The Social Implications of Magic: Open Mentalism Base Lists

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2009

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"It also provides an excellent reason for vain heroes to eschew helmets and let their handsome faces be seen."

This is the seventeenth 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.

Channeling, Essence, and Mentalism may be looked at as being, respectively, the magics of faith, of intellect, and of will. Under this classification scheme and given the lack of linguistic components or hand gestures in casting Mentalism spells, this is the obvious realm of choice for magical beasts (including birds and fish). Such creatures typically do not wear helmets, anyway. A songbird fits quite naturally into the role of Bard. Whether such spell-casting animals belong to one's world is a matter for the individual Gamemaster to consider, but certainly, they contribute to a mythological or fairy tale flavor.

Mentalism is likewise the chosen realm of the subtle. Spies, conspiracies, and those living in lands where magic is disapproved of will favor Mentalism. It also fits some models of magic better than the other two realms, specifically those where supernatural abilities are treated as largely innate. Aragorn in Lord of the Rings would be well represented as a Ranger, but with the realm being Mentalism. He performs amazing deeds that at least strongly suggest something more than extensive practice, but which are not accompanied by finger wiggling and muttering in Quenya.

Mentalism is also the favored realm of those who wear armor, of course. Therefore, military types will tend towards picking up a few Mentalism spells. It also provides an excellent reason for vain heroes to eschew helmets and let their handsome faces be seen.

Note: I refer to users of Mentalism as "Mentalismists", since the term "Mentalist" has been assigned to a specific Profession within the Mentalism realm.


Anticipate Missile, Anticipate Blow, and Anticipate Spell are defensive combat spells that cover the spectrum of possible attacks. This is a good list for soldiers or others whose lives may be frequently threatened by violence. Anticipate Hostility (True) is also limited to self-protection and useful to potential targets of assassination and police patrolling bad parts of town.

Guess and Intuitions were discussed on the Communal Ways (Cleric Base) list.

Dream spells are also available on Channeling lists. I would contrast Mentalism Dreams with Channeling Dreams by giving Mentalism Dreams a more personal symbology, whereas I would expect Channeling Dreams to be full of references to religious symbols, doctrines, and stories. A Channeler might get help interpreting a Dream from a religious scholar, whereas a Mentalismist would need to see a psychologist. Mentalism Dreams might also be more interactive and could be played out rather than simply described. (They are "drawn from within" rather than "sent from afar".) A Mentalism Dream might focus on subconscious memories, bringing to the surface details of a recent event that were not noticed at the time.

Room Feel spells are useful in policework, including crime scene investigations, catching fugitives, and recovering stolen items or kidnapping victims. Other forms of investigators will also benefit. A private inspector can check out a cheating spouse's lovenest after catching him leaving. A customs official can check activity in a dockside warehouse after the traffic flow has cleared. A high official can make a visit to check a subordinate's office. Spies and reporters will get plenty of mileage out of Room Feel. Like all retrosurveillance techniques, if common, Room Feels require one to keep an area secure indefinitely or assume that there will be witnesses to one's every action. Masks, disguises, and illusions then become much more popular, especially among those planning misbehavior. Additional uses include checking on children in the nursery or the classroom. A supervisor can check that correct procedures were followed in places like hospitals. The description does suggest less control than some other spells, but it should be possible to get good information.

Anticipations (True) is useful for combat, policework, and directly competitive sports and games where you can adjust to anticipated actions.

Spell Anticipation (True) is useful for law enforcement regarding spell use restrictions. Bodyguards can find it useful. It can also be used in confirming spell-casting credentials (it can ensure that the applicant is actually casting a Fire Ball rather than an illusion of a Fire Ball).

Attack Avoidance

This list mainly protects the caster from various attacks. Note that unlike the Channeling and Essence versions, the Mentalism versions of Deflect and Bladeturn cannot be used to protect others. This means Mentalismists tend to make poorer bodyguards. This list is still very useful for combatants and other likely targets of attack.

Still Air is useful against dangerous gasses and might be employed in a chemical laboratory or an industrial environment.


Projected Light, Light, and Utterlight spells were discussed under the Light's Way (Open Channeling) and Light Law (Magician Base) lists. Shock Bolt, Darkness, and Utterdark spells were discussed under the Light Law list.

