Those Risk Averse Heroes

Since my group has finally dragged itself into the 21st century and adopted VTT for games, we are playing more often than ever, possibly since school.

Something that I had noticed about my group when we used to play less frequently was that they were extremely risk averse. Their characters were far more calculated and even positively cowardly compared to anything I had seen before in any other group.

Now we are playing more often, and the Fantasy Grounds RMC ruleset makes creating characters incredibly easy, and a lot faster, I was curious if they would start to act more heroic.

The answer was no.

They are extremely mercenary, practical, strategic, but adventure and heroism is not on their CV/resume.

We recently started a 5e game. I don’t have much experience of 5e but I do know that once you get to about 3rd level it becomes quite hard to accidentally kill a party. Healing is common, even fighters get ‘second wind’ that heals a d10 or so hit points. You can die, the dice can always go against you and for the enemy, but characters have a lot of options to get out of a bad situation.

In this 5e game, I decided to be more gung-ho than should strictly be good for my health. I am playing a Cleric (War Domain) so I am far from inept.

At the first sign of something potentially dangerous I am in there with a cry of “Smite the Devil Spawn!” and flame strikes raining down from upon high.

The instant I start that all bar one of the other players steps up a gear and they start behaving like you would expect the main characters in a sword and sorcery tale should act.

I am beginning to think that they are not actually risk averse mercenaries after all. What they are is too worried about being the one to let the side down.

This brings me to another curious thing about these players highlighted by the difference in rule system. For a bunch of guys that don’t seem to want to get into danger, they are all optimised for one thing. They all have huge OBs.

Spend maximum DPs on your weapons skills, and plough your background options into Skill At Arms and your highest stats in ST and AG.

If there are any DPs left then some Body Dev, Perception and Moving in Armour, and possibly some stalk and hide.

The only reason anyone has any secondary skills is because we have 25% of our DPs restricted to only secondary skills, and that is mostly going on Herb Lore, reverse strike, IA strike, two weapon combo… you get the picture.

In the last session, there was a 70pt difference between the highest OB and the lowest amongst 3rd level characters.

In 5e everyone went for a standard array of stats, and beyond that, there are very few options to customise your character. All first level rangers are pretty much the same, all first level clerics are pretty much the same, and so on.

Because they are not allowed to optimise just one aspect of their characters, they are more capable all round.

So when I go ‘once more into the breech’ whatever today’s breech may be, they feel more capable of following. The exception to this is one player who is consistently hiding behind a meat shield of NPCs.

A regular tactic in the Rolemaster games is to parry with everything, to avoid being hurt, while one someone tries to get a positional advantage and attack with flank or rear, as if having 111 OB at 3rd level isn’t enough, you need that +15 for flank as well. When we are out numbered we are frequently in serious trouble.

I think I am going to add an NPC into my Rolemaster group and make them an ‘up and at ’em’ kind of character. What I am half expecting is that the players would happily let the NPC rush in and die, rather than take the initiative. What I am hoping that they do is find their get up and go.

Players ‘eh, can’t live with them, can’t live without them!

Rolemaster Fanzine #48

The Rolemaster Fanzine is now 4 years old.

Worryingly, I cannot remember what was in most of them.

What is funny, but not funny haha, is that right from the first issue, I was expecting the imminent release of RMu. It looks like that never happened!

This issue is the fourth in a series building up to a mini campaign. I am trying to hit just about every style of adventure there is. So far we have had a Greek themed village, an encounter with the undead, a wilderness encounter with werebears, an investigation into a missing child, and this month we have a dungeon crawl and a run in with a coven of nasty spell users in a swamp. There is also a sting in the tail encounter at the lakeside.

I mention in this issue that over the summer I am going to get every issue of the fanzine into Kindle format. I am also looking at getting them back into print. This was brought into sharp focus last night when the Guild Companion website went down.

At the time of writing, the site is still unavailable.

If this is gone for good, it will be terribly sad. I knew that the articles had dried up, but it has completed its journey from printed book to online to vanished. This is not the way that things should go.

What the RM community needs is for more exposure, more resources and more ways for people to find their way to Rolemaster.

