Thoughts on asymmetric combats in Rolemaster.

War Law (Rolemaster) [BOX SET]: Charlton, S. Coleman: 9781558060999:  Amazon.com: Books

Strangely, I started this blog post a month or so ago, and subsequently there has been several discussions re: War Law on the Forums or the Discord server.

Before I get started, I don’t think I have ever read War Law, but believe it allows bolt on rules for large combats by using a wargame style ruleset? (I used to play Squad Leader so I get turn based, hex movement, unit scale war gaming). So like many of posts and musings, the answer to many of my questions is probably somewhere in a Rolemaster Companion or War Law.

So my question is: Is there a simple, fast and effective way to run combats for larger numbers of combatants–especially situations that involve one or a few against many? Some people find Rolemaster combat slow and unwieldy and adding dozens of combatants can real bog things down.

I working on this because Chapter 4 of my “Legends of Shadow World” involves the players fighting HORDES of demons. On the plus side, this allows the characters to unleash and really utilize those 50th lvl, “mass” and “Lord” spells. On the down side, there is a bit of handwaving when it comes to tracking hundreds or thousands of foes on a large field of battle.

One thought I had was using the RMU size scaling system to have one attack role that represents dozens of same/similar attacks. Of course the total number of attacks should be limited by space limitations: front/flank/rear/up/down etc. OTOH, I don’t want combat to feel abstract, even if a 100′ wide fireball can essentially wipe out hundreds of densely packed foes.

I don’t want to reduce combat down to wargame rules–that feels right for armies, units and similar. For example, I’m thinking of situations where my group of 4-6 15th lvl players are confronting a zombie army of 100’s of undead, or swarms of giant wasps, or legions of orcs. The level disparity and skills of the players will generally mean each attack results in a kill or two, but a slow attrition rate can be boring. Even with the threat of open-ended rolls and criticals, my players never feel the sense of danger when confronting numbers of lower level creatures.

However, using a single “group” attack with a a larger OB that represents the likelihood of at least 1 of 12 attacks being successful AND scaling that damage results to represent the real threat can speed up these combats while still making them a challenge.

Anyone have any thoughts or played around with this? Has this already been addressed in a companion or zine?

Miscellaneous Musings

I’m not sure if Peter is scheduled for a post tomorrow, but I thought I would write a quick post with some random items that have been on my mind of late.

  1. Discord. I’m still trying to get my head around the Discord server and it’s overall utility. Does it add functionality beyond the RM Forums? I feel like I’m missing something, and normally I’d say I was showing my age–but all you other RM players are my age as well!
  2. Was there a Gen Con or was it just a virtual convention. Does that work? I’m looking forward to Hurin’s report on running a game.
  3. We have started our new “50 in 50” this past weekend. The first adventure hook is The Haunted Dagger. Like virtually all of my mini-hooks they were extracted from past games or ultimately intended for the Shadow World setting. I mostly strip setting specific material out.
  4. Reviews. Obviously we are not writing these adventures for any real monetary motivation, but sales and exposure can depend on reviews. Three of my adventures have gotten poor reviews: The City of Spiders, Bokars Wagon and Curse of the Ancient Tomb. So CoS I get–the reviewer wanted more “meat on the bone” in terms of city maps etc. That would be nice, and perhaps some day we’ll expand upon these with new, more evolved versions. However, I was surprised by Bokars Wagon. I thought it was cool and Adrian did a solid floor plan of the wagon. It was an interesting little NPC drop-in. Unfortunately, all I can see is a 2-star review with no feedback on what the issue or problem was with the product. The same for “Curse of the Ancient Tomb”. 1-star! Really, I’m no Stephen King but I didn’t think it was that bad. I had to make some changes to strip it of SW stuff, and the Time magic might be too complicated for a GM come on–if you gave me the 1-star I would appreciate a few sentences explaining why. Now that we are writing more adventures, ANY feedback is helpful.
  5. RMU. We seem to be getting closer…
  6. Pandemic. Will we see an increase in gaming from people/families/friends being forced to stay at home and quarantine? Is this an opportunity to reach a broader market while people are spending so much time online? Is RM Forums, Rolemasterblog etc seeing an increase in registered users and traffic? Just curious.

Stay safe!

Throttling magic in your game setting.

A recent POST in the RM Forums asked for advice about handling “secular” /non-magic combatants against spellcasters. While the scope of the question was defined to the poster’s specific setting, the responses and scope touched upon issues that we have discussed before: low magic versus high magic settings; technology in a fantasy world; settings and rule systems; and the ubiquity of casters in a setting, among other topics.

So in no particular order I wanted to put some thoughts down on paper.

Combat: non-casters versus spell-casters. The primary questions the poster raised, is how can a non-magic using society/group fight against magic-users. What general techniques or plot devices can be utilized to allow “fighters” to prevail against “magic-users”? I think we have all had experience using RM with this exact situation and the question answers itself. Arms Law criticals, combined with the casting limitations makes combat against spell-casters quite easy–especially in situations with numerical advantages. In the poster’s situation, the war is already won–the winning “non-magic using” side (the Steel Rebels) is in charge. There is no need to explain how the Rebels originally won. It could have been superiority in numbers, luck, subterfuge or a combination of factors. At this point, keeping the diffusion of magical knowledge is a combination of identifying potential M-Us at an early age and destroying the knowledge base of magic (books, schools, tomes, etc). Basically the destruction of the Library at Alexandria. Certainly this is a great start pointing for a spellcaster in a campaign. Not only do they have to survive against a magic hostile regime, but they also have to uncover lost bits of magic to advance their skill.

Faith vs Science. One of the common tropes in fantasy literature is the battle between religion (channeling) and secularism (magic). Obviously this mirrors our own social tensions between faith and science. In fantasy literature, one side dominates the power structures and attempts to suppress the other. A religious sect has the “inquisition” to root out the evil of magic or a Magic-User cabal banishes faith and clerics from their domain. Rolemaster’s division of magical realms makes these possibilities interesting; especially when realm spells are more distinct from one another and gives Channelers strengths and weaknesses that are different than Essence users.

Science vs Magic. So how can technology nullify or overcome magic in a fantasy setting? Certainly much advanced technology mirrors or is indistinguishable from magic; but unlike magic, can be utilized by non-spellcasters. That’s a huge advantage. But technology doesn’t have to be sufficiently advanced, it can merely be an advantage: better alloy armors, tactical communication systems, battlefield intelligence etc. In my SW campaign, “alchemy” is used to counter battle magic with explosive munitions. Sure it’s not that reliable, but can be used by regular soldiers.

Prejudices and social biases. Being a magic-user can be problematic in a society that fears, hates or discriminates against spellcasters. What can a caster do if the entire populace refuses to talk to, trade with or provide services to them? Casters can be turned away at borders, refused entry into gated cities and harassed and mocked in public. What if casters are required to wear a “scarlet letter” or other visible symbol that “marks” them to the rest of the suspicious populace? Imagine a city or society that requires a caster to wear a Kregora collar to prohibit casting while in city limits? Social constraints alone can make spellcasters challenging to play.

Those are just a few thoughts on limiting magic without relying on tweaks to game mechanics. What have you used in your setting to constrain spellcasters?

BHanson’s Shadow World File List

Now that the Rolemaster Forums are back up and running, I thought I would index the various Shadow World files I’ve posted there and some notes on updates and editing I have in my queue. This is partly for me, to help keep track of things, and partly as a quick guide to these file that are buried in lengthy forum thread.

Please note that some of these files may be here on the Rolemasterblog, but to access these links to the RM Forums will require a Forum account–otherwise you cannot see or access.

Here we go:

  1. SW Healing Chart. This was a quick reference chart for cinematic healing, but taking into account cultural access to healing skills. I use it between adventures to quickly establish healing times & costs without a lot of more complicated calculations. It was included in my Master Atlas, but probably needs to fleshed out.
  2. RM/RMU Class Comparison. Another chart from my Master Atlas, this was a quick guide to mapping RMU professions to classic RM professions with notes specific to SW.
  3. SW Research Chart. Small chart to generate research results.
  4. Invoke Chart. I’ve blogged and written about invocation quite a bit. This chart allows PCs to call/pray for their gods intervention. This is a common mechanism in my SW campaign and brings the gods into gameplay in a less abstract way.
  5. SW Lore Table. Incomplete, but the start of summarizing skill levels/competence level and knowledge of various skills and lores.
  6. SW Metal Chart. Summary of SW metals and alloys with a unifying “breakage” number that use for material RRs and enchantments/imbedding.
  7. Master Herb Chart. Collated list of all herbs, plants, and poisons found in all RM books. May need some updates to include Terry’s more recent books.
  8. SW Crystal Summary. Crystals play a key role in SW, but Terry never really fleshed out a full system for the. This chart assumes that all “Essence Crystals” are basically the same–even if know as Zirix Crystals, or Essaence Crystals or Jewel Slime etc. It needs some work, but I use crystals as PP storage devices that can be drawn upon or recharged with channeling skill.
  9. Cantrips. Really this is part of BASiL, but in the thread.
  10. God Invocation Summary. This chart is used with the Invocation chart. Summarizes modifiers to SW’s gods responses and specific things they may do.
  11. SW Encounter Chart. This is a comprehensive chart for random encounters by region. Includes weather and Essence effects. Inspired by the encounter tables in the AD&D DM’s guide. Needs a little updating but I think a very useful tool!
  12. Void Knight Base List. Spell list for a organization I use in my SW campaign and features in “Priest-King of Shade”. It needs some touch up.
  13. Soulless. This is my effort to consolidate the concept of the Unlife, traditional fantasy Undead, corruption and possession. In my SW campaign, the Unlife possesses or inhabits creatures to various degrees.
  14. Hierax Guard. Organization dedicated to fighting Demon’s. Uses the Void Knight base list.
  15. Xiosians. My interpretation of the Xio Warriors mentioned in a few places and a way to integrate them into the larger SW story.
  16. History of the Earthwardens. I went through every single SW book and collated all the references to the Earthwardens. This is my conclusions.
  17. Notes on Tech & Languages. Quick excerpt from my Master Atlas.
  18. Elves. Again, this is my fleshing out of Elves: how they came to be and their place in the larger story. Plus a Shadow World explanation of the various types of Elves beyond the Tolkien archetypes.
  19. Alchemy Notes. I use alchemy skill a lot in my game. This is my simplified but flexible rules on alchemy. I plan on expanding on it at some point.
  20. SW Trade Goods. Treasure is more than gems, jewelry and gold!
  21. SW Civilization Summary. Chart from my Master Atlas with overview of the various ancient civilizations.
  22. Cult of Hraask. I wanted a “spider/insect” spell list grounded in SW.
  23. SW Cultural Skills. This is part of SWARM rules (Shadow World Alternate Role Master) and my “build a character in 10 minutes. Includes specific SW cultures rather than the broader types in RMU.
  24. SW Professions. List of vocations and skill packages for quick character generation.
  25. SW Background Table. Random background table, SW specific.
  26. SW Material Strength. Unifying method for breakage, VS RR’s and imbedding, enchanting and weapon runes.
  27. Weapon Modifier Chart. Combat modifiers and stats for specific weapons rather than general modifiers used in RM.
  28. SW Racial Chart. Conversion of bonuses to RMU. Probably will need a re-edit after RMU publication.
  29. Orhanian Base Spells Lists. God specific lists for Clerics and Followers. Kuor. Valris. Cay. Shaal. REann. Eissa. Phaon. Teris. Oriana. Jaysek. Kieron. Iorak. Iloura.
  30. Charon Base Lists. Orgiana. Inis. Kesh. Andaras. Ztaar. Scalu. Moralis. Klysus. Nynaku.
  31. Religious Organizations. Orhan. Kuor. Valris. Teris. Cay. Shaal. Phaon. Reann. Kieron. Iorak.
  32. Religious Organizations. Charon. Inis. Ztaar.
  33. History of SW in narrative form. My Master Atlas version.
  34. SW Languages. My notes, needs some work.
  35. SW Special Armor. Cool armors.
  36. SW Archaeology. Notes on ancient SW civilizations.
  37. SW Antiquities. Price chart for ancient stuff!
  38. Jaiman Tradegoods. More trade items specific to Jaiman cities and cultures.
  39. Iron Wind Base Lists. Lyak. Yarthraak. Gaath. Athimurl. Dansart. Thargondaak.
  40. SW Notes on Currency. Summary of various coins and currencies.
  41. Shrapnel & Swarm Crit Chart. I use for explosions or insect swarms.
  42. SW Trade Goods: Drugs & Alcohol. Small file that needs more work!
  43. BASIL: Essence Lists.
  44. BASIL: Channeling Lists.
  45. BASIL: Mentalism Lists. Still working on these.
  46. Legends of Shadow World. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5. Alternate all Priest PCs.
  47. Priest-King of Shade. Small module that takes place in SW Agyra.
  48. The Book of Pales. Summary and overview of the Pales.

