Review: College of Magics

Copyright R. J. Hansen © 2005

Edited by Robert J Defendi for The Guild Companion

College of Magics is the official magic system expansion for Iron Crown Enterprise's new game system High Adventure Role-Playing (HARP). College of Magics is a 128 page book available in hard or soft colour through print on demand--and was written by Nicholas HM Caldwell.

After the introduction and acknowledgements of Chapter One, Chapter Two explains the various aspects of magic. This covers what magic is, how to harness magical energy (mana) and it explains the effects of wearing armour while casting spells. It also covers the use of Sigils, the patterns of magical energy.

I felt the explanation of magic and armour came across more as a theory used to explain existing stereotypes than an explanation of the design concepts that gave birth to a certain set of rules. Here it is mentioned that when a deity grants mana to a spell caster wearing armour he should be unaffected even though other spell casters that obtain mana from other sources are penalised, I find this to be a contradiction as mana is just that, mana, irrespective of where it originates. Other than that, the majority of this chapter was intriguing.

Chapter Three describes the different types and traditions of magic. It explains the basics of each category--which are Blood Magic, Ritual Magic, Rune Magic, Spell Magic, High, Middle and Low Magic and last of all Natural Magic. This section then categorizes the traditions of magic which are referred as Greater Circles. There are five Greater Circles:

Elementalism: This circle deals with the primary elements relating to Air, Earth, Fire and Water. A character may specialize in a specific element. For example, a mage might specialize in the element of Fire. He would then be called a Pyromancer and receive a bonus with fire spells, as well as more defensive areas such as his DB and RRs.

Magery: This encompasses all aspects of the other Greater Circles and forms the basis for a character that aspires to become an Archmage.

Necromancy: This explores the spells of death and destruction, pain and suffering. This is the ideal circle for a mage that has a darker side or just wants to rule the world with hordes of undead warriors.

Thaumaturgy: This delves into the art of teleportation, transmutation and the manipulation of the magical essence mana. Here a mage can specialize in becoming an Alchemist, able to produce magic potions, or a Charmcrafter, temporarily enchanting items, or an Artificer, creating powerful artefacts.

Vivamancy: This deals with life and vitality, nature and animals. Characters taking on a healer or druid role will be able to summon and command plants and animals alike or heal there comrades in arms.

This chapter also briefly mentions clerical spheres which are specific spells dedicated to a certain religion, cult or deity. There are four spheres upon which this book concentrates, which are Harper, Ranger, Warrior Mage and Universal. These are also found in the HARP core book.

Chapter Four introduces the many professions related to the Greater Circles of magic and explains the starting ranks allocated for each. Also in this chapter is a more detailed description of how a mage taps mana to power his spells. A mage can do this through Personal, Ambient, Granted, Fixed and Pure mana tapping. This chapter also compares the advantages and disadvantages with each tapping method. There are guidelines on six spell focus styles that a GM may wish to use in his settings; they are Gestural, Somatic, Song (and/or musical), Trance and Verbal.

The spell focus styles will give a player a definite identity in your game world. The Trance focus style I found was the odd one out. It would be best suited to worlds that had no other focus styles. It is the only style that relied on pure enlightened thought which would contradict the other styles if placed in the same game world. Also the explanation of instantaneous spells for Ambient mages was--dare I say--weak and felt instantaneous spells overall could have been explored further.

Chapter Five begins with guidelines on the study and acquisition of a mage's spells, it then ventures into magical research giving various bonuses and negatives for magical research. The next section is what makes this book so appealing. If you are one that would like to create your own spells, you need to look no further. This chapter allows you to create your own scalable spells using an ingenious spell creation system which is easy to comprehend, with no number crunching mathematics. There are two factors in a spells creation which are Action aspects of a spell and the Object that it affects. Each of these aspects has a cost which with other factors determines its power point value.

I found reading the first part of this chapter tedious and would only use the guidelines as reference material but it may be of more benefit to those beginning to create there world and the relation of magic guilds and mentors in it. Using the spell creation rules, I found it easier with each spell that I created. I did find, however, that I had to write in the Aspect and Object costs beside there descriptions as I was constantly flipping back and forth to determine the costs, but this was a minor inconvenience. If you don't give careful consideration to creating your spells you could potentially over balance your game . . . but don't worry; there is a guideline for creating new Cantrips and spells which gives valuable advice.

