Summary of Miscellaneous Musings on Spell Law, BASiL and RM Magic.

53 Chaos' Magical Languages ideas | runes, book of shadows, ancient symbols

With RMu seemingly close to release, I’ve left my BASiL project on the back burner for quite some time. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m focusing more on game content rather than rules or rule hacks. Rolemaster & Shadow World needs more game support, not more Companions or optional rules. Plus, I’ve found everyone is fairly set in their ways using their own house rules, are waiting for RMu, or I rapidly change my own house rules as I progress. In fact, my participation here on the Rolemasterblog has slowly shifted me to more “rule light” than my previous drift to rule density. I like grittiness but am pushing back on complexity.

Eladans participation here on the RMBlog and over at the Forums, has re-opened some of the broader discussions on spells, lists, base lists and spell functioning. I had some thoughts rolling around, so I thought I would excise them via a blog post! An older summary can be found HERE.

  1. Revisting Spell Law Mechanics.
  2. Essence. Mechanics. The skill bonus is the appropriate Magical Language Skill. You can read more thoughts on this HERE.
  3. Channeling. You can read some thoughts HERE, and I’ve written extensively on this blog about channeling.
  4. Mentalism. I probably tinker with Mentalism more than any other “realm”. Here are my last thoughts about this. There were some comments and concerns about the impact of concentration on gameplay. Lately, I’ve been allowing the total number of spell levels cast not to exceed the total ranks in Mental Focus. So 10 ranks of Mental Focus would allow the caster to have 10 1st level spells “running” or 2 5th lvl spells etc. It’s less complicated but still models the appeal of “partitioning” that comes from Mental Focus.
  5. Notational Magic. Eladan’s posts over on the Forums, made me revisit some of my thoughts on Notational magic. You can read my original post HERE.
  6. Investiture/Enchanting. I haven’t done a deep dive on my solutions for imbedding and creating magical items. Mostly because the spell lists are fairly simple, much of the sausage making takes place out of game time and I built a very simple system for making magic items in game time. Some thoughts can be found HERE.
  7. Rendered/Performance Magic. I haven’t written much about this at all. First I need to put a lot more time into this, it’s potentially the most complex and interesting realm and it could add a lot of new magical layers to the Spell Law system. The concept of magic as performance is not new or novel, but utilizing it in gameplay can be.

This is just a summary of a handful of relevant posts I’ve made over the last 5 years! My thoughts and views evolve, but I always enjoy other thinking “outside the box”!

The colors of magic in Shadow World.

Chaos Magic and The Pagan Year | The Blog of Baphomet

I can’t recall when visible colors we added to the Shadow World setting, each color or “tinged colors” assigned to the various realms, hybrid realms and aspected magic (evil spell lists). I think it was one of the Master Atlas editions but I would also guess it was included in one of the Rolemaster Companions as well? (If anyone knows feel free to comment.)

For reference, some of the language in the Master Atlas:

The Colors of Magic
Most common of the three realms, Essence colors are based
on the rainbow of light. The colors are more down-to-earth, as
would be expected for a power which comes from the earth itself.

Other colors:
Blue: The purest Magic, often associated with the Iylari. Its appearance would be more common than ‘good’ Channeling except in powerful magic items created by pure Alchemists.
Green: More suspect than golden Channeling, Green Essence implies a certain selfishness or impurity of spirit. Certainly not evil, but not necessarily to be trusted as a brother, either.
Red: Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.

So when I first encounted this concept I was intrigued and I rather liked it. But now I am of two minds:

  1. It’s cinematic. As a GM any flavor or dressing is helpful to the narrative, especially during combat which can turn quickly into rolling dice and rote damage recitation. I think one of the enduring appeals of RM critical tables are the actual critical descriptions–they too are cinematic in nature and were more interesting than D&D roll 1d8. The visual spell manifestation also works well with Terry’s writing: both the vignettes and in his fiction.
  2. It adds flavor to the Shadow World setting. While spell law gets accolades for the sheer number of spells, they are often considered “dry” both in names and in effects. Certainly different than the Vancian spell types established by Gygax. Adding spell colors gives additional depth to spellcasting and density to the concept of the Essaence.


  1. It breaks Spell Law and render some spells obsolete. There are spell lists in all 3 realms that allow a caster to detect a spell’s realm, it’s type or even specifics. Having color codes for realms, alignment and even type eliminates the need for some analysis spells.
  2. There is a bit of “alignment language” imputed into colored magic. For instance: “Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.” Should the GM hide the red hue of an evil caster for narrative purposes? Spell trickery or mastery may allow a caster to “hide the hue”, but isn’t this just adding complexity where it isn’t needed?
  3. Meta gaming. Providing a visual reference allows imparts important spell information to the players–even non-caster PCs who may not “know” anything about magic even if the player does.
  4. It feels a bit simplistic and “young adult”. Good magic is “white” bad magic is red with black tinges, neutral magic is green etc.

What do you think? Do you use colors of magic? Something similar?

