Armsmaster for RMU Preview: Two Spell Lists

As part of my project to revise the Armsmaster class and adapt it to RMU, here is a preview of the first two Armsmaster spell lists. You can find them in the Downloads>RMU dropdown menu above. Note these are purely homebrew at this point – they have no official sanction from ICE. I would love to have any and all feedback you can provide.

But first let me give a little explanation of these lists. I noted earlier (in this article on the RMBlog: ) that I always liked the idea of a heavy-armor wearing Mentalism semi-spell user, and that previous editions of Rolemaster gave us the Noble Warrior/Armsmaster. I did have some problems with the class in those incarnations, however, and more recently Jeff Robertson on these boards expressed his frustrations too (many of which I share) in commenting on my posts. The Armsmaster also needs updating to the RMU ruleset and action economy. So this is what I’ve come up with.

One thing to note is that RMU natively solves one of the problems Jeff recently pointed out with the class in previous editions, namely, the problem that so many Armsmaster spells were ‘next round’ buffs. This is a problem because the last thing a semi-spell user wants to be doing in combat is spending lots of turns prepping spells or casting spells that inhibit his combat abilities. Thankfully, in RMU, instant spells (those marked with an asterisk * in the spell list) can now be cast for 0 activity — much like a spell that costs a ‘bonus action’ in D&D — so the RMU Armsmaster can cast a buff spell and still attack at full OB in the same round. I think this makes the Armsmaster spell suite much more useful in RMU (the same goes for the Paladin spells in RMU too, by the way).

I have tried to make all of these Armsmaster spells useful to a heavily armored Kensai/Samurai or Knight type class. I have made his spells focus on his own abilities in combat, rather than group buffs or heals, because I want to leave space for my own Warlord class (who will have a focus on group buffing/enabling). But theoretically you could combine them if you wanted (both are Mentalism users). I am currently working on finishing the Armsmaster’s six spell lists (and the Warlord is just in the planning stages), but I offer you here two preview lists for the Armsmaster:

–Armor Mastery: This focuses on enhancing the Armsmaster’s armor and shield, and on enabling his/her movement in and maintenance of his/her armor.

–Weapon Mastery: This focuses on enhancing the Armsmaster’s weapon, and on his/her ability to wield and maintain his/her weapon, especially his/her ‘personal’ weapon, which is the one mystically attuned to the Armsmaster herself.

In case you are wondering, the remaining four lists for my Armsmaster will be:

–Body Mastery: Focused on movement and alertness skills, such as blindfighting, sensing ambushes, awaking easily from sleep, etc.

–Mind-Sense Mastery: Focused on social skills, unnerving/debuffing, distracting, taunting, and interrogating enemies, etc.

–Self Mastery: Focused on endurance, fortitude, and resistance.

–Technique Mastery: Focused on general combat skills such as multiple attacks, disarming and other weapon tricks, riding, etc.

So, let me know what you think. Is this the sort of Kensai/ Samurai/ Knight that you would find fun to play? Are the spells too weak, too strong, or just right? (Note that some of these spell buffs might seem relatively minor at first glance, but remember that instant spells can now be cast in RMU while meleeing at full effectiveness; and so together, the Armsmaster’s spells and arms skills have a lot of synergy.) All feedback and criticism is welcome. And if you ever get to playtesting these lists, please let me know how it goes!

Rolemaster at Gen Con 2020

Gen Con went down last weekend as a purely virtual affair, and there was quite a lot of Rolemaster activity. I ran two sessions of RMU via Roll20 and there were several other official sessions (I believe of RM2) on Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. There was also a lively Discord chat that included Nicholas Caldwell, Terry Amthor, our own Peter, and various other luminaries. So let’s get right into it.

First, the biggest news, which came through the chat:

–RMU is advancing through the editing process. Arms Law and Character Law are pretty much done, aside from some examples, and about to move to layout. Spell Law is being edited as we speak. Art is now being commissioned. The developers wanted to know whether customers would prefer black and white (cheaper printing), standard colour, or premium colour (the most votes seemed to be for colour). The timelines outlined suggested that the books could be published as early as the end of this year, but likely early next. A condensed version of the rules will likely appear before this. So we are really getting very close to the publication of RMU rules.

–Nicholas wants people to write adventures and modules for RMU. There was also talk of providing RMU stats for old modules such as the Shadow World line as well (which I think would be fabulous), so if anyone with a good knowledge of Shadow World and RMU is interested in that, I think you should contact ICE.

–One person asked about the possibility of a Spacemaster Unified in the future, and the response was that writers would be needed for that. I was kind of excited about the idea, and confess I was even tempted to take a stab at it. I wonder if anyone else (such as Peter?) might be interested as well, given the recent appearance of his Spacemaster-inspired game.

–ICE is working on establishing its own permanent Discord server. I think one silver lining to all of us having to play by internet is that it has shown the powers that be in ICE land the importance and potential of Discord and the Virtual Table Tops.

In addition to the chat, there were also several Rolemaster sessions. I ran two sessions of RMU and was quite happy with how they turned out. I got to meet some people I hitherto knew only via the Blog and the ICE forums (such as Siltoneous and Amano), as they played in my games.

One interesting fact was that of all the classes available to play, the Warrior Mage was the most often chosen: two players chose him first, and a third had him as their second choice. The class is still very popular! Also popular were the Paladin and the Lay Healer (so each party in my two sessions had a Warrior Mage, a Paladin, and a Lay Healer). The other characters played were Sorcerer, Fighter, and Mystic, though the guy who played the Mystic was a bit underwhelmed by its abilities. Other classes that players contemplated playing were Druid, Magent, Ranger, and Thief.

