RM Professions in MERP - Rolemaster Companion VII/Alchemy Companion
Anthony Almeida ©2002
Edited by Joe Mandala for The Guild Companion
My dear fellow MERP/RM2ers, we are near the end of what has been a pretty extensive look at the suitability of RM2 Professions in MERP, but we aren't done quite yet. In the last article, we had a decent view of the rules, character guidelines and professions for the Arms realm in the Arms Companion, but it seems only fair to make one last mention of Semi-realm and Pure-realm spell users.
In Middle-earth, the concept of artifice through magic is a prevalent one, with Tolkien's works full of examples, from the Tower of Orthanc to the dark hold of Barad-Dûr and from the One Ring to the Silmarills. We will actually be spending much time looking at various magical artificers, once we get to the Alchemy Companion, and will carefully look at their placement in a Middle-earth game. As with several professions we've reviewed previously, there will be some that will fit right in, some which will require careful consideration and some that will just not fit at all. As there has already been much literature and debate around the subject of magic and artifice in Middle-earth among the Tolkien community at large, I will apologize now for any toes I unknowingly step on.
Since the rating system I've been using has seemed a good guideline for me so far, I'll stay consistent. A rating of 0 means that the profession is suitable, with no large consideration involved; ratings 1-4 will gauge increasing rarity or lesser suitability; a rating of 5 is reserved for professions that have no defined place in Middle-earth. So, if you will indulge my ramblings one last time, we will now continue with RMC VII.
Rolemaster Companion VII
Arms Master: 2
This is an impressive profession. The Arms Master is a semi-realm user of Mentalism with a single focus to his magic - warcraft. While the Warrior Mage, Paladin and the Noble Warrior may be able to greatly enhance their combative abilities, the Arms Master profession is not limited to supporting only his puissance in battle but is also able to support his fellows on the field as well, making himself of greater benefit to an army.
In Middle-earth, where mighty commanders and strategists were often seen in many a battle, there is the possibility of this profession's use. Indeed, the First and Second Ages proved to be turbulent enough times for such spell users to arise, lead and conquer. The Eldar of Beleriand, constantly under siege very well may have had this type in such examples as Fingon, Ecthelion and Maedhros. The early Edain and Númenoreans may have also had such examples present, especially in those that were influenced by the Eldar, such as Túrin, Barahir and Isildur. Such traditions may well have passed into later times, to arise in a rare few.
Not unlike the Rogue, this profession also falls between the Fighter and Thief, making use of the skills of both professions. The differences are found in the specialization it has for reaching a target unawares, through stealth and disguise, and also for being able to eliminate a target, through precise attacks and poison. It's apparent that the profession is geared towards assassination and infiltration. Before the Oriental Companion came out, it may have been a good template for a Ninja.
In Middle-earth, the art of silent killing is most often found in the ways of the Dark, and is without a doubt used by its minions. Both poison and stealth are often a favored instrument of dark soldiers and Orcs, and someone talented in their use can often find favour among the leaders of the Dark. A non-magical 'shadow' for players might serve as a good adversary, when finally detected. After all, said assassin might be a part of that group's characters, unbeknownst to the other players and courtesy of the GM. The profession is not only for Sauron or Morgoth's use, but can also be found in the more stealthy and 'necessary' agents of the Free Peoples or even indifferent parties.
A variant of the Warrior Mage, this semi-realm user of Essence concentrates his spell-casting abilities towards the manipulation of the elements. While he has a basis in common with the pure Essence Magician, the Elementalist uses his powers in a more personal manner, using the elements for more defensive and utilitarian purposes. In a pinch, while he cannot cast bolts of elemental force, he can empower himself for offense, even taking on the aspect of an elemental if of great skill.
While there are certain hesitations with a spell user in Middle-earth that can manipulate the elements (as I mentioned about the Magician some time ago - feel free to peruse the Scrolls of Wisdom for my first article), this type of spell user is - for lack of a better word - 'tamer' and would be a little more suitable for play. Even so, such a type is more rare than several other semi-realm users available and is not a profession for every other player character. Even Gandalf and Elrond, making use of elemental forces, did so as an exception and not a rule. Of course, in a near-battlecry that persists in my writings, I must also ask you to keep in mind the temptations of power and the consequences of corruption when playing this profession.
