Rolemaster: Playing with Magic

The post below is written by UbiquitousRat, a guest blogger for The Iron Tavern.

Having played a few sessions with the new Rolemaster playtest rules it’s probably time to tell you a little about how the new system’s magic has been working out.

Spell Law, as described in the earlier article, presents magic through three distinct yet interconnected Realms of Magic. These are the Essence, Channelling and Mentalism realms. In our campaign we have five heroes, four of whom have access to spells; the Ranger and Paladin are both of the Realm of Channelling, the Dabbler is of Essence, and the Mentalist is (unsurprisingly!) of Mentalism.

Low-Level, Low-Power… Yet Useful…

We’re playing at Level 2 right now, having taken the heroes quite quickly up from Level 1. This means that the spells available to our heroes are relatively limited in power.

In Rolemaster you can have a maximum number of Ranks in a Spell List equal to twice your current character Level. Thus, at Level 2, our heroes can potentially know each Spell List up to the 4th Level Spell. Casting spells above your character level is harder but possible, so some of the heroes have taken advantage of this. It’s important to realise, however, that each Spell List must be developed in the same way as any other skill: by spending precious Development Points as you ascend the Levels; this increasing your Rank in each Spell List can be expensive, especially for professions like the Ranger or Paladin who pay more than, for example, the Mentalist per Rank.

So, how useful is the magic proving? In short, very useful.

There has not been a single session so far in which each spellcaster has not opted to use their Spell Lists at least once. Magic in Rolemaster augments the abilities of the heroes, so it is sometimes a minor benefit… but any benefit is precious, especially at low-level.

An example:

Lykos (the Mentalist) is absolutely dreadful in a stand-up fight: as the son of a merchant family with minimal interest in the matters martial, the character can barely manage a Short Sword with a +10 bonus. In combat, however, Lykos has been standing back and using his Mind Attack spell list (which he has 3 Ranks in).

Mind Attack includes three great spells for combat: Jolts I, Hesitation, and Minor Pain. The first of these, most commonly used by Lykos, stuns the target should they fail to resist it. This means they can’t act for a round… which allows Lykos’ compatriots to clobber them without much threat of reprisal. It might not seem like much but in a fraught and dangerous fight, Lykos can actually deliver this spell repeatedly against a lone target with little trouble, effectively neutralising them. The other spells, while more potent, deliver similar augmenting effects: Hesitation slows reactions in Initiative, and Minor Pain zaps 25% of the target’s Concussion Hits. Ouch!

Risky, but Not That Risky

The other main thing to note about magic is that it always carries the risk of a Spell Failure, and thus a roll on the Spell Failure tables to see what happens… but only rarely disrupts play in a significant way. Thus, even with riskier higher-level castings, the players are able to make an attempt and judge the risks for themselves. We’ve had one disastrous moment when the Ranger found himself reasonably harmed by a spell failure, but nothing (yet) big enough to really deter spell use. This has meant that the guys feel their spell lists are worth the investment.

No Pesky Spell Limits

Finally, it’s worthy of note to say that the artificial spell limits of old D&D, such as so many spells per day, is not a part of Spell Law. The limit is set by your Power Points total, which you can invest in to improve and which is easily managed.

Certainly, sooner or later, your hero will run out of juice and have to stop casting. This is good game design which simply forces players to manage a resource. Yet you don’t ever feel desperately short of a spell unless you’ve been utterly reckless with your casting.

Magic used when needed, wisely and with care, is a constant support to the group. So far, at least, we’ve not come close to running out of Power Points.


We remain positive about the new Rolemaster. There are little niggles, such as the Initiative system, which we opted to simplify using the options in the game, but on the whole it’s playing well.

As for magic… well, it’s potent in a non-flashy kind of way.

Just take it from us that a well-placed yet seemingly innocuous power can prove decisive. And, to our minds, that’s the stuff that good roleplaying is made of.

Game on!

Revised Bio:

UbiquitousRat is a long-time roleplayer and gamesmaster who has a history with gaming going back to 1979. In 1994 he joined Games Workshop, spending 12 years in the gaming industry at the coal-face of tabletop wargaming. In 1998 he founded the Friday Night Roleplay group at his home in suburban Nottinghamshire, UK, and ever since has been the primary GM. Oh, and he’s also a high school teacher during the daytime.

4 thoughts on “Rolemaster: Playing with Magic

  1. G’day from Australia!

    Thanks for this post, as it helps me remember one of the many reasons I want to play Rolemaster until you need to pry my D10s from the cold, lifeless fingers of my corpse.

    I have a question, though, regarding the Paladin as a spellcaster; how do you feel the neccesary game balance of spell use compared to combat (and other skills) has affected their usefulness as a character profession?



  2. Glad you liked the post, and it’s nice to know it might encourage at least one person to try the system.

    The Paladin is actually quite well balanced for combat, although our player has chosen to start as a refugee from a shipwreck and so only has a dagger and shield right now.

    The bigger change is with the Ranger, who is more focused as a scout-type profession. The Paladin is more of an offensive semi-caster than the Ranger, in my view, and well suited to dealing with Undead and other such entities.

    So far, so good… Just can’t wait to see the how things pan out around 5th level. 😉

  3. I play in the group with UbiquitousRat, and I run a Paladin PC.

    I was going to play a Ranger – hoping that a mix of spells and sword play would be a great all round character to run with, but with the spell lists, he’s more of a scout, able to sneak and shadow his way in and out of areas, take on animal abilities, etc – and not what I wanted as a PC.

    The Paladin is much better. Shield skill is cheap, and weapons are not too bad to pick up, pointing the character towards being armoured up and tooled up – weaker than a fighter, but very useful.

    What really adds to the PC is the spell lists. So far, playing 1st and 2nd level, I have used a few spells at low levels, but they have really helped.

    To begin with, I used Holy Attack I from the Holy Arms spell list – gives a +5% bonus to attacks, and really helps at such a low level.

    I also use Aura from Holy Shields – Takes 10 away from any attack against the caster for 10 minutes a level – great spell, that covers the user with a bright glow.

    There are some great spell lists – one for healing (Holy Healing – Very useful, with combat being so dangerous), Holy Attacks (With bonuses to attack), Holy Shields (which create shields), and other spells that help guard friends, or stop magic attacks.

    The spells help in many ways, but I have also planned to pick up a Open list – Lofty Movements, to aid in keeping up with the Ranger in the party.

    I also messed up the PC in the start, by starting with no equipment, after being found floating at sea – Only had a kitchen knife in the first fight with a Ghoul!

    He now has 2 daggers, a Longsword, and a shield – but still no money or armour!

    I was going to increase weapons skills every level, and odd spell lists, but after playing the character for a few sessions, I might start increasing the spell list ranks more, as they help in so many ways, help in defense, and support the rest of the group (Healing, Fear saves, etc).

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when I get this PC up to level 5 or 10, and the ability to cast 10th or 20th level spells.


  4. Ahhh I love rolemaster… its the best game system ever. We listen to the rat… and I love rats too

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