The Social Implications of Magic: Illusionist Base Lists

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Be on guard. Your culture itself could be at stake."

This is the eleventh 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.

From the perspective of someone sitting in authority, concerned with order and cohesiveness in society, spells of illusion, deception, and shape-shifting are of more concern than most of the "Evil" spell lists. Demons and undead on the prowl? That just leads the people to turn to the authorities for help. Many of the other Evil spells are simply harmful, but then so are a good many non-Evil spells. Evil mentalists can cause good people to do bad things, making them the worst of the Evil casters. Even so, when it comes to undermining justice, deceptive spells are nearly as bad. When the innocent are punished and the guilty go free, morality is undermined, as is respect for the law and lawful authority. When personal identity can be stolen or one's reputation sullied by the acts of another and a loved one may be a stranger in disguise, distrust and fear spread. Illusions threaten to undermine our very belief in reality; philosophies of doubt and nihilism will blossom in their shade. Furthermore, how can one maintain distinctions of class, species, race, nationality, and sex when one individual can take the form of another? While these spells can have beneficial uses, they are potentially devastating to civilization if employed for widespread misuse. The Illusionist is the first specialist in such deceptions considered in this series. What follows is an account of the potential utility of his spells. Magistrates and sovereigns among my readership are cautioned that such utility must be weighed against the potential threat of such magics. Be on guard. Your culture itself could be at stake.


The introduction of tactile illusions is one of the major improvements in the professional Illusionist's abilities compared with the amateur relying on Lesser Illusions.

Smell Mirage and Taste Mirage have been covered under Lesser Illusions (see in discussing Taste/Smell Mirage.

Strike spells provide some minor offensive power to Illusionists. By striking from a hidden location or combining the strike with other illusions, Strike could provoke fights while the Illusionist stays out of the fray.

Tear Cloud upgrades the use of noxious odors to an actual gas that can be used to stun. Useful for combat and riot control. In conjunction with Gaslungs (available in Essence through the Physical Enhancement list), it provides an advantage in melee.

Feel Mirage adds the ability to produce luxury textures, enhancing the comfort-provision aspect of illusions greatly. The ability to use illusions to create virtual sex partners is still limited by their inability to survive rough handling. However, the extent of this limitation depends on exactly what the limits are before a "feel" is lost. Merchants might slap a shipment of silk before accepting delivery to ensure the fine texture is not an illusion. An unpleasant feel can discourage investigations if there is something an Illusionist wants to have left alone. A slippery feel can slow someone, even if there is no real risk of falling. I assume that feel illusions include warmth/coolness, since this is necessary to properly mimic tactile sensations from various surfaces. This provides for additional comfort features.

Feel/Taste/Smell Glamour, in addition to competing for "most clumsy spell name";, has many possible uses. It can be used to improve food, covering all aspects of culinary delight other than "presentation". A nutritious, but bland, mush can become delicious and chewy. Those with allergies or other unpleasant reactions to certain foods may enjoy the taste of those foods by means of illusion. One may also simply save the extravagant costs of certain foods by means of illusion. I wish I could cast this spell on my cat's litter box and it may be used for odor control in classier latrines. It can be used to throw dogs "off the scent" or fraudulently sell water as perfume.

Feel Terrain would be quite freaky with no visual element and the first response, at least by the magically na´ve, would be to think that the visual appearance is the illusion. A swampy feel would discourage intrusion into the area of effect.

Mass Smell/Taste scales up from a Glamour and is ideal for serving a meal (on a small scale). Mass Feel could be handy for a "Halloween party" type situation. Why mess about with foods when you can make something actually feel like guts or a brain?

The three Mirage True spells offer permanent effects. These are useful for generating luxury goods, such as silk flowers that smell like the real thing, a wig that feels silkier than human hair ever could, or a pebble that tastes like sugar ("candy rock") to satisfy a "sweet tooth" without putting on weight.


(Mass) Blur is a defensive spell, but it could also be used to help convince someone he is drunk (either as part of some scheme or just to get him to let someone else pilot the flying carpet since he really is drunk). It could be used as a conventional effect to represent enchantment in theatrical performances.

Shadow is another spell that could be useful in the theater, where it could be used to represent invisibility. The stealth applications are obvious, but it can also be used to be spooky, for intimidation purposes or just because you think it would be cool.