Spell Law Deconstruction: Building Spell Lists to 50th lvl.

Image result for spell law

Now that I’m posting up some more spell lists–Mentalism primarily, I’m tracking comments and feedback on the forums and here at RMBlog. The number one issue I see is the desire for spell list reductionism, maybe build 10 spells per “list” and allow for creative scalability similar to or identical to HARP.

That is a compelling thought, but after writing a ton of spell lists I wanted to put my own thoughts in order.

  1. Distillation. Rebuilding classic RM spell lists typically requires some trimming. Many spells within a list are redundant: not just the spells that progress as I, II, III etc, but different named spells that do similar things. Distilling the essence of a list can really reduce the total number of spells which makes a scalable spell system very appealing!
  2. Spell scope. I’m not a fan of kitchen sink style spell lists, but do see a fundamental difference between the realms. Essence should be very tightly focused around a key aspect, Channeling should allow for much more variability based on the particular god and I see Mentalism lists following a shared mental mechanism. Using these basic rules provides different ways to build lists in different realms.
  3. Compatibility. A major motivation to maintain the 1-50th spell lists is basic compatibility with RM and Shadow World.
  4. Built in scalability. Many of my lists are built around 3-6 spells, that progress from I-V and maybe include a mass effect. If each spell repeats every 5 levels that takes up a chunk of the list, but also gives a repetitive appearance that seem suitable for scaling. However, the spell versions don’t just scale progressively, but change in target size, AoE, Range and other aspects that provide “more bang for the buck”. General scaling assumes increased power point cost/expansion of range, area, damage etc. So from an efficiency standpoint, higher versions of the spells in BASiL provide a better impact/PP than just linear scaling. “Spell II” isn’t just 2x better than “Spell I”, it can be 3x better or have expanded efficacy or powers as well.
  5. Opportunity and tactical cost. By having built in scaling, players can use higher or lower level spells based on the target, PP consumption and risk/reward calculations. Of course, that’s also one argument for Scaling spells, but the PP usage will be much different per #4 above.
  6. Level assignment. One of the more difficult aspects of designing a spell list is deciding what level to make a spell. Part of me wants to calculate an estimated “power cost”, while other times I’m thinking of utility and game balance. For instance, the big three: Charm, Fly and Invisibility can be very unbalancing to the game, but perhaps shouldn’t be based on “power needed” or some other arbitrary assessment. Some lists just can’t be distilled into 10 spells with scaling options. Some spells need to be higher level to reflect their real power and also make them unavailable to lower level players.
  7. Vertical versus horizontal acquisition. RM (and probably RMU) is build around horizontal model of spell acquisition. Generally players will know more spell lists than overall spell levels. For instance, a 5th lvl caster may have access to 5-10 lists but can only effectively cast to 5th level without risk of failure. In BASiL, it’s the opposite. I use a levelless system so players generally know a few spell lists to higher level. That gives them more powerful, niche abilities. It’s just the way I like my game to run–hard specialization versus the generalization of RAW.
  8. Keystone spells. I still like cool spells that can be found at 10th, 20th and certainly 50th level. I try to add something unique or interesting at these levels for players to look forward too, or to give the list a “bump”!

I guess sticking with RM I wanted to improve on the originally 35+ year old Spell Law and incorporate spell ideas and powers introduced since then. But if I were to start over, I would take a hard look at a HARP scalable system. Or maybe just use HARP rules?

Many of you also build your own spell lists. Do you have build guidelines, mechanistic philosophies or other design criteria that help you in the process?

Three Tales of Ranger Magic.

Several days ago, Peter blogged about the Ranger and then Hurin responded with his own blog post and thoughts on the Ranger. Since they both weighed in, how I could resist not adding my own ideas on the Ranger! Since there have been two previous posts, why not “Three Tales of the Ranger”? ( a subtle reference to the writings of Elor Once Dark and the three tales of Tor’lan p. 26)?

Peter. First let me tackle a few items from their posts. Peter, while you titled it regarding RMU, you also needed to drag in a 20 year old spell list from RM Companion to flesh out the Ranger. Fair enough, but that allows me to utilize other non-RMU spell lists for my own Ranger build! Yes?

Hurin. Welcome to the club! While you fully didn’t embrace “no-profession” in your post, you clearly embraced the spirit of flexible chargen. Your story about your Thief character that had convincingly played as a “Scout”, “Ranger” and even a “Paladin” is great anecdotal evidence that skills define the character and not an arbitrary profession designation! If your Thief was spending DP’s on spells, transcend armor and other non-core skills is he really a Thief? I also appreciate your eagerness to adopt Mentalism or Essence realms to build your ideal character. With some type of no-profession philosophy you can build whatever type of PC you want; and call him whatever you want. You didn’t transcend armor, you transcended class tropes! Congrats!

