The myth of the balanced group?

Lincoln’s gaming group.

The title may be a little misleading, but hang with me. I was talking to Matt over the holiday and the subject of “balanced groups” came up–not game mechanic “class balance”, but whether individual player’s self-interest trump any attempts at group parity, team work and fairness. Even playing with friends, most players are actively trying to improve their characters, level up and gain the most advantages (whether through min/max strategies, obtaining items etc). One or two characters/players will eventually develop a character that maximizes their abilities to the game and the particular GM’s style–whether those efforts are for the best of the group.

That’s probably the best you can hope for with a group of friends or a long-term gaming group. How about tournaments or pick up games where you are gaming with people you just met, strangers. Are you really going to put teamwork first or your own characters survival and performance? 

One of the reasons I abandoned any semblance of alignments is that player/character self-interest was pre-eminent in gaming behavior. Sure, a player may try to hide his intentions, rationalize them via roleplaying or try and subtly influence events, but in the end they are looking out for numero uno. 

Does teamwork really exist in roleplaying or is it a group of rivals that cooperate for mutual benefit? 

How do you say…?

For all the rebellious colonials that read this blog Happy/merry/have a good/great thanks giving. I have no idea what the correct phrase is but I hope you can delete as inapplicable and enjoy your turkey.

City Of Forgotten Heroes – The Park!

It is so long since I last looked at this that I thought I would post a bit of a recap for anyone who missed the original posts. So here goes, if you want to refresh your memory…

So I was thinking about this over the weekend and I was thinking about how human centric I am when it comes to ghosts. They are nearly always human or humanoid at the very least. So that was my train of thought and from there I went to ‘if we have this evil influence extending across the city how would it effect other things?’

The I though about trees and the parks.

Read this description of an Active Tree. (taken from the RMC Creatures & Treasures

Warped by the unclean influence of evil, these gnarled trunks grasp spider webs and shadows as well as darkened foliage with their boughs. Malice and spite devour their treeish spirits, bestowing an unusual animation to their limbs. Mannish creatures take the brunt of their hate, expressed by hurled fruit and grasping branches. Yet none remain exempt from such treatment, and all feel the oppressive gloom generated by a grove of these trees.

I do not see hurled fruit as particularly threatening or scary, if anything it is rather comic or even pathetic. Trees grasping at you with their branches on the other hand is the stuff of nightmares.

If you have an entire city inhabited by undead with wights and liches and a necromancer all vying for power I think that qualifies as ‘the unclean influence of evil‘ if anything ever does.

So far everything in this city has been non corporeal but if we had a central park that was full of tree left to grow unchecked, a forest of dark shadows and thick undergrowth it is another potential adventure location. As the characters penetrate further into the park the feelings of despair (see monster description) would grow stronger. Once deep into the trees then the trees attack having the characters surrounded. At 5th level these are not the toughest of foes, their OBs of 50 or so does not make them that dangerous so you can afford to use large numbers of them,let the character penetrate ten ranks deep before the attack starts to they have to get out through the same density.

I think in the original post I mentioned a jade throne? There could have been some speculation before the characters embarked on this mission that the ‘Jade Seat’ may be a location within the park, the jade being a reference to the leaf canopy during the summer and the seat a literal seat in the centre of the park. This of course is complete speculation and wrong as we know the jade throne is a 2000lb stone chair at the bottom of a water cistern protected by a huge intelligent octopus necromancer.

What I like about this addition is that it creates a little bit of variation in the threats, there must reach a point where one ghostly figure is pretty much like another and once the party have worked out a strategy for fighting them then they could get into a ‘bring em on’ attitude. This location is suddenly about bash attacks and grappling and being bashed from every direction by things you normally hide behind, not from.

That is it for today, but I want to add a chase scene into this and Wild Hunt Hounds seem to be the perfect foes. More ghostliness to come I think!

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Spell Powers

It’s been quite a long time since I delved into my BASiL project and in the interim there has been several interesting threads over at the Forums that have made me reconsider (again) the scope and nature of spells in Rolemaster and FRPG’s in general.

In my mind, I’ve divided spells into four rough classifications: “keystone”, “mechanic” and “gameplay”, “weapon”. Those aren’t very descriptive, but it’s just my mental model, so let’s dive down into them.

“Keystone” spells are iconic spells/spell ability that are generally found in almost every magic system. These are so ingrained into fantasy DNA that we rarely challenge them even if they imbalancing. Three big “keystone” spells are Invisibility, Flying and Fireball. If I think a spell is in Rolemaster “just because” I spend time really thinking about it.

