The Warrior Mage for RMU (Homebrew): Spell Lists; Skill Costs; Sample Character; and Discussion


As Brian already noted, this is Warrior Mage week here on the Blog, so here is my version of the Warrior Mage for RMU. You will find the skill costs in Downloads>RMU>Profession: Warrior Mage, and the Spells in Downloads>RMU>Spell List: Warrior Mage Base. I have also rolled up a sample Warrior Mage character (High Elf) that you can use in the same section.

The Argument for the Class: To me, the Warrior Mage archetype is more recognizable than many classes already in Rolemaster – yes, Dabbler and Magent, I am looking in your direction! If you ask someone to tell you what a Warrior Mage, Dabbler, and Magent are, I am quite certain the vast majority will be able to give you a better description of the first profession than either of the two others.

     The Warrior Mage archetype also has a longer history. D&D players call the archetype ‘Gish’. As Mark noted, the Gish has been around arguably since ‘Elf’ was a class in original D&D, when Elves could multiclass between Fighting Man and Magic User. It later took its unofficial name from the iconic Githyanki Fighter/Mages in Fiend Folio (one is on the cover, actually, as you can see below), though they were not yet a distinct class. The Gish was formalized in 4e DnD as the Swordmage class, which had many of the spells/feats the RM Warrior Mage exhibited (things like shield, teleportation, elemental attacks, etc.). 5e cut down on the number of classes overall, but has presented several Gish-type options in subclasses such as the Bladesinger. The archetype then is well established, as attested to by the many names it goes by, whether Gish, Swordmage, Spellsword, Warrior Mage, or several others.

A Chronological History of the Warrior Mage in Rolemaster: But let’s focus on the Warrior Mage in Rolemaster, because it has undergone a lot of changes over the years. Here are the main ones:

     –The Warrior Mage class first appeared in 1987’s Rolemaster Companion II. The original lists included the most problematic of all the Warrior Mage lists, Elemental Ways, which gave the WM all the best Magician spells in a single list.

     I would like to make one important point on this original version of the WM, though: The class sure looked overpowered, but in practice he wasn’t quite as powerful as he seemed. He paid high costs for skills and spells, and on top of that needed to develop an additional skill (Transcend Armor) just to function in armor. His best mundane weapon cost was 2/7, Directed Spells came at 3/6, and Transcend Armor was 2/5, meaning an average character would be spending more than 50% of his entire DP allotment on those three skills alone (and that is with just 1 rank in Transcend). This doesn’t include buying the actual spells themselves (at a cost of 4/*), to say nothing of Body Development, Perception, or even Maneuvering in Armor itself. So I think part of the sharp difference of opinion people have on the Warrior Mage is a reflection of the difference between the people who merely read the Warrior Mage’s spells and those who actually tried to buy them. That said, I freely admit that Elemental Ways was overpowered.

     –In 1989 came what was specifically described as ‘a variant of the Warrior Mage’ called the ‘Elemental Champion’ in the RM2 Elemental Companion. This toned down the WM by restricting him to a single element.

     –Next, in 1990, was the RM2 Companion IV which offered a few more base lists to the WM (the Monk base Evasions and the Open Mentalism Illusions).

     –In 1997, perhaps the biggest change happened in the Essence Companion, which attempted to rebalance the Warrior Mage/Elemental Champion as a way of converting him to the new edition of Rolemaster, RMSS. Here an attempt was made to address the elemental attacks issue by removing the ability to cast elemental balls altogether, and limiting the range of the Warrior Mage’s Shock Bolt to 50’. However, the RMSS Warrior Mage also got to use the same spell (not list, but actual spell: Jolting Blade/Flame Blade, etc.) to give her weapon an extra elemental critical until she ‘threw’ the bolt from it. That was arguably more powerful than an elemental bolt alone! And the RMSS version also allowed the Warrior Mage to use multiple different elements too (she essentially got Shock Bolt at level 3, Fire Bolt at level 8, and Lightning Bolt at level 18), with the higher level spells having greater range.

     –Then in 2002, Fire and Ice: The Elemental Companion gave an RMFRP version of the Elemental Champion. This provided more elemental abilities (including immolation-type effects and the ability to summon and control elementals), but removed altogether the class’s ability to cast bolts and balls; the addendum, however, added the ability to cast bolts and balls (limited to one specific element) to the Closed Elemental lists.

     –Finally Rolemaster Classic gave the Elemental Champion another go, adopting the solution of having the class choose only one element, but retaining the ability to cast bolts (and at level 16, a ball too). This version also gave the class buffs/abilities based on its element (e.g. if you specialized in light you could cast Light).

