Pilot RPG

On Sunday, I wrote the first words of Pilot RPG.

I have been reading and playing around with a sack full of OSR/OGL D&D clones looking for the one that strikes me as the right one to do the d20 to d100 conversion to.

Pilot RPG is a bit of a strange fusion of ideas. Firstly, it is about doing to a fantasy game what I did to White Star Whitebox and create a free and open retro-clone of Space Master. ICE had said in 2018 and again in 2019 that there were no plans for a RMu Space Master. I wanted to keep the idea alive and make something that you could use with the old ICE Spacemaster books.

From that game came an open project called Bare Metal Edition, which is a mechanics only version of the “d100+bonus and get over 100” system. Bare Metal Edition, BME, started by extracting the rules from Navigator RPG, and then building up from there. It builds up how to create and balance talents and flaws. How to use talents and flaws to build playable species. How to build cultures, and professions. It took the meditations and gifts from White Star and made a magic system. But that was just the beginning. The magic system exploded into all kinds of things like cantrips and rituals, the talent and flaws spawned super powers. It has a tool for creating unique weapons and critical tables for anything and everything.

In theory BME can create a Rolemaster style game in any genre. I say in theory, because no one has every tried.

Enter Pilot RPG.

I am now going to use the rules of BME, and try and use them to do the conversion of a D&D retro-clone and produce a fantasy version.

What I am expecting is that Pilot will throw a spotlight on missing elements of BME, and BME will be improved by it.

I am also hoping that Pilot will become a painting by numbers project where the rules I need are already there, I just need to reword everything into fantasy terms.

When I was programming, back in the day, the buzzword was RAD, Rapid Application Development. What I am hoping for is that BME will be the RAD for rolemaster style games.

I am not looking to steal away users from Rolemaster, that was never my intention, but from Navigator RPG in the far future, and Pilot in the medieval, we have two ends of timeline that can accomodate converting Eldritch Tales to make a 1920s/30s Cthulhu game, and Operation Whitebox to make a Kelly’s Heroes inspired WWII game. I also want to create a near future zombie apocalypse version.

These three, Eldritch, WWII, and post-apocalypse are genres where Rolemaster never went. There are others that just sound incredibly good fun. Wuxia? Gun-Fu? Gold Rush/Tombstone?

Creating very specific niche games makes no commercial sense at all. They cannot possibly make enough money to recoup their development costs, unless of course the development has already been done. These can, and will end up as easy and building a Cyberpunk city out of lego. Building it is easy, knowing when to stop would be the hard bit.

It was always my aim to get Pilot RPG in the public sphere in 2020.

The base system I have settled on is Old School Essentials. I am 1000 words into the document.

This is the land of the Pilot, now I just need to bring it to life.

Elven Mysticism

(This article was written by Jengada from the ICE forums, but posted by me, as he doesn’t have writers status on the blog yet)

A couple of COVID-months ago, there was a discussion of mystics on the Blog. Many people view the mystic as a weak class, or don’t really know what to do with them. I actually think they’re one of the most appealing classes, and challenging in a positive way. 

I’ve had a specific mystic culture in my campaign for 30 years, but recently a new player wanted an elven mystic. This took a number of questions I’ve pondered in my campaign, and shoved them in my face like a 100 C-Krush crit. If mystics are difficult, elves that “do not age or grow old” and “are virtually immortal” pose even bigger questions, and now they’re colliding. 

Mysticism is about the relationship between self, cosmos, and any divine powers. We can draw on the real world for ideas of how a human sees these, but what happens when the being trying to understand that relationship watches centuries of change in the world, in nature and among other species like humans and dwarves? What are the questions they ask, and how would that affect the focus of elven mystics? Here’s what I came up with – it’s a work in progress, so please comment.

(While Rolemaster canon has elves as not aging or growing old, in my campaign I give them finite lifespans of a few thousand years. It’s hard enough dealing with a 300-year-old elf that knows all of human history, never mind 3000 years! Infinite lifespan would amplify many of the points I make in the following discussion.)

