RPG Rant: #@$! Potions.


I hate potions. Ok, perhaps I don’t feel that strongly but I certainly don’t use them a lot., and thankfully Terry doesn’t use them either in his Shadow World setting. So what is it that bugs me about potions….

Potions are a common trope in early fairy tales and mythology, a standard in RPG’s and are a critical mechanic in many computer video games for health or hit point rejuvenation. Maybe that’s why it feels like potions have “jumped the shark”. Rolemaster already has a comprehensive spell and herb healing system–why duplicate that with healing potions?

I remember in my early days of D&D gaming we allowed players to “sip” a potion to test its properties. For instance a player would go a little transparent if it was a potion of Invisibility or feel “lighter” if it was a potion of levitation or flying.

Rolemaster has a fairly flexible system to imbed virtually any spell into a potion. I’ve seen GM’s allow Fireballs and Lightning Bolt potions–that makes little sense to me. Allowing Mentalism spells to be made into potions also makes little sense to me. Channeling isn’t much better–can a “Good” priest create a potion that can be used by a evil player? hmm….

So while I do have rules for “consumables” (candles, potions, charms, powders– items that get used up to activate the spell effect) I generally shy away from their common use. Potions are silly.

Just had to get that off my chest. Back to Spell Casting Mechanics: Channeling.

Melos, A contribution to Aioskoru

Quite a while ago now I produced half a dozen blog posts in support of Ken Wickham’s Aioskoru world setting. Things than kind of went off the boil a bit and I didn’t do much more beyond describe NPCs, three settlements and some adventures based around a ship full of orcs.

So recently Ken emailed me and said that he had bundled up a lot of his Aioskoru material from his blog and posted it on RPGnow. He had kept the format simple so that it was easy for him to update but he was putting it our there. He has had over 200 downloads of the material he has produced which hopefully means that the setting may get more supporters and continue to grow and develop.

I am always willing to lend a hand so I bundled up my old blog posts, re-edited them to turn them into a coherent supplement and submitted them to RPGnow. They have only been up for a few days but they have already had about 50 downloads. You can download them yourself for free at the link below. (click the cover image)

Melos, A contribution to Aioskoru


The ship on the cover refers to the sloop full of orcs in the featured adventure material.

If you want to download it and you like anything in it then let me know whar you think!

Revisiting Spell Law: Spell Casting Mechanics Pt. 2 Essence


Now that we’ve laid the theoretical groundwork in Pt. 1 I wanted to explore each realm in a bit more detail. Since the original Spell Law, Essence has included the traditional spells established by D&D: fireballs, teleports, sleep, charm, fly etc and most of the general accepted “rules” of Magic-User spells.

  1. Casting Time. Spells take 1-3 rounds to cast.
  2. Metal armor interferes with Essence.
  3. Spells require a verbal and hand gesture component.
  4. Spell Powers. Spells cover a very broad range of power but exclude healing and most “animist” style spells.

Our deconstruction of Spell Law forced us to look at each aspect of Essence spells and casting mechanisms and see where it lead us. In reverse order:

Spell Powers. As a drop in rule set for D&D, it makes sense that Spell Law would include the basic range of Magic-User spells. However, one of our goals was to create clearer differentiation between the realms, reduce some of the issues of over/under powered spells littered through the lists and imply a logical motive for spells. For Essence we decided that it was “physical” magic, akin to science” manipulation of gravity, light, energy, elements, physical objects etc. So first we tossed out the spirit mastery spell list which we felt was better served by Mentalism or Channeling. Then we re-grouped spells by similarity, effect, or motive source rather than have professions themed lists that were filled with disparate spells in power and effect. So Fly was moved to Wind Law and Gravity Law—basically the same spell but with different working mechanisms. In Wind Law the spell-caster harnesses air to create a cushion that lifts and propels the target where Gravity Law nullifies gravity but produces the same spell effect. This became our “machine test”—could an Essence Spell be created using technology, a machine manipulation of physics or generated by math/computer processing? If so then it was a good fit for the Essence Realm.

