less Resistance Rolls

At this risk of opening the door to more blogs about rules (which I try to avoid) I wanted to post about my current experiments with level less resistance rolls. It’s important to understand that my current gaming group has accepted the fact that I frequently change rules from session to session. Sometimes dramatically. They take it in stride and certainly provide an instant feedback loop. They are also pretty good distinguishing between what might be a good system rule and what may benefit or hard their character and note their own biases.

For a primer on previous blogs and VERY good comments I would suggest the following:

Generally we’ve been testing Resistance Rolls in our repeated playing of Legends of Shadow World, so the gameplay is very high level. So where are we right now?

  1. We use “Stats as Skills”. So the actual Stat(or a average of several) is used as the modifier. This works best when stats are actually the product of random generation or has a normal variation. Not every stat for a PC should be 75+.
  2. Resistance falls into 4 categories: Fear, Poison/Disease, Mental Attacks, Essaence/Magic.
  3. RR’s use a Success 100+ so it works the same way as all other skills.
  4. Fear. There were good arguments as to why Fear should have a factor of level since it reflects experience and maturity so I keep playing around with it. Natural Fear effects (ie from a Dragon, Undead or Demon) is given a Difficulty modifier like an MM/SM. I generally use a Difficulty modifier range of +100 to -150 rather than Difficulty labels like “Routine”, “Hard”, “Absurd” etc. For cast spells that create a Fear effect I use the resolution for Essaence/Magic below in #7.
  5. Poison/Disease. Same as Fear. Poisons and Disease are given a Difficulty level/modifier. For example, Jeggarukh (level 6 circulatory) has a -40 severity modifier. A target with a 80 Constitution would need to roll over a 60 to resist. The level of failure determines the effects of the poison.
  6. Mental Attacks. We use the SD stat as the primary modifier PLUS the # of skill ranks in Mental Focus (a developable skill).
  7. Essaence/Magic. We use the average of Re/In/Em stat to resist Essaence/Magic. We don’t distinguish between “Realms”–it’s all just Essaence. In our game, Realms are just the way magic is manipulated and shaped. There aren’t three types of power (plus the 3 mixed hybrid). I always thought that silly.

So for #6 and #7 what is the target resisting in a level less system? Again, we use a Success 100+ for a spell casting roll. The amount over 100 is applied against the target. So let’s say Barry the Mage casts Fear at Selma the Simperer. Barry rolls a 55 on his spellcasting roll, adds his skill bonus and modifiers of 75 for a total of 130. The excess of 30 is used against Selma in her RR. Selma has a SD of 70. She needs to roll at at least a 60 to resist the spell.

One option that I use with the above system is using the # of Power Points in both the spellcasting roll (a negative to the caster to represent the dangers of using power) and the # of Power Points as a negative to the target as a proxy for the potency of the spell. So more dangerous for the caster to cast, but more potent for the target to resist. This is similar to using the PP’s as the level of attack versus just the level of the spell.

Finally I’m still playing around with a RR versus Stun/Surprise. I like it, but don’t want to add more RR rolls to combat. That’s the gist of it, and it has worked. I play around with bonuses, modifiers and various options but always try to keep to the 100+ success so almost all resolutions are unified.

“Punching Up”: Warrior Monks in Shadow World

It’s been a long time since I’ve played a character in Rolemaster. Early on I became the GM and have filled that role to this day. But when I did play it was usually as the Warrior Monk “Caylis” (who later became a regular NPC in my Shadow World campaign). In general Monks have been problematic in RPG’s–with some cool abilities but lot’s of weaknesses and shortcomings. Like many of RMs professions, the Warrior Monk was drawn from the templates D&D provided.

Some memorable special abilities in D&D include “Feign Death” and “Quivering Palm”, neither of which made the translation to RM. Due to RM’s lack of inherent professional abilities, RM’s Warrior Monks were just unarmed fighters with a few low cost skills like Adrenal Defense and Adrenal Moves. So unless you play a spell-casting Monk, you didn’t have much for special abilities and had some limitations:

  1. Inability to wear armor or be encumbered to utilize Adrenal Defense
  2. Martial Arts were arguably not effective against animals and much larger creatures.
  3. No parrying.
  4. Martial Arts have to be developed in Ranks, so the most effective Rank 4 will lag in development (and skill bonus).

Early rules did include some options for quick strike, multiple attacks and engaging multiple opponents and also had rules for Weapon Kata so Warrior Monks had some increased combat abilities, but were basically slightly less effective fighters. While I still am a fan of Warrior Monks they definitely had their limits. So where do Warrior Monks fit into Shadow World?

Fortunately, Terry incorporated both the Warrior Monk and the Monk into a famous monastic institution: The Changramai Monastery. As Terry notes in Emer I, the Monastery is more of a school and training center than a true monastic or religious organization. Nonetheless, the Changramai were renowned for their fighting ability and the school hires out skilled Changramai to serve as bodyguards throughout Kulthea. To be hired out, Changramail need to have achieved at least the “Third Veil” which is around 10th lvl.

