Maps, 5e, and a campaign on life support

I was putting the finishing touches on issue 50 of the fanzine today and I just uploaded a zip file with the maps for this issue.

There seem to be two aspects to maps. The first is having the talent to come up with a really cool idea for the map in the first place. The second is having the talent make it look good once you have had the idea.

I fail on both counts.

What I have hit upon is grabbing some of the Dyson Logos maps, and using them to ‘trace’ over using Dungeondraft.

This is the original map.

https://dysonlogos.blog/2020/05/09/the-old-fort-ruins-dungeon/

and this is my take on it.

I think it looks half decent!

The actual image is 1800px x 1800px so you can add your own grid in your favourite VTT in hexes of squares, whichever you prefer.

I recreated the underground area as well and that looks pretty cool as well.

To 5e or not to 5e?

I have been playing in a 5e campaign recently. We are up to 4th level and about half way to 5th.

We have three players, two of us have played D&D before and one is new, having only played Rolemaster/Spacemaster before.

Last night, the new to D&D player declared that he didn’t want to play D&D any more. It wasn’t the same as Rolemaster, and he just didn’t like the system.

Where this leaves our 5e game, I don’t know. He is chatting with the DM today. I dislike games that die without warning. I find it very dissatisfying.

I am still running my RMC game. The map above is from on of the locations in that game. I am running an open sandbox where the players can do what they want. Now they have their healer, they are getting a bit braver.

I am also playing in Shadow World where I have a 3rd level Druid.

So, I am not without a game or two, but I still think it is a pity if the game ends, which is what I expect to happen. It is a no win situation. If the game carries on with just the two players, we risk losing the excluded player, but the only other alternative is to end the game.

I do feel for the DM, he has spent a lot of money buying the 5e Fantasy Ground rules, an ultimate license for FG, and the adventure path.

The 5e rules seemed OK to me. 5e is a bit gung-ho, with everyone being some kind of spell user, or near magic abilities, and healing being two a penny. Is it a bad thing? Well, killing stuff is generally fun, sitting around unable to do anything because you are all down to 1hp is not so fun.

One suggested solution seems to be that we play Call of Cthulhu instead. With these players I cannot see that turning out too well. The other two players are real power gamers who have been known to sulk if there characters take a kicking. In CoC, you are always going to take a kicking, and it never ends well.

I should find out on Tuesday what the fall out is going to be.

Centaurs

There was a discussion on the ICE discord this week about using Centaurs as playable characters.

I happens that my players have a Centaur NPC healer. Most of there adventures have so far been above ground, or short forays into caves, but nothing that has proved to be a problem for the centaur.

Until last session….

We had reached the big fight, the characters had constructed a barricade to stem the numbers of creatures coming at them and it was a last stand.

One of the characters took a critical that broke their weapon arm, and the odds suddenly swung massively in the bad guys favour. Not only had the character a broken arm, but it was also all the other penalties that went with it. penalties to action and being stunned. This left a big hole in the characters defensive line.

The healer, known as Seth, was already low on power points, and pretty beaten up. He took the decision to transfer the broken arm to himself, and all the hits that the character had sustained.

The benefit of getting the character back in the action was worth the risk. Casting the spell put Seth unconscious.

Roll forward a few rounds and the battle was won. (hurrah!) But Seth had been so low on power points that he was not able to heal himself. At this point he had two broken limbs, a foreleg and an arm, he was on negative hits and had a damaged hip. He was in a bad way, but not bleeding.

The players first reaction was to try and jury rig a stretcher and get out of there, because they knew that there were more beasties in the cave waiting to come out.

The problem was that Seth weighs over 900lbs, is about 7′ long and isn’t very ‘stretcher shaped’.

As it is, the players have decided to make a stand here and hope that Seth can heal himself before anything else happens.

We will see what happens in the next game session.

In an upcoming adventure I am going to give these characters some choices. Things like they may have a climb a rope to get to the next part of the adventure, or to get the rewards for their efforts. Or, squeeze through a really tight gap. The objective is to see if they will press on without their healer, who cannot climb ropes or squeeze through small gaps.

