RMu Training Packages

The discussion on the forums that caught my eye this week was the discussion about RMu Training packages.

I am not a fan of Training Packages, but like Hurin pointed out, TPs are not part of the RM2/RMC way of thinking.

From the outside looking in, TPs appear to slow down character creation simply by dint of there being so many possible TPs to consider, add to book bloat, because TPs end up being spread over multiple companions and GM notes, and encourage min/maxing by picking TPs that give the biggest discounts for the skills or spells that you were going to buy anyway.

That looks like a really negative list. The reason there are no positives on it is because I have never played in a game with them, so I have never seen the benefits at the table.

But does RMu need them?

Need is a strong word. The way I see it is that if you have really nice rules for creating professions built in to the core rules, can the GM not just create unique variations of the core professions to reflect the subtleties of their setting? Nibble a point of a skill here, add a point there and you can shape the professions as you want them. If you want to make wood elf culture more brutal, make the performing arts and crafts more expensive and shave a point off of the combat and subterfuge skills.

It all remains balanced, it makes your world more unique and rich in lore.

I recently got to play with The Lore System. This is a d00 lite system. Its unique feature is called Lore Sheets. Sheets are a bit if a misnomer as a sheet is about 3 sentences. You work with the GM and then write two or three sentences in the first person. These sentences describe something of your place in the world, and come with a game mechanical advantage.

An example would be something like “I grew up in a gang run by the thieves guild in Eidolon, and still know many members. I get +5 to streetwise and attempts to bribe lower-ranking officials inside the city.

The nice thing about Lore Sheets is that they tie the character in to the setting. They are negotiated between the GM and player. That +5 could just as easily be +10 or +25. The bonuses the GM wants to give are up to them.

Another advantage is that there is no library of existing lore sheets that players need to browse through to find the lore sheets that fit their need.

TPs are described as history. Lore Sheets are rooted in the characters background/story but are also current. ‘I did this then, so I can do this now’.

In the Lore System, lore sheets come and go. If you upset the thieves guild, you could lose that benefit, but if you entered the employ of a lore master you could gain something else. As long as it is all wrapped up in the game world I think that lore sheets tick the same mechanical box as the TPs, without the min/maxing and game bloat drawbacks. Lore sheets also help a player understand where their character is coming from.

I know players that write their backstory during char gen, and then never reference it ever again. Lore sheets add the benefit, because they are written first person and feature on the character record, front and centre, that they instantly bring the characters background into the present.

The flaw with the lore sheet model is that it doesn’t sell books. You can fill entire companions with TPs. TPs build Companions and Companions drive sales.

Companions full of optional stuff is the ICE way of doing things, and it seems to work for PathFinder.

I, personally, would be cautious with doing that with RMu. The entire RM brand is sensitive to the accusation of bloat. That accusation is false and unfair, just look at PathFinder. RM is a minnow by comparison, but truth and opinion are often strangers.

I would launch the core rules, and then build adventures that use those rules. As soon as you start outputting optional rules, writing adventures becomes impossible. Optional rules produce power creep, simply by virtue of the fact that later characters had more options to choose from, so can choose options that suit them that earlier characters did not have.

As you get power creep, and adventure that is not optimised with the newest optional rules becomes a walkover for newer characters.

If an adventure does use all the available options, then the GM needs to have spent $1000 buying every possible book just to play a $9.99 adventure.

So that is my thoughts on TPs, but I reiterate, I haven’t used TPs so I don’t really know what good they do to a game. I have used lore sheets and I am very impressed with them. I will be introducing them into my game when we get to play face to face again.

2d8 Zombies revisited

I use 2d8 zombies as a ‘go to’ example for many situations. I idea is that 2 zombies is likely a pushover for most parties, 16 zombies is a likely TPK. In Rolemaster superior numbers can swing any battle.

My problem with 2d8 zombies is that it implies a carelessness about the encounter and the adventure. It suggests that no forethought went into the encounter.

