The Social Implications of Magic: Open Channeling

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2007

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"This is a world where there are enough spells to reshape society."

This is the first 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.

Channeling spells lead us immediately to think of religious organizations. However, while a Channeler may be a priest or monk of some type, he may also be a holy warrior (the Ranger and Paladin are both as useable as members of independent warrior orders as part of a larger religious hierarchy) or be following his own path. He must be pious in some sense, but the form his spirituality takes may be varied. He may even be a pious lay member of his faith who has learned a few low-level utility spells. A Layman may well invest the 10 DPs required to learn a spell each level if that investment pays off with magic that improves his life. There is also the question of what strictures the gods impose on their followers in order to keep their magic. I prefer keeping these to a minimum (as opposed to requirements to keep in good standing with the church, which may be strict), because it would discourage heresy if it made the miracles go away, and heretics make for much more interesting worlds.

To these assumptions, I further assume that the world is not a low-magic world, but that the only requirement for learning spells is investing DP in the appropriate skills. I assume that training is readily available; it is not kept secret by a handful of orders, but rather employed for the public good. This is a world where there are enough spells to reshape society. I believe a government would make use of the powers of Channeling, although the degree to which this involves entanglements between church and state is highly society-dependent. Such spells would also be used to ensure the well-being of the caster and the caster's family and immediate community. Channeling is the least likely realm for commercial or entrepreneurial use.

Barrier Law

Obviously the permanent spells can be used in construction, although Icewall will only be practical as a construction spell where igloos are a dwelling option. The lack of perfect fit can be dealt with through mundane means, other spells, or Spell Mastery. Barrier Pit is a great digging spell and at 10th level it should not be too rare except in low-magic worlds. However, as a Channeling list, these spells are probably generally used only for religious or state projects, not sold to construction firms. Curved Wall offers improved flexibility in construction. Given their duration, most temporary walls are unsuitable for use as supports during construction, but they could be used to create temporary structures to consider options for layout, location, and materials. Illusions would do this much better, but perhaps illusions are not available.

Light Wall would make a dramatic 'curtain' for presentations suddenly revealed to an audience. It is also a useful privacy spell against basic peeping. Logically, in order to match the other spell names it really should be a Darkness Wall, but I suppose the name is chosen because of light/dark symbolism representing good and evil. In a society without such a bias, I would expect it to be Darkness Wall.

Airwall is a mass of churning air and so probably could be used to assist ventilation. It certainly could be used for some nice effects by tossing something light into it, such as feathers, gold dust, or the like.

Waterwall could serve as a bath of sorts, used largely for ritual cleansing and baptisms. It could be brought into public service along with Icewall for fire control.

Almost any of these spells could be used for crowd control in case of rioting. Many would also be useful in diverting or containing waters in case of flooding.

Woodwall True could be used for material in areas where wood is scarce (I am thinking mainly firewood, although if you could create nice wood to carve furniture from, that would make this an even better spell. I suppose what kind of wood it is, depends on the wood used as the 'model', so one should import a cubic foot of each wood one wants access to.)

The same considerations apply for Stonewall True.

Icewall can be used to keep ice boxes stocked, so temples and other institutions with access to this list have improved storage abilities. In a desert region, cold beverages could be an important tool in generating religious loyalty. (Or course, you need to get a block of ice into the region first, but after that, just be sure to cast the next one before the last one melts too much.)

Meld Walls could be useful to increase the strength of traditional constructions; although it is of a high enough level it would probably see more use through ritual than normal spell-casting.

Concussion's Ways

This list is fairly straightforward: it provides healing of minor injuries (concussion hits) and frost/burn damage. As an Open Channeling list, this could be a fairly common list in some cultures and it is a useful list for a normal person who only has a few ranks. In particular, it could be common for caretakers of children to have this list. Because of the type of damage it heals, it is not much more than fancy minor first aid.

This does raise the possibility of different healing styles between cultures: some would emphasize natural healing techniques, others would emphasize magical healing techniques, and still others would integrate both methods or embrace multiple traditions. Extreme cases would be warrior societies that would not use magical healing or theocracies that forbid any healing arts that do not come from the gods (simple binding of wounds and cleaning with water might be tolerated, but herbal applications would be seen as 'witchcraft').

A noble with migraines could become highly dependent on a Channeler with Minor Irritation Relief.