While I don’t use standard professions and build off a profession DP template, it’s easy to build a “Ranger” in my ruleset. Not only build a “Ranger”, but virtually any type of Ranger or subclass concept the player wants. However, I’m not going to dive into skill minutia, but instead define a Ranger via spell lists as Peter and Hurin have done. Luckily, I have a whole slew of non-ICE spells to choose from, that were designed for exactly this type of flexibility: BASiL Channeling! And guess what–they are non system, general d100 spells that could be PUBLISHED shortly for any d100 system.

But wait, doesn’t that conflict with some game company IP? NO.


First, I wanted to address my personal issues with RMU Spell Law/Ranger lists. These are my opinions, not mean to be criticism since RMU was meant to be the gentle arbiter of all RM and ICE conflict.

Beastly Ways. Generally I think this is a great list and improvement from RM Spell Law. First, I’m not sure it’s “Ranger” spell list as I conceptualize the profession. Druid? Sure. Beastmaster? Absolutely. Shaman. Of course. I think it needs some tinkering and I would use SW specific names (rather than Terran animals). Definitely could be treated as a Mentalism or Essence list as well.

Inner Walls. Another improved list and a good generalist list for any spell caster. I think there are some small logic errors and OOP spells: Sterilization which affects other than the caster, and Martial Wall should have some logical mechanism for it’s implementation.

Moving Ways. Great spell list and probably what I would consider the “Core” list of the Ranger concept: it has to do with travel, movement and traversal. I would tinker with it and the 50th lvl spell “Submarine Ways” is a horrible 50th level spell. (allows a 50th lvl caster to swim 50 miles w/o fatigue!!!! WOW!!!!). That should be a 10th lvl or under spell. The 35th lvl spell Distance Running should be a 5th lvl spell–especially with groups that don’t focus on fatigue mechanisms.

Nature’s Guises. Good conceptually, but really just a grab bag of ideas. Not sure what 3rd lvl “Freeze” is doing in this list (should be in a “Nature’s Manipulation” list, and “Animal Thought” is a bit of an oddity as well-That should be in “Natures Communing”). Pruned and tightened up a bit and it’s a great spell list that would work for a Ranger, Shaman, Druid or Animist–if you even think there is a needed mechanistic difference between those classes!

Pathmastery. This is another list that seems tailor made for a type of Ranger. Again, there are some outlier spells that don’t fit thematically in the list: Nature’s Tongue comes to mind. I’m also not a fan of bonus to skill spells. It just feels lazy and it undermines the value of the underlying skill itself. At third level a +50 bonus to Tracking? Why would the player even bother with taking more than a handful of tracking skill ranks at lower levels?

Survival’s Way. This is a solid spell list with some problems. Again, bonus to skill spells like the 3rd lvl Wound Tending I find problematic. How does that work? Does it bestow knowledge to the caster? Better coordination? A steady hand? Divine intervention? Also the 35th lvl Adaption should be moved to the “Inner Walls” spell list.

To be clear, these RMU Beta lists seem like a solid improvement over past Spell Law iterations. If there is a requirement for 6 base lists it will suffice. However I feel that a this archetype needs around 2-3 lists: some type of Moving Ways, Pathmaster and Survial Ways. All three RMU lists above need tweeking but certainly act as a foundation for the character trope. Looking at the remaining lists, I would combine some of the spells in Survival’s Way into Pathmastery and Inner Walls, move the Change spells into Natures Guises and Beastly Ways and maybe make a new list Natures Commune for plant/animal speech, thoughts, control and mastery.

BASiL “Ranger” Lists.

So writing this blog to the “Ranger Series” of blog posts, I hadn’t reviewed my BASiL channeling in several years (working on Mentalism final revisions). Luckily, these changes were prior to RMU Beta spell lists. I’m going back to review and revise, but this was a great opportunity to analyze them after several years!

While I purposefully didn’t organize BASiL to track with Open, Closed or Base–it’s fairly evident that it can easily follow along with this process. So for a “Ranger”, “Druid”, “Animist”, “Beastmaster”, “Pathfinder”, “Scout”, “Warden”, “Hunt Master”, “Shaman”, “Witch”, “Forest Wizard”, “Path Blazer”, “Elf”, “Liberal”, “Eco-Terrorist” or any similar ridiculous class or profession name, these are the following BASiL core spells:

Natures Guises. This is a cleaned up version we discussed above. Discarded nonconforming spells, adjusted powers to level and attempted to increase utility of ALL spells in the list (rather than meaningless placeholders.) All these spells are about concealment, disguise, misdirection etc.

Natures Lore. This spell list consolidates “Divination” style spells for the Ranger or similar class. Spells are entirely informational or predictive.

Natures Defenses. This spell is purely self-reliant, with all spells about personal survival and protection vs. disease, poison, tainted food and water or extremes of temperature or elements.

I think these are CORE spells for any “Nature” style character. However, if I wanted to add some more specific powers that seem Ranger specific:

Natures Movements. This is a cleaned up and focused “movement list” for a Ranger. It covers different terrains: water, ground, air (not just a forest ranger from Tolkien!)