If the encounter is a simple device to use up PP, healing or ammunition, then the GM should be scaling the encounter to be a specific level of threat. Too much and the characters may not make it to the BBEG. Too little and the encounter doesn’t do what the GM wanted.

That is what I normally think when I see adventures, probably converted from D&D or PF for use with Rolemaster.

But, what if you go with the randon ‘No. Appearing’?

Does every encounter need to be solvable? If there are 16 zombies this time, shouldn’t the party be thinking about a different approach rather than drawing blades and wading in?

If they met 2 zombies last time, and 3 zombies the time before that, they may well rush in, expecting there to be small numbers again, only to have to re-evaluate and extract themselves when they find out the true size of the force against them.

Does every encounter need to be solvable? That is a populat discussion in its own right.

My players would rather avoid than confront. This makes them rather easy to manipulate. You just put an obvious threat in the places you don’t want them to go, and they would rather not confront it.

Put an obvious threat in all directions and they have to do their little risk assessments to choose how best to ‘win’. They are obsessed with winning, this is not a group that are satisfied with staggering away with 1 #hit and a hard won victory. No, these guys want to walk away without a hair out of place.

They want to save the world, but doing it while well dressed and looking presentable.

I still think that rolling No. Appearing at the game table is not a good thing. If you roll it during GM prep, and then use the result to shape the encounter, or add meaning to it, then that is good.

The biggest gain I think could be that having an unexpectedly hard encounter may go counter to what you may normally choose to do. If the players are used to a few warm up battles, maybe increasing in severity as they get further in to the adventure, then random strengths of foes could throw them off balance.

This goes completely against my normal way of balancing encounter.

ERA for Navigator RPG

Last week, I wrote that I hoped to see ERA for Navigator RPG soon. Yesterday Voriig Kye sent me the files!

The digital assistant is now live on DriveThruRPG, the core listing is PWYW and contains all three versions [Windows, MacOS and Linux].

There will be more datafiles in the future.

Talking of the future, Bare Metal Edition is still making progress. BME is a Rolemaster style core system. Originally, I thought of it as having no implied genre, but that is wrong. It has every genre. We already have rituals, magic, and psionics. On my to-do list is superpowers, not an area that Rolemaster has ever gone before to my knowledge despite having a past relationship with Hero Games.

Once BME approaches completeness, you will be able to add BME data files to ERA for Navigator RPG.

You can find the latest ERA on DriveThruRPG.

Solo Play

There is a module in the new ERA that you will not find in the Rolemaster versions.

Voriig Kye has taking the solo rules from Navigator RPG, which are functionally the same as the rules in HASP [High Adventure Solo Play] and automated them in ERA. I will do a post. probably next week on how you can solo play Navigator RPG or any HARP/Rolemaster using the new ERA version.

A New ERA

Some of you will remember that I wrote Navigator RPG last year, beta tested into the beginning of 2020 and published it in the Spring.

The game is PDF, premium softcover and premium hardcover.

And it looks really cool, even if I say so myself.

One my todo list is Pilot RPG, the natural partner to Navigator RPG and an as yet unnamed Cthulhu hack. Both of the latter games will be derived from Bare Metal Edition, which was also derived from Navigator RPG.

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Voriig Kye today sent me the full version of Navigator RPG ERA.

This is exciting for two reasons. The first is that this is the first 3rd Party addon to Navigator RPG. It was my intention right from the start that Navigator RPG should be a free and open platform for anyone to hack and play around with.

In August the game was downloaded 36 times. That may not sound a lot, but it is more than once a day, and although the game is free, and always will be, people are buying the physical books and what is more, they are donating through the PWYW channel as well.

What I want to do is take the game system in to new territory for the “Rolemaster way”. We have not had a 1920s Cthulhu game before, we haven’t had a Kelly’s Heroes WWII Rolemaster game either. Those are just the first two on my to do list.

