Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2004

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the sixty-second issue of The Guild Companion.

Magical Professions

As many of you know, I am "irresponsible" for College of Magic, HARP's upcoming definitive sourcebook on the magical arts. My mission was to extend and expand the magical horizons of HARP, including the creation of new professions to cover aspects of magical expertise unknown to the generalist Mage profession. I wished to avoid the D&D scenario where sorcerers/wizards have access to an ever-growing set of spells, but all mages tend to share many common spells.

My solution was to propose five new specialist mage professions, with each speciality having several areas of interest. In Rolemaster, a profession needs six solid base spell lists covering every aspect of an individual focus, and it is in the nature of Rolemaster spell lists that a determined designer can sit down and fill the slots with the Right Stuff. HARP has scalable spells which can encapsulate an entire spell list (or more) in a base form and a handful of carefully chosen scaling options. The downside is that profession concepts that enjoyed a full six base lists under Rolemaster collapse into a mere handful of spells. Thus narrow concepts simply aren't tenable in HARP - at least not if they are competing against an existing Mage profession with thirty spells in its sphere! Hence my decision to have each specialist cover a broader theme.

I said that I had proposed five professions - at the time I wasn't sure whether I would be able to generate sufficient spells for them (and duly warned ICE). Fortunately things did work out and there are five professions in the current manuscript plus the Magician (which is the renamed existing Mage profession).

Back to the Books

While I have been working on the College of Magic, I have been strongly reminded of two books that I read many years ago.

The first was one of those "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" books that I borrowed twenty years ago from the local library. I've forgotten its name but it had an interesting take on magic. Your character was a budding mage aspiring to leadership of the Council of Mages. You could choose to specialize as a Necromancer, Pyromancer, Sorcerer, Druid or Wizard, gaining five spells, at least two from your speciality (choice of 3) and the remaining three from (some of) the other specialities (Necromancers and Wizards didn't share spells). Alternatively you could be a Magician with six spells, but no more than any two from a single speciality. Suitably equipped, you then had to best enemies, make allies, etc., in a mystical land where each encounter area was keyed to one or more types of magic, starting out from the Rainbow Tavern. It was great fun, and I have been bemused since by the coincidence in the numbers of mage professions between that book and College of Magic. My thematic breakdown is somewhat different, however.

The second book was "Master of the Five Magics" by Lyndon Hardy, the first in a trilogy which continued with "Secret of the Sixth Magic" and "Riddle of the Seven Realms". The first volume features the quest of the apprentice Alodar to win the hand of the Queen, a quest that becomes a journey to become an archmage, a master of all five magics. While a good entertaining read, the book is most powerful in its logical approach to magic. There are five types of magic and seven rules of magic (as my copy of the book is secreted in my library at my family home rather than in Cambridge, the following were sourced from the Internet):

  • Thaumaturgy (or magical engineering) which is governed by The Principle of Sympathy (Like Produces Like) and The Principle of Contagion (Once Together, Always Together)
  • Alchemy (traditional potion-making) with its Doctrine of Signatures (The Attributes Without Mirror the Powers Within)
  • Magic (permanent item creation by ritual means) which obeys The Maxim of Persistence (Perfection Is Eternal)
  • Sorcery (the power of charms and farseeing) which holds to The Rule of Three (Thrice Spoken, Once Fulfilled)
  • Wizardry (demonology) which is governed by The Law of Ubiquity (Flame Permeates All) and The Law of Dichotomy (Dominance or Submission).

Certain of Hardy's magical principles (i.e. the Doctrine of Signatures and the Principles of Sympathy and Contagion) are firmly established in the study of our world's magical traditions. They also appear in College of Magic as the guiding axioms of Natural Magic (which concerns the creation of potions and charms). Unlike Hardy's world, the specialist mages in College of Magic all obey the same laws of Spell Magic (the standard spell-casting model for HARP), but I was determined (having remembered Hardy's novels) to ensure that it was possible, albeit difficult, for a character to become an archmage in HARP.

Variant Professions

In the original HARP, characters could access multiple professions by purchasing the Additional Profession Talent for a mere 40 DPs. In return, the character's Favored Categories changed, any professional talents were gained (including access to the spell sphere), and twenty skill ranks (worth 40 DPs). A bargain. I really didn't like the implications for game balance - I could easily imagine PCs taking Elementalist at 1st level, Necromancer at 2nd, Mystic at 3rd, etc., racking up the talents, spell access and ranks. Everyone would be an archmage and it would be like D&D. I was not going to allow this to happen.

My solution was to define all of the Mage professions to be "variants". A character could only ever belong to one variant profession which neatly stopped the "multi-classing" hell. To permit the creation of archmages, I invented the Arcane Circle Talent which allowed a character to gain access to the spells of a different variant profession (the concept was and is that the "Mage" Sphere is actually comprised of related spell groupings known as Circles). Problem solved.

And then came HARP (Revised) which redefined the Additional Profession Talent such that it now costs 20 DPs, but only alters the favored categories and grants one talent, which may be spell access. Problem removed, and a brief rewrite of the Practitioners chapter of College of Magic upgraded all the specialists to full professions.

And so the concept of "variant professions" became one of my lost rules of magic.

Farewell (for now ...)

The deadline for College of Magic sings its siren song, so it is time for me to disappear back into the mysteries of Natural Magic and Sorcery, while you enjoy this month's set of articles.

Our next issue will be published in May 2004, but until then ...

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion