Get Researching Spells

Copyright Peter Rudin-Burgess © 2015

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"The magic is arcing and sparking so no real physical touch is required, just close enough for the spell to 'earth' itself through the target. Roll on the Shock Bolt table with no range modifiers."

One of the difficulties for both GM and player with very low level spell casters is a lack of operational range or staying power. If you only have two power points a day then a single encounter or combat can wipe your magic out for the entire day. Another issue is a lack of effective combat spells at the lowest of levels which for the purposes of this article I would consider to be first and second level.

In good old AD&D, your first level magic user had a choice of magic missile, burning hands, charm person, and maybe more that I cannot remember [ed.: sleep?]. About the most offensive thing a Rolemaster magician can do at first level is boil water — eventually.

The way that RMU has addressed this is to give the lowest level spell casters more power points, give them access to a greater range of spells and start everyone off at a higher level. What was 0th level or apprenticeship or adolescence is now 1st level and what I think of as 1st level is now second level.

If you don’t use the power point development optional skill and you do not use the ‘spells as skills’ optional rules and you don’t want to start people off at a higher level then you need another solution.

I don’t use any of those optional rules. I think they create more problems than they solve. There is, however, an often-overlooked section of the core rules in every version of Spell Law that does help address this, and that is Spell Research.

I think it does take the GM to start the research process. With new or inexperienced players they will need some advice and guidance on creating the specification for a new spell and even to be encouraged to try. One GM I know almost always assumes that a player created spell is an attempt to cheat or get an unfair advantage so we have stopped trying. Another player I know always bemoans the lack of a magic missile spell in Rolemaster but has never once tried to define it.

The spell research rules allow you to define multiple spells at the same level. You could learn Fire Law and then have three first level spells. Spell research at the lowest levels takes next to no time. A first level spell just takes a week or less in all variations of the rules. I have seen parties take longer than that to heal up after an adventure so the time element need not be a problem.

I always try and encourage my players to do spell research. I give a copy of those pages from spell law with the character sheet (I am one of those GMs that gives you a print out of all your spell lists with your character as well, so you end up with a bit of a book as a character sheet). One of the most common starting adventures I run for first level spell casters is to go and visit ‘mentor A’ and complete this spell research project. Think of it as the first level spell casters thesis and contribution to magic.

If Shock Bolt is 2nd level and has a 100’ range is Shocking Touch as Shock Bolt but with a range of Touch too much for a first level spell? I don’t think so. For a second level magician such a spell doubles the potential number of attacks they could make. How you would adjudicate the ‘touch’ is up to the GM. I would say that the magic is arcing and sparking so no real physical touch is required, just close enough for the spell to ‘earth’ itself through the target. Roll on the Shock Bolt table with no range modifiers. Another GM may require a rank 1 martial arts or bare fist strike to signify the contact has been made.

You could give Wall of Fire the same treatment, currently a 4th level spell, range 100’ duration 1 round/level. Let’s make range touch and 2nd level and you have Flash Fire. You can have real fun with the low to middle level spells creating weaker versions but they give the beginner spell caster more options, another way of differentiating themselves from others with the same spell list and if your players can come up with enough first level spells then the spell caster becomes a really valued and active spell caster much sooner without making them so powerful that they do not really need the fighting classes.

From the players point of view spell research can be just plain fun. It engages the player in developing their character and helps them create their vision of the character.

For the GM it leaves you in control and does not unbalance the game in the way that giving the players more power points or more spell lists can. You could of course do it first for an NPC and then confuse your players when they do not know what spells are being thrown at them. The choice is yours.