Rolemaster Professions in MERP: Rolemaster Companions I and II
Anthony Almeida ©2001
Edited by Joe Mandala for The Guild Companion
Here we have part two of Anthony Almeida's series on using Rolemaster
professions in Middle-earth.
This installment deals with Rolemaster Companions I and II.
See part one
After many gaming sessions using the core Rolemaster system, we saw the collected ideas of ICE staff and players alike begin to come together in companion books to the rules as originally published. More rules (all optional but very helpful) came on the scene covering combat, magic items, background options, and skills. The skills were bolstered the most, starting with the additional skills in RMCI and continuing with RMCII. This allowed players to separate their characters from the crowd by allowing a nearly infinite variety and specialization. Now the fighter could do more than fight, the thief could do more than steal, and the mage could do more with his magical talent.
As these new rules arrived, there also came new professions exploring the 'what ifs' of the professions of the past. For example, one took the fighter and thought, "What if he were more like a knight?" or "What if he were more of a wilderness fighter?" and envisioned the Paladin and the Barbarian professions. Each new profession that came along was linked to a traditional profession, realm or theme, to allow more diverse backgrounds for characters and greater opportunities for a player to explore different professional tangents.
Of course MERP was also around at that time, leading to an eventuality that no one needs to guess at. In the Middle-earth game I played, strange new characters were added with every companion, which ended up adding some really wild stuff; not only did the PCs change but the villain and NPC types changed as well. Suddenly the Sauronic priest or sorcerer wasn't the only adversary, but one had to fend off Death Mages, magic-using assassins and spies, and wretched witches and warlocks. Also, the resources that a player had access to increased, with Scholars, Sages and Delvers to divine matters beyond the ken of the magically unskilled.
Trying to maintain the balance between gameplay and the world it takes place in is always a consideration when new rules and professions are introduced. In this article, I'll examine those that I feel work best, explaining where they would work best. As with my previous article, I'll offer the recommendation that you should only use that counsel which would best serve the story you tell. Also, as before, my rating system will be used after each profession's name, with a scale of 0-5 (0 being common, 5 being normally disallowed, and 1-4 being of increasing rarity).
Rolemaster Companion I
Here is a variant of the Thief profession. Looking at the both of them, there's little way of telling them apart. While both excel in the art of stealth, the difference that is seen lies not in offense or thievery skills but in defense. While the thief can feel free to put on a leather jerkin and parry with weapons when confronted, the burglar chooses to avoid combat and confrontation as he can. His skill at armor is less than that of the thief, his weapon skills are more focused, and he can make better use of adrenal skills and defense to avoid dangerous situations and keep himself nimble of foot.
Needless to say, such a profession is only a touch rarer, and it is better found among those that choose to stay light of foot. Whether the second-story thief of a city or the adventuresome Hobbit (being both quick and nimble to start), this profession fits those that might find better use of skill than brawn.
The word barbarian conjures up many familiar images, from Visigoths to Arnold Schwarzenegger in a leather loincloth. While some of these have their merit, it must be noted that many 'barbarian' peoples were peoples of tradition and structure. The barbarian profession is one that mirrors the fighter in combat skills, but differs sharply in his disdain for armor and his ability in the wild. Like the burglar, this profession also makes use of swift movement, combining it with adrenal defense and outdoor skills. It also has greater skill at athletics and with flora and fauna. All in all, this makes for someone quite able to hold his own outside of town.
In Middle-earth, this profession has many applications. One that is most welcome is that there is finally a viable profession for the Wose; being of the people of Haleth, they "excelled in forest combat (UT. p. 377)." Also, the profession has applications among many other races. For example, this is a profession that might have been appropriate for some of the early Edain, and later the early Eriadorans and Northman. The Daen and Easterlings would have made use of this type of profession early on. Even the less 'civilized' nomads and tribesmen of the Southron lands would sacrifice urban and armor skills for the ability to fight and survive in the wild. Even some Avarin Elf cultures might use this profession, in societies untouched by the High Elves, Grey Elves or more 'civilized' Men. This profession is definitely viable and recommended.
High Warrior Monk: 4
Like the warrior monk of last month's article, this profession learns the art of hand fighting, concentration, focus and meditation in a closed environment. The high warrior monk, unlike the warrior monk, focuses his learning of these things in a more isolated and monastic setting, so as to limit exposures to skills outside his primary education. What this makes for is an extremely specialized profession, with regards to these select areas of study.
