“Casting” in Navigator RPG

I appreciate Peter R’s inclusion of the telepath or mentalist into Navigator RPG. As I have said before, I’m amused by the preponderance of this archetype in science fiction, that training, mutating or evolving to use the power of brain waves is somehow more believable than outright “magic.” And magic it is, demonstrated as so by Spacemaster adopting its Rolemaster magic system in toto for its emulation of psychic abilities.

In preparation for this article, I had thought I was going to propose an utterly different system for mentalist abilities. For awhile I had been dissatisfied with the resource-based method of magic in RM, and I believed I would be additionally so, when it came to mentalism, while proposing a system in Navigator. I had thought that using a straight skill mechanic —individual lists developed independently, as is BriH’s method or in Against the Darkmaster (VsD)—while completely disregarding Power Points would be my preference.

My thinking was that a telepath—in contradistinction, perhaps, to a magic caster who was born special or had access to some numinous gift—simply had learned to use one’s mind to an extraordinary degree. In other words, whereas you and I think, perhaps, all day long with comparative ease, a futuristic mentalist simply will turn these thoughts outward to interact with other minds. How successful they will be at this interaction, I had been thinking, should be dependent on a Skill roll, one most often opposed by a Skill roll arising likewise from the target mind.

I also liked the idea of a telepath becoming strained or fatigued, however, and that’s when I began to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps the mentalist should expend hit points for its abilities. Or maybe it made more sense to burn the actual stat most closely associated with its powers. But then I thought that this was too punishing, that a telepath should be able to do some things passively or with ease, and hence Power Points were reintroduced.

What this line of reasoning did for me, however, was to recognize that the subsystem within which casters operate might be—and perhaps should be—applied to other classes. I doubt that this idea is original, but here it is: every profession should enjoy a secondary resource, determined by the table that enumerates Power Points, based on their archetypes’ primary attributes. For casters, this resource should power their spells, of course, but additional points might be spent to add bonuses to the roll or its effects (VsD allows additional spends for more powerful applications). This is what I propose for other classes: these might spend points for, say, +10 per point, while attempting actions in conformance with the professions’ primary abilities. I would allow these bonuses to stack up to a cap determined by a sum of three main stats keyed to mind, body and soul.

I developed a system like this for my d100 Viking game, heavily inspired by the game Yggdrasill, which uses a PC resource called “Furor” for many similar results.

Two considerations remain.

The first is this: should casters (and other classes) be allowed to burn hp or temporary stat values? I really like the idea of burning mind power for the telepath, an action that, within great straits, could leave the character brain dead or, at the very least, temporarily impeded in cognition, which could reduce Power Points per day, while the mentalist recovers.

The other question is just how many kinds of casters should be in Navigator. It’s foregone that a type of Essence caster is going to be represented in the form of a Star Knight. But what about Channeling? Is the implied metaphysics of the genre that nothing that can function as a deity—be it outside or inside SpaceTime—can exist? I expect that this question shall be answered at individual gaming tables and that Peter R expects resources for this kind of gameplay to be offered by third parties. On my end, however, I’m already adopting the Cleric WhiteBox class—renamed a “Shepherd”—into any future White Star/Spacemaster/Navigator game I might run.

Power Points: How Much Is Too Much?

We’ve been having an interesting discussion on the ICE forums about Power Points. Different editions of Rolemaster have treated them rather differently:

–In RM2, a typical level 1 Spellcaster might start the game with 2 or 3, and they would regenerate slowly. (I’ve been looking to try to find exactly how slowly in the Rules As Written, but it seems buried somewhere inaccessible. Since hit points recovered only 1 per hour if resting, or one per three hours if moving, we assumed spell points came back at the same rate. But if anyone can provide me with a chapter and verse on that, I would appreciate it!).

–In RMSS, Powerpoint Development was a skill, which meant characters could start the game with an order of magnitude (10x) more powerpoints. And while the regeneration rate was the same as RM2’s while you were not resting (1 every 3 hours), you also regenerated them faster when resting, and much faster when sleeping, such that 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep regenerated all your PP.

The discussion is relevant because the limits on one’s power point pool and the regeneration of power points were some of the primary limits on spellcasters, preventing them from being overpowered in comparison to arms users at low levels. With RMU rethinking some of these limits, it is helpful to get input from players as to what an appropriate amount of spell power should be.

So what do you think? It seems like RMSS users are used to a large pp pool and fast regeneration, while RM2 users tend to be more used to a small pool and slow regeneration. Where do you fit on the spectrum? How many pp should a first level caster have, and how quickly should she get them back?

Professions and Skills for the Navigator RPG

In my advancing years, I have ceased being a fan of Skills-based RPGs, and Rolemaster, I am told, quite ironically is Skills. I much prefer the idea of working out resolutions at the table as situations arise, and this lends itself well to the style of play in “first generation” games. Here is an example: in a Swords & Wizardry game I had all PCs make Save rolls vs inclement weather, but the Druid (and this would have applied to a Ranger, too) got to Save for “free,” without a roll. The game was text-based, online, and the Druid gamer sent me one of these: 😍. In contrast, recently in an Against the Darkmaster game, two PCs rolled to detect something in a forest. One succeeded at hearing an unusual sound, the other didn’t. The one who didn’t was an Elf. “That’s odd,” said that player, and, for awhile (being a 1e gamer), that player truly believed that something mysterious was going on. He was an Elf, and Elves simply hear things in a forest. He was a bit surprised when I explained to him that, no, his ignorant Elf simply had spectacularly failed his Perception roll.

I recognize now that I should have dealt with the situation by letting the Elf hear the sound “for free” and requiring the humans in the group to make Skill rolls. I suspect that this is how Peter R runs his games, but Rolemaster, for me, is so “roll-heavy” that I routinely forget to stop and think like this. There’s a Skill for nearly everything, and characters have been built to be “good” at these things because of reliance on their Skill rolls. Perhaps I should have stopped and given the Elf a bonus on the roll, but that’s figured already—that’s Elven racial modifiers. The truth is that, with Skill-heavy games, too often I am lulled into ignoring simple common sense in terms of the fiction.

But what happens when I outright remove Skills? It never occurs to some players that, say, their Fighter character might diversify into some Thief-based qualities. Original iterations of the game provide the highly clunky “dual classing” to accommodate this, though this still tends to keep caster types sacrosanct and unattainable. I think we RM games appreciate a little magical possibility in all our classes. I also know that some gamers heavily rely on a list of Skills to visualize their characters and conceive of which their adventurers are capable.

For Navigator RPG, therefore, my wish is for a sweet spot of basic Class abilities, allowance of common sense, and serviceable, core Skill systems. In the following sections I make some comments on the existing Professions that Peter has adopted from White Star as well as his inclusion of the Mystic. I also propose two of my own, and draft what seem to me a serviceable set of Skills.


It seems sort of odd for this to be a “Profession,” but I very much like it as an archetype. I see a bit of both Leia and (weirdly) Lando in this one. I wonder how Peter is going to use the “Charm Person” quality here. Perhaps it makes more sense to simply give the Aristocrat a special “Convince” or “Befriend” Skill based on Level (I have nothing like this in my lists below). Perhaps something based on a Resistance Roll (using the Aristocrat’s Level) also is a good idea.


I wonder what, if anything, Peter will do with the attacks per Level against creatures of 1 HD or fewer. In my reduced Combat Skills list, I would allow Mercenaries to specialize in one or two Combat skills, giving them a one-time bonus at character creation in these.


I really like the OSR construction of this character class, but this archetype’s ability to take rounds of combat to manipulate the qualities of a starship might better be modeled with Skills in the Navigator RPG. I wonder what changes we will see and if, consequently, the Pilot’s White Star adequacy will be diminished.

Star Knight 


This is Peter’s Spacemaster telepath or mentat. It’s often amused me that science fiction has regarded mind powers as much more “believable” than magic. Anyway, I think it’s an element highly required in Navigator, and I’m quite eager to write about mentalism and its powers with great detail in the future.

Technician and Scientist

At this point, I don’t have much to say about my two additions, but I felt that they should be represented. As with the Mercenary, though I expect these classes to be generally capable, I would have them pick one or two specializations in which to gain some one-time bonuses.

And here follow my lists of proposed skills.


Melee. This would include all melee weapons as well as unarmed combat.

