Strange Magic

Copyright Steve Kellison © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Why do the three different classes of spell user cast spells in essentially the same way?"

While I like the detail of the Rolemaster magic system, I have always had some questions. The rules say magic is broken down into three "realms" which are different primarily in the way their spells are powered. Essence users draw their power from the environment. Mentalism spellcasters use the power contained within them. And finally, Channelers are granted their power from a deity or some other "higher power."

This system leaves me with a few questions:

  • Why does an Essence caster even have a "set" number of power points? Is the power not all coming from the environment?
  • Why does an Essence caster regain power points by sleeping? Does she not draw them from the environment?
  • Why do Mentalist casters get all their power points back after a night's sleep?
  • Why do Channelers get their power back after sleeping? (Unless she worships the god of sleep...)
  • Why do Channelers get power from their deities using the Power Point Development skill? Should they not be praying, converting others, or otherwise furthering their religion to get power?
  • Why do the three different classes of spell user cast spells in essentially the same way?

Here are my ideas for changing some of the mechanics behind each of the three realms. This system also gives some different options for adjusting the power level of magic in a campaign through the use of items, special or "holy" sites, naturally-occurring Essence, etc...

Another thing I was trying to achieve with this set of rules is the way magic is used in many of my favorite fantasy books. I admit, I am a big fan of Lord of the Rings, but that is not the only fantasy story, and I am not one of those people who believe it should be the basis for all fantasy role-playing. But one of the things I have noticed in almost every fantasy novel I have read is that spell casters almost always prefer to solve a problem without magic. In a few cases this is not so, but in many of my favorites the magic-using character had to either "conserve power" or was being cautious because he did not want some other power to "detect" his use of magic. In some books, the use of magic even takes a heavy physical toll on the caster.

I have tried to incorporate many of these ideas into what follows. I understand this is not for everyone. My intent here was actually to create a system for a low-magic game where magic was still an important part of the story, but not the solution to every problem.

In the following pages, I discuss each of the three "realms" of magic, plus Arcane magic. I will also include my thoughts on how to incorporate Hybrid spell casters into this system.

Essence Channeling Mentalism Hybrid Spell Casters Arcane Magic Power Burn Concentration Power Perception and Magical Noise Talents and Flaws


Spell users of Essence can manipulate huge amounts of power by drawing it from their surroundings as they form it into spells. Unfortunately, Essence is too powerful to be stored in a frail human (elven, dwarven, whatever) body. This does not overly hamper Essence spell users, since they draw their power directly from the environment. This process can be slow, but the advantage is that they do not run out of power until the entire area is depleted. Essence users may also take a portion of their power from material components and items, greatly increasing the speed of their spell casting, while at the same time becoming more dependent on magical foci.

The major change to Essence is that Power Point Development is not used. Essence users do not store power in their bodies. Essence is everywhere, and the Essence spell user (almost) always has power at his disposal. However, there are limitations on how much power an Essence spell caster can use, and how quickly he can use it. These limits are known as the Per-Round Power Limit and the Per-Spell Power Limit.

Per-Round Power Limit: Without the use of a magical focus, an Essence user will be able to safely channel 1 power point per round into a spell. Thus, a 10th level Lightning Bolt will take 10 rounds to cast using 100% activity each round, going off in the Normal or Deliberate phase of the last round. Violating the per-round power limit will result in Power Burn (see below).

Per-Spell Power Limit: Without the aid of a magical focus, an Essence user will only be able to safely control a number of power points equal to his level. For example, a 5th level Magician would not be able to cast a 6th level Firebolt spell safely, without the use of a magical focus. Violating the per-spell power limit will result in Power Burn.

Essence Spell Casting:

When an Essence User casts a spell, the first action is to draw one power point from the environment and use it to form the "spell matrix." This is a magical construct the caster uses to contain and focus the power of the spell. Forming the spell matrix is a 100% activity, regardless of the level of the spell.

On each subsequent round, the caster can add one more power point from the environment. Each round of spell casting requires 100% activity. A caster may also use a magical focus to help power the spell. Using a Focus does not count as an additional action, and does not require any activity percentage.

Overcasting: When an Essence spell user decides to attempt a spell that is higher than his level, he must still make a Spell Casting Static Maneuver to form the spell matrix (i.e., using these rules, Spell Casting maneuvers used normally except there is never a penalty for having used a percentage of one's Power Points, regardless of realm). If the maneuver is successful, the caster can proceed to power the spell. The Spell Casting maneuver is separate from any Power Burn the caster may suffer for overcasting, but if failed, the caster may still suffer Power Burn from the one power point in the spell matrix.

Instantaneous Essence Spells and Initiative: Due to the nature of Essence spells and how they are powered, there are no true "instantaneous" spells in Essence. The process of powering an Essence spell is just too slow to allow for spells to be cast that quickly.

Even though Essence is often slower than the other realms, there are some spells that are intended to have a faster effect. For example, a Bladeturn spell has to have an immediate effect on the environment, as opposed to a slower-acting spell like Sleep or Charm. Because of this, there are some situations when an Essence spell marked as "instantaneous" may still be treated as instantaneous (i.e., cast as a Snap Action), even if it takes a long time to cast the spell:

  • A spell that has already been formed and powered, and is being held ready as an opportunity action by the caster,
  • A spell that is being cast from an item or has been stored in an item, or
  • A spell held ready with a Spell Store spell.