I sincerely hope that the GC is only sleeping, and that it will be back. If it isn’t, we always welcome contributors to the blog, and to the fanzine. I will do my best to get the fanzine out to the widest audience.

Yes, that does look suspiciously like a dragon, no that is not a mistake.

Games: played or not played?

So I thought I would branch out into non-Rolemaster territory; mostly because I’ve been reading a lot other blogs and I have been thinking about my early years of roleplaying.

Like many rolemaster players in their late 40s or 50s I started with D&D and worked my way through other games and systems in the heyday of the gold/silver age of roleplaying. From middle school to halfway through highschool we were open to experimenting with other games and genres but unlike other players I’ve talked to, I ended up sticking to Rolemaster from high school to now with brief times playing Castles & Crusades with my brother.

Today I wanted to talk about 2 games, one I played and the other I didn’t but was intrigued with.

Game I played:

Ringworld (role-playing game) - Wikipedia

First, I should mention that I never actually received my physical high school diploma (I graduated) due to 2 overdue, never returned library books: Ringworld and the Dirty Dozen. If you have read Ringworld you might have realized that it would make a great campaign setting. Per the wiki entry:

The game is intended to be set on the Ringworld itself, an enormous single world discovered at the far reaches of Known Space, a ring around a sun at approximately the orbit of the Earth. It is 997,000 miles wide, about 125 Earth-diameters. The total inner surface of the ring is equal to that of 3 million Earths. The ring is spun at a speed to provide 0.992G of gravity on the innerside, while 20 giant shadow squares at about the orbit of Mercury occlude the Sun to provide night. It was constructed by the Pak Protectors, now mostly extinct, who had a common origin with humans. The Ringworld is home to some 30 trillion sentient inhabitants from up to 2000 hominid species.

I bought the box set, a companion and I think a supplement on tech and equipment. While much of the game system is vague now, the setting is still compelling and a bit like Shadow World. I mix of fantasy and sci-fi, technology that can easily be confused with magic, and a mix of cultures. I can’t recall if we played a lot of Ringworld, but we certainly immersed ourselves in the game system and the “rulefication” of a popular book. For many of us, the challenge to adapt a ruleset to a literary setting, or design new rules to accommodate a setting was, and is still, a favorite topic.

Game I didn’t play.

Twilight: 2000 and its amazing hook – Yore

Maybe it was the ads in Dragon magazine, or maybe it was my deep interest in WWII history, but I was fixated and curious about this game. Plus I was reading Axler’s Deathlands series and felt this might have some similarity to it.

But, I never bought it and don’t think I played it with anyone else. To be honest, once I tried Rolemaster in ’83, I was overly critical of simplistic combat rules. From what I read about the game, I was skeptical about the game mechanics.

It’s my understanding that the game has undergone new editions (maybe to reflect the different historical results of 2000AD and beyond?). Has anyone tried this game?

What I’m reading.

There are many ways to get my creative juices flowing, but perhaps the most fundamental is just reading: fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, historical novels. I tend to read in clusters of topics and since I’m reading quite a bit of fantasy and catching up on authors and series that I left languish during COVID, I thought I’d blog about several of them.

I’m not sure if I ever read Vance “back in the day”, but I thought it worth exploring given various blog posts I read that reference Tales of the Dying Earth and Appendix N. The D&D DNA is certainly there; especially in the magic system and I found the stories enjoyable. I also enjoy the vague references to ancient, technologically advanced societies. One of the reason’s I enjoy Shadow World.

I’ve mentioned Adrian Selby’s first work, Snakewood. His setting is low magic with only a handful of Magic-Users. Instead, the world is driven by mercenaries and fighters that use “Brews”; basically a potion that enhances strength, speed and senses like a supercharged dose of steroids. I’ve already started working on a SW version of this which combines alchemy and herbs since I’m not a fan of “magic potions”.

I read Liavek and it’s sequel back in the 80’s and apparently there has been many more books in the series over the following decade. Setting anthologies were popular in the 80’s, the most well-known being Thieves World. I wanted to revisit Liavek as part of my process writing Nontataku–a city module for Shadow World. Anyway, these are light but fun reading. Will Shetterly, the editor has also written one of my old favorites: Witch Blood.

