The Social Implications of Magic: Cleric Base

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"It is likely the most powerful in all of Spell Law, as the revelations possible by a god of learning are without limit."

This is the fourth 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.


Create Holy Water will have an impact depending on what holy water does in a particular setting. The GM should consider the effects of holy water and consider making holy water effects specific to a given religion/deity. Holy water dedicated to a god of medicine might have healing powers, while holy water dedicated to the god of fire might burn rather than put out a fire, and holy water dedicated to a war god might be poured over a weapon to make it a temporary Holy weapon.

Channels seems most useful for sending spells to special agents who rely on other abilities but who can use the occasional edge provided by Clerical magic. It might also confuse enemies as to who is or is not a Channeling spell user. In general, this merely allows a spell to be used at another place, so it is not adding much to a society's magical abilities and will have little cultural effect.

Calming, Stunning, Blinding, and Golden Slumbers are useful spells for non-lethal restraint and dealing out minor punishments. Golden Slumbers can be used to treat insomnia. Absolution is a bit nastier and likely to be used only for combat or for serious punishments, either as criminal sentences or as atonement. It might be used in initiating holy warriors to give them a taste of death so that they will not fear to die for the cause. Exact treatment of Absolution depends on how you treat "souls". In my world, victims of Absolution have an experience as if of the afterlife they believe in, with those believing in reincarnation typically experiencing the period as a formless limbo, while those who do not believe in life after death report no experiences whatsoever, as if they spent the time in a dreamless sleep. Less variable results are likely to produce some influence on religious beliefs, depending on what they are. Absolution Pure is essentially a death spell, but might be used to protect someone whose "soul" was in danger: for example, if mentalists were trying to take him over or to corrupt him. Since the body is unharmed, Lifegiving can restore him once the crisis is over.

Item Returning can be useful for covertly passing messages and signals or for smuggling. Item Rereturning allows for additional touches, such as having an agent sign acknowledgement of orders. However, the high levels of these spells on a base list means they will see limited use and other spells are more likely to be strong influences on communications and item delivery. Sanctuary and Sanctuary True perform a similar function for the Cleric. He can return to give a personal report or escape from danger. It is likely the heads of church-sponsored diplomatic missions or other high-level negotiators would know this spell so that church leadership can stay on top of developments. It also means high level Clerics will be able to risk going into situations that might otherwise have no escape.

Holy Shout can be used to discover unbelievers in areas where they do not belong, as well as the more obvious uses as an offensive or defensive weapon.

Holy Bridge could do just about anything. However, most worlds will not allow for common use of this spell (even for a 50th level spell, it should be rarely seen) so it is most likely to appear in history/mythology at key points where deities do really impressive things: turning aside natural or other disasters, revealing great wisdom or providing unusual items, and other major events.

Communal Ways

Oh, boy, this is potentially world-shaking.

Guess can guide a theocracy in many ways. The only real limit is that you must have limited options, such as vote yes or no or vote guilty or not guilty. It is not infallible, but majority rule in a large body of Guess casters will give statistically better results than just about any other method. It might also be used in determining whether the church should invest money in some project, select a certain individual for promotion, or just about any other decision that can be reduced to a yes/no vote or list of options. This spell has been discussed in more detail under the Locating Ways list.

Dream spells may provide guidance when the questions cannot be made so simple. A theocracy or a church might make most decisions by using spells on this list. Magic Basin is not that different from Dream.

Intuitions can prevent someone from doing something stupid and maybe avoid some ambushes. However, the limitations seem to prevent exploitation beyond avoiding unpleasant personal short-term consequences. Those whose morality allows such activities may find it useful in wagering.

Death's Tale is highly useful in investigating mysterious deaths and thus is likely to be requested by the police on occasion. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to circumvent in cases of murder. It is more likely to be useful in identifying rampaging monsters, investigating accidents, and historical investigations. Death's Tale True provides more information and is useful in catching murderers. The lack of a time limit makes it suitable for ancient historical studies. It might even see paleontological use if fossils are counted as bodies.

Channel Opening is basically useful for targeting a Channels spell, as it is a U type spell and can only find the willing. This does mean that Clerics can know when their agents have been captured and where they have been moved or where a roving agent is operating. The "I'll get myself captured" tactic might be realistically valuable with this spell in play. However, range limits mean the caster must stay fairly close to the agent or there must be a network of casters tracking the agent as he moves.

Commune is more reliable than Guess and would be used for the more important questions such as resolving death penalty trials, confirmation of new Pope, confirmation of the declaration of a new saint, or confirmation of a proposed change to church rules. A more detailed investigation will require a careful list of questions and multiple castings (probably with multiple casters).

Commune True can be used to let the deity select the new church leader, select a site for a new church, etc. without the limitation to a prescreened list.

High Prayer lets the Cleric find out anything his god knows (and will talk about).

This list can be used to let a group be guided by its god(s), whether it be a small sect, a huge church, or a theocratic state. There is the potential here for a genuine theocracy, rule by god, not the rule by clergy that passes for theocracy in our world. There is also the potential for revelation of just about anything at the higher levels. Anything. In terms of social impact, this is by far the most powerful list so far in this survey. It is likely the most powerful in all of Spell Law, as the revelations possible by a god of learning are without limit. Only the assumption that the gods will deliberately withhold information from their most faithful disciples or that the gods really are not so very wise holds back the technological revolution, an ideal social order, and universal justice. Well, that and a lack of 50th level Clerics, but if any spell list is worth learning to the 50th level and investing in ritual in order to overcast that 50th level spell, if necessary, this is such a list.

