Revenge is inevitable. The blowback of a murder hobo party.


Today I wanted to talk about unintended consequences of game play and connect two previous blog posts about “Newman Groups” and “Murder Hobos“.

Let’s be honest, PC’s in Rolemaster and other RPG’s kill a lot of people and creatures! Even if you focus on role-playing and noncombat situations, most game mechanics support adversarial and violent action. In our last session alone, the group killed (or incapacitated, maimed or left for dead) over 20 creatures–and that wasn’t a particular violent session. Not all of their opponents were purely evil or non-sentient; in fact, most were sentient humanoids or thinking creatures–they just happened to oppose the players or obstructed their goals. These opponents may have had family, friends or compatriots that would feel anger or loss, and probably want some sort of justice or revenge on the PC’s.

Now multiply that ten-fold or more. By the time a player is 20th level, they’ve probably killed THOUSANDS of people, creatures, monsters and animals.  In reality, the adventuring party is constantly creating new groups of enemies that might want to hunt them down.

I’m not making a moral point; Rolemaster is predicated on a detailed combat system with sometimes brutal or gruesome criticals. Killing is normal and common. But should there be consequences for years of endless murder and mayhem?


For whom the setting tolls

One topic that we keep coming back to is RM’s setting. There is nothing inherently wrong with a generic fantasy set of rules but it does set any single game at a disadvantage in the gaming market place.

The reasons why generic is a disadvantage is twofold. Firstly, settings get people excited. Middle Earth = exciting and evocative, Game of Thrones = exciting and evocative, Generic = bland and boring.

Generic also equals work. If you have a setting you know and love, Middle Earth, Shadow World or the Forgotten Realms as examples you have to immediately do work to make the game rules fit the setting. I must have spent months recreating significant NPCs from D&D to RMC before starting my game. That is easy for me as I know RMC inside out but for a GM that has just bought a new game then it is a lot to ask.

Something that Terry does well is use vignettes at the head of a chapter to bring his setting material to life. Game mechanics on their own are actually pretty boring. The setting on the other hand can be compelling and surprising. In separating the rules from the setting you are not really helping anyone.

The counter argument is that RM is an advanced system that experienced GMs upgrade to and these are most likely to have their own home brew setting. So why spend all that time and effort creating a setting that no one is going to use?

I can sort of see the logic. Most of us are in our 40s and 50s and came to RM by upgrading from D&D. So if we all upgraded to RM then others are likely to as well.

The problem with that is, in my opinion, that the gaming world has changed a lot since the 1980s. You are no longer restricted to the games that your FLGS stocks. Sites like RPGnow and Drivethru have so many games that no one can every hope to play them all. The result of all that choice is that there is a game or set of rules out there that model whatever it is that you want to play almost perfectly, off the shelf and without the burden of bending a generic set of rules to fit.

Also, over the past 40 years all those traditional systems that we upgraded from have themselves updated and evolved. AD&D 1st edition was far from perfect, as Hurin said recently ‘Once you have seen 1d8 damage you have seen them all.’ but now critical systems are plentiful if you like your damage covered in blood.

Those systems we upgraded from have also mostly flourished and grown over the years and as a result every possible taste is catered for. Just look at the number of genre books available for GURPs as an example. GURPS is an example of a generic system that really identified the lack of setting as a weakness. To address that weakness they put the time and effort into fitting GURPS to each and every genre so the GM didn’t have to.

I am lucky enough to have been given some of the core Harn World books by the publisher. It is my task in the coming weeks to read through them. I will be blogging about them as well. Here we have a setting ready for any system. I know that Shadow World can be an acquired taste, the mix of fantasy and tech are not to everyone’s taste.

As we are not allowed to publish for Shadow World (thinking about our 50in50 adventure hooks) we could easily publish these and add in Harnic locations. These could be ‘box outs’ so the GM can use it or not at their discretion.

So how many of you have played RM or HARP in Harn? What did you think of the setting?

The Knitting Circle of Whispering Valley

I did NOT write this one!

As a ‘drop in’ bit of added texture to a campaign the knitting circle are a great addition. Brian is certainly stronger in the locations and campaign centric 50in50 ideas.