The players who had not had prior experience with RMU were generally impressed with the speed of RMU and the simplicity of things like spellcasting (no more need for BAR and RR charts!). One player who I think was an RM2 guy was also very happy with the way RMU allows semi spellcasters to cast spells while also attacking (remember that in RM2, casters have very few hit points and instantaneous spells use 75% activity). So that I think is a real selling point for RMU: casters no longer need three rounds to cast a shield spell, and semis can cast a lot more while fighting.

That’s all I can think of now, but I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone else has.

The Armsmaster and the Warlord for RMU

As part of my project of translating RM2 classes into RMU, I am turning to consider a personal favorite class of mine, the Armsmaster/Noble Warrior. I’d be eager to hear your opinions on how to make him awesome in RMU.

As I’m doing that, I’m also considering another pet project: creating a Rolemaster version of another favorite class of mine, Dungeons & Dragons’ Warlord. So if you have any thoughts on the Warlord, now is the time to make them known!

Why am I treating them together? Because I think they are quite similar classes, and work best as semi-spell users with a martial, heavy-armor focus. I’d like to make them into two separate classes. I see the Armsmaster as a kind of supreme individual combatant, a Kensei/Swordmaster devoted to swordsmanship; but I see the Warlord as a battlefield commander/centurion/tactician who is all about buffing and empowering the group as he leads from the front.

Why do I want to bring these classes to RMU? Well, aside from the fact that they are just darn fun to play, I think RMU does lack a heavy-armor based Mentalism semi; and we had one in previous editions. JDale has even given us his own suggested costs for the Armsmaster in RMU. But by default, RMU offers us just the Magent, who is more stealth based, and the Monk, who tends not to use armor at all. What if you want to maximize one of the great benefits of the Mentalism realm (i.e. no Transcendence penalties) to create a more martial semi who combines martial skill with a commanding presence and force of will? What if you want to play as Alexander the Great, William the Conqueror, Saladin, Genghis Khan, or Oda Nobunaga? Then the Armsmaster or Warlord is what you want.

First, let’s do a little history of the Armsmaster/Noble Warrior class. The Noble Warrior first appeared in RM2’s Companion III. He was presented as essentially a Paladin without the religious element: he had an exacting moral code, and high entrance requirements, as Paladins had in past systems going back to D&D, but he was more of a vassal to a lord than a champion of a god or goddess. He was therefore a semi-spell user of Mentalism rather than Channeling. Companion III only offered two new spell lists for him: Noble Armor, which had defensive and armor buffs; and Noble Weapon, which had weapon and attack buffs. RoCoIII advised taking his other lists from those of the Paladin (one list was suggested), Beastmaster (two lists), and Monk (five lists).

Rolemaster Companion VII offered a similar class, called the Armsmaster, with virtually identical skill costs, but presented it more as a kind of soldier-class (without the moral code), and fleshed the class out better with a full suite of five spell lists: Battle Trance; Commands; Encampments; Martial Law; and Warriorblade. These lists included several more group-oriented and military style lists, with spells that buffed groups and military skills (tactics, military organization, leadership), and were useful in mass combat. The archetype here was more William the Conqueror than Miyamoto Musashi.

Finally, the RMSS Mentalism Companion seems to me to have brought these two classes together, under the name Armsmaster, with six full base lists of their own: Armor Mastery; Battle Law; Fortress Law; Martial Law; Warrior Law; and Weapon Mastery. It had both individually oriented and group oriented lists.

This brings me to the Warlord. I see an opportunity here to create two quite distinctive classes for RMU. Many of the Armsmaster spells deal with group buffs, in a way that the Noble Warrior’s spells really did not. There’s enough in the Armsmaster lists to just focus the Armsmaster on individual combat. This version of the Armsmaster could be a lone Samurai, a Kensei ‘sword-saint’ like Musashi, or a knight errant. He would be to the Fighter what the Magent is to the Rogue: namely, a semi-spell version of the class, whose power comes as much from mental discipline and force of will as from physical training.

Doing that gives me the space necessary to create another, more group-combat and command-oriented Mentalism semi, namely, the Warlord. As I understand it, the Warlord emerged out of D&D 3.5 expansion material’s Marshal class, which was intended as a group-oriented commander. (Real history note: the medieval ‘marshal’ was usually the officer who commanded the army on behalf of the king – the king’s tactician, if you will). The class was renamed Warlord for 4th edition D&D, and it was a ton of fun to play. I played one through an entire campaign and in fact it was perhaps the most enjoyable character I’ve ever played.

Reactions to the Warlord class were mixed overall, it should be noted, for several reasons. Some people really disliked the idea of a martial class that could heal; the Warlord could inspire his allies to regain hit points in a way that broke the suspension of disbelief for some players (‘shouting a severed arm back on’ was one common complaint, even if it was a little misguided, since D&D did not normally describe hit point damage in terms of severed body parts). Others objected to the name: in English, Warlord has a somewhat sinister connotation, as a term one might apply to Somali pirates or Taliban terrorists. Still others disliked the class because it was a core class in 4e when some others were left out (e.g. Druid and Sorcerer). And some people criticized the class because they just plain old hated 4e in general.

So how can we translate the Warlord into Rolemaster without cheesing people off? I plan to do the following:

–The Warlord will be a group-oriented buffer, but he will not be healing wounds like a Cleric. He won’t be casting clotting or severe cartilage damage healing or regenerate limb. Instead, his spells will be doing things like granting temporary hit points through spells like Unpain (the Warlord inspires you to push through your pain), fatigue relief (the drill sergeant is on your case to get up and move), and stun relief (your commander snaps you back to reality and gets you back into action).

–The Warlord will have an alternate name or names for those who don’t like the connotation: Marshal is probably the leading candidate, though I also like Captain (which was used in the Middle Ages for someone of the knightly class). We can’t use Leader because that was already used for a pure Arms-using class in Rolemaster Companion IV, and the debate about the term ‘Warlord’ has shown that many players dislike ‘leader’ because it implies that the rest of the party have to take orders from that character.

So that’s the plan so far. What do you think? Are there any particular Armsmaster spells or Warlord powers that you can recommend I include? There are lots of spells to make – 6 lists each for two different classes! – so there’s probably a slot for your favorite. Let me know.

Grappling with Grappling, Part III: New Options for Grappling in RMU

Indian Wrestler by Lordeeas:

In the first two installments of this trilogy of blogs, we saw how previous editions of Rolemaster struggled to simulate grappling, primarily because they tried to fit grappling into the standard paradigm of attack chart and critical chart. This forced wrestlers to choose between being bad wrestlers or good murderers, because successful attacks always did some concussion hit damage, and criticals were both erratic and deadly. The RM2 companions and RMSS/FRP tried to solve the problem by adding new skills, but this just increased skill bloat, without reducing the swingy-ness or the lethality of Grappling. We also saw how D&D currently offers a simple and reasonable nonlethal option for grappling, and how RMU innovates as well by adding a Grapple% to the Grappling critical chart and changing the action economy to one that runs on Action Points.

Using the new tools provided by the beta RMU rules, and simultaneously adopting the best of what previous RM editions and the present edition of D&D have to offer, I here present two options for better representing grappling in RMU. I call the first suggestion the ‘Tweak’ Option because it represents some relatively modest additons to the existing RMU rules: mostly just adding a couple of basic grappling maneuvers. I call the second option the Alternative Option because it offers an another way of resolving nonlethal grapples that you can use instead of or along with the default RMU option. But note that you can mix and match elements of these two options to produce exactly the system you want. You could for example implement the Tweak Option’s two basic maneuvers but also use the Alternative Option’s method of resolving grappling attempts with skill checks rather than attack and critical charts (see below).

Both solutions involve adding some additional actions, or combat maneuvers, to the RMU list of actions and their action point costs. I think adding some specific moves is the secret to enabling varied and realistic grappling without risking skill bloat. Thus, instead of RMSS’s Tackle skill, you just have a Tackle maneuver, which you can use so long as you have at least 1 rank in Unarmed: Wrestling. Now, you don’t have to worry every level up about buying a distinct Tackle skill in addition to Wrestling skill; instead, tackling just enters the repertoire of things you can do with your Wrestling skill. We thus avoid skill bloat while also allowing wrestlers to do all the things they love to do.

Another beneficial feature of this maneuvers system is that it allows you to choose which specific maneuvers you want to add to your game, thus enabling you to tailor the RMU grappling rules to your own playstyle, whether it is simple, complex, or anything in between. You can also easily adjust the Action Point costs of individual maneuvers to whatever you think appropriate for your game. And if you like the system, you can add further distinctive moves for various grappling styles, such as Judo’s rear naked choke, and you can assign them different prerequisites in terms of position, Grapple%, and even skill ranks (or you can keep the move simple, and your combat more fantasy-esque, by just ignoring those prerequisites).

Adding formalized maneuvers works especially well for grappling because although real-life wrestling involves a great deal of improvisation, it also encompasses a vast array of set moves with specific names, both offensive and defensive (single-leg takedown, double-leg takedown, fireman’s carry/throw, sprawl, etc.). These manuevers are thus somewhat analogous to the standard maneuvers Rolemaster has already implemented for its weapon combat (e.g. parry, shield block, dodge, disarm, subdue).

Perhaps best of all, adding these sorts of moves to Rolemaster is now easier than ever, because of the changes RMU makes to the action economy. As Aspire2Hope noted, the shorter RMU round (5 seconds as opposed to 10) makes RMU’s combat considerably more specific and less abstract. The fact that the 5 second RMU round can then be broken down still further, into 4 action points of roughly 1.25 seconds each, moves Rolemaster further away from the abstract ‘flurry of blows’ approach of earlier editions and towards a true second-by-second and move-by-move combat system. It is almost as if RMU were tailor made for this sort of grappling system.

The Tweak Option

            The first of the two options I offer here is the Tweak Option. The Tweak Option just adds two new, basic combat actions – Takedown and Shove – to RMU’s grappling rules and action costs table. These additional actions (detailed below) are the sorts of actions that grapplers are going to want to make frequently, so formalizing them with specific AP costs, prerequisites, and written descriptions provides helpful guidance for how to implement them, mechanically.

I express these maneuvers below in a manner similar to the way JDale presented his combat styles a while back (IIRC, since the forums are down and I can’t check this); I suspect my moves could be integrated into his system with little effort. Do note though that the prerequisites I list are optional, and the action point costs are tentative (feedback especially welcome on these!). These actions are also similar to the combat moves you find in games such as All Flesh Must Be Eaten (thanks Mark for that reference!). The fact that we can express these maneuvers so simply is also a feature of RMU’s streamlined action point system:


Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites (optional): Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: You try to tackle your target. Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill check (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top. If you are using tokens/figures and squares or hexes, you occupy the target’s square.


Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: You try to push your target. Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill check (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), or 5’ backwards (your choice). 

Size: The last thing to consider is how to handle size. Because in grappling, size really matters; that’s why wrestling has so many weight categories. D&D as we saw prohibits characters from grappling creatures more than one size larger than their own. But RMU has many more weight categories than D&D, and the RMU categories are more finely graded, so we should probably add some typical Rolemaster open-endedness instead. I suggest that combatants in RMU get a bonus to size-dependent maneuvers equivalent to 50 times the square of the size advantage. So a human fighting a Halfling (one size difference) gets a +50 bonus to any maneuvers. A Troll fighting a Halfling gets a +200 bonus. So yes, the Halfling can still try to take that Troll down, and might get very lucky. But he’ll probably have to roll at least double open-ended to do it. And he’ll have to roll high open-ended 8 times or more to trip a dragon. (If you want a still more granular approach to relative weights, you can use the bonuses in the RMU Feats of Strength rules, which rely on a precise comparison of combatants’ weights even within a size category).

The Alternative Option

            The Alternative Option involves adding a few more moves, but also offers an alternative, nonlethal method for resolving basic grappling attacks: namely, opposed skill checks. This is the system that D&D uses, and it seems to work fine; at least I don’t see too many people complaining that grappling isn’t random or deadly enough in D&D. The system I present here is influenced by the D&D system, and is thus both simpler and in some ways more realistic than the present RMU system insofar as it requires no attack chart (or even critical chart – see below). It also has the advantage of allowing me to grapple my young son without killing him, just like I do every day in real life. This solution also has an RMU twist, though, because it uses RMU skills, and can still use part of the RMU Grappling Critical chart if you want it to. To resolve grapples nonlethally in RMU, then, try adding this move:

Grapple (basic, nonlethal)

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: Make an Unarmed skill roll, opposed by your target’s skill roll (target’s choice of Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, roll a critical on the Grapple critical chart. The severity of the critical is determined by how much your roll exceeded your target’s: 1-10 = A critical; 11-20 = B; 21-30 = C; 31-40 = D; 41-50 = E; 51-60 = F; etc. Apply any results of ‘Grapple%’ to your target, but ignore all other results. All other RMU Grappling rules apply (see Arms and Character Law, 2.7 ‘Criticals and Injuries: Grapple’).

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use the Grappling critical chart at all, then the Grapple% you impose with a successful attack equals the amount by which your roll beat your target’s (e.g. if you beat his roll by 30, you impose a 30% Grapple).

Note that this system allows you to resolve grappling attacks without any chart at all. You can still use the RMU Grappling critical chart whenever you feel like it of course, if for example you want your combat to have a chance at being lethal; and you can also at any time switch to the current RMU Grapple attack chart if you want to represent the more hostile grapples of the sort that wild creatures perform, or if the party Ranger is possessed by a demon, and the party Fighter is trying to wrestle him to the ground. You still have that flexibility.

This chartless method of resolving grappling explains how wrestlers can spar for hours without dying due to concussion hit loss. In the Rolemaster rules as they are currently written, which rely on both attack and critical charts, each successful attack causes some concussion hit damage, and even B criticals can be deadly. This means that wrestlers (especially level 1 adolescents) cannot sustain such attacks indefinitely without being knocked out or even killed. In real life, though, a single practice session for wrestlers sees them subjected to literally dozens of attacks; yet they aren’t constantly falling unconscious and dying. This is what I mean when I say a nonlethal method of resolution is actually more realistic at representing wrestling.

Now that we understand the basic system of moves and nonlethal skill resolution, we can proceed to offer some sample advanced maneuvers:

Single-Leg Takedown

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill); at least 25% Grapple (position).

Modifiers: +15 to your skill check; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top.  

Double-Leg Takedown

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill); at least 50% Grapple (position)

Modifiers: +30 to your skill check; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top.

Rear Naked Choke

Cost: 8 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed or Subdual rank 5 (skill); at least 50% Grapple (position); rear (position); a breathing target

Modifiers: -25 if target is standing; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Having taken your opponent’s back, you leverage your arms around his throat and squeeze.Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target falls unconscious.

Note that the single-leg takedown is better than the basic grapple or takedown: it benefits from a +15 modifier. This is because it also requires that you have a hold of one of your opponent’s legs first (the 25% grapple prerequisite). So if you can set this up by doing a basic grapple first, you will have a better chance of landing it. Similarly, the double-leg takedown has a better modifier (+30), but requires that you have a hold of both legs (50% grapple). Finally, the rear naked choke renders an opponent unconscious, but has the highest requirements and takes the most time: it costs 8 AP, and can only be performed if you already have rear position. These different maneuvers simulate the way a grappler breaks down an opponent.

Suggested Additional Rules

–Close Quarters: If you think these options make wrestling too strong, you could allow a target’s Grapple penalties to be reduced by her RMU Restricted Quarters skill, since that skill represents training in fighting in tight spaces, with a restricted range of movement. This creates an appropriate and pretty effective counter skill to wrestling, but one that only Arms users are likely to be able to afford. (Spellcasters already have lots of other tools for evading grapples, such as Teleport spells).

–Multiple Hands: How do you handle a grappler with multiple hands? You could give a bonus (e.g. +10) to grappling attacks/defenses for each additional hand a combatant employs, beyond the first. Vard Orcs will definitely be happy with that!

–Subdual: One skill that could nicely complement Unarmed: Wrestling is RMU’s Subdual skill. I like the idea of making Subdual an alternative grappling skill that could be used for moves such as the rear naked choke. This is why I list Subdual as an alternative prerequisite skill in my Rear Naked Choke move above.

–Ground and Pound: If you want to simulate an MMA-style ‘ground and pound’, whereby a wrestler first gains position on an opponent and then delivers strikes to him, you can just switch to Unarmed: Strikes once you have obtained sufficient Grapple%. All positional bonuses still apply, and you can still use the default RMU rules for breaking grips.


