Alternate Spellings

A new way to handle catalyst casting

Copyright Ó 1999, Tim Dugger



In the Essence Companion, the authors introduced us to a method of spell casting called catalyst casting. This method relies draining a material object of its inherent mana to cast a spell. This process reduces the power point cost of spells to a point. They also provided several spell lists, which help to facilitate this process, along with some specific training packages as well.

The method catalyst casting proposed in this article is actually an extension of the system described above. It expands on those concepts in a manner reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), yet remains a wholly Rolemaster system.

The Basics

This method of spell casting relies on the spell caster tapping and draining the essence of the catalyst to fully power his spells. In this alternative system, the magic using character no longer has any power points, inherent or learned. This method actually eliminates the skill, Power Point Development. In its place, we have a new skill called, Tap Mana, which has both the same stats and development point costs as Power Point Development.

Spell users will no longer be dependant upon power points, or resting to regain them. Instead, all the mana required for the spell comes from the catalyst itself. This process destroys the catalyst as well.

The caster will use the skill Tap Mana for two purposes. First, the caster uses the skill to align each catalyst prior to casting, allowing him to access the mana at a later date. Second, the caster uses this skill to know the nature and power of an individual catalyst (i.e. nature of spell it can be used with and the number of power points it contains).

The Catalysts

The authors of the Essence Companion provide an extensive list of catalysts along with their spell casting affinities. I will not reproduce that list here, because almost anything can be used as a catalyst.

It is up to the GM of a given campaign to determine what catalysts can be used for a given spell, and the rarity of such catalysts within the game world. The rarity and the quality determine the base amount of power points available in a given catalyst.

Though a catalyst may contain a vast amount of power points, the amount that the character can harness is determined by a Tap Mana roll, using the Tap Mana resolution chart at the end of this article.

Use this chart to cross-reference the quality of the catalyst against the rarity of the catalyst to determine the base power points within each catalyst.






Very Rare


1 PP

3 PP

5 PP

10 PP


3 PP

5 PP

10 PP

20 PP


5 PP

10 PP

20 PP

30 PP

Very Good

10 PP

20 PP

30 PP

50 PP

While it is possible to use more than a single catalyst in casting a spell, it is much more difficult. There are also a few other details about catalysts in general that need to be addressed.

Catalyst Limitations

One of the features of this system is that the spell user may use his Tap Mana skill at any time to attune to a given catalyst. Does this mean that both a high level mage and one just out of his apprenticeship can attune to the same number of catalysts? No it doesn't. Just as when using the normal Power Point Development skill, a mage can only handle the transfer of a limited amount of mana through their body each day without ill effects.

A spell user may draw an amount of mana equal to his Realm Stat Mod x # of ranks in Tap Mana each day without harm. If he goes over this amount, he then takes an amount of damage equal to the amount of mana being drawn from the current catalyst. All further attempts to draw mana from catalysts that day will also cause damage equal to the amount of mana drawn, until the character has had a chance to sleep the normal amount of time required by his race.


Vhas is a Human Magician, with an Empathy bonus of +5. He also has 5 ranks of Tap Mana. This means that Vhas may safely draw up to 25 points of mana in a single day without danger.

Let's say that Vhas had already drawn 20 points of mana from catalysts today, and then casts a Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt costs 10 mana to cast, and Vhas has the proper attuned catalyst at hand. When Vhas draws the mana from the catalyst, he will take 10 points of damage, as this will place him over his normal daily allowed amount. Should Vhas need to cast more spells today, he will continue to take an amount of damage equal to the amount of mana drawn from the catalysts, at least until he has had a full eight hours of sleep.

Pros & Cons

This alternate method does have its share of Pros and Cons, and I will list a few of those here for the GM to think about before incorporating it.


For the player, the biggest drawback of this method is the paper work. He will be required to keep an accurate log of his catalysts, the spell type that they are usable with, and the amount of power points that he is able to gain from each. As he uses his catalysts, he will have to track that usage. In addition to this, certain catalysts, particularly those made from organic substances will deteriorate over time and need to be replenished. Casters also have to spend time or money obtaining these catalysts.