The Knitting Circle is an organised group of women who operate behind the scenes in the communities of Whispering Valley. They are the true power in the region and have various magical powers, providing healing and defence of the locals. These are normal women, not a secretive coven of witches, but ones with magic who subtly affect the area.

What is HARP?

As you’re here, I know you’re familiar with Rolemaster, and I’m here to tell you about HARP.  HARP stands for High Adventure Role Playing, and while it shares many things with RM it is its own game.

Currently, HARP has six books available: Fantasy, SF, SF Xtreme,  College of Magics, Martial Law, and Folkways. You can run fantasy games with just the core book if you want to, but for science fiction you really need both SF and  SF Xtreme.

HARP Similarities to RM

  • d100/percentile dice based with open ending
  • Modular: the mentioned expansion books for fantasy
  • Brutal and amusing critical hits and fumbles

HARP Differences from RM

  • Eight stats instead of ten.
  • Your attack roll is your critical roll, reducing dice rolling.
  • Critical tables are by damage type rather than by weapon, reducing the amount of time it takes to look up a critical result. They also top out at rolls of 120, instant death criticals, so it is much easier to top the charts.
  • Rather than learning a spell list associated with their profession, casters can alter their spells during casting.  This comes with an increased casting time, power point cost, and an increasing casting penalty the more  scaling options the caster wants to use. Each spell is learned as a skill that the caster must have enough ranks for number of power points used in the spell for all scaling options. Characters will have to take casting penalties into account to scale their spells to cast while wearing armor.
  • To create a mixed race/species or genetically adapted character, the player must purchase the Genetic Adaptation talent once or twice, one Greater Blood Talent, or exactly two Lesser Blood Talents.
  • Choosing a character’s culture gives adolescent skills and is a great starting point for character backgrounds.


If you’re a fan of RM and sometimes want something lighter, give HARP a spin. Or if you’re interested in RM but it seems too daunting, give HARP a go.

Dividing loot. An early RPG mechanic.

For those taking note, my blog volume has decreased substantially over the last month or two. Luckily, we have new bloggers that can help fill the gaps as well as bring different perspectives to all things Rolemaster and RPG’s. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t free up for another month or two and I’m going to limit myself to shorter posts that are geared towards generating discussion rather than me presenting my own solutions.

Let’s talk about dividing loot. I was meandering through some old D&D material and realized that they actually developed some rules on how players should divide up treasure. I had never given it much thought and in all the years of playing, dividing treasure always seemed fairly simple and intuitive.

Here is the original text from the Players Handbook.


1. Equal shares (share and share alike) is a simple division by the total
number of characters involved.
2. Shares by level is a division whereby all* character levels of
experience are added and the total treasure divided by this sum.
One share of treasure is given for each experience level.
3. Equal shares plus bonus is a method to reward excellence and
leadership. Treasure is divided by the sum of all characters, plus
two or three. The outstanding character or characters, as
determined by vote, each gain one extra share.
*For multi-classed characters add one-half of the lesser class(es)
levels to the greater class levels to determine total experience
levels for the division of treasure. Characters with two classes
receive shares for the class levels they are permitted to employ (cf.

1. Non-player characters who are henchmen of a player character
count as one-half character or for one half of their levels and
cannot gain bonus shares.
2. A character incapacitated or killed (but subsequently brought back
to life) is eligible to share only in treasure gained prior to such
incapacity or death.
3. Characters who are uncooperative, who obstruct the party, attack
party members, or are the proximate cause of the incapacitation or
death of a party member shall forfeit from one-quarter to all of
their share(s) as penalty for their actions.

