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?

3 Replies to “The colors of magic in Shadow World.”

  1. I kind of like it. It hasn’t been a big part of my games, but it can serve a purpose.

    RMU has a robust set of mechanics for implementing this. First, visual spells is an optional rule, so if you don’t want to use the colours of magic, you don’t have to. Second, RMU has the Spell Trickery skill, which allows characters to ‘hide or modify… visual effect[s]’ of spells. This also gives the detection spells a use even if visual spell effects are used, I would rule: these sorts of spells would allow you to tell the real nature of the spell, underneath any Spell Trickery.

    So overall, I think this is well handled.

  2. I use the colors more to identify types of magic(water, fire etc) in conjunction with power perception in my house rules:
    Power Perception Must be developed separately for each realm. Must have at least one rank in this skill to use any spell from that realm. Each skill can be interpreted as another sense, Essence as sight and smell/taste, Channeling as feel and sight, Mentalism as smell/taste and feel. Arcane may be sensed as sound as may each of the other realms. Using other than a primary sense increase the difficulty by two.(ie using essence to detect channeling by sight) When using this skill the character is more susceptible to spells from that realm.
    It adds a lot of color 🙂 to the descriptions and atmosphere of the game.

  3. I explicitly use differentiated colours of magic in my games, though I’m not using SW so I can’t speak to that experience. It does remove some need for analysis skills, but it rewards immersive memory.
    The thing is, I did do away with notions of “Good Magic” and “Evil Magic” – I also did away with notions of Good and Evil excepting where things were made cut and dry to avoid the pretense that things like war are typically anything but shades of grey. Impact ends up meaning more than intention if you run your games in ways that facilitate that – all to say that yes, the path/sphere/discipline of the magic might be identifiable by someone who has immersively remembered something, but I try to avoid someone being able to tell what is being used for which end unless it’s something those players have chosen to associate with good/bad through their experiences.

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