Witch Hunter: 5
The Witch Hunter pursues its prey, those heretics that misuse magic and arcane lore, with an unrelenting chase. This semi-realm user of Channeling has been gifted by divine forces and empowered to the end of ending the power of those spell-users opposed to his religious beliefs. His spells allow his to hamper and strangle the magical ability of his foe, contain and capture his prey, and enhance his own combat abilities, making him a sure threat to any mage or witch that stands against him.
As with the Paladin, however, this specific gifting of power is not seen in Endor. In fact, with skills and spells able to allow the outright persecution of others, such a type is even more out-of-theme here than the Paladin, who has more of a knightly bent. I don't believe that such a profession is in taste for this particular world.
Shadow Mage: 4
A user of both Channeling and Essence, this spell user exercises the power of dark faerie magic, at home with dark ways and shadow. Nearly self-sufficient in his pursuits, he is able to manipulate darkness and shadow, communicate with and animate evil spirits, and bring about the ruination of a victim in myriad ways. At first glance he appears to be a cross between a Necromancer, Evil Alchemist and Maleficant, but his focus mainly lies in bringing darkness in all ways and becoming one with it.
While not normally chosen as a profession for player characters in Middle-earth, this does have application for those that serve the Dark, who are sycophants of the power they serve, reveling in the Shadow. Also, running with the theme of the dark side of the Fey, this profession might see use in some Avari (such as some of the Tatyar of Lost Tales fame) or other Elves that were lured into Darkness by Morgoth and his minions, trading their inborn magical ability for more dire methods. Corruption, of course, is a certainty (if not a prerequisite) with any who walk this path.
Using the magic of his tarot deck, this Essence user draws from symbolic forms to cast unique magics. Focusing on the trappings and symbols of his profession, he pursues his philosophical path, according to the fate drawn in the cards. Using his own interpretation of elemental forces and philosophies, he becomes one with his surroundings, self-sufficient and wise in the ways of Fate.
The profession had no place in Middle-earth, however. The mythos of that land, while somewhat similar to our Earth (or a precursor to it, according to many Tolkien purists), does not include the same history, and without such, no tarot. Also, we must bear in mind that Fate in Middle-earth is harder to read and impossible for anyone, save Eru, to direct. For those that see some application present in the Ardan decks from The Court of Ardor, I'll have to point out that those decks have more of Zelazny's Amber series' flavor in their use.
Able to change into a myriad of forms through the disciplines of his spells, this Mentalism user has wide latitude in adventuring life, being able appear as (and be) whatever he chooses. While the majority of his spells lend to appearance and/or mindset, more advanced disciplines allow him aid in mobility, sensory ability and combat. Firmly cognizant of the possibility of becoming too much of what he takes the shape of, he measures carefully what shape is needed and when it is needed.
While there is evidence of some shape changing in Middle-earth, notably in vampires, Dagorlad marsh spirits and some Beornings, the differences between these and the Doppelganger profession are clear when comparing their abilities. Such a profession has to be especially rare, given the examples they are compared to and the specialized shape changing abilities those have, if such exists at all. As with all spell users, however, there is a danger with the misuse of this profession's spells, with destructive forms and actions easily leading to corruption. Added to this danger is the chance of permanently adopting the perceived mindset of the form that is assumed often. If one is to be played, it must be weighed carefully, so as not to spoil the flavor of the land played in.
Please note: As the Core-Rules Alchemist, Delver, Crafter, and Craftsman professions have been dealt with in previous articles, they will not be covered here.
In the area of metal manipulation the Smith is up to the task. More than one who simply pounds on metal, he is skilled in the art of forging, stoking necessary fires for the shaping and tooling of metal for the purposes he needs. Often specialized, he is often known by a trade name, such as blacksmith, but is not limited to such pursuits. Given will and time, he is capable of great works, bringing credit to himself and his smithy. He is also more adept at combat than most craftsmen, as he understands what the steel he forges is capable of, perhaps even better than the warriors he works for.
