The Social Implications of Magic: Open Essence

Copyright R Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Like the Internet, Telepathy should come with a warning that you cannot unsee something."

This is the ninth 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.

In this article I address what I assume are the most widely available spells for public work and commercial exploitation, the Open Lists of the Realm of Essence. Channeling may be curtailed at times by religious strictures, while Mentalism is stealthy and its practitioners may tend to keep relatively low profiles. Essence, however, is straightforward magic and its Open lists may be in common use even in many relatively low-magic worlds. Essence users are most likely to be willing to teach anyone who is willing to pay whatever price is asked and they are also the most likely to simply sell their services. Essence is not simply the magic of commerce, however. Every area of society can find a use for Essence magic, including academics, civil servants, criminals, and even some clergy may practice "secular" magic rather calling on their gods.

Delving Ways

Text Analysis solves many translation problems, even allowing for the recovery of information in dead and forgotten languages. This is a great boon to historians and archeologists, who need no Rosetta Stone to recover the secrets in ancient texts. It is also useful in international relations, including trade, diplomacy, and espionage. Furthermore, since any encryption constitutes an "unknown language," many codes are magically decryptable. Certainly any cipher or code where meaning is contained in the text could be read. Whether or not it would work with a code that uses a physical decoding device (such as a code that references a given text, with 172.5.3 meaning the third word in the fifth line on page 172) is open to interpretation. Secure messages may rely on other techniques, such as being broken up between separately sent messages to avoid complete interception or the use of hidden messages in texts that appear normal, where the surface meaning should obscure the hidden meaning against simple translation magic.

There is no requirement that the caster or subject of Text Analysis be literate. Most Essence casters in a typical world will be literate, but this provides a way around that gap in education, especially if it is cast from an item or has been spell-mastered to cast on another. Illiterates might pay to have this spell cast on them on occasions when they need to read contracts.

Stone Analysis guarantees a better geological science than our pre-modern world had. It is useful as a practical spell to stone crafters or anyone purchasing stone. This is another spell useful in archeology, solving some questions quickly; we would have used this spell on Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and various Stone Age tools to learn about their origins. Antique deals and purchasers, art authenticators, insurance evaluators, and building inspectors would all want this spell.

Metal Analysis has similar uses to Stone Analysis, but is more likely to be useful investigating recent events, such as checking out murder weapons. It is also of use in investigating counterfeit coins.

Gas Analysis is less useful than the analysis spells for solids, because gas artifacts tend not to hang around very long. It could be useful in developing chemistry, depending on how the spell is interpreted. It would be useful in mine safety, where quickly identifying and dealing with dangerous gases is vital.

Liquid Analysis, like Gas Analysis, will have its value as a scientific instrument depending on the detail of information provided. I would scale it against existing knowledge; you cannot get a chemical formula when you do not even have atomic theory. This spell could be useful in screening for poisons, urine testing for drugs, crime-scene investigation, faking being a wine connoisseur, testing alcohol content, and quality control of liquid products.

Delving has the same applicability to archeology, anthropology, and authentication as the Analysis spells. While of some use in learning about magical devices, it is likely to prove more useful in reverse engineering mechanical devices.

Spell Analysis has limited utility, but it can be used to help confirm credentials (since the spell list is learned, duplicating effects through another list is ineffective), locate "evil" spell-casters, do spell "demographics" if studying magic use, and checking the duration of variable-duration spells.

Death Analysis provides a magical autopsy. Murder and safety investigations are the most obvious uses, but investigations of poaching might also employ this spell and with no time limit in the presence of the body, it is useful for archeology and paleontology. Do fossilized remains count as a body? (I would say yes, if petrified corpses do.) This spell could also see military application investigating enemy tactics, especially spell use, by checking recent battlefields. Death's Delving improves the information provided for investigations of violent deaths, whether the result of murder or attack by beast or monster.

Power Analysis and Power Analysis True allow the identification of spell-casters, limiting disguise and mentalist anonymity, so they could be part of security procedures. These spells are useful in police investigation, archeology, business and trade, and customs inspections. The ability to check places for magical influence may provide a prelude to major construction projects (either to avoid unfavorable magic or to seek out desired places of power).

Conveyance (True) is useful for government or industrial espionage, voyeurism, journalistic investigations, police and private detective work, rescue operations, forecasting for business by inspecting possible caravan routes and out-of-town markets, forecasting weather by checking towards the wind, investigating defenses, and stealthy health and safety code inspections. If a civilization has any privacy concept, legal use of this spell is going to be controlled and illegal use seriously penalized.