New ERA

For ERA this is the first non-Rolemaster version. I would love to see ERA for some of the bigger name games out there, like Zweihander or Savage Worlds.

One of the reasons that I write for so many games, outside of Rolemaster, is that a broad spectrum reaches the most people. There is no reason why ERA could not have an audience and potential market of hundreds of thousands of GMs around the world.

I hope we will see ERA for Navigator RPG on DriveThruRPG soon!

Adventure and Daring Do!

Somethings just hang around for so long, that I kind of forget that they are still in progress. One of these has been the 50in50 Adventures.

I was looking this morning and realised that we have published four of the new season already.

In order they are:

The Haunted Dagger is an adventure hook featuring a dagger that has been possessed by the souls of some of those it has killed. These souls can provide benefits, or perhaps be a problem. Characters could try to utilise the dagger’s peculiar abilities, or they might try to release the souls.

Crypt of Shadows sees the characters exploring an ancient crypt below some standing stones that is guarded by druids, as they have been asked to do so to look for some ancient magic. The crypt is dangerous, though, and entering it will release packs of shadows.

The Horn of Holmir sees the characters hired to go and examine a burial boat that has recently been uncovered after a storm. The burial site is defended but more than that, other groups know of it and also want the treasure. Either trying to get there before the characters, or robbing them on the way back.

Treacherous Gold sees the characters stumble across a group of orcs escorting some hostages. The orcs think the characters are those they are meeting to exchange the hostages with for gold. The characters may choose to do so, or they may get ambushed by the orcs either before or after the exchange.

What I like about these right now, is that although they were written with Rolemaster in mind, they are actually stat-less. Treacherous Gold uses Orcs. Anyone can find the stats for orcs, for example.

Why that is cool right now is that again RMu is just around the corner. I know that we were told that RMu would be published in 2019 on way or another. Now we are told it is due in early 2021. That is little more than 3 months away.

Stat-less adventures can be played in any version of Rolemaster, you just plug in the monster stats, or NPC stats of your preferred edition and you are good to go.

With these being hot off the press, so to speak, none of your players will have played them before. Even if you parachute them into Shadow World or middle earth, they are still unique.

We can never have too many Rolemaster adventures. So far this is 4 down, 46 more to go. You have to love a challenge…

Teleport Plot Device

I have been playing with an idea for a plot device.

Imagine the characters have the bad guys fighting a tactical withdrawal. They are falling back slamming and locking doors with the intention of slowing the characters down.

This presupposes that the bad guys have something that the characters need.

Lock and Magic Lock are 1st and 2nd level spells, Opening I is 4th level (based upon the RMu beta Spell Law), so the doors are a powerpoint drain on the party, more so than on the retreating bad guys.

At the end of the chase, or the top of the tower, is a small plinth, that the characters get to see the villain step on to and disappear. Not a subtle winking out, but with your best sci-fi shockwave and thunderclap, to accompany the disappearance.

The plinth glows slightly and this takes two or three rounds to fade, and then another minion steps on to the plinth and disappears. The glow and fade process happens again, and then a third minion disappears.

So by now the characters should have the idea that this only works on every third round, or it takes two rounds to cool off and reset.

Whatever the characters needed are on the other side of this teleport portal.

Do the characters follow?

This is the first dilemma. If they are going to follow the villain into their lair, they need to go one at a time.

You can bet your bottom dollar that appearing at the other end is not going to be any more subtle than disappearing was. Going in visible and trying to sneak through is not going to work here!

They will also be facing every bad guy that went through, vs just the first character to arrive, and then the next.

But why build a portal that works so slowly? How about one that leaves a character disoriented on arrival. Anyone arriving is stunned for a round by the concussion caused by their arrival. The time lock allowed for this and for the person to get clear before anyone else teleported in.

If you can get three or four bad guys through the portal before the characters take control of it, you have odds of four to one against, and the one is stunned for at least the first round.

You can also assume that the last bad guy through will have told the others the state of the battle they left behind. The bad guys will know when the next person through will not be friendly.

