Shadow World Economics. How many Alchemists can there be in Kulthea?

I feel like the recent publishing of RMU Treasure Law is a good time to delve into an issue I’ve touched upon slightly in past blog posts. How many alchemists are required in Shadow World to create all of the magic items and work the various enchanted materials and alloys found in the various supplements?

Terry was always adept at creating cool, and powerful, items for his various NPCs and key persona but a quick examination of the various Master Military Charts will show that most militaries, groups and organizations also had their “standard kit”, much of it superior or magical in nature.

A few examples:

  • There are 500 Duranaki Warriors, each with +10 Kynacs (ignore the fact that Keron has an intrinsic +20)
  • There are 42 Duranaki Captains Aids, each with +30db Bracers, +10 Shurikens, AT8 Cloak and headbands that protect as a full helm!
  • Sulini has 500 Warriors, each with a +5 Broadsword and +10 bow.
  • There are 1600 Sentinels in the Elven Forest in Jaiman. Each has Cloak +40 to hiding, +5 Long Knife and +10 Longbow.

This are just general militia members. If you look at specialized groups like the Eight Orders, the Messengers, Navigators or other secret or powerful groups then the number of magic items really piles up. The Loari are currently making A LOT of specialized magic weapons for the Kuluku–this is on top of their “normal” alchemical/enchanting work that they do. Then, dig into the NPCs, many loaded with powerful magical items, you get the sense that magic items may not be that rare in Shadow World.

But there are really two issues at play: who is making the more powerful items that, based on Rolemaster item creation requires very high level Alchemists and perhaps more importantly, how can they produce the volume of magic items no matter what their potency? One could argue that militias, armies and guards draw upon an armory for their kit and are required to hand those items back at the end of their service. So once a certain inventory of magical gear is generated it remains stable after that.

One thing that Rolemaster players love is digging into the realism/verisimilitude/data used in the game! One would imagine that with all of these magic items there are many mass production facilities found throughout Kulthea, or at the least, each powerful organization has their own specialized Alchemist factory to generate the unique items for their members. But that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Looking through the various city books, Alchemists are about as common (or rare depending on how you see it) as other specialized casters like Astrologers.

Magic items are cool, and Terry came up with a lot of neat and interesting items. But he didn’t seem that concerned with the the underlying economics that were needed for his world building. This is more noticeable because Rolemaster was one of the first systems that created a workable system for making magic items: the Alchemist lists. One of the principals of Rolemaster Alchemy is the binary process of Crafting and Enchanting. Magic items must first be manufactured using “Work” spells found on the Alchemist Base lists, and then spells or abilities are imbedded in the object.

I have a lot of issues with this approach, so I’ve done away with those “Work Materials” spell lists. Work spells are really “spells as skills” and removes any incentive for tradecrafts. Furthermore, there is no requirement for a caster to learn the appropriate craft skill; they just learn the applicable spell and somehow gain knowledge of the crafting process that would take years or decades to master? Should a skinny 20th level Alchemist be able to Work Laen just because he can cast a spell? Where does the knowledge of forge work, hammering, smithing or any other applicable subskill come into play? It doesn’t under the Alchemist spell lists.

A better solution, one already provided by Terry solves a lot of the issues around bonus item creation. Materials that have an natural bonus can simply be crafted into suitable items: swords, armors, cloaks, shields etc. through tradecrafts; spellcasting is not necessary. Per the Master Atlas:

These correspond (roughly) to alloys described in Rolemaster.
The number in brackets is the intrinsic bonus given to a blade
fashioned of this material because of its hardness and ability to
hold an edge.

So Laen has a natural +25 bonus. If one wanted to stick to corresponding “levels” of such material–in this case 20th level to correspond with the Spell Law “Work Laen” spell then crafting Laen would require 20 ranks of smithing or laenworking or whatever skill the GM indicated. Standard skill acquisition of 2 ranks/lvl means that a competent craftsperson can work Laen by 10th level. It doesn’t require a 20th Level Alchemist Spellcaster. This fits well with many of the cultures that utilize Laen but don’t seem to have expansive Alchemist populations. The Udahir in The Iron Wind being one example.

Separating the Crafting process from the Enchanting process supports the need for tradesmen or acquiring tradeskills. It allows for large production of bonus items by regular craftsmen using superior/enchanted materials like Tethium, Keron or Quevite. So Alchemists can utilize workshops of skilled craftsmen and they can spend their time on Embedding unique abilities or spells into those items.

Do your players utilize Alchemists to make them special magic items? Are Alchemists common in your Shadow World campaign? Should Alchemists need to be 15, 20th or even high level to create magic items from superior materials like Laen, Eog or Star Iron?

What are your thoughts?