50 in 50 adventure hooks. What works, what doesn’t, what can improve?

I’m in the final stretch of a hectic professional life, so I barely have time to write, post or respond. However, the Rolemasterblog must go on so I’m going to do a quickie for today. Hopefully this will spark some feedback.

We are nearing the end of our “50 Adventures in 50 Weeks” challenge we set for ourselves last year. It’s been a great experience in creativity, deadlines, limitations on using IP, and testing the limits of publishing. The last of my adventures start getting larger and more in depth and I’ll be putting in usable “stats” whenever possible using an abbreviated stat block that can be used with d100 and Rolemaster w/o any IP infringements.

Peter blogged previously about his views on the 50in50 and I wanted to toss out some thoughts and observations of my own:

  1. I’ve made a little money. Nothing significant, but I did buy hardcovers of Xa’ar, Emer III and Cloudlords the other day using my earnings.
  2. In hindsight, I wish my adventures were a bit “meatier”. That wasn’t the original goal of the challenge–it was supposed to be simple hooks and concepts–but looking over the published ones sparked new ideas.
  3. Reviews. No one wants to be criticized but it would have been nice to get some reviews from people. Even “I can believe I paid .50 for that” would have provided some insight.
  4. For my contribution, it seems like the “City of Spiders” and “Haunted Forest” were the two most popular. Some of my other products were encounters or people related so I wonder if the appeal was that they were both physical places that are easy to drop into a adventure or campaign?

Since we are going to continue to publish adventures past the 50 adventure limit I’m going to set a few more goals:

  1. Each of mine will be at least 3 pages of content.
  2. Include Rolemaster compatible stats
  3. Focus on places. Interesting NPC’s or encounters will be rolled into a “place”.
  4. Layouts. Everyone likes the battle maps so each adventure will have one.

I’m open to any suggestions as we move forward! What should we change or improve?

Q: What has a spine but no bones?

A: A book!

Sorry for the bad joke but the non-corporeal undead also have no bones and one of the best suggested encounter locations was the library, it was just too good an opportunity for a bad joke to skip.

Here we have a rather interesting floor plan of a library. The architecture itself can hint at the former wealth and culture of the city before it fell into decay and abandonment.

We can have the floors littered with a carpet of decaying books and scrolls.

So what the players need to achieve is to find the location of the throne and to learn something of its nature.

I am imagining the library to be abandoned by day but as the sun sets a ghostly presence can be felt.

The monster this time is the former librarian, using the stats of a Wight. These start at 10th level and go up to 20th level. As a single foe against a party of heroes I think that is a fair fight. Given the ability of the undead to regenerate the party may need to fight this wight again and again if they are not adept at getting what they need from the library.

I think it would be important for the GM to describe the wight and it coming for the characters rather than naming it as a wight. If the characters have already fought undead that are hurling shockbolts or lightning bolts and these are doing cold crits it can be one of those situations where the players really have no idea what they are fighting. Most of us started in MERP so wights are nothing new. Against a background of spectres, revenants and apparitions knowing what is what becomes harder.

There is loads of opportunity for atmospheric description here with the sun going down and the characters feeling the temperature dropping. The light fading and then the appearance of burning red eyes in the darkness…

I have not added room numbers to the map intentionally. I think as GMs we can describe a sort of uniform rot and decay. I would suggest that the greyed out areas as the most sodden with swamp water coming up from the ground. the stairs down are flooded with stagnant swamp water. If you need to discourage investigations into the flooded basement we can stick a crocodile down there. Try fighting one of them in the dark. They are only 3rd level but with an 80 OB (Large Bite) and a bit of surprise they could put off the inquisitive!

So now we need to provide the characters with some reward. I do not like the idea of demanding skill rolls to find information that the players need to advance the story. I think rolling to see how soon the information is found is find. I am sure that the RM2 players here probably have Library Use or Research as a skill. I would suggest that good rolls allow for a speedier finding of the right scrolls and books and poor rolls means it takes longer.

