The Social Implications of Magic: Magent Base Lists

Copyright R. Dan Henry © 2009

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Assassins who work for a legitimate organization, like James Bond in the employ of British intelligence, may be considered an asset to society."

This is the twenty-second 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.

Assassination Mastery

As previously mentioned, this list is a prime candidate for renaming to something more euphemistic. The Committee for Imperial Assertiveness would want its agents learning something more along the lines of "Covert Tactical Operations Mastery." Organized crime might be a little more forward, but still prefer "Murdering Ways" or "Whacking." That last option reminds me: if you want to do a comedic fantasy campaign, renaming spells and spell lists is a good way to put in some cheap jokes.

Conceal Object spells are intended to conceal weapons mainly, but may be used for smuggling any small object, including carrying letters or other messages covertly past guards. These spells are also good for performing "magic tricks" where the item "appears from nowhere."

Study Patsy is meant as a prerequisite to other Magent Base spells. Whether or not it can provide information for other uses is up to the GM to determine. Study Victim is a similar spell as a prerequisite for the powerful Slaying Attack spells (which provide the true mastery of assassination). Because the spells have distinct names, I would say that the Magent may have a separate "Patsy" and "Victim" studied at the same time, allowing him to be very deadly against the Victim, while framing the Patsy for the deed. While this is generally not accepted behavior, assassins who work for a "legitimate organization," like James Bond in the employ of British intelligence, may be considered an asset to society.

Well-Aimed Attack, Targeting, Open Ambush, Lightning Reactions, and Slaying Attack spells are for killing. They are especially for assassinations, although they would also be quite handy for executions. Open Ambush appears to be described inexactly at best. While it says that the caster of Open Ambush I "may use his Ambush skill with a bonus of +1," the higher-level versions only make sense if this is read as "may use his Ambush skill and, if successful, may modify his critical rolls by 1."

Create Evidence spells allow manipulation of evidence, making physical evidence unreliable. If such magic is publicly known to exist, it will bring justice around to relying more on magical evidence. Without spells to tamper specifically with physical evidence, the spells to counter retrosurveillance might lead to a greater dependence on physical evidence to confirm magical results. Given all the possibilities of magical tampering, some societies may throw up their hands when it comes to detective work and resort to some form of trial by ordeal. While these spells can be used to frame the innocent, they could also be used to convict the guilty yet careful, following the time-honored tradition of planting evidence.

Disguise Mastery

Study Disguise prepares for the use of other spells. The range requires the Magent to get into the same general area in order to study someone, but he need not get up close. Public figures will be easy to get to, but reclusive masterminds will be difficult.

Light Glamour is useful for smuggling, theft, disguise (especially to create a "helmet" when wishing to appear as not a spell-caster), style (by making an item appear more expensive), and bluff ("Beware! I am armed with... a big, flaming runesword!"). It can also create a prop for performances.

Fašade spells are as on the Guises (Illusionist Base) list, except a Magent is more likely to favor the more nefarious uses. Disguise spells are similar to Impersonation Fašade spells on the Guises list (with 1/6 the duration and limited to Self only), except for Disguise Mastery, which is another "any lower level spell on this list, once per round" list topper.

Shadow Assassin is an anti-divination spell. Of course, being caught with this spell active could be a criminal offence itself, possibly even grounds for summary execution. Unknown Assassin is essentially a fancier Shadow Assassin. Fake Assassin misdirects divination, and the use of this spell is probably grounds for the most severe forms of punishment, such as the most painful form of execution, the enslavement and seizure of property of your immediate family, and the denial of religious rites unless absolutely necessary to prevent your return as a dangerous undead.

Misfeel Kind, Misfeel Calling, Misfeel Power, and Misfeel (True) are similar to the Misfeel spells on the Mind Sense Molding (Illusionist Base) list, but (except for the True version) these spells are limited to Self and Concentration.

Mind Tongue is secret communication, but because the target perceives it as spoken, it can be used to try to convince someone that he is hallucinating or to make him believe that the caster has, for example, apologized or made a promise in front of witnesses.