Overall, then, I think it is fair to say that the biggest problem people have had with the Warrior Mage is balancing their elemental attacks. Each new version of the class has tried to get that balance right. I think we can all agree that the concept of a Semi-Spell User has always been at the very core of Rolemaster, but if the Semi’s spells are as powerful as the pure caster’s, then that isn’t very balanced. That, together with balancing skill costs, is the ultimate challenge of the Warrior Mage.

Ways to Balance the Warrior Mage: After appreciating this history and the challenges inherent in the class, I adopted these first principles/solutions to guide me as I created my own version of the Warrior Mage for RMU. These principles are:

     –We can help balance the class’s Elemental Attacks by restricting each individual Warrior Mage to one chosen element. This solution also has pedigree, as it is almost as old as the class itself, and spans both RM2/Classic and RMSS/FRP. The class should not have access to Shock Bolt, Fire Bolt, Ice Bolt, and Lightning Bolt simultaneously!

     –We can also promote balance by making some of the Warrior Mage’s spells self-only. Spells such as fly, shield, invisibility become less game-breaking when the WM can’t cast them on the entire party.

–One of the reasons the WM was unbalanced in earlier editions was that it got an optional self-healing list (the Monk’s Body Renewal). I don’t think this sort of healing fits in the repertoire of a semi-spellcaster of Essence, especially now that the Monk has been moved to Mentalism. So my WM has no more clotting spells, wound-repair spells, etc. That’s just not his jam. Every class needs an Achilles heal 🙂

     –Finally, we can also use the new tools provided by the new edition of Rolemaster (RMU) to help balance the class. The new tools include new size rules (which can be used to ensure the WM’s Elemental Attacks are a step below those of the Magician), as well as clear rules for creating professions (which help ensure the Warrior Mage’s skill costs aren’t just the best costs for all the useful skills).

Skill Costs: You can hopefully now navigate to the RMBlog’s section Downloads>RMU and find my skill costs for the Warrior Mage there. I have used the RMU rules as written for this, because RMU provides an actual formula for assigning skill costs, and all classes in RMU follow this formula.

In the end, the RMU Warrior Mage’s costs are not that different from those of a Paladin (though the two professions have different spellcasting Realms of course). This cost similarity makes sense to me, since both are martially-oriented semi-spell using classes. Thus, if the Paladin’s spell costs are balanced in RMU (and I think they are more balanced than in any previous edition, because  RMU finally has a system for balancing them), then I think it is fair to say that the Warrior Mage’s costs are finally balanced now too.

Spell Lists: I looked through all the old spell lists for the various versions of the Warrior Mage/Elemental Champion in all previous editions and came up with the following six base lists. They represent a distillation and rebalancing of the old spells:

–Warrior’s Bridge is similar to earlier WM movement lists as well as the Closed Essence: Lofty Bridges. Note that the WM can still take Lofty Bridges as a closed list, at a relatively high cost, but the WM-specific version is cheaper, with the downside that it tones down some of the spells by making them caster only. So if you want to be able to fly, you can make a Warrior Mage. But if you want to be able to make your entire party fly, you’re much better off choosing to be a Magician.

–Warrior’s Element tries to balance the WM’s elemental attacks. It gives the WM the ability to make a bolt, ball, and wall, but only of one element: like the old Elemental Champion, my WM has to decide which is his ‘chosen element’, and can only cast elemental attacks of that chosen element. Furthermore, this list also uses the RMU size rules to ensure that a Warrior Mage’s elemental spells are a step behind the Magician’s in power level. Thus for example, the Magician gets a normal-sized Shock Bolt at level 2, but the Warrior Mage’s version of the spell would be size ‘small’, meaning it does only 75% concussion hit damage, and gets a 1 critical severity reduction. So when the Magician’s Shock Bolt does 24C, the Warrior Mage’s would only do 18B. The Magician still reigns supreme for pure elemental power.

–Warrior’s Shield is based on previous WM shield spells, and provides the basics such as Shield, Blur, Deflections (available to most other classes on other open/closed lists), and some elemental defences. The WM could already access many of these on Closed Essence lists, but these ones on his base list are tailored a bit more to the WM’s elemental focus. They are balanced primarily by only affecting the caster.

–Warrior’s Weapon is based on some previous WM/Elemental Champion lists, especially ones that buffed her weapon with elemental damage. I’ve tried to balance these by comparing them to similar spells at the same spell level on other lists in RMU Spell Law; I tried to keep the levels as close as possible.

–Warrior’s Will is loosely based on some of the WM/EC buff lists, but I’ve added some more utility in terms of buffs to skills such as Attunement (which I think a class like Warrior Mage is especially well suited to, given their combination of arms and spellcasting). And as per my basic balancing principles outlined above, I have removed the self-healing spells.

