RMU Creature Law First Impressions

Copyright; 2002-2014 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC. All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.

The new public playtest editions of RMU are monsters. Creature Law weighs in at 898 pages (Spell Law is now 475 pages) and to do them any justice is going to require time to really read them. That said I thought I would share some first impressions and first up is Creature Law.

I am really pleased to see the inclusion of the genric NPC tables. In old versions of Character Law there was always a table that gave you each profession and typical stats and skills at 1st, 3rd, 5th level and so on so if you needed a quick NPC you could just lift one off the page. Well this is now back and it is better than ever before. They are now called Archetypes and they have been developed for every level from 1st to 50th. Rather than having a list of Magicians from 1st to 50th and then Thieves 1st to 50th now you have generic descriptions such as Offensive, Defensive, Skilled, Semi Spell User and so on. The advantage to this method seems to be that however many new professions* the powers that be decide to add to the game these tables should continue to hold true.

Staying with the Archetype tables this gives me something else that is valuable. When you are creating new PCs for the first time with a new ruleset, having a benchmark you can measure your creation against is a useful tool.

You are not going to buy Creature Law just for a list of generic NPCs. You want monsters and lots of them. This leads me on to a negative point. Creature Law does not look or feel like a second beta version. What if feel like is something any one of us would cobble together in word if you were making a load of new monsters for a particular game. The tables of stats are all over the place. It just feels like a mess. Worst of all the terrible terse enviornmental codes still exist. I do not know anyone who likes these and these days they serve no purpose except to make the book hard to read, understand and use.

All in all I would say I am disappointed at first glance. This book simply is not of the same quality as the other RMU works to date and feels like someone was ruhing to get their homework in on time.

To sum up, great ideas but terrible execution.

* I get the impression that the intention is after the initial release of RMU core rules is to release companion after companion. I understand that the percieved wisdom is that every company has a need to continue to generate new sales but the main criticisms of Rolemaster has been that it is too complicated, has too many optional rules and too many charts and tables. Following the same route again that taking a new set of rules and then adding in more and more options, complications and charts just seems to be repeating the mistakes of the past.

PC Perils #6 When is a rock not a rock?

Rolemaster Logo

Take a little look at this photo. You may well think that this is a rock, quite a big rock but a rock all the same.

The Bowl Rock from Lelant Down, Cornwall

The thing is that this isn’t just a rock, this is ammunition!

The rock is sitting in the valley below a hill fort known as Trencrom, Anyone who has read any Conan books just has to love anywhere that ends in “-Crom”. Aside from being a neolithic enclosure and iron age hill fort Trencrom was the home of Trecobben the giant. Trecobben killed Cormelian, wife of Cormoran the Giant living on St. Micheals Mount by hurling a hammer at her and Cormoran returned fire with rocks and boulders. What you see above is one of Cormorans ‘near misses’.

Cormoran himself is famous for being the giant killed by Jack the giant killer in the ‘fairytale’,

Cormoran The Giant with Jack the Giant Killer

But I digress, the thing is that the rock that missed is half burried in the earth so is at least twice as massive as depicted in the photograph. Many a time I have told players that something is hurling a rock at them but once you have seen what sort of rock it is it really adds more weight to that sentence. The next time you decide to take on an enraged giant just bear in mind it will be throwing boulders the size of small houses at you and if Cormoran was typical in giant terms, he threw that rock about 3 miles (nearly 5km).

Parry that!

Spears, The Ultimate Weapon

There are often discussions on which is the best or most powerful profession, bsst or most powerful spell or spell list and so on. I am going to share my thoughts on Spears.


A great many professions can only realistically expected to develop one weapon skill. This is especially true of the pure and hybrid spell casters whose points cost are normally along the lines of 9, 20, 20 , 20 and so on. If your concept of the spell caster was layed down in your formative years playing D&D then it is almost instictive to think dagger or staff for your weapon. The lord of the rings movies atleast give Gandalf a sword. I think spears should be the ‘go to’ weapon of choice.

