The Social Implications of Magic: Dabbler Base Lists

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Conceal can also be used to conceal wealth from thieves, bandits, tax assessors, and other threats to continued prosperity."

This is the thirteenth 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.

Concealment Mastery

Shadow is good for stealth, but can also be used for visual effect.

Unseen spells are useful for smuggling or stealing items. They could also be used by showmen, using the ability to cancel the spell by striking the object to make it "appear" suddenly. Making intervening objects invisible can assist in inspecting inaccessible items and (with Spell Mastery to limit the effect to the casing) allow inspection of the interior of machinery. Cast on tripwires, Unseen can make traps much harder to avoid.

Conceal spells can be used to sneak contraband past customs or casual police searches, to conceal weapons, and to walk out with stolen goods inconspicuously. Like other visual-only illusions, Conceal provides motivation for the use of additional senses to detect things, as well as the use of magical precautions. Conceal can also be used to conceal wealth from thieves, bandits, tax assessors, and other threats to continued prosperity. Coins, paper money, and documents can be counterfeited with this simple illusion. It can be used to enhance one's appearance with the illusion of better clothing and/or accessories. The most ingenious users will employ Conceal to create cunning puzzles and games.

On a Dabbler Base List, Locate Object is more likely to be used to find an item to steal than to recover an item that was stolen, for reasons of range if nothing else. Still, there are those who will set a thief to catch a thief. It is also useful for someone who is always misplacing things.

Darkness is useful for hiding things and people.

Secret upgrades Conceal to allow passing tactile inspection. This means that in addition to the uses of Conceal, Secret is also useful for fraudulent sales without needing to find an object that will have the right feel. It has the additional feature of being able to create messages in Braille or a similar tactile language.

Displacement spells are excellent defensive spells, useful in sports (particularly contact sports) as well as combat.


The uses of Sleep, Charm Kind, Suggestion, Hold Kind, Master of Kind, Quest and Quest True were discussed under the Closed Essence list Spirit Mastery. Greater Charm Kind, Greater Suggestion, Greater Hold Kind, and Greater Master of Kind merely add more targets for the same effects.

Charm Animals has some utility as a means of neutralizing guard animals. This spell is helpful for animal handling in general, wilderness travel safety, urban animal control, and the hunting or live capture of wild beasts.

Telepathy has many uses, as mentioned when reviewing the Essence's Perception list. 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. It can be used to learn more about any subject if you can get close enough to someone while they are thinking about it. Sometimes the trick is getting close enough; sometimes the trick is getting them thinking about the subject of interest.


Machine Lore assists in the exploitation and reverse engineering of captured machinery. In instances of technological imbalances, this spell can help equalize the situation.

Tune enables maintaining machinery longer than normally possible, the restoration of recovered technological devices, and, with the aid of Machine Lore, can help to shorten any "dark age" after a collapse of advanced civilization.

The area of effect for Jam is listed as "1 trap", but the text indicates that this spell can actually be used on any mechanism. For complex mechanisms (e.g., a submarine or a spaceship), I would limit this spell to a single subsystem (e.g., a door mechanism, power relay, or weapon). Jam True could shut down a complex mechanism entirely, so long as it fit within the effect radius. Sabotage is an obvious application, as is penetrating security measures. It is also possible to Jam items in order to produce practice problems in repair and therefore is useful in training.

Unlock and Untrap spells were discussed when considering the Unbarring Ways list (Open Essence), where they are differently named.

Operate spells substitute for a power source, but they are sufficiently unreliable that a civilization is unlikely to depend on them. In emergencies or when dealing with exotic machinery, Operate can be very helpful.

Detect Active Power is a vague magic detection spell. It might be a more unique and interesting spell, as well as a better fit for this mechanically-oriented list, if it detected working machinery using non-magical power sources (e.g., steam engines, electronics, a crossbow being wound by hand).

Armor fits the definition of a machine as given for this list, but the Utility nature of the spells means one cannot Jam worn armor, Constructs, or prosthetic limbs. However, the Dabbler might be allowed to Tune such items.

This list allows the Dabbler to be played not only as a magic-using thief, but also as an engineer, repairman, or general technologist. This list becomes more valuable in more mechanically advanced environments and Dabblers are likely to be far more common in technologically advanced cultures.

Movement Mastery

Movement-enhancing spells could be used in providing a messenger or package delivery service. Possibly, some areas would support food delivery from restaurants to homes. This would involve either preordering meals with a substantial lead-time or some method of sending an order. If there were enough professional messengers in one's neighborhood, they could provide the means of ordering as well as delivery.

Run and Landing are available on the Closed Essence lists Rapid Ways and Lofty Bridge, respectively, and were discussed previously. However, the versions on this list are limited to the caster only.

Longjump is handy in pursuits, rescue work, and operating in ruins, caverns, or other areas that may present difficulties in getting around.

Shadow Steps is useful for both criminals and those conducting patrols. This spell may also be favored by librarians, parents of light-sleeping infants, anyone with squeaky floorboards, and anyone who enjoys sneaking up on people. This would be an excellent spell to be placed on bed slippers.

Underwater Movement is useful for underwater operations, but is limited by a lack of underwater breathing on the Dabbler lists. It is still useful for aquatic rescue, salvage, and military actions.

Balance spells allow impressive feats, especially the higher-level versions. They may be used in acrobatic or even theatrical performances, sports, and the performance of astounding public heroics by flashy rebels, outlaws, and defenders of justice.