What parties and players thrive on is working together as an elite team. They take on odds that they should never survive.

This challenge will test them, as individuals, as pairs and then as smal teams. It almost feels like those puzzles when you have to get a wolf, a chicken and sack of grain across a river.

Does a fighter go first, to create a foothold, and let the others go first? But a fighter vs. a well prepared spell caster rarely bodes well for the fighter. When do you send the healer through? After 3 rounds or 6? The magician would be a good idea to go higher up the batting order, especially as there is no longer a need to prep, but how many power points will they have left if they have been unlocking or blasting their way through doors?

Where did Everyone Go?

If we just teleported everyone somewhere, where did we put them? And does it matter?

Imagine you had nearly unlimited time and either Gate Mastery or Earth Law. The gate master could summon and hopefully control an elemental at 6th level, without overcasting. Grade I elementals are not too useful but a Grade II can turn rock to earth (which is easier to excavate) and generally throw Earth Law spells around at up to 9th level. If you have Earth Law you can do this yourself.

With an earth elemental you can start building your Bond Villain base.

I am talking about teleporting the characters inside a mountain or even straight down. The only real need would be for some kind of ventilation, for air.

You can now put your somewhat depleted characters through a dungeon crawl. If the bad guy had kept some rune paper down here and made a supply of summoning/gate type spells. They can throw disposable monsters at the characters. The bad guy could also get a message out, and bring more minions, agents or even mercenaries through the same portal to bring in ever more foes.

The teleport portal is of course one way, and somehere down here is its twin, that gets you out again.

The characters now need to find the villain, retrieve whatever it was that they needed, and then find the portal to get out, whilst fighting all the nasties that you can throw at them.

Going out, resting up, and coming back for more is not an option.

Now doesn’t that sound fun?

The simplicity of RMu

When I write these blog posts, I am often juggling three or four thoughts, all of which could be a post in their own right, but they kind of clash or have a bearing on each other.

I have spent most of August playing Cthulhu Mythos games, a bit of Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, a bit of Eldritch Tales and the classic Call of Cthulhu itself. This is influence number one, but I am not sure that Rolemaster fans want to read about other games on the Rolemasterblog.

I was interesting to read Hurin’s experience at the virtual gen con, but this line stood out “So that I think is a real selling point for RMU: casters no longer need three rounds to cast a shield spell, and semis can cast a lot more while fighting.” This is influence number two.

I hangout online with a few other publister, Azukail Games is our own Egdcltd on the blog and forums, I talk to the owner of SadfisheGames alot, and the owner of Earl of Fife. In three seperate conversations/interactions yesterday the real nub of the topic was ‘what do you want to be’. This is influence number three.

Cthulhu

So I am playing CoC and the basic mechanic is the same as RuneQuest and BRP, d100 roll under your skill using d100. Roll over it and you fail your skill test, rolling under and you have graduated successes, Success, Hard Success and Extreme Success.

I can see an analogy, we have partial success, success and absolute successes.

The difference is that, roll under mechanics feel really anti climactic.

If I am a barely capable swordsman (not a great stretch of the imagination) and I roll a 24 with a skill of 25, I hit you.

If you were a master swordsman with a skill of 75 and you roll a 24, you hit me.

There is no difference in the roll. There also no difference in the perception of the roll.

Now lets look at a rolemaster character. Imagine the roll was a 76, which is on a par with the 24, as CoC is roll under, RM is roll high.

My 76 + my 25 skill gives me 101, Success! Fighting someone of about my ability, depending on how we split OBs and DBs I may have landed a blow.

Our master swordsman rolls 76 + 75 skill and they get 151. There skill suddenly plays a much larger part in the game.

Even for pass or fail tests, ignore weapons for now. Isn’t it just more satisfying to declare a total of 151 to the GM, than a 24?