Fašade spells are useful in infiltration or in performances. This effect is a longer-lasting, more limited version of Living Change's Change to Kind. If it can be used (perhaps requiring Spell Mastery) to appear of the opposite sex of one's own race, it would be useful in bypassing sex-based restrictions in one's society. This would be an improved form of the disguised-as-a-man technique adventurous or ambitious women have used historically and has the advantage of working even in a society that uses minimal clothing. Mass Fašade is similar to Mass Change with longer duration and different restrictions. The longer duration means that in addition to uses suggested under the Living Change list, it can be used to move groups through "alien" territory without appearing as outsiders, even if the trip is lengthy.

Signs is a modest form of communication magic. It is inferior to the offering of the Sound's Way (Open Channeling) or Mind Speech (Mentalist Base) lists, but is worthwhile, mainly to communicate with other species. Members of the same species can probably mime this well to each other with a little mundane effort.

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

Impersonation Fašade spells are equivalent to Living Change's True Change except for longer duration and more limited effects (smaller size change possible and higher level spells required to cover multiple senses). Impersonation Fašade does have the advantage of possibly including mannerisms (although Acting could cover this if using True Change). The applications remain the same, although this list is much superior for longer impersonations, such as actually replacing the mimicked individual.

False Image is useful in performances (death-defying magic acts, dancing with one's "shadow"). It also makes a useful decoy to make assassinations difficult.

Impersonation Study offers a quick path for use of Impersonation spells. Since it is equivalent to studying the target, it should also help for play-acting or comic parodies of an individual.

Changing Fašade is useful in performances (great for improv) and baffling witnesses as described with respect to Living Change's Changing. It is also useful for any change of identity needs, whether to maintain a double life as a spy, adulterer, or hypocrite or to do investigative work to check how different people are treated, either to improve service or to investigate violations of anti-discrimination laws.

What is noticeably missing in this list, but would surely be managed by either further spell research or the use of Spell Mastery, is magic designed to please the vanity of the target, whether it be the caster or a customer. Most would prefer to look like idealized versions of themselves, not to look like another person or species.

Illusion Mastery

Illusion spells function as Illusions on the Lesser Illusions list, except that the Illusionist's access to feel and Presence sense illusions allows greater realism and the ability to influence the sense of touch is very useful for the creation of luxury environments. Note also that in combination with Spell Enhancement, the duration, range and area of effect are quite flexible.

Phantasm spells on the Illusion Mastery list differ from the spells of the same name on the Lesser Illusions list mainly in that the Illusionist's access to tactile illusions means this Phantasm can handle objects or attack. Essentially, an Illusionist's Phantasm is real until the "feels" run out.

Waiting Illusion and Waiting Phantasm spells are the same as on the Lesser Illusions list, except that the Phantasm can attack, meaning it can be used as a trap.

Illusory Terrain can offer concealment or protection (by discouragement) of locations. It can also be useful in real estate fraud, planning landscaping or development, and creating custom arenas for war games.

Light Molding

Light Mirage has most of the same uses as Sound/Light Mirage on the Lesser Illusions list. A Light Mirage is a form of transient art and, for some Illusionists, that might be its primary significance.

Projected Light has the same applications as a flashlight (finding one's way in the dark, signaling, etc.) except for "light sabre duels".

Light Control can provide mood lighting, theatrical lighting, and a light for reading without disturbing someone sleeping nearby. It can be used as a form of abstract art. It can be used to be really annoying. It can provide shadows to assist in hiding.

Sudden Light provides a non-lethal attack and is useful for highwaymen/muggers, police, military, slavers, and self-defense even for strong pacifists.

Shock Bolt and Lightning Bolt are potentially lethal attacks and possible energy sources if electrical energies have been harnessed.

Light Glamour is the same as the Lesser Illusions spell of the same name.

Blind is an incapacitating non-lethal attack. It can also be used as a "blindfold" that cannot slip off for various games or to test certain abilities (e.g., blind-fighting or psychic powers). The visual appearance of someone under this spell may be intimidating or creepy and useful for this side effect.

Utterlight provides short-term strong illumination (and dispels magical darkness). It can light things up during a nighttime raid or search.

Light Terrain provides exotic vistas, life-size playing boards, and clearly-marked playing fields for sports. It provides much of the function as Illusory Terrain, at least for visually-oriented species.

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 mile, 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, such as by use of Extension True from the Spell Enhancement list. 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.

Mind Sense Molding

Here, more than anywhere, we see the potential of Illusionists to support the notion that all reality is but illusion and to thereby seed cynicism, mistrust, distrust, and paranoia. On the other hand,we also see that Illusionists can stand as defenders of privacy against the intrusion of magical detection and observation.

Detect Illusion allows recognition of illusions, but not seeing through them. It is nigh useless in an illusion-rich environment. It can provide a general warning that things are not as they appear, but an Illusionist could bluff by putting on a glamour of the target's true appearance. In a low-illusion environment, it can identify disguised individuals and objects for further investigation.