Example: Bartho LeMew, the famous Magician, expects to be going into battle soon. In preparation, he stores Bladeturn II, Long Door 300', and Lightning Bolt in his Magic Staff (see Essence Companion for this list). He then uses a normal Spell Store from Spell Reins to store Aim Untrue, figuring the first round of combat will involve missile fire.

  • During the first round of combat, Bart uses his Aim Untrue spell to bail out his Fighter buddy. Because this is an Instantaneous spell and it was already powered and stored, he casts the spell as a Snap Action and manages to fire it off before the arrow strikes.
  • During the second round, Bart sees an open shot at the enemy and fires off his Lightning Bolt. Because this was not an "instantaneous" spell, it is cast during the Normal Phase.
  • The same applies to Long Door 300' should Bart need to get out of there in a hurry.
  • If Bart needs to trigger his Bladeturn II spell, it will be treated as instantaneous.
  • Later in the battle, Bart decides to cast "Fighter Bolt V" (known to most as Haste V) on his buddy. This spell is marked as instantaneous, but Bart must still find the power. Once powered, this spell would go off on Bart's turn in the Normal Phase. However, if Bart held the spell for a round or two, deciding which fighter needed it the most, it would get the bonus (as an opportunity action).

Magical Foci for Essence:

A magical focus for Essence can take several forms. In general, this is any item that can be used to add power to a spell, increase the rate at which a caster can power a spell, or increase the maximum number of power points a caster can safely control. This can include things like spell catalysts from the Essence Companion, spell adders, spell multipliers, and various magical items.

Spell Catalysts are various materials (herbs, crystals, dead body parts, etc.) that have an affinity for certain types of spells. When a catalyst is used, it will add a number of power points to the spell. Typically, a catalyst must be in hand, or touched, for it to be used. It is recommended that the Spell Catalyst rules from the Essence Companion be used for this with two exceptions:

  • Spell casters are not required to use catalysts when casting a spell
  • Catalysts that do not contribute any power points are either
    • Not used or
    • Allowed to contribute 1 power point if they are specially gathered or prepared (GM discretion).

In general, a caster can only use one spell catalyst per round. A GM might rule that things like Spell Adders or Spell Multipliers might also be used in the same round, depending on the power level of his campaign.

Example: A Magician wants to cast a 10th level Lightning Bolt spell. Without some kind of focus, it will take her 10 rounds to power the spell, drawing one point per round from the environment. In this case, she has an herbal catalyst that can contribute 3 points to the spell. She can now cast that spell in 7 rounds by using the catalyst (plus one from the environment) to add 4 points in one round, plus six rounds at one point per round from the environment.

Option: A GM may wish to allow a spell caster to use Nomenist or Somaticist rules from the Essence Companion, and allow this to add power to spells. For example, a GM might rule that a specific magical language can add power points to a spell if Words of Power are spoken, or specific gestures might add power when used. The GM would have to come up with appropriate power levels for various words and gestures.

  • Caution: Using this option could greatly increase the power level of Essence magic in the game. It would essentially provide the caster with an inexhaustible focus. In a high magic campaign, this might be appropriate. I would find it a bit unbalancing in a low-magic campaign.
  • I recommend requiring a language skill roll (in the appropriate language) for Nomenists when using this option. Perhaps with the difficulty of the skill roll relating directly to the number of power points added to the spell. In a low-magic campaign, failure of this roll might cause spell failure.
  • I recommend requiring a Dance skill roll for Somaticists, and perhaps an increased exhaustion cost for Somaticist spell casting. I might break the required Dance skills down into multiple sub-skills too. In a low-magic campaign, failure of this roll might cause spell failure.

Spell Adders can take many forms. These devices slowly draw power from the environment and store it for later use. Essence Spell Adders can hold varying amounts of power, and re-charge themselves at various rates, depending on the power level of the item and the power level of the game.

Spell adders have three basic attributes:

  • Maximum number of power points,
  • Re-charge rate, and
  • Per-Spell Limit increase.

Spell adders are used during the casting process, and may contribute any number of power points to the spell, up to the maximum they hold. Once the power points are used, they are gone until the device re-charges itself.

Spell Adders can also raise the normal per-spell limit above the caster's level, but only if they are used in the casting of the spell. For instance, a 4th level caster could cast a 6th level spell, if he used a spell adder that added +2 to the per-spell power limit. So in this system, spell adders not only alter how fast a given caster can power a spell, but also the level of spell that can be safely cast.

So, to continue our earlier example with the Lightning Bolt spell, if the caster had her 3-point herb and a +4 power adder, she can now cast that Lightning Bolt in 3 rounds. On round one she forms the matrix and adds one power point from the environment. On round two she adds one more point from the environment and uses her 3-point herb. The spell now has 5 power points. On the third round, she adds one more point from the environment, and uses all 4 points from her spell adder, completing the spell.

