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Rolemaster Unified (Beta) — Spell Law Review

Okay, time for a review of the new version of Spell Law. As with Character Law, I will break it down and review each section accordingly. Let’s get to it, shall we?

1. – Introduction

Other than the first couple of paragraphs, the majority of this chapter is a straight copy from Character Law, including the notation that optional rules shall be boxed.

Those few opening paragraphs sound more like a history of Spell Law along with some text explaining how this version of Spell Law has been updated/changed in the revision. The general gist of it is “spell users are made more powerful by us giving them more spells”

2. – Magic

This chapter starts off with a history of magic. Why? The history of how magic began and/or split into multiple realms is something for a setting. Considering that the rest of this book is strictly rules and spells, this is a bit of a nonsequiter.

In the Realms of Magic section, they go over each realm and purportedly give you the restrictions for each realm. However, it appears that they rewrote those “casting requirements/restrictions” to be more flowery and prose-heavy, and in doing so, they have left room for confusion and misinterpretation because those requirements/restrictions are not clearly set out like they are in previous versions.

Next up is a short description of each of the spell user Professions from Character Law. The odd thing here is that under Pure Spell Users, they describe each profession separately, with a single paragraph with the profession name bolded. Under Hybrid Spell Users they describe each profession separately just as they do for the Pure Spell Users. However, under Semi Spell Users, there is a single paragraph for each realm and that single paragraph tells about both of the 2 semi professions that each realm has.

That is a jarring switch in style, and often indicates multiple authors for this section with an editor who either didn’t recognize it (i.e. too inexperienced) or didn’t care about it enough to fix it.

Next up is a discussion of the list types – Base, Open, Closed, and Evil. Most of this could have been handled in about a third of the space, but the author wanted to be more verbose apparently.

In regards to the Evil spell lists, there is some discussion on how evil could be different to different peoples and how a profession may have gained access (from an in game standpoint) to the evils spells, but in one paragraph, there in the middle, there are several different options goven for allowing access. None is explained fully or explicitly, they are just flopped out as part of the text, and no, they are not boxed either.

And now we come to the discussion of spell types. First is a discussion of how every living or animate object/person is surrounded by an aura and how it is the aura that allows objects on your person to resist with you and so forth.

And yes, for those of you wondering, Illusions are still treated as Elemental, which is a step backwards from RMC, where Illusions and Phantasms were separated into their own class of spell. Healing as a spell type also seems to be gone from the list. Essentially, you now have exactly the same spell types as were found in RMSS, and that includes all of the special situations that that implies.

For example… Healing spells are Utility spells, except that they do not need a willing target, except when the character has a background or flaw that would prevent him from normally accepting a healing spell. Don’t you just love rules by exception.

The RR table from RMC for informational spells was ported over to RMU at least.

In the section on “Spell Visibility”,they give you one small paragraph that basically says “some spells are more visible than others”. Helpful, that…

However, in a box on the same page, there is a discussion of “Visible Effects for Spells” and near the bottom, is says “This option”. Huh? What option? This was nothing more than a sidebar from the way I read it. Then again, there does seem to be a lot of muddy, unclear writing in Spell Law….

And then we come to a section on “Customizing Magic”. This is a section that is slightly more than 2 pages long, and it is basically a discussion on the ways that a GM can change and alter how magic works without actually giving any concrete rules or instructions, though there are some examples. Still, these 2 pages could have made for a chapter all their own, and they could have also included guidelines for using Spell Law with other games, but apparently nobody knows how to do that at ICE anymore…

3. – Learning Spells

This chapter starts off talking about adding flavor into how spell lists are learned (i.e. do they sacrifice and pray to their deity, learn from a dragon,from an ancient tome, etc… However, this is only 2 paragraphs, so it barely just skims the surface of this sort of discussion.

Then we move on to “Access to Spell Lists” where it talks about restricting how many open and closed spell lists a character has access to, based upon a groups knowledge and focus on the magical arts. They even provide you with a table to tell GMs how many lists to let them have. This section relies heavily on GM fiat, including the GM telling the player that he cannot learn the next spell on a given list because “he does not have access to appropriate research materials”

Personally, I find that to be an extremely wrong attitude to take.

Next up is a section on Spell Research. I am not sure, but I think it is also describing how a GM should run things for characters to learn existing spells on lists that they already know, or that it could be used for that. It is all a bit unclear.

As I have said before, there is a lot of stuff that they gloss over, but apparently included just for the sake of including it. If these are meant to be in-game rules on how a spell user (i.e. the player) makes a new spell list, then perhaps they should have been a bit more explicit. As it is, it comes across as very confusing, and this is coming from somebody who worked on Rolemaster for 8 years, and has played it for over 20+ years.

4. – Casting Spells

First up is a discussion on how many power points a spell will cost. There is a single paragraph that talks about how special circumstances may make a spell cost less than normal, but it doesn’t really go into detail. Right beneath this is an example on how to figure out how many power points the character has. Considering that this is a skill (and the fact that the name they give this skill in Spell Law is NOT the same as the name they give it in Character Law (the example gives it its right name though), I am sure that this will cause confusion. Add to this that the paragraph that talks about some spells costing less than normal due to such things as being near one’s deity, and so forth, is between the single sentence that says a caster’s power point total is equal to skill total and the example that shows how to figure this, and there you go, more confusion…

Next is the Spell Casting Roll (SCR). Which gives you a little table for use with the “Absolute Maneuver” table fom Character Law.

As an aside, I find it highly funny that an “Absolute Maneuver” which is described as being all or nothing, has a “Partial Success” result on the table… Shows a good bit of self-delusion, I think….

There is also a table for modifiers due to the amount of time spent preparing the spell..

The SCR gains an automatic bonus of 100 to the roll before any modifiers are applied and there can be many different sorts of modifiers.

What is funny here is that it says that if a spell has absolutely no modifiers then it is automatically cast. Except in the case of a natural fumble (01-02). Which means, I guess, that it doesn’t matter if the spell can be automatically cast or not, you still have to make a casting roll. In that case, I guess it isn’t actually automatically cast afterall. Seems like a better way of saying it would be “if a spell has no negative modifiers, then barring a natural fumble, the spell will usually go off without a problem when the casting roll is made”

There is another table for Spell Casting Modifiers. About the only thing I see missing from this table is the modifiers for attempting to cast spells while wearing armor. According to the “restrictions” listed earlier, wearing armor would be detrimental to casting attempts, and yet there are no modifiers for them.

Another point to cause confusion among players…. sigh….

Next up is talking about Spell Preparation, and at the end of this small section they give GMs an option on how to handle this, but this option is not boxed.

And then we get to Spell Level, specifically what is the level of the spell for resistance purposes, and for determining the total of the attributes of the spell when cast (i.e. if the range was 10′ per level, the casting level determines the final range).

This is one paragraph that basically says the spell’s level equals the caster’s level. And then you get to the next page….

And on this page, there are 2 huge options for alternative methods of determining caster level. Neither of which is labeled as an option and neither of which is boxed, like the first chapter said they would be boxed.

Another editing failure….

And now we come to “Resolving Spells”

It seems that they have done away with the Base Spell Attack Table. In prior versions of Rolemaster, this table gave a modifier to any RRs against the spell based upon how well the character cast the spell. If it is gone, then spells just got a lot easier to resist, which means that the whole balance of the game has been thrown off as well. There is no telling what the repercussions of this will be.

Elemental Attack Spells now require 2 separate rolls to resolve. One to cast the spell itself and a second to make an attack using the spell.

And then resolving spells is interrupted by 3 pages of spell fumble tables (seems like THESE should have been put in the appendix…).

And then non-attack spells, roll and resolve

Oh look! We now talk about Spell Failure, and those tables that just distracted us from reading… And sheesh… several paragraphs to say “the sum of all negative modifiers is added to the roll on the failure table as a positive modifier”. Apparently, they think RM fans are not smart enough to figure that out, so they go ahead and spell it out, step by step, including explicitly telling you to ignore positive modifiers.

From glossing bits over, to basically micro-managing how to do every single step. Wow!

And now we talk about Resistance Rolls. There is a table of modifiers here and look!! You finally get told HOW to use the Resistance Roll Table that is slapped into Character Law with absolutely no explanation!

Too bad the table isn’t in this book so that you know what they are talking about, as it doesn’t actually tell you WHERE to find the RR table.

And I need to make a correction, it does tell you how to use the RR table in Character Law. I missed it because it is under a header called “Effects”, and as I explained in my overview of all three books, these headers CAN be confusing… Of course, this section in Character Law also refers you to Table 13.2 which isn’t actually located in Chapter 13. You can find it back in Chapter 12 of Character Law, with absolutely no text around it.

But yeah, like I said, without the Base Attack Table, spells just way way easier to resist, which essentially breaks the entire magic system (which was built around using that table for attack spells that require RRs).

Next they talk about Spell Mastery.

Oh, let’s be absolutely clear here. Your bonus for casting spells, it is comprised of the number of ranks in the spell list (not the bonus for those ranks), plus your realm stat, a base bonus of 100, -5 if it is a closed list (this is new), and other possible modifiers (i.e. 5 ranks and a realm stat with a bonus of +5 gives you a casting bonus of 115). This means you have to figure the casting bonus for each list separately, and likely on the fly as well unless you figure a way to record that information on your character sheet (which has not been produced yet)

You actual skill bonus for a spell list (using the same rules for determining skill bonus as you do for other skills), is what is used for Spell Mastery rolls.

Anyways, basically, you tell the GM what you want to do to a spell, he decides the difficulty based on the examples they give, and you have to roll for it..

Next up is talk about magic items… Power Point Adders, PP Multipliers, and Spell Adders, most of which hasn’t changed since the first versions of RM, except that Hybrids now get hosed, they need items specifically for Hybrids. Items of a single realm won’t work for them (except that spell adders for a single realm can be used by the hybrid to cast spells (i.e. open/closed) from that single realm ). But PP Adders can be used as they add to the skill bonus, so are considered universal. Huh?

Now this right here. To me, this shows a complete disconnect from what and how Power Points operate. There has always been discussion on whether they are a measure of what a character can manipulate or if they are something inside the caster (i.e. treating a caster like a battery for that realm). And to say that a PP Adder is treated like any other bonus item, so it is a universal item shows, to me, a complete disregard (or lack of understanding, which would be worse) on how Power Points work.

Imbedded Spells — work just like normal spells, except…. you use ranks in attunement and realm stat, and no modifiers from prep rounds or from equipment or other such things. So, how long does it take to cast a spell from an item? It doesn’t say… oops?

Using Runes, this is odd… In previous versions of RM, when a spell was imbedded into a Rune, it was actually cast at the time it was imbedded, and activating the rune was similar to activating an item. Not any more. Now it is just like casting a spell from memory, except that it doesn’t cost PP, or does it? It doesn’t say. But it says you are actually casting it. And a han holding a rune isn’t counted as a free hand, so Essence users get a negative modifier for that (since they seem to need both hands free), and you have to do spell prep for it as well. Essentially, runes seem to be cast spells from lists that you don’t know, as they seem to have all of the requirements that you have casting known spells.

Though it does say that the spells are stored in the Rune, so if the spell is stored, then it has already been cast, so does that mean a Rune spell forces a spell to be cast twice? If the spell is stored in a Rune, then isn’t using the Rune simply a matter of releasing the already cast spell…..

Yup, confusion ensues. Apparently, the authors don’t know squat about how they want runes to work either, seeing that they are saying contradictory things and not specifying whether or not power points are needed…

And now we get to “Special Situations”!!! Haven’t encountered enough of them already in the normal stuff… Wheeee!!!