Another alternative is that finding the location of the throne is an automatic success but we create a table so that 101+ tells the characters that there is a guardian protecting the throne, 126+ tells the characters that the throne corrupted all who ruled from it. 151+ adds the detail that the throne was known as the necromancers seat and so on.

Any thoughts?


The Tribulations of the Orachu Tribe is our latest 50in50 offering.

In The Tribulations of the Orachu Tribe, the characters encounter a feared local tribe, coming across the tribe when the characters need something, or simply by chance. The characters will be taken by the tribe and will be required to prove their worthiness in a series of tests.

I don’t want to give anything away but there is an interesting Rolemaster-esque point here. In one of the tribulations there are sharpened stakes upon which the characters could fall.

In Brian’s version he gives the stakes an OB and an attack table, in this case +25OB and the Spear attack table. I have used this same threat in some of my adventures but I tend to use “(x number) of ‘A’ puncture criticals” rather than an OB. On the A puncture critical table there are plenty of chances of no extra damage or just a couple of hits but chances are at least one stake will do something regardless of what level the characters are. With Brian’s version a +25OB means that probably most characters won’t take any damage as their DB will cancel most of the OB and the GM would probably have to roll open ended to ‘hit’.

Furthermore there is only one fatal result (a natural 00) on the ‘A’ puncture critical column. No one really wants the hero to die to a fairly simple staked pit trap or in this case a balancing beam style challenge. Heroes should die heroically, at least most of the time. With my version I don’t need to pull any punches knowing that the challenge could harm, hinder and challenge the party, there are still nasty wounds that can happen on the A critical. That 00 result is a severed vein leading to a heart failure but with life keeping plus vein/artery repair (5th, 7th and 8th level respectively) the fatality can be avoided. Even if your party are not 8th level those spells are ‘overcastable’ at a push.

In contrast an open ended attack roll is five times more likely than a natural 00 on the critical and that opens the way to much more severe criticals than just an A.

So for future adventure hooks which method would you prefer for pits and traps? Fixed criticals or OBs for attacks? Do you care? We can use this to improve our adventure hooks for everyone. 


Deconstruction: Rolemaster Arms Law. How often should you fumble?


Have you ever fought in a melee? With weapons? Every played around with nunchakus, flails, morning stars or just goofed off with chains, ropes, whips or similar objects? Ever chopped wood? Ever been in a fight? Have you been in a stressful dangerous situation where your heart raced, adrenaline kicked in and your palms started sweating?

If so, chances are you have also fumbled an object: it slipped out of your hands, bounced dangerously off a hard object, it was over-swung and you actually hit yourself or you missed a target completely and lost balance, tripped or even fell. That’s completely normal and expected. Wielding weapons in battle should be more difficult than playing around with mock combat.

Rolemaster has a system for fumbles: each weapon has a fumble range, generally between 1-10 with an optional rule that the # of skill ranks can reduce the fumble range (but never below 1). In practical terms, that means that by level 3-5 most fighter types will  have reduced their fumble to 1 in their chosen weapon(s).

Many people probably feel that fiddling with fumble ranges is like encumbrance and exhaustion: too much realism and/or record keeping for not a lot of benefit. I get that. However, swinging around a sharp object, as HARD AS YOU CAN, in a confusing and disorienting environment is incredibly dangerous!

kill bill GIF

Now imagine weapons even more unwieldy than a basic sword, club, mace or dagger. How about a 8′ glaive? A whip? A chained morning star? Should 2, 3 or  5 skill ranks in these weapons impart enough competency to reduce fumbles to a natural “1”?

As part of our expansion of weapon individualization, I’ve been tweaking weapon fumble ranges–some ranges as high as 20, 30 and even 50. This does several things: it models the actual ergonomics of a particular weapon, it adds a counterbalance to some exotic, dangerous weapons that should be difficult to wield correctly (kynac, chakram) and it ties expertise (not total bonus) into the proper handling of a weapon.