Primitive projectiles

Modern projectiles. “Modern” here would include everything that is modern within the game setting: energy and laser weapons would be included.

Heavy weapons

Vehicle weapons 


Adventuring. This is a catch-all, including Survival and First Aid (also, possibly, Perception).



Fine tasks








Finally, Peter has plans for armor proficiencies, which I think is a great idea, and Body Development and “Spellcasting” abilities should be handled separately.

Stats (and Skills) in the Navigator RPG

A close reading of Peter R’s Navigator update causes me to believe that, so far, the most salient part of White Star that he is using are the adventuring professions. The rest appears in common with the d100 system that we all love. This strikes me as an opportunity to revisit this latter system, and I shall begin where character creation commences: stats.

Stats define the character, and, broadly speaking, there are three intentions to be considered as one employs player characteristics in game design. PC attributes are the result of a simulation of chance (aka deterministic nature), a player’s predetermined character concept, or a combination of these. This last is the approach Peter has adopted for Navigator: players roll their stats (the deterministic “mini game”) but they get to assign them (the “build”) and, most importantly, if they don’t get numbers high enough, two can be replaced with 90s.

I think the Navigator design process is an opportunity for Peter to revisit Spacemaster’s ten stats. As I have written before, I like the symmetry of ten stats within a percentile system. But that symmetry is sort of broken when Peter assigns three of the ten as bonuses to individual Skills. And, as I have said (again in the article linked above), I like the symmetry of three, which breaks down into the three traditionally-regarded aspects of the person: mind, body, and soul.

I should add here, looking ahead in the design process, that rough Skill “groups” might conveniently break down into three (as is sort of demonstrated in Against the Darkmaster). For Spacemaster these Skill categories could be Combat, Utility and Learning. Should there be ten Skills in each category? Maybe. I might prefer five, but such a paltry value might reflect a “lite” version of our favorite d100 game.

While I’m on the topic of symmetry, it appears that original Spacemaster is likewise considerate of this aspect of elegance. Five of its stats it identifies as “Development Stats;” the remaining five are “Primary Stats.” These designations represent the “mini game” of early Spacemaster character creation: high numbers in Development Stats garner more Development Points for Skills. But high Primary Stats (maybe) directly benefit more “useful” Skills. The parenthetical “maybe” reveals my uncertainty that the distinctions here result in “meaningful” choices (I’m not going to plunge that deeply into this old design) at character creation, and I’m not sure that Constitution (identified as a Development Stat) believably should result in DPs.

This topic of “meaningful choices” should be kept in mind as Peter assigns Stats to Skills. All of the stats should be used more or less commensurately. I’m not saying that they need to be “balanced,” but all should find some use within the game. Another way of putting this directive is that attributes such as Charisma should not immediately be regarded as a “dump stat.” These White Box games have done well to dignify this stat (and Wisdom) by awarding an xp bonus for a high value. If it becomes a last resort, Navigator might consider something similar. Finally, a good first principle would be to try to find a stat from each of the three aspects of the person to modify each Skill.

So now I’m again privileging three aspects of the person. Can I convince Peter to go with nine stats instead of ten? Here they are in categories, to see what might be thrown out.

MIND: Self-Discipline, Memory, Reasoning 

BODY: Constitution, Agility, Strength, Quickness 

SOUL: Presence, Intuition, Empathy 

Looks like I’d wrap Agility and Quickness together, reducing body to three stats.

Spacemaster and the OSR

I’m of two minds while reading about Peter R’s development of Navigator RPG. As far as I can tell, it purposes to be an open content retroclone of Spacemaster but using the convenient OGL of White Star, which is based on the “White Box” version of the Original Game. 

I fully support the mechanics of this decision. Swords & Wizardry has become my game of choice: quick-playing and eminently malleable. Though my own preference is for Swords & Wizardry Complete, I can see the rationale in adopting White Box: since this form uses only d20s and d6s for its mechanical resolution, conversions to d100 should be efficient.

My ambivalence arises from the sources that are inherent in White Star’s inspirations. The strongest influence appears to be Star Wars, and Star Wars—at least to me—is not science fiction. It’s fantasy skinned with spaceships and laser swords. I’m not saying that this kind of fantasy is “bad fun” (for me, Star Wars is very fun, especially the d6 version). I’m saying that this is out of alignment with the ethos of Spacemaster.