I could throw some more moves at you, but this is already a ridiculously long article, and I think now you all get the basic idea. You can probably think of many more maneuvers to add. I certainly will, and both earlier editions of Rolemaster (e.g. the Martial Arts Companion) and other games (e.g. All Flesh Must Be Eaten) give dozens more moves too. And that of course is part of the fun of the system. You can create entire combat styles that represent real or fantasy fighting traditions. And you can make grappling as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

            The most important point to note, though, is that RMU already has a chassis better built for grappling than any prior edition of Rolemaster. The action point system, the 5-second round, and the new grappling critical chart all make our job far easier than it has ever been. As long as you are willing to recognize that grappling doesn’t really fit very well into the standard Rolemaster attack chart, and that D&D can have a good idea or two sometimes, then I think the door is open to a much better system of grappling for RMU.

Grappling with Grappling, Part II: The RMU and D&D Approaches

In part I of this series, I explained how the first editions of Rolemaster initially tried to fit wrestling into their normal attack paradigm. They used specific attack charts (Sweeps & Throws, Grappling), which were tied to specific critical charts (Sweeps & Throws, Grappling); and they also offered a non-lethal option by capping results at 105 if you wanted to pull your punches (or grapples as the case may be). The main problem with this approach was that it forced would-be grapplers to choose between being bad wrestlers (since even a maximum result at 105 on the attack chart was unlikely to immobilize an opponent) or good murderers (since the higher results often ended in serious injury or death). In an attempt to solve these problems, the RM2 Companions and RMSS/FRP offered options that mixed different attack charts (Grapple, Sweeps, even Striking) with the different critical charts (Grappling, Sweeps, Unbalancing) almost interchangeably. The Companions and RMSS/FRP also added more skills, such that RMSS had separate skills for Sweeps and Throws; Tackling; Wrestling; and Blocking. But all this really did was introduce skill bloat. In RMSS, you literally had to switch skills three times (from Blocking to Tackling to Wrestling) if you wanted to stop an opponent from running past you and take him to the ground. And RMSS/FRP never solved the problem of the grappler’s Hobson’s Choice between bad wrestling and good murdering.

The final result, then, was still rather unrealistic. I wrestle with my 5-year-old son pretty much every day, but if I used the RM2 or RMSS grappling rules to do this, I would either be very bad at catching him (an attack table result of 105 is unlikely to give me a good grip on him, unless I get lucky with my critical roll), or I would have outright killed him years ago. But in reality I can catch him pretty easily, and the worst injury I have ever given him was a small red mark on his temple due to the fact that I had not cut my fingernails closely enough that day. The earlier editions of Rolemaster never gave me a system that allows me to wrestle him effectively without risking murdering him.

So what’s the solution? The new edition of Rolemaster gives us with some very useful new tools, and I think we can add to them a few ideas from Dungeons & Dragons. Together, I think these finally solve the problem of grappling.

RMU offers us a new system closely tied to earlier editions of Rolemaster. There is still a Grappling table and a Sweeps Throws table, and both still have their own distinct critical tables. But there are also clearer rules for subduing attacks, as well as a Subdual critical table (I think that is an RMSS innovation?). There is also a Wrestling skill, which is a specialization of the Unarmed skill, right alongside Martial Arts Strikes and Sweeps & Throws, where I think it fits well. But thankfully there are no separate ‘Athletic Games’ or ‘Tackling’ or ‘Blocking’ skills to bloat the RMU skill list.

But perhaps the most important change RMU makes is the reworking of the Grappling critical chart. It now includes numerical ‘Grapple %’ results alongside its descriptions of other effects. The Grapple% is a penalty that applies to all the target’s actions so long as it remains grappled. This penalty represents how good a grip/lock the grappler has on her opponent. So when attacked by a grappler who obtains a critical against you, you might suffer a result of ‘30% Grapple’, which means you are at -30 until you break that grapple. Breaking the Grapple is a 4 AP or full-round action, and you can use the Wrestling, Contortions, ‘or other appropriate grappling skill’ to perform it. The amount you roll over 100 is the amount by which you reduce your Grapple% penalty.

So far, so good. The discussion on the forums in recent weeks focused on an apparent oversight in the RMU rules about moving while grappled. In the RMU Rules As Written (RAW), any grapple% result stops all movement for the grappler and the grapplee until the hold is broken. This is a bit of a problem, because it means a Halfing gaining the slightest Grapple% (5%) on a Troll could rather easily stop him from moving altogether. Forum posters suggested various ways of solving this. My own suggestion was to add a stipulation that a grappled target takes on the added encumbrance (including body weight) of his/her grappler. This would mean that the Troll could rather easily drag the Halfling around, but a Halfling grabbed by a Troll would be more or less completely immobilized. In commenting on my suggestion, JDale coined our new RMU slogan — ‘That’s reasonable’ — so I am hoping this might be the solution the developers adopt.

Overall, I like the innovation of adding a grappling % to the critical results, and I think it is one of the keys to improving grappling, but I feel RMU still lacks a two things, namely:

–A controlled, consistently nonlethal Grappling option. In reality, as opposed to the RM grappling rules, a champion wrestler is able to put you where he wants you, and keep you there. That control is to me the very essence of wrestling. But this also means a champion is not going to hurt you inadvertently. Yet, the RMU Grappling attack table still inflicts concussion hit damage (even if it is low), and the RMU Grappling critical chart still causes broken bones, severe injuries, and death on even B criticals. So I still can’t wrestle my son within the RMU Rules As Written. I still have to choose between having less control than I do in reality, or being less effective than I am in reality.