There are a number of references to the Changramai in Canon with which we can construct a better picture of the Changramai. Some mentions in the books include:

  1. The Nomikos Library used Changramai extensively as guards throughout the facility. Nomikos Changramai are 6th lvl.
  2. The Nameless One is protected by 4 Changramai.
  3. The “Black Velvet” Brothel also uses Changramai as guards.
  4. Kyan Kim is a named NPC and trained in the Changramai school, living in Eidolon. He is 8th lvl.
  5. The Monastary was established in 2500 Second Era. “It is believed that the Changramai are disenchanted Xiosians who left the service of the Titans”
  6. Terry introduces a new special weapon: the Jata. This is a thrown, circular, 3 bladed weapon that has virtually magical properties to attack multiple targets AND return to the thrower.

There are a number of other references of powerful figures in both Eidolon and Haalkitaine that use Changramai for guards. The implication is that they are either very competent, or so feared that they are never tested. But how does the realities of the Warrior Monk profession stack up to this reputation? Throughout the books, Changramai are described as “imposing”, “intimidating” and:

  • Changramai monks can catch arrows, run on walls, leap incredible heights, punch through stone walls, and defeat half a dozen well-armed foes simultaneously with their bare hands.
  • Are fearsome experts at unarmed combat. It is said that they can see things invisible and know a liar by his voice.

Certainly Monks, with their spellcasting ability can perform some of those feats, but are Warrior Monks truly that adept? If you look at Changramai stat block, the typical Nomikos Changramai is 6th lvl, has 90 hits, AT1 with a 90DB and has a 90OB using MA Strikes R4. Depending on your liberal use of Adrenal Moves, Warrior Monks would be hard pressed to “punch through stone”, “leap incredible heights” or “catch arrows”. As an added comparison, using Jaiman stat blocks, a Erlini Sentinel is 5th lvl, has 85 hits, AT1 50DB and a 90OB is Short Sword. Really not much of a difference. Changramai are basically comparable to many of the rank and file warriors in the Master Military Tables found throughout Shadow World books.

Of course those are rank & file. We would assume that the Nameless One, or Haalkitaine Royalty would engage higher level Changramai as befits their position, status and wealth. But even higher level Warrior Monks are just going to comparably scale up by level in comparison to Fighters. They still won’t have those legendary abilities ascribed to them, or attainable by Monks via their spell lists.

But if you want to “Punch Up” the abilities of Warrior Monks, or just the Changramai Warrior Monks, I would offer up a few of my own solutions:

  1. I eliminated the development Ranks for Martial Arts and instead use the Ranks as the effectiveness of the combat style. This is similar to the size limitations found on in the various Claw Law attack charts. The Changramai and Kortri Ta Shiin styles are Rank 4; lesser unarmed combat might be limited at Rank 1, 2 or 3. This represents the superiority of these fighting styles and reflects the deadliness of the Changramai combat system. Removing the Rank skill development also frees up a TON of DP’s for Warrior Monks to expand in other skills.
  2. I allow for parrying with martial arts–no bracers needed. If parrying is really a proxy for an offense or defense posture, than even an unarmed combatant can emphasize active dodging/defense over a full attack.
  3. I use specific weapon modifiers, unarmed combat has very low modifiers for initiative, engaging multiple opponents and attacking and engaging targets in 360 degrees. This gives martial artists a implicit advantage over weapon wielders for a variety of combat situations and allows them to engage multiple opponents with the least amount of penalties. This chart also includes penalties for parrying missile weapons–allowing Changramai to swat arrows away!
  4. I’ve modified Adrenal Defense and rolled in the “Yado” secondary skill. This allows Changramai to not only parry missiles but to catch them.
  5. I use a modified Adrenal Strength and Speed that further benefit martial artists.
  6. I have unlimited skill rank development and a modified rank bonus progression that allows for characters to accelerate a few skills through focused development. The creates a tradeoff between average development of a broad array of skills or fast development of a smaller, focused set of skills. This seems appropriate to a unique combat school like the Changramai Monastarey.
  7. Finally, I use a “no profession” system to my Shadow World campaign. Changramai Monks are neither “Warrior Monks” or “Monks” and have access to the BASiL Mentalism “Self” Spells. With these lists and the changes above, the Changramai skills are complete, indeed they are powerful as depicted in the Shadow World books.

Have you utilized the Changramai in your game? Have your players ever faced off against them or perhaps have Changramai training?

Cool Things in Shadow World

I’ve blogged about the various, unique aspects of Shadow World as a setting, but today I thought I would note some very specific things that differentiate Shadow World and are great additions to the game.

Favorite Familiar:

Tameki. Introducted in the Cloudlords of Tanara, Tameki are small animals resembling black Terran housecats. Tameki have short, silky blue-black fur, large blue or violet eyes, and upstanding
triangular ears. They differ from cats in that their paws have longer, dexterous ‘fingers’ and their torsos are slightly shorter. Very acrobatic, these small creatures are able to leap amazing distances.

Obviously cats are featured a lot as Wizards and Witches pets, but Tameki are just enough that they feel familiar and different enough to add flavor.