–An Elemental List: For the final list, I recommend that each WM take ONE list corresponding to his element (the same element that he chooses for Warrior’s Element) from the Elemental Specialist lists in Fire and Ice: The Elemental Companion (RMSS). These give really great flavor to the elemental utility lists because they are focused on a specific element. The Earth list Earth Mastery for example includes the ability to oxidize or sharpen a metal weapon, create a corridor through stone, etc. I am currently working on updating these lists for RMU, but they are mostly usable already, and help to distinguish different builds/varieties of Warrior Mages.

So, if you have some time, definitely take a look at these lists and let me know what you think!

New Druid Spell Lists (RMU, Houserules): Druidstaff; Insect Mastery; Stone Mastery

Catharsis, by Kevin Moran:

I’ve just adapted and reworked three of my favorite old RM2 Druid lists for RMU. You can download them in the Downloads>RMU section at the top of this website (just click on ‘downloads>RMU if you don’t get a dropdown menu). Let me know what you think!

This is of course part of our ‘Druid Week’. Peter and Brian and Mark have already weighed in on the Druid in their own blogs, so here is my take. I think we do have a split here between on the one hand Mark and Peter, who tend to prefer the RM2 Animist, and on the other hand myself and Brian, who generally feel that the Animist’s spells sucked. I personally play a combat-heavy game, which I imagine deeply affects my expectations, so keep that in mind: these lists are made to give the Druid some mojo.

Despite our different perspectives, I think we can all agree that the RM2 Druid’s spells had balance issues. I agree with Peter’s critique of the power level of several of the RM2 Druid’s spells and lists. However, I would also note that RMU has corrected most if not all of the general Druid issues (apart from the three specific lists I redid) of yesteryear:

–The Druid’s Peace list is unnecessary (and absent) now in RMU, since the Druid already can take spells to put animals to sleep (Druid Base: Animal Mastery) or calm other living targets (Closed Channeling: Calm Spirits).

–There is also no longer any Plantskin spell in RMU, and indeed the wider issue that made Plantskin so great in RM2 (namely, the wonky attack charts and the fact that armor types such as 1, 4 and 12 were ridiculously good) has been corrected across the board in RMU. RMU has also more appropriately balanced armor-granting spells.

–RMU has also tempered the effects of spells such as Spike Growth and Animate Stone, to make them more balanced. For example, instead of the Spike Stones giving 1d4 +100 dagger attacks, we now have Earthen Spikes which just gives a single A puncture critical.

So, RMU has pretty much fixed the general balance issues with the Druid. They have added one combat-oriented list, Nature’s Ire, true, but it is much more balanced than the old RM2 Druid lists. I think this will allow more people to accept a more combat-oriented Druid into your RMU game if you wish. And if you don’t wish, and instead prefer the original RM2 Animist to Druid, then you can just cut out the RMU Druid’s Nature’s Ire list, and you’ll have your Animist virtually intact from what he was in RM2. The spells will be almost exactly the same.  

But the old RM2 Druid spells were really great, and they have not survived into RMU. I still love the flavor and the feel of the old RM2 badass Druid, so I’ve tried to resolve the balance issues by reworking these three lists, to give the Druid more combat options while keeping the balance in-line with other casters.

–Druidstaff brings back the beloved (or behated!) list from the original RM2 Companion I. I’ve tried to solve the issues here by toning down bonuses across the board. I’ve also made the ability to throw the Druidstaff a separate spell that costs Powerpoints (rather than being an inherent quality of the staff). This list is especially good for a Druid who wants to use spells at a long distance and a staff up close/medium distance.

–Insect Mastery brings back a list that was first introduced as an extra Druid list in RM Companion V, and later copied in slightly modified form into the RMFRP Channeling Companion. I have modified it to fit the new RMU action economy. Since the original list often did not give very good guidance on specific spell effects (esp. attacks), I have also given specific statistics for the insects themselves in the notes at the end (basing them on the templates one finds in RMU Creature Law, which gives stats for Bee/Wasp, Giant Wasp, and Ant Colony). I’ve also given stats for the insects’ enlarged versions. I’ve also added a few new spells (Detect Insects and Speak With Insects) to fill a few gaps (thanks to JDale for some suggestions there!). This list is especially good for a Druid who wants to be more of a controller, harassing and poisoning enemies with swarms of insects.

–Stone Mastery rebalances one of the original RM2 Druid lists that was overpowered. I have tried to maintain the flavor and distinctiveness of this list, though, because it was one of the unique things about playing a Druid. I have toned down the most problematic spells in various ways: Magic Stone is now Bursting Stone, which is more in line with the general power level of other casters’ spells of that level (it just gives an A Krush critical). The list also provides variety insofar asa its attacks are not bolts or balls, but real physical items: Hurl Stones uses RMU’s Rock attack table, for example. Druids have been literally brought down to earth. This list is especially good for the Druid who wants to focus on medium- to long-range combat.

