Two sessions down, and no one is dead yet

Last night was the second session after the restart, and the first combat since we got going again.

We are playing over Fantasy Grounds and between when I last used it for RMC and last night there have been tons of improvements.

The table resolver now how little Apply buttons after each result which seemed like a tiny change, but made a huge difference in the game session.

Putting marveling at the technology aside, the encounter I wrote months ago, suddenly seemed pretty tough when it came to run it at the (virtual) table. The party are mostly 3rd level, except the NPC healer who is 7th. The foes they were fighting were 8th level.

I threw one naga at them at first, and they surrounding it and beat it to a pulp in no time. That was to be expected. In the second encounter they took on two, one was up front, and a second dropped from an upper level down into their formation. That caused them a few problems. The grappling criticals shattered two elbows (two characters, one elbow each), and shatter repair is 12th level so out of power range for the healer. The characters won the fight and deleted a fair chunk of their herbs.

They then came across 3 nagas, and their healer was not with them. The healer is a centaur and didn’t physically fit into the tower. So this was a three on three fight against tougher opponents. The characters had control of the only easy exist, so could have retreated at any time. If they had done so, their healer could have joined in. The centaur isn’t particularly tough but does know Shockbolt, and is capable with a morning star. That would give them 4 vs. 3.

The dice were very much on the characters’ side at the start of the fight. I think two of the three attacks in the first round were open-ended, and they got two of the nagas stunned with no parry. One went down quite quickly to a critical. The characters then had numbers on their side. They kept one naga stunned, but the third started to take a toll on the characters.

At the end one PC was down, their main fighter, another had a shattered knee, the party thief. and surprisingly the remaining character hadn’t taken a single point of damage.

Patching themselves up again drained more herbs, and a fair chunk of magic.

I don’t know how long running three different combats would have taken me using books and dice. but I doubt that I would have got through all three in a single evening. We played for just under 4hrs last night. Overall, I was impressed. They were tough fights, and it could have gone either way. It was supposed to be a minor encounter on route to a destination further up the road. It actually proved to be a valuable team building exercise for the party, now they are one player less, the dynamic has changed.

All in all, Peter was a happy GM, with happy players.

Campaign Restarted

After what turned into a much longer break than I had expected my campaign is now back. You probably don’t care that much about my personal game, but it is in my game that I play through all the adventures that turn up in the Rolemaster Fanzine. No regular game means no playtesting and that means no fanzine content.

We played the first Tuesday in January, and that was mostly getting back into the characters, working out where we were, and I brought the characters virtually up to the front door of their next encounter.

I have misplaced a player, at least temporarily, so the party is now two player character fighters, a former player character rogue that is now an NPC, and the only non-human is a centaur healer, who was always an NPC.

My game has restarted because the game I am playing in Shadow World is taking a break. That was my Druid under old RM2 rules. My Druid is 5th level, possibly pushing 6th once we get the final experience.

Our group now has four GMs, one running Call of Cthulhu, one running 5e, and two Rolemaster. We are playing every Tuesday, alternating one RM game with one of the others. Right now it is CoC and RM.

Do Powerful Magic Items Spoil Games?

This is an observation I have made over the past 30 years. When a character is given a powerful magic item it seems to have a negative impact on the game as a whole.

The GM we have just finished with is the kind of GM that don’t kill characters, it is very hard to die in his games. His villains are more likely to take the opportunity to escape than to press their advantage and kill characters. He enjoys high-level campaigns and big battles against powerful foes. In one game we started session 1 at 10th level. It is only in the final session of the campaign, the final battle that the gloves come off and let the dice land where they will.

Given that this is a GM that actively tries to save characters, in each of his last two campaigns, there have been two character deaths, and they were both effectively character suicides. Where the player has said that they don’t want to play that character any more. The reason in both cases was that one character with a powerful magic item had made the other character superfluese. This happened not once but twice. In both cases the players talked to the GM, created a new PC that was not going to have to live in the shadow of the other character and rejoined the game after their original character was killed.

I have seen players get very upset or feel their character is suddenly underpowered when they lose a powerful item that they have become accustomed to.

A GM I used to play with many years ago used to enjoy throwing characters into rivers or in the sea, and then washing them up on the beach or bank without half of their equipment. It was his way of resetting the magic item economy. He did this once and one player left the game and never returned because they felt robbed.

Players who knew the GM was used to these regular inventory resets and took them in their stride.

I would honestly say that I have never seen a game improved by powerful magic items.