Let’s consider the Urumi. This weapon looks particular dangerous to wield doesn’t it! I give this a fumble range of “50”! Basically only a true master can wield it effectively–in normal progression that’s around 20-25th lvl. (But it also imparts a fairly low combat penalty against multiple opponents so there are benefits to using it as well). But even at 10th lvl and 2 ranks/lvl, it will still have a fumble range of 30! It’s one thing to twirl around and show off, but imagine using that in actual combat. Whipping it up to speed, recovering from a missed hit or withdrawing defensively.

Most common weapons have a fumble range of 10-20 so my players can reduce that to “1” by 5-10 level. That seems right to me. And if they want to use a “special” Shadow World weapon (Irgaak) to benefit from bonuses to AT or extra crits, they’ll probably have to deal with a much higher fumble range. Increased fumble ranges and weapon specific modifiers add a whole new dimension to weapon selection–more than just max damage, critical thresh hold and efficacy vs armor.

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

So we have our gatehouse on the causeway with its undead guards. We have marshes patrolled by roving undead but where do all these undead come from?

I want a necromancer, but not just any necromancer.

Some where in this city there is going to be access to an underground lake and lurking in the depths of that lake is our Necromancer!

The bottom of a pool is not the usual place to find necromancers, well not BEFORE the party meet them anyway.

I rather like the way that RMU applies Archetypes to any creature to create a unique build. I want to do something similar to that here but using RM2/RMC stats.

You will also remember from the first post in this group that I want to make all of this scale-able to a wide range of character levels.

So our scary monster is going to be an off the shelf creature and then tweaked to make a suitable Super Creep.

I want to start with an Octopus(!). I then want to apply one or possibly two changes to it. The first of which is to give it a profession.

A professional octopus?

Just because Octopi don’t wear tee-shirts and buy coffee at Starbucks does not mean they are not intelligent. They are just differently intelligent. So this Octopus is a cleric and an evil cleric to boot!

A large octopus/squid has 30′ tentacles, is 6th level and has an +80OB which is a fair challenge for a low level party. If we give it the Necromancy (Base) and Calm Spirits (Closed Channeling) lists you have an interesting villain. A 6th level evil cleric given enough time a bit of overcasting or ritual can create type I and II undead and control them. So the villain at the heart of the city can create the undead that protects the city. It has had plenty of time to build its minions so that is all consistent.

So lets scale up our Super Creep.

Using the RAW for GIGANTISM (C&T pages 139 for the RMC version of the book) one increase in size for our octopus takes it from 6th level to 14th level. It also takes its #hits from 70 to 160. As an 14th level Evil Cleric we are now able to create (at a push) Type IV undead. Type IV include Ghosts and Spectres that are up to about 10th level monsters. The Octopus itself now had an OB of 100 and is doing Huge Grapple attacks.

Want something tougher?

Lets scale him up once more!

So with two levels of size increase we have an Octopus that is 16th level, 180#hits and OB of 120. Its criticals are reduced by 2 levels so ignores A&B crits.

I think this kind of end of level boss makes a wonderful Cthulhuesque  mastermind. You can be pretty sure that he party will never have met one before and to be honest I doubt if anyone would be expecting the giant octopus to be a spell caster! That should make the players have to reevaluate their tactics at some point if nothing else.

So what comes next?

I would like to introduce two things, first, something that the party need to bring back from the city, their primary quest. I like the idea of this being so big it needs a cart. I am thinking of some kind of throne that just happens to be sunk at the bottom of the pool.

I also want some interesting suggestions for some ‘set play’ encounters. Something challenging for the players to showcase the city of undead.

Any suggestions?

Publication Round Up

We have two new things for you this week!

