Those Risk Averse Heroes

Since my group has finally dragged itself into the 21st century and adopted VTT for games, we are playing more often than ever, possibly since school.

Something that I had noticed about my group when we used to play less frequently was that they were extremely risk averse. Their characters were far more calculated and even positively cowardly compared to anything I had seen before in any other group.

Now we are playing more often, and the Fantasy Grounds RMC ruleset makes creating characters incredibly easy, and a lot faster, I was curious if they would start to act more heroic.

The answer was no.

They are extremely mercenary, practical, strategic, but adventure and heroism is not on their CV/resume.

We recently started a 5e game. I don’t have much experience of 5e but I do know that once you get to about 3rd level it becomes quite hard to accidentally kill a party. Healing is common, even fighters get ‘second wind’ that heals a d10 or so hit points. You can die, the dice can always go against you and for the enemy, but characters have a lot of options to get out of a bad situation.

In this 5e game, I decided to be more gung-ho than should strictly be good for my health. I am playing a Cleric (War Domain) so I am far from inept.

At the first sign of something potentially dangerous I am in there with a cry of “Smite the Devil Spawn!” and flame strikes raining down from upon high.

The instant I start that all bar one of the other players steps up a gear and they start behaving like you would expect the main characters in a sword and sorcery tale should act.

I am beginning to think that they are not actually risk averse mercenaries after all. What they are is too worried about being the one to let the side down.

This brings me to another curious thing about these players highlighted by the difference in rule system. For a bunch of guys that don’t seem to want to get into danger, they are all optimised for one thing. They all have huge OBs.

Spend maximum DPs on your weapons skills, and plough your background options into Skill At Arms and your highest stats in ST and AG.

If there are any DPs left then some Body Dev, Perception and Moving in Armour, and possibly some stalk and hide.

The only reason anyone has any secondary skills is because we have 25% of our DPs restricted to only secondary skills, and that is mostly going on Herb Lore, reverse strike, IA strike, two weapon combo… you get the picture.

In the last session, there was a 70pt difference between the highest OB and the lowest amongst 3rd level characters.

In 5e everyone went for a standard array of stats, and beyond that, there are very few options to customise your character. All first level rangers are pretty much the same, all first level clerics are pretty much the same, and so on.

Because they are not allowed to optimise just one aspect of their characters, they are more capable all round.

So when I go ‘once more into the breech’ whatever today’s breech may be, they feel more capable of following. The exception to this is one player who is consistently hiding behind a meat shield of NPCs.

A regular tactic in the Rolemaster games is to parry with everything, to avoid being hurt, while one someone tries to get a positional advantage and attack with flank or rear, as if having 111 OB at 3rd level isn’t enough, you need that +15 for flank as well. When we are out numbered we are frequently in serious trouble.

I think I am going to add an NPC into my Rolemaster group and make them an ‘up and at ’em’ kind of character. What I am half expecting is that the players would happily let the NPC rush in and die, rather than take the initiative. What I am hoping that they do is find their get up and go.

Players ‘eh, can’t live with them, can’t live without them!

Rolemaster Fanzine #48

The Rolemaster Fanzine is now 4 years old.

Worryingly, I cannot remember what was in most of them.

What is funny, but not funny haha, is that right from the first issue, I was expecting the imminent release of RMu. It looks like that never happened!

This issue is the fourth in a series building up to a mini campaign. I am trying to hit just about every style of adventure there is. So far we have had a Greek themed village, an encounter with the undead, a wilderness encounter with werebears, an investigation into a missing child, and this month we have a dungeon crawl and a run in with a coven of nasty spell users in a swamp. There is also a sting in the tail encounter at the lakeside.

I mention in this issue that over the summer I am going to get every issue of the fanzine into Kindle format. I am also looking at getting them back into print. This was brought into sharp focus last night when the Guild Companion website went down.

At the time of writing, the site is still unavailable.

If this is gone for good, it will be terribly sad. I knew that the articles had dried up, but it has completed its journey from printed book to online to vanished. This is not the way that things should go.

What the RM community needs is for more exposure, more resources and more ways for people to find their way to Rolemaster.

I sincerely hope that the GC is only sleeping, and that it will be back. If it isn’t, we always welcome contributors to the blog, and to the fanzine. I will do my best to get the fanzine out to the widest audience.

Yes, that does look suspiciously like a dragon, no that is not a mistake.

Shadow World & Monsters

I am playing a (now) 3rd level Druid in a Shadow World game. We started out in Haalkitaine and then traveled southwards towards a place called Swink.

So far, excluding the humanoid races, giant rats, harpies, goblins, and we are on the hunt for trolls.

The humanoids that have fallen to the fighters’ blades have been dwarves, elves, and humans.

We have experienced one essence storm, from a distance, but at the moment, absolutely nothing has jumped out at me, literally or figuratively, to tell me what is special about Shadow World.

In my own game, I have been homebrewing a world on the hoof, as we play. I decided that the world doesn’t have cows, the niche as common farm animal for food, milk, and leather is filled by something called an Ootan. They are rather like a buffalo or bison but without the horns. It is a tiny change, but it makes creates a significant difference. You do not want to stampede a herd of Ootan, even less than you would want to stampede cattle. Barns are bigger as well, and you get really big steaks.

Chickens have been replaced by Duka, they are your typical farmyard poultry but they mimic like parrots.

So far, in Shadow World, I am not getting anything that is making me think the world is any more special than Greyhawk.

I have played one previous campaign in SW and eventually we came across some high tech, in an underground wizards compound, we also eventually encountered Navigators, but these things came very late in the game.

I am assuming that they are not common? They certainly haven’t been in my explorations so far.

I think the biggest disappointment has been the monsters. Harpies, Goblins and Trolls are just standard fantasy fayre. Surely, SW has something that is uniquely SW and at the same time a viable challenge for a party of 3rd and 4th level characters?

What makes players fall in love with Shadow World?

Sabre Lake Campaign

Over the past three months, [January, February & March] I have been writing up a piecemeal campaign. It is all based around a single map, but one I am chopping into smaller parts.

Each of these bite sized pieces I have been publishing in the fanzine. So far it has been two locations each month, and I have done about fifth of the map.

This was going to be a 2021 project, but it looks like it will end up taking longer than that.

Something else I am doing with this series is using a much wider variety of monsters.

The three parts so far are:

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 45

Issue 45

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 46

Issue 46

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 47

Issue 47

In addition to the named sites on the Sabre Lake map, and the start of the campaign story arc, one can also drop in other encounters, locations or adventures.

I noticed that the RolemasterBlog Adventures, also known as 50in50 despite that name being a bit outdated, have now gone over 60 titles. There is a bundle of latest and #61 [Elemental Tempest] is also out.

RolemasterBlog Bundle 51-60 [BUNDLE]

The original idea behind 50in50 was to publish 50 short ‘drop in’ adventure seeds, encounters, or locations in 50 weeks. The first set actually took a fraction over the 50 weeks, but real life tends to get in the way. We then launched into another 50, but this time without the time constraint. I think we are putting out one or two a month.

I never expected these to be very popular, Rolemaster is a rather niche game, after all, but we have literally sold hundreds of copies of some of these and thousands if taken as a block.

The point of this article is that I had not really kept track of how many of these were being sold. Then today, someone was complaining that their magazine used to be in print, but due to a lack of growth, I think they are selling less than 20 a month, they are going to just online.

This is what happened to the Guild Companion, from print to online to …. flatline.

The Adventurers Quarterly took about 7 years to publish 4 issues and the withered away.

I think this is rather sad. Games are often a labour of love, but at the same time, if you give up, everyone loses. The past 12 months have been far from normal, and not every business is going to grow during a pandemic, especially if people are worried about their jobs/income.

This blog has seen a nice up turn in activity in 2021, I am impressed. I also feel like RMu is finally going to happen.

Rolemaster definitely does not feel like it is in remission, if anything, it is on an upswing.

A flurry of Blows, Bolts, and Arrows

flurry of Blows has always been a bit of a bone of contention. It seems to apply to melee, where your attack is just the attack that was most likely to succeed from many in the round, but not so much for Firebolts or missiles weapons.

But what if I have been thinking about this the wrong way.

In Spacemaster, or at least the version I had, energy cells/weapons did not have a number of charges, you ran out of energy when you fumbled, or at least there was a chance of energy cell drain.

This made me think of the Conan 2d20 system for handling ammunition, such as arrows and crossbow bolts. In that system, you do not have to account for arrows and whatnot, you only run out of arrows when you have a really bad result, pretty much the same as our fumbles.

If we adopt that attitude, not necessarily out of ammunition but a less bean counting attitude to arrows and bolts, is there any reason not to apply flurry of blows to missile fire.

I am an archer, so I have always had a bit of a bias towards archery in RPG rules. It also means that I have never liked the reloading penalties in RM. I can nock, aim and shoot an arrow in about 3 seconds and hit something the size of a dinner plate from 50′ from the back of a galloping horse. The idea of firing one arrow every 20 seconds or so simply does not marry up with my own experience.

I get the argument that most of the round is spent picking the perfect moment, unless it isn’t.