Favorite Material:

Keron. A black, very shiny alloy. The substance is strong but flexible and holds a keen edge. When polished it has such a high luster that it looks wet or oiled. It does not corrode, and should be treated as

I don’t use alchemy spells in Shadow World to enchant item bonuses. Instead I rely on Kulthea’s naturally occurring metals and alloys that can be forged by smiths. (Thus, I don’t need to have groups of 30th level Alchemists working in sweat shops batching out Laen or Eog items). Keron is Shadow World’s “Mithril”–a cool material that is intrinsically tied to the setting.


Bloodstone. A soft, sandy stone dark red in color, this material can stop a would bleeding up to 5 hits per round! In seconds. This is often overlooked, but what an incredibly valuable stone. Better than a herb or a spell, portably and rugged.

Baddie Critter:

Gogor. Not unlike gargoyles or huge bats in form, Gogor are black as
midnight, with tough hides and leathery wings. They stand about
7 feet tall. Their heads are elongated with a certain reptilian appearance.
Huge, protruding green glowing eyes see in complete darkness.

I’m a fan of all the artificial and specific “monsters” in Shadow World, but Gogor are a good foe for a capable group. My players have some remorse from opening stone jars found in an ancient facility. What they hoped was treasure….

Special Weapon:

Kalta. A Loari Dart Pistol with a 10rnd clip. Very cool, practical, and not game changing. I’m a fan of small projectile weapons and thrown weapons. They add a coolness factor to combat, are a unique skill for players and they don’t impact game balance.

Riding Animal:

Kith. A giant six legged panther? Sign me up for that!!!

Cool Item:

Rod of Tanys. Not magic, but a tech remnant, this grey metal cylinder is 2″ diameter and 1 foot long. No it’s not a light saber, it’s a “power whip”!!! There A LOT of cool magic items that Terry has created, but I like the cinematic nature of this weapon.

Favorite Practical Spell:

Warning Portal. Found on the Warding Power list in EMER and SWMA, this simple spells allows the caster to set a magical trip wire across a portal. If someone crossed the barrier, the caster is alerted. This is a 1st level spell. It’s practical, reliable and needed in an adventuring group. I’ve been working on BASiL warding spell lists, and this good spell design.

Those are just a few of my favorite things. I found that on each re-read of the SW books I found something new, something I forgot or a new idea is sparked. Are there any particular things in Shadow World that appeal to you?

Spell Law Deconstruction: Spell Attacks, Resolutions and Resistance Rolls

One consequence of my BASiL project is a critical, and hopefully objective, review of the spell mechanics found in Spell Law. I’ve blogged on “deconstructing spell law” under a number of topics here on the Rolemasterblog; perhaps too many times to provide relevant links. But today’s blog is related to my previous posts on Resistance Rolls (HERE and HERE) and might be helpful to review when reading this entry.

Spell Law establishes some basic classes of spells: Healing, Informational, Elemental, Force etc. It feels like the foundation of a consistent set of principles that covers various spell effects, but unfortunately falls short. I dropped this entirely in BASiL for now, but I’m in a review process and may reinsert spell types again. {I haven’t reviewed RMU enough to see how they might have address this issue}. At issue is the varying classifications of spells compared to the spell resolution.

Three Types of Fire Attacks.

As an example let’s review the differences between Firebolt, Wall of Fire and Call Flame. All are classified as “Elemental” spells. Firebolt has it’s own attack table and Directed spell skill to resolve attacks like a traditional weapon. A target’s defense is determined by AC and defensive bonus. Wall of Fire is a fixed effect that delivers a Heat Critical and specifically states that there is no RR. Call Flame doesn’t specify a resolution, but based on RAW, I believe a BAR is rolled and the initial target is given a RR. One could argue that the missile style of the Firebolt lends itself to a weapon attack resolution, the Wall of Fire is in a fixed position and thus has a unavoidable effect if walked through or touched. Call Flame is a bit of a hybrid. It could be considered a targeted spell (like the Firebolt) when manifesting (takes 1 rnd to form) and then a fixed unmoving effect (like Wall of Flame) for it’s duration of 1 rnd/lvl.

I’ve got no problem with Firebolt and Wall of Flame resolution, but does Call of Flame require more thought? Perhaps a better resolution is to treat the manifestation as a Fireball for attack purposes and then a Wall of Flame for the spells duration. Why am I parsing this?

I don’t think a physical attack, whether Elemental or Force, should be resolved using a magic realm resistance roll. Essence RR’s are modified by the Empathy stat. If Call Fire was imaginary or a nerve attack then ok, I might buy that argument. But Call Fire is actual flames–any defense against that should be physically based: quickness, a “dodge” or maybe even an intuitive reflexive flinch.

Let’s use a more apt comparison: Fireball vs Vacuum. Both are aimed, area spells but neither have a directed spell skill. Fireball is an explosive burst of fire and is resolved on a attack table using physical parameters: range, area of effect, defenders DB etc. Vacuum is a “Force” spell, but still an implosive burst of air. It’s a real, physical manifestation and yet, a target makes a v. Essence resistance roll.

There are numerous examples of similar spells that are physical attacks, don’t have their own attack table but are treated like intangible magical effects that can be mitigated by a magical resistance. It just doesn’t work for me. So what are some options?