Some examples of Spell Adders:

+3/1 day/+1
This is a +3 power adder that re-charges 1 power point per day and adds 1 to the per-spell power limit. This would be a typical low-level item in a low-power campaign.
+20/6 hours/+5
This power adder has a maximum of 20 power points, recharges 1 point every 6 hours, and adds +5 to the per-spell power limit. This would be a very powerful focus in a low-magic campaign, or a mid-level focus for a more high-power campaign.
+5/1 week/+10
This item is intended more for increasing the per-spell limit, perhaps for use in powerful rituals, rather than for speeding up the casting of spells. This is essentially a large surge protector with a small battery backup.
+10/1 hour/+0
This item is a tool for helping a mage cast spells quickly. It has a good pool of power and recharges quickly, but does not allow the user to cast higher-level spells. It is a large, rechargeable battery, with no surge protection.

Spell Multipliers increase the rate at which a caster can draw power from the environment into a spell by multiplying the per-round power limit. A x2 multiplier will allow the caster to draw 2 power points per round instead of 1. So, a caster with a 3-point herb, a +3 spell adder, and a x2 power multiplier could cast her Lightning Bolt in 2 rounds.

Some spell multipliers might also multiply the per-spell power limit. However, GMs should use this with extreme caution. Even a x2 power multiplier would allow a 10th level caster to suddenly be able to cast 20th level spells more safely (although a normal Spell Casting maneuver would still be required). Depending on how you handle spell-list access in your game, this could rapidly unbalance things.

Combined Foci: There is no reason why a GM could not combine attributes of various foci into one item. For example, a powerful magic staff might have the following attributes:

  • May store any 2 spells for later use.
  • Holds 10 power points.
  • Re-charges 1 power point per day.
  • Acts as a x2 power multiplier (doubles the per-round limit).
  • Allows the wielder to control 5 more power points than normal (increases the per-spell limit).

Limited Foci: There is also no reason why a GM could not limit a focus to a particular spell list or profession. An example would be a Wand of Fire that held 10 power points that could only be used for spells from Fire Law or other fire-based spell lists.

How Much Power Is There, Anyway?

GMs may find it useful to limit the amount of power in an area. Essence flows around, forms pools and currents, and is not at the same density in all areas. There is almost always some to be found wherever you are, but the supply is not uniform. When the Essence in an area is used, it does not immediately flow back in from the surrounding area. Think of it as slow-moving smoke. It concentrates near the source of smoke, but other places will slowly fill with haze.

Earthnodes are places where Essence comes into the world. These places have the highest concentration of Essence. Ley Lines are like Essence rivers. They are long, narrow flows of Essence, typically radiating from an Earthnode.

Some places might be located far from any Earthode or Ley Line, and therefore have very little Essence. Others might have the usual supply of Essence, but an overabundance of spell users draining it away. Cities in a high-magic campaign would frequently be low on Essence as everyday magic use continually drains away the power in the area. Some cities might even form magical guilds to monitor the use of Essence in the area, much like water usage is monitored in farming communities. (This might also serve to explain why so many powerful mages in fiction live far away from the population centers.)

Once a GM has established how many power points are in an area, a character with Power Perception can see this (see below for more information). The GM should keep track of any Essence use in the area.

Example: Jessica the Magician is taking a break in a village along her journey. She wishes to prepare for the trouble she expects in the next stage of her adventure. She rents a room at the inn, and spends some time quietly casting spells. The GM tells her there are about 75 power points in the area. Jessica decides to store a Lightning Bolt spell and a Teleport spell in her trusty staff. Each of these are 10th level spells, which also require 10 points each for the Store spells. Jessica just burned through 40 of the 75 power points in the area in a couple minutes, leaving 35 points for the rest of her preparations. Anyone with Power Perception in the area will probably notice.

Typically, I don't go to too much trouble to figure the amount of power in an area. I recommend GMs set a range of power they feel is appropriate to an area when they are creating the setting. Then when a character wants to know what the power situation is like, the GM can quickly find the answer, and vary the number slowly as the Essence re-fills or other casters draw it out.


  • This area contains a city that supports a magical guild. Not only the guild members, but also most of the area citizens are capable of at least some small magic. They located the city on an Earthnode to supply power for the guild, but all of the magic use still depletes the area. There are only 5d10 power points available at any given time. The power quickly re-fills because of the earthnode, but it is also quickly used by all the casters in the area. In this case the amount of power should be updated frequently. (The GM might also decide that all the magical noise (see below) in the area makes Power Perception more difficult.)
  • This small, remote village has only one spell caster of modest power. A ley line happens to run near the village, providing a steady power source. On any given day there are 10d10 x2 power points available. The amount of power should be updated about daily.
  • This remote region is far from any ley lines or earthnodes. There are no casters in the area, so there are 10d10 power points available. But once gone, the power will take weeks or even months to return.

A note on Channeling and Mentalism: These rules for the amount of Essence in an area do not apply to Channelers or Mentalists. See the sections on Channeling and Mentalism for details on their sources of power.


Essence flows through the whole world. It is, in its very nature, the power of life. While many believe the greatest sources of Essence are the Earthnodes, many Mentalists believe essence "leaks" from the spirit world, with our souls providing a small gateway between worlds. Much of the power just passes through that small part of our being that exists on the higher plane, but some of it flows through our souls into the "real" world. While each person provides only a small gateway into the world for this flow of power, the net effect of all the souls in the world provide for an abundant source of power. The Mentalist has learned to tap into this stream of power that flows through his soul, setting aside a portion to use in his magic.

