Rolemaster & Fantasy RPG’s. What are monsters really?

Since this is my last blog post for several weeks I thought I would write on a more general topic: Monsters. While “Monsters” are the mainstay of fantasy RPG’s, they were not entirely embraced by Rolemaster. Again, probably due to the influence of the generally monster-less Middle Earth and Pete Fenlon’s original campaign.

Even my earliest experiences with RM coming off of AD&D, I always appreciated the monster-lite approach that was in sharp contrast to the Gygaxian Naturalism found in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. The parade of fantastical creatures felt like an endless one-up manship that could never be slated.

Even Rolemaster’s “Creatures & Treasures” generally avoided the term monster and looking through it, there were very few truly bizarre creatures. The standard dragon/griffin/unicorn mythical tropes were all there but the homogenization process of monster creation was lacking. Shadow World introduced a few cool “monsters” (artificial creatures) but these were setting driven and fit into the conceptual world framework.

In the real world, “Monsters” are imaginary, fictional beings. What then would you call creatures that were as real and encounter-able as horses, giraffes or alligators? In a few recent Post, I discussed whether monsters should be treated like any other race or creature; those with intelligence should be considered a “Race” just as much as a human or Elf.

The larger issue of course is whether the term “Monster” becomes less an abstract idea then a defining rule mechanic. For instance, D&D created spells for summoning or controlling “Monsters” and spells for summoning or controlling “Animals”. Suddenly we have a delineating wall–a need to classify creatures as monsters or animals. A simplistic approach would be to define “Animals” as creatures that exist in our real world, while “Monsters” are fantasy creatures that exist in the rule books. Doesn’t that sort of feel like ‘breaking the fourth wall’ from a rule perspective? Another mechanism would be that Clerics/Druids can Summon/Control Animals while Mages can summon/control Monsters. Again, that feels quite arbitrary doesn’t it?

These are real questions I ask myself while I work on various spell list re-writes. Putting aside Gates/Summons/Calls, how does one define creatures in terms of spell mechanics. These rules should be flexible enough to address different settings (than Shadow World), different game styles, but still be strict enough to avoid vagueness or excessive rule lawyer-ing.

Since I think it’s impossible to delineate a creature from an animal from a monster in general rule set terms it requires more concrete attributes. Some possible game mechanic criteria:

  1. Creature size. For me, this was the first and foremost important criteria. 1st level spell users shouldn’t be able to “spell” super-large creatures easily, if at all, not matter what their deadliness.
  2. Creature intelligence. This gets to the general difference behind animals and intelligent beings and allows for spell limitations due to intelligence levels.
  3. Creature morality/alignment. Rolemaster doesn’t use alignments, but for settings that do, perhaps limiting spell users on a creatures alignment might make sense.
  4. Creature natural environment. Requiring that a creature is indigenous to the local environment makes sense as well.

I believe that the term “Monster” is just too arbitrary to be useful in game mechanics. Remember, that the “Monster” you just killed probably had a mother somewhere!!!


RMU Attack Tables

I have spent my down time over Christmas working on a spreadsheet to create attack tables in the most usable format we have seen so far.

The biggest issue with RMU for me has been the size rules. There were two issues really, firstly, in incessant math required to even work out how much damage an attack does. It may be relatively simple math but it is a mechanical step that slows down almost every attack. In fact it is more than one step as a quick calculation is needed to work out the size of the attack before the attack roll and then a calculation after the attack roll to calculate the damage. Size also still effects the OB and DB of the targets, according to Beta 2 but that may have changed and it then adjusts the critical.

My second issue with the size rules is that it looks like a solution looking for a problem. The same progression that is being applied via the size rules is being applied every which where regardless of whether it works or not.

On one hand the proponents that like the size rules are seeing this as an elegant solution unifying many disparate game mechanics. Those, like me that do not like the rules just see a bad rule wrongly applied.

It is possible that I am wrong, according to Mrs R that has happened before.

To that end, the game I am going to run this year is going to use the size rules but there are some attack chart layouts that have been suggested on the forums that precalculate the size shifts.

