Innate Magic in Middle-Earth

Michael Saunders 182 Blatchcombe Road Paighnton, Torquay South Devon England Chris Pheby Hadspen Cottage, Hadspen Castle Cary, Somerset BA7 7LR England

This article is essentially a response to Andrew McMuny’s article from OH 3: 11 – 12, which suggested that all the peoples of Middle-earth were born with a certain innate, magical energy which they may, if they know how, expend during the course f their lives. We want to develop this theme within the frame- work of Middle-earth Role Playing in order to find an alternative to the rather unsatisfactory Power Point system currently in use. In doing so, however, we have chosen not to consider the implications, four proposals for magic items. Maybe in the future it will be possible for ourselves (or someone else) to do this.

Initial Thoughts

It would seem that there are two main factors which influence the use of magic, from the Valar right down to the Drughu, which needs to be accounted for. These may be thought of as innate or natural energy (with which one is born and can do little to change) and abilities learned or gained through study and experience1. Two factors, therefore, will influence a given character’s innate energy: 1) that character’s individual attainment of magical power, and 2) the racial and cultural background in which the character was reared2.

Hobbits, for instance, are a very un-magical race, and have equally few powers (save through such items as are available to Men). Tolkien’s Elves, on the other hand, are archetypal magic-users. However, even their magic was often veiled and hidden (such as that used by Elrond), or derivative from a relic of an older age (like the works of Celebrimbor). As time wore on, Elven-magic weakened (even though their knowledge grew). Like the Elves, the Valar and Maïar also clearly realized that their own powers were finite and failing3.

These themes may be related to more tangible game mechanics (by an absurd twist) through the relation expressed by Ohm’s Law, which in modern physics defines the relationship of Volts (V), Amps (I) and Ohms (R) (V=IR). Ohm’s Law expresses a relationship in which two factors define a third. It also correlates exactly with the relationship described by Andrew McMurry’s model of a limited quantity of magical energy inherent to all sentient beings. With some adaptation, our translation of Ohm’s Law could form the basis for a useful game mechanic.

By substituting what we shall call Magic Potential (a character’s innate energy) for Volts (or potential difference), Ohms (or resistance) could be replaced with Magic Insight (which refers to how attuned” to the ways of magic a character is i.e., the lower this value is, the easier it will be for the character to work magic). The third value, Amps (or the current of a circuit), we replace with Magic Level (the greatest level of magic the character can operate with). This substitution results in the following equation:

Magic Potential/​Magic Insight = Magic Level

The method presented here for calculating these values is designed with a view to character generation, but it can also be used in converting existing characters to the system4. We will describe the use and meaning of each statistic below. Once you’ve gotten through character creation, the system is surprisingly easy to use. All you have to remember is that the three values are often subject to change and that, once changed, the original values are no longer of importance. Throughout the remainder of this exposition, all fractions will be rounded up for purposes of calculation.

Magic Potential (MP)

A character’s Magic Potential is dependent on two linked factors: 1) the realm of magic (in MERP, Essence or Channeling) through which the character operates and, hence, the statistic associated with the use of magic in that Realm (in MERP, Intelligence or Intuition); 2) the character’s race and/​or culture5. To determine a character’s MP, add the value of the appropriate statistic to the bonus for race/​culture given by the table provided in this article.

Magic Insight (ML)

Magic Insight represents how well a character understands and is able to manipulate his or her innate energy. MI is very closely linked to MP, but is also affected by a character’s profession, race, and culture6. To determine a character’s MI, multiply the character’s MP by a factor of ten. The sum is divided into the Magic Insight Divider (see table below), taking into account both the character’s profession and the culture in which he or she was raised (Round any fractions up.). Note that greater insight is indicated by a lower score, while a higher score indicates a character who is very poorly tuned” to magic.

Magic Level (ML)

Magic Level refers to the maximum spell level at which a character is able to work magic. It is determined by dividing MP by MI (rounding any fractions up). A character’s ML does not enable that character to cast spells above the actual level of the character’s profession (E.g., an 8th level mage with a ML of 12 still cannot cast spells above 8th level; while if the same 8th level mage only had a ML of 6, he would not even be able to cast spells beyond 6th level, despite the actual level of his profession). Any change in MP or MI necessitates a recalculation of the character’s ML.