A ruling I found puzzling in the spell creation process is the instantaneous spell casting time option, which basically adds an extra two power points to a spell's power point total without any justification. Following the mage casting rules, the higher a normal spell's PP total the longer it takes to cast, although a mage may reduce this casting time to a minimum of one round with penalties. It also states that instantaneous spells are unaffected by these rulings. As instantaneous spells can be cast immediately compared to normal spells, there seems to be no difference between the two other than in the creation options of whetther it be normal or an instantaneous spell-- but overall this system is of high merit. I especially appreciate the ease with which you can scale up a spell's power. This ability is missing from most game systems, including the Rolemaster spell system.

If you are having trouble creating your own spells then there is an article in July 2004 edition of The Guild Companion describing the cost of the Action Aspects and Object Aspects of the spells created for College of Magics. There's also an article in the August 2004 edition of The Guild Companion giving optional rules for expanding the Range, Duration, and Area of effect costs for spell creation. Both these articles were written by Nicholas HM Caldwell and were originally planned for College of Magics but were omitted in the final draft due to page limitations.

Chapter Six introduces the skills of magic, the talents of magic and Blood Magic. Part of this chapter details the rules and guidelines on how to handle Blood Magic which is the innate magical ability that enables a character to perform extraordinary feats.

Blood magic is another credit to this book and the spells described for the use with blood magic would make an interesting aspect to any GMs game world.

Chapter Seven is about the Natural Magic of Alchemy and Charmcraft. It gives guidelines on the creation of potions and charms and their relative costs and limitations. It also has guidelines on Fixed Power Points of Mana within various organic and inorganic substances that can be used in conjunction with potions and charms.

There is an appealing section regarding unique crystals and obscure substances that store limited amounts of mana which can be drawn upon to power spells. I prefer this concept over the normal power point multiplier (also mentioned in this book) which will give you as a GM more flexibility with creating adventure hooks.

Chapter Eight deals with the aspects of Rituals and Runes. There is a step by step example on how a character may research a particular ritual and how to perform it. As well as runes, glyphs and seals described in this chapter there is also rules on Magic Circles that either protect the caster or imprison a target.

There is an interesting section on additional influences for ritual magic that may help in adding flavour and inspiration to your game play. It is noted that the rituals described in this book only refer to Lesser Rituals but there are unofficial guidelines written by the author for Greater Rituals. These can be found in the November 2004 edition of The Guild Companion.

In Chapter Nine you'll find the spell lists for all Greater Circles of magic and new spells for existing professions relating to the HARP core system. Another interesting concept this book adds to the campaign world is the use of Ley Lines and Nexus Points. Ley lines are the streams of magical energy that flow above and below the surface of the planet and where these streams of mana cross are known as nexus points. These lines and nexus points are used mainly for rituals and High magic spells (also listed in this chapter.) Unfortunately I have to say that I was very disappointed in the exclusion of the Magery spell list.

Chapter Ten contains the rules and guidelines to enchant items, permanent and temporary. It incorporates all aspects from recharging wands, granting bonuses to items; spell adders and power point multipliers and how to calculate the costs of an enchanted item. There are two examples regarding the creation of a +5 long sword and a wand of light from beginning to end.

In the creation of permanent magical items such as swords and armour etc. a mage must develop the skill Power Projection which after a successful manoeuvre seals the sigils permanently in the item. In the creation of non-permanent magical potions and charms there are alternate spells which can seal these items permanently. This left me puzzled as to why such a spell was not created for sealing weapons and armour etc.

Chapter Eleven contains a guideline on how a GM can incorporate magic into his setting. This tackles such subjects as magic in society (is it good or evil?) It compares technology and magic organizations such as guilds. There is also several adventure and campaign seeds for a GM to consider.

I found this chapter also interesting which will provide you with more inspirational tips and material to add to your game.

For me artwork always adds a little something extra to role-playing books such as College of Magics and I would like to give credit to the artists' contributions; especially Jennifer Myer, Peter Bergting and Jeff Laubenstein--their work appealed to me the most.

Overall this book is well presented and is well worth its cost, monetary and inspirationally. If you have the HARP core system, then this book will certainly be a complementary addition.

If you are a Rolemaster Standard System GM and looking for an alternate spell system, then--with a little tweaking--there is a place for this book, although one may feel short changed by the exclusion of the Magery spell list found only in the HARP core system rules. I felt adding that to this book would have made it complete. Even with this exclusion I found College of Magics a refreshing change.