Here is my reasoning.

  1. Most spears are wooden and contain very little metal. This is a good thing for all spell casters excepting the Mentalists for whom it is a non-issue.
  2. As a spell caster you are unlikely to be in the front line during combat but the reach of the spear allows you to take part but at a safe distance, preferable from behind a big burly fighter. (or evenmore prefferably behind a Amazonian warrior princess in little more than a chain mail bikini, or is that just me?)
  3. Talking of the reach of a spear, they get a nice healthy initiative bonus on the first round of combat. If you really need all the bonuses going your way then going first in a fight is no bad thing.
  4. Still talking about the reach of a spear, no one seems to carry 10′ poles any more but a spear is the next best thing.
  5. At least once you will give in to the urge to use your pole vault skill using your spear. I know this isn’t just me as there is an illusionist in Heroes and Rogues (Ryssa Tyrpal) who does exactly that!
  6. If your version of Arms Law allows it then you can use your spear with your shield (-10OB for one handed in the RMC Arms Law).
  7. The spear is a sort of cross over weapon. If you look at the similar weapons table  assuming your GM allows you to throw your spear at half skill then it is worth carrying some javelins (or Pilum) as these are similar. Your one weapon skill now allows you both a melee and ranged weapon.
  8. Spears are similar to quarter staff or the wizards friend as I like to call it. Everyone knows that the most powerful daily items seem to be either rings or staves so if you are lucky enough to get a magic staff at least you can fight with it! If you are dumped in the middle of nowhere with no kit then you can probably find a big stick you can use as a staff (or failing that as a club as a spear is also similar to cudgel)
  9. Spears are similar to lances! Oh yes, if the party is going in a mounted charge against that knot of orcs then you can join in the fun. You can take this even further, a bit of displacement here, blade turn there, a shield spell and an illusionary (for the non-mentalists) set of plate and you can even go jousting.
  10. In total a spear is ‘similar’ to 10 different weapons from pilums to pole arms but importantly none of them are swords. Every Tom, Dick and Harry carrys a sword so when it comes to dividing up the treasure they all fight over the swords and bows but your spear skill gives you a massive selection most of which no one else can use.
  11. For Mentalists, of all sorts, spear, shield plus chain or plate armour and you can go carousing with the fighters and no one bats and eyelid. Try that in wizards robes and it is a real conversation killer. The wizard failing to chat up the barmaid is frankly embarrassing, a fighter failing to chat up the barmaid is par for the course and no one will give it a second thought.

This was going to be ten good reasons for carrying a spear but as you can see the spear gets 11 or 10. What more can I say?

Book Review The Loremaster Legacy

It seems like a lot of the fantasy fiction I have been reading lately has been more about relationships against a fantasy background that the hack and slash of yesteryear. In the same way that Trudi Canavan explores relationships against the backdrop of the magicians guild in The Black Magician Trilogy and other works so it is with Terry K Amthor’s Shadowstone Chronicles Book One The Loremaster Legacy.

The work itself is a coming of age story of two young nobles who get caught up in events beyond anything they had imagined. As the first book, in an ongoing chronicle, this book is very much about their beginnings, finding their feet in the world and discovering their talents all while events threaten to over take them.

The fantasy world setting for the novel is of course Shadow World and as readers of this blog many of you will be somewhat familiar with the setting. From that point of view I think the Loremaster Legacy brings that world to life wonderfully. You get to meet or at least see at work many of the great figures of Shadow World as well as glimpses of the technology that lurks constantly in the background. In many ways this book is as much science fiction as it is epic fantasy.

As a novel it is easy to read and is engaging and as the first instalment of a series it leaves a great many hanging threads and unanswered questions. You do get to meet the Loremasters, Priest of Arnak, Dragon Lords as well as characters from off world which goes to demonstrate both how rich a world setting Shadow World is and the scope of the chronicles to come.