So stating in the bottom left with Diminutive, then tiny, small, the bold result is the medium, then the top row, right to left is big, large and huge.

That image is from the spreadsheet I am working on. Merkir from the forums has shared a Google Sheet that will generate attack tables on the fly for any of the standard weapons. If I paste that into my spreadsheet it then explodes every individual result into the seven displayed sizes. That takes away one of the game slowing steps.

Another option is that once you paste the Merkir table into the spreadsheet you can apply adjustments to it. So Rather than a short sword being a Dagger +1 size I can apply a +10OB shift to the Dagger table and then generate a dedicated Short Sword table. I can do the same for two handed swords so they are no longer Broadswords +1 size. This takes away one more size calculation.

I accept that magic and things like charging will always involve a size shift. I do not have a problem with that. I personally feel that +1 size for charging is a retrograde step that harks all the way back to D&D basic rules where a charge just gave you double damage. +1 size does basically the same thing and ignores 40 years of increasing sophistication and any attempt to model what happens in the real world. I am happy to accept the size solution as it fits nicely with my desire for fast and simple rules.

The sizes of the damage shifts in my tables do not follow the RAW in beta 2. As Hurin has pointed out the RAW favours smaller attackers by giving them disproportionate amounts of damage. The result being that rabbits being overly dangerous.

My tables will diverge slightly from the standard tables and it is all down to rounding. Normally if you were doing 0.4 of a hit in damage you would expect that to be rounded down to nothing. The problem with this is that all touch magic requires a successful unarmed attack that delivers 1 hit. If you have a small or diminutive spell caster it is impossible for them to cast any magic against a foe in AT 9 or 10. For that reason I have chosen to always round up to the next whole hit in damage. So if the Medium attack did at least 1 hit then at all sizes at least 1 hit will be delivered.

This puts my charts mostly towards Hurin’s toned down charts, without the killer rabbits, but fractionally above them so a bit from a rabbit will still do 1 hit if it hits where the Hurin formula would have rounded down to zero.

What I have left to do is mostly donkey work of copy and pasting my spreadsheet formula into hundreds if not thousands of cells. I cannot just fill the spreadsheet as the formula has too many nested functions that Excel cannot cope with updating all the references to the look up tables. As soon as I have something to show I will share some finished tables with you. How much I can share is a different question as I think I am really on the edge of the Beta NDA if I start sharing complete sets of attack tables!



Rolemaster deconstruction: critical tables.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time deconstructing Rolemaster, analyzing RMU and trading thoughts on various house rules.  One thing is evident, that while some tinkering may be necessary, the critical charts are the core of RM differentiation and perhaps the most beloved mechanic of the system.  I think these critical charts work so well is that they provide expository for combat damage. Where most early RPG’s relied upon simple hit damage, critical charts allow a GM to provide flavor to the combat without having to ad lib damage effects. So while some see charts as crunchy or clunky, I see a powerful tool for combat narrative.

A year ago, Peter blogged about the RM critical charts, but I wanted to take it one more step–how do the original critical charts stand up after almost 40 years?

The 3 basic weapon critical charts are the Crush, Slash and Puncture that elegantly handle the imaginable ways most weapons can deliver kinetic damage. More importantly, almost any damage delivering device a GM can think of (traps, spell effects, environmental) can probably utilize these 3 core crit charts to model effects. I can’t think of any other critical types that are needed, nor why any of these three are unneeded. They stand the test of time. A+

The next three important critical charts are the Heat, Electricity & Cold tables. While they provide the basis for the Magician spells, they can also be used for extreme environment effects (magma, blizzards, natural lightning etc).  A+

Martial Arts. Of all the attack forms, having cool martial arts requires a novel mechanic. Again, while basic damage delivery is mundane and uninspiring, critical charts provide the  cinematic approach that brings unarmed combat the “fantasy movie” treatment. I’ve played Monks in AD&D–besides the special level abilities, the damage delivery is as boring as all the other weapon attacks. A

So what other Critical Charts remain that I don’t use?

