An RMu Adventure Path?

One of the criteria I set myself for my starting adventures for RMu was that the creatures had to exist in all versions of RM, right from RM2 to RMu.

Once you take into account that I writing for 1st to 5th level, this has lead to a rather refined list of available monsters.

The most commonly occuring have been goblins; the lowest levels of undead, Skeletons to Ghouls and surprisingly Demons.

I have used the lowest level Man-Demon, the Hothrog in ‘A Murder of Crows’ and the lowest level Elf-Demon in the last outline, the dungeon crawl.

Constantly at the back of my mind is City of Forgotten Heroes. The keystone of that adventure is a magical throne that corrupts those that sit upon it into becoming a necromantic tyrant.

I bet you can see where I am going with this….

Who or why would anyone ever make a magical throne that creates necromantic tyrants, they are only going to be trouble.

The answer is probably some kind of chaotic Demon who can just light the blue touch paper and retire.

I made CoFH scalable so characters of pretty much any level could attempt it.

What I am thinking is a Man-Demon vs Elf Demon rivalry or even war brewing. The temple adventure I outlined last week becomes one side trying to create a foothold in the mortal world. A probing attack. The tower in A Murder of Crows is the same thing but the other side.

These could be two early steps on an adventure path that has the backdrop of two demon princes waging a personal war. There are Elf and Man Demons at 2nd, 4th, 6th/7th and 11th/12th levels and then the big bad boy is the Celebdel a 20th level Elf Demon.

I have never read an adventure path but I can see the characters gaining a reputation as demon slayers and a linked set of adventures against increasingly dangerous foes.

If we have a region of the world that is succumbing to demonic invasion we can challenge the characters with both increasing numbers of lower level demons as well as increasingly more dangerous demons. As this is a regional threat, just a spat between rivals, it could be dropped into anyone’s campaign and it will not spell the end of the world. As the threat starts as a minor and unrecognised threat that would explain why inexperienced PCs end up dealing with it. As their experience grows as does their reputation for demon slaying so they naturally become the ‘go to’ group of adventurers.

One of the entry points for CoFH was that there was a body of elves that would sponsor the party in some way. At that point it was because it was essential that the characters had some sort of magical weapons as the adventure only used non-corporeal undead.

Now we would have that group of elves as an organisation that has an awareness of powershifts in the Elven demonology. We could even have a bias. Is CoFH a result of Man-Demon manipulations so the Elven elements want it disrupted and the elves their to serve their Elf Demon dark lord?

Is the cursed throne sought by the Elf Demon for his or her own schemes?

Right now I have four dots that I could put in a line, the temple, the tower, the elves and the city.

I know there is an official group of volunteers trying to put together an adventure path. I am not part of that group. I lack the Shadow World knowledge. I also do not know how active that project is or its scope.

I can see the cumulation of this idea being a showdown with a Moloch complete with demonic lieutenants. That is a 35th level end of level boss, maybe with a number of 20th level demons equal in number to the number of party members. That is a tough confrontation against virtual demigods.

What are the odds of a party of 20th level PCs surviving their own number of 20th level foes with a 35th level overlord?

How big would I have to make this thing?

Is Grace even a skill?

Back from vacation! I was able to (mostly) keep up with the torrent of new blog topics, and I have lots of comments and thoughts. Today I wanted to jump into a hot topic over at the Forums. There has been an active topic about overcasting, the use of the Grace “Magical Expertise” skill and the parameters in which it should work.

BTW, if you haven’t read this blog post I put up a few years ago, I would recommend reading this first:

Like “Transcend Armor”, “Grace” is a work-around for a basic rule restriction: casting spells faster than allowed or casting higher level spells than allowed. Basically it’s a cheat code that is being encoded into the RMU DNA as a core rule mechanic. However, unlike combat expertise skills that could be argued have a fundamental mechanic that allows for improvement (like reverse strike), what exactly is “Grace”? How do you train in it? Is it a physical skill of hand movements, arms gestures or similar? Is it “zen” mental training? What does training entail? Squeeze stress balls? Finger puppets? Kegel exercises? Can a PC take skill in Grace even if they don’t have a spell list? How do you justify that?

Playtesting has resulted in feedback that Grace is too powerful and suggestions have been offered: limit Grace to base lists only, limit it to specific spells, apply the skill to only 2 lists. Other suggestions propose adjusting both Grace and Spellcasting rules in general–sort of a “balancing of the scales”. To me this is even more problematic–it creates a binary mechanic (Grace and SCR)whose only purpose is to justify the need for the Grace skill.

Clearly, the issues around overcasting and speedcasting can and should be dealt with in the base casting rules. Grace is a excessive and unneeded skill which should be eliminated. I think it’s unlikely to be removed; it’s embedded in the collective designer consciousness and it would reduce magical expertise category to just Transcend Armor (another pointless and stupid “skill”).


Dungeon Crawl, Meet The NPC

Dungeon Crawl Time!

This is going to be a 1st level adventure so it is not going to be big or overly dangerous.

I have my locations in my mind.

The starting location is an end of the line village. it has more empty houses then occupied ones. The problem is that their priest went mad and has been spreading all sorts of End is nigh! ravings and that has upset the neighbouring villages to the point where they stopped coming to the market. A couple of months ago the priest finally disappeared, presumed run off into the wild. The village feels better off without him.

The temp where the priest lived over looks the town and is now a dark and foreboding place and shunned by all.

The village is in a spiral of decay. As people leave the few remaining businesses find it harder to make a living. As they close then it becomes harder to live here.

Now people have started to disappear. Not just leave but disappear not taking any of their possessions, not saying goodbye. One day they are here and the next morning gone.

Those are the two locations, village and temple.

The temple has four levels. It is a Dyson Logos map. This version lacks the grid but it will be with the grid when I publish this in the fanzine.

This is the upper section. As you walk in the entrance you have a sloping passageway down below ground or the left and right entrances to the chambers on this level. You cannot get to the upper floor from here.

The advantage of the ground floor is the ease of escape and it is obviously of limited scope. As soon as you go underground there is no telling how big the place is.

