The Social Implications of Magic: Closed Channeling

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2007

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Right off, at level two, we have one of those spells you can weave a whole culture around."

This is the second in a series of articles consisting of notes on each of the spell lists in the RMSS version of Spell Law. While it occasionally considers various other ideas concerning the spells, the primary focus is on the commercial or societal use of spells in order to see how they might influence the shape of a culture that employs them. Because of the nature of Channeling, spells that can be of ritual use or that likely have special spiritual significance also receive special attention.

Blood Law & Bone Law

These lists offer potentially excellent emergency care. In addition to the good publicity a church gets from healing, some governments may require clergy to learn healing spells and to provide public care as a condition of enjoying the benefits of an officially recognized religion. (Indeed, the government may strongly imply or state outright that clergy who do not provide such services are either phonies or, even worse, that they are Evil Clerics, whose powers are dedicated to destruction rather than toward any good.)

Some devout individuals may perform sacrifice/penance by deliberately inflicting injuries and healing themselves, perhaps doing so each day throughout a Holy Week or some similar ritual. Blood Law is particularly good for ceremonial use, since bloodletting, blood-drinking, writing in blood, etc. are all very powerful symbols.

Bone Lore also provides information on treatment of bone injuries and is very low-level. Once this spell is discovered, a people can catch up any backwardness they had previously had in this area. It could also be helpful dealing with injuries in unfamiliar species.

Calm Spirits

This list provides good crowd and animal control, making it very useful for law-enforcement and safety officers. It is also good for getting away after preaching your faith in an area where proselytizing annoys the natives. Teachers could use it for stopping playground brawls. Prisons could use a couple of guys with this list to quiet riots.

Mainly, this list allows many situations to be handled without force when it would otherwise be required. However, it would not help with actual arrests much, as I would have to consider taking someone into custody an attack (on one's freedom at the very least). There is not too much complication with this list; it does pretty much one thing, but does it well.

Depending on the world and the particular gods served, this might also be good for escaping angry crowds after unscrupulous actions or from angry fathers or husbands after a night of socially-unauthorized fun.

Calm might also have a subjective effect, so that it might be used as an aid to meditation or as a method to reach the "appropriate" state for some ritual. It could also potentially be used like a narcotic (with no known addiction factor).


Right off, at level two, we have one of those spells you can weave a whole culture around. Sustain Self gives the ability to survive without food or water, allowing survival indefinitely in areas of great deprivation. A whole civilization could be built around this sort of ability, or, more simply, one can have a monastery where the monks take a vow of... well, I am not sure what to call it, given that they do not go hungry, they just do not eat. Foodlessness? A priest who feared poisoners could fall back on this spell. Soldiers in enemy territory could avoid the need to forage (and thereby lose time and risk exposure) by using this spell.

With Food Production and Water Production added in, you can easily see a society surviving on this list, if it focuses on Channeling and everyone capable learns this list. In any case, it allows for relief of the hungry or thirsty in time of famine or drought. Another use is the ceremonial eating of the "food of the gods". Even if this is not a primary source of nourishment, a people may have a legend of a time when they survived solely by the grace of their god's miraculous food.

Water Production can also be used for limited irrigation, and in a society in which everyone learns this list, the Production spells can feed children and animals.

Fire Starting adds another element for wilderness survival by magical means alone. It is also ideal for starting any sort of ceremonial burning.

With Nutrient Conjures, expeditions independent of the actual spell-casters can be supplied (for a month). This food may also have ritual significance in some cultures.

Herb Enhancement is useful, but reliant on access to herbs, so by itself it merely increases the influence of whatever herbs are already significant. The same goes for Herb Mastery.

Plant Production is a pretty amazing effect and good for impressing the masses. Since the plant must be common to the region, in practical terms, it is really only good for cutting out the time and inconvenience of moving or growing a plant normally. Animal Production is even more impressive and an easy way to get a captive specimen. Again, only native animals can be produced, so it is more a convenience than something with a major effect. I think these will actually have far less impact than the lower-level spells, although they would be useful on a colonizing mission to establish a new settlement quickly.