Components. Unlike D&D that included physical spell components in some castings, Rolemaster didn’t dig too deep into the actual process besides making vague references to voice and hand gestures. SW delved a little deeper with spell “colors” for each realm, good/evil and hybrid spells but that was more for setting theatrics. So what are these voice/hand components? It was apparent that Essence couldn’t be cast in the spell-casters native tongue—that makes little sense! Are spell books described as being written in Rhaya or some other social language? Does that mean that every spell has been transcribed into all the individual world tongues? Of course not. The implication is that the voice/hand components of Essence casting is a magical language of arcane sounds/inflections/gestures. This magical language is the trigger and focus for generating spell effects. RM has introduced Magical Languages, but more as an optional rule or a skill bonus to casting, NOT as the standard input for casting. If we accept that a magical “language” is needed to cast an Essence spell than we need to accept that the caster’s skill mastery of that language is important to spell casting. In other words, the Magical Language skill should play some part in the SCR.

Let’s use a metaphor. Assume that only legal contracts written in French are considered legal and binding (the force of law). You can have lawyers in various countries all with extensive knowledge of the law, statutes or legal specialties, but their ability to read/write French is going to define their ability to practice law and create legal products. In this example the lawyers are Essence Casters. They are taught/learn spells (law) but can’t utilize this knowledge unless they translate their knowledge into an accepted format (Magical Language/French). In our rules a spell caster can learn a lot of spells but their skill in casting will be dependent on their Magical Language skill.

There are a number of ways to connect Magical Language skill to casting. You could set a rule that the spell level can’t exceed the # ranks in Magical Language; you can use the Magical Language skill bonus for the SCR etc.

Encumbrance. It’s a well imbedded trope in fantasy RPG that M-U’ers can wear armor. In D&D they just made it an arbitrary rule w/o much rationale to enforce profession roles and group balance. In Rolemaster a convoluted process has evolved combining organic/non-organic material, ESF, Transcendence Skill and a whole lot of work-arounds that too me, just seemed silly and overly complex. You can read the forums about all the issues around Transcend Armor, calculating encumbrance type, channeling and casting etc. Our “Free Market” approach to our rule set meant that we build opportunity costs into skill choices and I wanted there to be an armor/encumbrance cost to Essence casting. Since we eliminated Maneuvering in Armor skill, we just use the encumbrance penalty (RMU) in the SCR. No need to worry about organic or inorganic material, no worry about what type of armor. However that encumbrance penalty can have a real impact on spell casting. Intuitively it makes sense. We see “Essence” casting as a conductive process—the caster is the foci of the effect using the Magical Language to gather, hone and release power. Any encumbrance on our around the caster will interfere with this conductive process, acting as an Insulator and disrupting the spell power.

Casting Time. IIRC D&D had varying casting times for each spell. Rolemaster introduced a standardized system of 1-3 rounds (10-30 seconds). 30 seconds seems like a long time, but we’ve switched to 5 sec. rounds so 15 seconds seems workable. I like the idea of varying spell casting times, but in a nod to convenience we decided to stick with the 1-3 rounds for Essence. However, we discarded the Class types and just assigned SCR penalties for casting in 1 (-50) or 2 (-25) rounds.

So that’s where our analysis led “Project BASiL” for Essence. Casting is determined by the skill in Magical Language, is affected by Encumbrance penalty, casters can decide on casting time but may take a SCR penalty and the Essence Realm is redesigned and organized to fit our concept/theme of the realm.

Next up in Pt. 3-Channeling!

Azukail Games – 100 Creepy Things and Events to Encounter Outdoors

Azukail Games has given me another new toy to play with in the form of the booklet 100 Creepy Things and Events to Encounter Outdoors a sibling product to http://www.rolemasterblog.com/100-creepy-things-events-find-spooky-house/.

Azukail Games aim to, in their own words, “Publishing RPG Supplements to Help GMs” and their supplements normally comprise lists of really useful things that normally a GM has to come up with off the top of his head. These could be NPC names, tavern names or books on the shelp of a library or in this case 100 Creepy Things.

The elements in this work are not confined to your typical haunted house so you get sinister mists and fogs, my favourite is a stray dog who’s lead ends in a bloody tatter s on. There will inevitably be some cliches in here as any collection that missed them out would be blatantly incomplete but there are enough things listed to keep it fresh for a long time.