The power of a Mentalist is subtle and precise. It is the same energy as Essence, but the amounts involved are much smaller, so much smaller that the Mentalist is able to store his power in his body. Many Mentalists also believe that because this power was already using their soul as a conduit, it is attuned to their life essence and is therefore safe for them to retain. It is, in a very real sense, their "life essence." Either way you look at it, Mentalism users are the only people in the magical world who can store power in their bodies.

In order to tap into this stream of power, Mentalists use a form of Meditation. While in their meditation trance, they can tap into the small amounts of power that are flowing through them and divert a portion into storage within their minds and bodies. At higher levels of skill, they might even slightly increase the amount of power flowing in from the other side. This is a skill that takes practice, discipline, and time.

The Mentalist can store power equal to his Power Meditation (Self Control category) skill bonus divided by 100, per hour. Thus, a Mentalist with a 75 bonus in Power Meditation could store 0.75 power points per hour of meditation. Fractions are saved, but are not useful until they add up to at least 1 point.

This slow method of gathering power means a Mentalist has to be very careful with his power because he does not get it back quickly or easily. A wise mentalist knows it is easier to walk over and pick up a rock, rather than try to move it with the power of his mind, and climbing a ladder is much easier in the long run than trying to fly over a wall.

Mentalism Spell Casting: Because a Mentalist has all of his power stored already, he is able to cast any of his spells in one round, regardless of level. The Mentalist can form his spell matrix and power it in one round as a 100% action (and may cast Instantaneous spells normally), assuming he has the required number of power points.

Mentalism Foci:

Mentalism has a different approach to magical foci. In most cases, they are intended to help the mentalist focus his concentration when meditating.

Power Adders keyed to Mentalism are items which aid the Mentalist in storing power. These items give a bonus to the Mentalist's Power Meditation skill. For this reason, Mentalism spell adders have a range of bonuses similar to other items (+5, +10, +20, etc...)

Power Multipliers keyed to Mentalism can drastically increase the Mentalist's ability to store power, by multiplying the power gained from Power Meditation. A x2 power multiplier will double the power stored by a mentalist. (If the GM feels that multipliers are too potent, she may choose instead to have Power Multipliers double the number of ranks the Mentalist has in Power Meditation.)

Other Foci: While many of these things do not really count as a magical "focus" they can be considered when calculating bonuses to Power Meditation. GMs may allow a character to set up a dedicated "meditation area" in their home or guild that would provide an ideal environment for Power Meditation and yield a bonus to the roll when used. Other factors like incense, fountains, especially comfortable cushions, etc. can all be considered. The bonuses gained from such things should vary according to the power level of the campaign.

Restrictions on Mentalism Foci: These items are used during meditation, and as such must be held and used to focus the thoughts. If the item is not available during meditation, no bonus is granted. A Mentalist who has a x3 power multiplier hidden in his boot, but can't reach it because he is tied to a chair, does not get the x3 benefit.

A Mentalism Example: Vicini the Mentalist starts the campaign with a store of 1-100 Power Points. The GM says, "You don't sit around all the time waiting for an adventure, you use some of your magic each day." The player grumbles, but Vicini rolls a respectable 82, so he doesn't grumble too much.

During the first week of the adventure, Vicini has an average of 4 hours a day to meditate. Vicini has a respectable bonus of +80 to his Power Meditation. He doesn't own a Power Multiplier, but has a +10 adder, so he manages to gain 0.9 Power Points per hour, for four hours each day, for seven days. Let's see ... that adds up to 25.2 Power Points. Add that to the 82 Vicini already had, and he now has 107.2 Power Points to use.

Unfortunately, the demands of the adventure required Vicini to use 15 Power Points during that week, even though he tried to conserve his power. This leaves him with 92.2 power points.

During the second week, things get more exciting. Vicini uses 56 power points, but only has an average of 3 hours per day to meditate, giving him 18.9 more, for a total of 55.1. Fortunately for Vicini, at the end of this week, he finds a x3 Power Multiplier.

For the next week, he has 4 hours to meditate each day, gaining him 75.6 more power points. He used 60 power points that week defending his Power Multiplier from other Mentalists, so his new total at the end of the week is 70.7 Power Points.

GM Notes:

Clearly this system can severely limit the amount of power a Mentalist can fling around. A GM can adjust the power level of his campaign by giving bonuses for Power Meditation. Examples in a high-power campaign might be:

  • Removing visual distractions by finding a placid, natural setting: +10
  • Removing distracting smells by burning special incense: +10
  • Removing distracting noises by sitting near a small stream or fountain: +10
  • Removing distracting feelings by sitting on a comfortable cushion in a place that is a comfortable temperature: +10

All of these easily-controlled factors (and others) can add up to a bonus of +40 or more, depending on the campaign's power level. Add in to this the availability of more-powerful foci, and you could easily end up adding +60 or +70 to the character's Power Meditation skill. With a few weeks to prepare for an adventure, characters could start out with 200 or more power points, even at modest levels.

In extremely low-powered campaigns, the GM may do the exact opposite with the above factors. For example, she might rule that there is no bonus for removing distracting noises, but a penalty of -5 for not removing them.