As with my other spell lists, these are drafts, and my main concern is balance. So do enjoy, but if you see something that you think is still to powerful, let me know!

Wyrd Bow and Wyrd Blade: New Ranger Base Lists (RMU, Houserules)

Art by Conor Burke:

The following lists are my solution to what I feel is one of the weaknesses of the Ranger class in Rolemaster: a lack of combat spells. You can access them in our Downloads: RMU section, above.

The Ranger has some good utility spells, but imho it has always lacked some combat oomph. These two lists give a lot of oomph. Too much? let me know what you think.

Each of these two lists allows the Ranger to create a personal ‘Wyrd weapon’ (ranged or melee), a magical bow, blade, or other weapon attuned specifically to him or her (or it). They then use that bow or blade to buff their own attacks, striking more intuitively with it (Intuitive Strike), using special arrows with it (Elemental Arrow), having it change shape to grow spikes, etc.

The concept of a ‘Wyrd Bow’ originated I believe with James W. Canavan Jr., who published the list of that name in the Guild Companion in 2000 ( ). I have adapted that list to RMU, and also used it as the basis of my ‘Wyrd Blade’ list that extends the favor to the melee Ranger.

Note that the intent is that a Ranger character will only take one of these two lists, picking between being primarily a ranged or primarily a melee character (yes, the shadow of Drizzt is long!). A character can only have one Wyrd blade at any given time, so developing both lists would not be very practical or effective.

These are rough drafts, so please let me know what you think.

Mockery: A New Bard Base List (RMU Houserules)

Art by inXile, Concept 4:

In response to Peter’s most recent discussion of the Bard, I offer this new Bard base spell list, Mockery. Although I designed Mockery for RMU, I believe you could use it for earlier editions. If you try to do that, I recommend changing any instances of the words ‘action point’ to a -25 modifier per point.

You should be able to find a Word file of the list in the Downloads>RMu section in the banner above. I have included both the original version and a new, less silly version for those of you who have no sense of humor 🙂 .

Why this new list? As I’ve noted recently on the ICE forums, I feel that some of the RMU semis (Bard, Dabbler, and Ranger especially) lack effective combat spells. This isn’t a problem unique to RMU: this is a problem RMU has inherited from previous editions. These classes have always had lots of utility spells, many of which are great; but my group is quite combat oriented, and in this department, these classes have few options, despite the fact that semis pay a lot of development points for their spells. I hope then to address the paucity of combat options by creating my own lists.

So what does the RMU Bard, specifically, need? Having just pregenerated a Bard character for my upcoming Gen Con sessions, I feel I now have a bit better handle on the class, both its strengths and its weaknesses. One weakness is that it isn’t very easy to make a combat Bard. In my opinion, a combat Bard needs more quick, low-level combat spells: some instantaneous ones that are minor debuffs (similar to the useful, instant-speed buffs other semis like the Paladin get); and some non-instantaneous spells that impose major debuffs or exercise battlefield control.

Being an Essence semi-spellcaster, the Bard needs these sorts of spells even more than Channeling or Mentalism semis in my estimation because the Bard has to develop Transcendence, at a cost of 4/6, in order to wear any armor at all (Channeling casters can wear up to heavy leather without Transcendence, and Mentalists can wear any armor except helmets). My level 2 Bard couldn’t even put on soft leather without it interfering with his spells. This makes for a very squishy caster, especially at low levels. Thus, the Bard needs some good, low-level combat spells – ideally debuff and control-oriented to fit with the class concept – in order to protect himself and make himself less of a liability in combat.

Please note that the spells on this new ‘Mockery’ list are not ‘songs’ that follow the rules for Bardic Songs in Spell Law 10.1. The Bard has two lists (Controlling Songs and Inspiring Songs) that follow these rules for songs, but that means they can be slow and clunky to set up. The spells on the Mockery list, on the other hand, just follow the normal spellcasting rules. I see the Mockery list in particular as the Bard’s backup plan, allowing her more combat utility, especially in cases when the party is surprised by hostile creatures.

Another thing to note is that some spells on the Mockery list have what I believe is my own new mechanic: they allow modifications to their RR based on the ranks the Bard has in a particular skill.  These modifications allow the Bard to use the ability she has developed in otherwise non-combat skills, such as Composition and Social Awareness, to enhance her spells, thus making these skills more useful in combat. This also makes for some interesting tactical choices. The Bard can for example choose between casting more powerful spells that are easier to resist (i.e. have no RR mod.), or less powerful spells that are harder to resist (i.e. have an RR mod.). The Bard can also choose between casting lower level spells with no RR mod., or higher level spells with a mod.

