Why Realms?

As my project to convert RM2 professions into the new RMU format continues, I continue to run up against an issue that has plagued me through every iteration of Rolemaster: a lack of distinction amidst the various professions, due in large part to the constant overlapping of spell lists.

As I continue to analyze the issue, I realize part of it is tied to concept of realms of magic. The problem as I see it is twofold:

1. Repeating Lists – Certain lists have repeating versions across the realms (Mentalism and Essence both have an attack avoidance list with Bladeturn/Deflect, Channeling and Essence both have a Delving/Lore list, etc).

2. Realm Focus vs Professional Focus – It seems like certain professions are over or underpowered based on their realm, and don’t necessarily match the concept of the profession itself (While Paladins are a martial semi-spell using class, and their base lists reflect this, they don’t have access to attack avoidance spells, while the Bard and Dabbler do).

I know this has been discussed to some extent, and some of you have even integrated house rules to correct these discrepancies. For me though, the concept of realms is the culprit. As far as I can tell, realms are really a holdover from ICE’s connection to Middle-Earth, derived from the concepts of power in that universe. If RMU is going to be a more generic system that allows world-building, I think a new vision of magic might help clear up some of these problems. Enter the concept of Spheres.

I’ll admit there are some D&D / Mage: Ascension genes in this idea, but here are the broad strokes:

🔸 Rather than three overly-broad realms, I have been building a new experimental list of Spheres, each with three lists, that are categorized thematically (Healing, Perceptions, Knowledge, Movement, Nature, etc)

🔸 Instead of each profession having access to 10 open and 10 closed lists, pure spell users have access to 3 primary spheres (with open costs) and 3 secondary spheres (with closed costs) that are assigned based on their specific profession. This gives them initial access to 18 lists vs the current 20 per realm, with all other lists perhaps having restricted costs. For semis, perhaps 2/2 spheres?

🔸 Each profession still has full access to their 6 base lists at the corresponding cost.

The real advantage to this in my mind is that it forces some diversity amongst the various professions. Instead of every Mentalism or Essence using profession having access to Bladeturn, a Monk might have access to the “Combat” Sphere (Anticipations/Attack Avoidance/Damage Resistance) while a Magent has access to the “Chi” Sphere (Self-Healing, Speed, Shifting). Obviously the lists might need some adjustment and swapping, but this prevents everyone in the game from dumping ranks into Attack Avoidance early on and requires that characters play to varied strengths.

This also allows GM’s to balance spheres across professions to match their respective power levels in terms of development costs. Realms can still be used to balance spellcasting requirements such as armor and verbal/gesture limitations when casting. Rangers still can cast in leather, Mages still can’t, etc.

I am hesitant to post a picture of my list of spheres up here, only because I’m not sure of the nuances of the privacy agreement we all sign as RMU play testers, but would be happy to share if you think it’s acceptable. Thoughts? Am I complicating something that doesn’t need revision? Or is this a new mechanic that might help streamline professions for you somewhat?

Author: Eladan

High school English Literature teacher, coach of soccer, swimming, and track, lifelong RPG gamer, and husband/father of three. Hobbies include writing, reading, scotch, and backyard sports.

5 thoughts on “Why Realms?”

    1. Brian – Your version is lightyears beyond mine… really great stuff. Reading through it, your BASiL project is a wonderful direction to take to replace this overgeneralized, somewhat archaic system of realms. Anything that gives casters more diversity of build is, to my mind, a good thing. I particularly like that you group your lists by additional criteria such as personal effect, multiple targets, and some other factors. I’m not sure if I’m ready (yet) for the complexity of tracking all the different penalties for each of your new sub-realms, but the concept is strong and definitely the way I want to see the game develop. For now, I think I’m going to keep costs tied to the original “Realm” of the professions for those mechanics, with some renaming conventions (Communal, Primal, and Personal magic), in order to track casting limitations.

      Admittedly my Spheres project is only in the early stages, but I agree that less spells might be the right direction. At least in RMU, it seems as though Semis don’t have a ton of DP to spend on developing lists without making major sacrifices elsewhere, so limiting list selection to more thematic concepts shouldn’t have an overly unbalancing effect.

      1. Just one quick correction first: Paladins do actually have access to attack avoidance spells in RMU. They just get them on their Base List, Holy Shields. It has Aura, Bladeturn, Deflections, and even a shield spell. The one spell they don’t have is the vanilla Shield, which is an unfortunate oversight (and partly the result of the sad fact that Channeling users in RM2 did not have access to a Shield spell on any Open or Closed Channeling list, at least in the core rules). The RM2 Paladin does get a shield spell, but the designers of RMU changed it to ‘Shield of Faith’ (summoning a magical and unbreakable but physical shield), which is much more situational. I’ve houseruled it back to being just a normal Shield spell.

        I actually like the concept of realms, though I agree that they could be better differentiated. The designers of RMU have actually made a conscious effort to differentiate them further than previous editions did. I can’t quite find the thread on the ICE forums where this was discussed, but JDale did note several instances where spells were retooled so that each realm’s version would be different. I think he meant for us to note that for example the Mentalism version of Blur only works on caster, whereas the Essence version works on any target. For me personally, then, the problem is not so much that there are different realms, it is just that they are not different enough.

  1. The spell list and realms concept is very much opinionated up to the point of being implied generic setting-specific. I have been myself in various situations comparing RM magic to various settings.

    The last two decades prodived me the insight that a generic spell-system is not what i want but rather something that caters to the actual setting and much less simulationist that RM, embracing other systems because of this.

    Still comming back due to Peters effort on NavRPG, i think there is a place for a formulated magic system and spell system build process that GMs and Stetting-Engineers alike can then tweak to their likeing.

    My inspirtaions for spell building came from:

    ArsMagica, Mage, ShadowRun, EarthDawn, Aria Monomyth, Primal Order, DJ/Mythus, Authentic Thaumaturgy, A Magical Medley and nowadays Genesys.

  2. Nope, ICE totally failed to get magic in Middle Earth. The MERP use of Channelling and Essence is down to Spell Law and not the other way round. Trying to fit a generic system wholesale into any setting is a nightmare. I know that ICE did say in EVERY book that GMs should adapt but it is a lot of work adapting everything to your world setting. Plus at some point, you are going to argue with your players about spell list choices for various reasons mostly because they have the book and “this spell looks cool”.

    On realms and replication of lists I am so with you. But as Trefang says there are more coherent magic systems out there and the beauty of RM is you can overlay them onto the system without too much trouble. For example, HARP’s magic, being a RM clone/variant, easily translates.

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