Elven mysticism is profoundly influenced by their exceptionally long lives, the rarity of birth among them, and lack of experience with death. Like all mystic philosophies, it centers on understanding the relationships between self, the universe, and the divine. It focuses on broadening one’s experience of the universe as a way of reaching such understanding. 

Imagine all of the things an elf mystic could do, in their thousands of years, to experience the universe more intimately. Watching time unfold over seasons, seeing the variations in life- and death-cycles for different creatures, centuries of changing landscapes and civilizations – the insights they could draw! And if they could be other creatures for extended periods? Or plants? Or just inert matter?

Many elves recognize patterns in animal behavior after observing the animals for years. But other “intelligent” races, which the elves encounter less often than, for example, birds, fish, or cats, are less familiar to them. Mystics may find sentient races to be the most novel aspects of the world they have ever seen. A mystic might spend years watching a particular sentient individual, closely or at a distance, trying to learn how they experience the world and how their emotions work.

Elven mystics are obsessed with birth, and the newborn consciousness. Because elven births are rare, mystics will seek them out to be present. There are tales of female mystics seeking to bond with their own offspring during birth, only to drive both mad. Instead, novice mystics may simply seek to observe the birth of other elves, or animals. Adept mystics may be capable of forming a psychic link with mother or young and try to experience the consciousness as it first emerges.

The concept of death and the experience of passing is considered one of the biggest unknowns or windows through which to gain awareness, and elven mystics tend to fixate on observing death, or interrogating those who are dying to learn what they are experiencing. There is no record of an elven mystic committing suicide to achieve this knowledge, however, leading some to question their sincerity in their search and others to see it as a testament to the mind’s will to survive.

Elves as a species have a very different sense of time from humans or others of shorter lifespan. They have no personal need to hurry, and by the time they are adults they have experienced many things over, and over. These things will happen again, so there is no urgency in the moment. Because of this, they often seem uninterested or unfocused on matters other species consider very important. For similar reasons, encountering a situation or object that is unlike others they have experienced will draw their attention strongly, to the exclusion of almost all else. In the end, they again come across as distracted and unfocused, to those of lesser lifespans.

The general tendency among the elves is to keep to themselves. They build their cities in places others are not likely to venture, and many of them never experience a member of a non-elf species, despite their long lives. Elven mystics are exceptionally rare, in that they tend to travel far and wide. They experience space on a scale commensurate to the span of their years as part of their hunger for understanding and experience.

The search for expanded consciousness or linking with the divine or the cosmos has led elven mystics to develop a variety of methods and substances to open the mind or reach outward. They refer to these experiences as “opening the bridge” to the universe or the divine. Methods may include meditation, spell-initiated experiences, or physical ordeals that bring them to new perspectives. Substances include plant-based elixirs or foods or alchemical potions. Some mystics spend a great deal of time searching for new methods of opening the bridge. Bridge experiences may be brief visions, or they may involve prolonged trances. 

These are some of the key factors I’ve thought of to make elven mystics unique, and suited to the culture that frames them. As I noted, if your elves are truly immortal, or “created” rather than born, there are some different twists you could put on the concepts above. Mystics can be a great mirror of a culture in your world, and a good player can use that mirror to make a mystic character very valuable to their party.

Mechanics in my RM2 game:

Adrenal Moves cost 3 instead of 5. 

Ambush cost is 5 instead of 4. 

Meditation cost is 1/2.

Level Bonuses: Elven mystics get +1/level for Perception, Subterfuge, Item, Directed Spell, and Adrenal Move skills. They get +2/level for Base Spells.