There are a number of blank slots on this list. Some might be filled in with specific Analysis spells for culturally important materials. A society with paper currency might want a Paper Analysis spell to help deal with counterfeiting. More scientific analyses might be possible for advanced civilizations. Mathematical assistance similar to a computing machine might be plausibly placed under Delving Ways in an appropriate setting.

Detecting Ways

This list repeats the realm-specific magic detection spells from Detection Mastery (Open Channeling). It also duplicates Detect Traps, Detect Spell, and Detect Invisible. The order in which the spells are acquired is changed somewhat, most significantly with Detect Invisible coming four levels earlier at level five. This makes it easier to imbed in magic items, an important consideration for a spell that will be highly desired for security reasons. Academic use of magical detection is more likely for Essence than for Channeling. Essence-using police and private investigators will want this spell list for the same reasons their Channeling-using counterparts will want Detection Mastery.

Location spells are similar to their cousins from Detection Mastery, but the Essence versions have a duration, so a moving target will give information on its movement and, at close range, this allows real-time tracking, so the Essence versions are more useful in the recovery of an item or for use as a tracking device.

Given the definition of "evil" for this list, Detect Evil will include soldiers and Sorcerers, regardless of their morality.

Perceive Power may be used to judge items for various purposes, to judge persons (as part of a hiring process, for example), or to estimate the threat level of an unknown being.

Detect Death has obvious application to police investigations and may also be used for the recovery of bodies after a disaster.

Detect Detections provides some defense against this type of spell (at least you know). It can be used when investigating possible abuses of these spells.

Elemental Shields

The spells on this list are not cumulative with each other, but they could be stacked with other protective spells. Wealthy combatants will probably shop all three realms to obtain magic that combines to provide outstanding protection.

In Resist Light, we see the most obvious difference between real world physics and Rolemaster physics: in Rolemaster, light and electricity are equated. If this is extrapolated, societies in such a world might develop photoelectric power at a relatively low level of technological advancement. This spell is useful for outdoor workers and anyone dealing with bright or sudden lights, such as miners emerging into daylight or welders. While Essence users easily obtain protection from light and lightning, Rangers and Animists are given protection against temperature extremes only. This point might only come up in "my realm is better than your realm" arguments or cheap jokes about the gods wanting to be sure they can hit erring followers with a "bolt from the blue", but it could also be a motivating factor in a Ranger group researching their own electrical resistance (there's empty slots to fill on the Inner Walls list) or be a basis for trade. If electrically powered devices exist, protective spells will be more in demand. While the basic Resist Light does not protect against lightning (except the +10 DB), I would rule that it covered minor shocks, like a static electric shock or a minor laboratory accident.

Resist Heat covers any Earthlike desert environment (although not covering exposure to lava), while Resist Cold does not handle the extremes of Earthly cold. Both of these spells make useful enchantments on clothing. Resist Heat is especially desirable when forced to wear armor or protective gear in hot environments. The fighter in the tropics and the smith at his forge both can benefit from relief from the heat. Resist Cold can allow working without gloves when doing fine work (like surgery) under conditions that would otherwise make bare hands impractical. The vain will wish to wear the most fashionable clothes without regard to the weather.

The higher level spells on this list add considerable combat protection against magical attacks. They would be desired on a magic-rich battlefield and would see military application. The higher level spells also grant immunity to natural sources of the related element. This is ideal for rescue work or scientific work doing close study of electrical, very hot, or very cold phenomena. It is also a great way to show off by holding up a lightning rod in a thunderstorm or dancing on lava.

Essence Hand

Vibrations spells might be cast on small, roughly cylindrical devices for lonely women. It can be used to disarm individuals, making it desirable to law enforcement and other security personnel. Police can also use it to make a fleeing subject drop a stolen item. These spells can also be used to create sounds, whether by sounding traditional instruments (e.g. a bell) or objects that simply happen to make a noise when vibrating. Such soundings could see ceremonial or musical use or simply be used as a form of alarm.

Higher level Staying spells can keep children or small animals from rushing into trouble. These spells also allow keeping a tool floating in a handy location. An item may also be kept in position for artistic, scientific, or engineering purposes. For the dishonest, it could be used to cause scales to misread. If it is kept ready as an instantaneous spell, a Staying could be used to prevent accidents due to dropping a hazardous item.

Telekinesis spells are useful for handling dangerous materials in industry or research. Criminal applications for theft are considerable; on the right side of the law, Telekinesis can be used to handle evidence without contamination. Like Vibrations, Telekinesis is useful on sex toys. Telekinesis is also showy and might, for example, be used in coronations.