Thar’s Rustlers in Them There Hills is one of my 50in50 creations. The crux of this encounter is that the villains simply know more than the players and make best use of that knowledge. In this case they know the terrain, they know know their horses, how to ride ‘well’ and how to get the most from their mounts.

How big an impact this encounter will have on your campaign is up to you. The amount of stuff my players leave on their horses would make this encounter a serious pain in the arse!

Issue 14 of the Fanzine brings together more of Brian Hanson’s BASiL lists, this time for Mentalism as well as a couple of articles on undead and creating end of level style bosses. Oh, and we also get some more of Craig John’s wonderful Shadow World art.

Rolemaster Ambush Skill: How Could it work?

In the original Rolemaster, Ambush was one of the skills that worked differently than others. I’m sure at the time, they were just trying to fit a square peg in a round hole to get the desired result, but actually it was quit brilliant and should have been pursued in greater detail for other skills.

What do I mean? That the # of skill ranks can serve as a rule mechanic just like total skill bonus. RM made Ambush a skill rank only skill where the other skills were purely total skill bonus. But why not have both for all skills?

What does Ambush skill really entail? The skill description requires that the skill be developed with a specific weapon, but does that really make sense? Ambush is not about the weapon, it’s about surprise and the ability to target kill points on a body. A competent assassin can kill with a knife, a stapler or a pen by targeting soft spots or vulnerabilities. The type of weapon is irrelevant as long as it can physically carry out such an attack.

So what might be a way to handle Ambush using both # of skill ranks and skill bonus? Here is how we do it. The ambush skill bonus is used for the Offensive Bonus-no matter what the weapon or object. The GM chooses the attack chart/size based on the weapon and type of damage it might inflict (a flail would not be great in close quarters, while a wooden splinter would be great but do very little damage w/o a great attack roll). Obviously this is a close quarter attack, ambush shouldn’t work for missile, or thrown weapons (that’s a called shot with surprise bonus). The skill bonus reflects the versatility of training using any weapon or object to kill. Also, it recognizes that the ambush weapon is being used to kill with a direct strike and perhaps not how the weapon is normally used. If the attack is successful, then the # of Skill Ranks is used to adjust the critical roll. A bit different than the original rules: some would argue that this allows the assassin to use any weapon or object to kill a target. Correct.

In any event, that’s how we play it. does it seem overpowered? The Assassin would need to get into striking range without being detected (a different skill/ability), have some type of damage inflicting weapon, and generate a critical result attack.

Just my take, using my own hybrid system (S.W.A.R.M.). What’s yours?

City of Forgotten Heroes

This is not one of our 50in50 adventures, no, rather this is a sort of crowd sourced adventure. So if it is crowd sourced then technically I am not saying that there will be this monster at this location, no, you will suggest that monster goes there and this one here and so on. The end result should be an adventure with monsters and villains for which I am entirely not to blame.

Or so the theory goes…

So, the inspiration for this was a quote I heard on the radio today. I wasn’t paying attention so I have no idea of the original context but I thought “That sounds like one of Brian’s adventures”. I googled that title and there is a piece of fan fiction of that name and this has absolutely nothing to do with that but I have linked to it just out of courtesy as Lady of the lake came up with the title before me.

My initial thought was for a originally coastal city or large town that over the years flood defences had crumbled or drainage ditches had become choked so that the surrounding land had returned to a wet march. The city itself is approached by a raised causeway. Part way along the causeway are the remains of a gatehouse. One tower has completely collapsed into the march, the arch over the causeway has also crumbled but one tower remains mostly whole.

I am thinking that the city is inhabited primarily by the incorporeal undead, so no zombies and skeletons but more shadows, wraiths and spectres. These marshes could be home to corpse candles and corpse lanterns. For a lower level party the marshes could be haunted by phantoms, being only 2nd level.

So this is a real gatehouse. If we wipe out one side due to collapse we have six remaining chambers over three levels if the party decide to approach our city along the causeway.