These are the underground parts. There are two underground levels. The route to the upper storey is down to the underground level take the first right and then follow it round to the left.

We know the monsters in this adventure are the Daedhel as the villains with skeletons and the odd mindless animated corpse. That is going to give the temple a certain smell.

There is no need for the undead to see and there are no windows so this place is dark.

I have not specified the religion for this temple so the GM can adorn the walls and wall hangings with scenes from their favourite religion to add a bit of game setting flavour.

The villains headquarters will be the upper level I think. That means crawling their way through a lot of the complex, in the dark, fearing attack.


I want to make fear and the aura given off by the demons a real feature. To this end and to boost the starting party I want to give the party a couple of battle tanks to increase their fighting ability.

When they are in the village they will be lent the taverners guard dogs to take with them to the temple. Brutus and Spartacus are his pride an joy.

A large dog will whoop a starting PC’s arse at the drop of a hat. They are 4th level, 65hits, AT3 with a 70DB and a Medium bite and 45OB. In RMu The Medium Dog serves the same role.

The beauty of having dogs and not NPCs or dogs as NPCs are that even if they do outshine the PCs in combat they cannot reason, the PCs or players will not ask their opinions as locals and they are unlikely to be elected leader by the new party.

On the other hand, if you want fear to be a factor a dog wears its feelings on its sleeve. If it is scared then it will show you instantly. It has no compulsion about running from a fight and it doesn’t understand the plan. I just want to players to make a wonderful plan based upon stealth, followed by amazing stalking and hiding rolls, and then have the dogs start barking their heads off at the first sign of movement in the dark.

These will be big brave dogs until something bites back and then suddenly they turn tail, literally, and run. Of course good dogs may comeback into the fight is someone who has treated them nicely is in fear or pain. Dogs are very empathic.

The GM can use the dogs as signals. If the dog is reluctant to enter somewhere will the players pick up on the cue? If they start whimpering and shying away will they force them on or set them free?

If a dog suddenly disappears into the darkness chasing something and then comes back with a bone what will the players think? Is the bone human?

What do you think? It is a big enough ‘dungeon’? Do you like the dog idea?

The post has sparked another thought and I want to look into that in different post. It has to do with low level demons.

How Character Skills Can—and Should—Encourage Roleplaying

I know this topic might not be necessary for anyone who frequents the Rolemaster Blog, but, as I’ve moved from an Original “Skill-less” style of play back into an RM derivative, I’ve made some observations that might be of interest to some of us here.

In case anyone needs a reminder, Original Dungeons & Dragons (often referred to now as the Original Game) doesn’t contain rules for Skill use. AD&D (1e) might have something in the Dungeon Masters Guide (since I’m currently a player in a Classical 1e game, I’m willfully not privy to this) that provides the option of Secondary Skills, though it should be noted that these are not the detailed “Secondary Skills” we as RMers know but something fuzzier about what a character might have done before leading a life of adventure—a background that might prove relevant for roleplaying in-game situations. I’m going to breeze over AD&D2e, confessing I know nothing about this system, right on to 3e, which is the first version of D&D I ever played. Since my own initial rpg had been Middle-Earth Role Playing, and since I had moved onto such skill-heavy systems as Champions, I didn’t so much as blink at the 3e Skill list and its system of developing these qualities through—wait for it—purchasing and assigning Skill Ranks. If there ever had been any dispute among the more factious in the gaming community, then it would appear that RM had “won”*: Skills were the way to game. 

But it appears that something started to happen at about this time, a quiet movement that—at least for me—didn’t make itself known until Pathfinder had taken over for 3/3.5. Many gamers were discovering that they preferred the “old” way of roleplaying. Many were utilizing the Open Game License to write and distribute “retroclones” or revisions of pre-3e iterations of the d20 system. Whether these systems are “simpler” than other forms of gameplay is debatable. Certainly many of them present a less granular and sometimes entirely absent Skill system.

Why? Well, the thesis of Matt Finch’s Swords & Wizardry (which is Finch’s version of OD&D) is that all questions outside of the core rules (and even those very core rules) as presented in 1974 should be settled at individual gaming tables according to the preferences of the participants in those groups. It is understood, I imagine, by most of us here that this is precisely the process through which Rolemaster was birthed. Many people have a preference for granularity in their gaming, and, for many years, this appears to have been the direction of the core industry. The Old School Revival is a standard for those who began to say, “We liked it better before.”

A particular power gamer at my table while I was running Pathfinder caused me to look with more interest at the OSR. “[B]ring the balance back”—a lyric from Led Zeppelin—adorns the back cover of S&W’s second printing. The Pf culture was my first experience with a gamer who actively researched “builds” to defeat the GM. Defeat the GM, you say? Since a GM is often described as the “God” of the rpg, how can that even be possible? Well, some of the standards in Pf appear to protect gamers from bad GMs. It’s generally considered uncool—or the equivalent of a “broken game”—to present the PCs with a combat encounter in excess of Epic rating (CR+3). Noncombat encounters, you say? Well, now we’re back to the subject at hand: Skills.

With problem players (and I don’t intend for this to be a rant about this unsavory topic; we’re leaving this in a moment) Skills can “break the game”: “Well, my Perception is +32. Can I get a roll?” “I want to leap over that wall. My Acrobatics is +28.” As a GM, I wanted my power back. I wanted to decide if it made sense for a character to notice something. I wanted some walls to be unclimbable. I wanted this because I wanted a satisfying story and because I wanted my players to feel challenged.

This can be accomplished without removing Skills altogether, of course. My point is that I explored a Skill-less game in order to start from scratch, to “make the game my own” at its Origin. I quickly found myself reintroducing Skills through mechanics of my own devising. Then, in the course of moving from a “homegrown” system to the MERP derivative Against the Darkmaster, I realized—with a bit of surprise—that Skill systems can encourage better roleplaying.