Notes on how to cancel a spell, on combining spell effect, a section on Innate Casters (from RMC). Why this is here, I have no idea. It belongs in the creatures book. Looks like this was something that somebody thought of as their own special pet bit and wanted it in one of the REAL core books, rather than the claimed core books….

Notes on a few other things as well, basically just reiterating material from earlier editions.

5. – Magic Rituals

Why is this chapter even in Spell Law? This seems like the perfect basis for a chapter or two in an expansion product. Gamers playing PCs are not going to mess with rituals often, if ever, until they reach higher levels at the very least.

Is this another of those “included because it was the pet idea of an author” type of things? Seems like it…

I am not even going to go into how incomplete the chapter is due to their glossing over how the resolution for a ritual even works, or the lack of full examples for designing rituals, and so forth.

Oops… I guess I just did…

6. – Channeling Spell Lists

I will only say this once, and not mention it when talking about the chapters for the other realms. Many of these spell lists take more than one page, often slipping onto a second page for only a paragraph or two.

Much of this (but not all) is cause by the inclusion of notes at the end of the list. Notes that take up a LOT of space because they have horizontal rules (i.e. lines) both above and below them.

Another reason for this is the inclusion of spells at levels 35 and 40 on every single list. Why? Why feel the need to add spells at 2 new levels that were never there before? Again, this feels like somebody’s pet idea, and I for one, think it is a bad one, since it only gives more power to spell users (although the lack of the BAR table does kinda nerf most spell users).

With the carry over onto a second page, there is a bunch of unused white space, which simply wastes paper and pads out the page count (which means having to charge more for the book in the long run).

On to the spell lists…

There are problems that I see with a lot of the spells, but I think that I will just pull out some highlights here and there…

Barrier Law — seeing the spell descriptions change font size at the end, only to have the notes go back to using a larger font size is a bit disconcerting.

Light’s Way — Shock Bolt is resolved on the Lightning Bolt Table? Considering that Arms Law does not separate the elemental attacks into sizes, that means that essentially, the player or GM is going to have to dig out a calculator to determine just how many hits were done, and not to mention adjust the critical roll as well.

Lofty Movements — Store Sanctuary, the caster basically magically memorizes a place for use with later teleports spells and simply because he memorizes it, it detects as “Holy”?? WTF?!?! Now, if he were magically tagging it (i.e. like setting up a magical beacon that worked with his other spells), I could see it as detecting as holy, but not for simply memorizing it.

Mounted Ways — This is an entirely new spell list. The question is why? This list seems extremely suitable as a profession Base list (I think that it is THAT powerful) for perhaps a Semi-spell using Beastmaster type of character. It also makes a good list for special nomadic cultures (Rhiani from Shadow World spring to mind) But as a Closed Channeling list? Too powerful!

Nerve & Organ Law — 2 separate lists from previous editions merged together into a single list. And to give it a fertility spell at 2nd level? Wow! Just Wow! (and that is not a good “Wow”).

Power Channel I — okay, I can see sending spell points instead of a specific spell as the 3rd level spell does, but for this 4th level spell to send PP, and the receiving character does NOT have to use them right away? Well, that just spiked the power meter…

Druid — first off, 5 of the six spell lists are identical to the Animist, so I don’t really see the need for the name change. Especially, since the RM2 Druid had the awesome Druidstaff spell list, and this Druid does not.

Nature’s Wrath — This spell list is new, replacing Nature’s Movement/Senses. I have some serious problems with this list, especially with their being a 2nd level spell that bestows a permanent curse that gives a -25 to all interaction with animals. Then there are the “Nature’s Ire” spells, which give bonuses to attack (double if Druid is in animals, at higher levels, that becomes HUGE (+50 at level 13 if caster is in animal form), and the duration is “varies”, and the description says “next attack” with no time limit on it? Sheesh! That leaves it extremely ripe for abuse. I think that this must have been another little pet idea of one of the author, especially since this is such a bad-ass list.

Holy Arms — This has always seemed to me to be one of the most over-powered spell lists I have ever seen. And yet, here it is….