Caution: Some players (you know the ones I'm talking about) will try to twist this to their advantage in a severely unrealistic way:

  • "Well, I'm going to stay at this inn for a week, and since I only need 8 hours of sleep, I'll spend the other 16 hours each day meditating..."
  • "We only traveled for 8 hours today, and I'm not taking a watch, so I should be able to meditate for 10 hours..."
  • "You said it had been over a year since our last adventure, and I spent it in my guild. I can work for the guild for 6 hours a day, and sleep 8 hour each night. So, that's 365 days, at 10 hours of meditation a day, times my bonus of 85 equals 3,102 power points..."

I would rarely allow a character to meditate for more than 4 hours a day. Usually I restrict them to one or two hours a day (mine is a low-magic campaign). In some rare circumstances I allow 6 hours a day, but you just can't keep that up for very long. And if a character has been "out of play" for an extended time, I tell them they used most of what they stored practicing their spells and learning new ones.

If you want to adjust the power level of the campaign, I recommend using various foci or situational bonuses, rather than allowing a character to do "marathon meditation."


Even though frail humans cannot hold large amounts of Essence, the Gods can. And they are willing to part with some of this power if their followers are faithful. Channelers must pray to their gods to gain power, similar to the way a Mentalist meditates. Adders and multipliers for Channeling work the same way as they do for Mentalism. (They are not interchangeable, but they have the same basic game mechanics.)

In addition to the requirement of Prayer, Channelers must also follow the restrictions of their religion. The Divine Status rules from Channeling Companion should be used. At very high levels of Divine Status, this could act like a free Spell Multiplier.

The power a Channeler receives is not stored in his body. Instead, this is a source set aside by the deity for the Channeler's use. When a Channeler casts a spell, it is really a prayer for a certain effect, which the Deity then grants (usually). Most of this is on such a small scale that the Deity is not conscious of the Channeler's actions. It is just an "aspect" of the Deity which performs this function.

Some philosophies say the deity itself is just a "concept" that is given power by the belief and worship of many people, as opposed to a specific being of great power. These philosophies say the power used in a Channeling spell is actually a very small part of the "deity" itself, drawn to the Channeler by his own faith and belief in the "concept." This view of the world would have it that the gods were themselves created by their worshipers who, by the act of worshiping, channeled vast amounts of Essence into the Concept that was the focus of their worship. This philosophy does much to explain the schizoid behavior exhibited by most deities—design by committee. Don't tell this to the local priest though. And never, under any circumstances, mention it to the nuns at Sunday school.

The Prayer skill falls under the Power Manipulation category, the same as Channeling. However, the Channeler can gain extra power from special situations. Examples include:

  • Praying in a church: +10
  • Praying in a major temple: +20 (not cumulative with Church)
  • Praying at a holy shrine: +5 to +25
  • Praying at a holy site: +0 to +25
  • High Holy Days: +20
  • Holy Days: +10
  • Leading a large congregation: +1 per 10 people
  • Special holy symbols: +5 to +25

Obviously, the GM can change this list or make up modifiers of his own based on the power level of his campaign.

Hybrid Spell Casters

The question arises, "what realm's rules should be used for Hybrid casters?" I would recommend the following:

All Hybrids should keep track of both types of power points. If a hybrid uses both Channeling and Mentalism, then he should have two records of power points; one store from Power Meditation, and one stored from Prayer.

When casting spells, use the following guidelines.


  • Use Essence rules for Open or Closed Essence spells.
  • Use Channeling rules for Open or Closed Channeling spells.
  • For Base spells, the caster should use at least one power point from his Channeling supply of power points, and must draw at least one power point from the environment or another Essence power source. The other power points can come from either source.
  • In the case of first level Base spells, the power point can come from either source.
  • For Power Burn, only consider the number of Essence points used in the spell.
  • If a spell is partially powered by Essence, the Per-Spell Power Limit applies, even if not all the points are from Essence.
  • For Power Perception and Magical Noise (see below), use the Essence power points for detection ranges.


  • Use Essence rules for Open and Closed Essence spells.
  • Use Mentalism rules for Open and Closed Mentalism spells.
  • For Base spells the caster should use at least one power point from his Mentalism supply of power points, and must draw at least one power point from the environment or another Essence power source. The remaining points can come from either source.
  • In the case of first level Base spells, the power point can come from either source.
  • For Power Burn, only consider the number of Essence points used in the spell.
  • If a spell is partially powered by Essence, the Per-Spell Power Limit applies, even if not all the points are from Essence.
  • For Power Perception and Magical Noise, use the Essence power points for detection ranges.


  • Use Mentalism rules for Open and Closed Mentalism spells.
  • Use Channeling rules for Open or Closed Channeling spells.
  • For Base spells the caster should use at least one power point from his Mentalism supply of power points, and one point from his Channeling supply. The remaining points can come from either source.
  • In the case of first level Base spells, the power point can come from either source.

Arcane Magic

Arcane Magic is the source of all magic, in a very literal sense. Arcane magic is the magic that uses the primal power of Ăssence. Ăssence is a power greater than anything found on our plane of existence. However, it pervades the higher planes that exist in parallel with ours. Its mere presence in such proximity to our world "charges" our world with a similar, but lesser, force called Essence.

Ăssence, in its raw state is something that can only be handled safely by the gods. The key word there is "safely." There are some (pick one: brave, foolish, intrepid, stupid, wild, careless) individuals who choose to accept the risks of manipulating the raw power of creation and destruction in exchange for the greater power. These are the users of Arcane magic, a power greater and more dangerous to the wielder than any other.