–More standardized maneuvers with specific AP costs, such as ‘takedown/tackle’, so I don’t have to constantly houserule common maneuvers. RMU has thankfully done away with the skill bloat that gave us separate skills for Blocking, Tackling, Wrestling, and Athletic Games. We can now just use Wrestling for all these, and treat Blocking and Tackling as Wrestling maneuvers. But to do that easily, we still need exact AP costs and some basic guidance as to how to handle these as maneuvers.

Dungeons & Dragons offers some ideas for how we can solve these last remaining problems. Why bother with D&D? Well, D&D has a system that is in some ways simpler and better at capturing nonlethal grappling (for a good breakdown, see: ). D&D is also by far the most heavily played and playtested system in the world, which means that there is a good chance your players are already familiar with it, and there are some lessons we can learn from the vast amount of feedback it has accumulated. The relevant aspects of the D&D system are these:

–Grappling is resolved by an opposed skill check (attacker’s Athletics skill vs. defender’s Athletics or Acrobatics skill) rather than a regular attack. Grappling therefore never does hit point damage. Its primary effect is to impose the ‘Grappled’ condition, which reduces the target’s speed to 0.

–Characters can make additional moves beyond the initial grabbing, most notably tackling/takedowns (the ‘Shove’ action).

–Size limits grappling. You can’t grapple a creature more than 1 size larger than you. And you can’t drag a creature you’ve grappled if it weighs more than your carrying capacity.

D&D thus offers quite a lot, namely: a controlled, nonlethal mechanic for resolving Grappling attacks (i.e. using skill checks rather than attack charts); clear rules for takedowns; and a detailed explanation of how size affects grappling.

In my third and final part of this trilogy of blogs, I’ll give specific rules for how similar measures can be implemented to improve grappling in RMU.

Grappling with Grappling, Part I: The Problem

Rolemaster has never done a particularly good job of capturing the mechanics of grappling or wrestling. With the new edition of Rolemaster around the corner, discussion of RMU’s grappling mechanics recently came up on the ICE forums (before they went down). I thought this would be a good occasion to review these rules and offer a few suggestions as to how they can be improved.

In this post, which is the first of three I will make on grappling, I will just survey the rules for wrestling in previous editions (pre-RMU) of Rolemaster. This will get us all up to speed on how Rolemaster has tried to solve the problem of wrestling, and I think it will also make several things abundantly clear: The original Rolemaster’s system of attack charts and criticals never really captured wrestling’s effects very well, and subsequent editions merely added new skills without fixing the underlying problems, which resulted in a confusing proliferation of skills, and frankly a rather hopeless mess of mechanics. I think Rolemaster can do better than that.

Full disclosure: this is a topic dear to my heart. I actually wrestled a little bit (the real kind—what Americans call ‘amateur’ or ‘olympic’ wresting, as opposed to the fake ‘professional’ wrestling) in middle and high school. I love the sport. It is the hardest one I have ever done, for it demands every ounce of your energy and attention. And the list of UFC champions will testify that it is one of the most effective martial arts in the world.

The rules for grappling in RM2 were pretty simple. There was an attack table for ‘Grapple/Grasp/Envelop/Swallow’ (the picture showed a squid and a snake), which did relatively few hit points in damage and resulted in Grapple criticals. One unique thing about this table was the note at the bottom saying that for each round that a creature obtained a critical against its target, the creature got a +10 to OB against that target. This seemed to be an attempt to show a creature sinking in a deeper hold on its target. There was also a Martial Arts: Sweeps and Throws skill, which was meant to simulate martial arts such as Judo and Wrestling. Its attack chart too did relatively few hit points and resulted in Grapple criticals. There was a note that combatants trying to subdue an enemy without doing serious damage could roll on the Grapple or the Sweeps attack table, with a maximum result of 105; this was the cutoff for ‘Small’ attacks, with a maximum critical of ‘B’ severity, which ensured that the attack would be non-lethal… but also make the attack less likely to actually grapple or immobilize its target. On more severe results, the Grapple critical chart could inflict some serious injuries, including death. 91-5 on a C for example resulted in the target being stunned and unable to parry for 44 rounds (is that a record?) and at -95 afterwards. This forced wrestlers to make a choice between the lesser of two evils: play it safe and be a bad wrestler; or be a good wrestler and risk murdering your opponent. That wasn’t ideal.

I imagine RM2’s Unbalancing chart could also be used to represent grapples, but it includes lots of broken bones and very serious injuries, including death, so it isn’t ideal either for capturing two wrestlers in a sparring match.

RM2 also had the Subdual skill, but is was far more Vulcan Nerve Pinch than Rear Naked Choke, and it required a lot more setup than wrestlers did. It was more of a fantasy skill to render unconscious a foe that you approached unawares, and who had no armor on its upper body. You also had to develop the skill separately for different types of creatures. Mechanically, you had to roll 101+ on a skill check, and your bonus was halved if your foe was in melee, so it wasn’t really something a wrestler thought of doing. Even if you succeeded, the defender still got an RR versus your skill ranks in Subduing. To this day, I’m not quite sure what stat affected this RR (I am assuming Constitution?).

The RM companions did not add much more. Companion IV lamented the lack of ability to attack to subdue, and offered some additional options for that, such as changing lethal criticals to non-lethal criticals, provided the attacker accepted a penalty (-20 or more) to the attack’s OB, and that the attack was of a type that could be used non-lethally (e.g. yes for Grapples, no for Lightning Bolts). The Arms Companion added the ‘Melee Scuffle’ skill, which was essentially a tripping skill that used 40% of your activity for the round.

