Clarification Needed. When did Talents and Flaws become part of core RoleMaster?*

First, I did set a goal to not delve too deep into rule making for RMU or RM in the coming year. However, I do read the RM Forums and there is a ongoing discussion about additional Talents (and Flaws, though “surprisingly” those are obviously less discussed). And yes, for the purpose of this post “background options” are an interchangeable term with “talents/flaws”–to be referred as “T/F”.

There is something very proprietary about T/F–it’s a cumbersome bolt on to what I consider a pre-companion streamlined rule set. Many are one-off rules that reek of AD&D Class Abilities while others are just bonuses to reinforce a VERY specific idea of a profession/class. So what is the point of T/F’s? A few ideas:

  1. T/F’s add unique abilities to characters without the GM having to muster up the energy to do it themselves.
  2. T/F’s are meant to reinforce Professional Tropes.
  3. T/F’s are meant to power up Level 1 characters a bit.
  4. T/F’s are a bypass to increase ability outside of the normal skill acquisition/skill bonus/stat bonus/profession bonus system already established.
  5. T/F’s are used to bypass skill cost restrictions to give players abilities they could not otherwise afford in skill buy.
  6. T/F’s are used to min/max characters by bypassing Professional skill cost and balance issues.

Happy for anyone to add to that list, but as it stands it’s not pretty. Basically Talents are “cheat codes” pretending to be balanced with Flaws to give everyone the illusion of proper game design.

Am I too old school? Perhaps my origins in the original RM has biased me, but I’m reading forum posts and it sounds like many suggestions for Talents are just special Profession abilities similar to AD&D. Can someone adequately explain the need or justification for Talents using the same validations you use for other rule arguments?

*For purposes of disclosure, this blog is a side affect of Weller Special Reserve Bourbon.

Zweihänder Read Through – Skills & Talents

This is obviously another Zweihänder post. I am trying to rattle through them a bit faster than I did the HARP read through for two reasons. Firstly, if you enjoy them then making you wait is not a good thing. If you don’t enjoy them then keeping them coming back for months is equally not a good thing. Personally I like to get projects over and done with, so I am keen to crack on as well.

I am going to split this post into two. The first part is the read through of chapters 5 & 6 as advertised.

The second part is more about ‘that which is Zweihänder , rather than Zweihänder itself’. By that I mean there are so many points of potential similarity between the Zwei that exists and the RMU I/we wish for that I believe that lessons can be learned. I have a cousin who is very wealthy and his money is entirely sel made (in an enterprising way not home printing sort of way, if you understand what I mean). He once said to me “If you want to earn a million pounds, don’t ask the unemployed bloke in the pub how to do it.” So learning from the example of the fastest selling game of the past three years now (if you include 2019) is probably a good analogy.

So Skills…

Below is a sample of the core skills in Zwei…

So in Zwei we have a base of 36 skills. Each of these have a number of focuses, which I thought would be Foci but I am often wrong. In RM2 many of the focuses would be individual skills in their own right. I am happy with the Zwei way as you all know that I simply do not use all those optional skills from RoCo2. Above I am looking at Athletics and I can see Climb, Row and Swim which were all definitely individual skills in our world.

If each character is getting 10 skills then you do need a party to cover most of these bases.

Where the Zwei system has less detail than the RM world is in levels of ability. A Zwei total skill bonus is made up of the governing stat or attribute on a scale of 28-55 plus your rank bonus. For a starting character that is +10 in your ten professional skills. So typically +52 in our parlance. A +10 is the Apprentice level. At journeyman level you get a further +10 and as a master you a final +10 for a total skill bonus of +30 on top of your attribute.

We are used to big skill bonuses added to small stat bonuses, this is the flip of that methodology.

The focuses can be bought as individual specialisms in addition to the base skill. If you have the particular focus you are using then you can ignore additional penalties when using the skill for that specific use.

So even if you had two characters with the same skills they can still differentiate themselves within their profession. Shockingly Focuses are not rolled randomly and assigned to you, to do get to choose them.

This is the skill listing for Perception. I have pulled this one out for the simple reason that we all know what a perception roll looks like. Just remember that a typical character has a roll under 52 (42 average Attribute and+10 for one rank in the skill) to succeed.

AWARENESS (Perception)
Awareness represents the ability to visually notice minute details and sounds, scents within the air, watch for ambushes, find hidden objects and spot contrivances designed to trap or kill. You’ll use Awareness not only to visually see, also to sense using smell, taste and touch. You may also use Awareness to estimate numbers and distances.

This Skill doesn’t allow you to see through lies, sense motives or innuendo – refer to the Scrutinize Skill in those cases. If you wish to listen in on a conversation or distinctly make something out you heard, refer to the Eavesdrop Skill instead.


  • (Trivial +30%): Listen for sounds through a thin door
  • (Easy +20%): Smell a distinct spice in a dish
  • (Routine +10%): Spot an obvious snare
  • (Standard +/-0%): Standing watch at a campfire on a clear night
  • (Challenging -10%): Find someone obscured by mist or darkness
  • (Hard -20%): Count a mound of treasure in under a minute
  • (Arduous -30%): Spot a trap melded almost perfectly into the flagstones

Every skill is laid out the same, description and then clear examples of what falls into each difficulty rating. What I do like is that not one of the skills has a hidden game mechanic built into the skill description. They are all uniform in format and implementation.


