How many Spells is enough?

BriH touched on this with his high level adventures but a very high level spell caster is highly likely to have every open and closed list and every base list to the max. Obviously the rules in play can affect that. I am playing my lay healer in a game where almost everyone in the world has at least some kind of magic and every family has a spell caster.

In that game 10 ranks in learning a spell list is enough for automatic success and you can learn lists in parallel. You can learn one list for every powerpoint/level you gain. The GM also allows you to add your stat bonus to the spell gain roll if the chance is not automatic.

To put that in perspective due to background options I have 4 power points per level and a total stat bonus in PR of +50. At 1st level I had 7 spell lists and I am learning 4 more for next level.

If that sets the tone for the character going forward then by the time I am 6th level I could have every open, closed and base lists to 10th level. By the time I am 12th level I will have all lists to 20th. By 21st level I would have my 10 base lists to 50th level.

My character is exceptional. I pushed my PR to 100 with a background option and then rolled the skill at magic and got a further +25 bonus. Even without those extreme odds any pure caster should have nearly all the lists to 10th level long before they get to that level themselves.

In the game I run I am stricter on spell list acquisitions. You get +5 per rank and there are no bonuses to the roll. That is the RAW with no options in play. The intention was that a 10th level caster should have in the region of 8 lists. I wanted magicians to have fire law OR light law OR wind law not everything right across the board.

The problem with too many lists is that it gives you too many spells. Just from a playing perspective if you have 400 spells to choose from and many of them are stackable to create new effects then very few players or GMs will know all the options. I have always loved low level spells. Many of them have the effect based upon RR failure, like sudden light. So even though it may be a low level spell it can be devastating in the hands of a higher level caster.

Another objective of limiting the number of lists being learned is that a party with two magicians now do not necessarily have two of everything. The casters have very different lists and what lists you buy is an important strategic choice.

In my game it also promotes spell research as adding spells to your existing lists does not cost DPs in the RAW game.

I am finally zeroing in on the house rules I would like to fomalise for an alternative for Spell Law. I have touched on this many times in the past.

I am most definitely getting rid of all three realms. There is now simply just ‘magic’.

My lists are no longer linear progressions. Lists are now more like three dimensional cubes. In one dimension they still go from 1st to 50th. But I am bringing in HARP scalability so each spell can have a depth. I also allow multiple spells at the same level so lists can have a thickness to them.

A first level character starts with a couple of sentences to describe the list of their own devising.

The next step is that the player chooses a first level spell from a pool of all the first level spell to fill the first slot. Every slot may hold a spell of that level or lower. So in theory if there were two first level spells you wanted but no second level spell then you can take one as your first level spell and one as your second. Spells do not have names anymore, just effects. When the player adds a spell to their list they create a name for that spell. The names and the spells must fit the description at the top of the list. The GM can veto any spell on any list.

The point is to avoid a single list with fly, invisibility, fireball, lightning bolt and regenerate on it. Essentially characters could recreate fire law as a list or lofty bridge but slot in a few of the other related spells such as Sunfires into Fire Law or some of the channeling movement spells. More interesting though is mixing some of the barrier law spells with the other ‘wall’ spells from base lists all over Spell Law.

All the lists created by a single character should have a single theme of concept to them. So if you are “Pyromancer” then any fly spell would have you carried on fiery wings, teleport would have you leave in a column of flame and so on.

So far this is all untested at the game table. I hope I have given enough detail of how this would work.

My question is… If you really could pick all the spells on every list, now many lists do you think you would want as a spell caster?

P.S. My warhorse and I are travelling today and competing all weekend so you may have to wait for replies to comments as I could be a bit busy.

Rolemaster Kids- Magic

I remember, it was maybe two years ago, there was a very active discussion on the forums about marketing RMU and there was a general consensus that there should be a Lite version of RMU to encourage people to give it a go. The point where people diverged was more on how do you make a light version of Spell Law? How many spell casting professions, how many lists and two what level?

Rolemaster Kids would face the same issues. I am convinced that just two realms are needed and one profession for each. The magician and (lay) healer are so different in every aspect that they make for a real nice choice for a potential player. So that takes care of the how many professions and which questions.

So how many lists and to what level?

I am thinking ten and ten. Ten lists to tenth level for each profession. Just like RMU I will fill every slot.

