Weekend Roundup: September 25 2016


I stand corrected on a previous news item.

Are these the Yinka/Y’kin?

Changramai Warrioress? Followers of Inis? Female Warrior Monks Kick Ass.

Iuraic has no words for empathy.

20 ranks in Rolemaster Herb Lore?

What are the Kulthean Dark Gods up to?

Now that’s an Essaence Storm!

Nature, nurture, skill bonus, stat bonus, talents, professions…the DEBATE is endless.

Shadow World Chegains are now the new Cool.

Real life cool treasure. Ancient craftsmanship. Here, here and here and last…here.





Rolemaster Rant of the Day: Rule Bloat & Complexity


“Rules for rules”. To me one of the biggest drivers of system complexity and bloat is “rules for rules” ie—new mechanisms to modify original rules or to make  work-arounds to disliked rule restrictions.

Let’s use “Transcend Armor” as a perfect example. Why do we have “TA” as a skill? Because the addition of Paladins and other new professions in RM Companions required a mechanism for Channelers to cast spells. Why? Because the common trope of Paladins is that they are armored knights that cast clerical style spells. The solution? A new skill and a whole bunch of arbitrary new rules so Channelers (or Essence casters) could safely cast spells while wearing metal armor. Let’s ignore the fact that many fundamental rules that we don’t question are really just a result of acceptance to early D&D standards. Why is there a restriction on armor? Because in D&D magic users weren’t allowed to wear armor. Period.

Rather than add complexity to the system, why not question the original restriction in D&D on casting in metal armor to begin with? No reason except for “balance” and to reinforce class distinctions and class roles within a group. Sure, there is a hand-waving, quick reasoning that armor interferes with spell-casting and within the relatively simplistic rule set of early D&D that works. But in D&D, clerics would wear metal armor…so why not in RM?

Here’s a solution. GM’s, just remove any penalties or restrictions on Channelers wearing metal armor. Does that create a “balance” issue? Why would it? It certainly avoids a slew of issues, rule parameters and discussions about “Transcend Armor” and simplified things for new players.

The larger issue here is generating a whole slew of new rules and mechanisms to eliminate parts of RM that you don’t agree with, or want to work around. It’s a bit dishonest and many times the driving force behind rule changes or suggestions seem to come from players and not GMs. Some of the forum posts feel very much like players “working the ref”. You don’t need RMU developers or RM to canonize a rule so you can feel good—if you want Channelers to cast in armor just ignore armor penalties for Channelers.

What other types of changes were wanted that required new, additional rules? Players didn’t like 3 round casting (it’s more fun to cast every round) so ESF rules were introduced. Then more flexibility was required so “Grace” was added to offset various casting issues. Rules, skills and complexity layered over the original foundation that are completely unnecessary.

Is all this really necessary? Could the original rules just have been tweaked without the extra complications?

Rant over.

Rolemaster House Rules: Skill Consolidation


As part of our efforts to create a viable “no profession” Rolemaster rule set we’ve focused on distilling skills down to as few as possible meta-skills. I think I’m down to 45 or so total skills in our S.W.A.R.M. rules but after reading some of Peter’s ideas I think I can get it down further. Part of the goal is to just stop skill bloat, increase game simplicity and to create more parity between skill utility.

Today I want to talk about consolidating a number of power/channeling skills down to one meta-skill: specifically Power Points, Channeling, Power Projection and Power Perception. Let’s explore them individually:

Power Points: Obviously PP is a KEY skill—it sets the amount of power a spell user has to cast. From a functional standpoint this infers several things: this skill allows players to absorb power, store power and expend power. Sort of a receiver, battery and transmitter.

Channeling. Channeling appears to be a fairly major mechanic in the original RM rules. Not only are pages devoted to the concept of transmitting and receiving power and spells but there are a number of spell lists that concerning channeling as well. In all my years playing RM I have never used Channeling as written in the original rules, nor has anyone used any of the channeling related spells in Spell Law. There is an interesting idea here but not sure it proves practical in normal gameplay and/or combat. To make matters more confusing, Channeling the skill has really nothing to do with tapping your gods powers or the realm channeling itself except in terms of profession related skill costs. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has used Channeling spells RAW in game play. Either way, it’s clear that Channeling the skill allows a player to acts as a transmitter and receiver of PP’s and even spells.