I have read the book twice now and I am impatient for the second part. My only criticism is that the book introduces a substantial cast of characters and at times it can be confusing as to who is who, Jad and Tad were the two that had me confused for a page or two) and a few of those characters leave little lasting impression. That aside this is a damn fine book.

If you are a gamer in Shadow World then I would say this is a must read book.

If you are a roleplayer of any genre then you will certainly identify with the central characters as they start their careers.

If you are neither then why are you reading this blog, although you are welcome of course.

Terry K Amthor’s The Loremaster Legacy is available on Amazon here as well other online sites.

Unified Rolemaster Beta Two is coming!

Rolemaster Logo

At the beginning of month we had the usual director’s briefing from Nicholas Caldwell at Guild Companion Publications. This month (June 2015) we were told that Beta 2 of RMU is almost upon us.

Three days ago they tweeted that the second beta is coming soon. I really hope they are beating the drums in preparation for the release.




What is slightly worrying is that we have had RMU beta one since 2012 and issues are still coming to light now, the most recent I can remember being the way healing magic works. I myself only just noticed that Spell Law has introduced material components, of sorts, for Wall spells for the first time. You cannot cast a wall spell unless you are withing 50′ of a piece of the material you want the wall to be made out of. So no water walls more than 50′ away from a water source, no walls of wood in a desert and so on.

The initiative and round sequence got people agitated last time and if it isn’t changed then it will end up as something most poeple will ignore or house rule around, I believe. I find it just too cumbersome to use at present and slow. I am all in favour for light and fast in my games. If they have changed the initiative and round sequence then that will require serious examination. This is always going to be a thorny subject for the RM community as it seems that the creators have a desire for accuracy and real world modelling that is not necessary shared or matched by the actual players.

For RMU to succeed it has to be the game system that draws in tens of thousands of new players to the game. RMU Beta 1 was not that system (again, in my opinion).

Another achillies heel for Rolemaster is that it is such an fantasically flexible system with its modular approach that for the existing user base it is perfectly possible to take what they like from RMU and integrate it into their current games without having to make that commitment to buy the new system. I have already done this to some extent. I really liked the idea of the Vocational Skill and I am now using that, I liked the experience system so I am using that and I like many of the spells in spell law and I am encouraging players to research them and I will research RMU spells in a game where I am playing. Really RMU can be reduced down to nothing more than another companion or set of companions from which you can pick and choose what you want to integrate into your world.

There is no way any RPG games company can force people to upgrade to a new version and very few of us will because we have invested too much in learning the exisitng rules, buying the books and creating our worlds around those rules. To throw it all away is a lot to ask just to buy a new set of rules designed to achieve the same objective but without all the community support that is out there right now.

What I have not seen yet is a USP orUnique Selling Point for RMU that is going to go out there and grab the next generation of table top gamers.

Multimedia, multi-screen or multi-device?

Bearing in mind that we are still only waiting for Beta 2 and nothing is finished yet maybe what RMU needs is to take the Unified part and take it off paper, so on release day make sure that there is an RMU combat minion, RMU ERA and even RMU fantasy grounds module.

I have made a fairly simple pdf of all the most commonly used GM charts (base spells, RRs, MM and SM tables). I have this on a tablet pc when I am GMing and it saves me about 50 book checks every session at least. It is just a flick of a finger to scroll through all the most commonly used charts.

None of those components are required but if you want to go electronic then they can make life easier. I have all the rules for my game, every npc and all my adventure notes all saved in dropbox and therefore on my PCs, phone and tablet. It doesn’t matter where I am, I can answer player questions or create an adventure.

I personally do not think that is enough to grab an entire new generation of players but it is a step in the right direction.

Group Experience vs Personal Experience

Rolemaster Logo

I have been thinking about this while I have been cycling to the office and back this week. At present I use a hybrid of the two versions and those that will get to play in my pbp game will be under these rules. I like the idea of group experience because it keeps the supporting characters advancing at the same or similar rates as the group super stars but on the other hand personal experience can favour the players that put the most effort into game.

