Rolemaster isn't a bad system; it certainly doesn't deserve its reputation as complex, though it is often unwieldy. There are parts about it that bothered me, though, amongst them the too-similar nature of the three realms of magic. This was originally written for publication in the March 2002 edition of The Guild Companion, back before they started focusing on the D20 system - this and its companion piece, The Role of Magic in Rolemaster Professions, were my first published articles. This article hasn't stood the test of time quite as well as the other article, yet has been revised for Twisted Confessions nonetheless.
Rolemaster Magic Revisited
Rolemaster divides magic into three realms: Channeling, Essence, and Mentalism (the Arcane realm is simply an über-hybrid of all three). Channeling uses the power of a deity or some other divine or external agency, Essence uses the power of the surrounding nature, and Mentalism uses the power within the spell user himself.
I like this division, it's an elegant one, and intuitive as well. It is unfortunate, though, that these three realms are governed by mostly the same set of rules. As such, I spent some time trying to revise Roleamster magic in an attempt to emphasize the difference between the three realms, as well as to try to bring some wonder back into spellcasting.
Channeling - Devotion
It was the Channeling realm that started me on my quest to revise Rolemaster magic, so it's only natural this realm would be listed first. It bothered me that all priests and priestesses had access to the same Open and Closed lists regardless of the deity they served, and it seemed unfairly arbitrary to deny them access to certain lists without somehow recompensing them. It also bothered me that, generally, it was too difficult to gain power from a deity later in life, without GM fiat.
For a short while I considered creating a table of all Channeling lists, and all of my gods, and listing which lists were Open, Closed, Own Base, and Other Base, depending on the deity one worshipped (and the role one played in the deity's retinue). It was a worthwhile experiment, but deciding what spell lists go where quickly bogged down. Nonetheless, I recommend that approach to anyone who otherwise sticks with the basic Rolemaster system, as it does make Channeling much more sensible. If anyone does go that route, however, I suggest only working out the classifications for those gods who actually have followers among the player characters; that would have made my job a lot easier!
In this revision, the Realm of Channeling consists of three parts, each its own skill category: Rites, Liturgies and Supplications. Rites function like spell lists - they are granted to some of the faithful, allowing a follower to call upon a specific group of effects. Only those to whom the deity grants access can use them. Liturgies are formulae and prayers that anyone can use to call upon a god - much like the prayer "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep," or crossing oneself, only they actually work. Supplication, finally, is governed by communion, which in turn determines how connected a person is with their deity or other external force, and allows the follower to call upon the attention of the power directly, for a result.
The three new skill categories are as follows:
Deities generally accept all comers, and anyone can join with a god at any time. Thus, all Channeling professions should be dropped entirely (some moved to other realms perhaps - the Animist and the Ranger both make more sense as Essence users), or converted into training packages, and all professions should have these categories added to their lists.
Devotion categories cost the same regardless of profession - it is as easy for a Magician to gain faith as it is for a Fighter. The DP costs as they relate to any particular deity do become easier or harder as one's Divine Status changes (see the Channeling Companion). As a person's Divine Status for several powers may be different, it is very possible that he may find it easier to Commune with one deity, and harder to Commune with another. This is as it should be.
It is hoped, of course, that as one's Divine Status rises, the power in question will grant other powers and abilities as well - the Divine Status guide in the Channeling Companion is a start, but seems to suffer from the same assumption that all deities will grant the same powers. I encourage the GM to be creative in deciding what special powers a deity grants to those who rise in his eyes.
Communion - The skill of Communion is one of the most difficult I've ever had to develop, and probably requires a much larger write-up of its own. In short, it involves the character's ability to supplicate to a deity, to call upon their patron power to intervene and solve a problem. The difficulty of the maneuver depends on a number of factors, including what the character is trying to accomplish, how much in line with the power's plans or desires the task would be, and how much effort the player or character puts into the question. I suggest using the Moving Maneuver Table to figure out how much the power has attended the plea; the difficulty is based on how much faith and effort the character has put into it.
Rites - These are effectively Spell Lists, and function exactly like spell lists in Spell Law, only without any casting bonuses or penalties other than casting time, and using the character's ranks in the appropriate Communion skill in place of character level. There is no distinction between Open, Closed, or Base - either the power allows you to learn it, or not. And if it changes its mind or you fall out of favor, too bad... you can't use it anymore. Power Points are also not an issue - instead, channeling divine magic costs Concussion Hits directly.