A commonplace profession in Middle-earth, the Smith is found among those cultures that have skill in metalwork, from the lowly blacksmith of a small hamlet to Dwarven armorsmith to one of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain of old. In a group of adventuring souls, this down-to-earth fellow has much to offer, in appraising and using weapons and armor, in repairing those metal objects that would most often be cast off by those without his skill and in lending his own arm to offense or defense. This is another profession that proves that traditional adventuring professions are not always necessary, and he is sure to blend into the flavor of a Middle-earth game.
The ways of the Charlatan are the ways of ledgermain and deceit, achieved through making unsuspecting persons believe they have a desirable, magical ability that will lead to their great benefit. Being skilled as he is at trickery, fast-talking and knowledge about (not of) magic, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Knowing just enough magical lore to make it seem to people that he knows what he speaks of, he can almost instantly produce the miracle elixir or transmutated metal that his buyers believe they want. Thankfully, most Charlatans are also skilled at skipping town when necessary, when his deeds are seen for what they really are.
In Middle-earth, the Charlatan does appear to be viable. Due to the rarity of magical powers present in most people in Endor, someone with a little bit of arcane knowledge would be able to appeal to the superstitious masses with 'charms and elixirs' able to ward off the Shadow, or con the more avaricious and wealthy into investing into 'alchemical bounties' to increase their wealth. Obviously, this profession would be found more often among Men than other races, as they tend to have less magical affinity. It can even be suggested that Sharkey (Saruman) was diminished to such a level, relying more on his reputation and knowledge when his power was broken.
A user of Arms and one of the three realms of magic, this profession makes use of his talents in the building up, fortifying and protecting building and surrounding areas. A pioneer in construction sciences, he also has the ability to make explosives for use in construction, which may add a unique bit of offensive capability to his skills, while his knowledge also adds defensively against sieges. What makes the semi-realm Engineer more desirable than the average Professional engineer is his ability to magically set protective wards on construction sites and elements, to ward off the effects of time and hostile intrusions.
Such a profession is clearly seen to have had some use, at least, in Middle-earth. Many of the grander construction projects seen in Tolkien's work may have very well made necessary builders who had more than a mundane talent. Veritable monuments to their respective societies, such as Minas Tirith, Moria, Ost-in-Edhil, Tirion, and Orthanc, are very likely to have had an Engineer's talent in some part of their construction. The only problem with the profession is the Engineer's ability to create and use explosives, an ability not found in Tolkien's writings; the closest one can come to explosives in Middle-earth are Gandalf's fireworks, perhaps some Dwarven mining methods, or possibly the "fire out of Isengard" employed by Saruman's forces during the siege of Helm's Deep. While this profession has wide application among the races, he is limited to more urban and artificial settings.
A semi-realm user of Mentalism, the Tinker uses his spell powers for the making and repairing of items from a wide variety of materials. His advanced understanding of basic crafting skills assist him with these abilities, allowing him to mold and shape and mend, as the need is present. With advanced skill, he is able to craft items of great quality and beauty, making his skills highly prized wherever he goes. Being of the realm of Mentalism, it is often difficult to determine whether his skill is magical or simply extraordinary.
For Middle-earth, this profession is relatively inoffensive, concentrating on his crafts and the perfection of his talents, rather than adventuring and warcraft. Like the Alchemist, his skills are more rare, often kept hidden to throw off suspicion. The Tinker may actually be an easier profession for people to acquire, as it holds less power than the Alchemist, and it is one that is usable for a wider variety of social classes and races. For example, not all of the smiths of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain had to have been Alchemists, and not every smith in Fornost or Minas Ithil had to be simply be of the Smith profession. Still the number of non-magical craftsmen will certainly outweigh the number of Tinkers in Endor.
Shamanic Alchemist: 3
A hybrid user of Channeling and Mentalism, the Shamanic Alchemist has his skill in artifice focused on spiritual forces and communing with spirit beings, and those same spirits are bonded to inanimate objects, whether in totems, charms or other forms. Also, this profession may also take the aspects of people, animal and creatures, so that their strengths (or weaknesses) may be placed within objects to affect their users. Another talent of his is to draw power from items to be used for his own purposes. The best example I've seen of this profession is in the miniseries Shaka Zulu, where the Zulu king, Shaka, in having a formidable spear made for him, is aided by a mysterious shaman, who imbeds a part of Shaka's spirit into the blade.