I have a really strong urge to not use the spells in Spell Law though. I want to create these ten lists myself to encapsulate what the realm and profession does well. I also think new and more interesting spell names could add a lot of colour and imagery to the game. It is intended for a younger audience after all. Light I, Light II and Light III are hardly inspiring.

Looking at the open and closed Essence and Mentalism lists there is a huge amount of cross over with both realms being able to produce the same effects. Essence is of course bigger, stronger, longer, faster than Mentalism but that is only in comparison to each other.

In a similar way to how the RM2 Warrior Mage combined all the bolt and ball spells from all the magician base lists into one I think something similar could be done with the base lists for the lay healer. Just so of the ten lists available they do not have to buy five healing list, I think we can safely skip prosthetics. I would like to include telekinesis, delving, detections and scrying (sense mastery) type magics into the available lists for mentalism

As long as the magician can fly, cast fireball, create illusions, go invisible and put guards to sleep that would satisfy most peoples basic magician needs. I think unbarring ways is cool and dispelling magic should be part of a magicians remit. I think one can lost Earth Law, Water Law and Ice Law and it doesn’t leave a massive hole in the magicians functionality.

Making the magic system work falls into two mechanism. Directed spells would be exactly like the combat cards I mentioned in the first post. Base attack rolls would be more akin to the skills cards I think with attack roll, success/failure (including spell failure effects!) and resistance rolls all on one card.

I know that is a pretty sketchy outline but have I missed any importance considerations?

30th Your Rolemaster favourite spell (from any list)?

Brian: I’ve always liked the Mystic base list “Hiding” and on it are two cool spells: 14th lvl “Merging” which is a great escape/hide spell and 13th lvl “Flattening” which makes a player 2 dimensions. How cool is that?

Peter: Mass Vibrations I, 13th level Essence Hand. Everyone in your field of vision needs to make an RR every round of fumble their weapon. It is absolutely brilliant and far better than any kind of blade turning. The first time I discovered this spell I was playing an invisible illusionist who cast this followed by a summoning spell that gave me a pair of tigers against a dozen guards. It was carnage and I don’t think any of them survived! Even the lower level spells are cool. In RM you rarely meet massed enemy so Vibrations I as a first level spell is a great defence once your caster reaches 4th or 5th level.

The Week Ahead

You how some days you just know it is going to be a long grind and that is just the preparation for the next game session? i have one of those weeks in front of me. I have discovered a new task to hate and that is equipment lists.

I remember the days of not worrying about emcumberance and buying 200 torches for a gold piece. This week I am having to prepare custom equipment lists and lists of things that can be bought at a particular location.

It is entirely possible that this new place could become a long-ish term base for one of the characters I don’t want to ‘wing it’ and at the same time because of a shift in the available technology I cannot just half or double the prices in Character Law. So I am going through lists revising the weights of anything that is largely metalic downwards and increasing the costs.

That may not sound like a bog deal but the weight in metal is really important to essence and channeling spell users. If you introduced Aluminium or even polycarbonate into the Rolemaster universe then spell casters have a wail of a time. (Before anyone comments again, it is wail as is screams of laughter and not whale as in big fish as they are hardly known for partying hard!)

Anyway equipment lists got me thinking, as always the player is going to encounter someone who has this alien superlight equipment first and they are probably going to take a pasting because of the faster ad free movement and the armour plus spells combo.  I am pretty sure they are going to grab the opportunity to upgrade a lot of their kit while they are at it.

The question is does a GM every introduce something into their world that would at first glance appear to shift the balance of power without thinking about the consequences?

Or to put it another way, “What the GM giveth, the GM can take away.” It is an interesting idea though when you take magic and thrust it into a potentially high tech arena which is not necessarily metal dependent such as kevlar or polycarbonate based.

I already know the shortfall in this new technology I am introducing, why the players will prpbably not become aware of it and why the originators do not take it into account, but in the meantime I need to get back to my amazing new equipment lists and stock prices.

You’re far too keen on where and how, but not so hot on why

Spell Law has an advice section on how to handle different spells and their effects such as invisibility, illusions and how spell effects can interfere with each other such as Aura and Blur counteracting each other. What it doesn’t handle is the future.