  1. Generate individual attack tables for any applicable spells. That sounds like a lot of work, and more tables.
  2. Have the spells use existing established attack tables to save the extra work, but to model physical attacks and physical defenses.
  3. Establish a Resistance Roll that is based on physical stats. Qu/Qu/Int for example? This is the metaphorical Dodge; a slight twist of the body, a ducking of the head or similar that avoids the spell damage.
  4. Allow a targeting process that if successful, inflicts a mandatory result. Basically a Wall of Fire but with a accuracy roll.
  5. Use the “Dodge” skill with these types of spells (physical attacks that don’t have it’s own attack table).

If you’ve followed my BASiL project you know that I generally opted for #2. Plant attacks use the Grappling Attack Table, Wave Attacks utilize the Ram/Butt/Bash Table etc. Since these have attack tables I do allow for directed spell that models a casters mastery and increasing efficiency of the spell.

However, I’ve also experimented with a physical resistance roll that is used for reaction times: ambushes, physical spells etc. Like many of you, I will continually tinker with my house rules, but one thing is certain: I don’t believe that using magical resistance against a physical attack (magic or otherwise) is a good resolution rule.

What do you think?

Follow Up: Magical Languages in Shadow World

Now that I have had a few years of playtesting on my magical languages I thought I would blog a quick update. This is a follow up to my 2018 blog post on the subject and the added comment I posted in response to others.

For a quick summary here, I have made magical languages a skill rather than just a assumed ability that is gained when learning spells. In fact, it’s odd that Rolemaster doesn’t embrace magical languages as skills given the need to codify virtual anything as a skill. (I’m looking at you RMSS!) My goal is to create barriers to learning spell lists within my “free market” approach without arbitrary rules about Open/Close/Base or learning lists via “A”, “B”, “C” et al spell picks. (Base list restrictions is just another “Rules for Rules” example).

I originally had 20 or so magical languages I was trying out, but over time I’ve reduced them to just over a dozen. This is due entirely to my thoughts on mapping the development of magic use from the Ka’Ta’Viir (arguably Arcane or possibly Mentalism) to the multiple “realms” that I use in BASiL. So while I created a few of my own, I started with the base magical languages that Terry helpfully provided! I generally classify them as “High” or “Low” which corresponds to Base/Closed and Open classifications in Spell Law.

Aludos:* The “alphabet” of Enruning. Aludos is the language of “short hand” magic used in inscriptions, runes, glyphs, sigils, hieroglyphics and other codified, written magic. This is not a spoken language, but Aludos allows a caster to execute inscribed magic as well as interpret other’s work. (This magical language replaces the function of the Rune skill)

Elemos. High language of Elements. This language is used for casting the high spell lists of Elemental Magic.

Enruth:† Language of Imbedding Magic. Used for alchemy and enchanting objects. Glottogonic analysis suggests the Enruth evolved from a mingling of Elemos and Aludos.

Krônyt:* The High language of physics magic. Used for spatial, physical and time manipulation spells.

Kugor: The High Language of Dragons. It is virtually impossible for other races to use due to limitations of the vocal chords.

Kuskarûk: An arcane language utilized in “Dark” spellcasting. It is believed to be a corrupted form of Orhan power and was introduced to Kulthea through the Charon pantheons.

Logos:† (‘The Word’) The discipline of word-thoughts: mnemonics, method of loci, meditation, transcendence and schema that allows a caster to utilize Mentalism magic.

Meanas: The high language of Illusions, Shadow and Misdirection.

Morgradoth. Language of the Pales and Void. Used for Demonic summoning and controlling spells.

Nomos: “Common” Language of the Essence, used for most lesser Essence spells lists.

Sylmaria: High Speech of the Flows. Almost musical in nature, it is required for spell lists involving the Flows of Essaence. This language is very difficult to learn. Its teaching is closely guarded by Loremasters and Navigators.

Shurak: Language of Fire

Uscurac: The ancient magical language of the Ka’Ta’Viir and “Arcane” magic.

Var Arnak: Language of the spells of the Unlife.

Xytos:† Language of Power-words (Essaence). This language is a limited vocabulary of single word spells and closely related to Uscurac.

With BASiL spell lists are assigned a language. So a caster that wants to learn a diversified selection of lists will probably need to expend additional DP’s learning multiple lists. In addition, the caster can’t cast a list above the level of their Magical Language skill rank AND the Magical Language skill bonus is the bonus used for the SCR. All and all it’s worked great and mimics the original arbitrary spell list acquisition rules using the core Rolemaster premise: skill acquisition.

Rolemaster Spell Design: Thematic or Mechanistic?

Since I’ve been spending quite a bit of my writing time on BASiL: Mentalism I’ve also been engaging with a few other writers about spell design concepts. As my blog title suggests, there are two approaches to Rolemaster Spell Lists.

Thematic. The spells within the list are unified by a concept, theme or purpose.

Mechanistic. The spells are unified by an underlying process, mechanism, or metaphysical force.

While I am firmly in the “Mechanistic” camp, there is compelling evidence that some spell lists in Rolemaster were driven by the “Thematic” approach. Why might that have occurred? I think Professions development is a top down process: you start with a professional concept, you define the skills and abilities that reinforce that concept and then you assign skill costs and spell abilities last. For instance if we want to model a Paladin profession we might then create broad spell list categories like this: “vs Undead/Evil”, “Healing”, “Buffs” and “Combat”. Then we would design and fill in spells under those thematic categories. That makes sense.

