Against the Darkmaster

I don’t know how many of you know of this game? To cut a long story short what Against the Darkmaster (vsDarkmaster for short) is is MERP plus house rules rebranded and launched as a new game.

It is so new that we only have the public play test, quickstart adventure and pre-gen characters to play with so far. The kickstarter is not even ready yet.

What is also interesting is that vsDarkmaster also has a marque called open00 under which they are going to release an SRD, system reference document, so any indie developers can release their own material for the system.

Even more interesting is that my own attempt at free to use monsters, under the brand of Open100 appears very close to the open00 and vsDarkmaster. By very close take a look at this.

AT3(1-20), 2(1-10) or by armour typeRigid Leather
DB5 + shield30 inc shieldnone
OB67 weapon60 weapong+/-7

You can see that there is barely a gnats whisker between the two versions of the same creature. In one you get a slightly higher OB but less hits but they pretty much trade off.

vsDarkmaster vs RMU?

So right now both games are technically in public play test. The difference is that vsDarkmaster is actively looking for play testers and engaging with bloggers and reviewers. I have emailed them and got a personal reply within hours, which considering the time difference is as prompt as you could wish for. They are also building a contact list of everyone who has play tested the game, you need to register to get the free version of the game. This is good marketing sense. 

The Kickstarter will also create a bit more buzz around the game. It gives them something else to talk about and share.

I would be shocked if there are less people queuing up to back vsDarkmaster than there are firmly committed to converting to RMU right now. The real uphill struggle for RMU is the ‘U’. RM2 players are reluctant to give up the RM2 way of doing things and the RMSS crowd are reluctant to give up the RMSS way of doing things and neither really want to give up their mass of companions, supplements and house rules.

vsDarkmaster does not have that fractured community. They have a whole new bunch of gamers waiting to play this new game.

vsDarkmaster also has a release date of 2019. I hope that RMU has the same release year but I would not be overly shocked if that slipped into 2020.

vsDarkmaster also has a sense of momentum. There is a public play test edition. That play test will end and it will be followed by a kickstarter campaign, and that will end and the game will be released in 2019. There will be stretch goals published as part of the kickstarter so we will know what future publications are in the pipeline.

With RMU we live in hope of the ‘singularity’ we don’t when that will be and we don’t know how long the post singularity period will be.

*IF* vsDarkmaster hits the shelves first, and that is certainly possible then what unique selling point does RMU have? Open ended rolls? Criticals? Weapon specific combat tables? Point buy skills? Spell lists? Sorry but vsDarkness has them all.

The real killer will be open00. I can honestly see 20, 50 or 100 publications for vsDarkness for every one for RMU. You could claim that the RMU publications will be more substantial or higher quality than all the indie releases for vsDarkmaster but that misses the point. Rather than spending $20 for an RMU supplement that you may use some, none or most of you can spend $0.50 or $1 on a booklet here or a booklet there that fill a particular need at that precise moment. It is a different world and a different way of selling gaming material.

Referring to Brian’s last post there is nothing to stop either Brian releasing Priest-King of Shade or Jengada releasing Nomads for vsDarkmaster, they could even combine the two and set Priest-King in the world of Nomads. 

I am not advocating that we all give up playing Rolemaster and play vsDarkmaster instead. What is viable is to use vsDarkmaster books, adventures and all the other weird and wonderful supplements as and when they arrive with RMU as the games are close enough. Once that is established we can write and sell our own adventures as compatible with any open00 system.

I don’t want it to happen but I could see vsDarkmaster being the death of Rolemaster. The cliche is ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. I think that will be the case. We won’t move over and abandon Rolemaster but I can see vsDarkmaster swallowing up all the new players who would be interested in RMU but discover vsDarkmaster instead. Without new players and new members coming to a community it will wither and die. If vsDarkmaster and RMU have to share the market and sales for this sort of game how viable will they be? Who knows but open00 gives the publishers,  
The Fellowship & Sego | Games, a revenue stream that ICE do not have. I know how much money ICE makes each year and it is not a lot. Also most of that is likely to disappear as ICE must withdraw RMFRP and RMC from sale when RMU is released as you cannot compete against yourself and the reason for developing RMU was to get away from the IP restrictions hanging over the older games and to unify the market so they did not need to support two versions of the same game. Supporting three versions of the same game makes even less sense.

If you have a look at vsDarkmaster you will see it is no RMU. It is not intended to be. It claims to be an evolution of MERP and it is true to its word. The thing is that we know how easy it is to drop a new spell law or an arms law into a MERP game to expand it. It is easy and it doesn’t break the game.

Take a look and see what you think.

16 Replies to “Against the Darkmaster”

  1. I did actually stumble across this somewhere recently, although I can’t remember where. That would mean much less changes would be required to convert an existing potential RM product to this system than another. And you’re right – an open SRD could easily entail a lot of stuff aimed at RM baing released for this. I can think of at least 50 supplements that could be converted off the top of my head! Plus conversions of other material that will fill a pocket money need.

    1. Remembered where I heard of it. A link from that unapproved comment here took me to a Google+ community and Against the Darkmaster had posted on iy, which led me to their page.

    2. I ‘sort of’ intend to convert all the 5e SRD monsters to an open format so I/we can use them for adventures without breaking IP rules. I could easily bash them out as vsDarkmaster compatible monsters and sell them for pocket money. It almost seems stupid not to and it may motivate me to get the task finished. Then of course there are all the Pathfinder SRD monsters.

      I also have plans for Hero System based spell lists intended for RMU but they instantly become sellable if they are branded as open00.

