Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2008

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"When it makes sense, I write books in numeric chapter order. When it does not make sense, I write them in whatever order works"


To the 116th issue of The Guild Companion.

That Old Black Magick

If you pay any attention to these editorials, you'll know that I've been working on Something Wicked, a HARP supplement on evil magic broadly interpreted. When it makes sense, I write books in numeric chapter order. When it does not make sense, I write them in whatever order works, knowing that I'll have to go back for a second pass in order to tie everything together and add material that could not be written in the first pass because it was enmeshed in multiple dependencies (and decisions not yet made) with other material still unwritten. Which is a roundabout way of saying that having completed chapter 7 (The Widdershins Weird) in August, I then moved to Chapter 6 (Black Magick) in September.

The Black Magick chapter is about Spell Magic. New cantrips, new High Magic, new spells for existing Spheres and Circles, and the new Spheres and Circles for any new professions that might be introduced in Chapter 5 (Night's Black Agents). I say might be introduced because Chapter 5 isn't written yet. And it's not written yet because, to my mind, a spell-using profession in HARP has to be able to pull its weight in terms of having a solid sphere or circle of spells that capture its magical concept and where a significant fraction of the spells are new, not simply grabbed from existing professions. (Unless it is a special case such as the Hedge Wizard, where the whole point is that they are magical magpies.) So for new professions to earn their place in Chapter 5, I need to be able to build a Sphere or a Circle.

As I've hinted at before, the Demonologist (as a variant Mage) and the Warlock/Witch have both shown signs of being viable professions under my constraints. I had also been toying with a possible "semi-spelluser" profession, known as the Manabinder. After some wrestling with the Manabinder concept, I came to the conclusion that part of what I wanted it to do was already covered by the existing Adventurer profession (from Codex), another part (the randomness of its sphere) would be better covered by revising my Wild Mage concept (June 2006) for a more future-proof implementation, and a final part of magical side-effects could happen to anyone who used certain of the new mana sources introduced in The Widdershins Weird. So I scrapped the Manabinder, a millstone seemed to be removed from my creativity, and behold I started having lots of fun creating new spells - spells of shadows, of demons, of infernal powers for the Demonologist, spells to hex, to mark with the evil eye, to use voodoo dolls and more for the Warlock/Witch.

How Many Spells in a Sphere or Circle?

Building a Sphere or a Circle means creating a whole slew of new spells. The $64,000 question is how many spells should be in a Sphere or a Circle? The suggested number of spells is 30 or so for aa profession specialised in magic (what in Rolemaster, we'd call a pure spell user) such as the Mage or one of those new fangled variant mage professions that I introduced in College of Magics, and 15 say for a profession that dabbles in magic but has other interests (semi-spell user in Rolemaster-speak) such as Rangers and Warrior Mages.

One of the things I have access to is a complete set of all the spells ever published for HARP, thoughtfully compiled by an ICE fan (Wolfram Riegler) into an alphabetic list and a sphere/circle listing. So I trundle my way through this and discover that the reality is actually different. Now this list includes some spells that I (and ICE) would discount as non-canonical (as they appeared in Grimoire or in HARPer's Bazaars) in addition to those in HARP, CoM, Codex and Loot: a Field Guide, so the numbers are slightly higher as a result, but:

  • The Adventurer has 23 spells, but is required to select only 15 of these so that is fine.
  • The Shadowblade has 19 spells, so a bit over.
  • Harpers have 15 spells - they have gained no new spells since CoM.
  • Rangers have 19 spells
  • Warrior Mages have expanded their sphere to a comfy 23 spells
  • Clerics may only have 20 spells, with 10 from the formal Cleric list in the HARP core rulebook and the rest sourced as necessary to match the deity/religion concept
  • Druids have 30 spells total, some mandatory, some to be chosen from an optional list
  • Paladins and Shamans are currently non-canonical, so we'll ignore them
  • Necromancers have 34 spells
  • Mystics are looking smug on 38 spells
  • Vivamancers are doing better on 39 spells
  • Thaumaturges have been busy and now have 52 spells
  • yet are pipped by the Elementalists on a very satisfactory 53 spells in their Circle
  • but the Mage/Magicians trump everyone else with 111 spells (yes, eleventy-one as the Shirefolk would say).


What's happened is that Codex introduces a lot of spells and whenever one of the variant mage profession gets a new spell, the generalist Magician almost always gets it added to its Circle too. And hey presto, we get a runaway grimoire effect.

So what's to be done? One solution would be to ruthlessly go through Codex and redesignate dozens of spells, but that means substantially messing with a published book and I don't like having that done to me, so I'd rather not do it to you. Instead, let us formalise 15 and 30 as the normal size for "semi" Spheres and "pure" Spheres/Circles and then allow the GM or possibly the player to decide which spells form the relevant sphere or circle according to a character's magical tradition.

Great. Except that the Mage/Magician of the core rulebook begins with 33 spells and we should not be robbing them of their core spells..

Oops. Again.

But let's stick with 30 for the pures (except the Cleric who we'll leave on 20 for the time being until a HARP sourcebook on divine magic and related matters gets written) and reflect that the generalist Magician, unlike the Elementalist, Necromancer, etc., only gets Sense Magic as a Talent. The variants all have at least one extra Talent. So the solution is to revise the Magician and give them a new Talent, Magician's Versatility. This entitles them to access the 33 original spells from the HARP core rulebook and Magestaff from CoM and six spells of their choice from Codex or other sources (deemed canonical by the GM) that have been designated as Mage/Magician spells, giving them a 40-spell Sphere. We'll then add a new Talent that any character may purchase (potentially multiple times) to extend their sphere or circle.

Job done bar writing it up in Night's Black Agents as part of Something Wicked.

Farewell for now ...

Enough ramblings from me. Time to do a full editing pass on all the contributions for Guild Adventurer #3 and to write about Night's Black Agents. We'll be back in November with issue 117, but until then …

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion