Adventuring Clichés – Revenge

This is one of those classic starting adventures. Someone has done something bad to the PCs or their family and the characters are out for revenge.

What I am wondering is how we can stretch this out to a nice round 10,000 exp per character?

This post could get a bit rambling and contradictory as I have planned nothing and I am just writing off the cuff.

The first thing that is a challenge is how to bring the characters together in the first place. My gut instinct here says the characters need a mentor. I am picturing a Jedi master type NPC. This has two advantages. The first will be slightly controversial. I am going to suggest that we give the 1st level characters 60DPs worth of hand licked skills. So a fighter PC gets ranks in core fighter skills, the ranger gets core ranger skills and so on. This is the training provided by their mentor. It is also the boost that 1st level characters need to make RMu more competent.

The second advantage of the single mentor is that he represents the closest thing that all the characters will have as common family.

This would entail a bit of extra work by the GM but it is also an opportunity for the GM to make characters, cultures and professions unique to their setting.

I think this is a useful exercise for the GM to think about how skills are used to create cultures and professions.

So the start of the adventure would be the kidnapping of the mentor. This is an opportunity for investigation and a more role played session. We can bring in non-combat skills.

If I am writing this I would make the investigation a percentage action based investigation. The longer the characters take to find the clues as to what happened and who was responsible the greater the headstart the bad guys have.

I know this is not strictly how RMu is expected to work but I think this is better, especially for 1st level characters. If you go for pass/fail skill tests for finding clues and identifying the culprits then it is entirely possible that the adventure ends here and everyone can roll a few crap rolls and then go home.

The clues that the characters find should suggest that their mentor is still alive and was kidnapped. The footprints left by the invaders contain lots of sand which suggest that they came from the local beach.

The kidnappers have indeed captured the mentor and have made their way to the beach. They are waiting for a boat to whisk them away.

Ideally the characters should arrive before the villains escape. If they were really good at the clue finding then they should fall upon the villains while they are still on the beach awaiting a launch to get from a ship in the bay to the beach.

If they were averagey then they arrive as the villains are loading their captive into the launch and they get very little time to plan and act.

If they were slow at finding the clues and putting the pieces together then they arrive as the villains are pushing their way through the surf as they make their escape.

There are two options here. The first option is that the mentor can be rescued here and he will identify the villains and charge his students with exacting his revenge. Option two is that the heroes have to mount the rescue on the ship.

There are great deck plans available for free from Rooster Games.

I am thinking that the villains send two launches to the beach, one to collect the kidnapped mentor and one to provide a rear guard. Unless the characters are exceptional then the mentor is whisked away. The rear guard launch provides the characters with a way get to the ship. The players can be given an opportunity to plan how they are going to take on a launch full of bad guys without destroying the boat.

Now the characters hopefully have a boat and a way of getting to the ship holding their mentor captive. They will also hopefully have some sailor style uniforms. The challenge then becomes can the characters get on board the ship. The attention would be on the captive so this would give a window of opportunity to get on board.

The challenge is now that one party of PCs vs an entire ship is simply not viable but what if the ship was actually simply a charter and the real villains are only paying passengers? This would even the odds a great deal and the ships crew would more than likely throw up their hands and not want to get into a fight between factions.

There is then a big fight and the characters obviously win and defeat the kidnappers. They are bound to want to interrogate survivors.

It turns out that these guys are simply mercenaries hired to commit the kidnapping. The real villain is a mysterious stranger in a port up the coast.

This would then prompt a conversation with the characters’ mentor about is old rival and the bad blood between them. How this rival went to the bad and had sworn to slay him and his students [the characters].

It would be too much to ask for the characters to take on this evil double of their own mentor but it could turn out that the mysterious stranger in the port was not the evil mentor himself but one of his students.

The characters then travel to the port, track down the villain try and defeat him.

I think we could then offer the GM a number of branches at that point. If the evil mentor had a ‘party’ of students and each one had a dark scheme to try and defeat the good mentor, a sort of competition or right of passage then we have an extended set of adventures.

So far we have had an investigation, conflict on the beach, conflict on the ship, investigation in the foreign port and finally conflict against the evil student. That would be a four significant story goals and/or session goals. The reveal of the evil mentor and the conflict would be a campaign goal. That is probably be enough to level up the party.

Having skimmed read this back I also think that the conflict between to two mentors could be due to the evil mentor making a choice to dabble in demonic trading. Doing the demons bidding in exchange for power and forbidden knowledge. The good mentor could be human and the evil double an elf which would then fit into the Elf Demon vs the Human Demon theme.

This could be the first adventure. From here we could send them to the temple ‘dungeon crawl’ as a side quest because they had heard a rumour that one of the evil mentors students had journeyed there to consult the priest at that temple.

The Murder of Crows encounter could be run before, on the road from the port to the temple, or after the temple adventure. Thus stringing the three adventures together.

By the time they have finished this, the murder of crows and the temple they would be around 3rd level and had two demonic adventures.

This is beginning to sound like the start of a campaign.

Zweihänder Read Through – The Conclusion

The final chapter of the core Zwei book is the starting adventure and I am not goung to spoil that. So in effect that is the end of the read through.

All GMs are magpies. We will happily steal ideas from anywhere. The two things I have already tried to introduce to my game are Zwei style wilderness travel and encounters and the way that Zwei treats chases as what we would consider percentage action manoeuvres.

What I would really like to adopt, but it would be a massive amount of work would be Zwei style spell failures. Scrap the spell failure table and adopt spell specific effects.

Part of my motivation for that choice is that I don’t like the failures that dump the PC into a coma for months. In effect that is most likely game over for that PC and all because of two poor rolls the player had no control over.

There needs to be consequences but random death needn’t be on of them.

I can see two solutions to this. The first is the piecemeal answer. I tell my players that I will not be using the RAW spell failures. Then on the occasions that we actually get spell failures I create an on the fly unique spell failure for that spell and jot it down in my notes. At the end of the session I add that new spell failure to the spell list as the new default spell failure. I could over time create two. One for a straight spell failure and one for an ESF induced spell failure.

The sort of thing I mean is something like Light. On a regular failure it covers everyone in the light spells radius with an flickering glow, this impedes stalking and hiding rolls by -25 to -75 depending on the lighting conditions.

On the ESF failure the light spell creates a chain lightning effect centred on the caster with the casters ESF penalty as the OB.

That last one sounds drastic but there are spells that can defend against the effect such as lightarmor and lightningarmor. This time the caster will probably be hurt but they can also mitigate against some of the effects.

Option 2

A second option is to adopt HARP scaleable spells into RMu. The reason this is an attractive option is that there are a relatively small number of discrete spells in HARP so working through them all sequentially is not such a big task. Much of the work involved in converting from HARP to RM has already been done so that isn’t much of a burden. The HARP rules have a full entry for each spell so adding in the failures to that page is simple. RM on the other hand has the same spells turning up on half a dozen lists rather than a single source.

For me and my preferred play style the HARP option also brings with it added bonuses. I prefer a low magic game where characters have fewer spells and have to be creative to make the best use of them.

RMu with its spells as skills approach has no mechanic to stop a PC just learning enough of Invisible Ways to get Invisibility, just enough Lofty Bridge to get Fly, and so on so by 4th level they basically can do everything.

With HARP spells the character has to learn the individual spells so one can have gate keepers to that knowledge and limit the access that way while still giving people access to most of the Universal sphere so they are completely functional.

This is a thought for when we finally see RMu in all its glory.

Getting back to Zwei for a moment. The other lasting impression I got from the rules is how incredibly slick the game is. It all [skills, magic, monsters] feels like one coherent system. The characters alignment and in play choices drives the corruption mechanic, corruption can lead to mutations, the bestiary has an entire section for mutants. That sort of chain of consequence is common and it explains where all these mutant creatures come from.

The combat is not as bloody as Warhammer but it is still bloody and specific wound driven like RM. As Hurin once said, once you have rolled 1d8 for damage, you have rolled them all.

I think Zwei is a big threat to RMu’s commercial success. I can think of no unique selling point for RMu except one.

That USP is that there are thousands of original Pete Fenlon MERP books out there and people love them. RMu is close to the original MERP/RM that should people want to use these old sources with a new game then RMu may be the logical choice. How compatible it is will be rather debatable and that is rather niche USP. Those books are rare and getting rarer by the day and there will never be any more of them.

MERP aside, every feature that made us fall in love with the game when held up against RuneQuest and D&D; Zwei has and does equally well. In addition Zwei is available right now and people are buying it so it is eating up those customers who will only buy one gritty, simulationist, D100 system.

Another disturbing thing is that Zwei was designed to be a core system behind a “Powered by…” family. This is something that I was advocating for RMu last year. It is now a reality in Zwei. They are working on a US Colonial Period game powered by Zweihänder. It will be the first of many.

One cannot help but think that RM will be forever niche until use old time players die off and then RM will die with us.

Zweihänder Read Through – The Bestiary

The Zweihänder bestiary is small but fully functional. This is particularly interesting considering the issues that RMu has with the sheer size of Creature Law.

The philosophy is that each creature has a true name, and that is what you look it up under in the rules. Each creature also has many local names. So there is an entry for Nephilim but the may be known as Frost Giants in the north but Jotun in the south.

A creature entry is built out of a stat block of numbers and percentages that holds the same information as a character record. Below that is where it gets fun. Every creature is built from Traits, like character Talents. Each changes the behaviour in particular situations or confers some special ability.

These traits are brief but are written out in full, just a sentence or two at most. This means that you can run an entire encounter with each beast straight from the page with no flipping back and forth to check details.

It is dead easy to swap out a trait to modify a creature. For an adventure I was working on I took a centaur and swapped out its hind legs and gave it a mermaid’s tail to create the Ichthyocentaurs from the Greek myths.

The result is that a monster stat block is an entire column or half a page but everything is exposed and simplicity itself to tweak and change.

That ‘ease of change’ makes the next part make sense.

Where we have entire pages of stats for normal creatures, then normal sea creatures, then normal flying creatures etc., etc. Zwei has a single entry each for small critters, large critters, large and small man eaters and large and small insects. These six entries cover the entire mundane animal kingdom.

You want an Ethiopian Pegasus then take a large critter and slap some wings and horns on it. You want a tiger then it is a large man eater.

The players will never see the monster stats so the fact that a lion and a tiger are functionally the same is irrelevant. The big difference is that there could be a pride of lions as opposed to a solitary tiger.

Abysmal Mutants

Zwei has different classes of monster and there are interactions between character talents and classes of monster. Abysmal monsters come from the abyss, mutants are were once normal but have been corrupted and grendells are those perversions of the human form that includes Centaurs, ogres and other stock fantasy monster races.

It is the abysmal and the mutant monsters that really make Zwei adventures stand out from other games and settings. That is where its unique flavour is.

The provided beasts meant that I could create an entire Jason and the Argonauts campaign and only have to tweak a handful of beasts, everything else was straight off the page.

Making Monsters

This is not strictly part of the core Zwei rules but the published has hived off all of the creation rules from making absolutely everything like monsters and profession and vehicles into its own supplement. If you are happy to use stock everything then you don’t need it but if you want to be able to built your own EVERYTHING then there is a single $15 supplement, Main Gauche, that gives you that ability.


The Zwei bestiary is very good, it is relatively small, extremely functional and wide ranging. It uses the same principle as CrL of building out of talents or traits but Zwei is prepared to accept a loss of definition in exchange for a massive gain in ease of use.

All in all I cannot fault the bestiary chapter.

Ways of Adventure and Social Scripts of Gaming

Please forgive me for the over-generalizations I’m about to make.

Once upon a time the GM was all powerful and inaccessible to all but the most earnest and devout of supplicants. He reigned over his world with detachment and poise. His players enjoyed his forbearance in allowing them to adventure in his world. All was on his terms. Here is my land, he would say. Do what you want. Or try to.

There seemed little question of whether it mattered if players enjoyed the world. Of course they did. How could they not? And if somehow they did not—or if they thought their GM was unfair or a bit of a bore—what could they do? In every demesne of the world I am describing, there was one game, one group, and (usually) one GM. The GM was something of a prodigy. Very few had the Gift, and it almost never was something that could be learned.

I paint this picture because after my last session I have been thinking of the different ways in which the gamers might construct adventures and—by extension—campaigns. These considerations lead into social scripts of gaming. 

As I have said before, I currently am a player in a 1e campaign. The campaign consists of a single large dungeon, perhaps infinitely deep, and a nearby village to which the PCs are expected to return at the close of every session.*

We players get the sense that our characters are allowed to do quite literally anything they want, even to the point of tedium. For example, one session we spent the entire time choosing to stay out of the dungeon, instead exploring the nearby mountainous countryside. We received absolutely nothing for our pains but some sightings of a wildcat and the discovery of an abandoned, weather-ruined cabin. This shows that our DM is perfectly content to allow us to waste time. With perfect equanimity he will referee us through a daylong mountain hike or a showdown with an evil sorcerer in the depths of the earth. After all, we face consequences for our choices. If our characters don’t secure gold coins, they don’t gain significant Experience. They also might find it difficult to maintain their living expenses for two weeks of time.

This brings me to a specification of one mode of sandbox play. In my DM’s campaign, time is “real.” The adventure session can comprise a day or more, but in the intervening period between sessions, an equivalent amount of game time transpires. This is why our DM evinces considerable difficulty if our characters don’t end a session in the “safe” territory of civilization. He wants game time to move on but for any real “action” to be on hold.

On alternating weeks I run my own game (Against the Darkmaster right now—I’m more polygamerous than my DM) in which my DM is one of my players. Right now, with VsD, my game is a sandbox, too… but with a few differences. I use the VsD house rules that PCs have Passions, which, in my game, translates into meaning that all PCs have individual quests. My game also doesn’t adhere to “real time.”

I have continued my exploration of Chivalry & Sorcery by looking at the C&S Red Book, a freely distributed re-articulation of the original edition. In that is described the C&S Grand Campaign. The relationship between real time and game time is different in that approach, based on what characters in the Middle Ages likely would be doing during the annual seasons. It also looks like, because of these considerations, that the game involves some modes such as kingdom building and warfare.

I’m already looking to my next game. I’m planning on running one system a year, starting in January, and I’m considering exploring Conan 2d20 next. Though capable of being used for any kind of play, that system favors (in my opinion, because of its source material) episodic play. In this mode the GM is encouraged to start adventures in media res, often right in the middle of combat. In this form, when game time commences, the characters already have chosen the intended adventure and are within it, though they now have to narrate to the end. The next adventure will begin similarly, in a different country, perhaps—even, possibly, as slightly different characters, because of downtime events that occurred in the intervening time period ranging from a few days to many years.

The last session of sandbox play in my own game felt lackluster. There are a number of possibilities for why this was, and they all probably conspire to generate the sense of mediocrity, but one I considered deeply was player agency.

Only one of my PCs had a really good reason for being at the adventure site. This is because my players are good gamers and follow social scripts. A few are as follows:

The PCs most of the time will work together in a group. True, they divide their power when they split the party, but another reason for this prohibition is that there is the potential for many being bored while others in the group go adventuring.

The PCs will take turns to meet their various objectives. One of my longest running campaigns used Pathfinder and its official setting of Golarion. For campaign “arcs” in that group, I had the custom of selecting one PC (sometimes out of eight!) to be the star or focus of the “season.”

The PCs will go on an adventure. Adherence to this script often threatens to transform the intended structure of the campaign. If the PCs seize too much on the first task presented to them, they might ignore entirely all of the other rumors or adventure seeds I have prepared. If they invariably follow the first carrot placed before them, they might suddenly find themselves on an “adventure path.”

The GM will be entertaining. I think even we Rolemaster gamers will agree that the rpg standard mode has evolved from its simulationist roots in wargaming to emulate cinematic narrative. Many gamers are not interested in the minutiae of “real life.” These days, if a session threatens to get bogged down with details, the GM is expected to “spice things up a bit” with improvisation.

I’m considering exploring, in a later article or two, a more specific and encompassing “taxonomy” of adventure and campaign types. But here I’m wondering how I might fix the mediocrity I experienced last session. Right now the party is returning to town. I think, for next time, I might not prepare an adventure, instead roll up adventure ideas and then simply ask the group what it wants to do. I will refer, then, to my adventure ideas as an improvised reaction to however PCs choose to drive the narrative. Hopefully this will make the action directly relevant to their characters’ stories, and they should self-select, through roleplay, just which tasks they are going to pursue and at what times. Of course, this also might lead to them splitting the party, if they don’t follow that particular social script.

*My DM was momentarily nonplussed when our PCs decided to claim “apartments” within the second level of the dungeon itself.

Octomancer rides out!

I spent a three day weekend playing Rolemaster with my group of long standing. The Friday and Saturday morning was spent GMing my Forgotten Realms campaign and Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday morning was playing my, now 3rd level Lay Healer.

The plan for the game I was running was to finally get the characters to the BBEG’s tower, defeat the evil lady, defeat the big bad monster and rescue the folk hero they have been trying for the past month to locate.

The scene had a giant, stargate style, mirror showing swirling water but vertically, in front of which was the folk hero in some kind of energy sphere and in front of all of that was an altar to a dark god.

As the characters approached the mirror/gate started to form a whirlpool with water funnel extending deep into the mirror. As the got a bit closer the massive tentacles of our friend Octomancer lashed out fighting two of the characters at once and starting to draw on of them into the mirror.

The fighter types did a wonderful job of hacking off tentacles which our friendly neighborhood Octomancer promptly animated into undead tentacles.

Over the space of about three rounds Octo’s beak emerged from the mirror pool and it is a long time since I have seen my players as worried for their characters. At the height of the battle a black garbed witch appeared behind the altar which meant they had to split their attention between Octo and her.

That was a little disappointing as the first attack on her that landed killed her. One of the characters long doored behind her and used a wand of lightning, point blank into her back.

The only consolation for me was that the one useful magic item that she had on her was her robes and the critical completely destroyed them.

Octo was a great success. Of all the things that scared the PCs the most was the point at which one of them tried to retreat across the room, out of range and Octo’s tentacle lashed out and hit them when they thought they were safe. It is funny what gets to players.

Play Time

I got to play my lay healer. He is a 6’7″, 200lb Aryan man mountain, ironically from an incredibly poor family. Luckily for him someone spotted his magical potential and he ended up apprenticed to healers at the next cities public hospital.

The GM wanted a world where almost everyone had at least one family member who could use magic, it is a really magically infused world. To model that he had made spell lists really easy to learn and he had given us additional power points by using options in RoCoIII. We could learn spell lists concurrently up to a maximum of one for each base power point that we got. So at 1st level I had six base power points so I could learn six lists at the same time. I had put all my background options into Skill with Magic so I have a mammoth PR stat bonus. It was worth my while just putting a single rank into each of six lists when I was zeroeth level and again at first level and relying on pot luck. Now I am third level I already have 19 lists.

Everyone else pretty much did the same and the GM has realised that in next to no time we will have all the open, closed and our base lists and there will be nothing more to learn.

He solution was to tell us that he had made two rules changes. The first was that all the lists have to be learned as five level blocks, I-V, VI-X and so on. So although I have 19 list they are all just to 5th level.

The second change is that he now says that we must have learning materials to learn new lists. Our guilds/hospitals (in my case) will provide these with up to 1.5*base powerpoints in lists in the magical texts. So in my case my new book has 9 (6*1.5) lists in it but only five levels worth of each list. This is so that he can limit the number of lists that we have access to.

I kind of like the idea of a lay healers book of magical study. I can visualise it as a rather graphic book of watercolour anatomical depictions surrounded by the mystical.

I can also imagine that the GM is going to limit the opportunities for us to find people who can replenish these materials.

As I had already spent my DPs for fourth level, learning more lists as I thought I had plenty of time to really expand my capabilities before worrying about the 11th to 20th spell lists, I now find myself thinking that I could well end up with absolutely no sixth level spells when I hit sixth level. All it would take would be one level’s worth of poor rolls on my spell acquisition, and sod’s law says that the few lists I do manage to get will end up being ones with no sixth level spell in the list.

I am sure I will survive, I am the healer after all. It is everyone else that has to worry.

The remedy of halving the list length from 1-10 to 1-5 has effectively doubled the cost of spell lists. As we are all third level it does mean that that 5th/6th break point in looming quite close.

A third change he has made is the graduate the amount of stat bonus that one can apply to the spell list acquisition. As a Pure caster I can use all my stat bonus, hybrids get to use two thirds of their stat bonus and semis only one third. The party right now is a Magician, Lay Healer, Bard and Noble Warrior. Two pures and two semis. The poor semis are being hit with double the cost for their lists and a relative hit in the chances of success.

My character is going to be fine. If anything I think if the GM does limit the number of lists I can access and learn I can start to direct DPs into learning plate mail. I had initially thought I was going to avoid going down the heavily armoured mentalist route but the character has been rubbing shoulders with a lot of armoured knights recently and if I am going to have DPs I cannot spend on spells I may as well put them to good use.

It was quite interesting to see a GM go through the process of realising the consequences of applying Rolemaster optional rules that seem to do what he wants and dealing with the fall out.

The pity is that it is going to be half a year before I get to play again.

Magick and Faith in Chivalry & Sorcery

In contrast to Rolemaster’s spell system, Chivalry & Sorcery requires two (sometimes three) rolls to resolve its use of Magick. To clarify this, it’s perhaps helpful to understand more of the game’s Magickal metaphysics. C&S posits a Shadow World, in which exists this Magickal energy. To cast a spell, practitioners first must successfully access this power in the Shadow World. Then they must “target” their object on the material plane. Some Magick may be avoided with a Resistance Roll or even Dodged.

The intriguing aspect about C&S is that Magick is fueled by a character’s Fatigue, not any kind of “spell per day” or magical resource (such as RM’s Power Points). I know that in the game Dungeon Crawl Classics, casters can expend Hit Points (I believe the process is called “Spellburn”) to power magic. I have considered something similar to this for RM. But not until I read C&S and saw Magick use tied directly to a mage’s physicality did it became clear to me that this style of mechanics is more emulationist than “traditional” fantasy rpg magic systems. In the fictions I have read, wizards who are called into strenuous arcane battles often became mentally and physically exhausted at the ends of their conflicts. Seldom do I see them say, “Nope, all tapped out. No Spells or magical juju left in this gray-headed sage!”*

The innovation implications for RM should be obvious: get rid of Power Points and instead power Spells with Hit Points. Do I hear you say that this is too radical? It might be. Maybe I shouldn’t do away with PP entirely—this is one possible function of a sorcerer’s magic staff, after all—but not allow PP per Level, instead just one bonus, per the Attribute, at Level 1. Does this make the magic-user an unviable character Class, particularly if I don’t allow Body Development per Level? Possibly. It’s an interesting thought experiment, though. Would this likewise place high-level magic permanently out of reach? I’m not sure. It certainly would be difficult to do all alone, but, in a Ritual context, with mages sharing resources, it shouldn’t be so far beyond one’s grasp.

I already have claimed that C&S’s Magickal Vocations are impressively distinct from one another to a greater degree than the caster classes from other systems. C&S gets even better by differentiating the “divine” Vocations from the arcane Magicks. One could argue that, in traditional FRPGs, there aren’t even two different kinds of “magic.” There are different spells, sure, but, whether a caster works with Channeling, Essence or Mentalism (or, in some other games, the Arcane or the Divine), in practice all magic essentially is the same, powered either by PPs or rote memorization in the mornings. In contrast, when it comes to divine power, C&S adds a Faith Skill and a new resource, Belief Points.

Here’s how divine “magic” works in C&S. When an Act of Faith is performed, a Skill Roll, Faith, is performed and Belief Points expended to “power” the effect. If the test Critically succeeds, the believer gets all his Belief Points +1 back immediately. If it just succeeds, all of them. If it fails, only half. If it Critically fails, none. Similarly, characters being exposed to Miracles of a different religion must test their Faiths or lose BPs.

It’s a really neat method for emulating divine systems that require faith (even if the character’s belief is only the size of a mustard seed!) on the part of the adherent and the dynamic nature to this fidelity that might result from failures of divine acts and interactions with other religions. On a first examination, the mechanic might appear to belie my claim that C&S divine magic is qualitatively different from the arcane. Aren’t BPs, one might ask, just another magical resource like PPs? Yes, but unlike PPs, that take hours to recover, BPs are reliant only on the success of a character’s Faith. Moreover, it’s worth reminding the reader that C&S Magicks are powered through a caster’s Fatigue and not PPs, making the practitioners bodily sacrifice to her craft that much more palpable.

I should add that some C&S Acts of Faith require Fatigue, too. This, I suppose, simulates religious exercises such as fasting and fervent prayer. It also feels like a touch of humor when I read that characters can receive BPs for going to church at the expense of losing some Fatigue.😇

This Faith system does not emulate the kinds of theologies that posit an all-powerful Deity that does whatever He or She wants for Her or His worshippers at any time. I’m not sure if this can be systematized (outside of a GM inhabiting that admittedly arbitrary and potentially capricious role), and C&S points this out in its text. I believe we can get closer to this emulation, however, by doing away with BPs. This alternative system would use the Faith Skill alone. Very grand Acts of Faith would receive great penalties to the Skill attempt (simulating, for example, the natural doubt that would arise from trying to move an entire mountain to, say, walking on water). And the Skill itself, not BPs, would be subject to alteration depending on whether the Miracle was successful or not.

As a last observation, Magicks & Miracles demonstrates the greater possibilities of C&S’s Critical Die feature. For many of the Skill Tests presented in this book, the Critical Die offers a range of resolutions, not just a very good Pass or a very Bad fail. It encourages me to consider more granular options in RM’s—or even Against the Darkmaster’s—Action Resolution Tables.

*The exception, probably, would be The Dying Earth series of Jack Vance, upon which D&D’s magic system is based. Obviously novels published by any actual game companies are precluded from consideration.

Chivalry & Sorcery’s Gorgeously Detailed Magickal Vocations

The latest version of Rolemaster contains a very interesting and useful section (2.8, to be exact) on Customizing Magic in an RM game. As inspiration for this consideration, I’m recommending that every RM gamer, if you don’t already have it, pick up Chivalry & Sorcery’s Magicks & Miracles. It’s free, after all.

If you’re like me, though, and this is your first time exploring C&S, let me give you a warning: this isn’t a very well-organized book.* Designing an rpg is an art form, and expressing an rpg—in an orderly and systematic way—might be even more of one. I believe that a good rpg should be a mutually-dependent network of narrative mechanics, each component leaning on and resting on another, all bending toward a nexus, the Core Mechanic. It’s very difficult to present a game such as I have described in the linear method necessitated by prose. Sometimes the writer of rpgs has to rely on the reader to keep a concept or term in mind, patient for when it will, in time, be clarified. At the very least it is helpful to give some brief context for a component at the moment wherein it first is mentioned, even better to provide a glossary. Unfortunately Magicks doesn’t employ any of these strategies for comprehension.

Instead, someone fresh to Magicks, without being told to do so, must read the entirety of the book and then return, armed with greater understanding, to earlier portions of the text. I have done this, and perhaps my words here can better prepare new initiates to the experience.

Because, now that my criticism about Magicks’s delivery is aside, I must say that I love this book. Love this book. Each of the Magickal Vocations feels unique. As a result, the independent Magicks in which each practitioner specializes seems fresh. The C&S Magick system exhibits verisimilitude and suggests exciting possibilities for RM gamers.

To begin, let me remind the reader of the three Realms of RM Magic: Channeling, Essence and Mentalism. Channeling comes from the gods, Essence from the force, Mentalism from one’s own personality or being. It wasn’t until encountering C&S Magick that I realized just how limiting this structure is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great way of organizing sources of magic, but when the powers being tapped come to define the casters themselves, you end up with (despite RM’s menu of magical Professions) just three (four, if you count Hybrid casters as a separate category) kinds of magical practitioners.

To contrast this with C&S, I’m willing to claim that C&S presents fourteen distinct casters. Two qualities conspire to define the Magickal Vocation: the Vocation itself, with its preferences for certain Magick Skills; and its primary Skill, the one specific to the caster’s central art, which explains the practice in great detail and provides specifications and descriptions of the artist’s preferred Focus. There simply isn’t space to provide descriptions for each of the Magickal Vocations, nor to explain just why I believe they’re so individual. As a way to give you at least one example of why I’m so enthusiastic about them, however, here’s the relevant language concerning the first listed Magickal class, the Conjuror.

The Vocation description.

Conjurers employ potions to perform their feats of magick, brewed from an enchanted cauldron. Conjurors are particularly adept at the magicks of illusion and transmutation and are able to brew potions that allow others to cast spells, though this can be risky.

Where a conjuror can practice magick it is restricted in that he must use a rather non-portable cauldron that acts as his focus. In the cauldron the conjurer keeps his “brew,” which contains Magickal components of all the spells he has learned. Often this brew attracts the attentions of a spirit (affectionately referred to as a “spook”) that will reside in the cauldron.

The Skill description.

Conjuration involves the preparation of “brews” in which the Conjuror prepares and stores spells for later casting. He actually binds minor spirits into potions. When drunk, the spirit is released, conditional upon the spell being cast. The Conjuror is particularly adept at the spells of Transmutation and Illusion, which are very amenable to the kind of casting procedures he employs.