But of which Spacemaster do I speak? I own the first edition, the one that is directly compatible with RM2. I’ve never played this edition (or any others). I’m not sure if I can. It’s a fascinating read. Yet, as a publication predating the Information Age, some parts are quaint, and Tech Law’s details for starship construction are utterly confounding. One thing it is not, though: it is not Star Wars (though I believe it accommodates, in part, a player’s desire to play a Jedi Knight). And if it also isn’t, precisely, “hard” science fiction, it at least attempts to be “realistic.”

One of the ways in which it is realistic, I suppose, is in its range of Professions. Do you want to play a Research or Field Scientist? How about a Machine Tech? If one follows the usually reliable dictum that a game’s rules telegraph what the game is about, then this feels a bit like Star Trek (which I consider “pseudo-science”). Is your character going to specialize in Planetology? Then what are your “adventures” going to be like?

Dr. Mind: Captain, I’ve determined that this atmosphere contains high volumes of nitrous oxide.

Captain Stern: Very good. Crew, ready yourselves for nitrous breathers.

What a challenge this level of verisimilitude must be for the GM.

An even better indication of Spacemaster’s mundane orientation is in its Races and Cultures. There are no “aliens,” precisely. I understand that Spacemaster 2e does provide a few samples with the caveat that alien intelligence in the universe is highly unlikely, and, even if one were encountered, it’s doubtful that homo sapiens would be able to recognize one as such. The “otherness” of wonder and exploration is nonetheless provided in Spacemaster’s trans humanist vision: humans have colonized space, adapted, mutated, evolved and even modified themselves genetically and technologically. In Spacemaster, artificial intelligence has emerged. I’ve begun to prefer human centrism in my fantasy games, so this aspect of science fiction play greatly appeals to me.

Again, I think Peter R is correct in choosing White Star as his starting point. Moreover, White Star’s more obvious “adventuring classes,” I suppose, are a necessity. I’m not certain about all I’ve been reading about the inclusion of alien species, however, and this has led me to wonder what precisely is being “revived” with the OSR label on this project. As we all know, all game systems are simply tools, and I look forward to adapting Navigator RPG to my preferred form of mundane science fiction. I also wonder at which point, though, rules become so entwined with tone and implied setting as to be inextricable.

Going to GenCon: What to See?

This August I will be heading to GenCon, which is one of the largest tabletop RPG conventions in the world. I am really looking forward to it, primarily to see some new and old systems being played (I’m especially eager to try out Pathfinder 2, Starfinder, and Adventures in Middle Earth). I have two questions for our RM Blog community:

For those who have been there before: Do you have any recommendations on what to do or see? I botched my first attempt to navigate the event finder system, which meant that I missed out on all the MERP sessions being offered, but there’s still lots to see and do. What would you say is a ‘don’t miss!’?

For those who aren’t going: Is there anything you’d like me to check out? I will be playing Pathfinder 2, Starfinder, Adventures in Middle Earth, probably some DnD, and I might try Numenera and/or Star Wars d6 too. If you have any booth you’d like me to check out, rules you’d like me to see in play, or anything else that I could quickly find out for you, please let me know. I will be playing and possibly GMing, but if I have time to help you out, I will.

Hacking Darkmaster

I’m guessing that it’s not precisely “news” to readers here that the QuickStart Deluxe of Against the Darkmaster (VsD) has been released as pay what you want on DriveThruRPG. The latest articulation has introduced some changes to my game. Most radical is a reduction of five Armours (None, Soft Leather, Rigid Leather, Chain and Plate) to four (None, Light, Medium, Heavy). Most sneaky is total Success on the maneuver table has been reduced to 100 from 110.

The most radical change, however, (and I’m talking specifically about my home game now) is how I’ve undertaken to transform VsD’s entire d100 system into something that works better for the players at my table. Approaching something like this, I often feel out of place in the company I keep here on this blog. I’m becoming convinced that a “simple,” homebrewed d20 system is most comfortable for my gaming table, though I continue to be enamored with the design possibilities in Rolemaster d100 mechanisms.

And I thought I was going to revert to a d20 system and simply carry on with the campaign characters until I remembered how one player in particular appreciates VsD’s and others’ core percentile principle.