Unpresence provides invisibility to Presence spells. This is very suspicious if it is noticed. Like Invisibility and the Assassin spells on this list, it is possible grounds for summary execution in some cultures/situations. It is good for all manner of stealthy work, whether legitimate or illegitimate.

Nondetect counters Detect spells, making it highly useful for covert operations, but it is also very suspicious if discovered.


Lock Lore and Unlock spells will help create demand for better and more numerous locks.

Ungag is even more reason to slam a metal cage over a captive's head. It is useful in performing as an escape artist, in cheating at blindfold games, and in managing uncomfortable headwear.

Leave Item I, Minor Long Door, Leaving spells, Long Door Item I (which really should be Long Door Item V), and the Long Door spells are all discussed under the Mind's Door (Closed Mentalism) list. Spies and assassins may use these spells in dropping off or picking up messages, payment, and the like in order to increase their anonymity (and to allow more secure sites for such transfers).

Untie is useful for escape artistry, safe bondage, escaping the noose, and escaping a straightjacket after your insanity plea works. Unbind (True) offers more escaping possibilities. Various escape spells mean that sensible imprisonment will include metal headgear for known or suspected spellcasters, and the various magical powers in general mean that security will always be layered in different types. There will be no lack of guards because "the prisoners are all shackled" or a reliance on only human eyes and ears or on only locks and traps.

Passing (True) makes physical barriers less protecting. Simply thickening walls will not be a sufficient measure at this level of penetration. Most leaders may take up the habit of frequently changing their sleeping places and posting guards inside their sleeping chambers. Others with enemies sufficiently powerful to employ such spells against them may also take up such habits.

The effects of Flattening depend on how it is interpreted, but as intended, it is a barrier-bypassing and stealth spell that makes penetrating and leaving areas easier. The Magent could also pose as a painted image on a wall, allowing surprise and possibly impressive effect when he moves and speaks, making this an effective advertising gimmick.

Portal and Teleport I were covered when discussing the Lofty Bridge (Closed Essence) list.

Gathering Secrets

Copy spells function to create black and white pictures and to copy text. In a world that has not developed the moveable type printing press, these spells alone are enough to build a career on. The intent is obviously to duplicate the spy camera, but this power can also record evidence ("photograph" a crime scene, copy relevant documents), create backups or private copies of documents, create file copies of correspondence, and produce leaflets for advertising, propaganda, religious tracts, insane political rants, etc. Libraries can produce lending copies of their rare books. Any large government or other organization can improve the functioning of its bureaucracy with a method of copying documents faster than, and free from the errors of, hand copying by a human scribe.

Listen and Watch were discussed when considering the Essence's Perception (Open Essence) list. The Gathering Secrets versions of these spells are described as having a 10' range in the main text, but the spell list table gives them a range of 10'/lvl. It seems likely that the scaling is intended and the text is the result of overlooking it after a copy and paste. Thus, a single spell replaces a series of spells on Essence's Perceptions. This seems fair comparing a Base list to an Open one.

Duplicate spells allow the creation of clay sculptures from an original in clay or another material. They can record evidence in three dimensions. They can recreate clay seals or other useful items. They can allow duplication of items in other materials if the clay duplicate is used to create a mold. Duplicate III can create man-sized statues, perhaps to equip a royal tomb with clay servants.

Sensory Marker and the Far Sense spells are useful for security, espionage, casing possible crime targets, voyeurism, etc. The distinction from other forms of scrying is the ability to use Sensory Marker on a mobile object as a combination tracer and bug. Secure sites must be wary of suspicious objects, especially anything someone at the site received as a "gift." Of course, a good routine of checking for magic will catch a Sensory Marker if it is active, but some information might be gathered first.

Locate Evidence seems most useful if the studied Patsy is actually guilty or at least if someone else has been planting evidence. A Magent working at solving crimes could use Study Patsy on a suspect and then use these spells to search for evidence.