If you are not running a horror based campaign then you will not be dipping into this week in week out but the whole point of just about every one of AG’s resources is to have them to hand for when you need them. Right now this supplement costs just $1.59 on RPGnow and it is definitely worth that and more. There is a huge potential here to use each and every one of the 100 events as the jumping off point for an entirely new adventure!


Revisiting Spell Law: Spell Casting Mechanics Pt. 1


There has always been basic indications that the Rolemaster spell realms operate under different mechanics. Essence and Channeling are affected by armor, Mentalism by helms, verbal and hand gestures are necessary components of Essence but not so much Mentalism etc. At the same time, the general casting mechanics of 3 rounds for most spells were uniform across the three realms without any serious mechanical differences.

Most of these rules were more the result of built in game tropes, the need for “balance” and to facilitate gameplay (combat) than any rigorous attempt at realm differentiation. During our Spell Law rewrite (Project BASiL), we started from scratch—deconstructing the various spells, powers, categories and casting requirements and then rebuilding spells and realms in an intuitive and organic fashion.

A few questions, points & thoughts we had at the start:

  1. Should each realm have better differentiation in spell powers? All three realms share a number of common lists: spell defense, movement etc. Wouldn’t it be better to have more unique & separate abilities for each realm? Do realms need better guidelines for spell power assignment?
  2. Are Alchemist spells really “Essence” realm. The imbedding spells don’t really work as a typical Class I-III spells and imply a number of other factors (materials, crafting, time etc).
  3. Do Symbols, Runes, Signs, Glyphs etc require different casting requirements since their casting depends on writing/inscribing?
  4. Do Bard spells fit into Mentalism (or Essence) when their efficacy is based on a performance?
  5. Do Illusions depend on the casters memory to properly reconstruct an image? How does that work into the SCR?
  6. What is the verbal/hand component of spellcasting? Do spell books come in a variety of languages? Is the verbal component a native tongue or something else?
  7. Should casting times be broader than 1-3 rounds?
  8. Why can’t spell users learn spells from multiple realms? Does this really create a “balance” issue?
  9. Do PC’s really need a realm assignment? Do PP’s really come in 7 varieties? (essence, ment, chan, ess/chan, ess/ment, ment/chan, arcane). Does that make sense? Do PC’s need separate pools of spell casting power for each of those? Do PP multipliers need to be tuned to 6-7 different power flavors? How does that tie into magic item creation? Why?
  10. Why is Alchemy “Essence”? Channelers can’t make magic items? Should Mentalism powers be subject to imbedding?
  11. How much of Spell Law is setting specific? How much needs to be?

Some of these issues have been partially addressed in companions or touched upon in RMU but these are all add-on rules that created one-off situations rather than a cohesive foundation for the Spell system.

For us the solutions mostly presented themselves. Our first step was to reclassify spell “Realms” based on the casting mechanics and the boundaries and scope of the realms powers. This required re-defining and expanding on the 3 traditional “realms”.

Realm Scope of Power Casting Ancillary Skill
Essence (Conductive) Elemental, physics, physical manipulation Verbal, Gesture, sensitive to encumbrancde Magical Language
Channeling Miraculous, spiritual, spirit manipulation, lifeforce Verbal Plea Prayer
Mentalism Single target, mind related, self enchancement Concentration Mental Focus
Imbedding (Investiture) Imbedding magic into physical objects Repetition Power Points, maybe crafting
Written (Inscribed) Wards, protection, summoning, defense, triggered Quality, accuracy, durability of inscription, Rune Skill: runes, glyphs, symbols, circles, wards, signs, tattoos
Performance (Rendered) Mass effects, mood, behavior, control Verbal, visual, sound, perceptual Performance skill: music, instrument, singing, dance etc
Intrinsic (Natural Magic) Setting/Ecology At will, focus Depends/none
Incidental (Cantrips) Minor Focus None


Once we built this basic framework we could develop specific casting rules and create new spells that easily dropped into their appropriate “realm”. This also facilitates a scalable process of introducing new or unique lists, setting specific magic or even build new Realm categories as needed without trying to shoehorn into the limitations of the original Essence, Mentalism or Channeling paradigm.  Some examples are Moon Magic, Warrens(Malazan), Blood Magic, Arcane, Spirit/Totem etc).