Arcane users are treated just like Essence users in the way they draw power. But they are not drawing power from their environment. They are drawing power directly from a higher plane. This has its advantages:

  • They cannot "deplete" the power in a region. Their source of power is unimaginably vast.
  • Their spells are often more powerful. (This is already figured into the Arcane spell lists.)
  • Their spells are less susceptible to dispelling by other forms of magic. (I recommend using "Option 1" from the Arcane Companion when dispelling Arcane magic.)

This also has some drawbacks:

  • Arcane spells are less "refined" than those of other realms. (This is also already figured into the Arcane spell lists.)
  • The power they employ is wild and difficult to control. For this reason all Spell Mastery attempts with Arcane magic are at -25.
  • Using Arcane magic is dangerous. Arcane casters have a greater chance of Power Burn, and suffer greater penalties when it happens.

Magical Foci for Arcane:

The game mechanics for Arcane foci are the same as Essence. However, they are not interchangeable. An Essence focus will not work with Ăssence, and an Arcane focus will not work with Essence.

Power Burn

The forces involved in spell casting are often too powerful for fragile human (elven, dwarven, halfling, etc.) bodies. When not used carefully, these forces will exact a price. Sometimes the price is too high for anyone but a god to pay.

Any Essence or Arcane spell user is susceptible to Power Burn, including Hybrid spell casters who have Essence as one of their realms. Mentalism spell users do not have to worry about Power Burn, because the actual amounts of power they user are much smaller. Channelers do not have to worry about Power Burn because their power is actually controlled by their deity.

What Causes Power Burn:

There are several situations that can or will result in Power Burn:

  • Exceeding the Per-Round power limit.
  • Exceeding the Per-Spell power limit.
  • If an Essence user loses concentration during the casting of a spell, there is a 1% chance of Power Burn for each power point in the spell.
  • If an Essence user suffers Spell Failure, there is a 1% chance of Power Burn for each power point in the spell.
  • If an Arcane user loses concentration during the casting of a spell, there is a 3% chance of Power Burn for each power point in the spell.
  • If an Arcane user suffers Spell Failure, there is a 3% chance of Power Burn for each power point in the spell.

How Much Power Burn is Applied:

If Power Burn occurs as a result of exceeding the Per-Round or Per-Spell power limits, the character suffers one "point" of power burn for:

  • Each power point in excess of the per-round limit.
  • Each power point over the per-spell limit.

If Power Burn occurs as a result of losing concentration during the casting of a spell, or as a result of Spell Failure, the power in the spell backlashes into the caster in an uncontrolled fashion and the caster suffers one "point" of Power Burn for each power point already invested in the spell.

If more than one situation applies, no power point will cause more than one point of power burn. For example; a caster suffered spell failure and exceeded the per-spell power limit in the same spell. He would take one point of power burn for each power point in the spell, but would not take a second hit from the number in excess of the per-spell limit. Those points have already burned him.

When to Apply Power Burn:

The penalties of Power Burn are applied at different times, depending on the cause:

  • Exceeding the Per-Round power limit causes the caster to suffer Power Burn at the end of the round. This may also cause loss of concentration if the spell has not been completed.
  • Exceeding the Per-Spell limit causes the caster to suffer Power Burn
    • At the moment the spell is cast, or
    • At the end of the round, if the spell is not completed. This may also cause loss of concentration.
  • Power Burn from Spell Failure occurs immediately.
  • Power Burn from loss of concentration occurs immediately.

Effects of Power Burn:

For an Essence user, each "point" of Power Burn causes the following:

  • 1d10 concussion hits.
  • 1d10 exhaustion points.
  • 2% chance (cumulative) of a Mana critical.
    • One critical "severity" for each 10 points of Power Burn, round up (1-10 points = A, 11-20 = B, etc.).
    • Any power points gained from the critical can be formed into a spell, if the caster is able to form a spell matrix the following round. If not, the points are lost.
      • If the power gained is greater than the Per-Spell limit for the caster, he suffers Power Burn again the following round, unless the power can be Grounded.
      • Grounding power requires a successful Channeling roll. If a Partial Success result is gained, half (round down) of the power is grounded. If a Near Success result is gained, three-quarters (round down) of the power is grounded.

Example: 6 points of Power Burn would result in taking 6d10 hits, 6d10 exhaustion points, and a 12% chance of an "A" Mana critical.

For an Arcane user, each "point" of Power Burn causes the following:

  • 2d10 concussion hits.
  • 2d10 exhaustion points.
  • 5% chance (cumulative) of a Mana critical.
    • One critical "severity" for each 5 points of Power Burn, round up (1-5 = A, 6-10 = B, etc.).
    • Any power points "gained" from the critical will cause Power Burn the following round unless the caster can "ground" them safely (see above).

Example: An Arcane user suffers 10 points of Power Burn from an exceptionally foolish act. He takes 20d10 concussion hits, 20d10 exhaustion points, and has a 50% chance of taking a B severity Mana critical. Assume the critical results in 4 power points "gained." The following round, the caster would have to roll his Channeling skill to attempt to "ground" the excess power. If he rolled a Partial Success (grounding 2 of the 4 power points), he would take 2 points of Power Burn, resulting in 4d10 concussion hits, 4d10 exhaustion points, and a 10% chance of an A severity Mana critical. If he receives another critical and "gains" more power points, he must attempt to "ground" the power the next round, or he will continue to take damage. It is not recommended that unconscious characters be allowed a chance of "grounding" excess power (falling unconscious from Power Burn is dangerous!).