The Conjuror has two major Items of Arcana, which he must fashion in order to cast his magick:

The Cauldron: This is the Conjurer’s major focus. The cauldron forms the container for the “Brew” through which the Conjuror casts all his spells. It must be constructed by using the 22 correspondences related to his birth sign. Once fully enchanted to MR 0 the metal correspondences must be taken to a metal worker to be smelted together with 50 lbs of copper and beaten into a 10 gallon cauldron (smaller cauldrons can be made for portable use). The Conjuror then enchants the remaining materials to anoint the cauldron. The enchanted gems must then be set into the handles of the cauldron by a Master Jewelsmith. It should be noted that the metals indicated in the list of correspondences cannot be replaced by other materials with the exception of metals such as Dwarvish or Greater Gold.

The Brew: This forms the Conjuror’s “Spell Book” and is created initially by using 7 parts of each of the 22 correspondences, all crushed, plus 21 different herbs, 7 flowers, 7 essences and 21 parts of each of 13 different liquids. All these ingredients must be fully enchanted to MR 0. Also, once each year the Conjuror must add 3 parts of each of the 22 correspondences and 13 parts of each of 13 different liquids. These need not be enchanted. If the Conjuror fails to do this, the Brew will dry up and both it and the Cauldron must be replaced afresh.

I see that this description should require some explanation about these “correspondences” and MR (Magic Resistance).

I’m able, only in part, to explain correspondences. The last chapter of this book, “The Apothecary Shoppe,” contains lists of ingredients, both Magickal and mundane. But, at a glance, I think it would be difficult for a character to find in this list twenty-two correspondences specific to her Vocation for the construction of a Focus (again, each of the fourteen Magickal Vocations have recommendations for Foci). It might be that the arcanist is supposed to cobble together all of the necessary correspondences by exploiting the various “Laws” of Magick, as specified by the rules, many of which allow seemingly counter-intuitive ingredients (such as Water for a Fire spell—the Law of Polarity) to be used to power or modify spells and their effects.

Magick Resistance is a result of C&S’s metaphysics of Magick. The rules explain that most substances resist being manipulated through the Magick arts and that they must be enchanted down to a level in which their energies might be more readily transferred. This would be MR 0. In a pinch, casters are able to work with MRs higher than this, though at a penalty.

I also should add that Foci, ranging from Simple to Greater, add bonuses to the casters’ Skill abilities, heighten their Magick Levels, and store Magickal energy.

You ask, how would I port any of this into Rolemaster? Well, in C&S, specific Vocations, of course, are able to purchase the Skills in which they specialize at lower costs than others. I’m running Against the Darkmaster, and in that game “Spell Lores” and Spell Skills are developed together by purchasing Ranks in a single Spell Lore. I could make Vocation Lores less expensive, award one-time bonuses for Vocation Lores, or create Background Options involving arcane “specializations.” It’s probably this last that I would implement, providing the vocational Focus or other relevant item with a higher Background Tier. C&S Spells are neatly organized by Vocation, so it should be no trouble to translate these into Lists or Spell Lores—particularly for VsD, wherein each Lore contains just ten Spells.

Next I shall explore C&S’s Magick system and how it might relate to RM’s. I also will look more closely at C&S’s “Priest Mages” and C&S’s detailed rules about Faith.

*Would you believe that a section called “Magick”, with two immediate subheadings of “What is Magick” and “Practising Magick”, doesn’t appear till Chapter 5–Chapter 5! Perhaps, after the introduction, start here.

Adventure Paths

Adventure Paths seem to keep crossing my path (pun intended) a lot recently.

I know that Brian has a 25 step adventure path in planning. I think that is going to be one of a few that we want to create as a follow on from the 50in50 that we did in 2017/2018. That project is just waiting for Brian to get ahead of RL.

I started talking about what I am now thinking of a The Demon War.

Hurin posted on the forums about how msto people play D&D up to about 10th level. That makes sense to me. If you want to play more than one PC then the speed my group goes even 10th level would take several human years.

My last RM related post was about experience points and each of the starting adventures I have been describing have come in at about 10k EXP per adventure. That is enough to level people up. In RMu there is no step change in EXP at 6th, 11th 16th levels like there is in RMxx.

If you played each of the planned adventures back to back, 12 adventures over 12 months then you would be 12th to 15th level come the end of the year.

Now to add in another element I say this post on a discord server…

“Mike MylerToday at 05:38

I am releasing a 340 page adventure path soon It’s a bigass hardcover book. Kill people with it kinda big. I also have the 6 adventures it largely revolves around prepared as softcover books approved for print.”

Mike’s AP is not for RM so don’t get excited. The point is that has an introduction, six adventures and then a finale plus he says 130 pages of supporting material to tie it all into a single adventure path.

So if we were looking at eight specific steps, each of which yielded 10k experience then characters would finish it at about 9th to 11th level depending on your starting level, maybe has high as 12th or 13th depending on experience from personal experience goals.

I am not that keen on the idea of linear adventures.

I am determined to make good use of City of Forgotten Heroes. I am thinking that it could make a good penultimate step in an adventure path. The thing is that with that I created the scalable encounters with different creatures for different power levels.

If I were to build in scalable encounters for these adventures so the monsters changed depending on level of the party and I used the H system for the numbers of creatures encountered these adventures would scale by level and for the party size.