Memorial Day Weekend Musings

Hard at Work

For those of you that are enjoying a holiday and long weekend despite the pandemic and social distancing, we wish you the best in these trying times! Due to the out of service status of the Rolemaster Forums, ICE is a bit of a “black box” right now, but nonetheless things still seem to be happening.

  1. Conversation over at the Discord Servers covering ICE, RM and all their products and games. There seems to be 50 active members so that’s something.
  2. Navigator RPG. Peter has published his Navigator game system and will be expanding into fantasy and other genres at some point. (correct me if I’m wrong Peter)
  3. New “50 in 50”! So, while I still owe #50 from the last challenge, we are moving ahead with another 50 small adventures, game hooks, plot devices etc. I have mine already fleshed out, I’ll discuss in a sec.
  4. Emer IV. The last redesign that will complete the continent seems to be moving forward with artwork. As I have mentioned before, while we all like new Amthor material, there is already a lifetime of content between Jaiman and Emer modules already published!
  5. Belatedly, I finally got “The Lair of Ozymandius” out as part of my 50in50 contribution. I think it was only 2 years late!

Although I’ve had to shut down my businesses, staying at home didn’t end up being very productive for writing. Fortunately, now that things are loosening up I’ve been able to get a lot of material written that I’ll be releasing over the rest of the year. Not sure what I’m going to do about BASiL Mentalism with the forums down. My queue looks like this:

  1. Edit of Priest-King. Just completed the first pass through with notes by Nicholas and now have to feel in a few areas that I left out.
  2. #50 of the 50in50: The Tower of the Elephant, which is my own interpretation of the famous Conan story.
  3. New 50in50. For this new challenge, I’ve decided to do 5 adventure hooks for 5 different categories: The Weapons, The Tombs, The Towers, The Heists and The Magicians. I’ve got 5 mostly fleshed out, so once we start publishing these won’t fall behind (hopefully)
  4. Chapters 3-5 of Legends of Shadow World. #3 is mostly complete and I have to polish up #4 and #5 which are more basic battle arenas.
  5. SW Players Channeling Guide. I consolidated all of my various Shadow World religions, spell lists and errata into a book with a focus on player use.
  6. Book of the Pales. I’ve been picking away at this, but got a burst of work done so I can see the end of it. sort of.

If you want to see any of my product, you can see it here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?author=Brian%20Hanson

If you like something, rate it! Thanks to everyone who emails or messages me.

Combat in 3D environments.

3D Combat Risers - Deluxe Set - Clear Mithril
3D Combat Risers for Game Simulation

Back in 2016 I wrote this BLOG that I want to revisit a bit due to some recent work. I wanted to start a discussion on combat in 3D environments with a focus on 3 “terrains”: underwater, aerial. and zero g. While there are specific challenges to each of these, they all share 1 specific trait–the ability of characters to maneuver and fight in 3 dimensions. Before I delve into this, a small disclaimer. There is probably rules for each of these in one of the dozens of RM supplements. I don’t have any of them and I’ve read even fewer. I might be going over “old ground”, but for purposes of this blog, we can also discuss how this might work in RMU. I’m not aware of any rules in the new version for 3 dimensional interaction.