Skills define the character. This seems obvious in hindsight, but, without that list of capabilities in front of them, some gamers have difficulty making in-game decisions. A list of skills provides ideas and parameters for the gamer, shows the player what his character is good at, and telegraphs goals towards which the character can work through skill development. If the gamer imagines that her character should be good at picking pockets, then he sees that as a clear goal and puts points into that at Level advancement. Perhaps, more importantly, say that within the midst of a campaign a character realizes that she really should be better at tracking. Well, he makes a note and at Level advancement puts ranks into that Skill because, in game, the character realized that skill was important enough to work at it, to improve it.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that, even if Skill attempts are resolved at the table with die rolls and modifiers, the action should be roleplayed. A criticism that is made by some in the OSR community—most of the time unfairly—is that later, Skill-heavy rpg systems replace roleplaying with mechanical resolution. Even if a Skill Test is involved, a player should describe specifically how a character is performing an action, taking into consideration the GM’s scenario, then the dice should be rolled with modifiers subject to how competent or ludicrous the PC’s intention might be. This isn’t as obvious as it might sound. About a year ago, a friend of mine played in a Starfinder game at a con. He said that the experience felt like a lot of “roll to see what you get.”

Skill rolls should drive the story. This one might be less obvious than the previous considerations. It only came to me after I adopted VsD and started using its Action Resolution Table. There are two very important results in VsD’s chart: Critical Failure and Partial Success. Critical Failure means that a character made the situation worse. For example, in my play-by-post game, a character trying to talk a horse-trader into a good price for his steeds actually convinced the businessman to attempt to steal all the PC’s stuff and hold him hostage. In my tabletop game, a PC led an NPC into the city and then tried to lose him: Partial Success. Okay, maybe on the way back the PC is mobbed by an excitable crowd who never has seen an Elf before, or a nefarious somebody else notices the maneuver, or the dodge brings the PC through an ominous back alley. All of these are exciting, spontaneous, new features in the narrative.

Pf, as written, has a Pass/Fail mechanic. The Original rules set I most recently was using had no mechanic. VsD Skill resolution introduces opportunities for plot complications and narrative twists. I’m not sure if I would be GMing this way had I adopted the RMu playtest instead of VsD. The language in the RMu Maneuvers table, despite its variation, reads very much like Pass/Fail—except for that magical 66, of course!

Anyway, those are my thoughts: Skills give players something measurable to define their characters by and Skill resolution mechanics should contribute to meaningful storytelling.

*I’m not sure that there had been factions: the pre-Internet late-80s/early 90s seemed to be a different time, and all the D&Ders I had known were politely interested in and perhaps secretly envious of how I claimed to understand and play something as arcane as MERP.

“Ghosting” and Ways of Play in Online Play-by-Post Games

I think I’m “ghosted” again.

I want to game much more than I have time for. I’m sure most of us can relate. Because of work and family obligations, I’m generally confined to one night a week (mine is Monday) for gaming. This is doubly exasperating because of the welter of beautiful rpgs tantalizing from my bookshelf or from afar. Most games are built for campaign play. They cry out for long term exploration. One-shots are fleeting affairs.

I’ve tried some online relationships. To game with Roll20 or something comparable would threaten my Monday commitment, so I’ve attempted Play-by-Post, something slightly less involving. I’ve had four of these affairs. One ended sort of badly. The rest just… ended.

Here are my four PbP relationships in order of acquaintance. If you, dear reader, happen to have been a player in any of these, this in no way is intended as a slight against you. For all of these games I was the GM (online, as in real life, there appear to be a whole lot more people queuing up to “play” rather than to GM). Conan 2d20 on G+ (2-3 players). RM2 on G+ (2 players). Swords & Wizardry on Discord (a rotating roster of 4+ players). Against the Darkmaster on Discord (2 players). Even from the very first, I intuited that I would have to establish some expectations going in, and the foremost was this: everyone is expected to “check in” and post something at least once a day.

Yeah, sure, they say. It’s good to have this understanding going in. No doubt.

And it begins, a flurry of activity, multiple posts over multiple days. I have a question about this. Can I clear this with you, GM? Cool character! Here we go!

A good PbP run for me appears to be an encounter or two. At first the gamers are responsive. Most of them are complimentary of my style and adventure. Then one or more of the players miss a day: “Sorry, catching up on posts now.” By now I’ve learned that this means it’s not long till the ghosting occurs.

Why, exactly, does this happen? I would love to administer an exit survey for these gamers. One very generous player for my Conan game apologized for whatever culpability he had in the game’s demise (not much) and praised my GMing. Maybe I should have continued on with just him as my gamer. I have avoided this because I think a better game involves inter-player interaction, not the imbalanced top-down authority of GM to single gamer. But for PbP, this might be the only way I can go. And who knows, maybe in collaboration with one highly competent and experienced gamer I can create a masterpiece such as the one (face-to-face constructed) by Steven Erikson and Ian Esselmont during grad school. For those who left my PbPs, I’d offer the following survey.

Why did you ghost/leave my game?

Was it you?

Was it just too much writing? Are you not used to writing a carefully worded post once per day? Would you participate again if you had more time?

Was it too much thinking? Did you find it upsetting to be cogitating about this interaction throughout much of your day? Did it interfere with your work or relationships?

Was it too much time? Did you not anticipate the obligation that posting once a day would demand of you? Did it begin to interfere with your work, relationships or other gaming commitments?

Did you get what you wanted? Did you simply want to explore the game, create a character, make new friends, and now that you have done that, it’s time to move on?

Was it me?

Am I a bad GM in the way a GM can be bad in any format?

Was it my writing? Did I write too much? Did I post too much? Was my prose intimidating?

Was it my micro-aggressions? I’m an old school gamer. I tend to talk tough. Did this seem adversarial to you?

Was it my agency? Did I open avenues for your character that you didn’t want explored?

This last survey question leads me to rumination concerning differences regarding online PbP from traditional tabletop interaction. I suspect that many PbP gamers might chiefly be interested in a lovingly crafted character and its backstory. These gamers might cool to the experience as soon as we start “playing” and I, the GM, begin to introduce elements that the characters’ loving creators never expected nor intended. Years ago (still always the GM) I was sort of like this. While world building or helping my players generate characters, fictive elements might synthesize with such power that I simply wanted to go off, away from the players, and write a fantasy story outside of the players’ communal creative influence on my personal vision.

