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?

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”.

Three Wheels On My Wagon

I am intrigued by ITDs critical tables. I have never seen them but it came up recently in a discussion on on armour by the piece that there are different critical tables by location and only three locations; limbs, head and body.

For me the only piece of RM that has to be retained is the critical; everything else has to earn its place at the table. If it is more effort that it adds to the game I am inclined to cut or replace it.

Despite my slash and burn approach to rules I am mostly still following the roll your dice, find the right table, look up the roll and roll your critical procedure.

In all the companions and discussions I have never seen a superior system. I don’t care about the #hits, the rounds of stun, the bleeding or whatever. It is the wit and dark humour I like and the graphic descriptions of wounds. You will never get that with 1d8 damage. Decades ago rolling a 20 and getting double damage used to excite me but “Your bolt goes right through his temple and stands there quivering. Astonishingly enough, he’s still standing. But any attempt to remove it will kill him instantly. +25 hits, stunned no parry 2 rnds and bleeding 12 hits/rnd.” is a level above.

I have a half formed diceless RM combat system and I have an outline for HARP/FATE bastardised system. That uses the HARP critical tables and FATE dice and has a working title of FART.

FART is really good fun and fast to play. It just needs some time spent on it writing it up and putting it out there to the FATE community. The mission objective would be to hook FATE players into trying RMU once it is released. It is my understanding that FATE is one of the most successful games of recent years but despite that you will never get to put your crossbow bolt into someone’s head.

So we have ripped just about everything apart recently on here. What, in your perfect combat system, are the absolutely non-negotiable elements?

Maximizing Essaence Flows in your Shadow World campaign

One of the more distinctive attributes of Kulthea is the presence of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci. From the original Loremaster modules to the more recent Shadow World books, Essaence manifestations have shaped cultures and history, provided a raison d’etre for the Navigator Guilds and added a unique flavor to the campaign world. In the earlier Loremaster modules the Flows seem to be more ubiquitous; splitting and separating regions and isolating pocket cultures throughout Jaiman. Not only was this a great campaign hook, but provided a “sensible” explanation for the disparate cultures, races and even climates within a relatively small geographic area.

In later Non-Canon SW modules, the Flows seemed minimized and moved to the background when they should have been kept as a prime actor in the ongoing SW narrative. Essaence Flows should be seen as an essential NPC in SW campaigns: always present, unpredictable, and frequently impacting the storyline and gameplay. Flows are one of Shadow World’s differentiators from so many other game settings, but it’s easy for a GM to ignore them while managing the game, PC’s and game plot.

Essaence manifestations can play a number of roles in gameplay:

  1. Disruptor. A sudden and dangerous Essaence storm can change things quickly! PC’s or enemies may be forced to flee or find cover. Spellcasters may be drained of needed PP’s or find casting to be too unpredictable due to the fluctuating power.
  2. Limiter. A temporary or permanent Essaence wall can block PC’s from travelling to certain areas that the GM is unprepared, too dangerous for the group to explore or to create an obstacle for the group to overcome.
  3. Balancer. A Foci can provide PC’s with added Power Points needed to overcome a more powerful adversary or replace spent PP’s to allow the PC to continue the battle. An Essaence storm could hamper a powerful spell casting opponent or agent of the Unlife.
  4. Re-locator. Essaence storms can have spatial or temporal vortexes to move PC’s to a new place or time! If you want to avoid a time consuming trip or introduce the PC’s to a distant point on Kulthea than a temporary portal could do the trick! Additionally, you could move the PC’s back or forward in the SW timeline!

Not only do Essaence effects add great flavor to the game but they inject a constant randomness that plays much different than typically fantasy RPG’s.  If you aren’t maximizing the use of Flows, Storms and Foci in your SW game then here are a few suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Make sure that Essaence effects are included in your random encounter tables. If you are using tables that aren’t SW specific or don’t have Essaence effects included, than replace a category with them. Or if there is a “No Encounter” result than use Essaence effects instead.
  2. If you aren’t using random encounter tables than make it a point to include at least 1 effect per day to reinforce it’s presence to the players.
  3. Remember, not all effects have to be serious. A faint odor of ozone, a “tingling” or a slight power surge remind players that they are dealing with an unpredictable and dangerous power.
  4. The more Essaence Flows appear in your game the more helpful Navigators will appear. While “Jumps” might be prohibitively expensive, the PC’s will probably need to hire a Navigator to bypass an Essaence Wall or traverse a particularly dangerous route. This also a great money sink to keep excess wealth from accruing!
  5. Many notable places (temples, fortresses, holy sites etc) are found at or near Essaence Foci. The Foci could have beneficial, harmful or unpredictable effects on magic within its radius or even different magical “rules”. (ie no Force spells, or double power Elemental effects) This can make an “ordinary” dungeon crawl into a unique adventure experience!

Those are just a few ideas for maximizing the use of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci in your Shadow World campaign.

One last thought. I would recommend a book that came out in 1977 that I feel gives a small taste of what Essaence Flows could be like in your SW campaign.  Check it out: Time-Storm by Gordon R. Dickson.