A society depending on this list for miraculous food will tend to be very pious and clergy controlling the list may have enormous clout depending on how widespread the list actually is.

Locating Ways

This is another list with significant potential to mold a society. Guess can become a very powerful spell when used by groups of spell-casters. While it has a large chance of being wrong in a single casting, a large enough group can ensure there is only a small chance of the majority being wrong. A great many processes could be standardized to provide a limited number of options and a society could let the gods guide their way.

Possible uses of mass-castings of Guess:

• Selecting church officials,

• Selecting government officials,

• Selecting sacrifices,

• Confirming marriages (assuring the gods consider the couple compatible),

• Accepting immigration requests,

• Confirming nominations for a special mission. (Should we send this individual to negotiate with the Western Empire?),

• Selecting between possible building sites,

• Choosing to whom to award a contract, monopoly, or prize,

• Paper or plastic?, and

• Confirming proposed treaties, laws, etc. (Although this seems to be a flawed use, as it must be a yes/no evaluation, whereas traditional legislative procedures allow for amendments, etc. At best, this might supplement such procedures. If mass-casting of Guess is used in place of them, you could have a society with a serious weakness.)

Pathfinding is just good to help get unlost, as far as I can see. It might be useful on an item for someone who may need help in that regard.

Memory's Path means that kidnapping high-level priests is likely to be a bad idea. That is probably true anyway, of course. In any case, it means the common use of disposable meeting places for things like liaisons between an untrusted government representative and the rebels.

The remaining spells are mainly about finding stuff. So, the absent-minded high priest can find his keys. Creative use of Finding could turn up all sorts of things, as it does not have the "uniqueness" limitations of Location. The power of these spells somewhat depends upon interpretation. Does "object" include living things? I would rule it does not, as the ability to Find "subversives" would make the theocratic state a bit too secure for my liking. Still, "buried treasure" would be a good choice to Find. Ferreting out drug stashes, forbidden religious paraphernalia, or "the murder weapon" are all possible uses. At least Finding is sufficiently high-level to ensure that it will find relatively limited use. Location spells, on the other hand, are good for finding known things, from which it follows that stolen items with distinguishing traits need to be quickly altered, or else carried beyond the range of any likely Location. If religious treasures get stolen, they are likely to be melted down or disassembled quickly.


Afterthoughts makes it worthwhile for professional messengers to take a single rank in this list. Others who would benefit from this spell are policemen (especially if they can give testimony within the time limit), town criers, reporters, or anyone else who often deals with detailed communications. It is also valuable for spies. It is a question for the GM as to a person's ability to use Afterthoughts to recall information in a language he does not himself know in order to get a translation. I could argue that case either way.

Detect Evil is highly world dependant. In any case, this spell can be an important spell for the defense of a realm. I suggest that evil not be defined in such a way that anyone of a criminal nature will show as evil, as that would be a little too convenient for a second-level spell. But does knowing an "Evil" spell list make one show up as evil? If so, this spell can be used in hunting down "rogue" spell-users, should a group choose to do so. If "Evil" is an objective measure and Evil is a sort of elemental substance in your world (for example, in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Evil would be an attachment to Morgoth's spirit), then it is far more likely that a Detect Evil spell would carry legal weight than if "Evil" is defined differently (for detection purposes) for various religions/deities and there is no universal standard.

Detect Emotion might be useful in counseling, interrogation, negotiations, or politics. Policework might be aided by detection of someone who really needs to cool off. Emotion Analysis is a more advanced version. The limitation to extreme emotions limits the utility of these spells, however, as skills would usually allow detection and exploitation of such emotions. Still, it might help weed out fanatical terrorists or assassins before they reach the President. That just means the fanatics will focus on using professionals or dupes who will do the job fairly dispassionately.

