The Social Implications of Magic: Animist Base

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"At 50th level, it will not see much use, but Plant Animation is cool."

This is the third 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.

Animal Mastery

Animal Tongues, Animal Empathy, and Animal Mastery were previously discussed under the Nature's Law list.

Animal Sleep is merely a Sleep spell limited by target type. It is useful to those attempting to handle dangerous animals for one reason or another: burglars and commandos silencing guard dogs, zookeepers, veterinarians, etc. Likewise, Befriending is a limited charm, useful to those mentioned above, as well as those having difficulty with domestic animals. Befriending could be used to pass dramatically among dangerous animals, perhaps even having snakes or scorpions crawl on the caster, as either a show for the masses or a demonstration of faith in the divine protection offered by the spell.

The Animal Restoration spells are powerful veterinary magic and Animists will be sought to heal pets and work animals. These spells also serve to help injured wild beasts, making friends for the faith in the wild. An animal might be healed and made to promise to do something, such as bring warning if it sees orcs in the woods. The same goes for Animal Reviving. The weight restrictions are a serious limitation, but Spell Mastery or other enhancement methods may be employed. The restriction on Animal Reviving seems especially low. I would expect some methods developed to try to get around this limit, as horse resurrection would be desired by many.

Animal Location is a nice spell for finding out about local fauna. One could find out if someone is illegally keeping alligators, discover if a proposed campground is full of venomous snakes, or just use the spell to help round up lost sheep. The "catalog of species" aspect is useful for biological/ecological research.

Call of the Wild would be extremely useful when reintroducing species to an area, as this must often be done from pseudo-domesticated individuals. It could also be used on someone's domesticated animal as a form of punishment or as an act of sabotage in war.

Animal Summons and Animal Call help assure animal aid is there when one needs it. The general upshot of this list is that any group of Animists should be able to maintain networks of friendly animals in the surrounding territory. At the very least, this should make it very difficult to launch surprise attacks or steal from them without being given away by an animal spy. It also assures animals will have a place they can go to in search of aid. The player characters may find an adventure starts when a local animist temple hires them as guards for an Animist who is going to investigate reports from various animals of a living fire that is "eating everything in the heart of the wood" (in this case a rogue fire elemental).

Herb Mastery

This list allows a society to get the most out of available herbs. The exact consequences will depend on the herbs available. It also allows for the establishment of effective herbal medicine in new territories much faster than would be otherwise possible. A civilization with a significant number of Animists and a good selection of herbs will probably be able to establish a regular trade in enhanced herbs. Note that some herbs may be illegal to export (possibly with exceptions for allied nations) on the grounds that they are military assets.

Nature's Lore

Trap Detection means Animists may be the "minesweepers" of a Rolemaster world. It is a low enough level spell to be relatively common on magic items. If a world allows for "peacekeeping" missions, such items would likely be available, if not exactly common. The high failure rate makes the use of overlapping fields of detection desirable and systematic trap disarming would definitely be done in teams.

Nature's Awareness and Waiting Awareness allow for the construction of motion detection systems.

There is not much in this list that is new. It assures Animist groups can stay well informed about their local surrounding and will not get lost. Elemental Communication could lead to arrangements between nature spirits and communities with significant Animist populations.

Nature's Movement/Senses

This list needs a better name. Can you imagine it in conversation? "Oh, Great Master, I come seeking the wisdom known as Nature's Movement/Senses." That is not even a full description, as the list also includes armor spells. "Animal Ways" might fit given all the spells are named for various animals (although a couple of "monstrous" ones are included).

This brings up a more general question: do the inhabitants of your world use the spell list names as given in Spell Law and the other books, which are fairly descriptive and straightforward, or do they go by various names? A pretentious group of Magicians might learn "The Secret Ways of the Flame" instead of "Fire Law". A Magent's organization might consider it more politic to teach "Living Asset Reclassification" rather than "Assassination Mastery". In particular, various cultures may give unique names to lists with religious significance. This does not necessarily mean Channeling spells. It means that if the Sea God Tyugo is very important, "Water Law" may become "Tyugo's Blessings". Other possibilities include cultures where the lists are named for those important in developing them — or important for giving large grants to the College of Imperial Wizardry.

As for the spell list itself, it offers some nice benefits for the user, but other than the use of Otterlungs in rescue operations as discussed in conjunction with Nature's Protection below or a system of runners using Deer Speed, I do not see a lot of potential for general utility. On the personal religious front there is more potential. These spells may be used to help the caster gain a sense of how the animal whose spirit is reflected in a spell experiences the world. To run like the deer, to smell like the wolf, to move like a cat, to glide like a bird, to have the strength of the boar — not for the bonuses to skills, but to experience the world in another way, to develop a wider vision of Nature — this is the way the truly wise value this list.