Power Projection. In all honestly I’ve never used this skill, not sure what rule set it belongs too but I am intrigued by the concept of spell casters able to project their PP’s in some sort of test of will or strength. The last time I looked it didn’t seem very useful as written but there might be something there. As a stand-alone skill I’m definitely not convinced. Equally intriguing is the idea that spell casters could simply project, OR CHANNEL, raw power to inflict damage. (However, this might be a better idea to explore using Arcane magic). Either way, Power Projection may have some utility and from a practical standpoint the skill allows the caster to act as a power transmitter.

Power Perception. This is another skill that I don’t use—I try to keep a strong firewall between skill ability and spell ability and Power Perception blurs that line allowing a skill with magic like ability. However, in SW there is an argument that Power Perception could be a trained sensitivity to the Flows and Foci of Essaence or a racial ability. Basically the skill allows detection/attunement to raw power.

In summary these four skills are closely related: allowing for detection, receiving, transmitting or storing of power. Does it make sense to roll these into one skill? I think so and we have. We now use 1 skill, “Channeling” that encompasses these related facets.

The skill bonus is used to determine total PP’s, skill checks for sending or receiving power (we allow PC’s to charge items and draw PP’s from storage crystals). The # of skill ranks is used to determine the Rate of charge/discharge at rest. So a Mage with 75 PP’s and 10 ranks of Channeling would recover 10 PP’s/hour. Or would need 4 hours to re-charge a wand with 40 PP’s.

That’s our hack—what’s yours?

Weekend Roundup: September 18, 2016


Magical gem with a mysterious inscription?

Re-writing textile history again.

Do not try this at home. These are trained professionals.

Or just cast a Mentalism spell.

Chronagenic sleep around the corner?

I can’t resist…bring out the clowns!

The ancients collected ancient things.

More ideas for “Sound Law”.

And more clowns.

Death’s Tale spell?

Good GM advice.

Monte is at it again.

Workplace self-defense or Elvish hand crosswbow?

Weekend Roundup: September 4, 2016.


Heading off to vacation but thought I would put up some interesting articles.!

I always wanted to include a Vomitorium into one of my adventures as a Pythonesque scene. I think we had it all WRONG!

It’s all about materials science.  Photonic Crystals.

Ancient Althan base? The mysterious EYE….

Or, a story worth keeping your EYE on.

Imagine the Flows of Essaence.

Lightning strike??? Maybe 40th lvl  Chain Lightning cast.

Haven’t we learned anything? Don’t #$%& with Elves.

Why? Obviously to untap latent Mentalism powers?

I will never tire of Creepy Clown stories.

Great PIC.

Sorry Peter, all is not LOST.

If only ICE had these production RESOURCES!

Stranger NEW Things.

September book release. Peter Hamilton.

ICE Directors Briefing.

Happy Labor Day!
















RPG Rant: #@$! Potions.


I hate potions. Ok, perhaps I don’t feel that strongly but I certainly don’t use them a lot., and thankfully Terry doesn’t use them either in his Shadow World setting. So what is it that bugs me about potions….

Potions are a common trope in early fairy tales and mythology, a standard in RPG’s and are a critical mechanic in many computer video games for health or hit point rejuvenation. Maybe that’s why it feels like potions have “jumped the shark”. Rolemaster already has a comprehensive spell and herb healing system–why duplicate that with healing potions?

I remember in my early days of D&D gaming we allowed players to “sip” a potion to test its properties. For instance a player would go a little transparent if it was a potion of Invisibility or feel “lighter” if it was a potion of levitation or flying.

Rolemaster has a fairly flexible system to imbed virtually any spell into a potion. I’ve seen GM’s allow Fireballs and Lightning Bolt potions–that makes little sense to me. Allowing Mentalism spells to be made into potions also makes little sense to me. Channeling isn’t much better–can a “Good” priest create a potion that can be used by a evil player? hmm….

So while I do have rules for “consumables” (candles, potions, charms, powders– items that get used up to activate the spell effect) I generally shy away from their common use. Potions are silly.

Just had to get that off my chest. Back to Spell Casting Mechanics: Channeling.

Revisiting Spell Law: Spell Casting Mechanics Pt. 2 Essence


Now that we’ve laid the theoretical groundwork in Pt. 1 I wanted to explore each realm in a bit more detail. Since the original Spell Law, Essence has included the traditional spells established by D&D: fireballs, teleports, sleep, charm, fly etc and most of the general accepted “rules” of Magic-User spells.

  1. Casting Time. Spells take 1-3 rounds to cast.
  2. Metal armor interferes with Essence.
  3. Spells require a verbal and hand gesture component.
  4. Spell Powers. Spells cover a very broad range of power but exclude healing and most “animist” style spells.

Our deconstruction of Spell Law forced us to look at each aspect of Essence spells and casting mechanisms and see where it lead us. In reverse order:

Spell Powers. As a drop in rule set for D&D, it makes sense that Spell Law would include the basic range of Magic-User spells. However, one of our goals was to create clearer differentiation between the realms, reduce some of the issues of over/under powered spells littered through the lists and imply a logical motive for spells. For Essence we decided that it was “physical” magic, akin to science” manipulation of gravity, light, energy, elements, physical objects etc. So first we tossed out the spirit mastery spell list which we felt was better served by Mentalism or Channeling. Then we re-grouped spells by similarity, effect, or motive source rather than have professions themed lists that were filled with disparate spells in power and effect. So Fly was moved to Wind Law and Gravity Law—basically the same spell but with different working mechanisms. In Wind Law the spell-caster harnesses air to create a cushion that lifts and propels the target where Gravity Law nullifies gravity but produces the same spell effect. This became our “machine test”—could an Essence Spell be created using technology, a machine manipulation of physics or generated by math/computer processing? If so then it was a good fit for the Essence Realm.

Components. Unlike D&D that included physical spell components in some castings, Rolemaster didn’t dig too deep into the actual process besides making vague references to voice and hand gestures. SW delved a little deeper with spell “colors” for each realm, good/evil and hybrid spells but that was more for setting theatrics. So what are these voice/hand components? It was apparent that Essence couldn’t be cast in the spell-casters native tongue—that makes little sense! Are spell books described as being written in Rhaya or some other social language? Does that mean that every spell has been transcribed into all the individual world tongues? Of course not. The implication is that the voice/hand components of Essence casting is a magical language of arcane sounds/inflections/gestures. This magical language is the trigger and focus for generating spell effects. RM has introduced Magical Languages, but more as an optional rule or a skill bonus to casting, NOT as the standard input for casting. If we accept that a magical “language” is needed to cast an Essence spell than we need to accept that the caster’s skill mastery of that language is important to spell casting. In other words, the Magical Language skill should play some part in the SCR.

Let’s use a metaphor. Assume that only legal contracts written in French are considered legal and binding (the force of law). You can have lawyers in various countries all with extensive knowledge of the law, statutes or legal specialties, but their ability to read/write French is going to define their ability to practice law and create legal products. In this example the lawyers are Essence Casters. They are taught/learn spells (law) but can’t utilize this knowledge unless they translate their knowledge into an accepted format (Magical Language/French). In our rules a spell caster can learn a lot of spells but their skill in casting will be dependent on their Magical Language skill.

There are a number of ways to connect Magical Language skill to casting. You could set a rule that the spell level can’t exceed the # ranks in Magical Language; you can use the Magical Language skill bonus for the SCR etc.

Encumbrance. It’s a well imbedded trope in fantasy RPG that M-U’ers can wear armor. In D&D they just made it an arbitrary rule w/o much rationale to enforce profession roles and group balance. In Rolemaster a convoluted process has evolved combining organic/non-organic material, ESF, Transcendence Skill and a whole lot of work-arounds that too me, just seemed silly and overly complex. You can read the forums about all the issues around Transcend Armor, calculating encumbrance type, channeling and casting etc. Our “Free Market” approach to our rule set meant that we build opportunity costs into skill choices and I wanted there to be an armor/encumbrance cost to Essence casting. Since we eliminated Maneuvering in Armor skill, we just use the encumbrance penalty (RMU) in the SCR. No need to worry about organic or inorganic material, no worry about what type of armor. However that encumbrance penalty can have a real impact on spell casting. Intuitively it makes sense. We see “Essence” casting as a conductive process—the caster is the foci of the effect using the Magical Language to gather, hone and release power. Any encumbrance on our around the caster will interfere with this conductive process, acting as an Insulator and disrupting the spell power.

Casting Time. IIRC D&D had varying casting times for each spell. Rolemaster introduced a standardized system of 1-3 rounds (10-30 seconds). 30 seconds seems like a long time, but we’ve switched to 5 sec. rounds so 15 seconds seems workable. I like the idea of varying spell casting times, but in a nod to convenience we decided to stick with the 1-3 rounds for Essence. However, we discarded the Class types and just assigned SCR penalties for casting in 1 (-50) or 2 (-25) rounds.

So that’s where our analysis led “Project BASiL” for Essence. Casting is determined by the skill in Magical Language, is affected by Encumbrance penalty, casters can decide on casting time but may take a SCR penalty and the Essence Realm is redesigned and organized to fit our concept/theme of the realm.

Next up in Pt. 3-Channeling!

Revisiting Spell Law: Spell Casting Mechanics Pt. 1


There has always been basic indications that the Rolemaster spell realms operate under different mechanics. Essence and Channeling are affected by armor, Mentalism by helms, verbal and hand gestures are necessary components of Essence but not so much Mentalism etc. At the same time, the general casting mechanics of 3 rounds for most spells were uniform across the three realms without any serious mechanical differences.

Most of these rules were more the result of built in game tropes, the need for “balance” and to facilitate gameplay (combat) than any rigorous attempt at realm differentiation. During our Spell Law rewrite (Project BASiL), we started from scratch—deconstructing the various spells, powers, categories and casting requirements and then rebuilding spells and realms in an intuitive and organic fashion.

A few questions, points & thoughts we had at the start:

  1. Should each realm have better differentiation in spell powers? All three realms share a number of common lists: spell defense, movement etc. Wouldn’t it be better to have more unique & separate abilities for each realm? Do realms need better guidelines for spell power assignment?
  2. Are Alchemist spells really “Essence” realm. The imbedding spells don’t really work as a typical Class I-III spells and imply a number of other factors (materials, crafting, time etc).
  3. Do Symbols, Runes, Signs, Glyphs etc require different casting requirements since their casting depends on writing/inscribing?
  4. Do Bard spells fit into Mentalism (or Essence) when their efficacy is based on a performance?
  5. Do Illusions depend on the casters memory to properly reconstruct an image? How does that work into the SCR?
  6. What is the verbal/hand component of spellcasting? Do spell books come in a variety of languages? Is the verbal component a native tongue or something else?
  7. Should casting times be broader than 1-3 rounds?
  8. Why can’t spell users learn spells from multiple realms? Does this really create a “balance” issue?
  9. Do PC’s really need a realm assignment? Do PP’s really come in 7 varieties? (essence, ment, chan, ess/chan, ess/ment, ment/chan, arcane). Does that make sense? Do PC’s need separate pools of spell casting power for each of those? Do PP multipliers need to be tuned to 6-7 different power flavors? How does that tie into magic item creation? Why?
  10. Why is Alchemy “Essence”? Channelers can’t make magic items? Should Mentalism powers be subject to imbedding?
  11. How much of Spell Law is setting specific? How much needs to be?

Some of these issues have been partially addressed in companions or touched upon in RMU but these are all add-on rules that created one-off situations rather than a cohesive foundation for the Spell system.

For us the solutions mostly presented themselves. Our first step was to reclassify spell “Realms” based on the casting mechanics and the boundaries and scope of the realms powers. This required re-defining and expanding on the 3 traditional “realms”.

Realm Scope of Power Casting Ancillary Skill
Essence (Conductive) Elemental, physics, physical manipulation Verbal, Gesture, sensitive to encumbrancde Magical Language
Channeling Miraculous, spiritual, spirit manipulation, lifeforce Verbal Plea Prayer
Mentalism Single target, mind related, self enchancement Concentration Mental Focus
Imbedding (Investiture) Imbedding magic into physical objects Repetition Power Points, maybe crafting
Written (Inscribed) Wards, protection, summoning, defense, triggered Quality, accuracy, durability of inscription, Rune Skill: runes, glyphs, symbols, circles, wards, signs, tattoos
Performance (Rendered) Mass effects, mood, behavior, control Verbal, visual, sound, perceptual Performance skill: music, instrument, singing, dance etc
Intrinsic (Natural Magic) Setting/Ecology At will, focus Depends/none
Incidental (Cantrips) Minor Focus None


Once we built this basic framework we could develop specific casting rules and create new spells that easily dropped into their appropriate “realm”. This also facilitates a scalable process of introducing new or unique lists, setting specific magic or even build new Realm categories as needed without trying to shoehorn into the limitations of the original Essence, Mentalism or Channeling paradigm.  Some examples are Moon Magic, Warrens(Malazan), Blood Magic, Arcane, Spirit/Totem etc).

