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