In Part II we’ll start with Essence.

Further musing on the skills system

I really like Brian’s take on skills where the number of ranks has an important role to play as well as the total bonus.

As I see it there are four types of skill roll in Rolemaster.

All or nothing.

This is the classic pass or fail test. You either heard the cocking of the crossbow or you didn’t. In RM2/RMC you need a total of 101+ to succeed in RMSS/RMFRP it is 111+ (which always struck me as a weird number if eleventy-one works for you then who am I to argue.)

Progress towards a goal

So you want to do something that is going to take time, you make your skill roll and depending on the roll and outside factors you get a result. That is how much of the task has been completed. if you get below 100 then you are part way through the task, over 100 and the task took less time than expected.

Opposing Skills

You are trying to hide and I am trying to spot you. Your hiding skill roll result would then be used as a penalty to my perception roll. The GM has to decide which way around to apply the rolls. Does my keen eyesight may your hiding more difficult or does your hiding position may my attempt to see you harder. I always go with the route of least rolls. If there is one hider and five seekers then I would have the hider’s one roll apply to the seekers five individual rolls.

Combat rolls

Here the result is not pass or fail, there is no straight hit or miss, and there is not really an opposing skill although the defender can use skills to make them harder to hit. You make your roll apply all the bonuses and penalties and look up the result on a table.

Now in most RPGs the combat rules take up a huge amount of space in the rule books even if combat doesn’t take up a huge amount of time at the table. Rolemaster in particular takes great pride in its combat system and we all love the critical tables and there blood splattered graphic descriptions. I am perfectly happy with my current version of the combat system and when I migrate to RMU I will junk the rules as written and insert my existing version. I have already rewritten all of the most commonly used critical tables so modifying the numbers of hits delivered and stretching them up to the new 175 cap will not be a massive endeavour.  Some people think that Rolemaster combat can be slow or overly complicated but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I am not so sure about the all or nothing skill roll. In the rules as written (RAW) all or nothing skills have a partial success result which allows a second roll at a penalty. If we were to abandon the whole all or nothing concept and make all rolls as static or moving maneuvers anything else than a 100% success would be a graduation of that partial success. Results at or below 0% would be failures.

In the example of the cocking of a crossbow if you rolled your perception and got less than 100% as a result then you could allow a second roll with whatever the shortfall was as a penalty. If of course there is actually anything there to hear after the event!

The question is would this simplify the game and speed up play?


Rolemaster Skill Bonuses and Skill Ranks

In our attempt to reduce skills to the absolute minimum possible AND to create a unified action resolution for all actions we’ve come up with a hybrid system of ideas from RM and RMU.

The basic premise is that total skill bonus is used for action resolution (MM, SM, combat, SCR etc) and # of skill ranks are used for “proficiency issues”.  The following chart breaks down skills into 3 overall categories: Lores (knowledge), Vocations (job that represents a number of skills and disciplines) and General Skills (everything else).

Skill Ranks Lore Vocation General Skills
1-10 Grade to High School Apprentice Basic knowledge and abilities skill and simpler sub-skill.
11-20 College Journeymen Broad abilities of skill and sub-skills
21+ PhD/Post Grad Master Advanced skills and sub-abilities
50+ Erudite Master Guildmaster or similar Singular mastery of skill and inter-related disciplines

Some will argue for a more robust break down — but again, we are trying to keep things simple. The breakdown is driven by our own rules on learning skills. Knowledge can be learned via tutoring, research or reading; vocations must be learned by doing (you can’t  become a master sailor by being taught in a classroom or reading a tutorial) and the other skills are a combination of learning methods.

Now we have a visual relationship between rank/proficiency and the three overall skill types with qualitative labels for reference. Let’s use one of each for an example:

Lore. As cool as it is to provide obscure info to a player on Dragon mating habits, most GM’s are going to need to rely on skill checks rather than building a expansive wiki on their game world. Lores are simple–the # of skill ranks gives the player and GM a good idea of the players depth of knowledge and sets the boundaries for what the player could possibly know. A skill check using the skill bonus allows for success or failure.