Liturgy - The Religion skill under Lore * General handles knowledge ABOUT a religion; Liturgies are bits of knowledge on how to get the attention of a power. While communion is organized according to deity, skills in the Liturgy category should be organized according to religion, cult, or sect (or in some cases, simply region). A liturgy is a prayer or ritual accessible by the common person - it can be as simple as saying "Bless You" to a sneeze, or as complex as a night-long scarification ritual ending with the sacrifice of a yearling.
Similar to Tale-Telling, the ranks a character has in any skill in this category determines how many Liturgies the character knows, and the total bonus displays the potency of the character's knowledge. Though they can be powerful, liturgies fall under "things the average worshipper might have learned" and require no special communion. Harvest rituals, house protection, fertility prayers, minor divinations, all these fall under the category of Liturgy.
If the gods really exist, then prayers should really work. That is what Liturgies are meant to reflect. Most people probably don't know more than two or three common to their area.
Essence - Spellcrafting
The realm of Essence is that of true magic. Mentalism, Arcane, and Channeling lists are all bundled up with the Essence lists into this single Realm. There is no more artificial division between Own Realm and Other Realm - there are simply spells. The division between Open, Closed, and Base still apply, however.
In this revision, all spell RRs are modified by Em + In + Pr, and the bonus to Power Point Development is equal to the average of those three bonuses. All spell-casting professions should be moved to Essence.
What is new here is Spellcrafting. Spellcrafting allows a spell user to create spells on the fly. Though spellcrafting is treated as a skill in the Power Manipulation category, spell users may not put ranks into it directly. Instead, the skill bonus naturally rises as the spell user puts ranks into his spell lists. Spell lists that go high are a plus, but the number of lists is also vitally important...the more lists a person knows, the more flexible his options are. The Spellcrafting bonus is calculated by counting up his total ranks in all of his spell lists, multiplying it by the number of spell lists he knows. Take the square root of this product and round down. As a character only needs to calculate this once a level, this should not be too onerous a task to accomplish.
The highest level spell a person may spellcraft is equal to the highest level spell list he knows, plus his level. To resolve the attempt, one rolls Spellcrafting, minus one per level of the spell effect attempted, along with any other spell casting modifiers including over-casting. Add 10 if the character has a spell list with a similar effect, or 25 if the character has successfully crafted this particular spell before. Subtract 25 if the effect desired is not at all related to any of the lists that the character knows. Due to the danger of improvised magic, failure is always rolled on the 'attack spells' column.
Mentalism - Psychic Powers
This is the simplest change. Replace the Mentalism powers (already bundled into Essence) with the psychic powers out of Spacemaster: Privateers. The Mentalism Companion makes an excellent argument for the difference between Mentalism and Psychic powers; it is this author's opinion that the difference is not great enough to warrant a separate category. However, it should not take too much work to make Mentalism into a separate 'school of magic' along the lines of the Essence Companion. Also take into consideration that the Mentalism Companion's argument was about Mentalism in the setting more than the system; changing the mechanics used shouldn't necessarily change the underlying setting considerations.
There are two other things I considered when making this change. First, I enjoyed a Rolemaster supernatural system that was not list oriented. Second, after changing Channeling so much, it didn't seem right for Essence and Mentalism to be so similar. The psychic powers came along at the perfect time, and Mentalism was passed into Essence in order to make room for Psychics.
In game terms, there is now a Mind Point Development (MPD) skill in addition to Power Point Development (PPD); a Magician and Psychic would need to learn both (if you want to keep the argument from Mentalism Companion, simply rule that PPD and MPD are the same skill). The Spacemaster: Privateer professions map well onto the existing professions for the purposes of adding the costs for MPD and Psychic Powers. Even the Psychic works perfectly as a Pure Mentalism User, though once again I suggest The Role of Magic in Rolemaster Professions, for its logic applies equally to the psychic as it does to the spell user.
The one big change I have made here is that when figuring out refraction, one uses the category ranks of the psychic power, not the character's level. Also note that in a fantasy setting, one should combine Photokinesis and Radiokinesis into a single category. There are also holes in the psychic powers that a skilled GM can fill (the biggest being a lack of an illusion skill in Photokinesis), though hopefully Future Law will address those when the new owners release it.
Using This Article with The Role of Magic
The following changes and additions should be made to the Talents and Flaws:
New Psychic TalentsWill be updated after I get a copy of Future Law