Life Mastery

Death, where is thy sting? Actually, Death is still stinging pretty well, although this list should be used with care.

The Heal Life Essence spells are mainly repairs for fighters that frequently encounter undead. As such, they are unlikely to have a wide impact, but they are another factor in assuring religion is front-line against the undead.

Restoration is likewise a specialist repair spell with minor impact.

Preservation, Lifekeeping, and Lifegiving are the heart of this list and, while not enough to create the sense that death is a minor inconvenience, it certainly will have an impact. If you want someone important dead, you need to make sure he stays dead, either by destroying the body or hiding it (or employing Dark Absolution to destroy the soul). The "found dead in his sleep" assassination will too often be reversed. A heavy interrogation technique could include killing the interrogatee, returning him to life, and threatening to do it again and either threatening to leave him dead or to keep killing and raising him until he talks. Destroy the thought of escape through death. (Since I originally wrote my notes on this list, I have watched this technique used on Stargate: SG-1.) Then again where judicial or vengeance codes demand death, but one desires to give mercy, one could arrange to have the slain revived.

This power will likely be used to keep church influence powerful by offering resurrection only to the faithful or those who are important enough for the church to need their good will.

What happens to inheritance? If you are brought back from the dead, have your heirs already inherited your stuff? Is your marriage voided? Is your term of political office over? What about insurance? Who is responsible for the resurrected during the recovery period? It seems that a yearlong wait may be required after death before certain post-mortem procedures are performed, to ensure the deceased will be staying that way. The legal and financial issues are probably as big as anything here, but I do see one last point.

This is the ultimate healing list, the one that makes it possible to undo fatal accidents, murders, and the avoidable deaths that the healers just did not get to in time. If there are a significant number of Clerics and other magical healers, the people are simply not going to have a medieval level of exposure to death, wasting disease, and maiming. They are going to be less numb to the horror of violence, death in general, and gruesome circumstances. They may also have some of the transience in their relationships that comes in modern society. It will be less so, if they do not also have the mobility of industrial societies or the motivation to use it. However, the reduced sense of the fragility of life, as a result of direct experience of it, is, I think, an important part of the reduced importance of personal bonds. The greater the sense of threat, the more a group tends to pull together and create strong personal connections and, in many cases, the more the group tends to resist including new individuals who may be potentially threatening. So, surprisingly enough, the presence of resurrection magic may produce a more socially dynamic society, with friendships more easily made and set aside than in traditional societies.


Prayer, Bless, Resistance, Protections Sphere and Protections True — the majority of spells on this list — are general protection spells, which serve only to support the role of the church as protector of the people or to help an unpopular church maintain its hold on power (or simple survive).

Heat Resistance and Cold Resistance provide some of the same rescue operations support as Animists offer, but without the Cleric having other spells that really make them great. (The Cleric lacks swimming spells and smoke protection.) Temperature Sphere, however, can cover a group that stays together, which is a great help. Temperature Sphere is likely to be used in other situations to provide comfort to, for example, workers in a kitchen or those working outdoors in winter. This provides a little benefit for those who labor on behalf of the church. All forms of cold resistance will be welcomed by the elderly in cool climates.


Repel Undead makes Clerics by far the best protectors against undead, except for Paladins. Whether or not this is important depends on the undead present in a world. In a world where undead are rare, it will not make much difference. If, however, the world is themed to "mankind under siege by undead armies", Clerics are going to be very important and powerful people, but given they can already talk to god(s) and raise the dead, that is probably already true, so even here, it is just a change of emphasis.

Pretty much the same goes for the anti-curse measures, except I should note that superstitions about curses might come into play here. Professional charlatan curse-breakers might be more widely recognized than church curse-breaking if genuine curses are rare. Then again, the clergy may well be willing to go through the motions to "break" curses they know are not real.

Other spells help to give an edge against enemy Channelers and may be of some significance in a holy war, but are unlikely to have much impact on society in general.


Gate could potentially see some strategic uses, but is too high-level to see regular use. Perhaps it might figure in some legends or histories. Some powerful immortal being in the world might have arrived by Gate.

All the various Summons allow the caster to get some local aid, but the impact is relatively small. This is just one more reason for wandering priests to be left in peace. The higher-level Summons could be used get some muscle for pulling wagons out of the mud or other tasks. Summoned creatures could be used to deliver messages. A gathering of Clerics might do a bunch of summoning to bring together a large group of creatures for effect. Waiting Summons seems like it could be useful for practical jokes. The victim enters the outhouse, triggering the Waiting Summons and comes out to be greeted by a bear! Tons of laughs for the whole parish!

Demonic Gates are a bit world-specific. Does a religion refrain from using these spells? Are they used to terrify and impress the masses? Is summoning a demon "playing with fire" — the Cleric is given power over the dark forces, but they may tempt him? Are the demons summoned holy, unholy, or neutral? Spell Law assumes they are hostile and violent, but this is a case where the concept of the campaign world may require some modification of the spell. It is easy to treat this as merely a useful combat spell, but any religion ought to have some interpretation of demons and what the summoning of demons implies.