These are the risk averse guys, who have been a bit braver now they have healing support. Given the choice between having that healer and turning their back on the final challenge and the rewards, or staying safe, which will they choose?

Battlemaps!

I am putting the final touches on the May issue of the Rolemaster Blog Fanzine.

If you have not been following it, I have taken a regional map created by Dyson Logos and I am detailing each location with either encounters or adventures, and I am introducing a plot running through them.

The intention is to end up with a map where you could not throw a stone and not hit a potential adventure.

As a side project, I have been saying for ages that I wanted to start getting the old issues of the Rolemaster Blog Fanzine uploaded as Kindle editions.

With the most recent issues of the fanzine I have bundled some battlemaps. These are made with Dungeondraft. I am not very good with the software, but I am improving over time.

This is going to cause a problem when we get to the kind versions. You cannot bundle battle maps with a kindle book.

To fix that problem, I am uploading them here, and including an address where the map can be downloaded from.

This one is pretty simple, it is a druidic site on the edge of a lake. The arc on the left are an amphitheatre-like set of grass terraces. The scale is 50 pixels per 5′, and should work with most VTTs if you want to use it.

I am hoping that my skills with Dungeondraft improve over time. I won’t share every map on here as some will spoil the adventures in the fanzine. This one is not exactly secret.

My Risk Averse Players (again)

Just for fun, I thought I would test my players’ memories. When I set up some encounters on Fantasy Grounds, I changed the unidentified names, and the identified names of the creatures. I then picked out two words that were both descriptive and evocative.

I had two types of creature, the weaker “Grotesques” and slightly tougher “Fouls”. I looked at the descriptions in C&T and picked out the words I liked the best and set up the encounters.

The scenario was simple enough, the characters were heading to a fortified house on the edge of dangerous wilderness. This was to be their jumping off point for some wilderness adventures, and a place where they could dump loot and heal if needed.

When they arrived it was under attack, so they were to be the cavalry and save the day. To add a bit of time pressure on them, the attacking Grotesques and Fouls were using burning torches to try and force the defenders out of their protection.

The characters did engage the creatures, this was good, but not until the defenders were already dead.

They also didn’t bother trying to put out the fires, so by the end of the evening the safehouse was a burnt our shell.

Most of the creatures fled and took shelter in a cave nearby.

The characters then started to investigate the caves, until they came across a grotesque, they let it flee and raise the alarm, so the characters retreated.

Eventually, they were in a position where the characters fighters were two abreast in a tunnel and could bottle up the grotesques coming at them. If they retreated further the cave opened up and they could be surrounded.

It was then just a meat grinder to slay their way though the mass.

A grotesques was a 0th level, 15 hits, AT1, 10DB orc non-combatant. 20PB with its bite.

The characters are in heavy chain armour, big shields and typically have 60-80OB and 40-60DB

It was a case of one hit, one kill.

But still the characters, or the players, were too worried to really engage.

Even the tougher Fouls, really Orc commanders, 5th level 60OB but armed with Cat’o’nine tails, but still AT1 and no significant DB were designed to be no real threat.

To the characters, the Fouls were using their whips to drive on the grotesques, trapping them between angry Fouls, behind and the invading characters ahead.

Listening to the chatter amongst players, because they did not recognise the name or description, they didn’t know what they were facing, so they were not prepared to fight something they didn’t know.

In an amusing meta-gaming moment, one player didn’t want to take the fight to the creatures because they died too easily, if the fight was this easy it had to be a trap.

In the last big campaign we ran, the characters were 18th to 23rd level. Obviously, it took years to get to that level. I am wondering if the players are still used to having huge OB/DB combinations, always succeeding at typical skill tests, and having a magical solution to most problems. At 2nd and 3rd level they are a lot squishier and have to get used to failing, and failing often.

I am going to continue throwing these players and characters into different situations until they start to act like heroes, or they die trying.

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!