The core book provides 72 talents. Each talent seems to produce one effect and those effects fall into two categories. The first is to give a +20 bonus to a specific skill used in a specific situation and the other is to allow the character to ignore a specific penalty in a specific situation. So ambidextrous means you ignore penalties for using the off hand, Eagle Eyes means you do not suffer range penalties at medium and long range. Housebreaker in the other hand gives a +20 to lockpicking.

Every profession comes with 3 talents and the rules imply that you can buy more but I have yet to read the section where the rules for that are presented. I guess they will be in the Reward Points rules later in the book, or I misinterpreted the part where it implied you could by more talents of course.

There isn’t much more to say about the talents, there are some that relate to magic that at this point are quite intriguing. This one I particularly like…

With great practice, you have learned to bend the powers of disorder to your whim. However, every dark gift requires a sacrifice in return.

Effect: After you have made the appropriate sacrifice of an innocent creature (a beloved animal like a kitten or puppy for Petty Magick, a farm animal such as a cow or sheep for Lesser Magick or a living person like an Elf or Dwarf for Greater Magick), you can cause any one foe to automatically fail to Resist one cast Magick spell within the next 24 hours. You can only make a sacrifice like this once per day.

I knew there was a good reason for having elves in the party!

Part II

What inspired this two part blog post idea was an announcement on Zwei’s discord server this evening, and I quote:

Daniel D. Fox – Lead Designer Today at 20:15

Hey gang,

You’re probably noticing a lot of changes on our Facebook and YouTube, formerly named Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG. This is being done on purpose across social media, YouTube, Discord and other channels.

For 2019, we are consolidating our brands, while changing ZWEIHÄNDER-only assets to reflect a shift in the company. With MAIN GAUCHE on the horizon, development of TETSŪBO, Queen of Embers and a few other unannounced products, we’re moving towards our new company line:

Grim & Perilous Studios, makers of tabletop games “Powered By ZWEIHÄNDER”.

So what does this mean for you? You’re going to see a D100 ‘free’ engine released later this year, taking the place of the SRD. You’re also going to get a look at some of the new products coming down the line for 2019 and 2020. You’re going to see our books up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, IndieBound, in your local brick-and-mortar and a whole lot more. We aren’t leaving DriveThruRPG, but our ‘big books’ will be as we reach commercial scale for true distribution across the US, CA and Europe. Plus, we’ll be announcing some new video content initiatives in the coming weeks (as an example, did you know Encounter Roleplay is running ZWEIHÄNDER every Friday on Twitch for the next 18 weeks).

Finally, we’ll be introducing you to some new people from our team. We’re growing, and can’t wait for you to meet all the fine folx who help make Grim & Perilous Studios successful.

So, join us for the ride in 2019 for a truly #GrimAndPerilous year for #ZweihanderRPG!

All the best,

Daniel D. Fox

So what has got me so stirred up?

I have been pushing for an open standard for D100 for a couple of years now including my own open100 and I am also happy to support vsDarkmaster’s OPEN00. I am not necessarily a fan of competing open standards but hey, too much freedom of expression is less of a problem than too little.

I have been trying to push for the “Powered by…” concept for RMu, in fact Intothatdarkness’s post this very week was all about the RMu game engine vs the game itself. That is a spin off of my push for the Powered by tag from that “So…” forum thread.

The other thing I find exciting is the bit about the hardcopy publications. I have been dabbling with this myself. I was using Createspace and Amazon’s KDP before they merged. DTRPG is the ‘safe place’ that is where everyone is and that is where all the experienced GMs buy their games. It is not the rest of the world though. If you want to reach completely new people than you need to be out in the real world. I called Zweihänder a cannibal last time. I take that back. They really are trying to build the industry.

This is something I have also been trying to do, I just haven’t talked about it on this blog but Egdcltd has read about my efforts. By comparison I have been pissing around with small fry but the principle is the same. I don’t really think that my ideas would work nearly so well with Zwei as they would with my wild west game. Different genre, different style, different target audience.

The more I hang around the Zwei world the more stark are the differences between the openness and dynamic nature of G&P Studios and the sullen silence of ICE.

And finally…

This is one of the examples from the beginning of the rules.

Nick’s Character Grover Caldwell has an Order Alignment of Mystery and the Chaos Alignment of Exclusion. During the game session, the GM reveals a dangerous bit of information to Nick in secret. Grover now has the choice to reveal an important plot point to the other PCs or hold onto it. Unfortunately, knowledge of this information could prove potentially
dangerous, putting Grover in a place of mistrust with his comrades. He decides it may be best to hold onto this information, alienating himself from the others while shutting them out from the mysteries that only
he understands. As the story led to this moment, not revealing the information taps into his Chaos Alignment of Exclusion – placing his closest friends’ life in danger. The GM, while satisfied that Nick was doing the right thing for his Character, bestows 1 Corruption.

Is it just me or is seeing Nick and Caldwell in such close proximity in a competitors RPG rules just too much of a coincidence?

Rolemasterblog & Azukail Games presents: “The Serial Adventure”

Now that we are winding down the 50 Adventures in 50 Weeks challenge and heading into 2019 it’s time to start the new adventure production. So we are proud to announce the next iteration: The Serial Adventure.

These OSR inspired adventures will feature pre-generated PCs and 25 individual chapters that can be played in sequence. Each chapter will have updated character sheets so the players won’t need to level up, update skills or handle bookkeeping between game sessions. The players will start at 1st level and ultimately attain 10-15th level at the end of the series.