PbP is different from the tabletop experience because the sense of immediacy is gone. With an entire day, the players and I have plenty of time to construct an evocative post or consider the implications of a character action or die roll. The possibilities resulting from all this time caused me, as a GM, to consider whether or not I was “writing” rather than gaming—even if I were sort of cheating, because I didn’t have to improv so much and easily could restructure the narrative, with careful thought, around the character actions. The gamers might have similarly been aware of how much situation analysis was available to them.

It’s clear that my PbP failures aren’t solitary. It’s also clear that PbP can be successful, with campaigns running for many years. For now, I’m resigned to be content with my Monday nights, and perhaps it’s time for some solo play.

And the Rest: Movement, Travel, Wealth, Experience and Magic in Against the Darkmaster

As with most games, Against the Darkmaster (VsD) tracks Encumbrance Levels—five of them, ranging from Unencumbered to Over Encumbered. Generally, the GM and players use a few simple criteria to eyeball what might be a character’s appropriate Encumbrance Level. An encumbered PC moves more slowly during overland travel and takes penalties on physical activity. No surprise.

Surprisingly, though, for someone like me, the VsD encumbrance system was a bit too handwavy, even while I recognize that, in mostly every game, encumbrance is shrugged away anyway. I consequently went through the Equipment Table, assigned a weight number (usually 1 or 2, if anything) to large items, and ruled that characters possessing these in numerical increments of 5 would go up an EL.

Tucked in between rules for Encumbrance and Wealth is a Hazards Table. Here is a more lingering glimpse of the emulationist aspect of VsD: characters are expected to encounter 2-3 Hazards during mid-length overland travel. The table provides randomized results of Weather, Free People, Natural Obstacles, Minions of Darkness, Wild Beasts and Ancient World Perils. The table is useful but not enough. The QS lacks even a modicum of explanation for these results. Certainly the full rules will rectify this, and I hope that the complete game will contain “breakout” tables with which the GM short on ideas might generate different types of Weather or numinous suggestions for Ancient World Perils. For my game I borrow a strategy from Kent David Kelly, using a standard dictionary to randomly generate words that inspire possibilities.

The rules for Travel are expanded on the VsD blog. As with the fictions inspiring the game, it is very important for characters to find sheltered Campsites and Safe Havens in the midst of adversity.

If the Encumbrance rules weren’t anything surprising, the Wealth and Treasure system was! Instead of tracking coin, every character possesses a Wealth Level ranging from 0 to 5. Everything on the Equipment Table has a Fare score that falls within an equivalent range. If a character’s WL exceeds the Fare of the desired item, that character is understood to have purchased that item immediately. In this instance, the character’s WL does not change. If the WL equals the Fare, the WL drops by one. If the Fare exceeds the WL, well, tough luck—go find some Treasure. Right, Treasure: each trove has a corresponding Treasure Value. If the TV=character’s WL, WL increases by 1. If the TV exceeds WL by any increment, the WL becomes the TV.

I ran a Session 0 for my tabletop game. My players determined their characters’ WLs, I explained the system, and we went shopping! When I described to the designers what I had done, they said something like, “Oh. Well, you can do it that way, I guess, but our intentions had been for WLs to be part of starting equipment. We imagined that all new acquisitions would be roleplayed in-game.”

In VsD, PCs seem to advance in Experience Levels more swiftly than in other games, another feature I appreciate. My gaming table never is going to complete a years-long campaign from Levels 1-10 in traditional play. It’s just not possible. Even if there weren’t numerous other equally-enticing games and genres vying for our attention, we just don’t have the time anymore. Starting PCs possess 10 XP at Level 1. After every session, every person at the table asks his or her character if that PC can say yes to the following questions:

You travelled to or explored a location you’ve never seen before. You faced dangerous foes and/or difficult situations. You completed a quest or mission. You suffered a grievous wound, or suffered a great personal failure.

p. 57

In addition to these are some Vocation-specific queries. Every yes awards an XP. Every 10 XP results in a Level advancement.

As has already been stated, the basics of the VsD spell system are shared with BASiL and some others. What remains to be said is that some spells may be Warped. This means that additional Magic Points can be expended (exceeding the base cost of casting the spell) for greater or additional effects. Another rule regarding Magic emulates VsD’s source fictions: if ever, during a Spell Roll, “doubles” are rolled on the d100 (e.g., 66), the character might “attract the attention of Dark Powers and Servants of the Shadows.” The GM then rolls on another table to see what specific action, if any, the Darkmaster takes in response to this Magical Resonance.


I have examined this game, as presented in its QS, through the lens of the specific fictions that this game seeks to emulate. By this criterium, some of the rules—particularly those that contribute toward lethality in combat—are at odds with VsD’s stated intention. Some features—such as rules for Warfare—are missing and without intention of being developed, but these might be provided for through community contributions or future company support.

I expect my own gaming table will be exploring this rpg for the entire year. Two of my four gamers have expressed great enthusiasm for these rules. They are fairly new gamers, so this kind of surprises me. The presence of a d100 core mechanic (in comparison to the cobbled-together, home-ruled Original D&D I had been running) probably contributes to their enjoyment.

For myself, I love how this satisfies a nostalgic impulse while designing away most of the features that have created difficulty for me in regards to its progenitor. More is to be done, and the basic structure of VsD is porous enough that, should I need to, I can modify this to my own tastes. My main difficulty appears to be Weapon Stats. 

ToM’s recently stated company openness to non-profit community content (and some licensing) and independent OPEN00 (genius name, by the way) game derivations is highly encouraging. With this support, the VsD community is likely to enrich individual game qualities and perhaps appeal to brand new gamers who are seeking an experience outside of the d20 hegemony. I very much look forward to an update to the QS and, above all, the Kickstarter for the full rules later this year.

What Does a Roleamster Dungeon Crawl Look Like?

This is part of my looking at first adventures. The most clichéd of all clichés must be the basic dungeon.

The challenge for rolemaster GMs and players alike is wound management in a dungeon. You may survive your first fight but you could carry a lot of penalties into the next fight.

Traditionally, or should I say instinctively, I think of dungeons starting with weak foes and then as you progress in they get tougher and tougher until you meet the final challenge, the end of level boss to borrow from video gaming.