The problem is that you can end up creating spells that work on different operational principles. Good examples of this can be found in the expansion Professions in RMCI, specifically the Nightblade and Paladin lists:

Nightblade/Distractions. This list contains a number of spells that fit under the umbrella of “subterfuge” it’s a hodge podge of styles. Nightvision (a personal augmentation, Confusion (a mental effect), Smokeflash (a teleport with a elemental angle),Extinquish (cancel elemental). So the list is a bit of Magician powers and Mentalist powers all jumbled up.

Paladin/Holy Warrior. This spell list really covers three areas: self healing, buffs (Strength & Courage), and “holy auras”.

A quick review of almost any list will find at least half a dozen “outlier” spells that don’t really fit into the mechanistic’s of the spell list. I’m not suggesting that a thematic approach is wrong, and ultimately, you probably need a mix of both to create full spell lists.

When I try to create a new list (or clean up a messy Spell Law List) I start from the bottom and build the list mechanically. What is the underlying “power” of these spells? Are they similar that they support the fundamental idea of a Spell List? (Similar spells that increase in power). Sometimes I can build enough spells to form a new list to 50th level. Other times I need to include a spell that doesn’t fit well but is needed to support the list functionality. Other times I have 1 cool spell but it’s a dead end to building a full list around the idea.

While I mostly use a Mechanistic approach, it can also lead to less diverse spell lists, or ones that might be better served with a HARP scaling approach. That’s a valid criticism. For limited spell lists, like the Shadow World Messenger Lists, I used a more Thematic approach. I feel comfortable using Thematics for Channeling spell lists, given that they are arguably structured for use by a Diety/Being.

The Thematic approach appeals to my gut- it’s intuitive, it reinforces professional tropes and provides wide latitude to populating a spell list. But my mind finds the mechanistic approach a more orderly process to spell list creation. In the end, much of this will depend on your concept of a spell list.

What are your thoughts?

New Magics in BASiL

One of my frustrations to completing ongoing projects is that I tend to jump from one work product to another. I started on my “Channeling Chronicles” but got distracted into BASiL Mentalism and then I started reworking BASiL Essence. The positive news is that I continue to create content, but I would rather finish one off, post it up and then move on to the next rather than having 5 projects going all partially complete and moving slowly. I had asked Terry about this when I did my interview with him; I wanted to get a sense for his work flow, motivation and even writers block but we didn’t dive too deep into it. From his own public comments he seemed to have a patchwork approach to his own projects: he was working on Wurilis, moved to Emer IV, stopped to do Green Gryphon Inn, etc.

Anyway, while revamping BASiL (I think I’m going to put up final, revised versions on DTRPG in d100 format) I wanted to formalize some spell casting structures that were still a little loose in all versions of Spell Laws: Power Analysis and Delayed Casting.

Power Analysis.

Broadly speaking, I’m referring to a number of spell abilities that allow casters (or “sensitives”) to interpret power and spells. This could include detecting and visualizing the “Essaence”, Auras, Power Perception, Colors of Magic, and various “Analyze” or “Detect” Spells found in Spell Law or BASiL (Power Analysis).

RM has 3 different mechanisms that can impart information about spells or power:

  1. Passive w/ no latent ability. By allowing spellcasting emanations to be colored by Realm/aspect anyone watching a caster will be able to determine some information about the spell and/or the caster. This allows anyone, even without casting ability or magic skills to visually learn information from someone casting.
  2. Inherent Ability. Some races have or could have the ability to see, feel or detect the Essaence. (Lords of Essaence, some magical creatures, some high Elves?)
  3. Active Spell Ability. All the realms have Detection or Delving spells that can be used to detect the presence of power, or determine the spells effects, level, source or creation.

Like much of RM and Spell Law, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge without any underlying logical framework. Fine. I think that all works, but there is a side to this that hasn’t been fully explored: Caster Signatures. I see this as similar to the Mentalism spells around “Mind Typing”. Basically, every caster leaves a signature, their own flair or style to their casting, that can be detected, stored and analyzed. Much like a fingerprint. So higher level spells like “Spell Analysis” doesn’t automatically provide who the caster is unless the analyzing caster has encountered the target caster’s work before, has “typed” it and the target caster hasn’t hid their spell signature in any way.

This doesn’t add much for real mechanics to Spell Law, but provides a playing dynamic that can add depth to the game. Yes, new spells would include “Spell Typing” or “Store/Recall Spell Signature” and there is a need for counter spells “Hide Signature”, “Distort Signature” or even “Counterfeit Signature” that would utilize another spellcasters casting style. This also adds a clear mechanism for “Evil” casters to hide behind a facade–like Priests Arnak. Currently they are provided this cover with a simple handwave–they all possess a magic ring that hides their evil nature. Bah.

Delayed Casting.