The tenth level spell, Awakening, could be useful in an item to create a divinely powered alarm clock. It might be used in a monastery to make sure nobody was late to morning prayers.

Detection Mastery

Information spells are always interesting. Detect Life would be handy in law enforcement and other situations where it could help avoid ambushes. It would also be valuable in search and rescue operations, such as searching through rubble after an earthquake. It could also be used to prevent accidental burials, and is low level enough it could be routine to cast this before burials in some societies. Some societies might need to require Detect Undead as well.

Detect Traps is useful in law enforcement. This list would probably be very common among religious-police/investigators. Of course, it is also useful for law-breakers.

Life Typing is likely to be used for various purposes, including locating the sick when attempting to stop disease outbreaks. It might be routine for border checks on heavily guarded borders. Life Analysis is even better, but too high level to be common.

Perceive Power is useful for helping select individuals for special forces, advancement in certain organizations, or risk assessments. It is also a useful spell for customs along with the magic detection spells at border checks. Life Analysis might be used before confirmation of very high positions such as high priesthoods, kingships, command of the army.

Detect Invisible is likely to be a popular spell for use by various security forces and often placed on items for their use if invisibility is common.

Poison Analysis, Detect Curse, Power Typing, and Location are vital spells in investigations. A church of a god of justice or law is likely to teach this spell to non-ordained police who use Channeling. It is simply too useful for police work not to have it if it is available. Curse Analysis, Life Analysis, and Location True are also very useful if available. These spells are also useful for reversing misfortunes in that Poison Analysis allows correct treatment, Curse Analysis reveals conditions for breaking the curse, and Location allows tracking stolen goods for recovery.

Detect Spell would be useful not only in police work, but also historical investigations.

Consider the question: How close must a phony match the original to throw off a Location spell? Can it distinguish between the real rubies in the Elfin Crown and the phonies in the substitute left by the Guild of Item Removal Engineers? Can it tell the difference between the mighty magical aura of the Amulet of the Burning Gods and the minor magical aura on the cheap replicas given out by the thieves before they grabbed the original?

Location and Location True are useful for archeological investigations if accurate information on the object sought is available.

If reasonably common, this list can significantly increase security and law enforcement success, aiding in criminal investigations and recovery of lost or stolen items. These spells are also useful for protecting public health and in customs procedures.

Light's Way

In the real world, man-made light has meant some form of fire and hence some form of fire hazard. The electric light changed this and today we think nothing of illumination at all hours. To some degree, Light's Way can bring this same miracle into a Rolemaster-based world. Most spells on this list have a duration of 10 minutes/level, lasting an hour at a fairly low 6th level. At 20th level, they will last more than 3 hours. That is without the use of Spell Mastery or other means to extend duration. In most locations, therefore, some all-night lighting should be possible. Will a Spell Mastery modification "take" if applied to a spell being cast into an item? Even if it does not, the creator may make it a Daily III item and string out the duration that way.

Naturally, it is unlikely that full street lighting will be done this way outside of one or two magic-heavy cities. Still, this list will make a difference in night-time activity, especially when put into items.

The ability to use this list for after hours work should increase the public safety by reducing the risk of fire. Although many places are more likely to use Essence-based illumination, the ability to provide safe lighting will change fire safety regulations from a 'lights out' policy to 'use magic'. This means more opportunity for night life in general, including illuminated billboards, night-time shows, and shops staying open later in winter.

This list can be used for 'security lighting' in key places, especially by religious organizations, government organizations, and the wealthy.

The ability to supply light when needed will be another useful tool in police work and in rescue work.

Night games! Seriously, with this list, games won't have to be called on account of darkness and the possible implications for sport are significant.

Aura-type spells will be used by leaders to appear more important and inspire confidence in their followers and impress their enemies. This is far more significant to my mind than their defensive bonus. Also, they can be used as identifiers for leaders in battle to help rally the troops around the leader. Of course, this also makes them more obvious to snipers, but that is a trade-off that has always been a problem. Perhaps one could have an aura-man, like a flag-bearer or signaler, who stays close to the real officer but is considered more expendable. Auras are likely to be popular both for ceremonial use/public appearances and for getting that psychological edge (again, useful for law enforcement, where cowing a suspect is preferable to a messy brawl).