Several 'barbaric' cultures in Endor may have access to such power, allowing them to harness the power of faerie and elemental spirits, animals and people into either temporary or permanent enchantment of objects. Such magics may have led to the creation of the Pûkel-men by the Woses, a race of people knowledgeable of the lore of natural and unnatural things, gone unnoticed by civilized man. Northmen, Dunlanders, Lossoth, or Easterlings may use such power to strengthen themselves or others through enchanted objects, using a favored animal's qualities. While such possibilities are considerable, one should be careful of corruption in these magics. Indeed, the long-term or permanent bonding of a free spirit may be considered cruel, denying such a being its natural freedom. Remember also that it is a rare and mysterious thing for the spirits of men to not depart Middle-earth at the time of the death of the body. Only two examples (the ghost of Gorlim and the Oathbreakers) can be found in Tolkien's work, and these both arguably involved direct intervention by Eru.
In tune with the earth and its hidden forces, the Geomancer seeks a balance in the natural forces of his surroundings. Through the power he harnesses, in a combining of Channeling and the manipulation of Essence, he becomes knowledgeable of his surroundings, is able to divine events in time and place, understand and utilize the earthly places of power, and harmonize the various aspects of his environment. He may also call up spirits to further his knowledge and wisdom, conversing with them through the use of his magics.
While the very fabric of Arda is pervaded by the presence of magical forces, such as the Secret Fire and the Mordo, the ability of the Geomancer is certainly a rare one. Much of the spells mentioned would almost seem to hearken to the powers of the Ainur, but it may be possible for a rare individual to acquire such talents in special gifting and lore. While not present in the Tolkien mythos, an example of such a character concept might by the Oracle character from the unpublished module Tales of the Westmarch by Randall Doty (although a more playable character concept may also be possible).
Grand Vizier: 3
Often viewed as the advisor of noble and lordly patrons, the Grand Vizier uses his magics through the direct manipulation of Essence and the focusing of Mentalism. Using his abilities, he takes spells and enchantments and embeds them into temporary molds within items for use at a later time. The most unique ability of the Vizier is that of embedding spells into trappings of woven cloth, such as tapestries, garments and carpets. In addition to this is the ability to peer into the unknowable secrets, craved by his patrons, such as the nature of magical items and enchantments or the seeing of events of the past and future.
In Middle-earth, the abilities of the Grand Vizier might be a gentler form of magic use and lore in that world. Perhaps some of the Seers of Arthedain were of this type, not only able to divine events but also able to store magical power for a time in items. They might be a less powerful or skilled alternative to the Alchemist, who embeds his magics more permanently, as a town wise man or shaman in certain cultures. Even so, the Vizier's talents would bring him close to those in power. While the spell power of this profession leads less to corruption, his intent will, ultimately, be the judge.
Based on the various examples of historical alchemists of Earth's history, the Adept is portrayed as a Hybrid spell-user of Essence and Channeling. In manipulating the Essence, with some 'oomph' from his spiritual devotions, he permeates the material world with magical influence, causing an unorthodox blend of both. This profession is largely responsible for the development of transmutative and perfecting theories of its history, such as the Philosopher's Stone and Philosopher's Elixir. The methods (and spell lists) used in his work are as various as his traditions.
As with the Creator Profession from RMC VI, however, the Adept's abilities are largely based on Earth's culture and not Middle-earth's (I do consider the two separate, despite certain views on the subject.). While some adaptation may be possible, many of the spell abilities would not be found in any figures in Arda's history. There are some possible exceptions. For example, certain 'magical chemists' may have existed in near-scientific places such as Númenor or Ost-in-Edhil, and some of the lists may have seen some use among certain Elven 'alchemists' (e.g. adaptation of Gem Seeds list by Fëanor or by the Jewelsmiths). If the use of the Black Arts or Re-Animation lists are allowed and used with this profession, one should be prepared for the certain corruption that would follow.
Royal Alchemist: 3
Not unlike the Grand Vizier, the Royal Alchemist is a profession that is also found near personages of power and prestige. Manipulating the Essence directly, he functions for the most part as a Core-Rules Alchemist, with a few differences. In addition to being able to embed spells in items, he is also skilled in creating magical automatons and animate items, even to the extent of giving them temporary intelligence and abilities. In support of their patrons, they are also able to create medicinal mixtures through their spells.