Spell Lists: Elven mystics get four of the standard RM2 mystic base lists: Confusing Ways, Mystical Change, Liquid Alteration, and Gas Alteration. They can choose two of the following lists as their other base lists, to reflect personal focus: Hiding (Mystic base), Solid Alteration (Mystic base), Body Renewal (Monk base), Sense Through Others (Seer Base), Light Molding OR Sound Molding OR Feel-Taste-Smell Molding (Illusionist Base), Mind Merge (Mentalist base), or Immersions (Custom mystic base).

The Immersions list is provided here as a pdf.

Missing my Dose of Rolemaster

Right about now, I should be knee deep in the preparation for my gaming weekend. We would get together for a long weekend of Rolemaster. Me running my game in the Forgotten Realms, and I get to play my Lay Healer in a home brew world or exceptionally high magic.

My players are going head to head with a Dark Stalker, which has been pumped up in level. They know it is coming and think they have laid a trap for it. This is a cliffhanger moment that was not supposed to take a year or more to resolve.

It is also becoming increasingly difficult to keep the blog going. RMu discussions are pointless, the beta is closed, the rules locked down. There is nothing to talk about there.

I am not playing or even doing much prepping, so that is not throwing up many interesting situations or questions.

The RM community is moving over towards Discord, and that answers questions in minutes, where a blog is a long answer format.

I could move over to Fantasy Grounds or Roll20 but I have never enjoyed those VTT platforms. Is bad rolemaster better than no rolemaster? At the moment, not for me.

That could be that I have never had a great VTT GM. I know that many people love VTT games. It is just not my thing. It is not helped in that my broadband is satellite, I get a ping time often up to a second, which gives me massive lag with any kind of streaming or live feed.

I could write about the 50in50 adventures, but too much of that, too often, and it starts to feel a bit spammy. The blog does not exist to flog stuff to the readers. The adventures are written to support the readers. The first time we released one a week, but you couldn’t play them that fast, and that was when people had regular weekly games.

This time we are going a bit slower. Less 50in50, more 50 in whenever…

I most definitely have that ‘enough covid, I want to move on now…’ feeling.

0th Level

I was looking at Dungeon Crawl Classics today. They have a free starter set that goes from level 0 to 2nd level.

Yes, it starts at 0th level.

At that point, you are No Profession. You get to play your character and you are suitably unskilled at just about everything. If you survive, you get to choose your class/profession when you progress to level 1.

We have always done this just by giving the character 10,000 EXP and using their chosen profession skill costs.

The point of the 0th level funnel, as it is called, is that it weeds out some characters, and only the fittest survive. DCC appears to be very much like Basic D&D (remember I have only looked through the quickstart, I haven’t played this at all) which means creating a character is a matter of minutes. In consequence, losing a character that took 3 minutes to make is of little consequence.

In Rolemaster terms, writing a 0th level adventure with only skill challenges, or maybe a fist fight for groups that really cannot go without combat, should be easy enough.

You could run a basic adventure using just Race and Culture abilities, making the characters pretty quick and easy to create.

Then you pit these 0th level characters against a local problem, some other 0th level antagonists and see how they play out. After that, you can level them up to 1st level.

I am ignoring the idea that 1st level is supposedly a child, and that RMu was suggesting 3rd level as a starting point.

Does this idea have legs?

It shouldn’t be any more lethal than any other game, if the characters are 0th level and the foes they face are equally 0th level, everything really comes down to problem solving and teamwork, not huge OB bonuses and spell lists.

Just a thought.

RMu Training Packages

The discussion on the forums that caught my eye this week was the discussion about RMu Training packages.

I am not a fan of Training Packages, but like Hurin pointed out, TPs are not part of the RM2/RMC way of thinking.

From the outside looking in, TPs appear to slow down character creation simply by dint of there being so many possible TPs to consider, add to book bloat, because TPs end up being spread over multiple companions and GM notes, and encourage min/maxing by picking TPs that give the biggest discounts for the skills or spells that you were going to buy anyway.

That looks like a really negative list. The reason there are no positives on it is because I have never played in a game with them, so I have never seen the benefits at the table.