  1. vs. Large & Super Large Creatures. 2 critical charts help balance the system geared towards human size combatants. Interestingly, both of these charts go up to 251 and also accommodate special weapons: magic, Holy, Slaying. For an early RPG, this isn’t a bad band-aid to sizing problems, but it’s still a band-aid. D
  2. Impact Critical. Found in Spell Law, this chart is for other elemental spells that delivery damage due to mass/velocity and not from a special property.  It’s a cool crit chart, but is it necessary when the Crush critical table could do the same? Alternatively, this might be the better chart for Falling/Crush and Bash attacks which currently use the Crush Crit table? For someone looking to par down the charts, perhaps this one is redundant? C
  3. Tiny Animals. Like the “Large” or “Super Large” charts, this table is meant address small creature damage. While I like the Beta sizing rules (which would just adjust crits down) there are other solutions as well. D
  4. Unbalancing. This is an interesting chart. If you read the effects, it does seem like there is a focus on stuns and unbalancing. However, much of the crit results are similar to the Impact and Crush crits and it should be obvious that any major impact from a weapon or creature should have a “unbalancing” effect.  New RMU beta rules already incorporate unbalancing and various stun effects into all critical types. It’s interesting, but I think it’s redundant. Crush/Impact/Unbalancing should be consolidated into 1 chart. B-
  5. Grappling.  In RM, grappling is a poorly executed mechanic so this crit table helps define it without adding much to a workable system. Grapple/entanglement/ensnare crit chart needs to be reworked, but more importantly there needs to be a core mechanic to address this in general: penalties to MM and ability to escape etc. B-

So of course there are tons of other critical charts found in Companions and Shadow World books. They are a great add-on and cool but are there any that should be “Core”? I have 3 that I use that compliment the 8 I use from above:

Stress – Mental. I use this for mind attacks, spell failure, concentration issues, time or dimensional travel, meditation or even secondary fear effects.

Stress – Physical. For failed MM’s, slips, fatigue issues etc this results in tears, sprains, and bruising.

Shrapnel – This is the great catch all for secondary explosion effects, insect swarm attacks, shattering objects etc.

That’s it for me — 11 perfectly distilled critical charts that handle almost any situation or damage effect. This of course excludes unique spell crit charts (nether, plasma) that I might use in special circumstances or is required by a spell list.

What do you think? Did I miss anything that could be “Core” or one that is widely useful that these charts don’t address?

Merry RMU Christmas

You will be glad to know that I am not actually here on Christmas morning writing a blog post. For me it is Christmas eve and family are all dozing on the sofa after lunch.

I am spending any boring moments reading up on RMU as I have not used it much. I have decided on a few rule choices and house rules.

  1. First up it is definitely a No Profession game.
  2. No Passive bonuses from skills such as footwork, running and Shields
  3. Stats will be point buy.
  4. Skill Costs, the 9/12 (Combat Skill #4 and Closed lists) will be 7/10.

Behind the scenes I have the combat tables spreadsheets from Merkir and Thrud from the forums. I will be using the 7 sizes on a single table, see this thread for an idea.  I need to make these tables but I will be trying to create unique tables for every weapon in use in the game. Related to the tables I will be doubling the basic #hits damage done by each attack.

That is all I have for now.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Have a great day!

Is it better to beg forgiveness or ask for permission?

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

I know for certain that it is a damn sight faster to get things done if you just do it and then ask for forgiveness afterwards.

Here is my dilemma and objective. I spent last evening rereading all of JDales ‘New Tables’ thread to try and come back up to speed with RMU. The motivation is to try and put together a set of rules I am happy with that use the rules as close to what will be in the final released game as possible.

The cornerstone will be the No Profession profession as that is RAW. There are lots of things that I want to house rule and the problem is do you house rule and have a better game or do you play RAW and have a viable play test?

I am coming down on the side of house rules. ICE have had years of play test feedback and the impression I get now is that the rules are pretty much set. Even with house rules I would not be changing EVERYTHING so all that remains unchanged will be viable playtest feedback.