A lot of what I’m going to say here I already have shared with the VsD designers, but I think these comments might be of equal interest to RM gamers. I’m going to structure this discussion by presenting two “problems” that I have been endeavoring to “solve,” each followed by a “solution.”


At the beginning of last year I determined to run Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP). I quickly grew irritated, while trying to track the various weapon “stats” that modified the rolls and results on the attack tables. A “solution” appeared to be to adopt RM2, but then my burden was to track tables for every single weapon.


I’m already anticipating a response from the RM community to my complaints, so let me try to provide more context here. When I was young, my friends and I were deeply interested in the simulationist aspects of rpgs. We didn’t care at all how much time—or math—was required of us to resolve a single conflict. It was common for a combat to involve hours of our time. My group now isn’t interested as much in that. Obviously, we’re not plunging fully into story games, but we’re more interested in narrative. We also don’t believe that a lucky shot from a mook necessarily should be able to outright kill a player character.

I have received advice from RM gamers concerning the time management element. Give attack tables to the players, say some gamers. I’m certain this works for some groups, but not mine. One of my players will outright refuse. He says that I’m lucky he “rolls his own dice,” and he’s only partly jesting here. And even if the other players were willing to take on this work, as GM I’d still have to be monitoring their work. These are casual gamers.

So the bottom line is that all this, as it is with any group, is about how my players and I detail the game system that we need for our table. And our struggles and solutions might be of interest to some other groups.

VsD, cleaving more closely to MERP than RM, uses weapon stats and consolidated attack tables. I have consolidated the attack tables into a single one closely modeled on the maneuver table. All weapon types are assigned damage dice, based on 1d10 for one-handed and 2d10 for two-handed. Armours deduct results on the critical tables in increments of 10 per armour type.


“I use like three of these,” said a player, referring to a VsD character sheet that, incidentally, is significantly more compressed than any RM sheet. So we reduced Skills into general categories, and each breaks down into two types of uses or applications, and each of these are modified by two discrete character Stats. I enjoy how other versions of RM use multiple and complementary attributes to modify specific Skills. The latest version of RM uses three of its ten for each Skill, sometimes “double dipping,” when there aren’t other clear associations.

So, instead of assigning Ranks to granular Skills, in our hack, at Level advancement PCs gain bonuses in broader Skill categories.

Concluding Thoughts 

My group has made changes, also, to how the GM handles NPCs, and it’s also wrestling with VsD’s use of Drive Points—in fact, we’re considering outright dropping this meta currency. But the largest consideration we have is whether we keep the d100 roll. I think most of us will agree that most bonuses in an RM game reduce neatly from +5 (on a d100) to a +1 (on a d20). So why deal with 100 numbers rather than 20? Honestly, for greater ease of roll resolution, I see no reason outside of the relative Fumble values, though these could be remedied: a second roll could follow any roll of 1 to determine if a particular weapon is fumbled. Incidentally, I see that Chivalry & Sorcery has done something similar, offering a C&S “Essence” rules set in addition to its “Rebirth.” I’m similarly curious about the news of an upcoming “lite” version of RM.

What are your thoughts? Why do we gamers want 100 numbers?


Due to very sudden and unexpected changes in health I would really like it if a couple of other writers could make a posts in the next few weeks.



Lazy GMing: Inside your NPCs Heads and Hearts

Recently, I played around with random tables for village names, industries, street plans and then a plot hook to give the PCs something to do.

Since then I have been playing with a new web-based toy and I thought you may like it.

Before I introduce it I want to explain the how and why of using it.

What it does is provide you with a couple of little pictures or icons, I use two but you will have an option for one to six at a time. These icons are completely random, sometimes vague and always open to interpretation. The way I have been using it is to grabl two icons for every NPC I am adding to an adventure, at the planning stage not during play. The icons are used as inspiration for what is in the NPCs hearts or minds.

For example. I created a Lady in Waiting for an adventure thinking that the PCs may want to use a charm or suggestion spell to turn an insider on to their side. When I created the NPC I drew a Wheel and a Shield icon. The first thing that came into my head was that a wheel can mean change or revolution and the shield could mean being defensive or hiding something. All of a sudden this lady in waiting is actually very sympathetic to a group of anti royalists but is hiding her sympathies.