Mechanic spells are those spells that are the primary result on the game system. A good example in Rolemaster are all of the spells that add a bonus to some action or specific skill. Converting Spell Law to a non-skill based system would render many of the spells useless or irrelevant. Generally, I’m not a fan of skill bonus spells–feels lazy and diminishes the value of skill acquisition.

Weapon spells are the casters version of a sword, bow or dagger. They allow the caster to inflict melee or missile damage in generally the same way a fighter can. Firebolts and Magic Missile are good examples. Firebolts, Ice Bolts, Shock Bolts–all pretty much the same thing but necessary nonetheless.

Gameplay spells are the rest–spells with varying utility, scope or benefit that provides for interesting gameplay, solutions to problems or adds atmosphere. These can be the most challenging because they can be the most open-ended. 

So what does this mean and how is it important or relevant? For me, understanding a spell’s role or objective in the game was critical to my re-write.  Let’s take Fly as an example-a spell that is often abused and sometimes despised by GM’s. Was Fly just a keystone spell that had to be included in BASiL? Is it a critical ability necessary for fantasy? With so many powerful spells available in spell law how could Fly NOT be a magical spell?

So then I looked at the spell from a gameplay standpoint. Is Fly about allowing the magic-user to hover over a combat and fling spells from a safe distance? Is it just a combat exploit? I came to the conclusion that Fly is really about transportation in the game system. Once I accepted that, then a whole range of possibilities presented themselves and Fly was just one method of magical transportation. In fact, I made Fly a function of “wind” or “gravity” and removed it as a general (open or closed) spell ability. Other magical aspects were given different transportation spells: Long Door, Fire Travel, Shadow Skipping etc. Can the Wind Mage that has Fly still hover above the group and cast spells. Sure, but not every Mage will have access to Fly and other transport spells will provide different types of benefits.

So if keystone spells are ubiquitous, weapon spells are fairly straight foward and mechanic spells are system dependent then we are left with gameplay spells as the real creative task. I’m endlessly fascinated by gameplay spells, especially in the context of Shadow World. Coming up with new spells can be difficult, and coming up with new spells that enhance gameplay is even more challenging. Rather than measure a spell by it’s overall utility, maybe think of a spell’s role in enhancing gameplay. What spell in Rolemaster is the most interesting?

Pirate Adventures!

I wanted to write something a bit different as we have had a lot on house rules and a load of HARP but they are both rather niche and possibly divisive.

Next weekend I was supposed to be running my RMC game. This was going to be a major session with the conclusion of a chapter, the start of the next chapter and a big reveal to show a glimpse of what is really going on in the background for the characters.

One of the key players, one of the players that always turns up and remains engaged for every session has for the first time in 12 years had to miss the session. I don’t want to run this pivotal session with out him as he is likely to be one of only two that will grasp the significance of what happens.

Without the player there is also meant to be a point where that character should put two and two together and be able to tall the party something of great importance. If I have to NPC that character for that session then it will come across as me having to spoon feed the party and lead them by the nose.

So what to do?

The best option is to run a one shot game for the weekend with the players that are there.

As it happens I was given three of Gramel’s mini setting booklets that go along with Adventurers!, a micro RPG.

Adventurers! bills itself as an RPG in two pages. In fact the entire rules is 10 pages but the players guide is 2 pages, the GM guide is 2 pages, the gear list is two pages and then you have the bestiary, 3 pages and character sheets that make up the rest of the game. Having the character creation rules and the bestiary means that you have everything you need to do an Adventurers! to Rolemaster conversion. I will come back to this later.

In addition to the Adventurers! rules Gramel also gave me three adventure ‘mini settings’ an alternative version of the Caribbean with pirates and voodoo, ghosts, zombies and mermaids. Pretty much then entire cast of Pirates of the Caribbean. The second is a modern Supers setting and the third is a wacky setting if you wanted to role play Pixar’s Toy Story.

Voodoo Pirates

 Voodoo Pirates is everything you need to run a game set in an alternative world where voodoo and black magic are real. The PDF is 35 pages including covers. This is made up of:

6 pages of pure setting information to set the scene about what has happened in the recent past, Character concepts about the sorts of characters inhabiting the caribbean, naval battles, setting themes to act as a backdrop to any games and a gazetteer of the most important islands that make up the caribbean. Finally in this section are famous ‘people’ of the caribbean from real pirates to mythical entities such as Davy Jones the captain of the Flying Dutchman.

2 pages cover voodoo Powers, necromancy and voodoo sorcery. You also get some unique magical items under the heading Amazing Objects. Off of these will be familiar and only one of them I would struggle to model using Rolemaster’s ruleset, more of that later.

