The Social Implications of Magic: Magician Base Lists

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"One might assume this master of the elements has little to do in times of peace. Untrue!"

This is the twelfth 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.

The Magician is stereotyped as a flinger of Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt spells. One might assume this master of the elements has little to do in times of peace. Untrue! While much of his spell selection is designed to make him an effective living artillery piece, his spells offer a wider range of effects than simple destructive force and an industrious and creative Magician need never find himself short of useful work, even without considering the Open and Closed lists that may round out his library of spells.

Earth Law

Enchanted Rope is useful on sailing vessels or for putting up a clothesline, setting up camp, and climbing. While it cannot attack, one can quickly prepare a hangman's noose for delivering quick justice. Incans can use this spell to keep records. An Enchanted Rope may be of use in recovering items that are otherwise inaccessible. The use of "encumbrance limits for spells" for determining how much an Enchanted Rope can hold is silly. I might allow it to increase the strength of the rope while the spell lasts, but not weaken the rope. A more puzzling issue is why this spell is even on Earth Law to begin with, when the Mystic's Solid Alteration list, for example, would be a more natural place. It is not as if there are not missing possible spells actually related to earth elements. Nothing on this list deals explicitly with clay, which was extremely important to many early cultures. A Bake Clay spell would be more thematic and highly useful.

Loosen Earth is a means of magically plowing ground. This can save some labor. However, if one plows a foot deep, the spell will cover a mere 100 square feet. This is sufficient for small gardens, but it would take hundreds of spells to cover an acre. Loosen Earth may be agriculturally useful for areas that would be difficult to plow conventionally for whatever reason. It might also be scaled up through the use of ritual magic. It can ease digging tasks, such as sinking a well, digging a grave, or creating a nice halfling residence. Conversely it can be employed destructively to weaken earthworks and damage earthen cliffs or walls and ceilings of pits, passages, or other forms of dug-out earth. It could assist in the excavation of an archeological site.

Earthwall, Stonewall, Earthwall True, Stonewall True, Meld Wall, and Curved Wall have been discussed when dealing with the Barrier Law list (Open Channeling). These spells can be used as temporary flood control measures to close gaps in levees. Defensively, they can be used to provide cover or close up breeches in the defenses. They can block narrow streets to halt the advance of a mob. In fire fighting, they provide fireproof barriers to help block the spread of the fire. One might attempt to bring the wall down on the fire to smother it. The height of the wall might also be used to assist in second-story exits. Since Earthwall True actually creates soil, it can be used for the creation of earthworks or earthen dams. It can also produce a supply of earth for fire control. If the earth is fertile (Spell Mastery?), it may be used to revitalize damaged land or prepare the Magician's balcony flowerbeds. Stonewall True creates stone and can be used as a source of stone, but Earth/Stone will generally suit this need better.

Cracks Call can be used to erode fortifications or commit acts of vandalism.

Repair is useful for repairing expensive, personally treasured, or exotic items. The market for Repair is limited to dealing with items that cost more to replace than it costs to hire a Magician of appropriate level. This spell is possibly personally convenient, especially if the Magician is clumsy or has cats or children. In general, this spell has little influence, but may improve the state of antiquities in the hands of museums and private collectors.

Earthen Spikes may be used to keep animals away or as an additional feature to enhance gladiatorial games. They may be an effective means of persuading foes to surrender.

Stone/Earth can be used to create soil in barren stony areas. Since it conveniently has the same area of effect as Loosen Earth, they combine nicely to change fortifications to earthworks, which are then loosened (at which point they probably collapse under their own weight). Stone/Earth can also destroy statues or other monuments no longer approved by the prevailing orthodoxy. If the area of effect is carefully shaped, it can be used to dig out tunnels and rooms, which can then be cleared with a little ordinary shoveling. Another use for the spell is simply to remove inconvenient stones from a field without having to dig them out. Earth/Stone can supply stone, reducing the need to extend long transportation lines from quarries to remote building sites. Spell Mastery should be able to control the type of stone to meet various needs. Shaping earth and then turning it into stone provides a faster and easier way to create some types of stone pieces. In fact, with Mud/Earth and Earth/Stone, you could pour mud into prepared molds and soon have stones just how you want them, speeding stone constructions considerably. Earth/Stone can also turn earthen graves into sealed tombs. This may be done to deter grave robbers or to prevent corpses from rising as undead.