There are two ways of seeing into your characters future, divination and magic. The first is a mundane skill, anyone can learn it and it involves using tarot cards, runes, tea leaves and crystal balls etc. to get a glimpse of the future. The skill is a RM2 skill and appears in Companion II along with a neat little table of modifiers and difficulties. It is great for predicting the very near future in vague terms with limited accuracy. I have a Seer in my world who keeps telling party members that ‘there will be a death in the next two minutes’. As a GM I can be fairly certain that if the party is about to sneak around the corner into a Drow partrol then that prediction is likely to come true but also dividination is vague. Yes the death card comes up but you never know whos death. The seer casts rune stones for her divining and that is not something that you can do in the pitch black while everyone is trying to be quiet. Divination I think works well. The other option is harder to handle.

There is the sort of thing I mean. this is the first level spell from the Seer base lists.

1. Intuitions I – Caster gets a vision of what will happen in the next minute if they take a specified action.

So the party are about to burst through the door and confront the bad guys body guard. Does the vision include the death of one of the party? What if it doesn’t but as it turns out it should have done?

As a GM you should have a reasonable idea of relative difficulty of each encounter but there is always the chance of a freak accident or the dice gremlins prevent the main fighter in the group from rolling anything about a 06.

You could argue that the simple act of knowing the future changes the future and what the seer saw was one possible and the most probable future at that moment if the seer had not cast the spell and the party forewarned. The spell above is the first level spell but at fifth level the Seer can see five minutes into the future and at 15th they can see one minute for every level so that could easily extend into the half hours.

Imagine the Seer casts Intuitions I while the party are preparing to kick in the door. He or she sees that the guards are caught entirely by surprise and a fight ensues with the party winning at the time the vision ends. The Seer does not tell anyone what he saw. The door flies open, the magic user casts fireball, fumbles and the attack goes off at ground zero blowing up the party. Surely the Seer would have seen that? The arguemets over the Seer changing the future do not really hold up as the plan was formulated before the spell was cast and not changed as a result, it is not even a case of the plan being delayed even by 10 seconds. Everything should have been as the vision showed.

I don’t know the right solution to this but this is what I am doing currently.

For the duration of the spell if there is a game changing dice roll I pick a number from a random number chart and use that instead. So if the player fumbles his fireball I change the dice roll. The players all know that once magic has been invoked then their fate is already ‘written’. As soon as the sixth round is over then all dice rolls stand.

The table above is an axample of a random number table. You just start at row one column one and if it is a d100 you want just take two columns. There is even a nice 00 at row 14 column 7/8!

This has worked well so far as the players know I am not ‘fudging’ dice rolls or fixing things. It is literally just the few rounds and the few critical freak rolls that get changed.

I also use this table for subtle perception rolls. If the party all walk past a secret door but no one is explicitly looking for it I will just pick their dice roll from the table. I think my players are paranoid, as soon as the GM picks up his dice the pary draw their swords.

It is easy enough to create something like this is a spreadsheet but I find I barely use a single row in a weekend and at three weekends gaming a year a single page will last me 10 years.

does anyone else have any ideas on how to handle a player knowing the future?

p.s. I am on holiday/vacation next week. I will still see, read and approve all your comments but there may be a bit of delay. I don’t spend my entire holiday glued to my phone.

Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths pt II

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I think that the variety of spell casters that Rolemaster provides makes the system very flexible. The profession you choose defines not only the spell lists available but the skills that profession is inclined to buy, illusionists are observant, mystics subtle, mentalists are a bit gungho. The spell lists open to each profession also help define that profession, obviously. If Rolemaster stopped there then it is possible that all magicians would end up the same, all clerics the same and so on.

That is the situation with D&D last time I played it. Every magic user was desperate to get to 5th level so they could cast fireball. If you made that that far then finally you had the fighters’ respect and could do something they couldn’t. Rolemaster doesn’t stop there though. The magic is only just beginning.

There is a really important part of the Spell Law rule book on magical research. What this relates to is creating your own spells to fit into the spell lists you have learned. Most spell lists in Rolemaster do not have one spell for every level. There are gaps in the spell lists so you may have a 1st level spell, a 3rd, 4th, 7th and 10th but no spell available for the other levels. Illusionists for example have no spells at all between 15th and 20th. With spell research you can either fill in the gaps in your spell lists or define new spells to sit alongside the existing ones. There is really no reason not to have two 5th level spells.