There are a number of “Delayed” spells: Runes, Wards, Symbols, Glyphs, Store Spell and Trigger Spell. Again, I feel it’s a confusing bunch, some of which have individual mechanics that feels more like AD&D then Rolemaster. They are all just slight variations on the same idea: Delaying a spell effect until some variable is met. In BASiL these types of spells are grouped into a different “Realm” due to their similarity and the idea that their casting mechanics, use, rules are VERY different than traditional Essence/Mentalism/Channeling spellcasting. Even moving them into another realm is still confusing. What’s the difference between a Rune and Weapon Rune? Is a Glyph different than a Sigil? How/Why?

Sometimes it’s easier to create a new mental model that acts as a bedrock foundation for spell lists, powers and mechanics. I’m working now on a concept of “Shells” or “Cocoons” to represent this concept. Does it really change anything or does it just help to unify all of these types of inscribed magics? The basic spell concept is the creation of a vessel (shell or cocoon or any other name, culturally or professional) that wraps around another spell and holds it inactive. At lower levels that spell vessel may be visible, may need to be “attached” or anchored (like a rune or symbol) or at high levels float in the air (like a Glyph or Sigil). They can be triggered by simple to complex stimuli and it’s the wrap itself that holds the spell for X time–with that duration growing in spell level. Basically a Spell Bomb Shell.

With “Spell Shells” (say that 3 times fast) you can separate the soft mechanics of Imbedding, Storing and Delaying/Triggered. Right now there is some cross pollination that confuses the situation.

One other possible benefit is that it puts delayed spells back in the normal casting framework, you can stylize it to fit the peculiarities of each realm and you don’t need to have Glyphs, Runes or Symbols with any particular power, it’s the wrapped spell that provides the effect.

Alternatively, it can be just another spell list that adds variety, complexity to BASiL, either as a open or closed list.

Just a few thoughts as a modify, edit and expand upon BASiL. What’s new with you?

Predictive Spells in Spell Law

Some recent comments on the Forums or Discord had me collecting my thoughts on all of the predictive spells in Rolemaster. I’ve always had trouble incorporating comprehensive divination/augury in my games. My experience has been that I go one of two ways:

  1. Make the divination result vague enough to be virtually meaningless
  2. I have to build the spell result into my game, either by incorporating that content into the game world, or by bending the game results to meet the predicting outcome.

I find neither are good choices and I’ve also struggled with those personal biases when designing BASiL. So purposes of this blog post, I’m going to ignore various “Finding Spells” which provide information about a thing or a topic. Most of the spells are poorly designed, but ultimately those spells help provide necessary exposition; useful in a dense world build like Kulthea!

Instead, let’s delve into predictive or forward looking spells that provide information about an event. The first spells that are troublesome are found on the Astrologers Time Bridge list. I already wrote about Astrologers HERE, and since then, several others have tackled a redesign of this admittedly cool profession concept.

Guess. The first level spell just biases the players choice by 25%, perhaps a bit much for a 1st level spell and might encourage guesstimating actions, but it works well in a random rolling game system.

Intuition. Now we start down a slippery slope, with each successively higher level version looking further into the future: 2nd level peers 1 minute into the future while 15th lvl can look ahead 1 min/lvl. How should one DM that without having the “fix in”? Sure, it’s easy to match a few minutes into the future with a quickly generated answer, but isn’t this just predetermination?

Spell Anticipation. This type of spell really makes me feel constrained. First, I actually try and write out spell casting preferences for my NPC’s when designing an adventure: this was common in earlier AD&D modules (see the Slavelord series) but it’s harder to do in RM when RAW can have a spell user with 150 spells by 10th lvl! There is a lot that happens in RM combat, lots to track and NPCs and critters should be played intelligently and to the best of their ability. How can I as a GM lock a spellcaster into a particular spell they may cast in the future? And if I lock it in, how much can that tilt the balance of the combat to the PC’s favor? And is that bad?

Dreams. This is the grand daddy of railroading a party. This literally enables a GM to guide and direct the party exactly as needed: hints about which direction to go? check. Background info on a foe or item? no problem. Provide the party advice on resources and assistance? Sure, they “dreamed” that.

Thinking back, these spells are cool and I probably enjoyed and appreciated them more when I was much younger and starting out in RPG’s. And looking back at the early version of Spell Law it’s easy to see some of that influence: what D&D established, what works for a dungeon crawl, railroad vs. sandbox. But now, these spells are a real hindrance for my GM style and feel very much deux a machina.

How about you? How often do you use predictive spells in your game?

GM’ing Navigators in your Shadow World campaign: Stick to the Code. pt 2

Recently there has been an uptick in discussions about Shadow World’s Navigators on both the forums and the discord server. I thought I would write a follow up to my previous blog that I wrote back in 2016, found HERE.

Navigator Cost. Given the importance of Navigators and the original concept of the Essence Flows, it makes sense that Navigator services should be affordable by the PC’s. Otherwise, what’s the point? Some people have pointed out that the published costs of Navigators (MA ed. 2) are prohibitive and when you calculate the cost for merchants and the weight of trade goods doesn’t hold up under a rational economic system. But first, let’s review the original source, The Iron Wind (not the 1st ed. parchment), where the outlines of the Navigators Guilds were germinated:

To calculate the cost of a Guild-directed trip, use as a standard unit of
either one person or 501bsof cargo. Charge I gp . per mile per unit overland ;
1 gp . per 10 miles per unit by sea. An additional flat rate of 100 gp . per unit
per Jump -as deemed necessary by the Navigator – is charged, with a surcharge
of 10 gp . per unit per mile of Jump travel over 50 miles. (Nearly all
Jumps used at the Navigator’s discretion to bypass barriers and perilous
areas are less than 50 miles.)