Every few weeks we will publish a new chapter of the series which can be played in a single 4-6 hour session. Stats will be d100 style and can easily be adapted to a variety of systems and Magic-User and Cleric spells will utilize the BASiL spell lists.

The goal is to create truly “turn-key” adventure sessions that are connected by a singular plot line, but can be played individually if desired. Plots, creatures and other design elements will draw from popular fantasy tropes and should be usable in most any fantasy settings–these won’t be Shadow World specific.

Game or Engine…is that the Question?

A recent discussion on the RM boards regarding splitting up Creature Law got me thinking about something that could be the elephant in the room: are we talking about RMU the engine or RMU the fantasy game/setting? By engine I mean RMU’s basic mechanics (character creation, skill system, and combat mechanics/format: basically ChL&AL without the races and professions) and by game I mean the fantasy RMU we’re looking at now (spells, races, fantastic monsters, and even professions). The engine is something that can be used in any setting or genre, while the game is tied to fantasy and a particular setting.

From a game engine perspective, it might be nice or advisable to have a number of fairly generic monster supplements out there. Things GMs could take and plug into their own settings confident they’d work with the RMU engine. But from a fantasy setting perspective, RMU the fantasy game needs a self-contained book of creatures designed for the official setting. Nothing else needs to be included if it doesn’t fit into the setting.

So What?

This discussion matters because RMU is really two things at once: the engine and the game. Things that make sense for the engine might not work for the game, and the reverse is also true. Clear thinking is needed when it comes to the initial game release. It should have everything required for the GAME to work in the official setting, but not necessarily those bits the ENGINE requires to be flexible and adaptable. It’s those engine bits that can (and possibly should) appear as supplements or add-ons: core GAME materials should not.

Since RM started life as a series of game engine plug-ins for AD&D, this may be something of a shift for people conditioned to think of RM as an almost-endless series of supplements and additions. But if the engine in its new form is going to have a chance the game (for once) needs to come first. What does that mean in practice? Tie the game officially to a setting. Ensure the core has the races, spells, treasures, and creatures to function with that setting and don’t worry about anything else. It’s the game (engine-setting-tools) that matters now.

It’s all about the Game

Once the game takes off, it’s possible to look at a series of “powered by RM” products focusing on the engine itself. But that comes AFTER the game is out. If a race being contemplated doesn’t fit into the setting, don’t develop it now. Spells that don’t fit? Hold them for something else. Same for creatures and monsters. Everything in the core is based on the engine, but HAS to support the game (engine plus setting). If it doesn’t support the game, leave it out. The CORE GAME should have everything a GM needs to start running adventures in the setting NOW, rather than wait for another book or two.

Right now it seems to be split between a discussion of the game and the engine, often without an awareness of the difference between the two. My sense is the engine is more or less done, at least in core terms (character creation, combat, skills) as I define engine. Maybe the time has come to draw a line around what’s considered the game (setting, professions, races) and just finish that. Monsters and races not part of the core setting can wait for future supplements. If the engine’s solid it can drive any number of game types. But it needs a game to get out of the garage and on the road.

Rolemasterblog: My 2018 Retrospective.

Welcome to 2019! Peter and I usually do a look-back and a look-forward at year’s end so I thought I would start the process. First off, I spent some time looking over the past year; due to my work on opening a new business, my blog output dropped off considerably; I think I only posted about 50 times or 1x week on average.

It’s interesting to read back through the last year. While 12 months seems like a short time, I barely remembered what i blogged! Between work related writing, game material and blogging I’m sitting at a computer quite a bit. It blurs together. I definitely have a “fire & forget” process when it comes to blogging; I write quickly when something comes to the forefront or I’m stimulated by someone else’s post or thought and then it’s out of my mind.

3 Blog post(s) that I wrote that I wanted to revisit:

  1. The Messengers of the Iron Wind. I had fun with this and it forced me to finalize the specific spells lists for the six orders. I had most of them up to 10th lvl and used them for the Priests, but my overview made me rethink and now have the Messengers themselves with the order specific list. These are some of my favorite villains in Jaiman.
  2. Early ICE advertising in Dragon Magazines. This brought back a lot of old memories! I had a long running subscription to Dragon starting at around issue 75 and this gave me the chance to read the older Dragons from Issue #1 to #60 cover to cover. It was a D&D and Rolemaster flashback.
  3. Reviews of the Loremaster Series. (Iron Wind, Vog Mur, Cloudlords & Shade). Similar to the advertising review, I spend time really reading these modules again cover to cover; every word and try to reconcile them with my understanding of early I.C.E. and the evolution into Shadow World.

Rolemasterblog Adventures. 2018 wasn’t just blogging. Peter & Adrian really stepped up their game and published our 50 Adventures in 50 Weeks Challenge. We did it!…well mostly….I still have 3 left of my 25 still to be published. However, it was fantastic to go from concept to execution, see supplements reach metal status, generate hundreds of dollars and realize proof of concept in small publishing. To revisit the genesis of the project go HERE.

New faces and new ideas. 2018 brought us new writers and contributors to the blog. First in January, Brad posted a great article about the Magician; Spectre discussed “Absolute Success” thresholds in March and equipment combos in July, a tribute blog in August and an opinion piece on RMU this past December; Adrian (EGDCLTD) found time outside of publishing RMBlog adventures to write about RPG’s and complexity; starting in March we had a burst of great activity and new perspectives from Ovarwa who posted HERE, HERE, and an article on the “cost of charts” that generated a good bit of comments. Ovarwa, where did you go? In May we had another new poster, Bjorn, who started diving into HARP., returned in October to analyze falling in HARP.