One last thing to consider as you read the spells on this list is that, while many of them are quite powerful control spells, they have one big downside: they are only effective on targets that have a language the Bard knows. Thus the Bard is especially good at controlling foes she can speak to, but much less effective against mindless undead, giant amoeba, etc. The Bard is also better at facing foes if she can spend some time researching who they are, and learning their language (which most Bards consider a very Bardic thing to do), or if she knows/learns spells on other lists that allow her to speak her target’s language. That is one important balancing factor for the list.

This is a rough draft, and I welcome all comments and criticism. I am especially interested in any comments relating to the power/balance of the different spells. I sometimes found it hard to judge what level a spell should be, given that I introduced another variable (RR mods for skill ranks) to the power equation.

I’d also like to give a shout out to JDale and Technobabble66, one of the developers of RMU and a poster on the ICE forums respectively, since they gave me some good ideas that I have incorporated into this list.

So, what do you think? Is this the Bard you’re looking for?

A Note on Hurin’s RMU Houserules: Thanks to Peter’s kindness, I now have a section of the blog devoted to my RMU houserules. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few requests from posters on the ICE boards to formalize my houserules so that they can use them. Over the coming months, I plan to use this section of the blog to do just that: to post for everyone’s use all of the rules I currently use, as well as all the ones I will make in the future.

Since this is my first time posting my houserules, and I’m still figuring out how to post documents and make them downloadable, I am also posting the spell list here. I don’t want to post all about the list and then not have you able to access it! So enjoy.

Bard Base


Level) Spell                                   Area of Effect     Duration              Range    Type

1) Minor Mockery *                        1 target                2 rounds              100’       F

2) Clumsify                                          1 target                1 round                100’        F

3) Annoy *                                          1 target                1 round                50’          F

4) I Wouldn’t Do That                     1 target                1 rnd/5 fail          100’       F

5) Fyre of the Fae                             10’ radius            3 rounds              100’       F

6) Trip                                                   1 target                2 rounds              100’       F

7) Confusify                                        1 target                1 round                50’          F

8) Stinkify                                            15’ radius            2 rounds              50’          F                                             

9) Major Mockery *                        1 target                3 rounds              100’       F

10) Sartorial Savagery                    25’ radius            2 rounds              50’          F

11) Taunt                                             1 target                2 rounds              100’       F

12) Boogeyman                                10’ radius            2 rounds              100’       F

13) You Mock Me                             1 target                1 round                20’          F

14) Pyre of the Fae                          30’ radius            3 rounds              100’       F

15) You’ve Been Served                1 target                5 rounds              50’          F

16) I Really Wouldn’t Do That      1 target                1 rnd/5 fail          100’       F

17) So Tiny *                                      50’ radius            3 rounds              Caster   F

18) Mass Taunt                                 10’ radius            2 rounds              100′       F

19) He’s Copying Me                       1 target                1 rnd/10 failure                 50’          F

20) Mass Stinkify                              30’ radius            2 rounds              100’       F

25) Mass Confusify                          20’ radius            1 round                Caster   F

30) You’ve All Been Served          25’ radius            5 rounds              50’          F

35) Ultimate Boogeyman              50’ radius            4 rounds              100’        F

40) Seriously, Don’t Do That        50’ radius            1 rnd/5 fail          200’        F

50) Lordly Mockery                         50’ radius            3 rounds              300’        F

1. Minor Mockery * – [RR Mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Composition: Writing)] Caster’s mocking limerick unnerves the target. Target is at -10 to all actions.

2. Clumsify – Caster’s cautionary sonnet informs the target of the immense gravity of the current situation, how terrible it would be to screw up, and the inescapable difficulty of life in general. If the target attempts a melee attack, missile attack, or spell, the target must first roll a fumble on the appropriate table and apply all results. If the target attempts a moving maneuver, that maneuver is performed at -75. If the target makes no melee or missile attack and casts no spell, Clumsify has no effect.

3. Annoy * – Caster’s biting stream of insults prevents target from concentrating and breaks any current concentration (see rules for ‘concentration’ in Arms and Character Law, 7.1).

4. I Wouldn’t Do That – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Social: Influence: Duping)] Caster sings a cautionary little ditty, explaining the finer points of why trying that sounds like a very, very bad idea. Target suffers -50 to one skill of the caster’s choice.

5. Fyre of the Fae – Caster’s passionate scorn causes enemies in radius at the time of casting to glow bright red in embarassment, making them easier to see. The glow adds 10 OB to all attacks against them, and prevents the targets from benefitting from any concealment-type spells (e.g. invisibility, unseen, cloaking, shadow, blur, etc.).