Get That Message Out

I think that the beauty and simplicity of Roll + Skill is the message that ICE needs to get out. We need actual plays on video where people get to show the excitement of declaring big numbers. The excitement of getting an open-ended roll (up), the despair of the OE down and the glee of the GM capitalizing on it and applying a great narrative description.

Technically, rolling under your skill is easier math that adding your skill to the diceroll. One is a simple comparison and the other is sum, but when you start having to calaculate the hard and extreme successes, the math in CoC/RQ/BRP is significantly more difficult than it is in Rolemaster.

Going back to Hurin’s experience, people were impressed by how easy RMu was. Admittedly, that was as a player, the game is more complex to run, but that is true of almost every game.

Games that are simple to play and learn and fast at the table are extremely popular. GMs love to prep, half the fun of being GM is the prep that goes before a session. Being able to ‘craft’ encounters is not a bad thing. I would say it is a selling point. A good GM should not be rolling for wandering monsters, they should be crafting meaningful encounters.

Now this brings me to the third thing that Hurin mentions, Spacemaster. It was me that asked about SMu. I was somewhat disappointed about there not being plans to bring out a SMu system.

I do have my Navigator RPG. That is my sci fi offering. The core system is now called Bare Metal Edition, and it a standalone game engine. It enables anyone to take a RM-style game engine and build a game, with all of the game mechanics made for you. It is the world building and flavour that will engage the player, that is the bit you need to build.

I said that I was going to try and build a fantasy version, called Pilot RPG this year. That is still on the cards, but may be a bit late. In a funny way it is being covid delayed, my day job was severely hit, so I have ramped up my writing and I have replaced my lost income. Writing for RM is not something you do for the money, it is purely a love thing.

What this means for Pilot RPG is that it will appear in 2021, probably early 2021. It will still be followed by a 1920s Cthulhu RM-esque game and a WWII themed RM-esque game as well. I want to teach the world the joy of the open-ended roll and the E critical, using a rules light approach. From there they can migrate to full RMu.

This brings me to the past real question. RM has always positioned itself as an Advanced System, implying it is harder to run. Yet, the most positive responses are that it is easy. So what does RM want to be? What is its identity? Until ICE can answer that question it is going to be hard to put together a case compelling enough to make people who don’t know the game to part with their money.

Dark Tales

This month I have read Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, which is a modernday setting filled with black magic, sorcery and cosmic horror. I am also reading Eldritch Tales, which is your classic 1920s Cthulhu era horror setting and the next thing on my reading list is to take another look at the original Cthulhu rules, all be it 6th edition.

There is a theme forming here. You may also remember that I was also loaned, and then given, Dark Space.

I am thinking that it appears somewhat harder to run a horror game in a fantasy setting. In most, the characters face things that would petrify us on an almost daily basis. You could throw a beast from another dimension at your party but they will either die or cut it down. Are the Fungi from Yuggoth any different from Uruk Hai when it comes down to it?

I have just finished writing the 40th issue of the Rolemaster fanzine and it contains two adventures. Both of which contain an element of horror, if you look at them through that lense. What I wanted to do was scare the characters, and put the players in fear for their characters. This is not easy to do, especially if you are not gunning for a TPK.

So how do you scare people who fight undead dinosaurs for a living?

Undeath like you mean it

I am sketching out 25 adventures for our next set of 50 adventures in 50 weeks and I keep coming back to the undead. I don’t want to write same ol’ same ol’ stuff, but the undead are just such good villains. They are uncomplicated, everyone knows who the bad guys are and what needs to be done.

The one class of monster goes from low level challenge with skeletons and zombies right up to wraiths and liches.

I am going to write at least one undead themed entry this time, but the emphasis is more on doing interesting things with them rather than just lining them up for you to knock down.

One of the things I have done this time is flip though Creatures and Treasures and look for under used, at least by me, monsters, with the intention of giving them an outing an moment in the spotlight.