It is quite a good starting adventure for a new spell using character to have his master send him some where to complete some research and give him a spell that no one else has. There are loads of really simple things you could do with just first level spells. As an example if the player wanted to play a fire based mage and has Fire Law then researching a Detect Fires spell. Give it the same parameters the other detection law/mastery spells but allows the caster to detect fires through walls, floors and ceilings. This will teach the player the mechanics of researching spell and open them up to the potential.

I have one player that always misses not having ‘magic missile’ in Rolemaster. I think Shockbolt is meant to fulfill that roll but it is not the same. This is one of the things that spell research is meant to address. You want it your way? You got it! As the advertising slogan says.

Researching spells takes a week per level of the spell for spells 1st-5th level and 2 weeks a level for 6th-10th and so on if you are researching a spell to fit into your own lists(in RMC, RMU uses a different formula). In addition to the time you need access to research materials; books, ancient scrolls, other mages research and so on. Here in is the basis of a first adventure, get to a library or another spell caster’s personal library and complete the research, that is the reason for the spell user to leave his master and set out in the world.

With spell research in play you can have two spell casters of the same level and profession, knowing the same spell lists and even freakishly having the same stats and number of power points but playing completely differently and having different abilities because they have researched different aspects of their spell lists.

The rules (in RMC) literally take up less than two pages in Spell Law so this is not a complex, advanced players option despite the fact that many GMs and players treat it that way. The sooner you get your players creating their own spells the sooner you will have them putting their own stamp on their characters. Then of course you have the option of having players teaching spells they have learned to other characters. This only takes a quarter of the time but does make player cooperation really interesting.

Now even with professions, spell lists and their own custom spells Rolemaster has even more to give the magic user. I will continue with that next time.

Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths

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I remember when I first saw Spell Law, the rolemaster magic rule book, I was not overly impressed. When dealing with magic my background was largely D&D with the hundreds of PHB spells and probably an equal number of add on spells from Dragon magazine and from the backs of modules and such. Spell Law and the Rolemaster magic system takes a bit of getting used to but if you leave your preconceptions at the door it is an amazing system.

The first danger facing a new gamemaster is to make learning magic too easy. There are several optional rules about learning spell lists and entirely alternative learning methods availabel to the GM in the core rules and companions. Every one of them makes magic easier to learn. I have tried most of them over the years and have come back full circle to using the strictest rules and these give the players the most fun. There was an awful lot of moaning from my players when I did impose the strict rule set but that was because they had become spoiled by the overly generous rules they had been playing under. It doesn’t help that in our gaming weekends we have spent half the weekend playing 20th level characters created under the generous rules and half playing 1st level characters under the strict set. That is one hell of a culture shock.

At first glance it appears that Spell Law gives distinct sets of spells with each ‘set’ or list going from 1st to 20th and then 25th, 30th and 50th. The spell caster can cast all the spells of his level or lower from all the sets they know. Lists have to be learned in blocks of 1-10, 11-20th and then the three highest level spells are learned as up to 25th, up to 30th and up to 50th.

The first thing to realise that that basic model is not always true. Some character classes, ‘professions’ in RM, have specific lists that work differently. The two that spring to mind are healers who have a transference list that is a list of just one spell and illusionists who have their prime illusion lists completely interconnected so that they would all have to be learned before they can effectively create illusions, more on this below.

What you can do within rolemaster’s magic system is layer spells. Many spells work on the next spell you cast for example to increase the duration of a spell you would cast and Extension spell followed by the spell you want to extend. Runes can be written to specially prepared paper the same way and a door could be warded or a standing stone inscribed with powerful symbol. Other lists need to have their spells used together, different protective spells will only protect against one type of magic and so you will have to layer different protective spells.