Magical Treasure:
While it is a simple matter to total coins and precious items which can be
sold for an established amount of money, the division of magic items is far
more difficult. It is therefore necessary for party members to determine
how magic will be divided. As the number of items which will be gained is
unknown, selection of a system of division is not possible until after the
adventure is concluded.
1. If but one or two items of magic are gained these can be grouped
singly or paired to equal  share of treasure. If one is of relatively
small worth, it can be grouped with money to equal one share.
2. Three or more magic items:
a) best item
b) next best item
c) third + fourth items
d) “x” amount of money as compensation for not getting any
magic items
3. Three or more magic items, alternate method:
a) best item
b) second item + “x” amount of money
c) fourth item + “3x” amount of money

Magic items thus parceled are then diced for, the character with the
highest roll selecting first, and then the second highest scoring character
choosing next, etc. It is suggested that each character be given a number
of rolls equal to his or her level of experience, the highest of these rolls
being the one retained. Non-player character henchmen are typically
allowed but a single roll.
Variations on the above systems are, of course, possible. Systems should
always be established prior to the inception of the adventure whenever

To me, these rules are a curiosity- a remnant of D&D’s wargaming roots. I wonder if any game since has actually created or quantified a similar system of loot division? A few thoughts I had:

  1. It seems impersonal in a game generally played by a group of friends in a cooperative group. For a convention game or playing in a group of strangers it might make sense?
  2. While it may seem impartial rules would reduce group conflict, shares by level or equal shares with a bonus are begging for player disagreement. The modifiers seem a bit qualitative as well.
  3. I like the fact that it’s mentioned that henchmen get a share as well. That reinforces the importance of henchmen and retainers in D&D that isn’t really found in Rolemaster.
  4. The “shares” reminds me of loot and spoil agreements used by pirates, freebooters and privateers.

I suppose in a game system that quantifies everything and uses 1gp = 1xp, having hard rules about dividing treasure makes sense. Is this a legacy of a simpler time in RPG’s or a needless complexity that has been ignored by most other game systems since? Did you ever use official loot splitting rules for your group? Do these rules foster teamwork and collaboration or create problems? In a game that is based on group problem solving, is it strange to lay out these rules? Maybe it’s just quaint but unnecessary now–like wearing hats in the old timey days.

What other original D&D rules are “outliers” or seem obsolete now?

SL: One Mechanic To Rule Them All?

I was going to blog about something completely different today but as we seem to still be in dissecting rolemaster mode and Brian has the hood off of Spell Law I thought I would stick my oar in as well.

So as you all know I have been reading the 7th Sea rules. Looking at 7c2e magic at first glance you could so easily turn it into a spell list based system.

7c2e has different types of magic.

Porté allows the sorcerer to mark items, people and places with their own blood and then by creating a portal to either draw the item to them or travel to the person or place. As your skill in Porté increases you can maintain a bond with more items, people and places and take more people with you when traveling via these portals. So you could have a series of spells for Mark I, Mark II and so on that build up the number of marked items, Mark Person, Mark Place and so on that go up in stages and Create Portal spells. Between those you could easily build a list.

Sanderis is a form of magic where the character has a contract with a demon (to all intents and purposes). The spells on a Sanderis list would be in the form of ‘deals’ where the demon could be coerced into performing actions. Low level spells would do minor deals in exchange for minor gains and high level spells would force the demon to significant errands for the character.

Hexenwerk is a cross between alchemy and necromancy to create unguents.  Unguents are thick pastes or salves and come in minor and major variations. Here is an example, Ghost Eyes. Eyes carved from the recent dead, mixed with holy water and mandrake, and then smeared across the eyelids. Ghost Eyes allows you to see—for a single Scene—spirits, ghosts, and other such Monsters that would typically be invisible. One could easily build a list of unguent creation spells going from minor to major effects.

Those are just three of the six types of magic in 7c2e. Each is woven into the culture of the land where it originated and each has very distinct usage, effects and mechanics.

So, I could easily convert all of these to Rolemaster spell lists but in doing so something would be lost. With Sanderis the ‘caster’ can do any deal with their personal demon if they are prepared to pay the price. You do not need to be a particular skill level to get a particular effect. With Hexenwerk you can build a recipe book of different unguents as you learn the recipes. You do not need to work through them in a linear way.

So why do we need Channeling, Essence and Mentalism to work in exactly the same way? If a priest is getting his or her power directly from their deity why are they limited in what they can prey for? Rangers and Clerics are both channelers but their power source (nature vs gods directly?) are potentially very different yet treated as being one and the same.