That is not a given of course. There are parties that will stubbornly insist on slogging though the marsh to avoid it, those that will fly over it or longdoor past it.

To address some of these I propose that the last vestige of the gate captain be a Spectre.

There are three levels of Spectre in Creature; Law Minor, Lesser and Major at 5th level, 10th and 15th respectively. These attack using Shockbolts, Lightning Bolts or more so they can control an area hundreds of feet across the road. Yet they are easily within the capabilities of even a low level party to take on.

The rest of the gatehouse guard can be Ghosts which start at just 3rd level (Minor Ghost).

So that is the first set piece encounter, can the party get past the gatehouse?

What about those pesky players that refuse point blank to go anywhere near the obvious adventure site of a gatehouse on a causeway?

I would happily let them trudge their way through the swamp. To make things interesting we can weave a bit of back story into this. Imagine this city was being defended for a reason. I can imagine a city under siege being protected by the heroes in the title when along comes an evil necromancer (That’s a stupid phrases isn’t it? How often we we have good necromancers saving the day?) and brings down the city from within. That explains the undead and why the city was left abandoned. Bound forever to defend the city are the ghostly remains of the heroes. Any party that want to try and approach the city via the marches can face random encounters with ghosts, phantoms and for those at a higher level Revenants and Shadows.

I am sure we could produce a scaling table of random encounters for parties of varying levels. If anyone tries to rest in the swamps then we can toss in an encounter with a Mara.

So what about in the city?

I don’t want to detail that in this post. Have a think about it between now and next Tuesday. I will put forward some ideas. I have an awesome idea for a BBEG at the end of it all but we also need a good reason for the party to need to journey to the city in the first place.

So your mission should you choose to accept it is this:

  • Can you add to or embellish what I have suggested so far?
  • Why do the party need to enter a city of the undead?
  • Do we need more set piece encounters for the opening chapter?

The Tree of Sighing Blades

This is a very late post for our latest 50in50 adventure.

The Tree of Sighing Blades is an unusual and special tree, and its sap has special properties that are greatly desired. Harvesting the sap is not easy, though, as the leaves of the tree are very sharp and constantly fall and swirl in the air, apparently seeking out any who try and making it a dangerous proposition.

This is another of our battle map issues. We are still using the squared map but the hex map is in the pipeline!

Tomorrow my first priority gaming-wise is to put together the Issue 14 of the fanzine which is all built around BASiL and Mentalism.

Inherent ability or skill: another look at Perception.


Back in December I wrote a post about Perception and whether is was even a trainable skill. I think a lot goes into “perception” ( alertness, visual acuity, intuition, reasoning) and the way it’s used by Rolemaster makes it an incredible skill that covers a huge expanse of ability.

But even if you could make an argument (and many did) that perception is a trainable skill, it’s vast multi-disciplinary scope is harder to argue. For instance, while a fighter may be able to perceive an opponents sword skill, the apparent movement of troops or even a carefully laid ambush it’s harder to accept they might be able to detect a trap or secret door if they have no relevant experience in such.

Doesn’t that make sense? No matter how alert or perceptive you are, you can’t perceive small details or glean information on a subject with which you have no skill, training or education. I consider myself a perceptive person, but I can’t look at a horse and draw any conclusions the way Peter could. In other words, perception should be tied to subject matter fluency.

Of course one solution is to add a ton of perceptual sub-skills: perception: reality distortion, perception: traps, perception ambush etc. Of course the list is virtually limitless and would add dozens of new skills to an already bloated system.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying something new and it’s working quite well: I’m using the SKILL RANKS of the appropriate skill/lore as a bonus or modifier to the perception check. If there are no ranks then it’s -25 (along with any difficulty modifiers). So the Thief with 18 ranks in locks/traps gets a +18 bonus to their perception roll related to locks/traps. It’s simple, makes sense and once again creates a use for skill ranks as a measure of proficiency.