There are rules on which spells ‘stack’ and which don’t. The rule being that spells with the same name do not stack. Using Extension as an example Extension II is a 3rd level spell and doubles the duration of a spell, Extension III is a 7th level spell and triples the duration. Despite the numbering these are the same spell so you could not cast both and try and get six times the duration on your spell. Certain spells do not stack simply because they are contradictory. There is a spell called Aura that makes the caster appear incredibly powerful and adds to the caster’s defence. There is another spell that makes the cast hazy and indistinct. It also adds to the casters defence. You cannot use Aura and Blur at the same time. Apart from a few exceptions like this you can stack pretty much anything and use that option to create so many more magical effect. A mid to high level magic user of about 10th level can litterally have more than 100 spells to choose from. Although many spells are very specific and of limited day to day use having them to hand for that one time they are just the right tool for the job is invaluable.

If you are new to Rolemaster then it is certainly worth reading all the spell lists available to a profession and seeing which lists work together before planning which lists to learn.

Now Illusionists in Rolemaster are NOTHING like a D&D illusionist! Firstly, you cannot disbelieve and illusion. There is no saving throw, Resistance Roll in Rolemaster parlance, as the illusion is actually created. What I mean is that a simple light mirage spell does actually create the image, if you stick your hand through it then you will know it isn’t a real elephant or whatever but the image is really theree. If you create an sound mirage of a claxon to raise the alarm then there really will be a big loud noise, the device that made it may not exist but the noise does. Illusionists have seperate lists for dealing with light, sound and touch/feel etc. They then have a master list called Greater Illusions but you can only use the ‘senses’ in your greater illusions if you know the corresponding spell for that sense. What the illusions (stationary) and phantasms (mobile) do is combine the different mirage spells into coherent multisensory illusions. If the illusionist know the touch/feel mirage then you can actually touch the illusion, pick it up and carry it off if you wanted or on the other hand it could fall on you and do real damage. For the duration of the spell an illusion is on the verge of being a real thing under the mental control of the illusionist. I would not recommend an illusionist as a first character in Rolemasters until you are really au fait with the magic system.

I have writen about this before but there are so many more types of magic using profession in Rolemaster that you will have to leave a lot of your D&D preconeptions behind. The sheer power of many spells simply is not apparent from reading the description in the book, you have to see it in action. There is a spell that make herbs more effective. Healing herbs play a big part in most rolemaster games. A typical common healing herb is Rewk, you brew it up and drink it and it heals 2-20 hits. Most mid to high level characters have 130-150 hits for comparison purposes. Rewk is both common and cheap to buy but is often over looked by characters because they would have to carry so much of it because of the disparity of healing to total hits. As an animist goes up levels they can double and triple the effectiveness of herbs and by 15th level they can times that by 10. Now you common or garden Rewk is healing 20-200hits. Rewk costs 9sp, less than one gold piece a dose. Yavethalion is a herb that heals 5-50 and costs 45gp, Gefnul heals 100 hits and costs 90gp. A starting character starts the game with 3gp typically (I seem to remember about 150gp was common in D&D as starting money) so you can see that that simple spell can mean the difference between life and death or at the very least empty money bags!

Spell Law I believe contains about 2000 spells split between three realms of power and those can be stacked and combined to make a lot of variations to fit your characters vision but the spell lists as presented only account for one part of the magic system within Spell Law.

Next time I will give you a primer on magical research.

Springtime for Magic Users

Interestingly I have noticed that my fellow GM and I have been discussing magic users of all varieties and how they get their spell lists and on the Rolemaster forums there has been a rather heated debate on the new RMU and about how the spells that spell casters can cast define the archetype of that magic using profession and whether they should be able to learn lists normally reserved for other types of spell caster.

In Rolemaster spells are learned in lists and these lists fal into three strata, Open lists are open to anyone, even a fighter could attempt to learn some spells from open lists. Closed lists are reserved to the pure and hybrid spell casters. Base lists are defined for each profession or character class are are reserved to that profession. So an illusionist and a magician are both pure essence users so they could choose from the same open and closed lists but the magician can choose from up to 6 magician base lists and the illusionist from the illusionist base lists. The magician does have access to a lesser illusion list so illusions are not the sole preserve of the illusionist and the illusionist can manage some minor elemental attacks (Shockbolt and much later Lightning bolt) utilising his light based list. A cleric has clericy base lists and a ranger has rangering base lists and so on…

In the flavour of Rolemaster I play (RM2/RMC) a spell list does not necessarily have a spell for every level, some do but most do not. I have encouraged my players to research their own spells to fill these missing spells. This makes each spell caster unique. Also I make learning each spell list difficult and relatively expensive. This gives spell users less lists to choose from and as a consequence they ake better use of all the spells they do know and makes researching your own spells even more important. My fellow GM is more generous with learning spell lists so spell casters have more spells and more higher level spells and spel casters tend to throw more higher level spells piking from the top strata of each list. It is not uncommon in the other game for a spell caster of high level to know every possible spell that that character could possibly cast. This has never happened in my game and almost certainly never will.