Locating Ways. This is meant to be the core locating power of a Ranger, Bounty Hunter (fantasy Mandalorian!), Beastmaster, Detective etc. There is a light overlap with Nature’s Lore, but far less than the overlap and redundancy of RM spell lists. None of these spells devalue, replace or simply add a bonus to RM skills.

Finally: though not really “Ranger”. Weather Mastery. This is more a Druid/Animist or Nature Cleric style spell, but depending on the campaign or setting could be used by a Ranger type for some weather and elemental control.

So this is just a classic Ranger build. If you want more Tolkien I would add a lesser healing spell list, lower level weapon rune spell list or even a lesser fire law list! (all can be found on BASiL spell lists btw). If you want a more martial Ranger, I would replace a few lists with some Mentalism lists for Warriors, Monks, Disciplars, Weapon Masters, Erudites etc :

So, lots of options, cleaned up spell lists, flexibility to build YOUR idea of a Ranger AND a real functional Ranger. Whatever that means to you! That is my Third Tale of the Ranger for the!

Rolemaster Spell Law. 5 problematic spell lists.

I thought I would stir things up a bit and do a quick blog on what I consider the most problematic spell lists found in the early version of Spell Law. I’m going to refer back to Spell Law #1200 which is the punched up version of Spell Law from RM2. Now that I am fiddling with a 4th iteration of BASiL I had a chance to review my original notes and comments.

Obviously this is just  my opinion and I’m not suggesting that these lists have merit–I’m sure I could make a counter-argument on the utility of these spell lists as well. However, in the process of re-writing spell lists, I found spells and many lists that were marginal, needed quite a bit of re-jiggering or some just beyond salvaging. In fact, I found real issues with virtually EVERY spell list in Spell Law! What started as a rewrite of just a few problematic ones turned into BASiL–a full renovation of the spell lists. So while I can point out issues in every list, here are my top 5 problematic lists:

#5 Weather Ways. Channeling Open. Problem: Needs a complete re-write.

At first glance, this list would seem to have quite a bit of utility and be an automatic for Druids and Rangers. On closer inspection though, there just aren’t that many useful spells here–and there are only 16 spells to begin with! First off, the first quasi useful spell doesn’t occur until 7th level: Breeze Call. The 1st spell is about as bad as the famed “Boil Water”: “Living Gauge” allows the caster to know the EXACT TEMPERATURE of the surrounding atmosphere!!!! The next three spells are various predictions: rain, storm and weather. The problem of course, is that the GM will need to decide what the weather will be over the next 24 hours in order for these spells to have any real value. So it probably becomes a self-fulfilling function where the GM has to set the future weather to provide a spell result.  Plus, do you need to break down the difference in predicting rain, storms and weather via individual spells? Can’t you just have “Predict Weather”? So once you simplify the various prediction spells you are left with 7 spells: Fog Call, Precip Call, Wind Mastery, Clear Skies, Rain Call, Storm Call and Weather Mastery. 3 of those are 20th+ level so won’t be used in 80% of play. You can see my solution HERE. (needs a RM Forum user name).

#4 Way of the Voice & Far Voice. Astrologer Base. Problem: Redundancy, thematic confusion.

I always thought the Astrologer profession was very cool–certainly different than any other classic fantasy profession that I had encountered back then. Of course one problem is that it implies a specific setting or magic mechanic around “star power”, but that’s easy to ignore.  The Astrologer spell lists Way of the Voice and Far Voice are so similar in concept that they are just begging to either be consolidated or further differentiated. The most obvious issue is Mind Speech and Mind Voice. Mind Speech allows the caster to broadcast thoughts while Mind Voice allows the caster to mentally speak with a being. Mind Speech allows broadcasting to all within the radius and Mind Voice is only 1 target.  Mind Voice is 2nd level and Mind Speech is 7th lvl.  Mind Voice basically does the same thing as Mind Speech plus has the added ability of 2 way communication. Given it’s name, the list “Way of the Voice” should actually focus on “Voice” spells and yet there are only 4 spells that do: speech, suggestion, voice of command and word of command. The rest are all “mind” spells. “Far Voice” is almost all Mind Voice spells except for one outlier: 20th lvl “Lord Voice” that allows the caster’s voice to be heard up to 100’/lvl away. So I would move that spell to Way of the Voice, and port over the Mind Speech spells. Overall, there is at least one good spell list or two  distinct ones.

#3 Plant Mastery. Animist Base. Problem: WTF?

I don’t even know where to start with this spell list. Like Alchemist spells, this list doesn’t add a lot of utility in actual game play; it’s more suited for downtime or just reinforcing the profession’s premise. But then the actual spells are confusing or utterly useless. Let’s look at the 2nd lvl spell Speed Growth. It increases the speed of growth for 1 species of plant within radius by 10x. So it speeds up growth 10 days in a 1 day period. Then 2 lvls later the growth rate is 100x! That makes more sense, but under what conditions is this even useful? Herbs? Are GM’s populating healing herb seedlings for added realism? Then we have Plant Growth: the spell doubles the size of any 1 plant. It requires 1 day of growth…but…then states that the plant when fully mature will be double its normal size. So does this mean that it will eventually grow to twice it’s size, or it grows to be twice it’s size in a single day? So it’s speed growth AND size growth? Or, if the plant is already mature it doubles in size in 1 day? It’s very confusing and while cool to grow trees to 10x their normal size, if it takes a normal growth period then it loses quite a bit of in game efficacy.  Solution: complete rewrite!!!