But does RMu need them?

Need is a strong word. The way I see it is that if you have really nice rules for creating professions built in to the core rules, can the GM not just create unique variations of the core professions to reflect the subtleties of their setting? Nibble a point of a skill here, add a point there and you can shape the professions as you want them. If you want to make wood elf culture more brutal, make the performing arts and crafts more expensive and shave a point off of the combat and subterfuge skills.

It all remains balanced, it makes your world more unique and rich in lore.

I recently got to play with The Lore System. This is a d00 lite system. Its unique feature is called Lore Sheets. Sheets are a bit if a misnomer as a sheet is about 3 sentences. You work with the GM and then write two or three sentences in the first person. These sentences describe something of your place in the world, and come with a game mechanical advantage.

An example would be something like “I grew up in a gang run by the thieves guild in Eidolon, and still know many members. I get +5 to streetwise and attempts to bribe lower-ranking officials inside the city.

The nice thing about Lore Sheets is that they tie the character in to the setting. They are negotiated between the GM and player. That +5 could just as easily be +10 or +25. The bonuses the GM wants to give are up to them.

Another advantage is that there is no library of existing lore sheets that players need to browse through to find the lore sheets that fit their need.

TPs are described as history. Lore Sheets are rooted in the characters background/story but are also current. ‘I did this then, so I can do this now’.

In the Lore System, lore sheets come and go. If you upset the thieves guild, you could lose that benefit, but if you entered the employ of a lore master you could gain something else. As long as it is all wrapped up in the game world I think that lore sheets tick the same mechanical box as the TPs, without the min/maxing and game bloat drawbacks. Lore sheets also help a player understand where their character is coming from.

I know players that write their backstory during char gen, and then never reference it ever again. Lore sheets add the benefit, because they are written first person and feature on the character record, front and centre, that they instantly bring the characters background into the present.

The flaw with the lore sheet model is that it doesn’t sell books. You can fill entire companions with TPs. TPs build Companions and Companions drive sales.

Companions full of optional stuff is the ICE way of doing things, and it seems to work for PathFinder.

I, personally, would be cautious with doing that with RMu. The entire RM brand is sensitive to the accusation of bloat. That accusation is false and unfair, just look at PathFinder. RM is a minnow by comparison, but truth and opinion are often strangers.

I would launch the core rules, and then build adventures that use those rules. As soon as you start outputting optional rules, writing adventures becomes impossible. Optional rules produce power creep, simply by virtue of the fact that later characters had more options to choose from, so can choose options that suit them that earlier characters did not have.

As you get power creep, and adventure that is not optimised with the newest optional rules becomes a walkover for newer characters.

If an adventure does use all the available options, then the GM needs to have spent $1000 buying every possible book just to play a $9.99 adventure.

So that is my thoughts on TPs, but I reiterate, I haven’t used TPs so I don’t really know what good they do to a game. I have used lore sheets and I am very impressed with them. I will be introducing them into my game when we get to play face to face again.

2d8 Zombies revisited

I use 2d8 zombies as a ‘go to’ example for many situations. I idea is that 2 zombies is likely a pushover for most parties, 16 zombies is a likely TPK. In Rolemaster superior numbers can swing any battle.

My problem with 2d8 zombies is that it implies a carelessness about the encounter and the adventure. It suggests that no forethought went into the encounter.

If the encounter is a simple device to use up PP, healing or ammunition, then the GM should be scaling the encounter to be a specific level of threat. Too much and the characters may not make it to the BBEG. Too little and the encounter doesn’t do what the GM wanted.

That is what I normally think when I see adventures, probably converted from D&D or PF for use with Rolemaster.

But, what if you go with the randon ‘No. Appearing’?

Does every encounter need to be solvable? If there are 16 zombies this time, shouldn’t the party be thinking about a different approach rather than drawing blades and wading in?