What I would like to do is play a game and then publish my impressions here on the blog. Now that is very dodgy considering the NDA but if I do not publish the rules as written, which is what I think the NDA is there to prevent, then I feel morally comfortable with that.

I would then want some players who are happy for the game to be publicly discussed although obviously they would not be discussed, just their characters and what happened in the game world.

The blogs would then cover character creation, the selection of the house rules and the official optional rules and how the game sessions played out.

I would run the game as a PBP so that I had a written record that I could then review for the blogs.

This blog exists in part to promote RM in all its forms so publicly promoting RMU has to be part of its remit surely?

My Christmas Day post will be the list of options and house rules that I intend to use, these will be up for discussion so anyone else that is playing RMU can chip in their own suggestions as to anything they think I will regret.

Rolemaster deconstruction: questioning the undead.

The “Undead”–a popular creature class drawn from a wide range of cultures, legends and mythology. Rolemaster has Egyptian Mummies, European Vampires, and Ghosts combined with the established D&D creatures like Wraiths & Ghouls. But are all of these actual “Undead”? If not, what are Undead? Are they:

  1. Animated corpses? If they are just magically infused bodies/skeletons are they truly undead anymore than an enchanted sword?
  2. Re-Animated corpses via a “spirit” or “will”? Is the body/corpse/skeleton infused with a soul or spirit? Is that Undead or is that a imbedded intelligence?
  3. A non-corporeal entity via a “spirit” or “will”? Does a persons dis-embodied spirit define an Undead?
  4. A being created via a spell or magic ritual? Does a entity that becomes something else, post death or beyond death meet the definition of an Undead?
  5. A possessed corpse? Is a corpse possessed by another entity an “Undead”?
  6. Something else?

Certainly in it’s more simplistic form an Undead is merely a creature or entity that is functional “after death”. The problem with that all-encompassing definition is that it embraces a wide variety of  Undead tropes.

  1. Only be hit by silver weapons.
  2. Only be hit by Holy weapons.
  3. Only be hit by Magic weapons.
  4. Only be affected by “turning”
  5. Can or cannot be banished.
  6. Immune to stuns/bleeding etc
  7. Causes a stat or level “drain” of one sort or another.
  8. Affected by the “moon” (if only one) or sunlight.
  9. Susceptible to “Clerics”.

So what is the underlying mechanic or philosophy behind Undead? Are animated corpses “undead” or just magically infused meat puppets? How does one draw a spirit from beyond? How are Undead created? How are special Undead created? Why do typical Undead need to follow common western European tropes (Mummy, Vampire, Wolfman, Zombie?). If you were to create a world from scratch, would you just populate it with common fantasy Undead? Is there a better, more consistent way to create Undead? What is “draining”? How does it work? How do you recover lost stats or levels? What spells protect against Undead? What type of Undead Does a Clerics spell turning work against a animated corpse? Does the Clerics patron god allow for powers against Undead or that specific type of Undead? If you allow many types of Undead, should they require different spells to deal with them? Do the Undead fit into the setting, afterlife and “soul” mechanics of the world?

Once you take away the Judaeo-Christian concept of Undead/Possession and symbology (crosses, silver, holy water), I’m not it’s clear what the strict definition of an Undead might be.

What do you do?


Adopting BASiL

I had a strange week last week. I was away at the weekend and ended up spending the entire week trying to catch up with what I should have done over the weekend and so I was a busy week. The end result was that I quite simply forgot to post something on Friday. I don’t think I have ever simply forgotten before!

I have been batting ideas about for a few years about what I want to do with magic and spell law. I instinctively want to get rid of the realms as an archaic D&D legacy concept. I don’t like lists as they turn every wizards spell book into a carbon copy of every other wizards spell book. That is an exaggeration but the principle is the same. No magician that can cast Fireball cannot cast everything else on either Luminous Elements or Fire Law because them come not as spells but as giant sized bolt-ons of all or nothing.

I have loads of ideas how to fix all of this but I simply do not get to play often enough to actually test my solution let alone revise and improve it.