Loss of concentration during spell casting can have devastating effects. Even if the character does not suffer Power Burn, all Power Points invested are lost. The GM should require a roll when a spell caster might become distracted during spell casting. This should not be over used, since spell casters are taught concentration at an early age, but some situations will warrant a roll.

Some examples where Concentration rolls should be used:

  • The caster is injured.
  • The caster is shaken or struck.
  • A loud noise happens right next to the caster's ear.
  • Any other situation the GM would deem unusually distracting.

Concentration may be maintained by making a maneuver roll modified by 3xSD and the following penalties. All are cumulative:

  • +0 Distracting movement, noise, or sight
  • -1 Per point of concussion damage
  • -10 Per critical level taken (A = -10, B = -20, etc.)
  • -25 Stunned or Must Parry
  • The GM may add other modifiers based on the situation, but bonuses or penalties greater than 25 are not recommended, except for extreme distractions.

If this occurs in a relatively calm setting, the result is looked up on the Medium column of the maneuver table. In a chaotic setting (like combat), the Hard column should be used. The GM can allow other columns to be used in extremely calm or chaotic situations. The numeric result is the chance of the caster maintaining concentration.

Example: A 6th level magician with a +8 SD is casting a Firebolt. He has spent 5 rounds preparing and casting the spell when he is struck by an arrow that gives him 10 hits of damage and an A critical. The critical hit causes one round of stun and 3 more hits. The magician has the following modifiers to his roll:

  • -13 for the total concussion damage
  • -10 for the A critical
  • -25 for being stunned
  • +24 for Self Discipline

The magician has a total of -24 to his roll. Because this is a combat situation, the GM rules it is a Hard maneuver. He rolls a 78 on the dice, minus his 24 penalty, for a total of 54. Consulting the Hard column of the Maneuver chart, we learn the magician has a 20% chance of maintaining concentration. Not bad when you consider he just got shot in the middle of casting a spell.

If that same Magician had been in a relatively calm environment when someone distracted him by shouting (+0), he would have used the Medium column, and his 78 roll, plus 24 for his SD, would have given him an 80% chance to maintain concentration.

Adrenal Concentration: A spell user with skill in Adrenal Concentration may spend a round preparing (100% activity) before casting a spell. At the end of the round, he may make an Adrenal Concentration roll. If successful, any rolls to maintain concentration during the casting of that spell will use the Adrenal Concentration skill bonus instead of three times Self Discipline.

Option: If this roll fails, the caster must cast the spell without the benefits of Adrenal Concentration (in other words, don't let the player just keep rolling his Adrenal Concentration round after round until he succeeds).

Option: Allow a +5 bonus to the Adrenal Concentration roll for each additional round spent preparing at 100% activity. This bonus only applies to the initial Adrenal Concentration roll, not any subsequent rolls to maintain concentration if distracted.

Power Perception and Magical Noise

When considering the skill Power Perception one must first ask, "What does this skill allow one to really perceive?" In this system, Power Perception is a second sight that allows characters to see the flows of Essence in the world, and any artificial constructs (spells) within it.

Spell Matrices are artificial constructs of Essence and are visible to the second sight. The more power that is placed into the construct, the more brightly it stands out from the background of natural essence. Picture a smoke-filled room. The smoke is the naturally-occurring Essence. If someone shines a laser in that room, you see a bright line of light. The lines of a spell are like this.

When an Essence user draws power into a spell, he pulls the essence from his surroundings. Essence has a tendency to flow into a vacuum, much like water in a container. When a spell begins to draw a lot of power out of the environment, it can create a sort of "whirlpool" in the essence. Even when smaller amounts of power are used it can cause a wave in the essence. This is known as "Magical Noise."

Essence users are by far the "noisiest" spell casters. Their spells can cause ripples in the Essence for miles. When an Essence caster draws power from the environment, it can be detected with Power Perception for 500 feet per power point drawn into the spell. Drawing 10 power points would be detectable for almost a mile in every direction. Those perceiving this power whirlpool would have a general idea where the power was going, and generally how much power was being drawn. (A GM might say, "Someone to the east is drawing a lot of power into a spell.")

When an Essence or Channeling user casts a spell, the spell matrix is visible to anyone with Power Perception within line of sight. If an observer is close enough, the GM may allow him to use his Spell Lore skill to try to determine what spell is being cast from his observation of the spell matrix. This roll should get a bonus or penalty depending on how familiar the observer is with the spell being cast. Some GMs may even allow the analysis of the "style" of the spell, and possibly allow the character to gain information or track a spell caster by his work.

When a Mentalist casts a spell, the matrix is also visible, but because the power is relatively low, it is only visible within 10 feet per power point in the spell. (It must also be in line of sight.)

Typically, Power Perception is used to see active spells. In the case of spells that are not active, the GM must decide if Power Perception can be useful. For example, the power of a magic sword that lies dormant until it is used in battle might not be visible. The spell matrix is deeply ingrained in the item's aura, and not visible to second sight. Alternatively, the GM might rule that this is a much more difficult application of Power Perception but still possible.