For the GM, he will have to decide the rarity of the various catalysts for his campaign setting, and what catalysts are available. It is recommended that only a few catalysts, of each rarity, be allowed for each spell group. A spell group is a classification of a basic type of spell. The Essence Companion has a good break down of spell groups, but if you do not have access to it, then you will have to create your own. In this case such groups might be: electrical attack spells, fire spells, mental control spells, divinations, sleep/charm spells, etc...


For the player, his character will never run out of power points so long as he has catalysts. The spell caster has no more need to sleep in order to cast more spells as the power points are now on hand (though he may start getting burnt out if he doesn't get that sleep). Also, the caster won't take penalties to his actions for burning power points, since he never uses any. Certain schools of training may use only particular catalysts, and thus learning about a new catalyst could be a rewards in itself, depending upon how the GM presents it.

For the GM, this opens the possibility of numerous potential story ideas. Not only will magic using characters have to search out or buy their own catalysts, but they could be hired to find and collect rare catalysts for a more powerful mage. The search for catalysts can make up many adventures, as a mage will want the better ones as he gets higher in levels and can more efficiently use the more powerful catalysts.

The spell user could have some powerful catalysts stolen and then desire to track down the thief. Non spell using characters could be sent to find and retrieve a rare catalyst in exchange for a spell being cast to aid them.

Final Notes

All in all the use of catalysts in your campaign can enrich the game and also add more depth and opportunities for adventure. Of course this does add more paperwork for the both the GM and the player, but in the long run it will be a more enjoyable game. Just think of the player who decides to cast a Lightning Bolt only to find that he has used the last catalyst he had for that type of spell.

Tap Mana Skill Resolution Chart

The following chart is used when a magic using character gets a catalyst and wishes to attune to it for later use. This skill allows a character to determine the number of power points within the catalyst that the caster can use. This skill only needs to be performed once. Nor does it have to be done when the character is about to use the catalyst. It can be performed at any time before the spell is cast.

It is important to note that it does take time to attune to a catalyst. While in most situations this won't affect the game, but during the course of a battle, it could have a profound effect. The base amount of time in minutes needed to attune to a catalyst is equal to the number of Base Power Points given by that catalyst. This amount of time is modified by the notations given in the skill resolution chart below.

In the following chart, the abbreviation BPP will mean the base number of power points available in the catalyst. The BPP is determined by the GM ahead of time using the chart above after he has decided upon the quality and rarity of the catalyst.

Tap Mana Skill Resolution Chart

-26 down Spectacular Failure:

0% | 1.0* | -30

Spectacular! Never before have I seen a person release the mana of a catalyst in such an explosive manner. All within a 10 radius partake of a +25 Fireball. (Use Mana Crits if available)

-25 to 50 Absolute Failure

0% | 1.0* | -20

Not only have you failed to tap this catalyst, but you have also released all the mana in it. The catalyst crumbles to dust in your hands.

51 to 75 Failure:

0% | 1.0* | -10

Hmmm...For some reason you cannot seem to sense the mana in this catalyst. You may try again in 24 hours.

UM 66 Unusual Event

- | - | -

Oops! In attempting to Tap this catalyst, you have accidentally released the mana into yourself. You receive an amount of damage equal to the BPP and an "A" Mana crit. (Use Electricity crits if Arcane Companion is not available)

76 to 90 Partial Success

50% | 1.0* | +5

Good try, but you are only able to tap this catalyst for 50% of its BPP.

91 to 110 Near Success

75% | 1.0* | +10

Almost had it! You are able to tap this catalyst for 75% of its normal BPP.

UM 100 Unusual Success

100% | 1.0* | +30

Astounding, this catalyst has double the normal BPP for its Quality and Rarity. You have made a rare find.

111 to 175 Success

100% | 1.0* | +15

Character taps the catalyst for the normal amount of BPP in the catalyst.

176 and up Absolute Success

100% | 1.0* | +25

Character taps the catalyst for 1.5x the normal BPP by discovering a hidden reserve within the catalyst.

General and GM-Assigned Modifiers

Spell User Type

+/-0 Pure Spell Users

-10 Hybrid/Arcane Spell Users

-20 Semi Spell Users

-30 Non Spell Users

Catalyst Type

-2 Common Catalyst

-5 Uncommon Catalyst

-10 Rare Catalyst

-20 Very Rare Catalyst

Editor's Note:

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