I tend to not give out items where the bonus is more than +5 more than the characters level. At 5th level you may get something that is +10, and +15 at 10th. It means that I can frequently give a magic item as a reward, knowing that it will still be an upgrade from what went before.

I recently saw a character at 4th level given a +30 broadsword that did x2 round so of Stun. +30 is a huge bonus anyway, but if your opponent of almost constantly stunned that is almost a +60 bonus (+30 + another 30 for being stunned) and you rarely ever need to parry because they cannot attack you back.

I suppose the problem is at its worst when only one or some of the characters have these over-powered weapons, those without will always be overshadowed by their allies.

In the game with that+30 sword, most of us would just parry and wait for the uber-fighter to come around and kill everything. Even the other fighter in the party would just parry every round. We all became bit parts in the story, which is not what RPGs are supposed to be about.

I suspect that this is only really a problem for items that have a lot of utility. Swords get used almost every session, something that allowed you to transform into a great white shark would be less useful but could be a lot more powerful.

Dwarven Stronghold

I should have been publishing the next Rolemaster Fanzine this week, but I am digging into a bigger project for the next issue.

At the end of last months ‘zine I said I was going to detail out one of the Dwarven strongholds. As I have been creating Dungeondraft maps of each location for use on VTT this stronghold is taking somewhat longer than I had anticipated.

I have also invested some time in improving my map-making, thanks to YouTube.

I am also on a drive to use a wider variety of foes. My first dwarven stronghold is long abandoned, at least by dwarves, but it gives me an opportunity to use Constructs in all their myriad forms.

I have a subterranean river on the map, and that is plied by animated paddleboats that will ferry non-existent passengers back and forth from the mines to the inner stronghold for all of eternity (or until they meet an angry player character).

It is quite fun to have three basic stat blocks but they have an infinite number of forms, one could be a sentry suit of armor, another boat, and a third a noble child’s toy warhorse.

I am also building in some physical challenges, the adventure isn’t just a hack-fest through unthinking machines.

I was hoping to be playing my campaign again by now but the Shadow World game I am in is taking a little longer to complete than we had anticipated. One of the three players had been ill and needed an operation. The illness meant that he couldn’t play for a few weeks, then the operation definitely put him out of action. We had our first session back on Fantasy Grounds (RMC) last night and he was exhausted by 10pm, we normally play to near midnight.

But, he is on the mend. We left the session last night as we just rolled for initiative to fight a Giant. Not just any giant, but a GM tweaked unique giant. It is several hundred years old, cyclops-like, but very intelligent, sophisticated, and seems to be using some nature magic, possibly druid lists. We are not sure.

The party is strung out, I am halfway up a cliff face doing a free climb, the two fighters are charging into melee, but it is a long way away. The paladin got flattened by a thrown boulder in the first round, but has shaken off the stun but is carrying a lot of bruising with its associated penalties. The bard is our weakest party member. Little or no armor, little skill with weapons, and very few spell lists. The giant started hurling rocks at the paladin, but I started jumping around and shouting to get its attention. This is not a way to guarantee a long life, but it did buy enough time to get the remaining two fighters close enough to launch an attack. I have light armor, so I am hard to hit, and a pretty good DB. I am also the party healer, so I have a reasonable chance of standing up even if I do take a direct hit.

We will see how this fight pans out.

We believe that we need to take down this giant, scoop out its eye, deliver that to a witch that lives in the swamp, and she will guide us to the stronghold of the necromancer that has been plaguing this region. Simple!

Apologies and Neglect

I have been neglecting the blog recently. My own RM campaigns have been on hiatus. My face-to-face game hasn’t been played since Feb 2020, which is no surprise. My VTT game hasn’t been played in two or three months now.

I am playing a druid in a Shadow World RM2 game, and a cleric in a 5e game, so I am still playing, but my group of players and I could not sustain three games running at once.

Now, the Shadow World game is reaching a natural point to take a break, and we will be pausing to pick up my game again.

It is harder to think of really interesting things to write about when you are not planning and running games.

I even skipped a month of the Rolemaster Fanzine. It has been exploring an idea about two extremely dangerous weapons, one slaying to elves and the other to dwarfs. Without the stimulus of the running and planning, it was incredibly difficult to build a gripping scenario.

But, that is all about to change. I am getting my game notes in order and preparing for some upcoming sessions. Hopefully that will spark some interesting topics to put out here on the blog.

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.

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.


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?


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.