In Middle-earth, however, this type is not seen, and I hesitate to recommend it at all due to the type of background one like this would need to come from. Even the possibilities of a tribal wrestler or trained boxer do not easily coincide with this profession, as there are few indeed that would train so extensively and exclusively in the martial arts skills and discipline involved with them. Unless there is a really good narrative reason for someone like this to exist in Middle-earth, I'd simply leave the profession alone.
Here we have the traditional "holy warrior" of role-playing. He is proficient with arms and armour, like the fighter, but has special favor from a divine source to aid him. In some interpretations, he is a champion of his faith and of goodness and chivalry, while other examples paint him as an enforcer of religion, whatever it may be. In RMC1 and RMC2, this semi-spell user of Channeling is depicted as having a gift from above, to aid his cause in combat, and is often closely monitored.
It is hard to place such a profession in Middle-earth, however. While there are knightly souls in that unique land, very few (if any) are given such power from the Valar (who are not really "gods" anyway). Such an individual has to begin with a history of not only good deeds but a close link to the Powers. In Tolkien's works, one sees this type in a few Elven heroes. Perhaps Ingwë, abiding "at the feet of the Manwë upon Taniquetil (Sil. p. 65)" was such a one, being in the presence of the holiness of the king of the Valar and empowered by him. The Noldor princes, Fingolfin and Fingon, may have had such 'backing' in the Valar. Fingolfin, for example, was able to hold his own for some time against Melkor in close combat, in order to defend his people, and Fingon, in his quest to find the enchained Maedhros, apparently had the favor of Manwë in the prayer he spoke, as the Vala sent Thorondor, lord of the eagles, to his aid.
While, among Men, some of the early Númenorean rulers may also have had such favor, there is no direct evidence of it, and the history of 'lesser' Men shows even less. If such a profession is to exist in Middle-earth, most likely it will be in the hands of a very rare Elf or two. Even so it is unlikely, due to the often-overt nature of the profession's power. Alternatively, this profession might be adapted to use with the forces of the Dark, perhaps in some sort of Dark Champion.
This Mentalism semi-spell user uses his magical talents for stealth, assassination, and infiltration. He uses magic to cloak his movement and appearance, while allowing him to augment his ability to strike with or without weapons. Upon looking at him, one can easily see a combination of rogue and mystic, with all the things those professions entail.
The use of magic for such purposes is not, however, one generally used by the Free Peoples, and may lead to corruption quickly if the user is not already corrupted. One problem is (similar to the Mystic) that the deception of putting one thing in place of another is Shadow-like in practice. His use as a spy and assassin endears him greatly to the Dark, and that is most likely where his path will lead. This profession would make for a good NPC to harry the PCs in a game.
A semi-spell user of Essence, this profession uses his developed power to probe into the nature and value of many materials, both common and rare, and also has the ability to mold those materials and work them as his need dictates. Also, he has the ability to imbed his magic into surfaces and structures, fortifying and augmenting them. While not as skilled in weapons or armor as his fellow semi-spell users, he excels in various crafts, which aid the power he uses.
This profession might actually be of greater use among Men than the rarer Alchemist, as his magic seems more available and appropriate for those uses that are more mundane. Perhaps this profession's roots in Middle-earth hearken back to sunken Númenor, where "the Dúnedain became mighty in crafts (Sil. p.323)." Evidence can be seen among the various grand structures of Endor, such as the pillar of Angrenost or the Library of Annúminas. Such a user of power would have great use in the speed and fortification of such constructions. Also, these might also be responsible for the working of alloys and substances that were beyond the ken of the average smith. The profession could also see use among the Elves, as many of their structures, Ost-in-Edhil being a foremost example, would require magic to guard them. Leaving these example aside for a moment, it must be remembered that, as with all craftsmen of magical talent, from the Vala, Aulë, to the Noldo smith, Celebrimbor, to the chief crafter of a Gondorian steward, the temptations of the use of power are of great concern and must be guarded against.
Editor's Note: One might think to include Dwarves as a natural fit for the Delver, but the Delver's use of Essence magic would probably preclude Dwarves. A channeling variant would seem to fit better, with the caveat that most Dwarven artifice does not include magic, but great skill and cunning in contrivance.
This profession, looking at his skill costs and nature-borne background, does not appear to be different from the animist of the core professions. Looking at the spell lists he has access to, though, one can see that this spell-user has a different purpose. While the animist seeks to attune himself with nature, the druid seeks more the role of its guardian. To this end, he has more direct influence of animal, plant and earth, and can respond to threats with more of an offensive approach, while also able to end battles by use of his calming magics.