In conjunction with Nightvision, either as a spell, item power, or innate ability, Glow provides adequate illumination. This seems to be the intended use of this spell. The duration is short, but the Glow could be used as a temporary decoration. If a Mass Glow filled a blank slot on this list, the decorative effects would be more lovely. A more long-lasting, higher-level Glow spell would be useful for ornamentation (wear in your hair to the formal ball) or as light for stealthy missions into darkness.

Self Aura or True Aura can be used for effect in order to intimidate others, as well as being useful as a defense.

Light Eruption provides a non-lethal attack. It is useful for law enforcement, getting live captives, and hostage rescues. It is also useful in criminal activities to prevent pursuit or to disable someone long enough to grab something without interference.

Hue could function as a means of identification, especially of allegiance, or as a signal (e.g., a yellow sail to indicate surrender at sea). It could be used as a mood enhancer or as an attention-getter: a pub with a glowing blue sign might attract more customers.

Beacon appeared earlier on the Light Molding (Illusionist Base) and Light Law lists, but depending on the Concentration rules being used, a Mentalismist may be able to keep the spell going longer, long enough to serve as a warning beacon similar to a lighthouse (although this is hardly a suitable long-term substitute).

Sunfires (True) is apparently too destructive to serve as a solar cooker, but it can be used for burning holes in stone in order to sink pillars into them. With Spell Mastery, it should be possible to punch a variety of hole sizes in various materials. This is the classy way to cut the seats for your outhouse.

Hand of Fire (True) is an impressive weapon or cutting tool.


The cunning user of Mentalism, rather than turning invisible, will fool you into thinking he is invisible. Very sly.

Blur has appeared on many other lists, such as Holy Shields (Paladin Base), Shield Mastery (Closed Channeling), and Guises (Illusionist Base). Shadow and Displacement spells were discussed under the Guises list. Shadow Mentalist is similar to False Image, which was discussed on the Guises list. Unseen was discussed under Invisible Ways (Closed Essence).

Cloaking spells are useful for avoiding someone when invisibility would be conspicuous or awkward. For example, Mindguy, private investigator, is tailing Suspicious Sam. He does not want Sam to spot him. Invisibility on a crowded street would be more than a little inconvenient, but if everybody except Sam can see him, Mindguy can walk through the milling throng normally. These spells are handy for avoiding unwanted company, creditors, law enforcement, and enemies in general. They are also good for listening in on conversations and hiding in a crowd when some particular person(s) would recognize you on sight. In an important way, they are much better than invisibility for group activities of espionage, sabotage, assassination, or ambush, as only the targets will not see you and the group can coordinate. Higher-level Cloaking spells might extend the duration rather than affecting more targets (as an option or as an alternative version of the list).

Cloaking Sphere is useful for hiding or combat, but is generally less flexible in application than regular Cloaking.

Facades spells allow one to pass as a member of another race, species and/or sex. This is useful for infiltration/espionage, easing some types of negotiations, bypassing various customary or legal restrictions on what one can do, pranks, theatrical roles, policework (allowing a vice squad bruiser to play a convincing hooker), and the concealment of one's identity for any purpose, including seeking privacy in a life of celebrity.

Camouflage (True) can make you really good at Hide and Seek. The chameleon effect is also a nifty parlor trick.

Damage Resistance

Heat and Cold Resistance are like those on the Inner Walls (Ranger Base) list, but are Self only.

Unpain and Stun Relief spells are good in combat and also allow the caster to function in a damaging/hazardous environment such as a rockslide or fire.

Resist Poison and Neutralize Poison (True) are helpful if one is a food taster, an assassination target, or a handler of venomous animals.

Awake is excellent for guards as a counter to Sleep, but something of a curse to an insomniac. Awake True allows one to sleep and keep guard at the same time. It also makes killing you in your sleep difficult.

Heat Resistance True and Cold Resistance True allow operating in extreme environments, briefly. The duration limits them to emergency or combat use or for quick operations (e.g., some special technique involving directly handling heated metal when working it).

The impact of this list is limited because all of the spells have a range of Self, but it does make the caster more durable.


Item Feel is of great utility in archaeology and museum curatorial duties. It is useful in handling unfamiliar technologies (magical or otherwise). Casting an Item Feel on a treasure chest and getting a result of "bait" should be worrying. It can be informative, if sometimes disturbing, when investigating cult paraphernalia.

Detect Power allows the finding of magic items, so it is obviously of use to treasure hunters, but also to legitimate archaeologists, estate assessors, spies, customs agents, police, thieves, and merchants.