What are you reading?

Shadow World & Monsters

I am playing a (now) 3rd level Druid in a Shadow World game. We started out in Haalkitaine and then traveled southwards towards a place called Swink.

So far, excluding the humanoid races, giant rats, harpies, goblins, and we are on the hunt for trolls.

The humanoids that have fallen to the fighters’ blades have been dwarves, elves, and humans.

We have experienced one essence storm, from a distance, but at the moment, absolutely nothing has jumped out at me, literally or figuratively, to tell me what is special about Shadow World.

In my own game, I have been homebrewing a world on the hoof, as we play. I decided that the world doesn’t have cows, the niche as common farm animal for food, milk, and leather is filled by something called an Ootan. They are rather like a buffalo or bison but without the horns. It is a tiny change, but it makes creates a significant difference. You do not want to stampede a herd of Ootan, even less than you would want to stampede cattle. Barns are bigger as well, and you get really big steaks.

Chickens have been replaced by Duka, they are your typical farmyard poultry but they mimic like parrots.

So far, in Shadow World, I am not getting anything that is making me think the world is any more special than Greyhawk.

I have played one previous campaign in SW and eventually we came across some high tech, in an underground wizards compound, we also eventually encountered Navigators, but these things came very late in the game.

I am assuming that they are not common? They certainly haven’t been in my explorations so far.

I think the biggest disappointment has been the monsters. Harpies, Goblins and Trolls are just standard fantasy fayre. Surely, SW has something that is uniquely SW and at the same time a viable challenge for a party of 3rd and 4th level characters?

What makes players fall in love with Shadow World?

Low level combat in Rolemaster.

Building 1st Level Combat Encounters: SlyFlourish.com

There is a lot of discussion and criticism of the deadliness of Rolemaster’s combat system. Many times, these critiques are used in conjunction with arguments about the impotency of Level 1 characters. Unfortunately, this type of talk may turn people off from trying Rolemaster, the older versions or the upcoming RMu edition. The good news is that the deadliness of RM’s combat is probably overstated and outlier results can be easily addressed by good GMing, proper planning and some defensive strategies by the players.

For me, as a GM and player, low level adventuring is often the most rewarding. Level advancement feels like a real achievement, the stakes are high when survivability is uncertain and each new ability feels earned and appreciated.

I’ve heard descriptions that RM levels 1-5 are the frustrating “kill zone” range, 5-10th seem to be the normative gaming range, 11-15th are normal for longer run campaigns, and levels 15+ are much rarer. That’s probably as it should be, with general character ranges following a distribution curve of some form.

There is an older post from 2010 that covers some basic strategies for low level combat, and while much of it seem commonsensical, it bears review from time to time.

As a GM though, it’s relatively easy to design encounters that the group not only has a good chance of surviving, but can do so with some simple planning.

Encounter #. For me, this is the simplest approach to handling low level encounters. Having the group face a single foe has many advantages. First, it allows them to work cooperatively in a group and balance the various skills and abilities. Second, the focus of the group against one target improves upon their chance of success, and conversely reduces the random risk of a severe critical that kills a player. Rolemaster’s open-ended system is flexible, but the law of averages will create very high rolls and critical results. The more attack rolls a GM makes, the more likely an aberrant result. Having a dozen foes, even low powered ones, will make the odds of a high roll more likely.

Intel. Provide the PCs a chance to gather some intel or observation about the foe. Is there a mysterious animal attacking villagers in the night? Providing some clues about the creatures size, type of attack or similar details will allow them to plan for the encounter better.

Picking the battle map. RM allows for significant combat modifiers for terrain and cover. If the players can choose the terrain, they can tip the combat to their advantage and favor. Partial cover, bottlenecks or rear attacks against a single opponent give a group of low level characters more than a fighting chance.

Certainly, individual strategies like the use of shield, parrying and armor and weapon selection matter, but overall, it’s the GMs responsibility to provide balanced encounters, and the players responsibility to be prudent and strategic to survive! Rolemaster combat doesn’t have to be deadly, but rather dangerous and rewarding.