Earth/Mud can act as a crude form of irrigation (although the area of effect again limits it to small-scale uses). In rural areas, it can act as a form of crowd control. In urban areas, it can be used to ready a mud-wrestling pit. It can damage earthworks. It could be used to reconstitute dried clay. Mud/Earth can be used to seal those stuck in mud. Earth Law could provide a method of execution by sealing in stone by burying the victim in mud, then casting Mud/Earth followed by Earth/Stone. Items might be thus sealed in stone to prevent their use, such as dangerous magical artifacts that are difficult to actually destroy. Mud/Earth can also be used to dry land to help stop erosion or mudslides. A generous interpretation might allow it as an alternative to firing clay (at least with a Spell Mastery roll).

Unearth and Unstone can be used for digging (although this is wasteful of the material dug). They may be used in creating canals, moats, underground passages and chambers, pits, trenches for the laying of underground pipes, (really big) doorways, and roadways (by removing obstacles). Earthworks or stone fortifications can be breeched, as can levees. In a flood, a quickly produced pit or channel can give water a place to run to, protecting other areas. If the caster cannot yet cast Unstone, the same results can usually be obtained by combining Unearth with Stone/Earth (the exception being when one is attempting to remove only stone from mixed stone and earth). Unearth can be used to dispose of polluted ground in cases of serious toxification.

Stone/Mud is mostly useful for bringing down walls/fortifications, but it can also provide wet soil ready for planting in the middle of a stony place. It can be used in the creation of underground complexes (it is usually easier to remove mud than earth — perhaps a pumping system is available?). Since only stone is converted, it can be useful in mining. Metal in ores can be recovered (and possibly some jewels, depending on what definition of "stone" is being employed) by sifting the mud.

Unmetal allows some penetration of metal barriers, but much less than can be done against stone or earth. Metallic fortifications are great, if you have some way to create them. This spell could be used to destroy a weapon or shield of metal and may play a part in major metalwork projects.

Tremors can be used as a major intimidation factor in non-seismically-active areas (Californians would just laugh and cry, "Again! Again!"). You might get a war called off. There are two approaches to using it for influence: the "behold my power" method and the "sign from the gods" method. In a siege or during urban warfare, Tremors can serve a military function. It might be used in a remote testing area to test earthquake-resistant construction techniques. It provides a fun ride.

Earth Mastery allows the use of Tremors over and over to really give the place a good shaking or it can really speed up construction/destruction projects that benefit from the spells on this list.

Fire Law

This is a lovely list for a pyromaniac or member of a fire cult. In warfare, it is especially useful against wooden defensive or housing structures and it is very deadly at sea. Various systems of heating baths or rooms with various spells can be developed.

Boil Liquid is a simple and wonderful spell. To begin with, you can use it to make tea (including medicinal teas). That alone would make it worth learning. It is also useful for other cooking purposes. It has industrial applications, including generating a bit of steam power (or more than a bit with some scaling up through ritual, Spell Mastery and/or the Spell Enhancement list). In a siege, it can heat liquids for pouring on attackers more quickly than a fire can. A boiling mini-moat can serve as a defensive barrier. Prohibitionists can use this spell to boil away alcohol.

Warm Solid can allow you to experience warm clothing (as if fresh from a modern dryer). It can also provide the comfort of a warm bed or bedroll in cool weather. It can create a warmer in a home kitchen or restaurant or it can heat food directly. It also has medicinal uses (hot compresses), aids arctic survival, and can provide an easy way to remove snow (just warm the roof and watch it melt right off) or keep surfaces clear of ice. In cold weather rescues, it can provide immediate warmth to victims and keep rescue workers effective longer. Old folk can enjoy heated chairs. Heat Solid is useful for cooking, industrial applications, book burning, trash incineration, and creating barriers.

Speed is the main thing gained by Woodfires, although it can also assist in fire starting in difficult conditions. Fires are useful for warmth, cooking, fueling steam engines, light, destroying wood, arson, festive bonfires, and creating backfires for fighting wildfires.