Rolemasterblog hits puberty? To me, 2018 displayed a lot of maturing for the blog. A weekly adventure publication, monthly fanzine, new bloggers, new topics and coverage of other games. We are steadily approaching an inflection point where we will publish material with agnostic d100 stats compatible with Rolemaster and other systems. While the wait for RMU continues along, I wonder what RMBlog will bring to 2019?

What are your thoughts on 2018?

Zweihänder Read Through – Character Creation & Profession

We nearly all suffer from something called Unconscious Bias. This is where we are much more likely to believe things that we agree with and disbelieve things that we don’t agree with. In games and especially when you are reviewing a game we tend to think that rules we like are great and rules we don’t like are terrible irrespective of how well they may work at the gaming table.

Reviewers have another dilemma, often reviews are based just upon reading the rulebook and they never get played. That is not something I agree with and try not to do. I have my own solution to that but even that is not perfect.

So, I have learned since last time that Zweihänder is shortened to Zwei, which is possibly more respectful than just Z.

Character Creation

I created my first character last night and I have never made a character like this. Frankly, I never want to make another one either. The entire process was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

The entire process took 1hr 25 minutes last night but there was a lot of reading seeing as this is a read through. To create a character it could be done a lot faster. In addition it took 27 minutes this afternoon.

It was suggested that I use the random method of creating the character and that is what I did. I would never do that again as it is the source of everything I disliked about the process.

There are four choices to be made in character creation. The GM chooses whether you can be a non human race or not. You have a choice to replace one below average attribute with and average score. I was given the choice between having a pike, a sword or a crossbow. You get to choose your characters name. That is it.

Everything else about your character is randomised, and I mean everything. You roll your attributes of which there are seven. Although this is a d100 system attributes are between 28 and 55. They are generated using 25+3d10. The average is 41 or 42. One low attribute can be replaced with a 42.

You then your gender, background, height, weight, disfiguring scars, socal standing even the season you were born, I apparently was a spring baby. The most ‘shocking’ was that you roll your profession. There may have been a roll to see which hand you wipe your arse with but I think I missed that one.

That was where I got to last night. There was zero player agency in the creation process and it was all rather depressing. The character I had in front of me was not one I would ever choose to play. There were two moments of unconscious bias and I will come to those later.


At the end of the random process you are given 1000 points to spend on improving your character and customising your profession.

Today I thought I could finish my character and see if I can rescue this character.

When it comes to your character you need to buy a professional trait of which there is a choice of one, ten skills of which there are 10 to choose from and three talents from the selection of three. These are compulsory purchases and they cost exactly 1000 points.

There is no customising to do, you just write the fixed changes to the character on your character record.

The net effect is that every PC is a pregen. If you didn’t stop and read everything you could create a character in about 5 minutes. The character would be just as detailed as a Rolemaster character, you get loads of detail but I was a passenger all through the process.


Two of my skills are being able to code interactive web pages and being able to write Android apps. If something really grabs me about Zwei in later chapters then I could easily create either an online or an app to create characters in a single click of the mouse or tap of a finger. There would be just a toggle for Humanocentric vs Demihumanity, one button to create the character and a text box for the name. Character creation in 1 to 5 seconds depending on your typing speed. That is how much involvement there is in this process.

How Biased am I?

I dislike fantasy elves as they are portrayed in the vast majority of games. They are just too good or superior. This whole idea of elves who tire of life ‘go west’ is just a cover for a 100% suicide rate amongst elves. It is probably the moment when they realise that they are, at least mostly, to blame for nearly all the evil in fantasy worlds and that they sat on their arses for periods of sometimes up to 10,000 years doing sod all about it and achieved nothing, no technological advancement, no sciences, nothing except a blindness to some future growing existential threat.

Zwei elves are not superior.

All of the non human races are refreshing versions of the standard fantasy fare.

If I were to build the rules for creating elves, these are the sort of elves I would wish I would come up with.

A Clash of Opposites

When I use the word alignment I want you to put your DnD ideas to one side. Zwei alignments are nothing like DnD alignment. I wish in a way that they hadn’t used the word, too much baggage.

Way back in August I wrote about how I create my characters. What I wrote was this:

“I like to define my characters fledgling personality by using two seemingly contradictory thoughts and then see how the character rationalises them. “

That is a Zwei alignment right there. What you do is roll d100 and you get an order/chaos pair. Your alignment is a roleplaying aid, allegedly but it is also quite definitely a lense through which you experience points (Reward Points) are assessed.

Alignment is a big thing in Zwei. The two aspects are not intended to be a good and evil aspect but although a lot of words are spent in trying to get over what they are meant to be has left me no clearer. Thankfully, this paragraph is in there…

“Remember – your Character’s Alignments are merely a guide. They do not strictly bind you to a specific outcome or behavior, but should help to define and reflect your Character’s persona over the course of a campaign.

…and that is what I have been doing since about 1989 so I can just carry on as I have before. It is nice to see that someone else has come up with the same method as me though, I have no not come across anyone else that does this in my gaming circles. I obviously need bigger circles.

About Professions

There is plenty of choice of Profession in Zwei. There are 75 basic professions and a further 46 advanced professions which are accessible later in the game. Zwei doesn’t have strict levels as such but three Tiers. You start at the Basic Tier and as you progress from Basic to Intermediate to Advanced you can change profession. It would be a bit like running an RM an extended campaign but forgoing leveling up and just doing the first section as 4th level characters and then a second chapter as 9th level and a third chapter at 14th. That seems to be about the power level.