Holy War — I take it back. This might be the most over-powered spell list I have ever seen.

With these two spell lists (and Mounted Ways from Closed Channeling), there is no need to have a Fighter in the group, this guy will kill them all, and not worry about taking their names…

Eye For Traps — The Ranger, the RANGER gets +50 from a 4th level spell to find traps, any traps, in any location; wilderness, dungeon, on board a ship, it doesn’t matter, he gets the +50…

7. – Essence Spell Lists

Okay, on to the Essence spell lists. As with Channeling, there are a number of things that I found disturbing or problematic, and I am only going to list a fegw of them, those that catch my eye the most.

I want to start off mentioning that while Channeling and Mentalism both have 10 Open lists and 10 Closed lists, Essence has 10 Open Lists and 13 Closed Lists, which seems to indicate that somebody has a preference for Essence spell users (especially pure spell users) by giving them more Closed lists to play with than the other realms.

Additionally, these 3 lists cover types of spells that have normally been part of the realm of Mentalism or the purvue of xx/Mentalism Hybrids. Thus, it makes it look like that same somebody wants Essence to be more powerful overall as well. Not a good sign…

Runes — Up above, I already went into the confusing surrounding the rules on using Runes. Well, here is the spell that inscribes the runes. It specifically says that the spell to be incribed must be cast, which implies the use of power points. So why does it have to be cast again when activated? It doesn’t make sense. What is worse is the note at the end of the list that refers you back to the section that I mentioned was so confusing to begin with. So we get us some “circular confusion” going on here… Wonderful…

Fluid Elements — One of the new Closed Spell Lists. Hmmm.. Upon closer look at this spell list, it appears to be more of a combination of spells similar to those found on Water Law and Wind Law. Which would tend to make one think that somebody wanted all Essences users to be able to become junior Magicians using this and the other two new spell lists.

Unseen — Aside from the fact that Unseen and other invisibility spells are of the Elemental type, which I don’t think fits them very well, there is the fact the Unseen spell actually violates the rules regarding Auras mentioned back in the beginning of the book. Additionally, since these are Elemental Spells, Unseen can be used in ways that end up being embarrassing to other characters without them ever being unable to have any sort of say, or even a RR against that embarrassment. Invisibility spells should be

Unseen Blow — This spell is only 7th level, and it is instantaneous, AND it can be cast upon a target up to 10′ feet away. And the result is that it reduces a foe’s “parry” by up to a 100 points (yes, a -100). Wow, just wow… That is a huge benefit for an attacker to suddenly have.

Living Change — Well, this is one spell list that has definitely been nerfed all to hell. The 1st and 2nd level spells from prior versions of this spell list have been moved to become 12th and 14th level respectively.

Luminous Elements — The second new list, this one combines Light Law and Fire Law for the poor man’s magician….

Rapid Ways — Another casualty to author stupidity. In prior versions of Rolemaster,if you used a Speed spell, you got 200% activity, but the round after the effect you only got 50% activity. With Haste, you didn’t get the slow rounds afterwards. Now, Speed is a Concentration spell (which I presume requires 50%, unless it has changed as well), so that the Speed II spell (which gives +20% activity) means that you actually only have 70% in total for as long as you concentrate. While the next higher spell, Haste I only gives a +10% bonus to activity, but actually has a duration of 1 round per level. This list is simply screwed completely up, IMO.

Solid Elements — Combination of spells from Earth Law and Ice Law for non-Magicians to play with.

Bard Spells — Some changes to his lists from previous versions, including pulling a list or two from one of the RM2 Companions and adding it his base lists. Considering how ill-balanced many of those Companion spell lists were, it isn’t surprising to find that these spell lists are not balanced in any way either. On the plus side though, these lists may actually make the bard worthwhile to play (they have always seemed underpowered in prior versions of RM).

Dabbler Spells — seems like changes made to the lists were made more for giving a sense of “we changed things” than for any actual balance or other real issue.

