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:
- Make the divination result vague enough to be virtually meaningless
- 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?