While defense is the main purpose of a Wall of Fire, a Magicians' Guild may well use it ceremonially or as a barbeque for their annual picnic.

Fire Bolts and Fire Balls are not only deadly in combat; the side effects of fire may cause secondary effects that ultimately do more damage. They can also be used for signals and salutes.

Call Flame can provide a defensive barrier or offensive weapon. It can be used more subtly in battle to disrupt formations and displace defenders. It can be employed to destroy enemy supplies and ignite munitions. Firestorm seems like it should be a great show and a possible fireworks substitute, especially if the caster has the skills to do multiple colors and other adjustments (using the Spell Artistry skill or possibly Spell Mastery). Otherwise, it is used like Call Flame. Waiting Flame and Waiting Firestorm can be used to hit predicted positions of the enemy and one of these spells can be used as a trap or to discourage pursuit. They can also be used to prevent (by threat of force) certain actions in the area of effect by making them the trigger. If a generous definition of the trigger is allowed, it could even be used to discourage cheating in a duel.

Ignite provides for dramatic lighting effects. It can be employed to provide a signal or an alarm. It is another useful spell for arson. Witch-burnings and torture are also potential applications. The extinguish effect might work for fire prevention (the wording suggests it should not be allowed to work on free flames). The extinguish effect can help to provide opportunities for escapes or to stage a classic crime drama moment where the lights go out and when illumination is restored the jewel is gone or the vicar is dead. A loose interpretation would allow for setting off a big fireworks display. When it comes to using candlelight (for romantic illumination or ritual magic) or forming a torch-bearing mob, Ignite can be a real time-saver.

Circle Aflame is just a good defense, although it is impressive enough to cow the magic-wary (and all fire magic will tend to frighten away animal threats).

Metal Fires can be used to force a target to release or leave untouched a metal object, typically a weapon, but perhaps a key. Against a foe in metal armor, it is an effective offensive spell. A prisoner in shackles can be punished. Without allowing a Resistance Roll, an implement can be heated for use as a torture device, a branding iron, or a cauterizing tool. Stone Fires are very dramatic and great for ceremonial use. They can be used to deny a good-sized patch of ground to the enemy or to cold. Stone Fires can be used for mass burnings, whether of convicted criminals or of collected rubbish.

Corner Fires and Following Fires are particularly useful for taking out someone holding a hostage as a human shield, by attacking from another angle.

Ice Law

Freeze Liquid can be used in industry, alchemical work, ice making (for drinks, first aid, or cold storage), to stop leaks (temporarily), and to make popsicles.

Cool Solid can be used for comfort, cold storage, food preparation (chilled dishes), cooling drinks (by cooling the serving vessel), minor firefighting assistance, and in working with materials whose properties change when cooled. Industrial uses are led by the ability to cool down overheating equipment. Chill Solid has further industrial uses (and might be the basis of "cold forges" for materials such as laen) and offers more intense cold storage (cryogenics?), but at a reduced base duration. Further uses include creating brittleness for breaking things, scientific and magical experimentation with low temperatures, freezing liquids out of a solid object, freezing off warts, and creating frozen foods.

Wall of Cold and Circle of Cold are useful in defense, firefighting, and minor flood control. They can also be used to cool rooms.

The various bolts and balls have military applications, while being less destructive of the environs than the Fire Law versions. This means that for piracy, where you want to take the ship intact, cold will be favored over fire. Cold attacks are also good for fire fighting, signals, and salutes.

Wall of Ice is much like Icewall on the Barrier Law list, but does not need a "seed" of existing ice. This makes it a more useful ice source in warm areas. It can be used for ice-making, firefighting, construction in cold areas, and creating ice sculptures (with Spell Mastery/Artistry or employing the Sculpting skill).

Call Cold serves most of the same military functions as Call Flame, but can also be used to fight fires.

Water/Ice can be used to supply ice for various purposes, to create an ice dam for flood control, or to create an ice skating rink. Ice bridges and emergency rafts of ice can be built in cooler waters. One can catch fish or boats in ice. Containers full of water can be ruptured by the sudden expansion.