Side Note: There seems to have been a number of spells that have been renamed, with no actual changes being made to the spells themselves. For example, the 1st level Fire Law spell had its name changed from “Boil Liquid” to “Boiling Heat” and yet the spell itself hasn’t changed. It is stupid cosmetic changes like this, which run throughout Spell Law which makes me doubt that whatever author(s) worked on this was really paying attention

Evil Essence Spell Lists — Somebody likes undead, and having an Essence useing Necromancer, because there are 2 separate lists dealing with undead (I would have thought channeling would have been better, since that realm deals more with souls, and this on more with demons), and another list that deals with changing one’s body to make natural attacks. This list does not seem inherently evil in any way (as there is nothing to indicate that these transformations occur through the bonding with demons or some such), though with some of the spells, the character might look more demonic in nature, but still, I could see a profession that is built around this and other sense enhancing spell lists – such a thing would be very cool, but nope, not for this version of Rolemaster.

And yes, these 3 new evil lists do replace three of the evil lists from prior versions.

8. – Mentalism Spell Lists

Self Healing has always been an Open list in prior versions of Rolemaster, while Telekinesis has always been a Closed list. In this version of Rolemaster, however, they have been swapped. I guess that somebody didn’t like the idea of Mentalism users being able to heal themselves too easily.

Audio Cloak — okay, this spell makes the caster inaudible to the target as well as invisible if cast just before another Cloaking spell from the same list. Which means that this spell is basically useless on its own and MUST be cast with another spell to have any effect.

Staying — This is one of those spells where notes and explanations would be very handing as the effects ofthe spell simply are not very easily determined. How does it work against an object in motion (if you exert force in the direction opposite of the motion). It is a very confusing spell, always has been in all versions of RM, and of course, the authors here took no effort to explain or alter it to make it easier to understand.

Rush spells — these almost work like the Speed spells from older versions of Rolemaster, but you only get +10% activity, and then must spend 50% or your activity in the following round resting. And if you do the higher level versions of the spell, it gets even worse, Rush III gives +30% activity, and then you must spend 150% activity (a round and a half) resting. Mind boggling….

Concussion Mastery — some of the spell’s names in the description section do not match their names on the list, and then there is the note at the end of the list which only confuses how long the magical healing is supposed to take. “Relief spells take normal time”, so does that mean that Stun Relief spells basically do nothing since Stuns normally are releived one per round?

Monks — yup, somebody hates the idea of Mentalism spell users being able to heal themselves. The Monk’s spell list, “Body Renewal” is completely gone and has been replaced by “Combat Mastery”, yet another of the overpowered spell lists from the RM2 Companions. While I like the idea that Monks are now mentalism users as they should have been originally, I don’t like them losing their self-healing capabilities.

9. – Hybrid Spell Lists

Enchanted Rope — Hey! I wondered where this spell from Earth Law went! Look, it is now a spell on the Mystic’s Base List!

10. – Specific Spell Notes

Some notes about controlling songs for the bards. Doesn’t matter, afterall, the removal of the BAR table means that most targets will quite easily resist anyways.

Fatal Channelings — Why this is under the Elements section, I have no idea. But another gripe I have is that the table of fatal channelings isn’t here with the text, like it should be. It is actually in the Appendix. It actually is the entirety of the Appendix, which looks kind of stupid, no matter how you look at it. The Appendix would have been a good place to include those 3 pages of fumble tables.

This section definitely needs reorganization. There is a section on “sticky elemental spells” that would work under the elemental spells section, but nope, had to put it by itself several pages away..

Review Recap

After going through Spell Law in detail, it becomes clear that any spell user that relieas on spells that attack others (except for directed attacks which use normal combat rules) are completely and utterly hosed. It is also clear that the author of this book has a thing for Essence Spell Casters and hates Mentalism spell users (since they are the ones most hosed).

It is also clear that the author basically knows very little about creating or balancing spell lists, as some have been completely nerfed, while others have been jacked up in power to unbelievable levels.

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