Potentially you could easily abandon the realms model completely and built truly distinctive spell casters that are closely tied into their setting and characters culture as they are into their magical tradition. The only thing that makes one pure spell caster different from the next are their base lists. If a style of magic does not fit into a linear list style structure why not abandon the list and create a structure that does work?

Call That A Knife

Of all the 50 in 50 adventure hooks I wrote my two favourites were Mating Season and Call That A Knife.

This week’s offering is Call That A Knife.

Call That a Knife? sees a strange woman pulled out of the sea at a port. The woman is wearing tight-fitting armour and has unusual weapons, which she immediately attacks her rescuers with, killing several. The characters hear about this attack and may pursue the woman, who is travelling across the town’s roofs, as she tries to escape. The woman speaks no known language; it isn’t known who or what she is or why she is attacking everyone who approaches her.

Believe me when I say it is much better than it sounds. This is Ninjas meets Bourne Identity meets Kill Bill.

If you only buy one of my hooks then this is the one to buy. If you want to buy two of mine then get Mating Season as well!

The Cost of Charts

Love em or hate em, you cannot escape charts in Rolemaster. This feature, more than any other, distinguishes it from other surviving game systems. I cannot have a conversation about modifying or even understanding the game system without talking about charts and their impact.

Specifically, I am going to talk about complexity and efficiency, the cost of algorithms. Nothing about this conversation is about the goodness or badness of Rolemaster, only about its expense. Charts are the elephant in the hallowed halls of Rolemaster. This post is all about weighing the elephant.

If you are familiar with algorithms, you probably already know how this post will develop and I hope you do not mind my attempts to simplify a subject that can get, um, rather complex. Much of what follows might be obvious to you even if you are not, especially if you have been living with the complexity of RM for decades, but perhaps because I am about to explain this too awesomely. Perhaps. Or, you can just wiki computational complexity and algorithmic efficiency, and know everything! More likely, I will not have explained things well enough. Otherwise…

Complexity is basically how much stuff it takes to support an operation. The usual ‘stuff’ considered is time: If I run an algorithm on an input of size N, how long will it run? But we can also consider operations: How many operations does it take? This is pretty useful to measure the agility of a game system during play: How many things do I have to do to reach a conclusion? Finally, we can consider space: How many physical resources does it consume? We will be talking a lot about this last.

Suppose I have N talents that cost the same and work the same for everyone: No special cases. How much space do I need to represent them? Well, it’s the average length of a talent write-up, which we can consider reasonably constant, multiplied by N, or k*N. We ignore the constant and call this O(N), because as N gets really huge the constant doesn’t matter very much. If I have 1000 talents in RM, the space I need is 1000 entries. If I have 4 talents, I need 4 entries. If I add a brand new talent, whether I have 1000 talents or 4, I do not have to modify any other talent and I need exactly one more entry. We call this linear.

So far so good? Well ok: The same thing happens if I decide to add a new skill to RM, right? Nope. Let’s walk through this. First, I have a chapter all about skills. I add another skill, and that’s just another entry, as for talents. But I also have different skill costs for every class. So if I have S skills and C classes, I need S*C entries, or O(S*C). Hey, that starts to look like a table, or a chart: It’s no longer linear, but quadratic. It’s representation no longer looks like a list of stuff, but a quadrangle. If I have 300 skills and 50 classes, I have 15000 entries. To add a new skill requires C=50 new entries; a new class requires S=300 new entries. Ouch.

Of course, if I add a new class, I also have to calculate and then create entries for the cost of every Lifestyle and Vocational Package too. If I have P packages, that’s O(P*C), which is also quadratic. Having to do two (or any constant number of) quadratic things is still quadratic.

If you’re wondering why so many rules tinkerers go with a single Non-Profession class, or if you are one of these tinkerers and think you are doing it for some other reason, you are really doing it to reap the benefits of greater algothmic efficiency. These quadratic algorithms become linear because you have set C=1. When balancing skill costs, you have S costs to think about rather than S*C, so you are more likely to get the balance right. When representing skills, you have S entries. That’s linear. The same reasoning holds for packages, and maybe some other charts I don’t want to think about now.