In Middle-earth, this profession is one that can be found in various courts, with the intended use that this profession was designed for, albeit rarely. While this is probably more of a profession found in less martial societies, such as in Elven realms and havens or Arnorian lands, the Royal Alchemist's abilities are somewhat unique. His animation skills are likely to be more rare, while his medicinal talent will be much desired. Such a profession may have actually seen use among the havens of the Rangers, creating supplementary weapons and magical accoutrements.
Inorganic Alchemist: 3
With an emphasis on working with those things that have no capacity for life and growth, the Inorganic Alchemist also has a great similarity to the Core-Rules Alchemist, except that the Organic Skills list will not be found in repertoire. Where his knowledge of plants, animals and the useful and rare natures (and parts) of both are lacking, he excels in his knowledge of stone, metal and chemicals, molding their natures to his will and enchanting them with his own power or that which is contributed.
In Middle-earth this profession's power is as rare as that of the Core-Rules version, being limited to those individuals that ply their trade or research in secret. Compared to its counterpart, the Organic Alchemist, the Inorganic Alchemist's setting of choice and use would be more of an urban or civilized one. Of course, the Philosopher's Stone list may have to be monitored or toned down, but it shouldn't cause a large concern until a high level is achieved.
Organic Alchemist: 3
While also very similar to the Core-Rules Alchemist profession, the Organic Alchemist takes an approach to magical artifice that is entirely different than that of the Inorganic Alchemist, and it seems appropriate to compare them together in this article. The focus of the Organic Alchemist's talents lies mainly in dealing with the living and growing parts of the natural world in enchanting and molding. Not only able to shape and enchant dead organic matter, he also has a deep understanding of the flora and fauna around him, as well as the abilities of the flesh of beings. In fact, when appropriate, he can even enchant magic onto the skin of beings, to enhance abilities, protect its bearer or be stored for later use.
A rare type to be sure, still there is more of a place for this profession in the world of Middle-earth than the Inorganic Alchemist, mainly because of a greater number of wild and outdoor lands and cultures. One especially good application for the Organic Alchemist would be among the Woses, with their predilection towards tattoos and a lack of inorganic technology. Various Northmen, Daen or Easterling tribes in rural or wild areas may have access to such rare men of ability, working and enchanting things of leather or wood and making of secret herbal concoctions. The only spell list available to the Organic Alchemist, which may cause some concern, is Philosopher's Elixir, but as with Philosopher's Stone, the list is likely not to cause trouble until later levels are gained.
Evil Alchemist: 5
Using his alchemical talents for evil and twisted ends, the Evil Alchemist takes things both natural and artificial, living and dead and perverts them his own purposes or the purposes of his foul master. He can store and embed souls into stationary and articulate vessels, call upon and embed demons into items, hamper and destroy the ability of magical items, work with the deadliest poisons, and create undead beings. In all instances, he takes a person, place or thing and bends it to his benefit, much to its detriment.
While a puissant servant of the Dark in Middle-earth, this profession unfortunately would serve poorly as a standard character there. Working much in the background, he supports the will of Sauron (or Morgoth) in myriad ways, creating animated monsters to plague his enemies, destroying or annulling the powers of offending magical weapons and spell devices from among the Free Peoples, and creating items and poisons better suited to his lord's minions' use. Needless to say, for such a person to be present in Middle-earth already implies a corruption of spirit in that individual.
Mentally focusing the Essence into items for either permanent or temporary effect, the Thaumaturge embeds his own power and the power of others into items, and his approach centers more on mental energies, intelligence and experience. Oftentimes, he is able to simply enchant items, as does the Core-Rules Alchemist, but, given the proper resources, he can actually cause an item to actually possess the skill or trait of an individual or he can even transfer the entirety of a spell-user's psyche into it.