The various Spider spells largely negate walls as a defense against the Dabbler. They are useful in rescue work, inspecting dams and bridges, and cleaning and painting surfaces of multi-story buildings. A ceiling walker would be an excellent method of representing a god in a play. Like similar spells, these give a reason for even high windows to be barred or shuttered. Walls might be trapped with contingency spells to discourage wall-crawlers.

Long Dive is suitable for performing stunts and for recreational diving.

Traceless Passing is useful for avoiding tracking by visual means, although scent and magic will still work. It can also be used to avoid leaving tracks to prevent it being obvious that someone has been in a place. It is also useful for avoiding tracking mud (or other substances) on a clean floor or for crossing wet cement or mud without disturbing it.

Float is more fun than practical. A human balloon could be an excellent way to amuse a child. It could be useful if one were the guest of honor at a hanging, but it would be obvious you escaped your fate. It would only buy rescuers a little more time. Glide sounds like fun. It can be used in pursuits and infiltrations. It allows crossing over hazardous barriers and is another useful spell in rescue work. Both Float and Glide could be useful if one were pretending to be a ghost.

Shadow Landing makes a decent parachute and is great for the fantasy paratrooper, who could be dropped from a flying creature or launched by catapult. A spell failure or that 1% failure on landing could be nasty.

Windwalking is limited by the need for calm air. This makes it risky to use outdoors or otherwise exposed to weather changes. It can be useful for picking high fruit without having to constantly move a ladder, but I would not want to use it to walk higher than that. Also, what genius decided to call it Windwalking when it only works in calm air?


Sly Ears, Nightvision, Sidevision, Watervision and Darkvision were discussed under the Physical Enhancement list (Open Essence).

Scent finally provides a smell-enhancing sensory spell. In a (pseudo-)medieval city you probably do not want to use this spell. It is useful for detecting and tracking by scent. It can enhance the enjoyment of pleasant smells. It is professionally useful to a perfumer or taste-tester.

Sensory Marker and the Far Sense spells are useful for security, espionage, casing possible crime targets, voyeurism, etc. The distinction from other forms of scrying is the ability to use Sensory Marker on a mobile object as a combination tracer and bug. Secure sites must be wary of suspicious objects, especially anything someone at the site received as a "gift". Of course, a good routine of checking for magic will catch a Sensory Marker if it is active, but some information might be gathered first.

Touch aids the Dabbler as a thief, spy, or mechanic. It can assist the reading of Braille or other raised or sunken marks, which makes it useful in archeology. There is also application in the arts (sculptures and assemblages) and pure sensualism. Enhanced tactile senses are useful for quality control when dealing with fabrics and machine parts.

Woodsight is useful when hiding behind a tree, log, or other wooden obstacle. If not for the Concentration duration, it would be useful with a shield. Some characters will be able to get around that limitation. This spell provides some motivation to use mixed materials for doors and shutters. Woodsight also allows for the inspection of mechanisms within a wooden door, chest, housing, or other enclosing object. Stonesight and Ironsight are similar to Woodsight. All three are good for locating or examining items hidden in the substance seen through, whether the item is deliberately hidden or simply lodged in the object, like nails in a door. A lead lining might be used in some instances to block these (and similar) spells.

Lightvision has some uses industrially or in other settings where changing light is too quick for natural adjustment to keep up. Naturally light-sensitive species will benefit from the use of such a spell in normal daylight. Since no physical protection is given, this spell is not good for solar astronomy, as we have known since the days of Systnus the Blind.

The high level spells just bundle lower level spells.

Thieving Law

This list can help make the Dabbler a better thief, from which it takes its name. It does, however, have more honest uses. A more publicly acceptable name for this list might be "Market Mastery".

Gauge Wealth is useful in haggling or other business negotiations or in the targeted marketing of high-end goods. It is possibly of use in detecting tax evasion. It aids in social discrimination and can make the Dabbler a desirable doorman.

Weigh Pockets is useful for immediate haggling for quick sales and determining if the target is even worth the bother when trying to make a quick sell.

Mark Target and Locate Target are useful for tracking or tailing someone and therefore useful to police, private investigators, spies, parole officers, bodyguards, and worried parents.

Find Buyer spells are useful for selling honestly gained goods as well as stolen merchandise. This includes things that the caster has made himself and any sort of crafter or street vendor can benefit from these spells. Find Buyer I, in particular, can also be used to select a gift for someone (who is nearby) or to select an individual for wooing with a specific gift.

Jewel/Metal Assessment and Item Assessment are useful in bargaining, general business dealings, checking one's own craftsmanship, and appraisal for purposes of taxation or insurance.

Detect Power and Item Analysis I are useful in identifying magic items for special treatment in business dealings, law enforcement, and the taxation of magic items.

Find Owner spells are useful in examining evidence ("the killer seems to have dropped his handkerchief"), returning recovered stolen goods, learning whom to contact about buying something like a building, settling ownership disputes, and settling inheritance disputes. In cases of legal ambiguity, the spell must fail, since there is no "owner" to identify until a legal ruling is made.

Assessment True is similar to the lower level Assessment spells and covers properties traditionally taxed. If the target seems undervalued, this may lead to finding some problem (e.g. diseased cattle or a termite infestation).

Significance has archeological or anthropological uses for academics, museum curators, and salvagers.

Origins (True) has historical and archeological uses. It practically writes the museum label.

Item Vision also has historical and archeological uses and it can sometimes be helpful in criminal investigations.