Origins is useful in history and archaeology. It may sometimes be of use in official investigations, especially with respect to smuggling. It can be employed in economic research studying trade patterns. It is useful in the authentication of items. "This 'genuine Elvish runesword' comes from the Island of Cheap Knock-Offs."

Detect Curse is useful to the same folk who would use Detect Power. Anyone might find it useful to check gifts from anyone whom they do not completely trust.

Power Lore and Rock Lore are much the same as Origins, but could provide some insight into duplicating a technique employed in creating the item.

Item Vision has historical and archaeological uses and it can sometimes be helpful in criminal investigations. It has been previously seen on the Thieving Law (Dabbler Base) list, but here it is a much lower-level spell, one easily employed in a mid-powered world.

Delving has applicability to archaeology, anthropology, and item authentication. While of some use in learning about magical devices, it is likely to prove more useful in reverse-engineering mechanical devices.

Past Vision spells provide excellent retrosurveillance capabilities and are useful in any investigation into the past. This means they are useful for law enforcement, private investigations, voyeurism, family historical research, the reliving of childhood moments or other cherished memories (although the reality might come as a surprise), academic historical research, the study of past military engagements or athletic contests for general enlightenment or to study a specific opponent, the investigation of disasters or other threats in order to identify the source of problems in order to fix them, and the observation of the methods of master craftsmen (in any skill). They are also useful to allow one to see the events of one's own life, should one be melodramatic enough to suffer from... amnesia! Past Hold supplements Past Vision and is especially useful if one has the murder weapon or a key historical item.

Item Lore and Item Analysis are of use to historians, archaeologists, curators, and the whole crowd interested in Detect Power.

Death's Memory would be used in a coroner's investigation. It is useful in investigating homicides, accidents, and other deaths, whether officially or unofficially. It can establish the fact of suicide, which may have legal consequences. Likewise, it may reveal negligence or error in medical treatment or work conditions. It may reveal the need for new safety measures.


Detect Mentalism, Detect Essence, and Detect Channeling allow the detection of active magic only, which limits their utility. They also only allow classification as to Realm of magic, which is not much information. The effects are minor, but may be useful in assuring the integrity of contests where magic is not allowed or in monitoring other situations where spell use needs to be restricted.

Detect Invisible, Detect Spell, and Location were previously discussed under the Detection Mastery (Open Channeling) and Detecting Ways (Open Essence) lists.

Detect Emotion was discussed under the Lore (Closed Channeling) list.

Detect Evil was discussed under the Detecting Ways list.

Perceive Power spells are like those on the Detecting Ways list, except for Perceive Power True, which is a good scouting spell to check out an enemy force or for examining a good-sized area for spells or items of power.

Power Typing was discussed under the Detection Mastery list. Spell Typing is an improvement over Power Typing, and it is useful for monitoring spell use. For example, it might be employed in the enforcement of legal restrictions, taxation, or guild control of magic use.

See Invisible is the ultimate defense against invisibility. This spell means that someone invisible may want to either move stealthily or to act as if he belongs where he is so that it will not be obvious that he is not being seen by others. This is available as a Monk spell, but its appearance on an Open list means it can be relatively common, although the level is high enough that it will not be routine. The highest levels of security should have access to the spell, however, if this list is available.

Detect True and Awareness just bundle lower level spells.


If you are using the Mentalism Companion and its concept of "mental illusions", you will probably want to replace this list with a Mental Illusions counterpart. It is somewhat surprising that the Mentalism Companion does not provide an Open Mentalism list using mental illusions to replace this Essence-style illusion list.

Bending can provide protection of an item from snatch-and-run theft. It has uses in cheating at sports, defense in war, practical jokes, interference with surveys, and the close inspection of objects that are dangerous or uncomfortable to approach due to, e.g., heat. It can also create a simple ouch-I-walked-into-it trap.

Mirage, (Waiting) Illusion, Phantasm, and Light Glamour spells were all discussed under the Lesser Illusions (Open Essence) list. While this list is less powerful than the Essence version, the greater subtlety of Mentalism may make illusions a more effective option in some circumstances.

Self Healing

This list allows Mentalismists to be less of a drain on the health care system, whatever form it takes.

At higher levels, this list makes assassination more difficult. As with a high level Monk or Healer, you need to get the brain.

This is a very worthwhile list for warrior types and taking off helmets might be a routine first aid technique to allow self-healing abilities to kick in.

Spell Resistance

These spells protect only the caster, so the Mentalism protection from magic list has even less social impact than the Essence and Channeling versions.