Of course, we can use skill categories to tame this problem, which has already happened :). This reduces the size of S, which is nice. Instead of S=300 we have, say, S=20. But the algorithm still consumes quadratic space, because it hasn’t changed: 20*50=1000 entries. That’s better than 15000! And if we limit ourselves to only 20 classes, we have even fewer entries: 20*20=400. But if we had a linear algorithm, O(S), we’d have 20 entries, or we could ignore skill categories and have 300 entries.

This is what a game designer I know calls “the n squared problem.” When designing a game, he never wants rules that require him to make a big table (he simplified the rectangle to a square, which is reasonable) because he then has to fill in every entry and be sure they are all correct before going to print, and then players who want to really understand what is happening have to look at N*N cases rather than N.

So, RM has “the n squared problem,” right? Nope. We should be so lucky. RM has Armor Type rather than mere Armor Class. Where lesser games are content to represent each weapon as some die roll for damage with maybe a damage type and maybe a special rule, every RM attack is unique. And where other games settle for a mathematical formula for deciding what a die roll means, RM has something like 50 entries for the range of 0 to 150+.

That’s A (number of ATs) * W (number of weapons or attacks) * D (dice roll bands on table). That’s O(A*W*D). My game designer guy would call this “the n cubed problem.” We in the biz call it cubic. It’s like a stack of tables. Let’s weigh the elephant:

If I have 20 ATs, because that sounds like a good number :), 40 different weapons and attacks and 50 dice bands, thats 20*40*50=40000 entries. (I won’t even bother with the crit charts here, but that’s also cubic.)

Add another weapon or attack type? That’s A*D new entries, or a page. Want to add a new AT, say, to support the plant people and plant armors I really want to add to my game? That’s W*D new entries, and I have to edit all the pages. You get the idea. (Here is where a purist might point out that I should represent D as a really big constant. But I’m simplifying, and I think you know why I’m not.)

I hope we are getting something for all this algorithmic inefficiency: Other rpgs usually represent weapons and armors in linear space. Remember: If I have one list of armor that doesn’t depend on weapons, and another list of weapons that don’t depend on armor, that’s two lists, both of which are linear. That’s O(N), and I have a number of entries precisely equal to A+W.

We can reduce entries too: RMU cuts the number of ATs in half, for a substantial savings. But I still cannot easily add new armors, as I can in other systems. The relative algorithmic inefficiency is forcing some hard choices! We’ll be talking about choice in another post. But could we instead change how things are done? Change the algorithm? Should we?

Maybe you don’t care about space complexity, but only about time complexity. After all, once you have a character, you can copy the few charts that character needs, and it doesn’t matter because everything is so easy for a guy who can GM this game in his sleep. We’ll talk about time complexity in a moment.

But first… it does matter. You pay for the space complexity when you buy a book and much of it is table entries like 22AK, 24AK… when it could have other kinds of content. You pay again when it takes forever to get a new book out because all of the entries have to be correct. You pay again when you find that things aren’t balanced right even after that forever: Human beings really don’t do a good job balancing 10000 table entries, and trying to reduce the problem with categories creates other problems, which have been discussed in other RM fora, though not from this perspective. You pay again when a new something or other is added, and all the charts have to be updated. You pay again when you are the one who wants to add or change something, because that’s expensive in RM. There are some other subtle prices to be paid, and RM veterans who start to look at the game through this kind of lens are more likely to find the most insidious these than I.

There’s a time penalty too, because looking things up on a matrix is often more difficult than rolling some dice and comparing to something simple. But this is not so terrible.

All rpgs have to deal with time complexity, and few do a great job of it. Time complexity here is all about the cost of each operation. Do I have to figure out how many dice to roll? If so, given the capabilities of human brainpower, what is that cost, compared to a mechanic that always has me roll the same dice? That’s the best, by the way: constant complexity, or O(1). RM can brag here. But calculating all the modifiers is a different kind of expense, and RM has that in abundance. Then there’s tracking actions, percent action, initiative… What are the real costs? Each kind of operation is just plain different. Having to open a book and reference a table has a different cost compared with finding the right dice to roll, especially if some other player borrowed one, compared to calculating a formula, even a simple addition or subtraction. And then there’s the cost of human error.