Rolemaster combat assumes combat will occur on a hard surface and attacks will come from front, flank and rear (and maybe overhead on occasion). When you add in a third level of coordinates AND the ability of a players to rotate, turn and pivot simultaneously then things can get more interesting. How should this be handled? There might need to be a separate set of rules for each situation, but conceptually they are similar enough that a shared mechanic might be possible.

Underwater. For anyone experienced with snorkeling and/or diving knows that it can take time to feel comfortable with varying degrees of orientation underwater. But with some skill it’s easier to swim upside down, inverted or rotate comfortable and maintain perspective. But non-native swimmers don’t move through liquid easily or quickly. The resistance of water, lack of fins or flippers and encumbrances of clothing and equipment make movement slow, fast weapon attacks extremely difficult and thrown weapons entirely useless. From a pure movement mechanic perspective, perhaps a simple approach is to set a underwater movement rate/rnd and then establish a % of activity from normal baseline. Other rules could be developed around increased damage from vacuum spells, decreased damage from heat/fire etc.

Zero G. In some respects, Zero gravity is the opposite of underwater: inertia, momentum and mass over enhance basic movements and there is no real force except hard objects or force to offset momentum. Not having real life experience in zero gravity it’s hard for me to intuitively model game mechanics. One idea I have is to leave movement rate the same, but require MM roles to maintain orientation, change or stop an action and orientation roles anytime a change occurs.

Aerial. It’s easy to think of aerial combat in terms of our own experience with lift and thrust. Assuming a magical flying mechanism does not require momentum to generate lift, than aerial combat is a combination of underwater and zero g. A bit of limitless rotation and orientation but with two resistance forces: gravity and inertia.

There are really two overarching issues to tackle: environment specific mechanics that effect movement, combat, spells, breathing etc and the resolution of player orientation, attack vector, environmental awareness and perceptual capacity. This last piece feels like it could be dealt with using a simple unifying mechanic.

In my own adventures, Priest-King has a significant amount of underwater adventures, Empire of the Black Dragon has both underwater and zero g and Legends of Shadow World has some zero gravity as well. I generally GM it with a loose hand and the players tend to find fixed “anchors” to launch from, provide protection from some directions and minimize disorientation.

Does anyone have any thoughts or innovations?

Thoughts on mortality.

I’m not sure that’s a good title for this blog post, but I’m writing this “on the run” but look at that picture. To me, that could have been my roleplaying group back in the early 80’s. How about you? If that seems familiar it’s because A LOT of Rolemaster players are in their 40’s and 50’s now.

First, I should say it’s fantastic that we can enjoy the same game we have played for 30+ years or have rediscovered RPG’s later in life with friends and family. However, my second thought is that everyone I’m seeing on the RM Forums (out of commission right now), RolemasterBlog.com and the new Discord server are all around my age. Where are the new young Rolemaster players–like in that photo? We know that RPG market is growing

Before this starts off like a lot of our blog posts with critiques of ICE let me say this. I.C.E. is a “virtual company” with no real employees or hard assets. They are leveraging their existing IP and putting out a few new products through a mostly volunteer basis. I have no expectation that they ramp up into another serious production/print/gaming company.

The issue that I want to raise is about authorship. Who will be writing new products for I.C.E. in the future? My brother Matt developed the SW Players Guide, built the Nomikos Library resource, contributed to most of the ICE material published in the early 2000’s and was on the ground floor for RMU development, but he’s mostly moved on to other endeavors. It seems like Nicholas and perhaps one other person does the bulk of the writing for HARP. RMU is being shepherded by a small volunteer group of 2-3 people and Terry is the sole author for Shadow World. While I’m not a published ICE author, I do write quite a bit of content–but I’m 50. I can see myself writing stuff for another 10 years, but that’s not that long. RMU and Priest-King have both been in development for 10 years and that doesn’t seem that long ago. Terry is 60. He has a impressive publishing resume, but how long will he be inspired to write? Nicholas has a busy and demanding career; how much work can he realistically do?