Nature's Protection

This is another list that mainly gives the caster some assistance without big implications. Few "self" spells have widespread impact. However, thanks mainly to shape-changing spells, this list does have numerous low-impact social implications.

Underwater Breathing, like Otterlungs, could be used in underwater rescue or salvage operations, although the caster would also need to be a good swimmer to be effective. This extends slightly the range of possible underwater activities. Animists might have contests to see who can stay underwater the longest.

Plant and Animal Facades could be useful teaching tools to show example flora and fauna to students, especially species not locally available or hazardous to approach. Plant and Animal Forms are even better, as students can touch the exhibit.

Protection from Elements allows extremely high/low temperature operations. Combined with Otterlungs to avoid smoke inhalation, this would make the caster very useful for fire rescues. It also helps in water rescues in cold water or other cold weather operations. It is, of course, also good for just plain showing off or rituals of "purification by flame" and the like. Resist Elements is a much less powerful version and I would not like to rely on it. So, with a few useful spells, and appropriate skills, an Animist can be a great rescue worker.

Plant Forms means secure areas will not include large potted plants. Evil masterminds may not want to keep cats on their laps while plotting, either, thanks to Animal Forms. Security of kennels and stables will likely be higher than in our world, if Animist enemies are a worry.

There might be an Animist sex cult that uses Animal Forms to mate in animal form. From this, a misconception that they were actually engaging in sex with beasts might arise and the local political or religious authorities of a moralistic bent might stir up hostility towards the Animists. There could also be occasional confusion of Animists with lycanthropes.

Taking on the form of certain plants and animals would doubtless have a specific religious significance. On a vision quest, one might spend time in the form of one's totem animal. One might seek contemplation on a difficult question in the form of a Golden Oak, such as Vladst, the God of Wisdom, hung from for a hundred days in order to see the whole history of the world.

In primitive hunting societies, the Animist might take on the form of an animal the tribe wished to hunt and the tribe would make a ritual mock hunt of the Animist, in order to gain good luck for the actual hunt.

The bravery of young men might be tested by Animists in the forms of dangerous beasts. A warrior would need to prove himself able to stay calm surrounded by the forms of lions before being trusted with the job of defending the village against the real thing.

Artists might pay a shape-changer to model for them.

Plant Mastery

Thanks to revealing a plant's history, Plant Lore is going to help nail plant smugglers. "Do you have any fruit to declare?" asked the massive half-ogre border guard. It should also prove useful in the enforcement of drug laws.

The Speed Growth spells allow for multiple harvests in a season (which means the users had better know proper soil conservation techniques and rotate their crops). It also could be used for agricultural sabotage (Speed Growth on weeds) or to reforest an area. In cities, it can be used in landscaping. It could be used to help create sustainable lumbering industries or create ground cover to prevent soil erosion. It could break up pavements or walls with plants that grow into the cracks. This is a highly exploitable spell for people with the knowledge to take advantage of it.

Plant Restore is more useful as a gardener's tool than as a farmer's tool, as a single plant is more important in roses than in corn. Tree Restore is handy in orchards. Although, frankly, in many cases it would be more useful to just replace the plant and use Speed Growth. Still, "special" (especially, "sacred") plants will tend to be Restored.

Plant Tongues has been discussed under Nature's Law. It will not have a big impact in most worlds, but that depends on the plants. The same applies to Plant Control. I suppose Plant Control could be used to help shape a plant as it grows. This could be exploited to create unusually shaped plants for sacred groves or ornamental gardens.

Plant Location means rare plants can be found, as well as enabling the hunting down of nuisance plants that are not yet firmly established. It can also be used in research to catalog species in an area or used in law enforcement to detect illicit growing operations.

Plant Growth allows for prize-winning crops, although it may not get around the loss of taste and nutrition in various crops if they are allowed to get too large. It is nice for creating menacing briar thickets, jumbo trees for arboreal dwellings, or just getting a better look at a small plant. Used on mobile plants, it can create some giant buddies, for example, to guard the sacred groves. With properly placed plants, it can be used to break walls and floors or roads by enlarging cracks and raising ground through root growth.

Firestop is a wonderful wildfire suppressant spell and can be used to protect key sites (though most Animists will know enough to let the fires usually run their course).

At 50th level, it will not see much use, but Plant Animation is cool. Arrange trees into a living observatory (call it Woodhenge). Scare people, especially those named Macbeth. This is transplanting made easy. This is another spell useful for creating barriers or taking out buildings (move a tree next to a wall and cast Plant Growth). It could be used for some very impressive ceremonies.

Overall, Animist base lists allow for great development in agriculture, horticulture, and pasturing animals. Animists are useful for repairing damaged land and reclaiming areas for either wilderness or agriculture. They will likely form an intermediary group between wild or domesticated beasts and civilization, perhaps allowing for a less hostile relationship between the two than has been the case in many cultures.