Runequest Thursday #69 - The Master Sorcerer, Part One

Clint Staples

The Master Sorcerer – Part One – Attaining Mastery and What it Means

Note: If you have been reading these posts for a while, you may have seen A New Sorcery, a series that I did a while back giving alternate rules for Sorcery in Runequest.This article is written for those rules. You could use the same ideas for the standard sorcery rules if you like, but you will need to adapt things a bit.

Among sorcerers, there are masters of thei rarts, as surely as there are Runelords and Priests, who exceed the majority of those who worship the gods. Just as many cultists aspires to rise from lay member to initiate and then to rune-level, a sorcerer progresses from apprenticeship through journeyman to mastery. And just as a Runelady of Orlanth possesses potent powers from her relationship and service to her god, a master of sorcery gains a deeper comprehension of reality – which translates into greater understanding, power and new magicks.

The path to mastery begins long before it is attained. As a journeyman, sometimes before, a sorcerer will encounter, or research, spells and knowledge of particular interest – which in turn will direct their pursuits thenceforth. A potential master usually will show signs of his interests long before the rank is reached. Spells appropriate to this interest are studied, special researches undertaken, such that when mastery is achieved, the sorcerer is ready to choose her specialty.

A specialty does not mean the character is no longer a sorcerer. Sorcery works as it always did. However, the specialty allows the sorcerer greater ability within its scope – sometimes ability that was all but unattainable before.

Requirements for Mastery:

A Master Sorcerer must have the following:

  • POWer 18.
  • The Sorcery Skill at 90% or higher.
  • At least 4 Spells at 90% or higher, at least one of which must be applicable to an intended specialty.
  • If the prospective master is in a cabal, there may be additional requirements to be considered a Master of that cabal's magic. These are detailed in the write-up for the cabal in question.



  • Skills - A master qualifies for 100%+ skills, in the same way as any rune level, if such things are restricted in your game.
  • The Specialty - The master may choose a sorcerous specialty, such as Elementalism, Enchantment, Necromancy, Wizardry, or Summoning. Thereafter, they may be referred to as an Elementalist, Enchanter, Necromancer, Wizard or Summoner, as appropriate. The percentage of the Specialty begins at the Master’s Magical Skill bonus [POW + CHA] + ¼ of the Master’s Sorcery Skill. There are more or less common specializations, but there is no set list from which a master or mistress MUST choose. Many cabalists choose to specialize in the magic of their cabal – Beast magic for Beastlords, Sea Magic for Thalassomancers, as examples. It is important for the GM to define clearly what the specialty covers, and what it confers to the master. See 'The Specialty' below for full description.
  • Familiar – A master may summon, create, bind or awaken a familiar in a manner appropriate to their Specialty – such as an intelligent item for an enchanter, a demon for a Wizard, an undead being for a necromancer, or a summoned elemental or creature for an elementalist or summoner. A sorcerer’s familiar is different from a bound spirit or creature in that it is completely dependent on, and obedient to, the sorcerer, can act in addition to the sorcerer, use its master’s spells, POW and skills, just as the sorcerer may use her familiar’s. See ‘Part Two – The Master Sorcerer’s Familiar’, next week, for full details on creation of  the familiar and some examples.


The Specialty

Specialty Skill - A master or mistress of sorcery may choose a specialty as mentioned above, depending on their interest and training. The skill starts at the listed percentage [POW+CHA+1/4 of Sorcery Skill] and governs knowledge and research into the field of study, as well as comprehension of the magic thereof.

Although the specialty skill will often remain lower than a master’s Sorcery skill percentage, it confers greater understanding of the subject, and a success on Wizardry, for example, should give the player more information about a demon, than would a success on sorcery, even if the sorcery skill is higher and the check a better result. Generally, a normal success on a specialty skill may be rewarded the way one would reward a special success on sorcery – if the specialty pertains [as in the Wizardry example above].

Comprehension - Knowledge of a Specialty skill also grants a mystical comprehension of the standard languages and writing systems used in it. Thus a Necromancer would gain understanding of Cryptic, the writing system employed by the great necromancers of old, while a Beastlord Master can speak to animals. But the understanding goes beyond the physical. A specialist can as easily comprehend a text or speech related to his specialty regardless of how it is conferred, simply by succeeding at a specialty check. Spells, texts, and the spoken word can be understood regardless, because of the sorcerer’s deeper comprehension of the underlying reality pertaining to his specialty. The degree of fluency or understanding is in keeping with the level of the governing skill – thus, for a skill below 50%, comprehension is only partial and speech is simple and slow, for example.

Manipulation Limit – The Manipulation Limit of the mistress is one point higher for spells that fall into her specialty. So an elementalist with INT 16, which grants a Manipulation Limit of 5, would have a 6 when casting elemental spells.

Specialty Spell Ranks and Memory – A specialty spell is easier for the sorcerer to memorize and recall, such that it takes 1 less INT for the specialist to memorize or even to store in her familiar or other source. Essentially, the specialist can memorize or imprint the spell in a form of eldritch shorthand, such that a Rank 3 Wizardry spell would require only 2 free INT to memorize or store.


Specialist Spells

The spell list contains many spells that already apply to some specialties, fewer to others. For example, elemental sorcery is common, so many spells are available to the elementalist. The GM is the final arbiter as to whether a spell falls under a particular specialty. And the same spell may be available to more than one specialty. Thalassomancers and Beastlords may each consider Ray of Rays a specialty spell, for example, just as elementalists and summoners may each see Conjure/ Dismiss Elemental as a specialty spell.

One of the best ways to determine whether a spell falls into a particular specialty is to look at the runes associated with the spell. Any spell with the runes for fire, earth, air or water may be considered an elementalist specialty spell. In the same way, spells associated with disorder or magic may be counted as Wizardry. A New Sorcery has runic association suggestions for most spells, which can help determine specialty spells.

In part two, we will look at the Master Sorcerer’s familiar.