6. Trip  –  [RR Mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Performance: Acting)] Caster warns target not to trip over an unseen imaginary deceased turtle. If the target moves more than 1’, it must roll an RR; failure means it falls prone and is stunned for two rounds. (Note the target only makes the RR if and when it moves).

7. Confusify – Caster’s willfully incoherent poem compells target to pause and ponder the fundamental principles of logic. Target is incapable of making decisions or initiating action; target may continue to fight current foes or in self-defense.

8. Stinkify – Caster calls attention to the unique body odour of one target in the radius. Target’s allies within the spell radius who fail their RR will not willingly move closer to the target, and must move at least their BMR away from target each turn of the spell’s effect, if they have an open path.

9. Major Mockery * – [RR Mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Composition: Writing)] Oh no, did the caster really just say that!?!? Target is red-faced and overcome with existential ennui, at -30 to all actions.

10. Sartorial Savagery – [RR Mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Social: Social Awareness)] Caster’s savage derision calls everyone’s attention to the target’s most questionable fashion choice. The target and all of the target’s allies within the radius who fail their RR suffer -30 Perception due to being unable to stop glancing at target. Affected allies also must spend 1 action point/round laughing uncontrollably at target’s apparel (or lack thereof).

11. Taunt – Caster’s incredibly annoying mime impression enrages target. Target must spend its next two rounds charging towards and attacking caster with full OB. If target’s path is completely blocked, target will attack anything and anyone in its way. Target can make a second RR, using SD stat bonus rather than Essence RR mod, to avoid striking allies; failure means target will use full but non-lethal force (eg: grappling/shoving) to get allies out of the way in order to continue charging.

12. Boogeyman – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Social: Influence: Intimidation)] Caster’s deep-throated shout of ‘I’m your boogeyman!’ strikes fear into all enemies in a 10’ radius. Targets suffer -15 to all actions and -30 to any fear-based RRs.

13. You Mock Me – Target is convinced that one of its allies (chosen randomly if any real allies are within sight; otherwise, an imaginary ‘friend’) is mocking the target behind its back. Target spends all action points for the turn moving towards and attacking this ally.

14. Pyre of the Fae – As Fyre of the Fae, but with expanded area of effect.

15. You’ve Been Served – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Performance: Music)] Caster disrespects the target’s dancing skills so harshly that the target feels compelled to show some moves. Target must spend 2 ap/round dancing.

16. I Really Wouldn’t Do That – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Social: Influence: Duping)] As I Wouldn’t Do That, except the penalty is -100.

17. So Tiny * – Caster’s mocking couplet makes the target seem far less imposing, preventing the target from casting any Fear spell or spell effect, and negating any fear effects the target has already imposed within the area of effect.

18. Mass Taunt – As Taunt, but with expanded area of effect.

19. He’s Copying Me – Caster prevents target from casting any spells by mimicking the target and humming annoyingly when target tries to cast a spell.

20. Mass Stinkify – As Stinkify, but affecting all enemies in radius, who must move 2x BMR away from all other affected targets.

25. Mass Confusify – As confusify, except it affects all enemies within 20’ of caster, and targets may not attack caster for duration (even if they were already fighting caster).

30. You’ve All Been Served – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Performance: Music)] As You’ve Been Served, but with expanded area of effect, and targets must spend 4 AP/round dancing.

35. Ultimate Boogeyman – As Boogeyman, but with expanded area of effect and penalties: targets now suffer -30 to actions and -60 to fear RRs.

40. Seriously, Don’t Do That – [RR mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Social: Influence: Duping)] As I Really Wouldn’t Do That, except all targets in the radius are incapable of using the chosen skill (caster can only choose one skill total for all targets).

50. Lord Mockery – [RR Mod.: -(caster’s ranks in Composition: Writing)] Future Bards will tell the tale of the unrivalled epicness of this insult. Emotionally shattered, the targets are rendered catatonic in disbelief.

Note: Spell on this list only affect creatures that can understand complex (i.e. non-bestial) languages. The caster must have at least skill rank 2 in one language the target speaks.

Note: This is a silly list. Just go with it.

RMU: Rehabilitating the Ranger

I confess I’ve never really liked the Ranger in Rolemaster. It’s not that I dislike the archetype: who wouldn’t want to be Robin Hood, Legolas, or Drizzt? The problem lies in the implementation.

The RM2 Ranger had a great set of utility spells (to help with Stalking and Hiding, Movement, survival in the wilderness, etc.), but very little that buffed him in combat; indeed, a fighter was better than a Ranger with a bow. Shouldn’t Robin Hood be better with a bow than Lancelot? Also, many of the Ranger’s spells were also duplicated, in stronger or weaker versions, on the Open and Closed Channeling lists, so there wasn’t very much that was unique. Nor is Rolemaster alone in having an underwhelming Ranger: D&D has missed the mark sometimes too. While the 4e version of the Ranger was strong, the 5e version has been one of the most severely criticized aspects of 5e, and Wizards has tried several times to use supplemental material to fix the class. Opinion on it is still quite mixed.