Group Experience

I can see the logic that the whole adventure is a shared experience and the result of team work. The player is not necessarily playing every minute of every day yet the characters live those minutes. You play out the combats but not the hours of practice around the camp fire. As such the sparring partner could have just as much input into the final played out battle as the fighter wielding the sword but is never featured in the game.

I have seen two group experience methods. The first you just keep a tally of all the experience earned by the party and then divide that by the number of characters. Everyone earns the same. You can then of course add a bonus here or there for good play, ideas and such.

The other option is that you don’t bother keeping a tally of the experience earned. You just have a total award for completing the adventure. Once the adventure is over the party earns that amount of experience, again with or without bonuses for good play.

The pros are that the party all stay at roughly the same level and that characters such as the party healer do not fall behind the fighters because they cannot rack up the experience.

The cons are that some players may feel they are contributing a lot more than others to the success of the party but are not rewarded for that effort.

Individual Experience

Here you are keeping a personal tally of all the experience earned for each character in the group and that is what they earn. Logically this is rock solid. The character used these skills and learned this much from doing so. The problem is that although the party wouldhave been nothing than a smear on the floor if it wasn’t for the healer, healing wounds does not attract the same experience as delivering them.

The pros are that effort is rewarded, the more you do the more you earn.

The cons are that it is easy for non combative characters to fal behind and that some characters can advance much faster than others creating an imbalanced party. When that imbalance equates to whole levels then the higher level characters find it easier to earn experience because they are stronger, tougher and more skilled than their colleagues and so they continue to earn proportionally more experience in a vicious circle.

The Compromise

I have adopted the experience system from RMU into my RMC game. RMU uses individual experience awards for defeating creatures and such (100-500exp) but also story awards (upto about 1000exp) for completing certain key elements of the story and finally plot awards that can be up to 10,000exp for completing major plot milestones. I am using the story and plot awards as party experience but with individual awards on top. I also do not see defeating a creature as having to kill the creature. If there are guards between you and your objective then killing the guards is only one option, sneaking successfully past them would be just as valid and, in my game, earn the same experience.

Each game session may contain several story milestones. In the last session I ran defeating the drow priestess was an important milestone as was the disposing of the drow magician and rescuing the dwarven slaves. The party sucessfully did all of these but only the priestess died (actually a lot of Drow warriors died but the party caught them by surprise during a religious vigil and it turned into a masacre), the drow wizard was forced to flee sacrificing his apprentice along the way and all the dwarves got out alive with their few possessions recovered from the Drow coffers. So in this case the party picked up three story awards.

So here we get a mix of the two with the largest awards going to the entire party but with individual awards to top them up.

Unified Rolemaster Arms Law revisited.

Copyright; 2002-2014 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC. All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.

I’m sure I have said this before but Rolemaster is often portrayed as a heavy weight game but this really isn’t true. I have been looking at the RMU Arms Law (Beta 1) again and then entire combat system rules comes in at 31 pages for the most sophisticated combat system I have ever come across. It is multi skilled, flexible handles dozens of weapons, improvised weapons, parrying and spells all in a coherent whole. That isn’t a bad thing to be honest and is no mean feat.

Unified Rolemaster Arms Law
Unified Rolemaster Arms Law

The RMU Arms Law is very much evolution over revolution. Where we used to have skills that were pass or fail, it worked or it didn’t now the emphasis is on skills reducing the penalties for more difficult actions. The most common situations for these would be blind fighting, using two weapons and quick draw or Iai strike. I quite like this design philosophy and the way it meshes in with haste and speed type spells works well.

What I like the most about the new Arms Law is the armour by the piece rules. This takes me right back to the good old MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) days. In that old system there were just 5 armours being none, soft leather, rigid leather, chain and plate. If you chose to wear a helm or greaves it did not change your armour type it simple reflected in the critical delivered. Every additional piece of armour came with some sort of penalty such as on perception rolls for helms and movement for leg greaves and so on. In RMU we have 10 armour types, still a big reduction on the ‘normal’ 20 types in RM2/RMSS. Those ten do not take into account the greaves and helms. Those accessories are reflected in criticals and movement, just like back in the day.