Chill Metal can be used to sterilize medical implements (which must be allowed to warm again before use unless freezing warts). The metal-weakening effect can help in disarming a foe or breaking locks, chains, or shackles. It can be used to help break into metal safes and vaults. Weakening metal armor will help against some foes, armored vehicles, or siege machines; Chill Metal can provide a chance to damage them more easily. It is also useful against metal golems and constructs. It can be used industrially to cool metals directly, although this can be risky.

Rain/Snow can delay flooding. The snow can be used for snow fights, making snowmen, making snow forts, making snow angels, and skiing. By turning rain into snow, you make tracking easier (if not too far behind) instead of harder. In areas where there is no naturally occurring snow, this spell might be used in educating students about weather.

Cold True can be used to fight hot spells or thaws. It can aid or hinder agriculture, depending on the weather and the needs of the crops. A frozen state of a river, lake, or harbor can be maintained, allowing land traffic and blocking ships and boats. A ski resort or skating rink can be kept open by preventing melting.

Light Law

The magic of light is great stuff, but it is getting a bit repetitive. Of course, this is an indication that magical light is fairly common. In a low magic setting, it might still be one of the most commonly encountered forms of obvious magic (being on many lists and quite practical). In a medium magic setting, temporary magical illumination should be available to the rich and powerful without difficulty and not unheard of among what middle class may exist or those with a local hedge magician. In a high magic setting, magical illumination would be almost commonplace, although almost nowhere as omnipresent as an electrified city.

Projected Light, Light, Sudden Light, and Utterlight were discussed under the Open Channeling list Light's Way.

Shock Bolt and Lightning Bolt are offensive weapons and provide electrical power, which might be harnessed industrially or used in experiments or rituals. Corner and Following bolts have the same usefulness as their Fire Law counterparts.

Shade was discussed under the Nature's Guises (Ranger Base) list. A Magician will be more likely to use this spell as sun protection, since Stalking and Hiding are not his strengths. Dark can be used to protect light-sensitive individuals or materials. In the theatre, it can be used as a kind of anti-spotlight. Shade and Dark are both ominous and can be used for effect when describing the horrible threat represented by the activity of the Evil Overlord, just to make sure the assembled Council of Indecisive Leaders gets the point.

The Light Law version of Waiting Light is more flexible (and costly) than the Light's Way version, so it has the same uses and some additional strengths. The inclusion of darkness capability means that it can hinder intruders. Not only can a Dark spell interfere with picking a lock or appraising what to steal, panicky burglars might think that they have been blinded. As a signal, darkness can often be more subtle than light.

Beacon can be used for signaling or attention-getting (e.g., to draw customers to a fair or chariot sale). It can be used for pomp and circumstance (e.g., a 21 Beacon salute at a coronation). It can be used to measure a distance of five or ten miles, illuminate distant objects, or as illumination for a search. The duration is too short to be an effective human lighthouse.

Utterdark also has too short a duration for many uses to which it would otherwise be suited. These include killing plants (including weeds or sources of illegal drugs) by light-deprivation and protection for light-sensitive creatures or materials. These uses would become possible if a much longer Utterdark could be sustained through duration extension and multiple castings. As it is, Utterdark can be used to aid in escapes and in the performance of covert actions. It is also good for dramatic effects.

Water Law

This list has six empty slots. The other Magician lists together have eight. Magicians seem to be unimaginative when it comes to using water.

Condensation allows survival by supplying enough water to drink. The water is also useful for other small-scale uses, such as doing the dishes or boiling water for medical uses. It is too small a supply for bathing or industrial use.

Fog can reduce visibility to improve stealth or to favor close combat. It could provide some moisture during a drought or be used to dampen an area to slow the spread of fire. Fog is also visually dramatic, especially if there are lights in the fog. It can create a navigational hazard, which might be a defensive measure or a threat on those who do not pay the toll for safe passage. Dense enough fog might even hamper scrying efforts. Unfog provides for navigational safety, landing field safety (for civilizations with flight capabilities), and visibility to assist sentries or for outdoor ceremonies, sports, or entertainment.

Waterwall (True) was discussed under Barrier Law. I imagine that it could be cast underwater to slow boats and sea creatures. It is useful defensively, in containing or quenching fires, and could be useful for some cleaning tasks.