The transfer of power into an item is a theme that has been touched upon in Tolkien's Middle-earth, as can be largely seen in the nature of the One Ring. Indeed, some of the greatest of magics in Middle-earth are those that require a personal commitment. This is especially true for those who act outside the Balance of Things, the first and foremost example being Morgoth. In choosing such a profession in Middle-earth, there are several considerations that must come to mind. The first would be the temptation of meddling with the mental energies of other people, especially when such a thing takes place against the will of the subject. Secondly, while the Personal Power Imbedding list is attractive, the price for such transfers, especially when the subject item is removed from the Thaumaturge's possession, can be great. Lastly, there are easier professions of alchemist types to play. Such an individual would be rare in Endor, if a player is comfortable with playing it.
A user of Channeling in his magical artifice, the Theurgist uses the gifted power of his deity to enchant items and perform miraculous feats of transmutation. Except for his transmutative affinity and greater ability to embed Channeling magics, this profession works largely the same as the Core-Rules Alchemist. It is the approach to this profession's enchanting skills that makes it unique and a good basis for an alchemist type that uses neither the direct manipulation nor the focusing of Essence, as do the Essence and Mentalism alchemist types. His understanding of how his deity perceives the states of matter and energy makes the use of his Transmutations list possible. Of course, all such 'miracle-working' must meet with the approval of the deific force involved in such gifting of power.
As mentioned in previous articles, the Channeling realm is one that would very well involve the intervention and gifting of one of the Ainur, either for good or ill. The Theurgist, in his artifice, would be subject to certain rules of conduct, whether a Dwarven priest of Mahal, a Sauronic artificer or a tribal shaman (Obviously, the Sauronic artificer would have a little more leeway.). As far as the transmutation power of this profession is concerned, it may be of some concern, but not more than the elemental manipulation of the average Magician or Mystic profession, and should be kept under control by the gifting forces involved. Tied to such a gifting of power, however, such a profession would indeed by rare.
An alternative to the Cleric profession in game world religions, this Channeling user combines Cleric-like ability with enchantment and artifice. While the majority of the enchantments he performs are temporary in nature, several are devoted to the warding of a particular area or structure and the embedding of elemental beings into items. Other spell abilities available to the Theocratist would include detailed spell channeling and raw offensive power, arming and armoring magics, and even the ability to convert an individual to his religious persuasion.
In Middle-earth, however, religion is not a thing found often. When it is, it is generally primitive, barbaric in nature or of the Dark. The types of religious pursuits, symbolized by the Theocratist profession, are not found in Middle-earth as a rule. If such a type is to be found in Middle-earth, I, unfortunately, have seen no precedent or possibility in Tolkien's writings.
Dwarven Alchemist: 2
Receiving power from his smithing patron deity, the Dwarven Alchemist acts much like a Core-Rules Alchemist, except for the use of the realm of Channeling and several other differences that reflect his race and culture. Like all Dwarves, he has an affinity for craft, especially of those things of metal, earth and stone, with skill costs reflecting these facts, such as lessened costs in mining and caving. Being that Dwarves are often of a martial society, his costs to learn the use of weapons are also less. For some, the animation of inorganic constructs is accomplished by his deity's will and teaching.
While not the profession of every Dwarf in Middle-earth, such a type is very appropriate. Before this Companion Dwarves were not accommodated by very well by the Core-Rules Alchemist, since by their nature Dwarves eschew magic that they do not trust (thousands of years of dealing with Morgothian/Sauronic minions, crafty Elves, and Orcish priests and sorcerers will do that to a people.). Obviously, the houses of the Khazâd would have such favor from Mahal (Aulë) in certain individuals, meant to lead as a master crafter and/or priest among them. Of course, the example of Mahal would run strongly in such a one, prompting them in responsibility for the things they make; to do otherwise would allow corruption to enter.
Oh, my goodness; that's all of them! Hopefully, in all my rambling and suppositions, I've given some insight on proper application of the Rolemaster professions in a Middle-earth setting, not only from the companions covered in this article but all of the companions covered previously. The experiences I've had have led to the observations I've given, despite some sometimes-painful trial and error. Even though there are certain obstacles to overcome, I believe that making use of the various professions of RM2 will allow for some very interesting characters and non-player characters in a MERP game.
I will leave you with one recommendation that I'm hoping has stuck, and that's the recommendation that the decisions that are made are checked against the works of the author of this marvelous world and also your own vision of what your MERP game should be like. As you continue your Middle-earth gaming, in whatever incarnation, I hope you have fun and enjoy it. Take care.