Summary of Miscellaneous Musings on Spell Law, BASiL and RM Magic.

53 Chaos' Magical Languages ideas | runes, book of shadows, ancient symbols

With RMu seemingly close to release, I’ve left my BASiL project on the back burner for quite some time. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m focusing more on game content rather than rules or rule hacks. Rolemaster & Shadow World needs more game support, not more Companions or optional rules. Plus, I’ve found everyone is fairly set in their ways using their own house rules, are waiting for RMu, or I rapidly change my own house rules as I progress. In fact, my participation here on the Rolemasterblog has slowly shifted me to more “rule light” than my previous drift to rule density. I like grittiness but am pushing back on complexity.

Eladans participation here on the RMBlog and over at the Forums, has re-opened some of the broader discussions on spells, lists, base lists and spell functioning. I had some thoughts rolling around, so I thought I would excise them via a blog post! An older summary can be found HERE.

  1. Revisting Spell Law Mechanics.
  2. Essence. Mechanics. The skill bonus is the appropriate Magical Language Skill. You can read more thoughts on this HERE.
  3. Channeling. You can read some thoughts HERE, and I’ve written extensively on this blog about channeling.
  4. Mentalism. I probably tinker with Mentalism more than any other “realm”. Here are my last thoughts about this. There were some comments and concerns about the impact of concentration on gameplay. Lately, I’ve been allowing the total number of spell levels cast not to exceed the total ranks in Mental Focus. So 10 ranks of Mental Focus would allow the caster to have 10 1st level spells “running” or 2 5th lvl spells etc. It’s less complicated but still models the appeal of “partitioning” that comes from Mental Focus.
  5. Notational Magic. Eladan’s posts over on the Forums, made me revisit some of my thoughts on Notational magic. You can read my original post HERE.
  6. Investiture/Enchanting. I haven’t done a deep dive on my solutions for imbedding and creating magical items. Mostly because the spell lists are fairly simple, much of the sausage making takes place out of game time and I built a very simple system for making magic items in game time. Some thoughts can be found HERE.
  7. Rendered/Performance Magic. I haven’t written much about this at all. First I need to put a lot more time into this, it’s potentially the most complex and interesting realm and it could add a lot of new magical layers to the Spell Law system. The concept of magic as performance is not new or novel, but utilizing it in gameplay can be.

This is just a summary of a handful of relevant posts I’ve made over the last 5 years! My thoughts and views evolve, but I always enjoy other thinking “outside the box”!

Why Realms?

As my project to convert RM2 professions into the new RMU format continues, I continue to run up against an issue that has plagued me through every iteration of Rolemaster: a lack of distinction amidst the various professions, due in large part to the constant overlapping of spell lists.

As I continue to analyze the issue, I realize part of it is tied to concept of realms of magic. The problem as I see it is twofold:

1. Repeating Lists – Certain lists have repeating versions across the realms (Mentalism and Essence both have an attack avoidance list with Bladeturn/Deflect, Channeling and Essence both have a Delving/Lore list, etc).

2. Realm Focus vs Professional Focus – It seems like certain professions are over or underpowered based on their realm, and don’t necessarily match the concept of the profession itself (While Paladins are a martial semi-spell using class, and their base lists reflect this, they don’t have access to attack avoidance spells, while the Bard and Dabbler do).

I know this has been discussed to some extent, and some of you have even integrated house rules to correct these discrepancies. For me though, the concept of realms is the culprit. As far as I can tell, realms are really a holdover from ICE’s connection to Middle-Earth, derived from the concepts of power in that universe. If RMU is going to be a more generic system that allows world-building, I think a new vision of magic might help clear up some of these problems. Enter the concept of Spheres.

I’ll admit there are some D&D / Mage: Ascension genes in this idea, but here are the broad strokes:

🔸 Rather than three overly-broad realms, I have been building a new experimental list of Spheres, each with three lists, that are categorized thematically (Healing, Perceptions, Knowledge, Movement, Nature, etc)

🔸 Instead of each profession having access to 10 open and 10 closed lists, pure spell users have access to 3 primary spheres (with open costs) and 3 secondary spheres (with closed costs) that are assigned based on their specific profession. This gives them initial access to 18 lists vs the current 20 per realm, with all other lists perhaps having restricted costs. For semis, perhaps 2/2 spheres?

