The Rolemaster Blog

Random Musings. Very High Level Adventures. Is “Balance” even possible?

This coming Tuesday (last night when this post is published) I’ll be running the final chapter to my 5 part series: Legends of Shadow World. The last chapter could be a stand alone adventure but is the denouement to the adventure path, typing up a lot of loose threads and presenting the group with an incredibly powerful adversary.

I’ve been parsing some data from the previous 4 sessions and feedback from the other 2 test groups (chapter 1) and will probably run my group through the series again. It won’t have the surprise/reveal elements from their first iteration, but we’ll be able to have a more open analysis during game play.

I’m using RM2 RAW, something I haven’t done for a VERY long time but want to maintain continuity with Terry’s ongoing SW material. The lack of our own house rules (combat maneuvers, multiple opponent rules, missile parry and initiative) makes RM melee feel very restraining. Most players are stuck with simple OB/DB split decision, although this becomes paramount when fighting high level foes.

RM has always been tricky in balancing encounters. DnDs Hit Point attrition system made matching groups and opponents more linear. Rolemaster criticals are the joker in the deck–a wild card that can immediately upend any possible balance a GM designs. This is not to say that the RM rules are broken at higher levels, but there are some immediate issues that are even apparent at lower levels.

  1. Outnumbering. Many, much lower level combatants can overwhelm powerful creatures. A dozen Warrior Monks (15 lvl) annihilated a 50th level character. Easily. The chance of at least 1 in 12 of scoring a potent crit result each round is quite high. Once a PC is compromised by a critical it’s “game over”.
  2. Lack of Buffs. RM2 Spell Law is really lacking in effective buff spells. People have commonly criticized my BASiL and Orhan lists as being too powerful (of course I disagree), but original Spell Law lists are pretty ineffective at high levels.
  3. Spell Attack/Counter Attack. While RM2 melee feels too simplistic, Spell Casters have SO MANY spells to choose from that strategic casting feels arbitrary. (a 50th lvl caster can have 300-500 spells!!)  Casters rarely have the luxury of countering a specific incoming spell, and to do so, would require them to forgo an offensive attack.
  4. Mixed Abilities/Protections. A hostile mixed group of NPC’s can be very deadly to a party. Even a small group comprised of a: creature immune to normal weapons; creature with high magical immunity; creature that is blinding fast, and one that is super strong could decimate a group. Each creature will require a different strategy or spell suite to counter effectively–basically dividing the groups economies of scale.
  5. The well balanced party….just does not work at high levels in RM. One effective critical against the M-U or Cleric will pull the rug from the whole group. Optimally the group needs to be almost all semi-spell users or have magic items that can allow each player to attack/defend/heal independently.

Let me end by saying that my players have had a blast with these high level adventures. They get to play known personalities, utilize spells they only have ever read about in Spell Law, encountered some CRAZY opponents and adventured in very unusual environments.  But no matter how I adjust the encounter levels in these adventures, I’m not sure there can be anything like “Balance”.