#2 Spell Reins. Essence Closed. Problem: Poor mechanics.

This could be a great spell list, but as is, it’s poorly executed. There are 3 spells on this list: Spell Hold, Spell Bending and Reverse Spell. All are great concepts and mostly work, but there is some confusion as well. Spell Hold will delay a spell for X rounds and the target spell gets an RR. Simple enough? Then there is this odd “movement” rule built in that says that if the target caster moves more than 20′ (that’s pretty random) then the delayed spell will instead target a random person within 10′ of the target caster. This needlessly complicates the spell. Spell Bending is also more complicated than it needs to be. Basically the caster can deflect a Elemental spell from it’s target, modifying it by -10/10% failure. I’m assuming the target spell makes the RR and not the caster? It says the spell is deflected up to 10′ but I’m not sure why that’s important–the important mechanic is the penalty incurred  to the attack. It’s an instantaneous spell, but it’s not clear how a caster would react that quickly after SEEING a elemental attack cast. Would they have time? Would they need to be waiting/Opportunity action? I’m not sure I like the RR mechanic here. Why not treat it like Bladeturn or Deflection and just apply a fixed penalty that increases with the spell level? Finally we have Reverse Spells. The attack spell makes an RR or is reversed to it’s caster. That’s simple, but it’s still a instantaneous spell and would require the caster to anticipate or see the spell coming. I think all of these spells work better with a duration to avoid that reaction mechanic. One last thought it to merge these three spells into the Dispelling Ways list (which could be trimmed as well) to make a single cool “counter spell/magic” list.

#1 Spell Enhancement. Essence Closed. Problem: Too powerful and not necessary.

12 spells. Out of a possible 23. Not a lot of bang for your buck, so what do you actually get? An ill conceived list that breaks the whole spell mechanic. Basically there are only 3 spells on this list: Extension, which increases spell duration, Ranging which increases it’s range and the 50th lvl Permanent spell that’s completely insane since there is NO level limit on the spell that can be made permanent! Ignoring that bit of crazy, let’s look at the first two. The caster casts this spell first and then it affects another spell that is cast in the next 3 rounds (allowing for Class III casting times I’m assuming). It’s a spell that improves another spell. But how? Spell scaling via PP expenditure is much simpler and makes more sense. Let’s look at Firebolt. The 6th lvl has a range of 100′ and the next one at 11th lvl has a range of 300′. So 5 PP’s to get a +200′ increase. In Spell Enhancement, the Ranging +200 is a 15th lvl spell!!! Ouch! Not a lot of value in the Ranging spells, but how about the Extensions. x2 Duration in only a 3rd level spell! That is a crazy good deal for any spell 4th lvl or higher and only get’s better as the spell level increases. Why cast a 20th lvl spell twice in a row for 40 PP’s when you can cast Extension II and the spell for 23 PP’s and get the same duration. This is broken. Spell Law already establishes a clear linear progression of ranges and duration in it’s spells in almost every spell list. This breaks that concept, it’s unnecessary and isn’t even a good value in terms of the # of spells and the cost of using them. Solution: get rid of the list.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any lists that you find problematic? Has RMU solved many of the Spell Law problems? Is there a spell list you like or dislike? Let’s debate!!!


Rolemaster Profession Review: taking another look at the Shaman.

The original Rolemaster probably ignored a few key class tropes in their original work. Paladins comes to mind of course, but in my mind one of the most important is the  Shaman!

If Clerics/Priests are defined as members of an organized religion, than perhaps we can define a Shaman as a leader of a decentralized or non-organized religion.  Maybe the society or group worships a local god, or a real god under an avatistic identity, but the belief system lacks the more coherent structure and trappings of an organized religious institution. If you are gaming in a “classic” fantasy setting, you’ll probably have, or encounter a variety of primitive societies: Orcs, Goblins, barbaric tribes etc.  These groups will most definitely have  a version of a “Cleric”, but different than the type found in Rolemaster that casts Absolutions and Channels.

A Shaman can make a great foe or adversary for the PC’s. They can have a interesting mixture of spells that give them offensive and defensive capabilities, and they could even be designed as a Hybrid caster to allow them access to Essence or Mentalism. This can keep the players on their toes if they are expecting the Shaman to use the “same old” Cleric Base lists!

The Shaman’s spell lists should be defined by the particulars of the culture. A Orc Shaman should have different spell lists than the Shaman of a barbaric jungle people. The Rolemaster Companion offered up “totems” and “animal spirit” lists for the Shaman, but I find that too culturally defining while creating clunky spell mechanics. What’s probably required is to create a number of different Shaman types whose spells reflect the needs and belief system of the culture.