Water Bolts are useful in combat and firefighting. They may also be useful for scouring surfaces clean in some circumstances. As with other bolt spells, they are suitable for signals and salutes.

Calm Water is useful in water rescues and in flood prevention. It can protect ships, boats, rafts, and shores. Calm Water True allows the same effect over a much larger area and can protect an entire harbor or fleet.

Call Rain can provide a tactical or strategic advantage. Its most important use is as a drought-buster. It can also help boost umbrella sales.

Command Current is useful for travel and trade along bodies of water. If the caster dedicates himself to Command Current, even an eight-hour workday adds 24 miles a day to travel, so it is significant. With enough casters to keep the spell up all day and night, this adds 72 miles a day and considerably enhances water travel (already the fastest method of travel with pre-modern real world technology).

Whirlpool has mainly military applications against ships and sea creatures. Use of Whirlpool to demand a toll for river passage is an alternative to the historical method of fortifications.

Part Water allows the crossing of water away from a ford or bridge. Trade routes based on this spell are possible only if Magicians at a high level are commonly available (or camp out at the edge of the water to enjoy employment by caravans). It is more likely that this spell will be used to shorten or vary one's route to gain an advantage in speed or surprise or to avoid trouble from bandits, ruthless competitors, or other threats. This is another spell that allows for the collection of river tolls. It enables the construction and repair of structures that are normally underwater. It should also be possible to employ Part Water as a means of flood control.

Sea Storm will see military use, mainly against navies. A storm might also be summoned in hopes of wreaking and looting passing merchant vessels. An angry Magician can use this spell to make the environment reflect his mood. Sea Storm can be followed by Calm Water True to create a safe zone in the storm for the Magician and friends.

Wind Law

Breezes is useful for handling hazardous gasses and may be used in support of firefighting efforts or rescue operations in mines. This is at least as good as a fan for a hot day. It can also be used to play wind chimes. Used to stir those anti-invisibility bead curtains I have mentioned before, Breezes can aid Stalking by creating noise to cover any little sound from insufficient stealth.

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.

Slumber Mist and Slumber Cloud have most of the same uses as Sleep spells (the main exception is that they are inappropriate for childcare) and probably have industrial uses. They are useful in fighting fires, especially those resistant to water. Investigation of the function of these spells may advance chemical science.

Stun Cloud can deliver up to six criticals, so you are lucky if stunning is all it does to you. This is straightforward brute force. Combined with Breezes to direct the cloud into the fortification, Stun Cloud is a great weapon against foes that are in a static defensive position. The Death Cloud is an even more brutal version of the same effect. If you take all ten criticals, expect it to live up to its name.

Used on opposing sails in naval pursuits or races, Air Stop gives a strong advantage. It can also be used to prevent inconvenient effects of wind, such as the blowing away of sheet music or tablecloths at outdoor events. In windstorms, it can provide localized and limited protection.

In addition to the obvious combat and firefighting uses of Vacuum spells, they can be used to dispose of dangerous gases. They also allow the creation of a laboratory vacuum for experiments, which may lead to the discovery of industrial applications. A Vacuum is also an absurd percussion instrument or a sound effect.

Combined with sand to scour surfaces, Whirlwind makes a high-powered cleaner. This spell could also possibly be tapped for mechanical power by a society with adequate wind-harnessing technology.

Reverse Winds can bring objects to shore or drive them away. Bringing them in can aid harvesting the wreckage after using a Sea Storm to ravage merchant ships. Shifting the wind can provide the advantage in naval battles. Reverse Winds is also an important transportation technology when the prevalent winds are unfavorable. Avoiding traveling into the wind is useful on land as well. Changing the direction of the wind in a storm changes an exposed path along a cliff into a sheltered path along a cliff and keeps travelers out of snow or rain.

Hard Wind is useful in combat or as an over-powered leaf blower. It is probably too rough for use on sails or most wind-powered mechanisms, but a specially-built Dwarven device might harness its energies.

The damage from Storm Call may (or may not) be minimal, but at the least it will interfere with normal activity, providing an effective strategic weapon.