In Rolemaster that really is a death sentence. None of your players characters will be functioning by the time they met the big bad evil guy.

Wounds are not the only consideration.


I am trying to write these for all version of Rolemaster and here another big difference becomes apparent.

A RM2/RMC spell caster is going to have 1 to 10 power points. I know 10 seems a lot but that is how many my Lay Healer had at first level. I used one background option on Skill at Magic and rolled an extra Power Point per level, a second BGO got me a boost to my presence bonus and I used a background option to boost my Presence. The GM uses the optional rule that your Power Points are based on your Total Stat Bonus, not your stat. So I am wandering around with 5PP.

There are other BGO that serve as spell adders and spell multipliers and you can of course roll of a special item. So with naturally boosted stats, bonus PP and special items you can get as high as double figures but that is extremely unlikely.

A RMu pure spell caster is going to have double, triple or more the power points of a RM2/RMC spell caster. They also are likely to have a greater number of lists and a greater number of spells available on those lists. Using RM2/RMC RAW it is possible to have 5 spell lists if you roll like a devil.

0th level spend 20 ranks learning one list automatically and a few ranks in a second which you then fluke the roll for. Then repeat for 1st level and then again when prespending 2nd level DPs. This gives you 4 learned lists and you automatically get the 1st level spell on the list you have 20 ranks in.

So RM2/RMC characters will have less spells and less power points than RMu spell casters.

Martial characters in RMC are more competent than RM2 and both are more competent than RMu. I don’t want to discuss this point as it is ongoing on the forums right now. I believe that this will be fixed.

So is a dungeon crawl viable?

I think it is but only if we think beyond combat. As a starting adventure we want to challenge all members of the party. Throwing monsters are the party will certainly give fighters and the healers plenty to do but the rest are more limited.

I detest the Sleep V spell. I know that putting everything to sleep and then cutting their throats is very pragmatic. Keeping one or two alive to interrogate is also a perfectly valid option. It is also kind of boring.

It is when you see the players of the fighters and rogues just roll their eyes and put their dice down when the magician announcing that they are prepping Sleep V that you realise that the spell just robs three quarters of the party of their reason for existence.

By the time you are sending foes sufficiently tough to not be affected by Sleep V then all the essence casters are throwing Sleep X around just as easily.

In my ongoing campaign I had two characters that used Sleep V as their go to spell. They ended up with so many mass combats, not because they were particularly heroic, but because I factored in enough foes to still have the number I wanted active after the spells went off. I also used waves of foes so that they could only put the foes to sleep that they could see, not the ones arriving a round later.

So combats are not good for starting level dungeon crawls. Too easy to put starting monsters to sleep and with the lack of places and time to rest the attrition is likely to prove fatal to a starting party.

RMu To The Rescue

In all the adventures I have written this year I have picked monsters that existed in all versions of RM. This time is no exception. I am going to build a dungeon using Daedhel. These are perfect. What makes them perfect is that they come fitted with a Fear Aura as standard. They also come in pairs. I would suggest that one is presented as a false end of level boss and then mid way through the final battle the second one arrives and joins the fight as a fresh foe.

I am seeing a throne room type location with two thrones, one Daedhel the dias. Battle ensues and then Daedhel number two arrives. The players then think, oh yeah, he said there were two thrones, D’oh!.

Daedhel also come with 14PP (Chan/Ess) according to the RMu CrL. So there is no reason for these guys not to animating skeletons or fallen PC/NPCs as zombies. There is nothing wrong with them making good use of things that they find lying around their lair.

Completely new players are likely to assume that demons are not going to be effected by Sleep spells. Also if the main defenders they have fought so far have been undead, who are also not effected by mental attacks by the time they reach the BBEGs they are unlikely to use it as their ‘go to’ attack.

Skeletons and Demons don’t eat so that whole thing of what do people eat in this dungeon is a non-question. The skeletons are explained by the presence of undead creating demons so that is coherent. The Demons can actually serve as an edventure hook in their own right. In truth the real BBEG is not in this dungeon, the two Daedhel are simply higher up minions. They were put in the dungeon and told to start building an undead army. To do that they needed bodies and that is why they are in an out of the way place, peace to work, and have been killing people, for the undead and as an adventure hook.

The characters in clearing the dungeon derail the plans of the BBEG and save the nearest villages, Hurray!, and make an enemy of the BBEG, Boo!

Dungeons are more than monsters in a house

The secret to a really good low level dungeon crawl is the environment. The undead do not need to see so there is no light, they do not eat or feel cold but the characters do. The Daedhel do eat, they are carnivores, but I do not see them as either house proud or tidy eaters. Add on top two more factors. The place is used for storing dead bodies and has a number of animated corpses in it. Daedhel have the Distinct Odour talent/flaw.

As a GM we can use the senses of the characters against them. How about a failed or partially successful perception check combined with some dead bodies and flickering torch light? The question is “Are they moving?” or did the character only think they twitched or flinched?

Opening doors should be accompanied with waves of putrid air but places where the Daedhel have recently been should have the taint of something altogether ungodly.

That smell can be used to warn inexperienced characters that the Daedhel are coming or at least nearby. A Daedhel covered by an unseen spell may choose to simply observe the invading characters. They would certainly have enough time to have created some mindless undead to serve as their undead army.

The fear aura is about more than a resistance roll. Whether that is passed or failed will of course change the capabilities of the party but there are loads of role play opportunities that go with it that we can use as GMs. Things like hairs standing up on the backs of you neck. You can just describe those for the atmospheric effect.

In my next post I will write this up as an adventure. I also have something really cool to add to it that I have not touched up here. I think you are going to love it.

Combat in Against the Darkmaster

I think I should have the Against the Darkmaster (VsD) QuickStart introduce this topic:

Combat is a serious thing in Against the Darkmaster.

While characters are assumed to be heroic, even the most skillful fighter must take combat seriously because of the high chance of being wounded or killed with a single blow.

p. 37

Right. Well. Hm.