Here are a few ideas or templates from Shaman that I’ve used in my SW campaign:

Kuriis Truthsayers act as tribal guides, healers and priests and stay loosely united through their ability to communicate with one another over long distances.These people worship “Shral”, which is a hybrid of Shaal and Ulya Sheck (the ostensible Empress of the region).

Profession: Using RM I would classify them as either Pure with some flexibility on lists or Hybrid using Channeling & Mentalism.

Base Lists:

  • Simple Imbed. The Truthsayers wears many charms and fetishes and will make them for the community when needed. These charms are usually necklaces and bracelets made from colorful and iridescent shells.
  • “Water Law”. As followers of Shaal/Neela, Truthsayers have access to Water elemental list(s). I use Command Water from my BASiL lists.
  • “Divinations”. I use Visions from BASiL: Channeling.
  • “Far Voice”: The Truthsayers have the Astrologer base list that they use to communicate with one another.
  • Natures Defenses: From BASiL: Channeling.

Vakshs Rune Priestesses. The Vakshs are cannabilistic Eritera living in the Jungles of Chaal-Chu. They have powerful Priestesses that use Rune Magic: magical tattoos embedded all over their bodies.

Profession. Use Cleric/Priest or Hybrid Channeling/Essence

Base Lists: All of the Priestesses magic is derived from permanent tattoos inscribed into their skin. They have a mixture of Evil Cleric and Evil Mentalism plus access to the Demonic Gate & Mastery spells plus some contingent powers in their Runes:

  • Skin Runes. The Rune Priests are covered in potent
    tattooes that provide “contingent” protection, Daily X
    and regular spells casting. The particular rune will glow
    red when activated.
    Constant: Fear 1st lvl to 20’.
    Contingent (activate automatically): Stun Relief III; Deflect I; Bladeturn I
    Daily V: Question; Mind Speech; Light Eruption; Vision

Shaman Warrior. These Shaman can be used in primitive martial tribes/cultures: Lugroki, Goblins, Barbarians etc. They have competent spell-casting ability but are also combat effective.

Profession: Semi. Use Ranger skill costs.

Base Spell Lists: If the culture follows the Unlife or Dark Gods, they’ll have some aspected list or Demon Gate/Mastery. Other ideas:

Those are just 3 ideas for creating more interesting “Shamans” in your game world. Of course, our house rules allow much more flexibility in character creation and mixing spell lists, but GM’s shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match lists to make the Shaman fit the culture. Channelers especially should have some variety as their Gods can and should provide the spell ability!

For more primitive cultures that lack formal educational systems, Shaman may be the only significant spellcasters in those societies–they should have a mixture of lists that provide best for their people and reflect the environment and belief systems.  Shaman with a creative mix of capabilities can be great opponents for you group–or interesting PC’s!!



Rolemaster Spell Law Deconstruction.

If you follow the Rolemaster threads or the RMU threads you’ll see people  asking for clarification on a certain spell, list or spell mechanic. With so many spells, various realms and lots of companion spell lists, it’s not surprising that the Spell Law edifice is showing a few cracks after 30+ years. For me that started the process of “deconstruction”–tearing down Spell Law and looking at it from a unbiased and objective mindset.

Examining RM from an outside perspective is hard, especially after playing it for almost 35 years. Us older players perceive Rolemaster through “incrementalism”: a slow gradual process of accepting new rules, add-ons, discussions and analysis that occurred over decades. Rolemaster now is the result of layering new rules onto older accepted ones–even if the original rules don’t stand up to new scrutiny or are not needed since RM has transitioned past its role as a D&D bolt on.

Every time I sit down and work on spell lists, I discover some new issue, opportunity or conflict that I want to tackle to rebuild my spell system to something newer, better and more consistent. I have 5 rough spell law “issue groups” that I have pinned to my work space for easy reference. These are:

  1. Thematic or mechanical inconsistencies
  2. Exceptions to established rules.
  3. Bonuses for compound actions.
  4. Realm incompatibilities.
  5. Form vs function.

I use these to test spells and lists. What Realm should they be assigned? How does the spell work? Is it structurally consistent? What is the casting mechanism? Does it work using Rolemaster rules or does it require a one-off rule?

What are some examples of “broken” spells? (this is just my opinion!)

Bladeturn. Few spells garner as much discussion as the Bladeturn spells. But rather than contort mechanics to make the spell actually work in the game, how about we examine the spell fundamentals. Here are a few issues:

  1. Do the various Bladeturn spells work with the Shield  or Blur spell on the same list? Clearly Turn/Deflect works as some type of telekinetic process, while Shield is a energy manifestation and Blur is a visual distortion. So while they can be grouped thematically as a “defense list”, I would argue they don’t quite fit together mechanistically.
  2. Spell Law spent a lot of rule making energy establishing  class I-III for casting times and makes a case for a vocal and nonvocal components to casting. Given that, how do you then justify “instantaneous” spells? Essence casting requires 1-3 rounds, vocalization, hand gestures to cast…except a handful of spells littered throughout the Essence lists. That’s consistent. The reason Bladeturn is instantaneous is that it HAS TO BE, for the spell to work as intended.
  3. Even accepting the rule exception of instantaneous Essence spells, RM describes a melee roll as representing a “flurry of blows”. How then does an instant, specific bladeturn work when there is no discrete, single swing or stroke of a weapon that can be identified as “the one that hits” within an abstract combat round?