About skills

There are 37 skills in the game. That is just about right in my estimation. You get a single rank, giving a +10 bonus, at the apprentice level. You can spend reward points to buy additional ranks. You start the game with 10 skills and one rank in each. To make a skill test you add any skill rank bonus to the governing stat and roll under that number.

This means that you have about a 50-ish% chance at your 10 core skills for your profession and a 40-ish% at most other skills. After a session or two that would become 60% in your favourite couple of skills 50% in other core professional skills and 40% across the board. You can see why I suggest the basic tier is roughly equivalent to 4th level in RM.


Every profession imbues the character with three talents. Each talent has a single effect such as a bonus to a particular skill or skills checks in a specific situation or a penalty to others acting against you. A talent making your intimidation checks more effective may work by making your victims switch their tens and units dice around (so a 37 becomes a 73) if they are trying to resist you.

There are more than 80 talents and they all seem to be focused on refining the broader professional archetype down to the specific professional roles. My character has Mariner as a Talent and that gives +20 to his navigation rolls when in sight of land.

So What do I think?

The only flaw in the character creation process is that it is entirely random and there is no input from the player. I can see the logic. There seems to be a desire to push players out of their comfort zone and challenge them.

What this deadhead process does do is get you up and running in minutes and there is no min/maxing and there is no worrying about having chosen the wrong skills. The profession side of it is brilliant. If the designer dumped the paragraph where they say you have to spend 1000 reward points and then give you a list of compulsory things that add up to 1000 reward points then I would not have a complaint. Tell me I can customise my profession and then give me a choice of one option is to just piss me off. Don’t give me a choice but tell me that you have prepared a well balanced and rounded character that I can customise later and I would be fine with that. Infact Hurin has been begging for exactly that from the RMU devs for months!

If you gave me choices then this is a great looking system that is detailed any yet simple. It looks like there are lots of things that will have an important bearing on the game later on. You can leave them as random, it makes no odds to me when my character was born but it does matter to me what my characters personality is like. In many respects it does matter to me what my character looks like.

I am prepared to play my random character and I will do so this weekend I hope. If I create a second character I would pick and choose what to roll for and what to decide to get a character I want to play. The character I have, I don’t really care for and I am struggling to get any enthusiasm up for.

And Finally…

I have a player that has a really tough life. His wife as multiple complex medical conditions and they have a couple of children one of whom has an autistic spectrum disorder disorder and can be violent. The child without the AS disorder also deserves time and attention. In addition he has to work two jobs. When he wants to play he has to arrange additional support for his family to get him the time to step away and play. The escapism aspect and the chance to simply play is really important. That need for escapism means that he invariably plays some sort of elven magician / sorcerer / conjuror. Anything that is distinctly magical and highly destructive.

To tell this player “Sorry, but your one dice roll means that you are human hunchbacked beggar, but you do get to choose to have a flintlock pistol or a garot, which would you like?” is not a thing I am prepared to do. Fun is good, escapism is good, deontological ethics is a bit further down my list of gaming priorities.

Next Time

I will look at skills and talents in a bit more detail.

Ghoulish Behaviour

Today I thought I would outline another 1st level adventure and a bit of a cliche of “Go get the cure”. The villains are Ghouls and seeing as Rolemaster undead are not like DnD undead it is not a bad introduction. I have introduced a bit of wilderness travel to increase the variety of encounters and to teach the players that you don’t have to kill everything. There is also opportunities for developing the unique aspects of the setting, I have presumed it is Shadow World.

Opening Scene: The Offer of Employment

In this starting adventure the characters start out in the employ of a the mayor of a small market town. The mayors wife was attacked by the most disgusting of beggars the other night and has been feeling quite unwell ever since. At first the mayor thought it was just her nerves but it is now quite apparent she is quite unwell. They are given a simple enough task. There is a reclusive hermit that is extremely wise in the treatment of disease. He lives a few days journey away. All they need do is take one of the mayors riding horses with them, go to the hermit and ask him to accompany them back to the town. The mayor has provided the horse for the hermits use as he is quite elderly and somewhat frail by all accounts.

This is a private arrangement between the mayor and the characters, they are not employed by the town. The mayor is not going to provide them with any additional resources or equipment, he is employing them as the professionals. They are expected to leave pretty much at once as the mayor is extremely worried about his wife.

Scene Two: The Journey

In this scene we can introduce some of the elements of the caravan guard, such as giving them an idea of the game setting. Essence storms on the horizon, skyships overhead and so on. We can present the characters with a couple of encounters such as when the characters reach a rise in the road and they get a chance to see a potentially dangerous foe camped up ahead, maybe some orcs or goblins who have been sleeping the day through and just waking up as the characters are looking for a camp. Either way the characters have the advantage of being aware. They then have the choice of avoiding the fight, trying to use there advantage to swing the odds further in their favour or charging foolishly into battle. The encounters should be indicative of the setting and region.

Another encounter could be a non-monster encounter such as a washed away bridge that creates a challenge of getting them and a horse over a fast running river.

The point of these challenges are to give each profession a chance to shine. The ranger/druid may be able to lead the party to a different safe crossing, the thief/magent may be able to scout out the possible foes and learn their strength of numbers.