I’m pretty sure that this price structure carried over to the Master Atlas, but do these costs even make sense given the prices for other goods and services? I would note that there is very little evidence that Terry actually GM’d in any significant way; he was a writer and creator, but may not have play tested his materials to any degree. Maybe the Navigator prices need to be adjusted?

Or perhaps we need to address what the Navigators do and don’t do.

It wouldn’t surprise me if most SW players perception of Navigators was that of high level magic users that can teleport at will, have extensive spell powers and provide passage AND safety to the group that hires them. Of course there are high level Navigators with formidable powers but the Guilds are very clear on what services they provide. In no particular order and drawn from a variety of SW books:

–They provide swift, relatively safe transport to anyone who has the money to afford their prices

–They will not transport what military personnel or items, either
for the purpose of attack, espionage or sabotage

–They provide is the ability to guide people safely through the Essænce flows, and to locally influence Kulthea’s often violent weather.

–They guide ships and caravans along the safest route; they are able to teleport groups—or cargoes and even ships— across vast distances by using nearby Essænce Flows

–Direct ‘Jumps,’ , especially long ones or those involving large numbers of people, are tricky and correspondingly prohibitively expensive

–Conventional transportation—such as riding animals or sea vessels—is almost never supplied by the Guild, and in fact must be provided to the Navigator by the client. The Navigator, however, will advise the ignorant client on what mode of transport is most appropriate.

–Navigators are notoriously unsympathetic to people with no money in tight situations.

–The Navigator will not fight unless he or she is personally threatened.

–The Navigators will not communicate their knowledge to clients: transport is their trade, not information. 

–The Navigator will inform a potential client if he asks to be delivered to a dangerous location. 

–The official stance of the Navigators is complete neutrality.

The take away is that Navigators are primarily guides an less often are providing “Jump/Teleporation” services which are much, much more costly. But that raises a whole other issue: what powers do they really have and do they match the services they should be able to provide? There are 3 Navigator Ranks: Apprentice, Journeyman and Master that are roughly 5th lvl, 10th lvl and 20th+ level respectively. For the moment, let’s put aside any undefined abilities that the Navigator compasses may provide and just review the profession Base Lists for the Navigators, specifically: Mass Transport, Self Transport, Flow Mastery and Path Mastery.

Apprentice. (Around 5th lvl). These Navigators handle simple tasks like responding to summons via the Obelisk network and negotiate services and pricing. They may even handle simple guide services in safe areas, but they still need to teleport to the client.

Self Transport. At or around 5th lvl an Apprentice Navigator can “Jump” up to 10miles per level and Long Door up to a 1000′. So at this point, until they reach 8th lvl they can’t Teleport to a Obelisk or return to Nexus which would be the minimum requirement to handle initial requests.

Transporting Targets. Apprentices can basically do short “leaving” or “long door” with up to 3-5 targets over distances of a few hundred feet.

Weather Control. An Apprentice can control winds, perhaps calm water and predict weather.

Guidance. With Path Mastery an Apprentice has some decent skills of navigation, location and sensing hazards.

Essaence Control. Barring the ability to locate flows and foci, Apprentices are able to tap into Flows and completely replenish their PPs.

Conclusion. At just 5th level and assuming no ability to overcast, an Apprentice can’t really perform the basic duties ascribed to them. But as basic wildnerness guides they have some utility, but perhaps not more than a Druid or Ranger.

Journeyman. (Around 10th lvl). A Journeyman is allowed to lead low-risk
expeditions that won’t require Jumps or high-level magical weather or Flow control. Can they do this?

Self Transport. By 10th level a Navigator can easily teleport to any Obelisk, return to Nexus and Teleport themselves up to 100m/lvl using Flows.

Transporting Targets. Journeyman can Teleport 2-3 targets 10 miles/lvl.

Weather Control. Advanced spells to calm water, control winds and call clouds.

Guidance. Journeyman gain useful spells for guidance, sensing hazards, scout ahead and create magical bridges.

Essaence Control. Slightly more advanced abilities than a Apprentice including parting a minor flow and the ability to draw power in excess of normal limitations.

Conclusion. Journeyman can probably handle most of the typical Navigators duties. At 10th level they’ll have skills and abilities based on their normal Profession (I have issue with this) so they will be competent.

Master. (Around 20th lvl). Master’s should be considered “full-fledged” Navigators with all of the abilities attested to. Let’s see:

1Self Transport. By 20th lvl a Navigator can basically transport themselves pretty much anywhere.

Transporting Targets. Have the ability to Teleport up to 20 targets 10 miles/lvl.

Weather Control. Excluding complete mastery of weather, Master’s can modify skies up to 1 mile/lvl for 1 hr/lvl.

Guidance. Slightly more advanced than a Journeyman with longer range of senses.

Essaence Control. Masters have the ability to “ride the flows” and by 25th lvl can part Major Flows.

