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.


Shut the Damn Gate

It is not uncommon for characters to be able to summon creatures and even demons. The demonic spells start at 10th level and by 20th level you are summoning in some quite powerful demons.

So given the average life span of a demon why have none of them spent a mere decade or so researching a Summon Humanoid spell? A bit of hand waving and mumbling and ^poof^ there is a player character appearing before you. With a bit of opportune scrying and you summon the PC while taking their bath so they don’t have their +50 demon slaying sword and mithril armour of imperviousness with them either.

Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say, so if PCs can summon demons then it works the other way around.

Imagine you are running a high level campaign, you start intermittently asking your PCs to make resistance rolls vs channeling (with a nod to BriH’s post yesterday).  If they fail then the rest of the party see a rift open around the character and they disappear.

The summoning demon has assembled a squad of demonic minions waiting for the summoning to succeed and when it does then let battle commence. One rather unprepared PC vs an adequate number of demons of your choice.

You could even try and arrange it so that the PC is summoned during a battle. One which the PCs were probably going to win but was also a close run thing. You then yank one PC out of it. It disrupts the PCs strategic planning, changes the odds and puts one PC in a very dangerous situation.

You suddenly get another interesting option as well. Can the party rescue their friend from a different plane? Can they even find them?

For the, now solo, PC how do they cope without their party to fall back on?

I have lost count of the number of times that I have been on a quest for a specific item and when I finally get it I get raided by the forces of evil and they steal it from me. This is just a more impressive version of the same thing.

Spell research can be a wonderful thing, especially in the wrong hands!