I don’t disagree that combat should be serious, even for (perhaps even especially for) heroes, but I’m not sure that the type of combat presented in VsD properly emulates the fantasy fictions that inspire VsD. Perhaps I’m off track here. I’ve already admitted that I don’t relate to the Heavy Metal ethos of the 80s, and VsD specifically points to this element as inspiration for its combat.

The combat system in VsD, with some alterations, is that of Middle-Earth Role Playing and various Rolemasters: roll d100, add Skill bonus, subtract Defensive Bonus, compare the result to the appropriate armor on a chart. The armors are the MERP armors—None, Soft Leather, Rigid Leather, Chain and Plate. Results on this table range from a miss to one of the five Criticals, renamed in VsD as Superficial, Light, Moderate, Grievous and Lethal. Okay, simple enough.

An Attack Table. The colors are neat and useful!

But, as with MERP, as with Rolemaster, conditions and qualifiers soon heap on. Does the opponent have Cover? Wait, isn’t she also on Higher Ground? Are you attacking from the Flank? Do you have to Move to get there? Are you at half Hit Points? Is that above the Max Result for your Weapon? Hey, doesn’t that do -10 against Chain?

Ugh. I know that some gamers don’t mind this kind of play at all. In fact, many prefer it. But I think that my table doesn’t like its rules to interfere with its fiction. Don’t get me wrong, these rules do make good fiction. Of course I love granularity and realism. But not when those features become a grind, not when they become fiddly. And not when they so easily can kill my PCs with one blow.

What are you saying, Gabe? Are you forgetting that this also is a game, and no challenge is entertaining if there are no stakes involved? (The voice in my head here, specifically, is Aspire2Hope’s, one that always keeps me honest.) I know, so perhaps I’m saying that the stakes are too high… Or I’m saying that the stakes are too high depending on the situation.

In the fictions inspiring VsD, main characters (our PCs) do die, but they don’t expire because of a stray shot from a Goblin. They perish plunging with the Balrog into the Abyss, they drop while defending Little People against hordes of Uruk-hai, they fail on the Field of Battle, thrown from horseback because of the malevolent terror exuding from a Nazgûl.

Outside of the basic conditions such as Stunning and Bleeding, the VsD combat rules as presented in the QS do not emulate the fictions. Again, they might reflect a Heavy Metal vibe, but arbitrary death does not signify heroic fiction. If this latter is not what VsD is after, there are ways to fix this. VsD already has given players one “character shield”: they can spend a Drive Point to lower a suffered Critical by one severity (but must abide by the new results). Here is another possibility, one admittedly inspired by other games: the character somehow survives death, but she is now Doomed (or Fey, in the Old Norse sense of the word), destined for a truly heroic death. The GM then introduces, as soon as possible, an awesomely terrifying Big Bad and tells the character that this is how he dies; how she goes about doing it is up to him, and usually she should be saving others from a seemingly invincible Presence. The player might choose to die before the GM can roll this out, determining on his own what is a fitting demise for her hero. Or—or in addition to this—most NPCs can be designated a kind of “mook” that has a max damage rating vs a PC. Or NPCs should just be easier to kill. I’m doing this already with my simplified NPC Stats that were slightly revealed last post, and most of my mookish NPCs don’t have DBs.

The easiest way to describe VsD combat as written is to share The Tactical Round Sequence.

I’m not sure how much of this is standard to most iterations of Rolemaster, so forgive me if I go on about anything obvious. I’m going to detail the features that are a bit new to me.

From the top, Assessment Phase. Basically, if the GM determines that any PC might be disoriented—due to being Stunned, taking a fall, getting ambushed, etc.—then this character must succeed at a Perception Roll to take any action without penalty. Other than this, the only thing that is new to me are the order of actions according to weapon size in the Melee Phase. I don’t think anything else should be puzzling to an RM gamer.

The same can be said for what are the three types of Actions—Full, Half and Free—and modifiers to combat that result from taking some of them. It takes time to Load weapons. Characters may use all or half of their Offensive Bonuses to Parry. A low roll could result in a Weapon Fumble. There is a long list of combat modifiers, though this is given as a separate table in the Appendix of the QS.

By now, readers won’t be surprised that I prefer to keep that list in the Appendix. I might memorize the conditions the QS specifies in its text—combat modifiers for characters who are Prone, Surprised, Stunned, Incapacitated, Held, Flanking and at the Rear. None of these are unfamiliar for RM gamers. For the rest, I would rather use the inspiration of the moment and my own “increment” method.

I’m not sure what to do about Weapon Stats, likewise in the Appendix. I think I have to use them for now. It’s important for weapons to be different from one another. I think I’ll try to push the burden of knowing these qualities onto my players.

A corresponding Critical Strike Table

Skill and Save Rolls in Against the Darkmaster

And now it’s time to play!

No surprises for Rolemaster gamers, in the QuickStart of Against the Darkmaster (VsD), Skill tests are resolved against an easily-memorizable Action Resolution Table (above). For comparisons between this table and others—and how they might be used for narrative purposes—I direct you to Peter R’s recent discussion about Maneuvers in RM games. All that remains to be explained here is that, in VsD, actions are resolved through the character rolling an Open-Ended d100; adding modifiers for Skill, situation and Difficulty; and referring to the GM for the result. VsD gives some rough characterizations for levels of Difficulty, and the mechanical components attached to the descriptions are essentially in increments of ten with a jump from Heroic (-50) to Insane (-70).

I prefer to set my own Difficulties by “increment.” For Level 1 characters, the table is punishing enough—the probability for success is just north of 25%, and, even then, “success” usually means a Partial Success, which almost never allows the character a clean resolution. If one thing is complicating the Action Resolution, I give the roll -10, if two, -20, and so on. Of course, some dangers might qualify singly as -20 or more, and I take these into consideration. My point here is that I don’t necessarily trust myself nor want to take up too much time fussing over what might be an appropriate level of difficulty, so this is my method.