2 pages of unique gear with prices. This is of limited use to us as it is all aimed at being used with their own rules.

9 pages of bestiary. These broadly fall into two categories. The first are creatures, mainly undead because of the VooDoo theme that you can pick straight out of C&T. The second group are stock NPCs such as soldiers, spies and savage natives. There is also a small selection on non-fantastical creatures like sharks which again can come straight out of C&T.

4 pages of ships stats. Ships are treated as characters in Adventurers! with character sheets, stats and abilities. They conduct ship to ship combat just like a regular combat. We have more options than that and we have more ships to play with. This is an opportunity to break out either Sea Law or if you are really hardcore RM2 then you can dig out your copy of Pirates.

3 Pages of NPC. The character sheets are pretty basic but the important bit is that you get the NPCs background and equipment…

…with the information they have provided you can easily role play that NPC. As a really rough stat conversion I would use 50 + (Adventurers! Stat *12) and then round down if the result is over 100. So in this example all the physical strength and conditioning stats (St+Co) would be a straight 50. Agility and Quickness would be 74 and the mental stats would be 98. It is not a brilliant conversion but functional.

 8 pages of adventure. This makes up the largest single section and is an adventure described in scenes. It is rather linear but the writer has countered this with lots of If… conditions such as:

If they manage to defeat it,
If the party has someone with Voodoo
If the PCs want to fill the white sacks
If anyone manages to come out

…and so on. The effect is that although the adventure is rather linear there is a lot of flexibility, most of the ways that players could balls themselves up have been catered for and will not break the adventure.

Overall Impression

So the Gramel mini settings cost about $5-$6. These 2nd editions, of which this is one, are about 30-40 pages and include everything you have read here. The 1st edition ones cost $1-$2 and are about 6 pages. I have not seen or read one of those. Obviously Gramel want me to write about their new products, not their old ones.

Do I think they are good value for money, yes I do. Do I think they are easy to use with RM? That is harder. I am happy to pull stock NPCs and stock monsters on the fly and run with it. My adventures are not normally based on maps, and there are none provided, but having said that I can get a random map online in about 10 seconds and I own the Dyson Logos book of maps which I could also use. I think for some groups these will be perfect to have in your GMs toolbox to pull out when you need something. To be honest you can probably read 30 pages on the way to a game session, if you are not driving, or at least skim read it over a coffee. The hard part of coming up with an off the cuff adventure is going to be thinking up the story, not the finding the monster stats. These pdfs do all the creative bit for you, the stats we can deal with.

Rolemaster conversions

Adventurers! characters have 3 stats, Body Agility and Mind. You get 6 points to divide up between the three stats. The lowest allowed value is -1 and the highest is 6. The highest stats I have seen are +5 for Strength for a Minotaur and for an Ogre. The rule of thumb of 50 + stat x 13 would give a minotaur a 115 strength which is not good so capping it at 100 (for RMU) or 102 for RM2 makes things viable.

Endurance is Str + Agi + 3 so could in theory be -1 + -1 + 3 or a 1. For most NPCs it seems to be around the 5 to 7 area so using that for level would drive the body development that Endurance is meant to reflect but also give us a key indicator for all the other skills.

There is not one truly unique creature in this mini setting that you could not pick directly out of Creatures & Treasures. The only complication is an entire swarm of spiders, RM does not handle swarms very well in my experience. To get an idea of the writers intentions the swarm of spiders in this adventure has stats 50% higher than a Giant Spider and is treated as a single entity. I am sure you could wing something!

Something Special to think about

Voodoo Dolls

So how would you model a voodoo doll? This is the classic cursed item where sticking a pin in the doll causes the character to suffer the wound in full scale. I have gone through the companions that I have and I cannot find anything that really suits.

I would not want this to be too deadly to both stop the PCs wanting to use it against everyone or to be so dangerous that it leads to a TPK with no chance at fighting back.

So I am thinking that each pin stuck into the doll would generate a critical. The doll’s controller decides what sort of action they are taking such as sticking a pin in it or crushing it under their foot etc. They then roll a critical of the correct type, puncture, krush, heat etc., the victim makes an RR and if they fail by 1-20 it becomes and A critical, 21-40 a B and so on. If the RR is successful the character feels the pain or the sensation but no damage is delivered.

So the Doll’s controller doesn’t really know what is happening at the other end but it is not an automatic kill either. It would be very easy to role play this as you can just describe all these psychosomatic symptoms such as “It feels like your entire skin is on fire. “You take 10 hits and your clothes are actually starting to smoulder.”,”You feel a stabbing pain in the small of your back like you have been run through with a rapier, you take 3 hits.” and so on. The characters can act and react and hopefully get to the doll’s controller before something really bad happens.