RMSS/FRP tried to solve the problem by adding many more wrestling-like skills. However, these skills seemed at times to overlap with and even contradict one another, and even then, they never really offered wrestlers any other option than the traditional ones of being either a bad wrestler or a good murderer. The RMSS core rules added a Tackling skill, which fell under the Martial Arts: Strikes category. The description of Tackling said it was the skill to use for bringing someone to the ground and temporarily immobilizing them. Tackling used the Martial Arts: Strikes attack table, but with results capped at rank 1, and the criticals were Grappling rather than MA Srikes. Confusingly, RMSS then added that if the contest continued after the initial tackle, then a separate ‘Wrestling’ skill was to be used (I guess no one was thinking of Greco-Roman wrestling here). This Wrestling skill was in the MA: Sweeps category rather than Strikes, and used the Sweeps attack chart rather than the Strikes attack chart, but again with Grappling criticals and a cap of rank 1 results. One problem with this was that the skill descriptions said Tackling had more of an intent to injure whereas Wrestling was just aimed at immobilization, but mechanically, both attacks used exactly the same criticals (Grappling). And those Grappling criticals resulted in lots of broken bones and even instant death.

To add further confusion, RMSS also had yet another separate skill called ‘Athletic Games’, in an entirely separate category (Athletic Games: Brawn), whose written description specifically cited ‘Wrestling’ as one of these games. The lesson here, kids, is that adding more skills is not the solution to every problem! RM2 had had a secondary skill called ‘Athletic Games’, but the description in Rolemaster Companions I and II never mentioned Wrestling, so I am assuming RMSS just added that in here.

RMFRP also redid the Grappling critical charts, changing some of the results. For example, it changed 00 on an E critical from crushing foe’s windpipe to crushing foe’s windpipe and literally ripping his head off. So much for sparring I guess.

The RMSS Martial Arts Companion added an optional rule that adjusted the maximum damage of Wrestling according to the difference in sizes of the combatants. That was kind of neat. It also offered a ‘Locking Holds’ skill, that used the Sweeps attack chart (again limited to rank 1 results) and a new ‘Locking Holds’ critical chart. Again, that was pretty cool. Unfortunately, that chart’s results included lots and lots of broken bones, so it wasn’t very suitable for wrestling.

The RMFRP School of Hard Knocks further confused matters (to me at least) by citing ‘wrestling’ as an example of its Athletic Games: Brawn skill, but then going on to talk mostly about ball sports. To further confuse you, the School of Hard Knocks’ description of the Tackling skill was illustrated by two figures that are clearly Wrestling.

So what does this trip through memory lane prove? To me, it clearly shows that adding a plethora of new skills will not solve the problem of realistically representing grappling. RMSS’s multiplication of skills just amplified confusion over how to resolve wrestling actions. The real solution – for me at least – lies in using existing skills and mechanics instead, and simplifying them to produce a more realistic and workable system. Wrestlers should not have to choose between being bad wrestlers or good murderers.

My next post will compare how two other systems can offer help in achieving these goals. The two systems are: Dungeons and Dragons, which offers a very simple and reasonably good method for resolving grapples (especially the non-lethal kind); and RMU, which presents a new Grapple critical table, new size rules, and a simpler action economy, which enable us to simplify the rules for grappling while at the same time making them more realistic than they have ever been. In my third and final post of this trilogy on Grappling, I’ll offer my own houserules for handling grappling in RMU.

RMU: Pregenerated Characters of (Almost) Every Class

Bored at home? Looking for something to do? Check out these RMU characters I made by hand. You can find them in the Downloads>RMU dropdown menu above. They were done in Excel, on my own homemade character sheet. They include two of almost every class (at level 2 and at level 5).

I built these characters for several reasons. First, I wanted to have a stable of pregens for any playtestests I run, like the one I did at GenCon last year. I also wanted to include them in the introductory adventures I am writing. I find that one of the barriers to playing Rolemaster for new groups especially is the complexities of the character creation process, so having characters ready to go I think might entice more people to give the system a try. Another thing I wanted to do was to see which classes are viable in combat, and which might need help — and indeed this process was quite enlightening. Finally, I wanted to have a list of ‘Templates’, or a set of skills to buy for 60 DP (the allotment each character gets each level), as a guide to players for how to make a viable build. That too can be overwhelming for new players: not just making a character, but levelling her up.

I built characters of almost every class. I didn’t include the non-PC classes Laborer or Scholar, nor did I try my hand at a No Profession (though a heavy armor Mentalist semi would be a very good class indeed in RMU!). I also didn’t build a Dabbler, because I simply could not make a combat-viable one; I preferred instead to make my own (homebrewed) Warrior Mage, which is much more capable. I also didn’t make a Healer, since I think players already have lots of Healing options, most notably Cleric and Lay Healer.

A few things to note about my characters:

–‘RAW’ or ‘Kosher’ means characters built according to the RMU beta2 Rules As Written. Homebrew means I have included either my own new spell lists (for the Bard, Druid, and Ranger) or both my own new spell lists as well as my own new class (the Warrior Mage is one I made from scratch).

–I built these characters without using the Footwork skill or Knacks, since I don’t need or use either of those. I also didn’t much use the Grace skill, since the mechanics of it are still in flux, and I worry it is a bit overpowered. But I did use it for a few classes that I thought could make the most use of it.

–Some of the later costs for Combat Training skills are a bit of an estimate, since the released beta2 rules only include costs for the first four Combat Training skills.

–The full list of talents for each race involved a bit of guesswork, since the talents are changing as we speak (as Creature Law reduces the number of them). JDale was very helpful however in giving guidance on the talents for the new races I used (High Men, Hvasstonn, Idiyva, Nycamerith, and Sstoi), though, so those should be accurate,. Thanks very much to the always helpful JDale!