While there was a place for the animist in Middle-earth, the druid might be harder to work with. While the power that he uses is 'Oromish' in nature, some of it might prove to be subject to greater scrutiny. For example, under the "Tree Mastery" list, a druid would be able to affect Huorns and Ents upon reaching a certain level of mastery, which might not fit the story of Middle-earth too well. He can, in addition, make his own magic weapon, the Druidstaff, which may not be desired in this world, where magical items are few. Also, the ability to harm with the element of earth, by way of enchanted stones and elemental creatures, would lead to corruption very quickly, if the motivation behind the casting were impure. The one reasonable exception that comes to mind in Tom Bombadil, the Maia who was "master of wood, water and hill (LOTR I p.174)" in the vast and ancient forest that eventually dwindled into the Old Forest of Eriador. His power (not wanting to call him a druid; he's much more than that) allowed him to not only be an integral part of the forest but also to have the will and ability to safeguard and command all within it.
However, in the profession's defense, it is possible that the Vala Oromë would find favor in a Man or Elf (surely to be of a wilderness background), and gift him or her with the power to be such a 'guardian', as mentioned above. Also, Of course, care and reverence must be observed in such a case, with the alternative being a reneging of said gift.
The thing that differentiates the archmage from all other spell-users is the way in which he draws his power. While not ascribing to the traditional methods - the gifting of Channeling, the molding of the Essence or the focus of Mentalism - he instead shapes the raw power of primal magic, calling it to do the work of a variety of 'pure' spell-users. While, in game terms, that simply means that he has access to most spells and spell-lists, he actually can be seen as a spell-user whose ability transcends the normal restrictions of realm.
However, if one believes that primal magic (or primal essence, if one borrows from the Spell User's Companion) is the realm of divine forces, the profession is one that is totally inappropriate. In Middle-earth no one, aside from the Ainur and Morgoth (and his evil Maiar) can make use of such power, which makes it inaccessible to MERP PC's (unless one plays one of the Ainur, but I won't go there). Of course, this is not to say that the divine beings of Middle-earth are 'archmages' by profession; as it is, all the Ainur know of 'magic' are the Flame Imperishable and the Great Song, both of which are not meant to be confined to the scheme of any profession. It's best to leave this profession for a different type of fantasy.
Rolemaster Companion II
The dancer is of the type that has chosen mastery not necessarily in combat, but in physical movement. Whether an entertainer, religious zealot or acrobat, the dancer foregoes other skills to concentrate on the ability to move with speed, precision and fluidity. Also, the ability to communicate a variety of themes through dance and movement has been a commonality between many different cultures, and, to this purpose, the dancer trains diligently.
One can see several examples of this profession at work in Middle-earth. The most famous example is Lúthien, daughter in King Thingol and Melian the Maia, who "danced upon the unfading grass in the glades beside Esgalduin (Sil. p.199)." Even before Lúthien, we also have the example of the Valier Nessa, who "dances on lawns of never-fading green (Sil. p.22)." The tradition of dance passed from Vala and Maia to Elf and Adan, to be used in celebration, entertainment, seduction, and fervour. In truth, even the Hobbits know the value of dance. While not attempting to type cultures, dance is very likely an important mode of expression among the clans and tribes of the East and South. In Adanic groups, it can be surmised that dance was important among Western Men, from the Bear cultists of the Beornings to the lively Eriadorans to the courtly Dúnedain. In an adventuring type, the skills of a dancer lend to defense in combat and the ability to lithely move past obstacles. All told, this would be a valid profession.
The need for the cataloguing and dissemination of lore has always been of prime importance to a pre-industrial society. While craftsmen crafted and soldiers fought, scholars trained themselves in the keeping of knowledge. Matters of history, instruction and research were the forte of this master of lore. Were it not for these diligent souls, much knowledge of the ancient world would have become lost, as few other were up to the task of handling such a large scope of information.
In Middle-earth, the keeping of lore is also of great importance, especially in a world where so much is lost in wars and strife. From the librarian of Annúminas to the hired tutor of a Dúnadan noble's son to the local Eriadoran schoolteacher, all have a responsibility to see that lessons of the past are not forgotten. The Istari understood this necessity, as they counseled several generations regarding the nature of the threat to come, based on the events that had already occurred. While not the equal of a soldier in combat, the scholar is invaluable to have around when history must be reviewed or when a language barrier occurs - or simply when a necessary lore is not present among his fellows. Not intended so much for the perilous quest, there is some value in this profession in adventuring. It must be observed, however, that scrolls and books are always much safer at home than abroad.
Able to haggle his way across the landscape, the trader (or merchant) is best known for his ability to manipulate the "art of the deal". While he does well in cities and towns, he is not restricted to such places, and is well versed in traveling, as is necessary to oversee and continue his trade. Also, he bears the advantage of a keen eye, not only for value and opportunity, but also for perceiving when deals go bad. In his defense, he may not only use arms but also his quick tongue, being well versed in different ways to get his point across.