The chances of this ever coming out in play is probably under 1% but if it did, if a player decided or overcast Telepathy on her for no reason I suddenly have an answer to what is going on in her head. If you charm her and now she is your friend and you raise the subject of breaking in to the castle then she is actually going to be more open to the idea than another NPC.

I grabbed two more icons for a military type and got an Arrow and Flaming breath, that immediately said typical sergeant major to me, straight to the point and will ball you out for the slightest discretion.

Since I have been using these, they add about 30 seconds to creating an NPC but they add a whole world of potential depth to people your PCs meet and can create endless sub-plots and side quests if you wanted.

So that is what it is for. The tool is called Zero Dice and you can find it at Tangent Zero. Leave the Dice Type to image and then click one of the “roll 1” to “Roll 6” buttons.

As another example I have an NPC who will be sharing a dungeon with the PCs. Let us find out more about him.

So I am seeing a deadly plant and a gift. It could be that our prisoner is a gifted poisoner but I like the idea more that he stupidly send a poisonous plant (poison ivy maybe) to the lord of the castle as a sort of protest.

You do not need to take the icons literally, there are some icons in the set that contain battery charge levels such as these…

I use these often as an indication of energy levels, or stress or even health. Not everyone you meet is going to be on full hits, some people are having a bad day even before they meet the PCs.

You just have to let your imagination be inspired by these visual prompts.

Navigator Update

I have cleared the decks a little and last night I started to look at Navigator RPG again.

The first thing that would strike you is the limited scope of the game. So far we have three races and five professions, that is it.

My justification for this is twofold. Firstly, I am trying to follow the source material, White Star as closely as possible and that is the full set of player character classes in the book, plus one. I have added in an extra profession, the Mystic. Mystics are what Spacemaster fans would recognise as true and semi-telepaths. I thought they were an important part of Spacemaster and needed to be included.

We have stats. These are d100 rolls, re-roll anything under 21 and if you have no stats over 90 then your two lowest can be elevated to 90.

Potentials are all 101 and stat gain rolls will cost DPs.

DPs are fixed at 50 per level.

Stat bonuses are (Stat-50)/3 so no table needed for stat bonuses.

Character races or Species are built using talents. I have included six talents and one flaw. These serve as a model for 3rd party writers to create a whole spectrum of optional talents and Species.

Mixed Species are easily possible by mixing and matching the talents that define the parents.

We now have seven cultures. Each culture gives 50DPs worth of skills.

We have simple guidelines for creating new cultures.

As I said above we have five professions but we also have the rules for creating new professions. Each profession comes with 50DPs of ‘basic training’ in the professions core skills. We also get Professional skill bonuses. Every profession has individual skill costs.

Things I have borrowed is the idea of Expertise skills that reduce penalties but do not give bonuses. This has allowed me to remove the four individual moving in armour skills.

I have borrowed the fixed 50DPs and I have borrowed the method of creating ‘half races’. In effect the three races I have created could be turned into six different species.

The calculated stat bonuses comes from Hurin.

All skills are going to have three governing stats and the stat bonuses are going to be additive rather than averaged. I just find that easier.

After being given 50DPs of skills from your culture, 50DPs of skills from your basic training you will then have an additional 50DPs to spend as you wish to customise your character. This means that a starting character will be level 1 and have 150DPs of skills in place.

Limited Scope

I said there were two reasons for the limited scope. This whole project is dependent on building a community who will add to the game. The tools for creating new Species, Talents, Flaws, Cultures, Professions and Skills are right there in the core rules and just enough examples are provided to give people what they need to build what they want. A spin off benefit of limited scope is time to completion.

In project management you can decide what you want a project to achieve or when you want to complete a project but you cannot define both. You either ship what you have on completion day your you ship the completed project when it is finished. By limiting the scope of the project the time to completion is going to be much shorter. As it is I am hoping to have the game up to the point where you can create a character by the end of this week.

The most time consuming things I have to deal with this week will be calculating all the skills costs for my five professions and all the skills and then writing all the skill descriptions.


After that the next set of rules in White Star than need converting are Movement, Skill Resolution and Resistance Rolls. I am hoping that they will be able to be completed in a week although I have a busy couple of weeks coming up.