Eventually they will reach the hermit but he is unable to accompany the characters. He is extremely old and tells them that his time is at an end. He will allow them to rest and recover. He is capable of healing magic so can heal them of any wounds. That evening he dreams of the mayors wife and discerns her disease. He then sets about creating a curative with some urgency. He then impresses upon the characters that they must return to the town as fast as possible as the entire town is in danger. The mayors wife was not attacked by any sort of beggar, she was attacked by a ghoul and not only is it still at large around the town but the wife is infected with ghoul rot. If she is not treated soon she too will become a ghoul and an epidemic could spread.

The characters now have a race against time to get back to the town. Ghoul Rot takes a week to turn a healthy person into a Ghoul. The wife, who we will call Dolly, was attacked three nights before the characters were engaged, their journey was two days and they rested over night to this is the third day since they left town. Dolly will be undead by tomorrow or a day before the characters return. Depending on their lore knowledge they may not know this. The curative they are carrying is a mix of healing herbs and holy water and they have instructions that any wounds inflicted by the Ghoul must be washed clean with this mix. They have sufficient to treat 20 such wounds.

We can now throw a few more encounters at the characters which they will hopefully choose to avoid in their haste to get back to the town.

Hi Honey, I’m Home!

The characters are too late to save Dolly. She and the original Ghoul have gone on a killing spree, killing the mayor and their servants before attacking the local tavern. Here they were driven off by the towns folk and they disappeared into the night. There were of course a dozen wounded in the fight.

That night the ghouls return. The original ghoul had not been idle in the week that has passed and has raised more ghouls. That night a force of ghouls attack the town. We can vary the number to provide a suitable challenge for the characters with NPC townsfolk playing an active role. As each character dispatches a ghoul we give them a perception roll and they a chance to see town folk in need of saving. This is a chance to use some classic set scenes such as a child corned by a ghoul where a character gets to attack from behind or flank and save the child. Non-combatant PCs such as 1st level mages or illusionists can fight with burning torches which I would treat as a club but with a secondary A heat critical. Any ghoul that is not finally burnt will of course regenerate a 1hit/minute and rejoin the fight or dawn is approaching slip away into the night.

This then leaves the problem of wounded characters and towns folk. The characters have the healing salve but possibly not enough to wash every wound. This is a great role playing opportunity if they have to make choices over how will get the cure and who doesn’t.

The second level open channeling spell Disease Purification should be sufficient to cure an individual. This is possibly castable by the characters. A lesser Ghoul is only 1st level so it does not seem unreasonable to use a second level spell to purge its disease.

So this is the third outline of a starting adventure and the first use of the undead. Including the one I am writing right now that is four starting adventures that will be available for completely new GMs. The big question mark is the starting level which we will not know until A&CL is actually released.

Anyone have any good additions to this one?

Zweihänder Read Through – Introduction and How To Play

This is the first in a short series of articles on Zweihänder. If you missed the introductory post you can find it here

NOTE: I find that when I start out on these sorts of read throughs I can quite negative. I have preconceptions of how I think things should be and then when I don’t find it it is discomforting. Then as I get through the book and I see how things all hang together and I am more familiar I get more comfortable and consequently more positive. Just bear that in mind if this comes off as a bit negative.

So, a little background… When I was at school the role players in my year fell into two distinct camps. I was in the DnD camp and we played a wide range of games from DnD to Boothill to Bushido, Runequest and Call of Cthulhu, Champions to Rolemaster and in pretty much that order. The other group played Warhammer. I have no idea what happened to them as there was virtually no crossover between the social circles. I don’t know why.

Today I want to look at the Introduction and How to Play chapters. The books proper starts with a monologue from a character called Danziger Eckhardt, who tries to set the scene and this does a fair job of holding up the Grim and Perilous motif.

I have intentionally referred to Zweihänder as Rules Dense rather than rules heavy. The reason for my distinction comes from my first impression of the game. The Table of Contents is five pages long. That isn’t actually true, it is six pages long if you include the abridged version. In the contents you will find two, three and sometimes four entries for every page. The entries are vertiably packed in.

ZWEIHÄNDER is built with modularity baked into the
rules and able to be modified without upsetting the inherent
balance of the system.

as Rules Dense rather than rules heavy. The reason for my distinction comes from my first impression of the game. The Table of Contents is five pages long. That isn’t actually true, it is six pages long if you include the abridged version. In the contents you will find two, three and sometimes four entries for every page. The entries are vertiably packed in.

Now the book really starts. There is a personal bugbear of mine that crops up at the start of many RPG manuals. I have strong opinions on this and it just so happens that Zweihänder is the first game I have written about since I have been looking at since I have tried to address the issue myself. The bugbear is How to Roleplay.

Some games are not intended to be beginner games. If you are not a beginner game then you don’t really need a primer on how to role play and what an RPG is. If on the other hand you are pitching your game at entirely new role players then you do need a decent tutorial section to help people get into and fall in love with our hobby.

I am just going to refer to Zweihänder as Z from now on as I am going to use the games name so often that typing that umlaut on the a is just a pain in the arse.

Z does the usual thing of a couple of paragraphs on what is a GM, what is a Player and what is an RPG. What this tells me is that Z is a cannibal game. It is not really committed to bringing in new players into the hobby but is going to get its audience from existing gamers, most probably the existing Warhammer world.

This is not a criticism of Z specifically, I recently realised this about so many games and how it can be addressed and how incredibly hard work it is to do right. You cannot blame people for not seeing something you have seen.