The same is true for any test which involves an NPC. Unsurprisingly, the QS contains rules for Conflicting Actions, which amount to “opposed rolls.” I do use these, sometimes, but it’s more economical to use the NPC Level to set a Difficulty. Is a PC attempting to Deceive a Level 5 con-artist? Well, it’s hard to Deceive a deceiver, isn’t it! The Difficulty modifier is -50. Anyone who remembers my discussion of Skills in VsD will recognize that this value equates to two Ranks per Level in the corresponding “skill” (for any more than this, I’m going to have to multiply Ranks over 10 by 2, then Ranks over 20 by 1). Let’s say that the NPC has been unlikely to develop this specific quality. Fine, perhaps 1 Rank per Level, then, Level x 5. Unskilled? Well, then obviously nothing. But what about Stat bonuses? Yeah, well, what about them? I don’t care; this is an NPC. But, sure, if it isn’t much trouble for you, as a GM, go ahead and toss them in. My point remains: I don’t need to take time, even if it’s just a moment, to make this determination at the gaming table.

The VsD Helping rules, in my own game, have a much wider application than what at first might be expected. I don’t prefer to have my PCs “piling on” rolls for Perception and Lore Skills (for an elaboration of this and “passive” Perception, see my comments in this post), but everyone can Help, even, usually, belatedly. To Help, every aiding character must describe how that person is Helping and succeed at a relevant test. Every success in this way awards a cumulative +10 to the activity roll for the main character attempting the test.

I like to use Helping to simulate other narrative aspects as well. In my play-by-post format, two PCs were passengers on a river ship suddenly beset by a storm. One PC used his Charisma to motivate his followers to help the shipmen steer the boat away from the riverbanks; the other PC did something more direct by seizing a spar and attempting to physically press the hull away from the rocky river edge. If either succeeded, that character would contribute a cumulative +10 to the GM’s roll for the sailors of the ship to keep from crashing. (What happened, you say? The ship smashed and sank.)

Save Rolls are pretty straightforward. An OE Roll is added to the character’s SR bonus in an attempt to beat a Difficulty which is 50 + Level of the effect x 5.

A shorter entry this time. This is because next is Combat! Unsurprisingly, this might be the most involving analysis yet.

Zweihänder Read Through – Hazards and the Grimoire


This is a very impressive part of Zweihander. What the writers have done is define eight rather atmosphere, and I would say setting specific, diseases and afflictions. Each has a difficulty factor to resist infection, a description of the symptoms and of the treatment.

That bit isn’t particularly outstanding, but it is cool in its own way. What makes it stand out is that this is followed by some really simple but equally atmospheric rules of treating disorders and diseases and even surgery in the default sort of medieval European setting that is beloved of most fantasy RPGs.

Basic treatments just prevent the disease from progressing on a week by week basis. Some diseases have a natural duration during which time they run their course. Real treatment requires either a magical draft called Panacea or surgery to address them. Of course there is the option of bloodletting to treat infections, just to give you the idea of the sort of medical skill we are dealing with.

I am pretty sure you will not be surprised if I tell you that surgery is not without its risks. A critical failure can kill a character which is not good.

Diseases are not the only hazards. This chapter goes on to describe extreme weather from frostbite to heatstroke. Falls are split into falls on to hard surfaces and those into water. That last one is not something I think I have ever seen rules for before which is odd as I have thrown PCs off cliffs hundreds of times I reckon in the past.

The hazards covered here are diseases, falls, fire, intoxication, poisons, sleep deprivation, starvation and suffocation. Each has details of the effects and treatments if applicable. Resistance Rolls as we know them are called Toughness checks. Each hazard has a the modifiers to the Toughness check for different conditions, the effects of failed Toughness checks and where needed the treatment for the different hazards from dealing with venoms to giving the kiss of life.


Zwei has a condition called Peril it is pretty much a game mechanic for modelling stress. The way it works is that the greater the level of Peril the more your skill bonuses are cancelled out. The logic being the more stressed you are the more likely you are to make a mistake and that stressed people do not perform at their best. The best analogy to Rolemaster that I can think of is if you stripped out all the minuses from the criticals and the penalties from being at 25% or 50% of hits and put them into a single mechanic rolling them into a single penalty.

In Zwei a skill bonus of +30 is the absolute maximum and that is three ranks at +10 each. Once you are in Peril the five steps of Peril go from no penalty, -10, -20, -30, automatic fail due to mental incapacitation.

Recovery from Peril is rather like Rolemaster’s cinematic healing. Resting in a nice warm safe place removes the Peril penalties, Resting in rough conditions from sleeping in the gutter to on a dungeon can remove most but not all Peril.

Harking back to the surgery rules, you can use smelling salts to recover one step on the Peril scale but at a physical cost to the body.


There are no hit points in Zwei. There is a scale, called a track from Unharmed to Slain with lightly, moderately, seriously and grievously wounded in between. Each time you are hit the random damage is converted into ‘levels’ of damage and they knock you further down the track towards death.

The healing skill can be used once per day and will recover you one level up the track. The further down the track you are the bigger the difficulty penalty to the healing roll. A critical failure of the healing skill causes the wound to become infected which circles us right back to the top of the chapter and all those horrible diseases. That is going to make its way into my RM game. I think I have been under playing illness and infection.

Recovery times are slightly faster than in RM but still are enough to keep a seriously hurt character in bed for weeks. Moderate injuries, with medical help recover in 1d10+1 days, serious injuries 2d10+2 days and so on.

The Grimoire

Apart from the professions and a few talents I have read in the early part of the rules, this is first real taste of Zweihander magic.

So just to make it painfully plain how Zwei sees magic I think these four words sum up Zweihander magic.

Magick is cancerously malignant

Magick, with a k of course, comes in two flavour, chocolate and strawberry whoops, Arcane and Divine.


Arcane magic is split into twelve different schools, or ‘winds’. Interestingly the Animist who we see as Channeling is not Divine in Zwei but rather an Arcanist. Other Arcanists include the Pyromancer, Necromancer and the Astromancer or Astrologer.

Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Magick

So although Zwei says it is setting neutral it does go on to lay down the rules regarding how magick users are perceived by the public…

“arcanists are most likely in league with demons, and if not, the temptation is there, so why not kill them?”

… and how some magick users are organised into self governing schools and how others are self taught and half mad with the corruption of it all. Now that sounds very much like setting specific colour to me.