So how can we revive the Ranger? I would say the key is adding and modifying the Ranger Base spells. These are easier to distinguish than other aspects of a class, because in Rolemaster, other classes can buy the same weapon skills and wilderness skills and even Ambush too. The spells, though, are unique.

I am happy to report that RMu has added a new spell list for Rangers (Beastly Ways) that is quite good, especially in its higher level spells. The Ranger uses these spells to mimic creatures: Rabbit Reflexes give a bonus to initiative, while Boar Strength gives a big strength buff, for example.

The new RMu Ranger list is both useful and flavorful, but one thing is still lacking: a list to buff his bow. Happily, supplements and later editions to Rolemaster do point the way to our Holy Grail. I direct your attention first and foremost to the list Wyrd Bow, published in the Guild Companion in 2000. This list is based on the Druid’s own Druidstaff (RMCompanion I), but adapted to fit the Ranger: . This list provides a number of strong buffs: it gives a bonus to the bow, turns it into a spell adder, and enables trick shots, quick loading, and extended ranges. Now there’s a Ranger I could get behind – and definitely would not want to get in front of!

Given that the Wyrd Bow list is based on a Druid list that some consider overly powerful, I would recommend toning down some of the spells on the list, especially the first level spell, ‘Minor Bow’. This turns the bow into a +10 magical bow, but if it is ever destroyed, the caster is at -35 for 1-4 weeks. Ouch. That’s too strong for my tastes, and the downside is also too punishing, so I would recommend toning down both the benefit and the malus. How about we make it just a +5 magical bow, and substitute the destroyed clause for just saying the caster can only have one Wyrd Bow attuned?

The Channeling Companion also offers some Priest lists that would help beef up the Ranger. Hunting Mastery gives the all-important low level combat buff (Aiming), while The Hunter gives the RM Ranger a D&D-style favored enemy, against which his attacks hit harder. Either or both would be welcome additions to the Ranger’s quiver.

So what do you think? Does the Rolemaster Ranger do it for you? What changes would you make to the class?

RMU Update: No Maneuver Chart Required!

Perhaps the most common criticism of Rolemaster over the years is that it is ‘Chartmaster’: overly reliant on charts for basic actions. I think everyone should rejoice to hear that RMu has now dispensed with the need for a chart to handle basic movement.

JDale just noted that the default method for movement in RMu is now what I call the ‘pay AP to move’ method (if you have a more succinct name for that by the way, please let me know!). Characters simply pay action points for movement, just as they would pay for any other action. You get to move up to your BMR for each point spent. Want to move 1x your BMR? Pay 1 point. 4x? Pay 4 points. There is a minor wrinkle in that to get to 5x (the maximum pace normally allowed), you have to spend your instantaneous action for the turn. But otherwise, the system is very simple. (In fact, it is similar to the system in Pathfinder2, though we started doing this in RMu first, before we’d even heard of Pathfinder2).

RMu does have an optional method if you want to try to combine movement with other actions. You can move at up to a run (x3 BMR) and combine your movement with another action, but those actions suffer the pace penalty (-25 x pace) if you moved during any phase while performing them. If you don’t like the complexity this adds, you can just not choose to use this optional rule.

You can read JDale’s description of how this works on the ICE forums, here:

All of this makes for a much easier system that allows RMu players to dispense with the maneuver/pace chart altogether.

And there was much rejoicing!

Action Economies: Pathfinder 2 vs. RMu

Pathfinder 2 launched at Gen Con this weekend and I was lucky enough to play it there firsthand. The thing I liked the most about it was the action economy, which I think gives Rolemaster players (especially RMu players) a lot of food for thought. In fact, I think PF2 shows us the way towards a better solution for RMu’s ‘Walk and Chew Gum Problem’ than adding a Footwork skill. But more about that in a later post. Today, I just want to explain for you how the PF2 action economy works, because it is not only significantly different from DnD 5e and even from 3.5, but I think it is superior insofar as it is simultaneously easier to understand and richer in player choice and tactical depth.

First let me note that PF2 has so far gotten some mixed reviews overall. It seems to me that players who really liked the way DnD 5e pushed Theater of the Mind combat and went back to basics and simplicity tend not to like what PF2 is doing, while those who prefer greater depth in character customization and tactical choices are more sympathetic. One element of PF2 that has received near universal acclaim, however, is the action economy. Even negative reviews are praising the 3-action-and-a-reaction system of PF2 for being easy to pick up and fun to play.