Lore spells relating to (un)holy items do not seem to be terribly important as social factors, except that they may well eliminate or severely curtail the traffic in phony relics such as existed in our history, as such items can actually be tested for authenticity. White/Black Lore might prove useful in identifying leaders of persecuted cults if one got hold of a relic he had held, although the more hands it has gone through, the harder this will be.

Poison Lore allows for the development of a table of remedies for all poisons for which samples are available.

Life Lore allows for the development of a "monster manual" describing various creatures. Life Lore True could be used by a court appointed investigator to determine if an individual had the abilities necessary to commit a crime or it could be used as a means of testing prospective elite holy warriors or other specialists.

Detect Curse is not that significant, but Curse Tales reveals "the name of the one who bequeathed it." This would mean cursing should be avoided by those who do not want to face an arrest and/or a vendetta. At least, the curser should have a secret identity. "So, this is the work of Adonzo Collip. I guess it wasn't that mysterious suspicious wanderer, Krep the Nightbringer. Who is Adonzo Collip?" Alternatively, having a common name might do the trick. "This is the work of John Smith. Well, that narrows it down to a hundred or so guys in the kingdom." The secret identity method could be uncovered with some detective work, but if you have moved to a different continent, it would take some very good detective work.

Muscle Law, Nerve Law, Organ Law

Even at first-level, these lists greatly aid by providing valuable information. I can see hospitals with magic items that cast the various healing-related Lore spells to quickly scan incoming patients with the efficiency of a Star Trek sick bay.

Limb Preservation could be used to keep some well-preserved trophies (for warrior priests) or relics ("here we have the living thumb of Saint Paul the Crushed by Stampeding Elephants"). Yuck!

I could see a nation that still had "cut off the hand of a thief" on its books, but with more moderate modern leadership treating it as "cut off the hand, then Join it right back on — that will punish them while not leaving them even less likely to find honest work".

Symbolic Ways

In the case of a list like this, which interacts with all other spells lists, the effects are complicated to work out. Basically, most low-level spells can be made available on a permanent basis, although in an immobile fashion. If one allows attunement to be used to "access" the Symbols so that informational spells can be incorporated into Symbols while allowing attuned individuals access to the results, you have the ability to erect "scanners" of various sorts. Rather than a magic item with all the healing Lore spells as I suggested earlier, you can make a set of stone tables as "medical beds" where patients can be diagnosed magically, even more like the Star Trek sick bay. Because these are permanent unless removed, old religious buildings may be thick with symbols everywhere. Any religious offense in the Temple of Spheres draws a shock bolt to the offender. Cut yourself in the Church of the Divine Peace and be instantly healed (Cut Repair III symbols everywhere, with some redundant ones keyed to go off only if previous symbols in the same series have already "fired"). All sorts of little automatic miracles are possible, especially if non-Channeling spells are also available (note that most clergy probably would not want to openly admit to most non-clergy that they do that kind of staging). For a modest church, a Symbol that casts Aura on the priest when he steps up to pulpit to praise the gods would be a nice thing.

The one Symbol per ton of stone limit does restrict the use of Symbols, but clever design can get around this limit to a large degree. The floor of a temple may not be stone tiles as it appears, but the top of a collection of sunken pillars of sufficient weight to each hold a symbol. Even without such measures, you could still fit many Symbols into a large stone building.

This list could, under extreme circumstances, become the basis for a (small-scale) mass production of magic items if a strongly magical priesthood and a group of Alchemists got together. Certainly you could never hope to crank out the most powerful items, but a city or nation might hope to provide +5 or even +10 magical weapons and armor to its regular soldiers. And, even an individual Alchemist might hire a Channeler to help him set up the means to charge wands, in order to pay the rent without too much distraction from his masterwork in progress. (Yes, an alchemist can eventually do this himself, but a Channeler can do it at a lower level, faster, and with less expense. Also, the Symbol works on its own, with no attunement required, so it may be a nicer legacy for the Alchemist's less talented son.)

Basically, any low-level spell that may be used repeatedly in the same place is a candidate for automation via Symbol. Imaginative combinations of triggers and spells make this a list with lots of potential.