Conclusion. Masters are basically the “full package” but don’t have the ability to move large groups and objects (like Skyships) via Teleport until 50th lvl, and even that is limited by size and range. So the reputed powers of Jumping ships to avoid danger is only held by a few of the most powerful Navigators.

Additional thoughts and comments:

  1. The Navigator spell lists are a mess. Some of it seems like lack of editing but there are quite a few useless spells and some useful abilities are missing. I have it on my list for BASiL treatment.
  2. Exact powers of Compasses are never enumerated, but to address some gaps in Navigators abilities, it would easy to assume that compasses provide the ability to cast above your level–I think 10 levels over would be adequate. Apprentices are given “lesser Compasses” (of more recent fabrication). Perhaps these only allow to cast 5 levels above.
  3. Why would Navigators spend days or weeks guiding parties when they could just Jump them quickly and be on their way? Well as written, the Nav spell lists just don’t provide that ability. Other reasons could be the risk involved, factors due to the loss of the Northern Eye, difficulty in Jumping through various Flows, Storms and Foci for longer jumps.
  4. Why would high level Navigators even stoop themselves to such a mundane task? First, powerful Navigators would only be tasked with the most risky assignments. Second, they are probably working for powerful or wealthy entities which could provide valuable intel or insight. Third, it isn’t inexpensive and they need to keep the lights on!
  5. How many Navigators could there possibly be? If you want Navigators to be an element in the game, they can’t just be a legend or rumor–they need to be seen and attainable. But imagine all of the trade, all of the Obelisks and the apparent need for Navigators to, at least, help bypass Essaence Barriers. Would there need to be thousands of Navigators? Tens of thousands?
  6. How many Compasses could there be? The first batch was found in the City of the Dead, consisting of “a dozen magical wristbands”, and then more were found of various designs. All are thought to be of Ka’ta’viir construction. Are there hundred or thousands? Certainly not tens of thousands. We know that the Ka’ta’viir were a small population subset of the Althans, perhaps a few dozen families. Can they be copied? They are supposedly intelligent…by whom or what? (that could lead to an interesting adventure if compasses were corrupted or changed..)
  7. Where did the Navigator Base lists come from? The Loremasters helped the early Nav’s to figure out the compasses, but spell lists access is controlled. Nav and Loremaster base lists are considered “Arcane”, which date back to proto realms times. Maybe the intelligent compasses themselves have the spell lists and grant their use via attunement.

As NPC’s this is mostly a thought exercise. Terry is known for bending, or ignoring, the Rolemaster ruleset to fit his world building. Certainly we can handwave away any inconsistencies. However, I think there is work that could be done to tighten up the Navigators, and I’m all for hidden knowledge escaping–why shouldn’t a player character discover these erudite lists or find a compass themselves in some unplundered tomb?

What do you think??

  1. ↩︎

Cultural and organizational spell lists in Shadow World.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

When introduced in 1980, Spell Law’s breadth and scope of spell lists was a revelation in TTRPG! Hundreds of lists, thousands of spells and spells up to 50th level. I was 13 years old when I first got my hands on Spell Law, and reading through the Alchemist, Astrologer, Monk and Mentalist lists fired my imagination.

Over the years the novelty of the original spell lists have worn off, and newer lists in the various Companions became more exotic, powerful and interesting. More importantly for me, the monolith nature of the base spells for the professions became an anchor on the system. Every Magician encountered had the same spell lists, every Cleric used the same few offensive spells despite their Diety’s aspect and my players could anticipate most of their opponents spell castings or, at the least, identify the exact spell cast based on it’s effects.

One of the appeals of Terry’s Shadow World material in the inclusion of specific organizational spell lists: Navigators, Loremasters, Steel Rain etc. I expanded on this effort with my own lists for the various Kulthean pantheons, spell lists for the Messengers of the Iron Wind among a few others.

It’s my belief that knowledge of any type, is transmitted through cultural or organization channels: communities, schools, cults, guilds and similar organized entities. In our own world, an education to become a lawyer and the knowledge and skills it imparts will be different between a student at Harvard Law and a law student at the Law School of Sao Paulo. It could be argued that the quality of the legal education may not be equal between the two schools and therefore it’s reasonable to believe that different cultures or groups may have similar but unequal spell lists of similar powers. A Fire Law list learned from the Fire Cult of “Volcano Island” may be different than the Fire Law list from a Cult of Nature worship somewhere else. Perhaps there are different spells, or similar spells but obtained at different levels–the belief that “balance” must be achieved is limiting. Fireball could be learned at a lower level by a Cleric of the Fire God than Fireball on a list of a general “Elemental Mage”.

I think this philosophy could extend to specialized skills and lores: they are only available through specific cultures and groups. Of course this doesn’t work in general with Rolemaster, but it can be incorporated into a setting like Shadow World quite easily. Obviously, Terry has already done this to some degree. I’ve been reading Cults of Prax which provides cult specific spells and runes for various sects and cults and it definitely provides another dimension to spells and lists in a specific setting. In my SW campaign I use my BASiL lists AND the original Spell Law lists to have the largest pool and variety of spell lists.

Does anyone restrict access to lists and skills in their campaign?