Woodsight is useful when hiding behind a tree, log, or other wooden obstacle. If not for the Concentration duration, it would be useful with a shield. Some characters will be able to get around that limitation. This spell provides some motivation to use mixed materials for doors and shutters. Woodsight also allows for the inspection of mechanisms within a wooden door, chest, housing, or other enclosing object. Stonesight and Ironsight are similar to Woodsight. All three are good for locating or examining items hidden in the substance seen through, whether the item is deliberately hidden or simply lodged in the object, like nails in a door. A lead lining might be used in some instances to block these (and similar) spells.


False Credentials offers obvious application to espionage, criminal activity, and other infiltrations. It can also help in minor social or legal difficulties, such as getting into a nightclub or being checked for a proper vending license.

Unseen, Displacement, and Cloaking spells (including Cloaking Sphere and True Cloaking) were covered on the Cloaking (Open Mentalism) list.

Eyewitness spells are once again useful mainly for criminals and spies, but are useful for anyone trying to keep secrets: cheating spouses, clergy visiting prostitutes (or whatever their faith frowns on), whistle-blowers covertly meeting reporters, or even someone intent on anonymous good works. A rival can be implicated through combination with Study Patsy.

Misleading spells are useful for handicapping sentries (or bosses) to help sneak past them. They can also be used as a handicap during training exercises. Sleight of hand and other trickery will be easier if the audience has been Misled first.

Poison Mastery

Note that poisons can be used in hunting, fishing, and "pest control" (including weed killers) as well as murder and combat.

Poison Lore is useful both to the poisoner and to the treater of poisoned individuals, as it can be used as a diagnostic tool.

Poison Resistance I can be useful when doing risky work with poisons, handling venomous animals, or eating unidentified mushrooms.

Apply Poison spells are partly a convenience in not requiring maneuver rolls to apply poisons and reducing the time required, but they also allow uses of poisons that may not be possible without magic.

As with Apply Poison spells, the Work Poison spells are convenient for avoiding maneuver rolls and may save time over mundane methods. These spells are especially useful for poisons that are dangerous or difficult to prepare by conventional methods.

Poison Analysis is useful for the handling of unknown or unfamiliar poisons, the treatment of poisoning when a sample is available, and the creation of a catalog of poisons for reference use.

Delay Poison can delay poison effects, potentially indefinitely. This is extremely useful if one may be exposed to poisons, whether through mining or industrial work hazards, accident rescue work, or the handling of venomous animals or poisonous plants. It may also be useful for faking suicide. Neutralize Poison (True) cures poisoning and is useful in the same cases as Delay Poison.

Transfer Poison spells allow the caster to treat others for poisoning by moving it to himself, a Healer, or a being immune or resistant to the poison, allowing it to be dealt with more easily. The caster can also turn a friend's misfortune into a weapon.

When used with Apply Poison, Venom allows any toxin to be used on a blade. This is useful if deadly poisons (or poisons with some other desired effect) are readily available in, e.g., ingestible form, but not as blood poisons. Contact Poison likewise adds versatility to the way one can deliver a poison. The significance again depends on what poisons are available.

Venom's Touch allows the caster to dip his hand in a beverage or handle food to deliver ingestible poisons. A contact poison is useful for assassination by handshake or providing an edge in unarmed combat.

Venom's Breath is useful for assassinations, showy "Kiss of Death" executions, or impressively spitting herbicide on a plant and killing it, but it is not often the most practical way of poisoning. It is useful to the assassin because no bottle of poison, poisoned weapon, or other such item need be smuggled in. A RR versus spell in order to avoid RR versus poison only makes sense if the caster does not make contact with the victim. Since this is a Self spell, the magic has already taken place and if a "Kiss of Death" is planted, there is not really any chance of it missing the victim.

Venom's Glare and Venom's Sight are effective ranged attacks, unlike Venom's Breath. They are also useful for an exterminator when dealing with larger animals (not insects).

Venom's Cloud is good for exterminators, including hitting insects, spiders, scorpions, and the like, as well as colonies of rats.