HARP Read Through – Magic & Spells

Of all the features of HARP that stand out, it is the magic system that seems to get the most admiration.

There are some similarities with Rolemaster but a lot of differences.

Most obvious is that there are no realms. There are two suggested sources of magic in the core book although more are hinted at in College of Mogics. These two are Divine and Personal.

HARP also describes spheres. There is a universal sphere which would be roughly the same as our ‘open’ lists. Then there are professional spheres. The ones in the core book are Cleric, Harper, Mage, Ranger and Warrior Mage. So Professional Spheres are basically our ‘Base’ lists, but without the list.

Ever spell is learned individually so there are no lists. If a spell takes 5 power points to cast then you need five ranks in that spell. So spells are learned just like skills and you buy ranks in your spells as you level up.

Taking that 5 powerpoint spell as an example casting it with 5 powerpoints will just get you the basic spell. As your ranks improve then you can do more with the same spell. This is similar to a list that has Light I, Light II, Light III and then Light True. They are basically the same spell but they are doing more by using more power points.

Rolemaster has lots of spell classificataions such as elemental (no resistance roll), force (resistance roll allowed), utility (cannot be cast on an unwilling target) and so on. HARP has three classifications. These are Utility, Attack and Elemental.

Utility spells encompass things like healing and what RM players would consider a utility spell. These cannot be cast on unwilling characters and it is the recipient or target of the spell that gets to decide if the spell works or not. 

Attack spells cover all attacking spells that do not fall into the Elemental category.

Elemental, these are almost identical to RM elemental spells in resolution.

Spell Casting

Basic spell casting in HARP requires the ability to move at least one hand and to be able to speak in a normal voice. If you cannot do that then you cannot cast the spell.

Scaling Spells

This is the big feature of HARP magic. Each basic spell has a menu of options. Each option on the menu has a cost in power points. So if you want to increase the range for example then you can spend more power points on casting the spell and you get the added range. As long as you have enough power points and ranks in the spell then you can mix and match options to tailor your spells.

Here is an example spell from the universal sphere.

Arcane Bolt

PP Cost: 3
Range: 50’
Duration: —
Spell Type: Attack
RR: Magic
Sphere: Universal
Description: When cast, this spell sends a bolt of blazing magical energy to strike the target. This bolt of energy does 1d10 points of damage to the foe if he fails his Resistance Roll.
Scaling Options:
Increase Damage (each 1d10 hits– 5d10 max) +3 PP
Stunning Force (per round of Stun) +4 PP
Increase Range (per +50’) +1 PP
Increase Targets (each additional target) +4 PP

This is very different to a Rolemaster spell! This reminds me of casting a D&D fireball but with rolling a handful of d10s rather than a bucket of d6s. This is really the HARP version of Shockbolt but to me at least it looks a lot more fun.

Transcending armour is also handled by increasing power point costs. The heavier your armour then the greater the cost of the spell to cast. The rational being something along the lines of the armour acting as a sink for the magic.


This is another excellent feature. If an enemy caster is casting a spell then you can cast an instantaneous counter spell. Here is the description of the mechanic:

In the Universal Sphere, there is an instantaneous spell
named Counterspell. It is used to counter and disrupt a spell
being cast by another spell user during the actual casting of
the spell.
The spell user who is casting the Counterspell makes his
casting roll and then looks up the result on the RR column
of the Maneuver Table. The spell user, whose spell is being
countered, must then roll higher than this number with his
casting roll or the spell is countered, and he loses all Power
Points that he has put into the spell.

I really like that. RM has that whole power projection skill thing and in all my years of gaming no one has ever used it. HARP’s counter spell on the other hand I can easily see being a regular feature. Of course it doesn’t mean you can stymy an enemy caster every time but it does mean you can at least do something. Counterspell costs 1PP to cast.

Casting Times

Casting times are based around 3 rounds. If you cast faster than that then you take a -20 to your spell casting roll and in applicable a +10 to your fumble. You can also take longer than necessary to cast a spell to get a bonus to your spell casting roll.


All in all you probably get 90% of what we get in Spell Law in a well laid out 32 pages. What at first glance appeared to pretty basic actually has a lot of flavour and variety. I am pretty sure that HARP players reading this will tell us that there are loads more spells and spheres in College of Magics but I don’t own that so I cannot comment but it goes without saying.

Next time I am going to cover two chapters, Herbs & Poisons and Encounters & Monsters.