In Part II we’ll start with Essence.

Rolemaster Skill Bonuses and Skill Ranks

In our attempt to reduce skills to the absolute minimum possible AND to create a unified action resolution for all actions we’ve come up with a hybrid system of ideas from RM and RMU.

The basic premise is that total skill bonus is used for action resolution (MM, SM, combat, SCR etc) and # of skill ranks are used for “proficiency issues”.  The following chart breaks down skills into 3 overall categories: Lores (knowledge), Vocations (job that represents a number of skills and disciplines) and General Skills (everything else).

Skill Ranks Lore Vocation General Skills
1-10 Grade to High School Apprentice Basic knowledge and abilities skill and simpler sub-skill.
11-20 College Journeymen Broad abilities of skill and sub-skills
21+ PhD/Post Grad Master Advanced skills and sub-abilities
50+ Erudite Master Guildmaster or similar Singular mastery of skill and inter-related disciplines

Some will argue for a more robust break down — but again, we are trying to keep things simple. The breakdown is driven by our own rules on learning skills. Knowledge can be learned via tutoring, research or reading; vocations must be learned by doing (you can’t  become a master sailor by being taught in a classroom or reading a tutorial) and the other skills are a combination of learning methods.

Now we have a visual relationship between rank/proficiency and the three overall skill types with qualitative labels for reference. Let’s use one of each for an example:

Lore. As cool as it is to provide obscure info to a player on Dragon mating habits, most GM’s are going to need to rely on skill checks rather than building a expansive wiki on their game world. Lores are simple–the # of skill ranks gives the player and GM a good idea of the players depth of knowledge and sets the boundaries for what the player could possibly know. A skill check using the skill bonus allows for success or failure.

Vocation. Most jobs utilize a number of skill sets–a sailor will have skills in sailing, weather, navigation, knots etc. The skill rank level is used to determine the players level of proficiency and determine if they have the right level of experience and training. A journeyman sailor won’t have star navigation but a Master or Guildmaster certainly would.

General Skills. Using my previous comment on the warrior with 20 ranks in longsword and a 130ob. The total skill bonus is used in combat and the 20 skill ranks is used as a modifier against various combat maneuvers (reverse strike, disarm etc). The shield skill: the skill bonus is used for shield attacks, the rank # is used for DB. Same as RMU.

We’ve folded many skills into “meta skills”. For instance Survival includes sub skills like tracking, traps, snares, weather watching etc. Acrobatics includes contortions, diving, tumbling etc.

There are still a few skills I’m tweaking but I like how its working so far.

Shadow World Revisited: “Here be NO monsters”


One of my favorite aspects of Shadow World is the general lack of fantasy “monsters”. Perhaps the early emphasis of the Fenlon Middle Earth campaign set the tone, but both Rolemaster and Shadow World were relatively light on the D&D style monster encounter.

As a younger player strange and unique monsters helped set the tone of wonder, mystery and even fear but as my players got older, introducing a never ending stream of monsters seemed to work the opposite by taking them out of the game.

Yes, the SW Master Atlas contains most of the entries found in C&T and some of the MA references giants, orcs, trolls, goblins but the predominance of core products (written by Terry) are humanoid centric: human and elves. This leaves encounters and combat focused on PC vs NPC and profession vs profession tactics and strategies.

The exceptions of course are the Dragons, Demons and fusion creatures. The fusion creatures: Shard, Xyr etc give SW it’s unique flavor and arguably add a horror element to the setting. These creatures seemed to have been adopted by the Numenera setting.

Compared to other traditional fantasy settings, SW seems very monster-lite. I call it the “Alien” or “Jaws” approach–having monsters that are few and far between leverage their impact on experienced players.

I like it–what are your thoughts?