This has been a real eye opener, there are some really fearsome monsters in C&T. I seem to have forgotten a lot of them over the years. I think many settings suggest a much reduced monster ecology. Middle Earth is very much like that. It is just not teeming with fantastical creatures, unlike ancient greece, where you couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with harpies, hydras, skeletons, at least one cyclops, a minotaur and a sorceress or two for good measure.

Last year, I wrote a lot of stuff with demons of all levels and all the incorporeal undead. I think I have over done those a bit.

This year, I want to make it the year of the weird and the wonderful.

Do you have any favourite RM monsters?

Adventure Styles

I was struggling somewhat to write those city adventures last month, and I was talking on Discord recently and commented that Rolemaster is not ideal for dungeon delves, as the injuries and penalties mount up very quickly.

I have been playing Forbidden Lands recently and that is all about the hex crawl and a sandbox world with masses of things happening all around the characters. The characters can engage with those that they want to, or not. Other events will sweep up the characters eventually, like it or not.

I could see that working with Rolemaster. With the characters in the driving seat, the pace would fall upon them. Plenty of time for healing and recovery, but also a hex crawl calls for rounded characters with many cross over skills, something that RM does exceptionally well.

The one part of Forbidden Lands I was less keen on was the resource management side of the game. It felt a bit like an old Age of Empires game where you had to manage the amount of Stone and Wood to build different functions into your strongholds. Once you had a stronghold you can use it as an adventuring base or a point at which adventures come to you.

Underground Overground

One of the nice things about wilderness adventures is that you can mix up the adventure sites, ruined castles, natural caves or open terrain all come naturally. In the open, the long ranges of bows can be a deciding factor, if you are skillful enough to hit at range. Put the characters in a cave or building and melee becomes the order of the day.

With a much wider range of terrain and adventure sites you also get to use a much wider variety of foes.

Random Encounters

If I was going to run a wilderness game, the place to put all the effort in is random encounters. Randomly rolling for a bunch of orcs is frankly boring. It is boring on multiple levels. I have been playing RM with my group since the late 80s and we have butchered thousands of orcs, been there done that.

It is also boring because it is See Orcs, Kill Orcs, move on. The encounter does not really bring anything to the game.

I would want to rolled a dozen random encounters before the game starts. Look at what the table throws up and then take each one and make the absolute most out of each one. Ask why are these threats being encountered? What do they want to achieve? What are they doing and why?

Sure they may encounter a band of orcs, but what if the orcs have an elven hostage? What if the orcs are expecting the characters to be bringing them a ransom in gold? This is a possible mistaken identity situation. The orcs want to parley at first, they want their money. Maybe the orcs feel betrayed or double crossed? But, what if the characters do have enough gold to pay the ransom anyway?

Now we are role playing and not roll playing.

I would want to give this treatment to every random encounter. Look at what the encounter is with, where it is likely to happen and when. Is the creature nocturnal? Is it likely to be the hunter or the hunted? What complications can be weaved into the encounter? How can I increase the stakes, such as the hostage with the orcs.

The goal would be for the players not to know what was a ‘wandering monster’ and what was an intrinsic part of their plot or storyline.

Another part of what makes RM settings uniquely RM is the existence of healing herbs. Herbs that have specific biomes. Herbs can bring together character collaboration, a wide range of skills, region lore, foraging, herb lore, survival to name the ones that come to mind. If someone is carrying an injury, looking for the right herb can become a side quest in its own right.

Anecdote: In a MERP game we had a seriously hurt character and there was one herb that could possibly save him. I cannot remember the name but it was the one that could heal anything in the hands of an ordained king. We decided to try and look for it. The very first roll I made was a 350+ foraging open ended roll. The GM decided that I had idly picked one while the healer was explaining what we were looking for, so I held it up and said “Does it look like this?” Needless to say, the character survived.

I am not sure if I am just being lazy, urban adventures are hard to pull off, and dungeon crawls are equally hard, but I just instinctively think that wilderness and/or hex crawl explorations really suit RM as a style of adventuring.