–These characters are built for combat. My players are classic Hack and Slashers, which means that in my group, any classes that can’t contribute in combat simply don’t get played. That’s why I needed to add new spells lists (many of which were reworked versions of old RM2 spell lists) for the Bard, Ranger, and Druid. Otherwise, these classes really did not offer much in terms of combat ability. If you play a more combat-light style, you would probably want to exchange some of the combat skills for more spells, and Lore, Crafting, and Social skills.

–I have built Clerics and Druids as both healers and as more battle-versions, so that’s why you’ll see multiple Clerics and Druids, with some focused more on healing and others fighting. I found that even the battle Cleric could still heal quite well though (the Druid wasn’t as effective at that, since he doesn’t get Lifekeeping/-Giving spells like the Cleric does).

–The characters are all Shadow World characters insofar as their languages and lore go, so as long as you are ok with some of the new RMU races being in Shadow World, these should be ready for Kulthea.

I have also added my templates for each class. You will find them in the Downloads>RMU>Templates for RMU Classes file. I also plan to blog soon on what I’ve learned about which classes in particular need help. But for now, enjoy!

A Mystic Character (Pregenerated) for RMU (Homebrew)

As part of Mystic week here on the Blog, here is an RMU Mystic character, a level 5 Grey Elf, for your viewing/playing pleasure. You can view it in Downloads>RMU, accessible above (once Peter approves it).

 This is the best I can do for the Mystic. I don’t have a new take on the class, nor a supplemented or redone set of spell lists, nor really much of an idea as to what to do with the class. That’s not because I disagree with what Peter wrote; rather, it is because I pretty much agree with everything he said. The Mystic lists really are very unoriginal – as they have been since first edition Rolemaster – because they mostly reproduce spells other classes get on other lists. My players have been entirely uninterested in the class: I have never had a player play a Mystic or even ask what they were; in fact, when I started to build one for RMU as part of my project of building a pregen character of every RMU class for a set of introductory adventures, I had to look through the lists to see what they actually did, despite the fact that I’ve been playing Rolemaster now for over 30 years. Your mileage may vary of course!

 The definition of the class is really vague. And that isn’t just a Rolemaster problem: Dungeons and Dragons recently introduced a Mystic class (in a series of Unearthed Arcana articles), and its class definition is likewise vague. It pretty much does everything: it has elemental balls (Detonation), utility, skill boosts, defense, healing, even resurrection. And the DnD Mystic also seems to have an additional problem that the RM one does not: the DnD Mystic seems to be quite overpowered, at least at some levels of play. The general consensus seems to be that the lack of focus and the excessive power are closely related: the class is overpowered because it is just too versatile, often outperforming other classes in their primary role:  .

I can attest to the fact that the DnD Mystic is overpowered. We just finished a Princes of the Apocalypse DnD campaign, and in the final battle, the Mystic dropped a fireball for mass damage (Detonation), teleported herself and the entire party across the battlefield to the bad guys so that the fighters could instantly start going to town on their casters, then resurrected multiple party members when they died. I think the main culprit for the power imbalance in DnD is that the Mystic works kind of like a Rolemaster spellcaster in that she has spell points rather than slots. Thus, the Mystic can keep resurrecting till she runs out of spell points, where a Cleric could do only one or two res spells (since the Cleric has to use up high-level slots rather than just spend a number of spell points).

 If one wanted to unify the class, one might begin by considering the etymology of the word Mystic. What does it mean? It seems to come from words that mean hidden and mysterious, and are associated with secret or hard to acquire knowledge: ineffable, unquantifiable, experiential as opposed to rational and analytical. When we talk of medieval ‘Mystics’, we mean people who claimed to have visions from god or the gods, such as the Oracle of Delphi or Hildegard of Bingen. The visions were strange, cryptic, and at times terrifying. In many traditions, mysticism is also associated with ascetic practices, as in Christian monasticism and Muslim Sufism. But of course Rolemaster has Monks (and even Clerics in a pinch) for that.

So where does this leave the RMU Mystic? Well, in a similarly vague place as the DnD mystic I guess, but happily I think with less concerns about being overpowered. I think some of the old RM2 Astrologer spell lists, such as Holy Vision, Far Voice, and Time’s Bridge, could actually be resurrected to fit the classical definition of a Mystic, to give it that ‘Mystical’ element it seems to lack. But those old lists would need a lot of work, because they have more gaps than spells for long stretches, and RMU does a good job of requiring that there be a spell at every level of its lists.

So, unable to completely revamp the Mystic class, I focused instead just on making a single, combat-viable Mystic character. Because from my perspective, if a Mystic can lay some smackdown, I might not mind so much that she is a bit of a mess thematically, and my players might be intrigued by the class. I enjoyed taking on this challenge, even if I’m not sure if I succeeded, because trying to make classes dangerous is fun to my min/maxxing mind.

I began by asking myself: what advantage does the Mystic have over the Magician for having access to the Mentalism realm? To me, it seems the answer is things like: good self healing, including stun relief, as well as the combat buffs/enhancement from the very useful Open Mentalism lists. So I thought the class would work best as a light, stealthy DPS class that has the unique style of going invisible/unseen, sneaking up on a foe, unloading a deadly elemental bolt, and then escaping. That seemed intriguing. So I loaded up on Quickness (for DB), Directed Spell and elemental bolts for attacks, stealth/disguise/influence skills and spells to get the drop on foes, as well as movement and damage resistance spells/abilities to get out of dodge if the surprise bolt attack fails.

I have no idea if this will work in practice, because it does seem like a somewhat insane playstyle. But it could be a lot of fun.