While it may seem difficult to believe, a trader is a very good type of companion on an adventure. His perceptive and linguistic skills are of great use in Middle-earth, where the best type of trouble is often that which is avoided. His experience with the rigours of travel aid greatly in getting from point A to B in a shorter amount of time. In cities and towns, even as NPCs, a local merchant is often a better source for reliable goods, when compared to the local bumpkin who just happens to have a spare of the good that you need (despite its quality). Go on; kick the tires. He's ready to go.
The beastmaster is a semi-spell user of Mentalism, who possesses the ability to communicate with and command animals. While drawn from the example of the movie of the same name, one sees this type of professional theme come up in many sources of fantasy literature and RPGs. Using his powers of the mind, he focuses his will not only to control the beasts around him, but also to control himself as he can also affect his movement, senses and fighting ability according to the examples of the animals he comes in contact with.
Such a type would be rare in Middle-earth, as the use of mental ability is not one that is commonly schooled. Also, this is not the type of profession that emerges commonly from an urban setting, where animals are fewer. Indeed, this profession is more likely of the outdoorsman or rural man. While his skill would be with the kelvar of Endor, possibly endowed to him by some benison of Oromë, such cannot be considered 'gifting' as in the realm of Channeling. The profession must learn of a reverence for the animals he comes into contact with or risk corruption. This might be an appropriate profession for the Beornings, who already have an affinity for animals. Also, such a power may also be a birthright of certain Númenoreans, as when "there was great love between men and women and their favourite steeds they could be summoned at need by thought alone (UT p. 169)."
Editor's Note: While at first glance the Ravens of Erebor and the Thrushes of Dale might seem to denote an ability by the Dwarves and Dalemen to perform as Beastmasters, the corpus explains that they only knew the tongue of these birds, and beyond communication had no real control or influence over them.
This semi-spell user of Channeling is not unlike the dancer, in the way he moves with complete control of his body. The profession is by-and-large painted as being a dancing zealot, focusing his power to induce and inspire religious fervour. The magical dances that he performs have a myriad of uses, including enchantment, holy communion, swift travel, and combat. Often, one would underestimate this profession, not perceiving the potential combatant behind the veil of the dance.
While this might seem an easily viable profession for Middle-earth, such power is actually rarer than it would seem. The dervish's abilities to travel magically and to use magic for the movement of objects would certainly be of a type not seen often, and the spells which do harm would lead one dangerously towards corruption if used with abandon. Aside from the nature of the Dervish's power is the consideration of where such power comes from. Nessa the Vala would seem a likely gifter, but such gifts may be largely restricted to Elves. Also, some Dark cults may also receive such skills, to lend power to some priests, especially in 'barbarian' cultures.
Warrior Mage: 3
Essence is the realm of this semi-spell user, and he uses it as his pure realm counterpart, the Magician, in combination with skill at arms. His spells are used to mold the elements to his use, as well as magically convey himself and other people and objects. In addition, he has learned to use his power towards his physical and combat abilities, enhancing his own attacks, perception and movement.
In Middle-earth, this profession could be equally seen among the Free Peoples and the Dark. More likely Elves would possess this type of power, becoming warriors of some might, while such a profession would be quite welcome among thralls of the Dark, to serve as lieutenants of evil and dread warriors besides. As direct manipulation of elements, the mind and objects outside would lead to corruption, as with the Magician, this type of power must see proper restraint and control to avoid swift corruption. If chosen for one of the Free Peoples, this profession must be carefully used.
The necromancer, or death mage, is a spell-user that makes use of both Channeling and Essence in his deathly (and undeathly) workings. This profession uses his power exclusively over the manipulation of life forces and the spirits of the dead. He is fearsome in his ability to create and animate undead forms to his service, and equally dreadful in his ability to steal the life from others and consume his victims with darkness.
It is quite obvious from the above mentions where this profession receives his power from, in the scheme of Middle-earth - the Dark. Such power does not even have a good purpose in Endor, and, as a result, causes corruption quickly, if the user is not already corrupt. Power such as this may have been a cause for the haunting of the Barrow Downs or the marshes of Dagorlad, and would see good use with the Dark to pervert and create horrors to haunt the Free Peoples. Such power is no doubt monitored by the lords of the Dark, as one potentially able to create an army of undead might pose the threat of usurping their might and positions.