🔸 Each profession still has full access to their 6 base lists at the corresponding cost.

The real advantage to this in my mind is that it forces some diversity amongst the various professions. Instead of every Mentalism or Essence using profession having access to Bladeturn, a Monk might have access to the “Combat” Sphere (Anticipations/Attack Avoidance/Damage Resistance) while a Magent has access to the “Chi” Sphere (Self-Healing, Speed, Shifting). Obviously the lists might need some adjustment and swapping, but this prevents everyone in the game from dumping ranks into Attack Avoidance early on and requires that characters play to varied strengths.

This also allows GM’s to balance spheres across professions to match their respective power levels in terms of development costs. Realms can still be used to balance spellcasting requirements such as armor and verbal/gesture limitations when casting. Rangers still can cast in leather, Mages still can’t, etc.

I am hesitant to post a picture of my list of spheres up here, only because I’m not sure of the nuances of the privacy agreement we all sign as RMU play testers, but would be happy to share if you think it’s acceptable. Thoughts? Am I complicating something that doesn’t need revision? Or is this a new mechanic that might help streamline professions for you somewhat?

Rolemaster game settings and Shadow World boxed sets.

ICE Shadow World 6100 Emer - The Great Continent | #129387579

The most recent post in Grognardia had me thinking about a number of issues around game settings, game material and the appeal of the old school box sets. The Grognardia blog was a review on a early 80’s Chaosium/Runequest box set: Borderlands. I admit that I have no experience with Runequest or this product, but the blog evoked fond memories of older game products we did use and enjoy.

First, I want to point out a quote that James is quoting in his blog (bold emphasis is mine):

Borderlands is another good example of what Chaosium did well: present a large area of Glorantha in an approachable fashion and never forgetting to make it gameable. That’s very important to me. However interesting and evocative a game’s setting may be, one must never lose sight of its purpose: to foster adventure in the game itself. Setting for setting’s sake seems to me to miss the point..”

As soon as I read this I immediately thought of Shadow World. There are lots of reviews on Shadow World products that can be found on the web, but two of the most persistent are it’s “Kitchen sink” nature and it feels so high level as to preclude useful adventuring. The first complaint I attribute to the non-canon SW modules; no matter their quality, they so varied in theme and tone that it gave SW a very generic feel. I challenge anyone to read Xa’ar or Emer material and argue that it’s a generic setting.

Beyond that though, I wonder if Shadow World is a better narrative product than a practical adventure material? As James asks:

“…a setting through adventures rather than through pages upon pages of background information, a “show, don’t tell” approach…”

Shadow World books are certainly great to read; the timeline alone is a significant piece of work product that is filled with depth and campaign ideas. But I’m reminded that many people’s favorite SW books are Quellbourne and Norek–both are foundational low level settings with generic fantasy concepts but are definitely not Terry’s writing style. So is Shadow World more inspirational than usable? Is it more cool than practical? I’m not speaking for myself; I write and use SW exclusively since I have so much time invested in the setting and not enough time to commit to other game systems or settings.

What about other settings? We used Rolemaster in some other settings:

Middle Earth. Like everyone else, we shifted from D&D to Rolemaster, but still wanted to play in Middle Earth. For us, it was mostly a campaign using The Court of Ardor, but I don’t recall ever getting to the higher level narrative. Thinking back though, I’m not sure much of the MERP books were playable in the way that James is discussing.

Midkemia Press. One of our favorites, and very reminiscent of Borderlands mentioned above and perhaps much of the early Judges Guild products were the Midkemia books. Of course a quick read of the first Midkemia novel Magician: Apprentice reveals it’s roots in a rpg game. This makes the associated game material so “useable”. We especially liked Jonril: Gateway to the Sunken Lands.