If they met 2 zombies last time, and 3 zombies the time before that, they may well rush in, expecting there to be small numbers again, only to have to re-evaluate and extract themselves when they find out the true size of the force against them.

Does every encounter need to be solvable? That is a populat discussion in its own right.

My players would rather avoid than confront. This makes them rather easy to manipulate. You just put an obvious threat in the places you don’t want them to go, and they would rather not confront it.

Put an obvious threat in all directions and they have to do their little risk assessments to choose how best to ‘win’. They are obsessed with winning, this is not a group that are satisfied with staggering away with 1 #hit and a hard won victory. No, these guys want to walk away without a hair out of place.

They want to save the world, but doing it while well dressed and looking presentable.

I still think that rolling No. Appearing at the game table is not a good thing. If you roll it during GM prep, and then use the result to shape the encounter, or add meaning to it, then that is good.

The biggest gain I think could be that having an unexpectedly hard encounter may go counter to what you may normally choose to do. If the players are used to a few warm up battles, maybe increasing in severity as they get further in to the adventure, then random strengths of foes could throw them off balance.

This goes completely against my normal way of balancing encounter.

Thoughts on asymmetric combats in Rolemaster.

War Law (Rolemaster) [BOX SET]: Charlton, S. Coleman: 9781558060999:  Amazon.com: Books

Strangely, I started this blog post a month or so ago, and subsequently there has been several discussions re: War Law on the Forums or the Discord server.

Before I get started, I don’t think I have ever read War Law, but believe it allows bolt on rules for large combats by using a wargame style ruleset? (I used to play Squad Leader so I get turn based, hex movement, unit scale war gaming). So like many of posts and musings, the answer to many of my questions is probably somewhere in a Rolemaster Companion or War Law.

So my question is: Is there a simple, fast and effective way to run combats for larger numbers of combatants–especially situations that involve one or a few against many? Some people find Rolemaster combat slow and unwieldy and adding dozens of combatants can real bog things down.

I working on this because Chapter 4 of my “Legends of Shadow World” involves the players fighting HORDES of demons. On the plus side, this allows the characters to unleash and really utilize those 50th lvl, “mass” and “Lord” spells. On the down side, there is a bit of handwaving when it comes to tracking hundreds or thousands of foes on a large field of battle.

One thought I had was using the RMU size scaling system to have one attack role that represents dozens of same/similar attacks. Of course the total number of attacks should be limited by space limitations: front/flank/rear/up/down etc. OTOH, I don’t want combat to feel abstract, even if a 100′ wide fireball can essentially wipe out hundreds of densely packed foes.

I don’t want to reduce combat down to wargame rules–that feels right for armies, units and similar. For example, I’m thinking of situations where my group of 4-6 15th lvl players are confronting a zombie army of 100’s of undead, or swarms of giant wasps, or legions of orcs. The level disparity and skills of the players will generally mean each attack results in a kill or two, but a slow attrition rate can be boring. Even with the threat of open-ended rolls and criticals, my players never feel the sense of danger when confronting numbers of lower level creatures.

However, using a single “group” attack with a a larger OB that represents the likelihood of at least 1 of 12 attacks being successful AND scaling that damage results to represent the real threat can speed up these combats while still making them a challenge.

Anyone have any thoughts or played around with this? Has this already been addressed in a companion or zine?

ERA for Navigator RPG

Last week, I wrote that I hoped to see ERA for Navigator RPG soon. Yesterday Voriig Kye sent me the files!

The digital assistant is now live on DriveThruRPG, the core listing is PWYW and contains all three versions [Windows, MacOS and Linux].

There will be more datafiles in the future.

Talking of the future, Bare Metal Edition is still making progress. BME is a Rolemaster style core system. Originally, I thought of it as having no implied genre, but that is wrong. It has every genre. We already have rituals, magic, and psionics. On my to-do list is superpowers, not an area that Rolemaster has ever gone before to my knowledge despite having a past relationship with Hero Games.