Solutions. I have come up with my own in BASiL, but a couple of quick ideas: incorporate Bladeturn/Deflect spells into the Essence Hand list where they belong; change its mechanistic underpinning. For instance, call it “Slow Blade” so it works within the context of a “flurry of blows”.

How about Charm, Sleep and the whole Spirit Mastery list? I’ve commented on this before, but if you look through the Essence lists there are few, if any, other lists that work on the “spirit”, “conscious” or “mind” of a target. Does this list even belong in Essence? Of course the answer is that D&D established the principle that Magic-Users were to have Charm and Sleep spell, and so too Rolemaster.

How about Lofty Bridge? Does Leave/Jump/Teleport work on the same principles as Flying, Landing or Leaping? Again, half the spells work as “gating/teleporting”, while the other through telekinetic or motive energy. While they are arguably both types of “transportation” spells,  it seems illogical to have a spell list comprised of spells using very different mechanics.

What about spells that give bonuses to skills or actions? How does this work mechanically? Combat is a compound action–a confluence of skill (ranks), natural ability (stats) and other modifiers. What is this spell affecting? Does the spell guide the hand that holds the sword? Does it make the sword sharper? The swordsmen’s strength higher? Their agility improves? Any one of these could be a good mechanic, but aren’t explained. Why make spells that require so much hand-waving when Rolemaster is a system that rewards realism?

A few other ideas to improve Spell Law:

  1. Consolidate Spell Reins and Spell Enhancement. Spell Reins has 11 open slots, Enhancement only has 12 spells. Both deal with manipulating spell effects.
  2. Combine Physical Enhancement with Living Change but dump the “Merge” Spells.

Peter has blogged about his own spell system–basically it allows players to organically “grow” a list from 1st level using spell research. I’m assuming Peter requires some internal consistency when players develop a list, otherwise why wouldn’t they just build one dream list of: 1. Sleep 2. Shock Bolt 3. Fly 4. Charm. 5. Fireball 6 etc….


So interestingly, while I like how Peter approaches spell development, I think it would be difficult to encapsulate into a rules system–it’s too loose. However, Peter’s system is basically how I write new spell lists!

Once you start deconstructing and re-examining Spell Law, areas of improvement are both numerous and fairly obvious. But in the end, few people have the time or energy to fiddle around and make large revisions to Spell Law.

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.

Setting or Unsettling?

Brian recently touched upon the need for Rolemaster to fully commit to Shadow World as its default setting. I am 100% behind this idea.

It is obvious from Brian’s deconstructions that as soon as you start to look critically as Spell Law that the amount of setting specific magic is far greater than one would have given credit for initially. This will always be most pronounced in the Channelling realm as gods have a big role to play in most fantasy settings. That then throws up the issue of why is a cleric of a fire god just as good at healing as a god of healing?

I think it was in Rolemaster Companion IV that they introduced deity specific base lists and I have been using them ever since. For most of my games I have not had a problem with Clerics being broken.

The first version of Spell Law that I used was the blue text with the naff handwritten font. I wasn’t comic sans but it was not far off. Apart from lay out improvements I don’t think Spell Law has changed much since that first edition and I think that may explain some of the problems.

Spell Law was intended as a drop in replacement for the AD&D magic system. I am playing Rolemaster in the Forgotten Realms which is an AD&D setting. My game is set after the time of troubles which gives me areas of wild magic which are not unlike esseance storms.

In AD&D all clerics could cast cure light wounds and at higher level finger of death and raise dead. They could commune with their god and they can turn the undead.

Rolemaster Clerics can cast all the closed healing lists, they can use absolution for the finger of death, life giving for raise dead and there is a whole list for communing and another for repulsing the undead.

RM Clerics are a perfect fit for AD&D Clerics. The fault lines that Brian experiences do not manifest in my games because Spell Law is written to fit the AD&D tropes.

This just goes to show that not only is Spell Law well over due a complete overhaul but BASiL is the way forward.

I don’t care if most people use Shadow World or not. If you set RM, and specifically RMU, to use Shadow World as the default setting, tie in all the rulebook examples to that setting, feature a starting adventure in the setting and describe magic against the Shadow World context then you will have a much richer product.

A significant number of GMs will create their own homebrew setting just as a significant number of 5e DMs create their own homebrew settings.

To all intents and purposes MERP is a homebrew setting these days. Yes, there are old books that are mostly compatible but there is nothing new and there never will be. It is as easy to convert from Cubicle 7’s One Ring or 5e Adventures in Middle Earth resources to RMU as it is to convert from the 1980s MERP region books.