So I have decided that I am going to adopt BriH’s BASiL as my core magic system. This is both a personal decision and it really has no bearing on anyone else but also a public one. All the monsters I create that have magical abilities or innate lists will now be BASiL related.

I am a bit behind with uploading even the monsters I have to the wiki so I will make changes to those I haven’t uploaded as I get around to them. This week I am writing an adventure based around a troupe of Sprites so I will create a sprite monster for the wiki. This will be the first native BASiL monster as they will have innate magic at the core of the monsters design.

Another consequence is that the fanzine is turning into a GMs magazine containing adventures and monsters. Rather than having to point readers to the blog every time to download the spell list before they can use the monster and/or the adventure I will be publishing BASiL bit by bit starting in Jan 2018. I checked with Brian this week if he is okay with me publishing BASiL this way and he gave the green light so it all looks good.

The final consequence of my decision seems to be that it is one big task removed from my unending to-do list that now means I can get on with other things. So that looks like a win-win situation for me. For BASiL it now means that Brian knows that it is really being used elsewhere, which is a nice feeling for people who put our their own work. It also means that it [BASiL] will be at the heart of adventures and our free monster wiki.

Finally, my to-to list got three Rolemaster things completed or removed from it this week and seven things added. Is this normal?

Turning Tropes Upside Down: Feral Elves and other thoughts.

When I was writing “Priest-King” a few years back, I ended up locating the module in SW Agyra and started fleshing out the geographic area. The land to the immediate south was Chaal-chu and in Terry’s description (Master Atlas p.34) was this fascinating tidbit:

In an (apparently) unique and frightening aberration, there
are Half-elven Eritari tribes in Chaal-chu who are cannibalistic.
They believe that feeding on their full-mortal cousins the Thesian
tribes will extend their lives.

I blogged about Elves back in June and last year as well, so it’s known that I’m not a fan of Elves in general. It’s hard to beat immortality and although the system tries to balance things with stat bonuses and other mechanics, it still doesn’t feel right. Elves are just too good. However, “Feral” Elves or Cannibalistic Half-Elves–sign me up for that!!

This is another great tidbit that is sprinkled throughout the Master Atlas, the idea of a primitive, regressed, Elven tribe, is ripe for gaming opportunities. Maybe these cannibals are more animal cunning then intelligent and wise. I visual them as  Reavers — terrifying!

This trope subversion is another reason why I like the Malazan series so much. In that setting, Erickson has included traditional “monster races” as normal races:

For instance, one of the powerful ancient races are the Jaghut, which I think are Ogres. Another race are T-Rex like creatures that had advanced technology!

We have racial stereotypes in our real world and so too in our fantasy settings: gruff Dwarfs, barbaric Orcs, flighty Elves etc. Why not flip some of these? Why not have a powerful, peaceful nation be made up of Orcs? For me, I’m going to enjoy my feral, cannibal half-elves! I know my players will too….

Getting your Rolemaster Fix.

It’s now been 7 days that the official Iron Crown website and our favorite ICE Forums has been down due to domain expiration. Per Nicholas yesterday:

“Hosting & domain provider being a royal pain.”

While we are all waiting for the larger ICE community to reconnect via the RMForums, here are a few ideas to get your Rolemaster fix:

  1. Read some older RMBlog articles. There are 481 posts here on the RolemasterBlog going back several years. Some are “meh”, some are good and many of them are pretty great I think!
  2. Vote for your favorite blog post! In the comments below, note which older blog post is one of your favorites, sparked a creative thought or made you look at some aspect of RM or rpg’s in a different way.
  3. Write a blog post. We always need new contributors–write a blog entry and send to Peter.
  4. Comment. Even older posts could use your insights or thoughts.
  5. Check out the RolemasterBlog “50 in 50”–our project that wrote 50 small adventure hooks and are publishing them over the course of a year.

In general, contribute and get involved. Sure, there are a handful of us that probably sound over-opinionated; but we also all agree to disagree at times. Your thoughts not only matter, they are greatly appreciated!

Hopefully, ICE will have things up and running soon!