Race/​Culture Table

Magic Insight
Dwarves +3 4 (6)
Umli +1 5 (7)
Noldor +150 13 (3)
Sindar +110 14 (3)
Silvan  +75 12 (4)
Peredhil +40 8 (6)
Fallohides –5 6 (7)
Harfoots –5 4 (8)
Stoors  –5 5 (8)
Beornings +6 6 (7)
Black Númenóreans +13 7 (6)
Corsairs +14 7 (6)
Daen Coentis  +7 6 (7)
Dorwinrim +5 5 (8)
Dúnedain +17 7 (6)
Lesser Dúnedain +12 7 (7)
Dunlendings +5 5 (5)
Easterlings +5 4 (8)
Haradrim (northern) +6 6 (7)
Haradrim (southern) +5 6 (7)
Lossoth +6 6 (7)
Northmen +5 6 (7)
Rohirrim +5 6 (7)
Rural Men +5 6 (7)
Urban  +5 5 (8)
Variags +6 7 (7)
Woodmen +5 5 (7)
Woses +11 8 (5)
Orcs –10 3 (9)
Uruk-hai –8 4 (8)
Half-orcs +0 3 (9)
Trolls –25 1 (10)
Olog-hai –15 1 (10)
Half-trolls –10 2 (9)
Warrior (Fighter) 1 (5)
Scout (Thief) 2 (4)
Ranger (Tracker) 3 (3)
Bard (Jack-of-all-trades) 3 (3)
Mage (Magician) 4 (1)
Animist (Cleric) 4 (1)

* These bonuses take into account both life-span and relative magical strength of the races. Note that the values for Elves are extremely high by virtue of their extended life-spans.

** The number in parentheses indicates Lowest Insight.

Factors Affecting Magic Potential

1 — Level Advancement
When a character progresses to a new level under the existing MERP rules, Development Points are gained, some of which are allocated to learning spell lists. By contrast, in the magic system we have just outlined, the Development Points are no longer applied to learning spell lists; instead, each Development Point so allocated is added to the character’s MP, thereby increasing it7.
2 — Spell Acquisition
Learning new spell lists requires a tutor or some other source of knowledge, and may be linked to other studies. Characters cannot acquire spells as if by magic not even AD&D has an acquire spell” spell! To learn magic is extremely arduous, and each spell in a list must be learned individually and in order of progresssion8. Each spell learned on a spell list costs one point of MP (E.g. To learn the first six levels of a list will cost 6 MP)9. In addition, learning spells of a new list will always reduce MI by one point10.
3 — Spell-Casting
Magic Potential replaces the spell-casting function of MERP Power Points (i.e., the cost of casting a spell is now removed from a character’s MP). Unlike Power Points, however, the loss of MP is permanent and unrecoverable11. A character whose MP falls below zero will die12.

Factors Affecting Magic Insight

1 — Study
Any magic-user who continues to cast a large amount of spells will eventually run out of MP. Most mages will try to reduce this loss of power in the interim by improving their MI through study. The exact nature of study will depend on both gamemaster and players. Some study will inevitably involve experimentation and will thus be accompanied by a loss in MP13. Books and tomes may also provide insight14.
2 — Lowest Insight
Unfortunately, even the most dedicated scholar can do little to undo natural limitations and the prejudices created by a given way of life. This factor is reflected in what we call Lowest Insight (see the numbers given in parentheses in the Magic Insight Divider column of the table). Regardless of study, a character’s MI value may never fall below this value15.

Excursus: Generating an experienced character

The above guidelines for allocating a character’s MP and MI scores ignore the level which a character may have already achieved16. The following system may help to simulate how a character’s scores may have been altered as a consequence of previous experience. To determine how much MP a character has already exhausted, multiply the character’s present level by the constant provided by the table below. This value will then be deducted from the MP score. MI will also change as a character becomes wiser to the ways of magic. The amount by which it will fall calculated in the same way as that of MP17.