Zwei then describes divine magic and there are no surprises here but then goes on to describe 10 Gods with descriptions of their churches, priesthood and commandments. There are pages on faith and worship, heresy and fanaticism. This is all setting specific. I have said so many times before that you cannot have magic and setting neutrality as the former has such a huge impact on the world that contains it.

So, rant aside.

We have rules for acquiring spells which is research based, there doesn’t seem to be any form of automatic gaining spells, this isn’t a levelled game after all.

Spell casting has a few of the old clichés, you cannot wear armour or excessively heavy clothing. It inhibits the arm waving and flapping about required for spells apparently. We do have verbal, somantic and material components for spells here, which for me is a blast from the past.

Once you have everything you need for the spell there is a spell casting roll just like any skill. Casting spells takes AP in the combat round. Remember that there are 3 AP in a round.

Petty magick takes 1AP, lesser spells take 2AP and greater 3AP. Durations are generally minutes in length so they will out last most combats. Spells do need to be maintained and this is a 1AP action each turn (rounds are called turns in Zwei).

The first really cool thing is that Zwei uses Counterspell. It is pretty much like parrying that I talked about last time. You use your Incantation skill and spend an AP. Critically failing a Counterspell is not nice! You also cannot Counterspell magic that is more powerful than the magic you can cast yourself.

Every spell causes you to roll chaos dies, these are d6s and rolling a 6 means bad shit happens. I will do an entire post on Chaos and Chaos dice later to wrap up all of these.


The spells are really very good. No, that is an understatement, the spells are brilliant. Over the years I have read a great many magic systems and there are a few standouts. The absolute best is the one from 7th Sea. My only complain about 7ths magic was that there was not enough of it. I believe that there are supplements that expand the range of magical effects but I don’t own them so I cannot say. HARP is a wonderfully flexible magic system but lacks colour and excitement. I know that has been expanded in College of Magics but I don’t own CoM so I cannot say. As you all know I have never been really comfortable with RM spell lists and realms

My only complaint about Zwei magic is that there is not enough of it. Here is a spell as an example.


With a burst of feathers, you turn into one of the most noble of jackdaws.

Distance: Yourself

Reagents: Three feathers of a crow or raven, held aloft (expended)

Duration: 3+[WB] in hours

Effect: After successfully casting this spell, both you and all the trappings upon yourself take shape of a Small Animal, such as a jackdaw, crow or raven. You retain your mental attributes (Intelligence, Perception and Willpower) and Damage Threshold, but cannot communicate nor use Magick while in this form. If you suffer an Injury during this time, the spell ends immediately.

Critical Success: As above, but triple the Duration.

Critical Failure: Your transformation goes terribly awry. Your body covered in feathers, you take on the form of a crow-like amalgamation that resembles a demon from the depths of the Abyss. You maintain this form for the spell’s Duration, unable to communicate or use Magick. Those who witness this transformation must succeed at a Resolve Test or be subjected to Stress.

I find the magic evocative and colourful. I like the use of built in critical successes and failures. There are general spells, just as in HARP or the Open lists in RM and profession specific spells just like our Base lists.

That particular spell comes from the Arcana of Aninism, it is a lesser magick so a 2AP spell. The list of spells for each profession there are three petty, three lesser and three greater magicks. It looks to me like there is one offensive, defensive and one utilitarian spell at each ‘level’. I know magick is intended to be extremely rare but that does seem to be extremely limited in repertoire. I am guessing that several things will happen.

  1. Official supplements will expand the number of available spells.
  2. The Community Content Programme will expand the number of spells.

I think both of these will happen and that the limited number of spells is more a function of limited page count in the print version than a limitation of the magic system.

But there is more…

The next section in the Grimoire is all about creating magic items from healing cure-alls, the Panacea to enchanted items. The world of Zwei, which of course doesn’t exist, says that ever magic items is unique and enchanted items are incredibly rare. The cornerstone of magic item creation is Wytchstone(s) which are parts of an asteroid that hit the planet.

You must have Wytchstone to create anything and it is an extremely rare, out of reach of PCs, commodity.

The creation process, game mechanically, is very simple even if for the characters it is extremely difficult: gather the ingredients, make a skill test and bang! There you go! Fail the test critically and the Bang! There is you go is quite literal.

Next up we have rituals. I am a huge fan of ritual magic and Zwei rituals do not disappoint. The rituals come with a lot of background information and are largely based on knowing the true names of different demons. This is atmospheric stuff. It is also the only magic that is open to all characters regardless of profession and it is the most dangerous of magics to perform. Bad stuff WILL happen to your character it is not and *IF* it is a when if you start playing with rituals.


The final part of the Grimoire is about talismans. These are very personal magical items. I get the impression that this is pretty much the most common sort of item that a character will ever encounter and the in game effect of a talisman is a simple +5 to the base chance of a skill test. Each talisman is keyed to a single skill and regardless of how many talisman you own you can only employ one at once.


What is plain from these chapters is that everything in Zwei comes in threes. There are three harder difficulty levels +10 to +30, three easier difficulty levels -10 to -30. There are three levels of magic petty, lesser and greater. There are three levels of screwing things up that do 1d10+1 to 3d10+3. Wounds take 1d10+1 to 3d10+3 days to heal. Even back in character creations you rolled 3d10+25 for your stats.

I am fine with this. The first game I ever wrote was called 3Deep as I recognised that 3 parameters is just about optimal in RPGs. The game had a very different approach using 1d6 to 3d6 but you get why I feel quite tuned in to a lot of Zwei. A lot of it feels a bit déjà vu. Mine you my game was super light and I wrote it in 20 minutes in an email. Zwei is a bit more detailed than that.

What is though is super consistent. I am seeing one mechanic used again and again and virtually without exception. The few exceptions there are happen at a Talent level and so remain consistent for that individual PC or NPC. It is them that is different not the way the world is working.

So far so good.

The next chapter is 110 pages long and is on Game Mastery. I think that this will deserve a post of its own. This is possibly the longest blog post I have ever written at over 2000 words and I am mentally exhausted. Give me a day or two to recover and I will tackle the next chapter!