Getting back to the RMU discussion the starting point is somewhat different. In RMU you do no learn an entire block of a list at once but spell by spell. You learn as far up the list of spells as you want and you can learn from multiple lists at once. You can also learn at least in principle spells from other professions base lists. Another difference is that list has no empty slots. The basis of the argument was that the base list system built very high walls between the different magic using classes and that as a consequence all mages were going to be pretty much identical and if you had a visiion of playing a mage that could control the weather, a spell list normally reserved for channeling users such as an Animist then you simply could not mix and match that within the core magician profession.

I think the real flaw is the way in that the spells are learned. In RM2 it would cost you 20 development points our of probably pool of 35 points to learn the list that gives you invisibility , and another 20 points to learn the list that allows you to fly and another 20 to learn the list that allows you to detect magic. These are three pretty core magic user abilities. As the character goes up levels then the invisibilty gets more powerful covering greater areas with the cloak of invisibility, flight get faster and starts to encompass teleport type spells and the detection spells get greater ranges and the number fthings that can be detected such as curses, living things and so on.

In RMU on the otherhand you only need to learn the first 4 spells to be able to go invisibly, the 5th level spell to fly and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd level spells to be able to detect all three realms of power. The total cost would be 24 development points and a character gets 50 points a level. The option to get a really wide base of just enough spells from every possible list means that characters hit these walls defining the profession really quickly.

Because the primary way of defining a spell casting class in rolemaster (all flavours) is through the base lists available to them in RM2 we ended up with about 70 professions if you used every single class in every single rolemaster expansion and companion. I suspect that RMU will rapidly go the same way.

It is interesting, I thought that the most heated discussions on magic both occured at about the same time but as they say Spring is  meant to be the most magical time of the year!

Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun

Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun is a major player in the culture of Waterdeep. He is described in the source material as interfering in events often years into the future. To this end ‘my’ Blackstaff is going to be a Seer.

The sourcebooks describe him as just a ‘magic user’ but Rolemaster gives you plenty of different types of magic user to choose from. There are three realms of magic. The Eassence is Mystra’s Weave, Channeling is power derived from your god or deity and mentalism is that inner magic controlled by the mind of the caster. We are in Jedi territory with the mentalists!

Eassence is proably the most overtly powerful magic, this is where you will find your fireballs and lightning bolts and such. The three core magic users of this realm are the magician, illusionist and alchemist.

Channeling includes your cleric, animist (druidic type) and the healer. All Channeling casters have access to some level of healing magic with Clerics being able to raise the dead and healers instantly healing the wounded by taking the injury on themselves and then healing themselves with their magic.

Khelben “Blackstaff”Arunsun

Mentalists focus on the mind and bodily control for the most part. Their magic rarely effects more than one target at once and can be more subtle. The mentalists have a healer called a Lay healer and a Seer who can work with past and future knowledge. This is where I want to put Khelben Arunsun.

Don’t think for one second that a Seer is a push over. Mentalists are great ones for Telekinesis and he can easily pick up objects and throw them across the room with devastating effect (don’t think vase of flowers, think ripping up a cobble stone and throwing that 300′).

There were more options for my Khelben. In addition to those nine options Rolemaster has three ‘hybrid’ magic users that straddle different realms to give us a sorcerer, mystic and astrologer. These are really fun to play and Mystic was a really strong contender when considering this NPC. In Rolemaster terms Khelben is 39th level which does give a lot of scope.

It was while I was developing Khelben that it occured to me that although creating NPCs is a great way to learn the basics of any roleplaying game, for a new game master creating a 39th level character is not the best way to start. I would strongly recommend creating a fist full of lower level characters before tackling anything like these more powerful NPCs.

I would also say for NPCs don’t fall into the trap of always going for Magicans and Clerics as stock magic users. If you mix it up a bit and use the entire spectrum then you players will never know quite what is going to hit them next.