Shock Bolt—the presence of this spell on the list means that Light's Way will, despite being an Open list, be significantly less common among 'ordinary' folk, at least beyond level five. This is perhaps not so great a limitation, given that most amateurs will be using low-level spells. The temples will not generally want to teach offensive magic to non-clergy or at least not to those without some special status, like police. The government would probably crack down on those religious organizations that did not limit distribution of their own accord. On the other hand, it makes this list more attractive to the more combative elements of society and a pious mercenary down on his luck might be found paying the rent by lighting the inn.

Waiting Light is handy for stage lighting, where it will come up on cue, and for security lighting. It also makes a silent alarm clock.

Flare is useful as a signal, and also for lighting a large area at once for nighttime search-and-rescue or manhunt operations. Unfortunately it does not last long, so for most purposes it is not as useful for illumination as the other spells. It is good for military purposes to get a quick look at enemy positions, but there are better ways to gather that data, I think. Flares can also be shot off like fireworks for public or religious celebrations, or to salute visiting dignitaries. This requires multiple flares and it is a mid-list spell, so such displays are unlikely to be common, but for this very reason an excellent way to signal respect.

These spells might be the basis for a form of lighthouse service, probably run by the followers of some god of the sea or sailors.

In spite of regulation, illumination is likely to be fairly common in the higher-magic worlds, even if mostly limited to temples, government compounds, and other important/wealthy organizations' buildings. I believe concern for fire safety would tend to encourage the eventual distribution of magical lights in place of light by combustion. Furthermore, at least major streets may have some form of illumination if there are sufficient magical resources and time to develop a street lighting system.

Lofty Movements

Returning spells are great for messengers to cut out the return journey after getting a reply or as an 'out' for diplomatic missions into hostile territory.

Merging Organic could be used in religious rituals, including ceremonies of rebirth. Also, given that perception is cut off while merged, it can act as a sensory deprivation chamber for meditation or to enhance hallucinatory experiences.

Merging Organic could also be used as I can see the various *walking spells used—to allow restricted access to certain holy sites. A special spot in the sacred grove might be approached only by the pious act of limbwalking, allowing the sacred trees to be one's sole and trusted support. Windwalking might lead to the Inner Sanctum by allowing passage over the Great Abyss. Naturally, other spells could be used in these cases, but the improper approach would tip off any guardians that this was an intruder.

Of course, the various *walking and *running spells are just made for magic boots. These might be made to equip special forces or other small groups which might make use of these abilities in a coordinated fashion.

The ability to access difficult terrain is also useful for search-and-rescue efforts. Limbwalking can aid in dealing with stuck cats and bird/nest rescues. Stonewalking would be helpful when searching rubble. The calm air requirement makes Windwalking spells less useful and the same with the calm water requirement on Waterwalking. Limbwalking could also be useful in harvesting fruits and nuts.

These spells also allow those who know this list to have some unusual foot races.

Overall social impact: minor, but with the possibility of some nice touches. You could get a major impact if you could have a society with one of these spells as a permanent talent. Imagine a race of limbwalkers who never set foot on the ground. One might fill in the gaps in the list with Icewalking and Icerunning for cold climates.

Nature's Law

When the Lore spells are described as telling you the 'value' of something (plant, herb, stone) how do you interpret that? Financial value seems inappropriate for a nature-centered channeling list, but giving all uses of a plant seems perhaps too generous, so I suggest that it would depend on the god. A god of agriculture would give a lot of information on a food plant, including use in crop rotation schemes. A god of the household would give information on a food plant centering on nutrition and good ways to prepare it (great for making pies!). On the other hand, they would have much less information to offer about a stone than would a god of the earth. A god of war would identify a tree as good for producing spears, making bows, building wagons, or concealment for ambush. A god of pleasure might tell you that it burns nicely or is a good shade tree. A god of wildlife might tell you owls like to nest in it or that the leaves feed deer in the autumn.

Something like, "this plant can restore life to the drowned" would be big enough news anyone would learn such a thing, but only a god of, for example, healing or water would also tell how to use it. A god of wisdom could provide full information on anything. A god of trade or theft would likely give value in economic terms, although a god of trade would also note uses for transportation.

Given this interpretation of the various Lore spells, this list has considerable power.

Plant Lore, Stone Lore, and Herb Lore will allow a culture to develop a substantial store of geological, botanical, and medicinal knowledge. More specifically, it can develop this knowledge rapidly. Trade, exploration, or conquest can bring in new samples or expeditions may have someone with this list go along. In this case, information on new materials will be developed much more rapidly than with trial-and-error examinations. In the case of a colony in a new land, think of the value just of being able to use Plant Lore to discover what the edible plants are.