So, in the simplest sense, most rpgs seem to have linear time complexity: Add up each relevant modifier, find the necessary dice, roll them, figure out what it means. But if any of these operations requires greater than constant time, the overall time is worse than linear. I am very confident that looking anything up on a table is worse than constant for a human being. I suspect it is worse than O(logN) and would be shocked if it were better. Alas, that awaits a real study or a good Google search.

As an aside, the advantage/disadvantage mechanic of D&D5 oversimplifies, perhaps, but it has powerful, um, advantages: Although running through the possible sources of advantage and disadvantage is linear, you get to stop much earlier, because only one of each matters. Also, the math is dead simple, since there is no math, so we can be sure the operation really is constant. (I’m not sure that adding modifiers is really constant.) It is also far more reliable: If you accidentally use the same modifier twice, you still get the same result. Combined with no table lookup, this really is a safe O(N).

So, here we are. I haven’t gone through everything, some of which will come up later, like spell lists, but RM has some rather inefficient features.

I do not mean to say they are the wrong features! If the features provide you with something you don’t otherwise get and still really want, well, you paid the price for what you want. That’s the big question, isn’t it: If you’re willing to collapse classes to reap the rewards of efficiency at no loss of playability and perhaps even a gain, what else might you do?

Upcoming Game Design Posts

I posted my first entry to this website a few weeks ago and implied that I was going to write more, at least about spell lists. That has not happened.

Instead, amidst the slowly expanding but disorganized mess that I did write, I found a few other things I wanted to talk about which I believe provide necessary context. This post serves as an outline to help me organize my thoughts… and to warn you about what I have planned. Ok, and also as a way of committing myself to following through and finishing. I might change this outline based on comments, on a need to break this up even further (I’m looking at you, CLT&SL) and on ordering (thoughts about rpgs can come at any time, and is the most fluffy.)

The Cost of Charts

Maybe charts are good, maybe charts are bad, but charts are definitely expensive. Since charts are the elephant in the room when it comes to Rolemaster, I think it is important to talk about the size of that elephant. This post will put math to explain why I claim charts are expensive. I will also suggest that rule tinkerers (You know who you are!) who have been adopting a single “Non-profession” class in RM, or who have been having problems with skill categories in general and how they don’t quite work the way you want in RMU, or who have been surprised about how long it RMU has been gestating have run into the iron wall of this math. It’s light math, so don’t worry!

The Illusion of Choice

Many of the choices we think we have in real life are not choices at all, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the game is rigged with options that are not worth taking, sometimes we are heavily guided, almost coerced, by social engineering, and sometimes we are deluded that something deterministic involved any choice at all. This discussion will focus on various kind of false choice in rpgs. Although the conversation generally applies to all rpgs, it especially matters for RM, because choices in RM cost a lot more than they do in most other rpgs because of math.

The Splendor of Classes, Levels, Talents and Spell Lists

Although sometimes maligned, there is much to admire about all of the features featured in the title. I want to talk about that. Although I don’t think they come together quite right in RM, I think that they can, or at least come closer. I want to talk about that too. None of these features originated in Rolemaster. Of these features, only Spell Lists have been significantly developed and leveraged within Rolemaster. All can be retained without creating more adverse math, even if false choices within these features are also retained.

The Right Setting for Rolemaster

The right setting should be cool, of course, but I’m not cool enough to come up with that! So I will settle for a conversation about the characteristics I think that game world should have. It might be a short conversation: I think magic in the right setting for RM should be ubiquitous but usually of low to moderate power. Pretty much every PC should have spells and/or interesting talents. This seems contrary to the mindset I infer from having spent time around RM players and forums, so perhaps the conversation might not be so short after all.

