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!

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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.