I am using the combat companion condensed combat system an that also uses the same 10 armour types but the armour by the piece rules were too cumbersome for my taste and I didn’t use them. The RMU way is definitely a step forward.

The majority of the content in the Arms Law is the attack tables for each weapon (or spell) and the critical tables. This is also where most of the work will be done with these books. All of these tables are completely reworked both out of necessity (moving from 20 armour types to 10) and because we now have new critical effects. The criticals now have a designation for when to roll a breakage for the impacted piece of armour or shield.

One of the best parts of the combat system I currently use is that swords do sword type criticals and crossbows do crossbow type criticals and so on. The standard combat systems just have a slash table for all slashing wounds, a puncture for puncture wounds and so on. RMU has gone for these more generic type tables that most people are more familiar with. I am not a fan and find they slow combat down because of the amount of page flipping involved, but that could just me.

All in all there is nothing not to like in this edition. You cannot please all the people all the time and I think most people could pick up this edition of Arms Law and start to integrate it into their existing world right now. Going the other way I feel I could still use my copy of the condensed combat with the rest of the RMU rules and the sky would not fall in.

Uncannily I since I decided to revisit these books the powers that be have announced that the Beta 2 books should be issued this month. As soon as I get my grubby paws on them I will start reading and will feedback my opinions.

RMU Spell Law

Spell Law is, in my opinion the best and most polished of all the Unified Rolemaster (RMU) books released so far.

Rolemaster Unified Spell Law
Rolemaster Unified Spell Law

So far I cannot find anything I don’t like about this text. Every version of spell law has a section on how to handle conflicting spells or particular effects and this section in the RMU Spell Law is the best so far. The rules on spell research are slightly changed but make it easier for the player to do. The research times are slightly shorter but spell casters can now collaborate.

One of the things I hated about the RM2 Spell Law was when you would look up a spell description and it would tell you to consult a different list for the same spell. It defeated the whole point of printing off lists to give to players so they could plan their actions. This flaw disappeared in the RMC Spell Law and has held true in this version.

The spell lists themselves now have a spell for every level. In previous versions there were often empty slots if there was no appropriate spell for that level. Not any more. WE get the nice one list per page layout that I like. It makes for a big fat book but from a character maintenance point of view it works well.

A nice bonus is that ow that there are more spells on every list is that I am starting to introduce RMU spells into my RMC game. If I see a spell I like then I am allowing both PCs and NPCs to research the RMU version of the spell (or entirely new RMU spell). We also get entirely new spell lists which is cool.

In the previous Spell Laws there were almost no overtly offensive spells beyond shockbolt on the open and closed lists. These were reserved for the professional base lists. Now you can find them on the Closed lists which makes them much more widely available.

Now there is one bugbear in this book and that is to do with illusions. For some bizarre reason they have decided that the weigth that an illusion can support is based upon the bodyweight of the caster. So an obese low level illusionist could create a illusionary bridge that the entire party can escape across but a halfling illusionist 50 times his level could not. Why?

This is a simple thing to red line through and the entire book should not be judged by this one moment of sillyness but it is slightly annoying. Apart from that, this must be the strongest of the RMU books so far.


RMU Character Law – a second look

Copyright; 2002-2014 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC. All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.

I thought I would take a second look at the Unified Rolemaster (RMU) Character Law. I haven’t touched it in a while and now the dust has settled a bit I thought it would bare a second look over.

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover
Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

The first thing that stands out is how well laid out the book is. I recently bought a new copy of the Character Law I actively use (the RMC version) and by comparison the RMU Character is far, far better in guiding the player through the character creation process.

There are still parts of RMU that I do not like but just because I don’t like them doesn’t make them bad or wrong. They are just not to my taste. The three issues I have with the RMU character creation process are:

Talents and Flaws. These have been around for a while as part of the RMSS/RMFRP world. I didn’t like these but I have been doing a lot of character creation recently and what RM2/RMC has is background options which RMU doesn’t use. When you look at Talents as the background options then they are not so bad. You can ignore this now as an issue as I think I ‘get it’ and how to use them.