Let’s tie the two together. I.C.E. was founded by young people in college, most in their early 20’s. The growth in RPG players is: overseas, youth and females. Does I.C.E. now need to recruit new, relevant writers to appeal to today’s player demographics? What happens in just the next decade as we all enter our 60’s and even 70’s? Will our writing be relevant or we just existing for the small core of die hards our own age? Who takes over after that? Does ICE sell it’s catalog to a young upstart company or established gaming entity?

Rolemaster Survey

Survey says... Good answer - Survey says | Make a Meme

Another cloudy day of stay-at-home quarantining, so I thought I would throw this out to our faithful blog readers! Please respond in comments by #, answer as few or many as you would like.

  1. Favorite magic item. Do you have a favorite item found in a RM book or module or something you made up yourself?
  2. Best 1-5th lvl spell for a non-spelluser to have. What single low level RM spell would be the most useful to a non-spell user?
  3. Favorite spell. What is your favorite RM spell. Why?
  4. Favorite weapon. Most of my players seem to make weapon choices based on the attack chart and/or how common it might be as a magical item. However, weapons can be a great component of a character build. Putting aside efficacy, what RM weapon is the coolest?
  5. What is the best adventure module you’ve played using the RM rules. It doesn’t have to be a ICE product.
  6. Favorite profession. Why?
  7. Favorite setting. Do you have one or do you just run adventures without a setting?
  8. Favorite Shadow World NPC. If you are familiar with SW, do you have a favorite?
  9. Coolest skill. Yes, perception might be the overall utility skill, but what skill (from any RM edition) do you think is the coolest?
  10. Best non-cover artwork. We’ve discussed cover art quite a bit in this blog and elsewhere, but interior art is also important in providing tone and atmosphere. Do you have a favorite piece of interior art found in an ICE product?

Shadow World Spin Cycle: Assassins of Dol Amroth

MERP 8106 Assassins of Dol Amroth - [PDF Document]

While the purpose of by “spin cycle” blog articles is to re-purpose MERP and other modules for use in Shadow World, Assassins of Dol Amroth (AoDA) is an excellent module for quick, easy to run adventures in any setting.

Cover Art. First, the cover is another great Angus McBride piece, showing a female assassin ready to ambush a shadowy mounted figure. Is she the hunter or the prey? There are small details like the soft boot covers for stealth, the gargoyle broach and the color patterns on the inner cloak (is it reversible?) that add a lot of depth to the scene.

Scope. Rather than a hybrid regional overview with adventures, “AoDA” is a simple product comprised of 3 adventures: Murder on the Docks, A Home be the Sea and The Hill of Shades. There are 18 pre-set PC’s; 6 for each adventure with stats and descriptions. The professions are basic MERP: Warrior, Scout, Thief, Ranger, Animist, Bard and Mage that could easily be adapted back to RoleMaster.

Adventure 1: Murder on the Docks. This is a short, simple adventure, pitting the group against a formidable assassin in a run down warehouse. Reading it through the first time, some things weren’t made clear and there wasn’t a clear segue into the next adventure, but it did keep the theme of “Assassins”! Total of 6 pages with artwork, most of it dealing withe warehouse layout. I think it’s good for a short gaming session.

Adventure 2: A Home by the Sea. In a run down manor, the PC’s will encounter another group of Assassins. Again, this is really a self contained adventure that could be played in a single session. Of the eight pages, most of it are lengthy room descriptions for the manor layout. This was true for Adventure 1’s warehouse descriptions. Kudos to the author–many MERP modules had only the briefest descriptions for rooms.

Adventure 3: The Hill of Shades. The denouement of the module is the players confrontation with the Assassins guild in their secret hideout. Again, these are straight foward single session adventures, but easy to use and great drop in for a campaign to build player experience.

Overall, this product is more a generalized adventure series than a true Middle Earth product, but it’s fun and basic. Artwork is generic and most has little to do with the content and the layouts and maps are about as weak as you’ll see in any ICE product. However, if you need some filler material or want some challenges regarding assassins then this could easily work. For Shadow World, this is a great drop for virtually any city.