I try to be conscientious when writing SW material, and part of the process for me is adventure hooks. That’s why the Rolemasterblog 50 in 50 is such a good exercise; it forces me to continually come up with short adventure sparks that might not fill pages, but could end up using several game sessions and mutate into a significant narrative. I also want to maintain roots in those early game sessions that I played. SW may not be dungeon oriented, but my early gaming years were spent in the search of treasure!

I also wanted to comment on boxed sets. SW was launched with the original box set, but honestly, it felt a little underwhelming. Emer: the Great Continent was a vast improvement–especially the darket cult aspects and the addendum material. But, like Borderlands, box sets were a feature of early gaming.

Will there ever be a future for box sets in Shadow World or for I.C.E.? In the new world of digital media and print on demand, I doubt the economies work for such a product…but let’s use our imagination. I imagine 2 box sets, a final capstone on Terry’s work that completes the 2 main continents: Jaiman & Emer.

Box 1. Jaiman.

  1. Gazetteer Jaiman. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview.
  2. Jaiman Players Guide
  3. Jaiman I, the NW.
  4. Jaiman II, the NE.
  5. Jaiman III, the SE.
  6. Jaiman IV, the SW. .
  7. City Books. Lethys, Norek, Haalkitaine.
  8. Book of Adventures. Legacy of the Sea Drake and assorted adventures.
  9. Atlas Jaiman. maps and more maps.

Box 2. Emer.

  1. Gazetteer Emer. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview and more maps!
  2. Emer Players Guide
  3. Emer I
  4. Emer II
  5. Emer III
  6. Emer IV
  7. City Books. Eidolon + 2-3 others.
  8. Book of Adventures.
  9. Atlas Emer. maps, maps and more maps. GM maps, city maps, player maps, treasure maps. etc.

Looking that over, most of the work is already done and Terry probably has little incentive for one last re-write or re-org. But imagine a kickstarter campaign that funds this work and new artwork and lots and lots of maps. Would that be of interest to anyone? Plus it would cement both continents into final organized products with a TON of material for years of play. I can’t imagine Terry tackling another continent in a comprehensive way that took decades of work for Jaiman and Emer.

As stand alone books, there is well over $100+ in print products. As a kickstarter you could offer special maps, or similar incentives to tier pledges. What would you pay for that product? Finally, if you could group fund it and raise the capital, why not stat it for RMu. Tackle the whole thing once and for all.

In summation:

  1. What are your thoughts on the playability of SW material?
  2. Besides ME, have you used SW in other settings?
  3. Do you have a favorite box set from the Golden Age or something more recent?

Hirazi. Race or Monster?

Winged Folk | Ogre Battle Saga Wiki | Fandom

I recently wrote on my blog topic “Race or Monster” and discussed the Krylites in Shadow World. Like the blog previous to that on the Neng, I wanted to explore the suitability of non PC races for use as player characters. Given that racial stats are provided for virtually all humanoid creatures, it doesn’t seem a stretch, even if playing a “monster” creates in-game social issues.

This time around I wanted to discuss an actual Shadow World race that may be ill-suited for PCs: the Hirazi. Here is some data from the Atlas:

Hírazi:

  1. No professional limitations.
  2. Large, muscular humans, with wide shoulders to support their wing structures.
  3. Their bones are hollow, their lungs are huge, and their muscles have a
    unique structure which makes them very light.
  4. This race is rather fragile.
  5. Their fabulous wings are covered with plush white feathery hairs like those of a bird—vary in color from blue to white to gold, often a shimmering combination of the above.
  6. A Híraz may fly at up to 30 mph for short periods (1 min/con pt)
  7. They may acquire skill in gliding and travel for hours on thermals.
  8. An adult Híraz can carry up to about half his/her weight for short distances at half-speed

Having a winged humanoid is interesting, but not only could it be potentially unbalancing, but the player would be severely limited in a variety of environments. In fact, when you examine their flying ability, they have some short-comings there as well. So they don’t seem very good underground, underwater, in cities, in small confined spaces and can’t really fly fast or for very long….

I’ve never used Hirazi in my SW campaigns. Not as PCs, NPCs or even as window dressing. So what’s everyone’s opinion?