Speed Growth is a minor spell in a single casting, but repeated and with multiple casters, it can significantly improve agricultural yields, allowing multiple harvests or simply speeding the harvest to avoid losing it to a coming storm. A new sacred grove might be jump started by keeping new trees under Speed Growth constantly for a few years. It could also be used on weeds in an enemy's field. It could be used to aid reseeding to secure ground threatened by erosion.

Nature's Awareness is probably most useful for developing one's sense of spiritual connection to nature rather than for 'practical' purposes, but for this very reason, it would be an important spell for most individuals learning this list.

Stonespeech and Plant Tongues will usually have a minor impact, as stones and plants generally do not have a lot to say. On the other hand, sentient stones and wise old trees could be very important to societies that had access to them and could communicate. Animal Tongues, on the other hand, is a spell which could have profound effects if even somewhat common: it opens up the possibilities of labor negotiations with beasts, territorial agreements (the cougars agree not to kill cattle or sheep and the humans agree not to settle past the Silver Creek), and police dogs testifying in court. Traditional ideas of animals as funny sorts of people would be reinforced and the Cartesian schism between aware humans/unaware beasts would never occur, although a religious segregation might well remain (after all, it has not been unheard of to deny that women or outlanders have souls). A trained animal used between two individuals with this list would be a particularly secure messenger; without some magical means to communicate with the messenger, it would be impossible to extract the message. The potential for development of relations between humanoids and beasts by means of such spells is a rich field for developing truly different societies. This is also a useful spell for research. Coming into a new area, you could ask where to find drinkable water or a sheltered area. You could investigate animal behavior, diet, etc. through interviews. Some animals might have specialized information that would be useful, e.g., a somewhat fanciful world might have weavers consulting with spiders or engineers with beavers.

Holy beasts might be given more intricate and more common roles in ceremonies, as they could be instructed through magical communication. The most interesting case is when there are attempts to actually convert the animals to the spell-user's religion. Is this possible? What status does a beast have within the religion? What attitude would humans have towards a mule who wants to join the clergy? Could there be sacred beasts in some cults who willingly become the pampered sacrifice, as has happened with humans in some cultures?

Animal Mastery, on the other hand, has more obvious but less profound effects. It is useful in agriculture, herding, use of animals for various tasks, and turning away dangerous beasts.

Animal Empathy seems a deeper form of communication and, as such, it would probably be given more religious significance, and might only be used with religiously significant animals: totems, ritually clean animals, or temple beasts. However, it does not appear to add anything that would tend to reshape society beyond what Animal Tongues does.

Plant Control is unlikely to be very significant without the presence of fantastic flora. In which case it may well allow some orders to guard their sacred spots with killer plants that they would control by this means. Perhaps it might be that creeping vines could be encouraged by this spell to grow in certain ways. A flower might be made to open at night as part of a ceremony or as a subtle signal between members of a conspiracy.

Herb Production allows herbs to be stored as seeds and grown at need, without regard to season or climate, allowing medical care that would otherwise be unavailable and allowing certain medicinal storage facilities to remain small, as seeds are compact and durable. From a more mercenary angle, the plants so grown are sterile, so a monopoly on an herb might be protected by selling only these plants.


To the extent that this list is available, a culture has access to advanced poison and disease fighting. If the culture is well-organized, even a fairly small number of individuals with this list can nip the spread of a contagious disease early enough to prevent plagues that spread through person-to-person transmission (but this is not so effective when the disease is spread by other means). Leadership will be extremely difficult to poison. Even mental illness can be treated. In some ways, this list is more powerful than modern medicine. A society with this list can maintain public health at high levels (especially if it does disease prevention like good diet, cleanliness, etc.), which allows for smaller families (fewer losses of children due to disease) and for a more productive workforce, leading to greater prosperity.

Food Preservation and Sustenance Purification help deal with food problems in hostile environments, but are really only good for expeditions or countering poisoning attempts. Food Preservation could be used in preparing special feasts in advance and keeping the food fresh by means of the spell. I think the list could use a higher level Food Preservation spell with a long enough duration and possibly greater "area of effect" for preparing stores for long voyages or to provide fresh foods out of season, in which case you would have a spell that could have more important social effects.