The opening texts are topped off with some GM advice about keeping play moving and about creating house rules. This is the exact text that completes the section on house rules.

ZWEIHÄNDER is built with modularity baked into the rules and able to be modified without upsetting the inherent balance of the system.

This is of note, as one of the common refrains from the RM community is that RM is modular and one can swap in any of the hundreds of optional rules or alternative methods and the game doesn’t break. I read this as another shot across Rolemaster’s bows.

The real conclusion of this opening chapter is about setting or lack thereof. In my circles the lack of an official setting is seen as a weakness but Z dodges that bullet. The thing is that Z is a retroclone of Warhammer FRP and as such all the previous settings are perfectly in tune. The germanic flavour of Zweihänder is obvious in its very name but look at the names of previous warhammer settings Stromdorf, from The Gathering Storm; Reikland; Marienburg and Middenheim. Z appears to have perfectly aligned itself with the previous Warhammer settings. It will be interesting to see later if the bestiary reflects the denizens of these previous settings. If they do then Z is not without a setting at all, it just doesn’t own the rights to its setting.

Chapter 2 is much more interesting.

How to play Zweihänder

Chapter two is a compact eight pages, less if you strip out the art, that cover how skills tests are made, difficulty factors, types of skill test (unopposed, opposed, secret) and fate points (good and bad). It comes at you thick and fast. At first glance it looks like Z is a d100 roll under system until you get to the opposed tests when suddenly it becomes obvious that it is a blackjack system.

So most of the time you have to roll under your skill on a D100. Skill values seem to be around the 50 to 70 mark so a Z character seems to be about the competency of a 4th to 7th level RM character. If you just added the skill to the d100 then you can use Z characters in RM easily enough or roll under your RM skills to use your favourite RM character in a Z adventure. I will return to this later in a different post to see if I can refine these rules.

So at this point it looks like a basic roll under system. With opposed tests we get a mechanic called Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure.

You calculate Degrees Of Success by adding together the tens die (a result between 1 to 10) and the relevant Primary Attribute Bonus the Skill is derived from. For example, if your Character has a Primary Attribute of 45%, your Primary Attribute Bonus is ‘4’. Whoever succeeds at their Skill Test and has the highest Degrees Of Success automatically wins the Opposed Test.

So basically you want to roll as high as possible but still under your skill total, with the exception of rolling a 01-09 as the 0 on the tens die counts as 10 not zero. So now we have a blackjack system. The net effect is that being highly but rolling badly is still better than being unskilled but rolling like a demon, most of the time.

I think the degrees of success mechanic shows how Z has evolved from house rules. I could be wrong, maybe there is a continuing theme of blackjack style rolls and checks but in this how to play chapter it sticks out like an oddity.

Fate points or to use the Z parlance pool of fortune are an intrinsic part of Z. This is no reflection on Z but I don’t like having a central physical ‘thing’ that the players have to handle. In Z you put one token into a bowl for ever player and one additional token. When players want to play a fate point then they take a token out of the bowl. In RM of course Fate points are personal to the character and are rare and precious and it seems mainly used to keep them alive when a fatal critical comes up. In Z you refresh the bowl every start of session.

Every fortune point played then goes into the GMs pool to be used to make the characters lives miserable. I am a fan of fate points as I would rather have structured and above board cheating than under the counter cheating. Even as GM I think having fate points or fortune points is better than fudging dice rolls.

Grimly Funny

On the surface Z tries to portray itself as a challenging and gritty rpg. The name suggests, at least to me, a high fatality rate amongst PCs. The opening story is bleak an uninspiring but then the actual examples of skill use are at odds with the feel of the rest of what has gone before. The general feel of them is more positive from seducing ladies in waiting to letting the player make multiple attempts to pick a magistrates pocket.

Maybe ‘funny’ is too strong a word, but still the examples are much more positive than the surrounding narrative texts. I will be interesting to see how the feel of the game proceeds.

Next time I am going to create a character using the random method described in the rules. I have already taken a bit of a sneak peek and the stat generation certainly raised an eyebrow!

Cliche Adventure Ideas?

First off, Happy New Year to the “staff” and readers of! I’ve been working on a few different blog topics and I have to keep re-adjusting whenever a new post or comment is put up.

I had a few thoughts on the starting adventures, caravan guards and Peter’s prison he just blogged about. I’m generally driven by up-ending common tropes to surprise my players and keep things fresh for people that have been gaming for decades. So a few random streams of consciousness:

Starting Level. I’ve always liked the early levels of RM; the players have to face real challenges both in terms of resources and abilities, and the grittiness of the system lends itself to low fantasy style gaming. However, we have been having a blast with our high level adventure series–my players get to use high level spells and we can ignore most of the low level book-keeping around food, money or equipment. It feels more like a Super Hero adventure within Shadow World. At this point we’ve walked away from a long term SW campaign and the group has fully embraced the a la carte adventure experience I’m providing: test Priest King adventures, play a high level tourney series, do a quick all cleric adventure etc. While we lose a fulfilling plot continuity and investment into a PC, the players get to enjoy a wider range of setting material, a more diverse experience with character types and offer better feedback once disassociated from any emotional investment in their PC.