Vocation. Most jobs utilize a number of skill sets–a sailor will have skills in sailing, weather, navigation, knots etc. The skill rank level is used to determine the players level of proficiency and determine if they have the right level of experience and training. A journeyman sailor won’t have star navigation but a Master or Guildmaster certainly would.

General Skills. Using my previous comment on the warrior with 20 ranks in longsword and a 130ob. The total skill bonus is used in combat and the 20 skill ranks is used as a modifier against various combat maneuvers (reverse strike, disarm etc). The shield skill: the skill bonus is used for shield attacks, the rank # is used for DB. Same as RMU.

We’ve folded many skills into “meta skills”. For instance Survival includes sub skills like tracking, traps, snares, weather watching etc. Acrobatics includes contortions, diving, tumbling etc.

There are still a few skills I’m tweaking but I like how its working so far.

Is RMU missing an opportunity to fix the rules system?

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

I have been doing a bit of homebrew rules writing this week and I have taken bits and bobs of other games and mashed them all together to get a set of rules that did a particular job. It isn’t rolemaster so doesn’t belong here but bits of rolemaster ended up in what I was doing.

Now if you take bits of different games you get different mechanics and different ways of doing the same thing. In rolemaster particularly RM2 if you look at how skills work you you get different ways of doing things in the same game!

Lets take buying skill ranks.

Some skills you can buy as many ranks as you like each level eg Armour, languages and spell lists.

Normally you can buy one or two ranks but occaisionally some professions can buy more etc Healers and First Aid.

Some skills have ranks that always give a +5 bonus eg Armour.

Most skills have deminishing returns eg +5, +2 +½.

Some skills each rank is only worth +1 eg Ambush and Stunned Maneuover

Some skills have multiple options so Stunned Maneuver could be +1/rank but could be +5, +2 +½.

Some skills can only cancel out penalties but not give a bonus such as Armour and Transcend Armour

Some skills cancel out penalties but can give a bonus on top such as Spacial Location Awareness.

Some skills have the same function or role as other skills but at different costs and use different stats such as tumble defence and adrenal defence, Iai Strike and adrenal quickdraw, spacial location awareness and blind fighting.

Going back to the costs some weapons and musical instruments use the same mechanic of the first you learn is the cheapest, the second the next cheapest and the more you learn the more expensive they get. Languages on the other hand all cost the same regardless of how many you learn. Martial arts has yet another mechanic for its costing with the prices remaining constant but prerequisites on what you can buy.

Some skills come with special rules attached such as iai strike that can have you throwing your own weapon away on a bad roll. Subduing is another

Is all of that really necessary? I can understand that some skills are moving maneuvers and some are static maneuvers and different rules apply but RM2 has reputedly 200 skills all told and apparently 200 rules for how to apply each one. I kid you not! You would have thought that sprinting would be a MM skill to be applied as a bonus to MM rolls when sprinting. Wrong! MM rolls normally give a result that can go over 100% to show greater that expected progress of faster completion times. It would make sense for sprinting to be a bonus and help get those over 100% results but instead sprinting has its own special table that limits the gains you can get.

Now that is only a tiny snapshot of the problems in RM2.

I don’t know RMSS/RMFRP but I do know the real sticking point for players of either RM2/RMC and RMSS/RMFRP is the skills system. RMSS has categories that you have to do something with before you can buy a specialism but it has everyman skills that operate a buy one get a dozen free or something. On top of that you then get training packages that I think give bulk discounts and talents that give bonuses or cancel penalties. I am possibly being unfair to RMSS but as you all know I love minimalism so it was never going to be the system for me. There is nothing wrong with it if it appeals to you.

So where does RMU come into this?

RMU has the opportunity to really sort out the mess of different mechanics for skills. Do skills cancel out penalties, the new Combat Expertise works that way but will any future flying skill or Spacial Location Awareness skill work that way? What will happen if you get an EO downward roll on a quickdraw/iai strike roll? Can you get a downward roll or will it be a fumble roll?

I am really looking forward to the final draft rules. I want to apply my classless levelless house rules to RMU and as such I really want them to sort out a long lasting structure that will prevent the balls up that was the RM2 skill system.