If we went full flurry of blows, including archery, our archers could fire 2, 3 or 4 arrows in a round, but the attack you roll is the arrow most likely to hit. The only differences are that the character would go though arrows much faster, there is much more likely to be arrows sticking out of door frames and and anything else lying around form the arrows that didn’t hit, and the reloading penalties need to go.

There are frequently too many penalties, so dropping a penalty or two is not a bad thing.

Firebolts, and things that go Bang!

There is absolutely no reason why the firebolt spell has to throw a single bolt. It could just as easily be more akin to D&D’s magic missile, where the caster is hurling fire for the entire round. We still resolve a single attack, but the bolt that hits is just the bolt that did the damage.

There is absolutely no mechanical difference. It is purely special effects, and style.

Ammunition

The only thing I am left to worry about is ammunition. If you are firing 2-4 arrows a round (2 for a 5second round and 4 in a 10 second round) you could go through a fair few arrows in a combat.

My players don’t use bows much, they are generally unimpressed by Puncture criticals. but, I would be perfectly happy to either think of a quiver of 12 arrows actually having sufficient arrows of 12 rounds, rather than 12 arrows.

I own 3 quivers, one holds 8 arrows, one holds 48 and the last holds 60. My quivers are all built to traditional designs, none of these plastic tube things you see a lot of today. The point is that apart from a pound or two of excess encumbrance it makes no difference how many arrows the character has.

To me it is more valuable to have a completely consistent view of what happens on the battle field.

If for some reason a character gets a second critical, it would make sense of how an arrow, or firebolt, managed to hit them on the hand and the ankle! More than one arrow, more than one bolt.

An Ear for an Ear

We are now regularly playing using Fantasy Grounds and I don’t think I have ever played so much Rolemaster. I am running one game, playing in a Shadow World game, and there is a another game just about to start using a much more historically accurate Viking setting, and Rolemaster rules.

There was a fourth RM game, but the GM has decided to ditch it, in preference to running a 5e game instead.

I ran a couple of training sessions, for me to get used to running a game in FG, and for the players. I have now launched into a campaign.

Before starting the campaign proper, I ask the players how they felt about character death. The consensus was that they were happy with letting the dice fall as they may. That is fine by me, but the players were also happy that creating characters in Fantasy Grounds is very quick and easy, as is leveling them up.

Everyone can keep a back up character on hand should they suddenly need it.

That was all well and good.

We have played three sessions so far in this campaign, they survived the first but were defeated and taken captive. They then did a task in exchange for their freedom. Along the way, the [NPC] ranger lost a leg and then died from blood loss.

In the second session a critical facially disfigured the fighter. He was saved by his helm, but scarred as a result.

Last night the thief lost an ear to a wolf attack, winged wolves, not your common land-based ones.

I wonder if I am just getting a run of criticals that are leaving permanent marks or did I just not notice before?

Another possibility is that normally, this group of players plough everything into getting a high an OB as possible, which means that they are are often doing E criticals or nothing.

Now they are back to first level, we are seeing a lot of A-C criticals. It is possible that what would kill as an E critical is marking them as an A to C critical.

I am finding it quite amusing. It is almost as if they are being dismantled piece by piece.

Where they are going next week is full of fire hazards, lava, fiery monsters, and the like. I was browsing through the low level criticals, and they destroy a lot of armour and clothing, as well as burning off body hair. I am looking forward to see what state they emerge on the other side of that!

New Year, New Projects

I think this is the longest I have ever gone without posting on the blog, excepting when I was plugged into hospital machines but I try to forget that bit. Every time I have thought about writing a post, there has been some new article from either Hurin or Brian.

I am also in a period where I haven’t played so much Rolemaster since I left home in 1985. After years of resisting online play my group has gone Fantasy Grounds crazy with two games a week now, Tuesdays and Fridays.

I used to have months to prep sessions, and that is cut down to days, and FG combats are so fast to adjudicate that where I would allot an hour for a battle previously, they now take twenty minutes at most. A fight last week ran to twelve rounds, three characters against a sea serpent. The beast was hard to kill because it was ignoring many criticals and effects. Twelve rounds with four combatants, including area of effect attacks was done and dusted in twenty minutes.

New Project #1 Sabre Lake

I saw a map recently by Dyson Logos.

It appeared so rich in adventure locations that I wanted to detail it all and run exploring the region for my players. They are on route there at the moment, but as they are first level, and only on their second adventure, they will have a few side quests along the way.

What I am doing is chopping this map into smaller blocks, the first is a rectangle that covers The Fool’s Rush Inn to Hebrek’s Tower. I am then detailing the adventure locations, both for my own players, but also in the fanzine.