Some RPGs I Think You Should Know About

There has been a lot of RPG system development and evolution since RM was published, nearly all of which has occurred outside of RM. If you are tinkering with RM, I think some of these other games deserve your attention, to plunder for ideas and perhaps to think about while reading this series of posts. At the very least, I wish to talk about a few: Anima pretty much stole the core RM system but then did something very different with it, different from anything that ICE has done with it, and not just because of the slick production values. Ironclaw (Squaring the Circle) might disturb you because it is written by, for and about furries, but it is a solid system of special interest to RM fans because of how it handles magic and combat lethality. Burning Wheel is a low magic, consequence-ridden system whose rules govern players as much as characters, attempting to achieve an old-school feel through modern means. I do not necessarily recommend any of these for you to play, especially since I suspect you already have a favorite system!




Chargen Part 2 Questions

I used to have a GM that would start the first game session with dishing out about 5 pages of questions about your  character. The format was sort of question followed by about 10 lines of space then next question and so on. I cannot remember the actual questions except the very last one which was “What would your character sell his soul for?

I used to detest these questions. For a start I rarely know my characters personality when I sit down to play. I tend to have an idea of what I want to play but I am heavily influenced by the other players characters and the first adventure.

It is not the actual questioning I objected to but the timing of it. During that first session there is so much to take in, you could be getting to grasp with an entirely new setting, your new character, new party members, a new mission and possibly new rules or variations on the rules you thought you knew.

What brings this all to mind are twofold.

  1. Spectre771 mentioned in a comment to my last post about the differentiation between experienced players and newer less experienced players.
  2. My reading of the 7th Sea rules.

One of the things that my Rolemaster house rules always share is that character generation is always diceless. In RMC I use fixed #hits and point buy stats. In RMU hits are skill based, not rolled, and there is a core rule for point buying stats. Spell acquisition is skill based in both games although using different methods but the net effect is the same. If you know my house rules then you can create your character well in advance. For me it means that I can then devote my time and effort to any new players who cannot be left to create a character without some support.

7th Sea is also a diceless character generation system, you just pick options at each stage to create your hero. It is exceptionally quick and easy but lacks much of the detail and granularity of RM.

The stand out difference is that 7th Sea starts with 20 questions. These start with objective things like What Nation is your Hero from? and progress through things like What are your Hero’s highest ambitions? and What is your Hero’s opinion of his country? to eventually end up with What does your Hero think of Sorcery?

The fundamental difference between these questions and my old GM’s questions is that of timing. I can give out the 7th Sea questions along with a primer on my setting, nations and game world long before the game starts. That way you get to think about the sort of character you want to play in your own time. You can answer the questions then go back and change your mind. The answers you come up with then turn into a blue print to use in creating your character.

Adopting the same technique for Rolemaster, particularly with new players, has massive advantages. For really new players coming to RPGs for the first time the difference between Roll play and Role play are not always clear in their minds, particularly if they are coming from a wargaming background where the use of dice for combat resolution is an idea they are comfortable with.

I don’t see this just as a structure for new players either. It doesn’t hurt to give it to experienced players. My group have a tendency to slip into the same old personalities again and again. I get my players to create a post-it sized personality description which is stuck on the front of their character sheets. At the start of every session I ask them to read it to themselves as a reminder. If they tell me they do something that I think would be seriously out of character then I will ask them to read their post-it and then reconsider. Sometimes they read it and then insist that they are happy with their original choice, others they retract the action and do things differently because the character simply would not rip the innocent bartenders fingernails out just to get the address of an informant.

The 20 7th Sea questions do not take up any game time as they happen before the first game session but they make creating that personality prompt post-it much easier. It also makes creating a character with a new player easier too. As a guiding GM with a new player if you know what the player wants to play it is easier to help them achieve that. This is doubly true with a fully expanded RM2 I would say.

If you want I will list the 20 questions but I would also suggest that you create your own and make them setting specific. For modern espionage settings (I’m looking at you Intothatdarkness) you could style it like a psych evaluation. For shadow world if you have already decided on your characters starting location then you can add in cultural influences or drop in questions to hint at the Unlife or if everyone is going to be Gryphon College trained then twist things to reflect their world view.

Any thoughts? Do you want to see the questions?