A hybrid user of Channeling and Mentalism, the warlock uses his power in a way that is best called 'spiteful.' His focus is the causing of misery to those he practices his craft on. Indeed, his magic takes the forms of various, permanent 'curses', which intend nothing but ill for the victim. Harm is often the goal of such a spell-user as this.
In Middle-earth, such a profession is tutored to those of the Dark with a particular bent towards revenge and harm. Through his sorcerous arts, he can cripple or mutate his foes, in the short term, or practice a slow spiritual or mental torture, through the use of curses, hexes and terrible visions or dreams. Mayhap this would be a good antagonist for those who anger the Dark forces of Endor, hounding and evilly manipulating them. Such a one is a dreadful foe indeed.
The hybrid spell-user of Essence and Channeling is more often found in rural or wild settings, where he may more closely manipulate natural forces. This is the reclusive user of forbidden magics, causing suspicion and fear among those that are aware of him. The power that he uses allows contact with and summoning of dread beings from beyond the world, the enchantment of potions and candles, and direct manipulation of the earth and the animals in it.
Such a spell-user is often one seduced to evil by the Dark, trained to use his magical talent to cause fear and devastation in Endor. This is made to happen through contact with beings of the Void and the realm of Shadow, through the manipulation of beasts to foul purpose and through the use of deception and illusion. Many cultures in Endor may indeed hide such users of power, rarely seen but whispered about.
This spell-user focuses his talent on summoning creatures of myriad kinds. The conjuring of beasts, spirits and demons is his realm, and he also makes use of the ability to control and command that which he summons. To these ends, he is well versed in the use of conjuring circles and has developed other uses for those same circles, for protection and the use of other magics.
Unfortunately, such tampering with forces of nature and the denizens of darkness do little to endear this profession to the Free Peoples of Endor. Such a spell-user would be very rarely found among the forces of the Dark, commanding all manner of demons and foul spirits to evil purposes. As it is, the ability to summon such evils is rarely found, even among the Dark, as barriers are often more permanent (the imprisonment of Melkor being a prime example). Very likely, such a profession may never be seen by a group of adventurers, but his magics may be.
The runemaster has chosen his discipline in the inscribing and embedding power among various designs and patterns, either permanently or temporarily. Having this ability, he also has limited mastery of protective and powerful circles, not unlike the conjuror. In addition, he knows how to achieve specific magics through words of power, each word enacting a different spell effect. In a way, he appears to possess great power.
While the majority of his magics have a more dormant effect, many of the circles and words of power may easily be noticed by the Dark. The responsibility of such power is of prime concern, as the more overt uses of power may lead to corruption. Such a spell-user may have a presence on either side of the Balance, as such power does have its uses for defense and protection of various interests. It would be suggested that this profession be examined carefully by the gamemaster, as there is a lot of power there.
A spell-user with power over various spirits, the shaman is a communer, both with nature and with the spirit world. While able to communicate with, heal and call upon spirits of the other world, he also maintains close affinity for flora and fauna. Such a one can be seen as the archetypical 'medicine man', communing with forces natural and unnatural to achieve a balance in his world.
As far as this profession's presence in Middle-earth, this one may be harder to place than others. The concept of spirits in Middle-earth is spoken of very rarely, although one can find Tolkienian reference to "the Nermir and the Tavari, Nandini and Orossi, brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else they are not called (LT I, p. 66)", the hidden spirits of the world, which gathered around the Valar of earth, Aulë and Yavanna. It is possible that the gift of communing with them might be given to a rare caretaker of nature, entrusted with the ability to communicate with and maintain the nature of such spirits. Such a gifting would certainly be rarer than the gift of being an animist or druid profession.
A magical master of lore, this profession serves as the spell-using counterpart of the scholar. While also focusing on the keeping and disseminating of knowledge, his mental abilities assist in his efforts. His spells aid him in cataloguing and recalling lore, as well as analyzing and preserving scrolls and books. Also, he may manipulate light and sound to recall and relate both tales and images.
This profession would very likely have seen use in Middle-earth, among Elven scholars, such as Rúmil of the Noldor, or Mannish scholars of large cities and libraries. The ability to magically maintain and pass on knowledge would have been invaluable in places like the library of Annúminas or similar institutions. While such an individual is not commonly found, the addition of one to a group of adventurers, like the scholar, would be invaluable in perceiving matters of lore and artifacts, which might confound the average fighter.
That was two books in one blow, I'd say. Hopefully, my ramblings will continue to have some use to both you and your game. As before, I would recommend measuring these professions against the written works of the Lord of the Rings and other sources, when deciding what is best for your game. In the next installment, I shall tackle the plentiful professions of the third Rolemaster Companion. Until then, I hope that all fares well in your MERP game.