I detailed both the inn and the tower, this month (Issue #45) but left some areas undetailed to give other GMs places to put their own ideas.

In February I will detail the Violet Obelisk and the Dench Estate.

Over the rest of the year I am going to try and cover the entire river valley.

All the adventures will only use the monsters from Creatures & Treasures I and Creatures & Monsters. This means that they adventures will be playable in all versions of RM, including RMu.

Project #2 Pilot RPG

I did start this in December, but then stalled. It is my definite intention to get this written and published as a public beta in the first half of 2021.

I am also tempted to try my hand at a Kickstarter. So I will write the first draft, then use KS funds to add a level of professional polish to the finished game.

As with Navigator RPG the game will be in print and as PDF. Putting the two together will give the community a community content/OGL rulebase for both Sci-Fi and fantasy that is broadly RM compatible.

I will then talk to OneBookShelf/DriveThruRPG about setting up a Community Content Programme.

This project will in all likelihood take up most of 2021, but it will also be a really interesting learning experience.

Like Busses, 4 come along

My group has really got the Fantasy Grounds bug. It started with my running a game, then one of the other regular GMs started his game, so I get to play a Monk in that one.

On Friday, our Shadow World GM starts his game. I have created a Druid for that game. I will be serving the role of group healer, so I will be trying to pick up those closed channeling healing lists. At first level I have Druidstaff and Concussion Ways as lists.

One of the other players is just starting to come up to speed with FG as well. I have not played in a game run by this GM since Bushido was a new game. I think it must have been around 1987, maybe 88? I really have no idea what to expect.

So Many New Characters

I have never needed to create so many new characters before. What is particularly interesting is that this is the first time that I have played a profession that is not in the Character Law, I am referring to my new Druid.

All my characters up until now have been in the core books. I never felt that the professions in the companions added any value to the game.

Sure, new spell lists are nice, but you could collapse the new spell lists into the existing professions. Do you need a thief, rogue and burglar?

I broke that duck in this game because I know that the game will be a lot of hack and slash, and I like to be useful outside of combat, and I like playing the party healer. The Druid gives me access to the healing lists, they are one of the most aggressive spell casters in the game, and they are great in the wilderness.

They are also very self reliant. The druid staff gives you that starting magic weapon, stone mastery gives pretty powerful ranged magical attacks starting at just 5th level (basic ranged attacks are a first level spell).

It is that self reliance that I find attractive for this character. I don’t know Shadow World very well, I don’t know what the GM has in store for us, and I don’t know who else will be in the party. I am hoping that I will be able to fit into a role whatever the campaign brings.

A March of Monks

I have mentioned a few times that our group has multiple GMs. Last night I got to play a character in one of the other GM’s RMC game.

It was the first session of the campaign, running on Fantasy Grounds.

We bought the new Companion One for FG this week and at least two of the characters were built using that.

The party is comprised of a rogue, lay healer, paladin, high warrior monk and my character a ‘normal’ monk.

The high warrior monk and paladin are both companion one professions.

The first thing that was striking was how high the stat bonuses get for characters built using the Skill at Arms and Skill at Magic background options.

One of the curious things, and it was really apparant starting again at first level, was the difference between a starting arms user, the high warrior monk, and the a semi spell user, my monk.

One had an OB of +66 compared to my +21. The HWM had bought Rank 1 and Rank 2 martial arts. I could only afford Rank 1.

The gulf between us is of course that I am investing in magic, the HWM is a pure arms profession. I fully expect to be in the HWM’s shadow for about the first five levels. After that I expect the diminishing returns to start kicking in for the HWM and I my magic to start becoming more useful.

In last night’s session we had two combats vs goblins. In the first fight I got almost taken out in the first round. I went from 26hits to 2hits in a single hit by a goblin arrow. Our lay healer gave me some herbs which helped somewhat and I did get to rejoin the fight for the last combat round.

In the second combat, almost exactly the same thing happened to the high warrior monk.

We are both running around in AT1, if someone lands a blow on us, we don’t have the hits to absorb the damage. My defence is largely going to be built around Adrenal Defence, but that is no good to you when surprised. I will also improve my ability to self-heal, but that is limited to Flow Stop 1 at the moment.

Last night we got ambushed when the path went through the woods, which we did survive, but far from unscathed. We met some farmers who complained about the amount of goblin activity and point us to an old ruin of a keep. We found the keep without getting lost, by no means certain given our skill level, and ran into some goblin lookouts.

That fight went much better for us, only some light wounds. The HWM took the brunt of it and that was just concussion damage and stunned. No broken bones or anything nasty.

In the next session we are going to press on and explore what looks like a dungeon level below the keep.