Aiming is useful for cheating in contests of aim (e.g., an archery contest or darts at the pub) as well as the more obvious applications in hunting and war. Lord Aim and Aim True are simply more powerful versions of the same. All would be excellent choices to imbed in a bow.

Hurling I essentially duplicates a sling and unless a culture lacks missile weapons, it is unlikely to be influential. Even if someone developed a more powerful Hurling spell that duplicated a siege engine by hurling a large object, the mechanical method of delivery would likely remain far more important.

Most of the spells on this list would be useful to "haunt" an area, for example, to drive down real estate value or to stir a guilty conscience. However, the effectiveness of this technique is greatest in a low-magic world. Where spells are common, such a ploy is likely to be recognized. In such worlds, they may still be used for practical jokes.

Essence's Perceptions

There are many gaps in this list. This list rather obviously lacks spells to extend some of the senses: taste, smell, and touch. Humans might overlook these senses, but other races with different sensory priorities will surely remedy these deficiencies in their versions of the list. Any canine species will not fail to enhance smell, for example.

Presence is a key spell for any security or guard work. Conversely, it is helpful in stealthy intrusion. It is also useful for doing rescue work, finding fugitives and eliminating witnesses. What is the experience of sensing these minds like? Is it a "spiritual" experience in any sense?

Telepathy has many uses. It is a valuable tool in police investigations, (counter)espionage, psychiatric evaluation and treatment, personnel reviews and initial hiring, security screening, court procedures, medical examinations, and negotiations. Beware the significant other with this spell! Overuse could lead to cynicism. Like the Internet, Telepathy should come with a warning that you cannot unsee something. Be wary whose mind you read. Issues could arise when different cultures have different standards for appropriate use of this spell.

Listen, Long Ear, Watch, and Long Eye all use the caster's sensory abilities, so casters with disabilities or enhanced abilities will get different effectiveness out of these spells. This again brings up differences between species; some species will simply get more (or less) from these spells than humans do. Uses for these spells include espionage (international, political, or industrial), voyeurism (a possibly "addictive" habit for some), private or official investigations (including inspections), criminal preparations, blackmail information gathering, puppet shows (checking the audience's point of view), getting overhead views (for engineering, gardening, or construction), and sports (better views for referees and coaches). Some spell-users might use these spells to enjoy a performance without purchasing admittance, leading to lawsuits in some cultures. These spells are particularly useful for remote safety inspections of bridges, machinery, and such, where it may be hazardous or difficult to get physically close. Some may use spells to check on the activities of their children or their employees or other underlings.

In a society where such spells are common, customs may become highly formalized, circumspect, and restrained except where expectations of privacy can be enhanced. Where power is not being guarded, it is also possible that reaction to such spells would go the other way and result in extreme openness and honesty to the point where politeness and modesty are lost.

Lesser Illusions

Those two "senile" old men mumbling in different corners of the tavern may be having a conversation via Ventriloquism, but better communications magic exists and this spell is a curiosity, a parlor trick.

Sound/Light Mirage is useful for arts, advertising, political rallies, and practical jokes. A thief may leave behind an illusion of the object stolen, to delay detection of the theft. A merchant may find it more convenient to display a sample through illusion rather than bringing out certain items. A three-dimensional model may also be useful in teaching. Cast at sixth level, the spell will last an hour; at twelfth level, it lasts for two hours. At fairly modest levels, it will last long enough to serve as a set or as background sound for a small performance.

Taste/Smell Mirage also has application in advertising and performance arts. As a substitute for chemical perfumes, it may be of value in pleasure dens. In military or other cafeterias, dull food might be made more palatable. Forget edible underwear, your lover can taste like strawberries! This spell can also be used to influence basic behaviors. A sweet taste in an area can help keep children in place. Salt or other flavors may work similarly for beasts, while scents of food or pheromones may be used to bait animal traps. A vile stench or the taste of very hot peppers or something vile could be extremely effective for crowd dispersal.

Illusions spells offer an upgrade over a Mirage and provide superior performance for the same sorts of applications. Illusions can be used to produce a pseudo-luxury environment, providing pleasant sights, sounds, and scents.

Phantasm spells further improve options beyond what Illusions offer. Now we go into the realm of "special effects" for performances. Phantasm can provide a flying, flaming demon or raging storm. A sufficiently crafted Phantasm could constitute a performance itself. It also lends itself to police, military, and criminal applications for intimidation or misdirection as it appears real when moving properly.

