Fire and Ice
Reviewed by Greg Pearson ©2002
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
Fire and Ice: The Elemental Companion is the first new Rolemaster book released since ICE's change of ownership and represents the first release of new (as opposed to reprinted) Rolemaster material in several years. It provides expanded rules for the use of elemental magic in a Rolemaster campaign. Although second edition Rolemaster also had a book called the Elemental Companion, this book is all new material, not a rewrite of the old book.
The book opens with an eight page introduction to the "physics" of elemental magic and descriptions of the six elements: Air, water, earth, ice, fire, and light. Ice and light seem like odd additions to the standard four elements, but the authors were constrained by the elements described in previous books which were, I suspect, chosen more for allowing interesting spell lists than out of any thought for the physical laws of magic. Nonetheless, the authors do an excellent job of coming up with a unique and internally consistent cosmology using the elements they were handed. They also add two new meta-elements: Aether, or elemental creation, and Nether, or elemental destruction.
The next section presents four professions, which are the heart of Fire and Ice. The most important of these is the Elementalist, an essence spell user focusing on one of the six primary elements. Wanting to make each specialist unique but not wanting to create six separate professions, the authors have come up with a novel solution. The Elementalist character class provides the standard skill costs and profession bonuses, but only three of the character's six base spell lists (a summoning list, a counterspell list, and a protection list). The Elementalist then chooses a training package specific to one of the six elements, which provides the remaining three spell lists as well as focusing the character's skills. This does an excellent job of distinguishing between specialists in each of the elements, while still providing a common framework for the profession.
Taking elemental magic to its extreme is the Arcane Elementalist, a profession which combines mastery over all the elements. The Arcane Elementalist's spell lists provide a smorgasbord of the most useful spells from each of the primary elements, plus control over Aether and Nether. This flexibility comes at a price, though; exposure to even seemingly innocuous spell effects, such as created light or water, can cause elemental poisoning in unprotected mortals. This is a nice mechanism for explaining why people tend to shun Arcane spell users. Arcane Companion notes that people "should" find Arcanists weird and creepy, but fails to provide a compelling explanation for this other than "because the GM says so". The elemental poisoning rules, on the other hand, provide an explanation for why Arcane Elementalists aren't very popular at the local tavern without resorting to GM fiat.
The other two professions, the Elemental Priest and the Elemental Champion (a semi-spell user) seem almost like an afterthought. Although members of each of these professions must choose an element to focus on, like the Elementalist, there are no training packages or unique spell lists to customize these classes. Regardless of elemental specialty, all members of these professions have the same skills and their spells are functionally identical, with the only variations being cosmetic, such as what type of element the character's Gate spell summons. These professions are, however, necessary additions. With them, you could run a party consisting entirely of elemental specialists, which leads to some interesting campaign possibilities. However, they seem like pale shadows next to the better developed Elementalist and Arcane Elementalist professions.
More than a quarter of the book is devoted to 35 elemental spell lists. Thirty-three of them are base lists for the professions presented in the book. The remaining two are alchemist lists for the creation of elemental magic items, such as flaming swords or ice armor. Unfortunately, Fire and Ice is plagued by the sloppy editing common to most ICE products and nowhere is this more evident than in the spell lists. Problems range from missing durations to obviously incorrect effect descriptions. Fortunately, it is usually pretty easy to figure out what the authors intended. Still, players using these spells are advised to look over the spell lists very carefully for errors and discuss any inconsistencies with their GM to ensure that everybody is on the same page.
The next section is devoted to elemental monsters, including both new monsters and revisions to some of those provided in Creatures & Monsters to fit in with the cosmology presented in Fire and Ice. This is a welcome addition to the ranks of elemental beings and, although it's not extensive enough that you could really go adventuring on the Elemental Planes without adding more creatures of your own devising, it provides a nice range of summoned creatures from cute little arctic foxes to fearsome elemental riding drakes. Again, this section is somewhat marred by ICE's odd editing decisions. For instance, Zephyr Hounds rate only a paragraph stating that they are "essentially unchanged" from Creatures & Monsters, despite the fact that the Zephyr Hounds presented in that book do not even correspond to the elements used in Fire and Ice. Meanwhile, the entry for Elemental Savants consists of a page and a half of material copied word for word from Creatures & Monsters.
The rest of the text deals with the effects of exposure to raw elemental material on creatures and objects. On objects, this is a purely beneficial process which is used in the creation of magic items. On people, this "elemental corruption" causes damage and can, in extreme cases, cause the character to slowly take on manifestations of the element. Characters exposed to raw elements must make a resistance roll or become corrupted. The sources of corruption, however, are of fairly consistent (and low) power while resistance rolls increase with a character's level. For example, failing a spell casting roll can cause corruption, but the resistance roll is the same whether the spell cast is 1st level or 50th level. While it's possible that the 1st level mage would fail the resistance roll, it's vanishingly unlikely that the 50th level spell caster would. There is a certain logic to this, in that it certainly makes sense that more powerful elementalists would find their element increasingly easy to manipulate, but it is the reverse of the standard fantasy image of mages who become increasingly inhuman the more powerful they become. However, a GM who wanted to use the more traditional image would probably find the necessary modifications to the rules fairly easy.
The book concludes with nine attack tables for elemental spells that do not exist in Spell Law and critical strike tables for Aether and Nether. Devotees of second edition Rolemaster will recognize the Aether critical table as a slightly modified version of the old plasma critical table.
Rolemaster players looking to add more depth to essence magic in their games will find this a very useful resource. Unlike the second edition version, this Elemental Companion fits well into the power level of the rest of the Rolemaster system and can be added to an existing campaign without undue disruption. Non-Rolemaster players who are looking for a primer on elemental magic to adapt to their own games should probably keep looking. While the elemental cosmology is interesting and the item creation rules could be adapted to other game systems with a minimum of effort, these account for less than a quarter of the book. The rest is largely Rolemaster-specific mechanics and likely not of much use with other game systems.
Fire and Ice: The Elemental Companion is written by Robert J. Defendi and Lyn Mortensen, and produced by Iron Crown Enterprises, which can be found at:
112 Goodman Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902