      1. I am always interested in systems that I can write/convert supplements to. Any that has a license of any type I tend to pick up.

        I think ICE should take lessons from companies such as Schwalb Entertainment. Three years old, over 150 products released – many only a few pages long – a community content program (not much released as yet; might be one to publish a solo engine for Peter) and, I would guess, a license issued to another company, Legendary Games.

        1. I have just bought Shadow of the Demon Lord, thanks for the tip. It was reduced today from $49.95 to $9.99 so it would be rude not to buy it!

          All of us here are living proof that there is a bank of talent that just wants to produce adventures and supplements for their favourite game.

          If they [ICE] explicitly said that once RMU was released then they would find a way for use to publish either as a profit share for the Guild Adventurer or via a community content program then we would all accept that they don’t want stuff pushing their old games just before the new is released. Priest-King is years old so that is no excuse.

          1. The other problem I sense is ICE isn’t even getting stuff in line to release to support RMU. Kicking a system out the door with no real supporting products seems like a bad idea to me.

            My whole project is hanging fire because I have to wait for the final RMU to appear and then update who knows how much stuff. Of course, many of my concepts have diverged enough from what we’re seeing of RMU that updating might be pointless. At its core it’s still RMU, but parts are expanding in different ways. Depending on what open00 ends up looking like it may prove a viable alternative.

            1. So right now vsDarkmaster has those compressed combat tables that MERP had but they are expanded to go up to 175 so that is more like RMU. Their critical tables go from 1 to 150. All severities of critical roll on the same column but with modifiers. They have scrapped A to E as critical labels and call them superficial for A, grievous for D and lethal for E and so on. It would be trivial to explode their compact critical and combat charts into broader tables with greater variety. Even without that the cross over compatibility is extremely high.

              1. It might even be worse than not getting stuff ready to go with RMU – ICE is still releasing material for old systems. Sure, it might not take much to update a new Shadow World release, before it is published, with RMU stats, but Terry is still going to be writing them with RM2 stats as far as I can tell. So it looks like what is effectively going to be the primary RMU game world will still support RM2. This also means that, unless they revamp the existing products, they will still be selling material pushing their old systems.

  2. I think we do have to accept that the RMU team is small and has an inherently difficult task in trying to reuinite a fractured player base. No one is going to get everything s/he wants.

    That said, I would like to see a bit more sense of support for the new system, especially a playtest packet with a set of premade characters, a stripped down set of rules (e.g. weapon charts only for the weapons of the characters and their foes), and an introductory adventure.

    If RMU doesn’t have the resources to produce this, I think we should. I do have a rough adventure that I used for one of my playtests that I can polish up. I have lots of premade characters. I can’t do the rules, but I don’t think it would take too long for someone at ICE to put that into a package.

    I also plan to help out by posting here some ‘standard builds’ of characters (i.e. a set of 60 dp worth of skills to buy for each class each level), for players who don’t want to read a lot of rules before they start playing. Little things like that can help a lot.

    1. I agree, harnessing the enthusiasm of the community is a great way of getting things done. I would have liked to see that playtest package, pregens and first adventure put together two or three years ago. That way the amount of feedback from people not familiar with any previous version of RM could be combined into the mix but at a point before the developers could have built that feedback into the game design.

      One cannot change the past though.

    1. Well you cannot copyright gzme mechanics so the core game is open for house ruling. The setting is not called Middle Earth so that gets around the Tolkien restrictions. Most fantasy settings can be traced back to ME somehow but this is not middle earth.

      What you can protect is stuff like actual text descriptions and art. That is all unique in vsDarkmaster.

  3. The fact that ICE doesn’t take advantage of the Kickstarter age blows me a way. In all this time waiting for an RMU- they could have easily done a hardback edition of both RMSS core system and some choice companion books, and RM2 as well. They could have made money and rekindled the interest in their brand- which has done nothing but diminish while other great 80s RPGs have seen a renaissance. To me, if they really want to satisfy all the fans, they could re-release something as a kickstarter, then fully go forward with some momentum and launch RMU and then make further supplements compatible with all three. Boom. Everyone is happy and you get a good run up.

    That said, it looks like none of this will ever be done and I think VS will gobble up the fans old and new, because they have that thing ICE has seemed to have lost: passion.

    1. I cannot say that I entirely disagree with you.

      I am just a minnow in the RPG publishing world but I have run a successful crowdfunding campaign and that was from a standing start with no fan base to spread the word for me and virtually no social media presence to tell the world about it. Yet, the campaign had limited scope and has achieved its aims. There is a game out there today that would not have been otherwise.

      I do not think that Vs will dent the existing fan base. Vs does not do what a lot of the hardcore fans are looking for. The dark clouds for RMu are more about the future and an increasingly crowded market place. You have Zweihander offering detailed skills based d100, a resurgent RuneQuest doing the same. Vs is more new player friendly, which was never RM’s target audience.

      I would have done almost exactly what you suggested and reissued all of the old RM2/RMSS books for the newer RMC and RMFRP. Things they have lost the rights to or cannot contact writers and artists you could have crowdfunded to get the content and art recreated. Reissue the books so RMC does everything that RM2 did and the same for RMFRP/RMSS. You factor in editing and lay setting into the crowdfunding target so these books are not stuck in the existing bottlenecks at ICE. What you gain is a sense that the company was dynamic and proactive. It would have had a growing product line and would have fed the fans’ need for new and exciting things. It would also have brought more people into the RM fold. That would have given a bigger potential audience and market for RMu when it is finally released.

      Ah, the power of hindsight.

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