This means that whether you start parties at 1st level, like I do, or 5th level like Spectre does or want to start people at 10th level to have a truly epic game these adventures should still work.

With some clever adventure design and more importantly clever story telling these adventures should be able to be played in any order. One could even make it a true sandbox where the adventures exist in their own right and the bad guy’s plans progress up until they hit the characters who inevitably ruin the bad guy’s day. Each adventure would provide some additional clues or benefit to assist the characters in defeating the ultimate bad guy.

I think I could write an eight part adventure path. It is less of a mammoth task than some of the APs I have been looking at. I originally thought that they were designed to take characters to 20th level. Obviously 10th level is a lot easier to write for than 20th.

Any thoughts or opinions?

Random Thoughts on Various Posts

First off, kudos to Gabe for picking up the pace and posting quite a few blogs! A couple more regular contributors and will be creating quite a bit of material.

Not even a month ago, I posted up a query asking about other d100 systems. Since then, Peter and Gabe have put up numerous blogs about vsDarkmaster, Zweihander, and most recently Chivalry & Sorcery. C&S aside, since it was published in the very early days of RPGs, both vsDarkmaster and Zweihander were purposeful attempts to create a newer version of early RM/MERP AND recapture the early feel and essence of the game. For me this interesting as these new games are concurrent with I.C.E.’s own path in revising RM with RMU. Basically you have 3 different mandates with each system, but all attempt to improve parts of RM that needed refinement, rewrites or new mechanics. So here are some basic thoughts on various blog posts:

Zweihander Skills. To me, Zweihander skills were very reminiscent of RM regular and secondary skills. That’s good and bad. Obviously, parsing skills leads to skill bloat, but more importantly, skills end up varying quite a bit in utility or have such defined parameters it get’s a bit silly. For an example of a ridiculous parsing of skills (to me at least):

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.

While some would argue that are those skills are relevant or useful in some specific situations, it’s harder to argue that Awareness, Scrutinize and Eavesdrop are equal in scope and utility. For me this is a lost opportunity to tune up the RM skill system–something we have discussed here on the blog quite a bit.

Zweihander: Trappings and Skills. I wasn’t impressed with these sections of the rules. Maybe reading the finished product will be different; I am relying on Peter’s assessment and description so I am working with second hand info. The wound “levels” is nice in abstract but it must eliminate a lot of specific magical healing (if that exists in this game). Do spells just reduce your damage classification? Without jumping ahead, I think ZH “character law” and chargen is more compelling than their “arms law” rules.

Stats, Kin and Cultures in vsDarkmaster. A lot of this was very interesting to me. If you’ve read my blog on RM chargen in 15 minutes, you might detect a similar philosophy in this game. Basically by using preset “packages” you can quickly build a new character quickly without sacrificing diversity. I’ve been using just “Culture” & “Vocation” while VsC uses “Kin”, “Culture” “Vocations” and “Backgrounds”. Treating race (kin) a package makes a lot of sense and I’m going to build into my system. I write extensive backgrounds for PC’s so I don’t generally need “Backgrounds” (although I do have a Shadow World background chart HERE). However, if I were designing a system for publication I would add Background packages as well. VsD is not the only system that tackles RM style chargen this way and I think RMU should have adopted this approach as a default. They could still provide the framework for skill buy with development points as an optional rule set but having a “cafeteria style” approach would have been more accessible to new users.

Passions and Drive in VsD. I really can’t get my head around it. Perhaps I’m jaded, but my experience is that players always default to self-interest; even if they camouflage it with clever roleplaying. Passions and Drives seem interesting, but I think it’s hard to build a game mechanic around qualitative morality.

Diseases, falls, fire, intoxication, poisons, sleep deprivation, starvation and suffocation in Zweihander. This is a pretty good list of hazards outside of combat. RMU has addressed these as well. I like ZHs use “toughness check”. I only use 2 types of RRs. “Will” based to resist certain types of spells and “Hardiness” based to resist poisons and diseases. I treat all magic the same so there isn’t a differentiation in saves vs. Essence, Channeling, Mentalism, Arcane, Essence&Channeling, Channeling&Mentalism, Essence&Mentalism. (Did I miss any?) Saving Rolls in VsD also seem simplified. That’s good.

VsD Combat. It seems very similar to Rolemaster and MERP. Maybe they felt it was streamlined or easier, but that’s not the impression I get. Like ZH, it seems like building a new and better combat system was just too much of a task. Just picking through the early RMU beta provides a number of very clever ideas that could be executed for a RM type combat system. I don’t even know what to say about the tactical round. Is it just a almost copy of RM? Oh well. It seems if it’s not much, much better than RM or MERP why change?

Travel in VsD. Feels very much like a boardgame with “campsites” and “safehavens”?

So just a few random thoughts about Gabe and Peter’s review of Zweihander and vsDarkmaster. I’m not overwhelmed with either of their combat systems and definitely not digging their magic systems. I thought there were some really good ideas in both of those systems on character builds and fascinated how other people resolved their own problems with RM and MERP. It makes you wonder what you would get if you put both of these systems and RMU into a box…