Example: Thelengral, a Silvan Elf

Thelengral is an 8th level mage with an Intelligence of 93. His MP will be 168 (93 for It + 75 for race). He was raised in Silvan society, so his MP x 10 is divided by 4 (for his profession) and 12 (for his race) to give an MI of 35.

However, because he is 8th level, his scores will have changed somewhat over time. As a mage, his MP will have fallen by 1 + 64 (8 x 8 points in the process of experimentation and normal spell-casting), leaving him with a MP of only 104. His MI will also have been reduced, reflecting his more advanced knowledge. As a mage, it will have improved by 16 (2 x 8, bringing the new total to 19).

Thelengral’s ML is found by dividing his current MP of 104 by his current MI of 19. Any fractions are rounded up, giving a result of 6. This means he can cast spells up to sixth level. To summarize, Thelengral currently has a MP of 104, MI of 19, and a ML of 6.

Profession Magic Potential Magic Insight*
Warrior (Fighter) 2 1 (5)
Scout (Thief) 3 1 (3)
Ranger (Tracker) 4 1 (10)
Bard (Jack-o’-trades) 4 1 (10)
Mage (Magician) 6 2 (15)
Animist (Cleric) 8 2 (15)

* The number in parentheses indicates a maximum” level for the purpose of calculating MI. For example, an 8th level scout will have insight deducted only from his first five levels.


  1. These conform roughly to the view taken by biologists with respect to the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the development of an organism. 

  2. This argument is very similar in nature to that proposed by Chris Pheby article on corruption in OH 1: 20 – 22, in which the relative strengths of each race play an important part (as Tolkien dearly stated). 

  3. It may be this desperation that led to the rebellion of such notable characters as Sauron and Saruman (although this is only part of the story). For Sauron the One Ring was more than just a weapon — it gave the opportunity to make his power immortal. Despite this, the powers and magic utilized by these beings are outside the scope of this one article. 

  4. Players used to First Age power levels may find this system quite limited. As an accommodation to such a setting, MP values might all be multiplied (after determining MI) by a constant (E.g. x 5, perhaps). There isn’t much point applying this system to NPCs destined to be used once and then forgotten. In such cases, the system may be considered void, since it tends to focus on more long-term aspects of character development. Your players should never be any wiser anyway. However, many campaigns have recurring arch-villains, and you might want to use this system with regard to these characters, as you can represent their development through time. 

  5. By this is meant the character’s inherited culture, not the one in which the character was raised (as is the case with Adolescence Skill Development rules in MERP). 

  6. For example, a Dúnadan raised in Rivendell would be treated as an Elf for the purpose of calculating MI. Note that this differs from MP, which is a more innate quality. 

  7. Other kinds of points may be transferred to this new” category as per normal. 

  8. In other words, the first spell of the list must be learned first, followed by the second and so on. The level to which a character knows each spell list should be duly recorded on the player’s character sheet. 

  9. This procedure is meant to represent the innate energy expended through experimentation. 

  10. Although acquisition of spell lists will differ at other times from the normal MERP development process, during character creation spells and spell lists are developed in the same way as normal. 

  11. You may feel that the MP rules outlined above are too severe. Alternately, Power Points might be rem tallied alongside MP as a renewable source of innate energy. For example, a character could receive as many PPs as his current level each day. In the course of spell-casting, these renewable points would be used up first, and permanent MP called upon only-after these had run out Use of all these temporary points at one time might result in unconsciousness or some other optional side-effect. 

  12. If you feel that this rule is too drastic, a loss of magic ability could be substituted as the minimum effect of total loss of MP

  13. Unfortunately, it is this very type of study which tends to provide the greatest amount of insight, and so many will find it necessary. 

  14. Six months in the libraries of Minas Tirith might reduce a character’s MI by 2 or 3 points. Study is left very much to your discretion and the nature of your campaign. 

  15. Many may have tried to battle this and failed. 

  16. In our campaign, we began with the player-characters at 5th level. 

  17. It is important to ensure that a character’s insight not fall below the minimums allotted by race and profession. In the event that it does, simply adjust it upwards so that it equals these scores. 


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