I do not think you can divorce setting from rules once you start to look at magic and channelling magic most of all.

It is not only the magic system but the unique monsters and races that make the setting from a rules perspective. The companion I gave me all the AD&D races I needed but I still see questions on the ICE forums about Shadow World races.

With RMU it is going to be easy to create balanced races but I don’t think ICE customers buying ICE games to play in an ICE setting should have to make the things up themselves!

I don’t think I am a diva or over demanding or is joined up thinking too much to ask?

Rolemaster Spell Law Deconstructed: Are Summoning Spell mechanics broken?

I thought the commentary on “Illusions” in my last blog post was pretty good, so I thought I would discuss another spell mechanic that might need to be re-examined: Summoning.

Spell Law contains a number of spells to summon/conjure Demons, creatures and other beings in Essence and Channeling.  But really it’s a just a big hot mess of vague, confusing spells.

The 2nd level spell Summoning (Evil Magician Base) says “Caster can instantly summon a first level non-intelligent creature”….  Does this mean that the creature teleports to the caster or does the creature have to travel to the caster. Is a teleport affect powerful for a 2nd lvl spell? Is this a Summoning spell or a Gating spell? Per the spell, the duration is 10 min/lvl normally (or 1 min/lvl when put in danger). What happens at the end of the duration? Does the creature disappear and teleport back from whence it came? Does that mean the spell generates 2 separate teleport effects?

Now lets contract that with a 9th level spell “Animal Summons I” from the Animist Base. You would assume that an Animist would be better at summoning general creatures than an Evil Magician? Well, you would be wrong. The spell states: “Caster can summon any 1 animal within radius (1 mi/lvl). That’s a ninth level spell compared to a 2nd level spell and implies that the creature has to travel to the caster. Yes the Animist has a built in control function when concentrating but the duration is only 1 min/lvl. I think there is a discrepancy here.

“Gating” also opens a number of questions about spell mechanics. (Some of this really depends on the setting and implied meta-physics of the world.) I’m finishing up “Book of the Pales” which is expansion material on the Demonic Realms: more creatures, environment, adventuring in etc. That effort along with my re-write of Demon summoning spells made me think about the whole premise. Let’s review:

Spell User casts “Lesser Demonic Gate”, a 5th lvl spell on the Evil Magician base list Dark Summons. This calls a Demon (Type I-III) that will slowly appear over a few rounds. If the Demon is not controlled in some fashion (control, master, barter, binding etc) the Demon “leaves”.

So what’s going on here? Does the spell open a doorway to the Pales and call a Demon through the gate or is this just a materialization? Now let’s assume that the Caster Masters the Demon in some fashion. Demon Mastery has no duration, just contingencies (range, kill or release).  But how does the Demon eventually return to it’s world/plane/Pale? If the Gate is now closed by what method does the Demon dissipate? Is there some spell reserve around the Demon that activates another Gate?

Some would argue that Demons  are just physical projections created by magic. When the spell “ends” the magic unbinds that projection and the Demon disappears. That’s a good solution but pretty powerful. In effect it’s creating a powerful physical form for a spirit creature from another Plane! And what about the other Summoning spells that work the same but on real creatures of the game world? They aren’t spirit beings given a physical form through magic. What about existing Gates that allow Demons to enter the world? Do the Gates have some implied “form physical body” ability?

For my own game, I am more interested in Shadow World and how Demon Summoning would work; and that required a spell re-write. Under my game, the Pales are other planes of existence and most Demons are physical creatures (thematic Demons are manifestations or possessors). That means that Demons do need a “Gate” or doorway to go from the Pales to Kulthea–or vice versa. This can be a spell, conjuring circle, natural Essaence Gate or other construct. Like any door, if it’s present and open it allows for 2 way travel: once a Demon enters Kulthea it’s there unless it returns via a door/gate willingly or sent back the same way. How else does Kulthea get populated by Demons? (Under Spell Law RAW I think  they would de-materialize when no longer controlled.)

For purposes of this discussion let’s delineate two different types of mechanics (despite naming conventions used in Spell Law) and use Shadow World for the default setting:

  1. Summoning. This “calls” a specific or general creatures from the local area to come to the caster. The creatures must physically travel to the caster.
  2. Gating. These spells create a magical “doorway” that teleports a creature directly to the caster.

So far so good, right? This is a simple differentiation that lays the framework for a variety of spells. The second part of the equation is “control”. I like the established vernacular used by RM: Control requires concentration. Mastery does not. Ranges and duration can be set by spell level, base list, profession etc. The final piece is protection. Without Control/Mastery there is no implied protection for the Caster. The Gate itself is a doorway, not a Circle of Protection or Ward. Opening a Gate and calling forth a Demon is no guarantee that what you want is what shows up!! Even a normal animal may not react well when Summoned and end up attacking the Caster if uncontrolled.

In conclusion, while various types of Summoning/Gating should be dependent on the world or setting, a few basic tweaks can vastly simplify these Spell Mechanics.