A major consideration when deciding how visible a non-active spell should be is this: How much does the spell have to interact with the environment? A GM should consider how visible the following examples are in his campaign.

  • A Fire Wall. The spell matrix must still be present to hold the fire in shape and keep it burning without fuel.
  • A Fire Bolt. Once the fire is sent flying, the matrix is gone.
  • A "waiting" spell like Waiting Light. This spell is just keeping to itself until a certain time has passed, and could be much less visible.
  • An Alarm Ward monitoring a 100' radius for any intruder. This is constantly probing the environment and evaluating information. This could be much more visible to Power Perception.
  • A magical trap. Intended to be hard to see, this magic might only monitor its environment as far as the position of a lock or door.

Another consideration is: How much background noise is there in the area? In a setting where there has been little magic used, a Sign spell floating in midair might be pretty visible. In another situation where the local Essence has been stirred up by massive spells from multiple casters, that same Sign spell might fade into the background.

Talents and Flaws

Below are all of the talents and flaws that are changed by this system, and the solutions I recommend if you want to uses these talents or flaws with Strange Magic. I also include recommendations for their use or restriction based on the magic level of the campaign. (Note: These are the talents and flaws listed in the RMFRP system in Character Law. If you use a different set of talents, flaws, or background options, you are on your own.)

Arcane Discovery (Minor - 6, Major - 11): Any use of the Arcane spell list learned through this talent is governed by the Arcane rules, including Power Burn, etc.

Skilled (Lesser - 5, Minor - 10, Major - 20 and Greater - 30): GMs must decide if they want to allow the use of this talent with the Prayer or Power Meditation skills. The Greater talent could add +40 to these skills, and greatly increase the power available to the character. (I would allow these in any but a low-magic campaign. In a low-magic campaign, I might allow this to be taken with the skill Category, but not for the specific skills Power Meditation and Prayer.)

Archetype (Major - 18): Spell users of Mentalism may take Power Meditation as an Everyman skill. Spell users of Channeling may take Prayer as an Everyman skill. Essence and Arcane spell users gain no benefit from this talent. (I would not allow this talent in a low magic setting, since it essentially gives Mentalists and Channelers a free x2 power multiplier that they can't lose.)

Archmage Abilities (Major - 20, Greater - 30): Regardless of the character's realm, when they choose to use Arcane magic, they are governed by the rules of Arcane spell use, and its associated dangers.

Aura (Lesser - 5, Minor - 10, Major - 15, Greater - 20): This talent allows Essence spell users to safely draw more power from the environment. The character can draw .25 power points more per round for the Lesser talent, .5 for the Minor, .75 for the major, and 1 for the Greater. Fractions are retained and carried over from round to round, but are meaningless for all purposes until they equal at least one whole point. (These fractions are not retained after a spell is cast, and cannot be used in subsequent spell casting.) Example: A Magician with the Minor version of this talent can safely draw 3 points every 2 rounds into a spell. With the Greater version of this spell the Magician can safely draw 2 points per round into a spell. (I would not recommend this talent be allowed in a low-magic campaign.)

Some General Observations:

I have just completed a 22 month campaign using this magic system. Originally my intention was to play a low-magic campaign. I did not want to take magic out of the game entirely, but I wanted to reduce its utility for everyday situations. I did not want a campaign where the Thief has nothing to do once the Magician learns Fly, Invisible, and Portal. I think I succeeded.

The magical noise created by Essence use made the party very hesitant to use any Essence magic. The fact that I was willing to have the bad guys come hunt them down once they gave away their position made them more cautious about spell use. There were a number of humorous situations when the Storm Mage would say, "I have a spell that could..." and the rest of the players would just about tackle him yelling, "No!"

The limitation on power in a given area also influenced the Storm Mage's choice of spells to cast. Basically he saved them for "special" situation (usually combat), and chose carefully which spells he would store in his trusty staff. When situations came up where he needed to cast an unanticipated spell, he would either have to use a Focus or take the time to slowly draw the power. This made him keep careful track of his herbal catalysts and save them for those "special" occasions.

The Paladin in the group had to function mostly as a Fighter. She had power saved for special situations, but did not use it carelessly, even when she had over 300 power points saved at the start of an adventure. She knew that casting a Flowstop III spell would mean several hours of Prayer to recover those power points. The player would often say, "I could heal that with magic, but that would mean 18 hours on my knees." At one point in a particularly rough spot, the Paladin was reduced to about 19 power points. This added an extra element of suspense for the player since he did not know how much longer the adventure would last before his Paladin could spend some time in serious prayer.

We did not have a Mentalist in the party, but since they function close to the way Channelers function (at least in game mechanics), I think they would work well too.

One unanticipated side effect of this was the religious nature of the party. For some reason Channeling appealed to my players, and we ended up with a Paladin and a Priest in the party. The priest died an untimely death and was later replaced by a Storm Mage, but the influence was there already. Because the Paladin and Priest had to pray daily for power points, the players remained very conscious of the religious nature of the characters, and even eventually converted two of the other characters to their religion. Never before have these players been this concerned with the holy days, restrictions, and customs of their character's religion. I think it made for a much more interesting game.

In the end I know this idea is not for everybody. In fact, I don't plan to use it for every game. My next game will probably be in a "high magic" setting using standard Rolemaster rules. But if you are interested in a fun departure from the normal rules, give this a try. Hope you enjoy it.