Detect Invisible provides magical detection of invisibility of short duration, which will be used only if an invisible presence is suspected or to scan an area for a specific occasion. It is not suitable as a substitute for mundane anti-invisibility measures.

Misfeel spells are good for general misdirection and bluff, usually combined with illusions to look the part. They are especially useful to pass magical screening of qualifications. However, they will not do much good if abilities are also tested, although that can be faked as well, with more effort. In instances of persecution of various races or professions, these spells can offer protection and even may turn social forces back against the persecution by causing misidentification of influential individuals as members of the hunted class.

Presence Mirage can be used to drive (magically empowered) guards nuts with an uncatchable, invisible intruder. Some pranksters never tire of that trick.

Reduce Power Emanations may be useful for smuggling, avoiding import/export taxes, carrying a concealed magical weapon, avoiding the attention of thieves, and tax evasion.

Disillusion allows the Illusionist to live in reality while creating unreality for others. This is handy if the illusions are dangerous, inconvenient, or a cover for the Illusionist's covert activity. This spell can also be used to deal with another's illusions to find one's way to the truth; an Illusionist has the best countermagic to handle illusions.

Detect Illusion True can be used to scan a region for illusions and may be used at checkpoints or during security sweeps or when approaching a site where illusions are suspected.

Unpresence is invisibility to mental senses. Combined with invisibility, the masking of odor with illusions, and the use of Silence, it can make one undetectable except through detection of the magic itself.

Sound Molding

Sound Mirage was covered under Lesser Illusion's Sound/Light Mirage.

Silence is an important stealth component. As mentioned above when discussing Unpresence, it is part of the omnisense stealth suite. It can be used to cover the noise of criminal activity (including those pesky cries for help), to silence the voice of sedition or heresy, to quiet industrial noise (duration is short, but it can cover quick night work), to prevent alarms, to deal with a screaming child, to tune an instrument privately, or to allow sleep or concentration by cutting out distracting noises. Since Silence prevents sound from entering as well as from leaving the area of effect, the user must rely on other senses. Another drawback is that one cannot be too close to those one is trying to slip past unnoticed or one will lose the protection of Silence. However,the radius allows several individuals to be inside the sound barrier, so it can be used as a privacy screen. The larger radius on more advanced versions of the spell is less generally useful than a longer duration would be, but does allow groups to move with stealth or larger operations to be kept quiet for industrial purposes. Silence is also a defense against sonic attacks.

Sound Control spells are useful in any group of speakers to hold the floor or to moderate discussion. This could be a political or judicial body, a classroom, or an adventuring party. These spells can also control the noise of children in the nursery (or marketplace). They can be used to control the sound balance in a band, chorus, or orchestra. Actors or other performers might also benefit from the effects (including dealing with hecklers by shutting them up). Public speeches can also benefit. For the merry prankster Illusionist (the kind most hunted in every civilized community), there is the potential to embarrass someone by suddenly turning up the volume on his voice.

The Sudden Sound spells offer non-lethal attacks suitable for law enforcement, non-violent crime, and personal protection.

Sound Glamour allows one to substitute one musical instrument for another. Noisy objects may be made quiet (this may be the best way to deal with industrial noise). An ordinary bell can become a powerful bell for use as an alarm or prayer bell. Sound Glamour can provide general sound effects for ambience or theater. An always-squeaking door can be created to annoy someone.

Deafen makes a suitable punishment for eavesdropping. Since it also makes the target effectively mute except from very close, it is also suitable to punish gossiping. It can hobble an orator (whether preacher, teacher, politician, or activist). It also can serve as protection when going into a high-noise environment. It can be used to silence an individual who is boring, annoying, or inclined to speak too much. Deafen Sphere and Mass Deafen are useful to prevent coordination in a group by preventing communication (unless they know hand signs). This can make military and paramilitary operations (including government raids on illicit enterprises) easier.

Minor Ultrasonics is a non-lethal selective attack and can be used to disperse animals, either as a defensive measure or to create a disruption. Major Ultrasonics is potentially lethal force for dealing with crowds. If the caster needs to deal with a riot on his own, this is a useful option.

Sound Terrain works best in conjunction with other Terrain spells, but can be used to adjust the difficulty of stealth in the area (a twiggy forest floor can be made to sound like a soft, sandy beach or vice versa). If the sounds and appearance do not match, the effect can be eerie.

Mass Silence is useful for mass stealth but the group had better be telepaths, know hand signals, or be extremely good planners. It can be used to quiet down a noisy crowd.