That turned into more of a rant than I intended. It was not supposed to be that way and RMC (derived from RM2) is my weapon of choice. The more I looked the more inconsistencies I found and the more of my own post-it notes I found in my old paper RM2 rule books.

I have only seen the Beta II rules and that does appear to be falling into the different rules for different skills trap with the Control Lycanthropy skill having its own rules as do Piloting, Jumping and Adrenal Focus. There are also different Knowledge tiers for lore skills that do not apply to more physical skills. I repeat though, these are Beta rules and not the final rules. I hope you can see the reason for my concern. if you start off setting a bad example it is very hard to fix it later.

Shadow World Revisited: “Here be NO monsters”


One of my favorite aspects of Shadow World is the general lack of fantasy “monsters”. Perhaps the early emphasis of the Fenlon Middle Earth campaign set the tone, but both Rolemaster and Shadow World were relatively light on the D&D style monster encounter.

As a younger player strange and unique monsters helped set the tone of wonder, mystery and even fear but as my players got older, introducing a never ending stream of monsters seemed to work the opposite by taking them out of the game.

Yes, the SW Master Atlas contains most of the entries found in C&T and some of the MA references giants, orcs, trolls, goblins but the predominance of core products (written by Terry) are humanoid centric: human and elves. This leaves encounters and combat focused on PC vs NPC and profession vs profession tactics and strategies.

The exceptions of course are the Dragons, Demons and fusion creatures. The fusion creatures: Shard, Xyr etc give SW it’s unique flavor and arguably add a horror element to the setting. These creatures seemed to have been adopted by the Numenera setting.

Compared to other traditional fantasy settings, SW seems very monster-lite. I call it the “Alien” or “Jaws” approach–having monsters that are few and far between leverage their impact on experienced players.

I like it–what are your thoughts?

Is Rolemaster Rules Heavy?

Rolemaster Logo

I saw a survey today that listed Rolemaster as an example of a ‘Rules Heavy’ system. If you bought ALL of RMC that would be Character Law, Arms Law, Spell Law, Creatures & Treasures and Companion 1 you would have the entire published system and the entier page count runs to about 800 pages. That is roughly the size of just the three core DnD 5e PHB, DMG and Monster Manual.

Page count is not the best way of measuring the weight of the rules. If we were to look at spells every spell in Rolemaster works in one of just a few ways. Either you roll on an attack table (eg Fireball), the spell effect is dependent on the severity of the targets failed resistance roll (eg Sudden Light) or the spell is not variable and has a baked in effect (eg Projected Light). If we look at DnD you get every spell with its own bespoke rules and formulae such as Magic Missile that fires of a variable number of projectiles depending on the level of the caster but never misses. As a magic system Rolemaster is a lot lighter than DnD 5e. Incidentally DnD 5e was quoted as a medium weight system in the survey above!

Combat in DnD vs Rolemaster is a hard one to compare because I have never known anyone apply the rules correctly in either system. DnD is often protrayed as Roll to hit, roll your damage and move on. That sounds really easy and fast but then you add in initiative rolls, and weapon vs armour modifications and different ‘to hit’ tables for different professions/classes and a few hundred classes and things are not as simple if you apply the rules as written. In rolemaster the big bug bear is exhaustion points. I have never even read the rules in full, I have never played them and do not know anyone who has played them. If you ignore exhaustion then Rolemaster looks more complicated with books of tables, one page for each weapon and books worth of critical tables but it still comes down to roll to hit and roll damage (our beloved criticals). rolemaster has more pages but actually less rules. It does have a hell of a lot more flavour than DnD combat. It is aledgedly more dangerous but that is down to how many first level magic users you have tried to play in DnD I suppose.

The point I am trying to make I suppose is that what makes one system ‘rules light’, I think my RM variant is very rules light, one rules medium and another rules heavy is I think the eye of the beholder. the person who created the survey thinks or has heard that Rolemaster is rules heavy and therefore puts it as an example of a rules heavy system perpetuating the myth.

I think ICE need to address that perception and one way to do that is to adopt the Adventure Path methodology and literally put a ready to play pa together that new players can pick up and start playing in the same evening. Of course with a new generation of RM about to be released this is the perfect opportunity to do so.