Caravans. The whole starting adventure to Priest-King (page 79-81) was predicated on the players being caravan guards. As a plot intro to a regional setting the caravan device worked quite well. First, I’m not a fan of the Gygaxian/adventurer as a profession world. Players need an occupation and the Forgotten Realms concept of chartered adventure groups is a little to “on the nose” for me. (however, I need utilize the concept of salvage/adventure charters later in Priest-King). Having the players become guards is a plausible use of low level characters to expose them to challenges and pay their way in the world. Second, a caravan gives the group a bubble of security–the GM can use NPC’s to aid, direct and protect the PC’s while they are learning their way. Thirdly, the traverse itself provides an opportunity for world-building through NPC exposition and the geographical travelogue. In PK, the first adventure requires the players to travel over 800 miles with numerous encounters and intra party politics. It takes about one month orhan (50 days) and was a great primer for the group. I think it took 9 game sessions and by the time they reached the city of Shade they had leveled up, learned quite a bit about the area cultures and were also quite unprepared for what the saw at the end of the journey!

Prison. The second to last adventure in our 50 in 50 is the Lair of Ozymandius. I blogged about it a year or two ago and now it will be published on RPGNow as part of the RMBlog series. It’s quite a bit more involved than the 1 page adventure seeds we’ve been putting out over the last year. I also like the idea of starting low level players in unfamiliar or uncontrollable environments: prisons, on the run, slaves etc. In Lair of Ozy, not only do they start as prisoners, but they also have no memory of who they are or what their skills are!

In summary, while I tend to avoid overt fantasy tropes, there is an opportunity to put a unique spin on these set-ups. If you are not intending to run a campaign from the outset, these might be the best adventure frames for starting adventures and as an introduction to RMU or the RM ruleset as a whole. Especially with pre-gen characters designed to meet the specific challenges of the adventure.

Plan for a campaign, but design like a tourney module!

Prison Break!

So, I think I have enough of an outline to create the wagon/caravan starting adventure based upon yesterday’s post.

Another cliched starting adventure is starting the party in some sort of jail or prison.

This cliche has the advantage of pretty much forcing the characters to trust each other as if they are on the run then they probably don’t have anyone else to turn to.

I am thinking that the starting point would be the evening before the prison break out. The setting would be a that the characters have been bought as slaves. The remote house, probably in the mountains, is a gladiator style training camp. How the characters end up as slaves can be part of their backstory.

So word goes around that a group of gladiators that have finished their training are due to be sold in the next city and are being shipped out in the morning. The carts that are going to transport them arrived today. These gladiators would rather die fighting for their freedom than die for someone else’s sport. They have a plan and anyone who wants to take their chances has to be ready when the word goes round.

The actual break out is structured so that the players get a limited about of information about the layout of the castle, their characters movements have been severely limited. I am imagining a castle like Eltz in Germany.

So we offer the GM a encounter for every location. These would be things like a fight going on in the main courtyard against three gladiators and three guards, the gladiators are being pushed back. The characters have the option of joining the fight and putting the numerical odds very much in the escapee’s favour or using the fight as cover for their own escape. There could be fights going on in on the walls, the courtyard. We can have physical challenges such as filling a stairwell with fire, collapsing ceilings raining tiles down from a great height. Someone can release the hounds.

The players would have complete freedom as to how they want to approach their escape and there will be plenty of action going on around them at all times. The only part that is contrived is that the characters will be the only escapees to make it.

Once outside we have a chase scene with the characters having to deal with extreme mountainside terrain and being hunted by dogs and men. I can envisage a single road up to the castle and that holds the castle guards, thus baring it to the characters, the guards then send dogs into the woods to hunt down the escapees.

We can use the sound of other escapees being hunted down and caught to keep up the sense of tension. I have checked the Large Dog stats in both RMC and RMFP and they are identical. 4th level, AT3 (40), OB 45 and 65#hits. For a bunch of first level characters more than one dog at once will be a serious challenge unless they cooperate, one on one my money would be on the dog!

I would like to work in a false reprieve into this scene. The characters think that they have succeeded at escaping the dogs and guards but then some new threat confronts them.

So I know that RM2, RMC and RMFRP use identical stats. RMFRP and RMU both have the carnivorous flying monkey as a monster. It is not in the RMC C&T but I can include these stats in the adventure.

So the second part of the escape down the mountain changes the emphasis from hunted by dogs to a threat from the sky as the flying monkeys track them. A flying monkey is 4th level, AT4(30), OB 70MBa/60MGr/60SB« and 65#hits. These will be a serious challenge. These will be encountered as singles or pairs depending on how strong the party is at combat. What weapons and armour they had picked up and so on.

The chase comes to an end with the characters arriving at a cliff edge, a river below them. They have the choice of fighting a gathering group of carnivorous monkeys to jumping off the cliff and into the river.

The final act has the characters being swept down river and into a cave. There are lots of opportunities here for skill tests, swimming is the obvious one, endurance (body development) rolls to keep themselves or each other afloat as they tire.

The river ride takes them into a cave system where we can wash them up onto a shore. They then have to make their way through the caves to escape.

This one is unfortunately populated by Lizardmen (Sohleugir). As it happens these are actually weaker foes than the dogs or the monkeys.

When the characters emerge from the caves they are effectively free, out of reach of the slave owner on the different side of a mountain range so noone is ever going to associate them with any eventual rumours or new of the gladiator escape.

So we have three four foes, human guards (or do they need to be human? I think evil elves would be quite cool). Hunting dogs, flying carnivorous monkeys and lizardmen. We have environmental challenges of the burning and collapsing castle, a mountainside rush through steep forested terrain, whitewater ride down the river and then a cave exploration.

So that is my second suggested starting adventure.

What would you add?