Light Glamour is useful for smuggling, theft, disguise (especially to create a "helmet" when wishing to appear as not a spell-caster), style (by making an item appear more expensive), and bluff ("Beware! I am armed with... a big, flaming runesword!"). It can also create a prop for performances.

Waiting Illusion and Waiting Phantasm allow for leaving messages. This can be used to provide secure messaging. Using a scent-key could limit access to someone who not only knows the key, but also can cast an illusion or other spell to provide the necessary (rare) scent. These spells could also be used for targeted advertisement or propaganda, activating on a cue that indicates receptivity, applicability, or at least the presence of an audience.

Physical Enhancement

Mannish Scale provides a reliable and precision measurement for commerce, medicine, science, and engineering.

Sly Ears is useful for treating hearing loss and is useful to investigators of all types.

Balance and Mass Balance are useful for circus acts and helping drunks walk home.

Nightvision has military, police, criminal, espionage, and hunting applications. It also provides the ability to travel at night without light pollution, so it is ideal for astronomical observations. It is likewise useful to biologists seeking to observe nocturnal life with minimal disruption.

Sidevision would be useful in various sports, whether as an accepted practice or cheating. It is useful for sentries and has combat application, especially in a general melee (it is less useful in formation fighting). Artists might also desire Sidevision, along with other sensory enhancement spells, in order to get an unconventional view of a subject. Sense-altering spells might also be used recreationally, somewhat like hallucinogenic drugs (but safer).

Sounding assists the work of criers, politicians, demagogues, police or military officers, foremen, and performers.

Watervision, Nightvision, Waterlungs, and Darkvision all have application in rescue work. Rescue workers might also employ Heatvision to locate survivors.

Watervision and Waterlungs are useful to divers and ocean science researchers. This combination might also be part of a tourist experience. Waterlungs can be used to imprison someone in a water source (the target of the spell must be willing, but as an alternative to drowning, Waterlungs will usually be accepted).

Heatvision is useful to fire fighters to locate any smoldering hot spots that are not visually obvious. It may help advance biological and medical science by making differential surface heat on the living body visible.

Gaslungs is useful in rescue work, especially in mines. Particularly well-equipped miners might have this spell on items. Mass Gaslungs allows for the protection of a small fighting force, making poison gas a viable military option.

Resist Poison can be employed as a fraudulent "cure" and it can act as a cure if the poison will pass from the victim's system before the duration expires. It may be used to sample poisoned food or drink to demonstrate the safety of the consumable.

Darkvision can be used for mining or other underground work. This is particularly useful for those attempting to travel stealthily or those doing research while minimizing the impact of their presence. Miners will want to avoid flames in a magic-rich world, but will probably prefer magical light to Darkvision.

The high-level spells allow for covering groups and multiple abilities at once, but do not add new abilities.

Rune Mastery

There will be a considerable market for Rune Paper. Since it is reusable, the supply should grow over time. There will also be a market for prepared runes and since runes on paper are light but valuable, they are exceptional trade items for those trading across significant distances. In a sufficiently magic-rich society, Rune Paper might become a common unit of exchange and eventually lead to the introduction of paper money.

The various Rune spells increase the availability of spells, since they may be employed at a distance from the caster and stockpiled against future needs. Essence spells will be especially more common as a result. This serves only to magnify the effect of a population of spell-users and does not have a distinct qualitative effect.

The various Sign spells may be employed as security features and may be used in private settings where obtaining Channeling's Symbols would not be possible.

Spell Wall

This is a counter-magic defensive list. Its presence does mean that Channelers have no monopoly on defensive magic and those who do not wish to deal with a religious organization may turn to secular sources for protection from hostile magic.

Unbarring Ways

This list effectively increases the number of skilled pickers of locks and its distribution may be under legal restrictions in many places. Unlike some magic systems, Spell Law does not make magical influence on locks and traps so powerful as to overshadow ordinary skill. Thieves who can pick a lock by hand will still be in demand. Spells that get through barriers quickly are useful for both emergency rescues and police raids.

Undoor spells may see military application and could also influence the construction of doors in defensive structures to just exceed the size limit of a given Undoor spell.

Magic Lock spells might be cast over regular locks for highly secure areas. However, given the various other means of access available in a magical culture, locked doors cannot be much relied on in high security areas.

Undoor can quickly dispose of any door that needs to be replaced, saving some labor and time. New Gate is useful in construction to produce doorways and New Gate dimensions may well become a standard door size.