Spells as Skills. There are two philosophies for learning spells in the RM world it seems. Those that learn lists and those that learn individual spells. This has been around since about the late 80s in various guises and I believe it is the standard method in RMSS/RMFRP. I can see the attraction to this method as it gives spell casters access to a wider variety of spells much faster than list based learning but it also has a tendancy to make all spell casters the same. It blurs the lines between spell casting professions and the realms of magic with druids hurling fireballs and wizards praying to gods for healing which doesn’t sit well. I will confess now that if I ever use RMU I will scrap this and go back to list based learning. If you have never played Rolemaster before then you probably will enjoy this as a method as a player.

1st level characters are not ready. This is really silly objection. To my mind and experience RPG games start at 1st level. That is the natural order of the world. In RM we have always had a kind of Level 0 which represented the characters apprenticeship or adolescence. You bought the skills and everything else exactly the same way that you would for normal leveling up but this all hapened before play started. In RMU 0th level is now 1st level and it seems that most GMs are starting the players are around 3rd level or higher. Somehow that seems slightly wrong to me butI can see how and why they did it that way.

So looking back at that list with a bit of hindsight there are no major flaws in the character creation process. That is hardly a high accolade but it is a start. So lets look on the positive side. What has really impressed me?

For a start three things have made it into my own game already. One of the nice things about the entire RM world is that it is so modular that you can broadly swap things in and out of the different systems with little modification.

The three shining stars are:

The experience system. I have been using this for 18 months now and I like it and all my players like it and other GMs I have told about it like it and have adopted it. This seems like a winner. The best thing about it is that the emphasis is no longer on killing everything it is now more about goal achievement. You still get experience for killing monsters but you would get just as much experience for tricking your way past the monster as you would for spitting it on your lance.

The Vocational Skill. This is a sort of generic skill that rolls up all the little things that a character would know about their job or background. If you have the vocational skill for a knight then you can recognise the various standards of the other noble families and you can tend to your horse and care for your equipment. You know the polite forms of address and all those miriad of other little bits and bobs. In the past you would have had to buy the heraldry skill, probably courtly dance, etiquette and so on. The PC I have recently created grew up on river barges so he would know how to moor a barge, how to tow it using oxen andhow to operate locks and so on. This kind of generic skill tidies up a lot of unnecessary minor skills while at the same time allowing the same kind of realism that we have come to expect from the RM world.

Rapid Skill Development. Normal skill development is considered buying just a single rank in a skill per level. Rapid development is considered two ranks per level. For most skills that is the maximum you can buy at any one time The losts are listed as say 2/4 which means that you pay 2 points for the first rank each evel and 4 for a second rank. You cannot buy more than two at a time. A few rare skills such as First Aid for the Healer is listed as 1/2/2 menaing you can buy three ranks per level for a total cost of 5 points. Some skills do not have these limitations, the classic examples are armour skills and spell lists. In the books they are listed as say 4/* or 1/* which means you can buy as many ranks as you like but the cost would be 4 points per rank or 1 point per rank. In RMU skills are all treated as if they were ‘starred’. So a skill that cost 2/4 before would now be 2/4/* so it is two points for one rank, six points to buy two ranks (two plus the four) and ten points for three ranks (2+4+4). The only limiting factor is that you can never have more ranks than twice your level. (That is why they go rid of 0th level or the math would not work!) Why this is significant is that if you decided at 5th level to start learning Spear, under the old rules you would never be able to catch up with someone who started out learning spear.

I think the negatives I saw when I first looked were simply my own personal bias. On this second pass I am beginning to see more of the potential that RMU has. This is all still based upon the first beta version of the unified Rolemaster Character Law. I am hoping that when I see Beta 2 I will look at it with less prejudice than I did this edition.