Once BME approaches completeness, you will be able to add BME data files to ERA for Navigator RPG.

You can find the latest ERA on DriveThruRPG.

Solo Play

There is a module in the new ERA that you will not find in the Rolemaster versions.

Voriig Kye has taking the solo rules from Navigator RPG, which are functionally the same as the rules in HASP [High Adventure Solo Play] and automated them in ERA. I will do a post. probably next week on how you can solo play Navigator RPG or any HARP/Rolemaster using the new ERA version.

A New ERA

Some of you will remember that I wrote Navigator RPG last year, beta tested into the beginning of 2020 and published it in the Spring.

The game is PDF, premium softcover and premium hardcover.

And it looks really cool, even if I say so myself.

One my todo list is Pilot RPG, the natural partner to Navigator RPG and an as yet unnamed Cthulhu hack. Both of the latter games will be derived from Bare Metal Edition, which was also derived from Navigator RPG.

20200426_143236sml.jpg

Voriig Kye today sent me the full version of Navigator RPG ERA.

This is exciting for two reasons. The first is that this is the first 3rd Party addon to Navigator RPG. It was my intention right from the start that Navigator RPG should be a free and open platform for anyone to hack and play around with.

In August the game was downloaded 36 times. That may not sound a lot, but it is more than once a day, and although the game is free, and always will be, people are buying the physical books and what is more, they are donating through the PWYW channel as well.

What I want to do is take the game system in to new territory for the “Rolemaster way”. We have not had a 1920s Cthulhu game before, we haven’t had a Kelly’s Heroes WWII Rolemaster game either. Those are just the first two on my to do list.

New ERA

For ERA this is the first non-Rolemaster version. I would love to see ERA for some of the bigger name games out there, like Zweihander or Savage Worlds.

One of the reasons that I write for so many games, outside of Rolemaster, is that a broad spectrum reaches the most people. There is no reason why ERA could not have an audience and potential market of hundreds of thousands of GMs around the world.

I hope we will see ERA for Navigator RPG on DriveThruRPG soon!

Adventure and Daring Do!

Somethings just hang around for so long, that I kind of forget that they are still in progress. One of these has been the 50in50 Adventures.

I was looking this morning and realised that we have published four of the new season already.

In order they are:

The Haunted Dagger is an adventure hook featuring a dagger that has been possessed by the souls of some of those it has killed. These souls can provide benefits, or perhaps be a problem. Characters could try to utilise the dagger’s peculiar abilities, or they might try to release the souls.

Crypt of Shadows sees the characters exploring an ancient crypt below some standing stones that is guarded by druids, as they have been asked to do so to look for some ancient magic. The crypt is dangerous, though, and entering it will release packs of shadows.

The Horn of Holmir sees the characters hired to go and examine a burial boat that has recently been uncovered after a storm. The burial site is defended but more than that, other groups know of it and also want the treasure. Either trying to get there before the characters, or robbing them on the way back.

Treacherous Gold sees the characters stumble across a group of orcs escorting some hostages. The orcs think the characters are those they are meeting to exchange the hostages with for gold. The characters may choose to do so, or they may get ambushed by the orcs either before or after the exchange.

What I like about these right now, is that although they were written with Rolemaster in mind, they are actually stat-less. Treacherous Gold uses Orcs. Anyone can find the stats for orcs, for example.

Why that is cool right now is that again RMu is just around the corner. I know that we were told that RMu would be published in 2019 on way or another. Now we are told it is due in early 2021. That is little more than 3 months away.

Stat-less adventures can be played in any version of Rolemaster, you just plug in the monster stats, or NPC stats of your preferred edition and you are good to go.

With these being hot off the press, so to speak, none of your players will have played them before. Even if you parachute them into Shadow World or middle earth, they are still unique.

We can never have too many Rolemaster adventures. So far this is 4 down, 46 more to go. You have to love a challenge…