Sound's Way

The Speech spells are just oral translation, which can be achieved without magic. However, the use of magic items or a spell-user rather than a traditional translator could prove significant in indirect ways. Consider, for example, that one generally learns something of a culture while learning the language of that culture. If an empire short-cuts this process by getting around the learning process by using magical translation, then its representatives will tend to be ignorant of the cultures they are attempting to rule and the stability of that empire will be threatened.

Quiet or Silence spells might be used on those entering certain sacred places where ritual silence is maintained. They could also be used in classrooms or libraries to enforce quiet or to silence hecklers (or to quiet a watchdog or alarm signal or to keep someone from crying for help if used more sinisterly). However, I do not see any major impact from these spells, either. If the duration was longer I could see it being used to reduce noise from, for example, construction projects in residential neighborhoods. Depending on the general status of spell-casters in a society, the Quiet/Silence spells might result in this list being restricted.

Soundwalls are handy for a little added privacy or to prevent the High Priest from having to hear the practice sessions of the all-new Holy Accordion and Bagpipe Band. These might be used to (partly) block off the sound from noisy projects to reduce public nuisance. They might be used to "wall off" sections of a school, rehearsal area, government building, courthouse, auction house, or similar place where multiple noisy activities may be going on at once. They might also be used for privacy in a religion that offers confessional. Such measures would not be for everyone, but for high-ranking individuals whose confidentiality must be guarded with extra care.

Sounding is good for giving sermons or other public addresses. It is also nice to have on a battlefield commander to get his orders out. Or just to be annoying if you channel from the God of Annoying Behaviors.

Spell Defense

This list is just a load of tactical defenses against spells. It will mitigate the influence of offensive lists somewhat, but, generally speaking, its social significance is only that as a Channeling list, it encourages the people to look to the clergy and devout spell-users for protection when hostile magic is active.

Weather Ways

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Well, that is only because they lack a spell list like this.

Early spells on this list and later Prediction spells allow for a weather forecasting service of excellent accuracy, which will help greatly in an agricultural society or any areas that tend to get dangerous weather. Living Gauge provides a foundation for the development of atmospheric sciences in any society where someone thinks of using this information to explore the "whys" of weather.

Breeze Call is useful for handling hazardous gasses and may be found in support of firefighting efforts or rescue operations in mines. Precipitation Call may also be used in firefighting, although drought relief is probably a more important use. (A note for all the combative types out there: Bows and crossbows do not function well if you get the strings wet. So Precipitation Call can be a very handy tactical spell. Actually, weather is important enough to military operations that this list will probably be popular with strategists.) Fog Call will generate moisture, but it obscures vision so is not very useful for firefighting. However, Fog Call can be useful for adding an air of mystery to certain ceremonies, or it might be used for games (e.g., Tag in the Mist).

Wind Mastery is another important spell for dealing with fires, especially wildfires, where wind can quickly spread an initially manageable fire out of control. If a society does agricultural burns, it might be wise to have someone with this spell standing by. This is another spell useful for managing gasses, so if hazardous gasses are released in town, this is a means of getting them out. The duration is not long enough for most outdoor events or it could be used for summer cooling. Perhaps it would be practical with Spell Mastery. It could also be used to give a sailing ship a boost. A ship might even have an enchanted sail with this spell on it, or maybe on some other ship part. That way at least you would never be entirely becalmed and could make a little progress each day.

Clear Skies is useful for holding back precipitation while preparations are made. Also for assuring bright skies for some event such as coronations, swearing in ceremonies, parades, etc.

At Rain Call we see moisture sufficient to provide for agricultural aid at a significant level and suppression even of large fires. It could be used to boost umbrella sales or convince people to come to indoors instead of skipping church or some other meeting. It could be used strategically to damage enemy crops, although such methods of warfare would probably be banned if there is any sort of international rules of war. Also, some folks just like rain, so you might see this spell used for enjoyment.

Weather Call allows for control in a larger area. At this point, fog can be used as a navigational hazard, or wind control can more usefully be used to clear existing fog to remove a hazard. A fleet can be moved by such a wind. If a fleet had a Daily item with this spell enchanted into each ship it could make good progress even without a natural wind.

Storm Call is good for impressing people with the power of your god (or your own power) and may be used for show.

Weather Mastery is the only spell allowing weather control over a truly large area. This is the spell to use to defend your port city from an incoming fleet whose location is uncertain.

Many of these spells are good for crowd control. Rioters may decide freezing rain or dusty wind makes it a better idea to just go home.