Basically, the PF2 action economy works this way: each turn, your character gets 3 actions and a reaction, to spend in whatever order he, she, or it sees fit. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s not that different from RMu, in which characters get four action points and an instantaneous action each turn.

Nevertheless, there are some significant differences between RMu and PF2 beyond the fact that PF2 characters get 3 actions (and a reaction) while RMu characters get four action points (and an instantaneous action).

For one, PF2’s reaction is different than RMu’s instantaneous action. The PF2 reaction is a true reaction, i.e. one that you can use on another character’s turn rather than your own, whereas the RMu instantaneous action is more like what DnD 4e called a ‘minor action’, which is a quick action to be used on your own turn.

Another difference is that attacks in PF2 cost only one action. What?!?!?! Does that mean a PF2 fighter can attack three times in one turn? Yes, it does. But this is balanced by the fact that each action beyond the first suffers a cumulative -5 penalty. So if you had a +9 to hit bonus, your first attack would be at +9, second at +4, and third at -1.

Another big difference is that PF2 treats movement not like some different kind of action with its own rules, but rather just like any other action. This means that you don’t need different rules for movement; it is just a regular action. (Word, brother! Testify!) Each point you spend on movement allows you to move up to your movement rate, and you can use each of your three actions for either movement or attacks however you see fit. This is of course exactly what RMu does: give you action points that you can spend in any order on whatever you like. Unlike in earlier editions of Rolemaster, you don’t have to wait for the spell phase to cast a spell, the missile phase to fire a missile, the movement phase to move and the melee phase to melee. In PF2 terms, this means you could do a first attack at +9, a second at +4, and then move for your third action. Or instead you could move first, then do your first attack at +9, and second at +4. Or you could move twice, then finish with one attack at +9. You can even move three times if you like.

All of this makes for a very interesting action economy, because it often requires you to make some tough tactical decisions. Do you want to use your last action of the turn to move into a better position and thus set up a flank attack on the dragon for next round? Or do you feel lucky enough that you’ll connect with a last attack despite the big -10 penalty? Will you try to finish off that dragon and be the one to save your dying party member, or do you leave him to fend for yourself as you set up a your coup de grace? In practice, making these choices was a lot of fun, and added greatly to the drama at the table. I overheard two fighter-loving players saying they really liked the way this gave them more to do than just ‘one move, one attack; one move, one attack’ ad nauseam (which is essentially what 5e does to Fighters, especially at low level).

Everyone I played with at Gen Con picked up this new action economy very easily. Three of the guys I played with had no prior PF experience at all, and by the end of the session it was second nature. I will also note that no one complained that there was no pace chart to consult 🙂

This then is what Pathfinder 2 does, and by most accounts, it is great. It is an innovation that makes the game easier to play while also presenting players with interesting tactical options. The fact that RMu already has a similar economy bodes well I think for RMu, and I think has some lessons for us RMu players too. But I’ll save them for a (near) future post.

Gen Con Initial Impressions

I’m here at Gen Con in Indianapolis, and hope write several blogs about my experiences. I’ll talk about what I’ve learned about mechanics — action economies, playstyles, and my personal favorite, shield usage — in later blogs, but since this is my first time here, I thought I’d just post general impressions first.

First thing that struck me was how large it was. It took us over an hour to get our badges (they wouldn’t send them to us by mail because we are in Canada), but the system was actually quite efficient; it just took long because there are tens of thousands of people here (I read something like 60,000, but can’t confirm whether that is accurate or not). One of my friends who is with me is a bit weirded out by crowds, so he is struggling a little, and going to take a break tonight.

I, however, am energized. I can’t help but remember that famous dialogue from Clerks, where Dante tells Randall, ‘You love crowds’, and he responds, ‘Yes, but I hate people.’

It is both unexpected and wonderful to be sitting in line at Starbucks, and instead of overhearing conversations about shoes or horrible bosses, you stumble upon people arguing about initiative order or debating whether they should make their Rogue ranged or melee. These are my people.

The vibe is happy and positive, and all the people we’ve played with so far have been really nice. The show floor is huge and I’m about to head out to the Pointy Hat Games booth to check out the Rolemaster stuff. I am GMing my Rolemaster session tomorrow, so I’ll have lots more to say later in the week. And I’ve learned a lot, mechanics-wise, that is going to shape my houserules for Rolemaster. So far, this is everything I hoped it would be, and I’m really glad my wife let me come 🙂

Rear and Flank Bonuses: An Experiment

I just had a strange idea. I was thinking of the normal Rolemaster positional bonuses (+15 for a flank attack, +35 for rear), and what they represent. It seemed to me that characters got these bonuses because targets would find it more difficult to parry, dodge, and block attacks from these awkward directions, due to the fact that it is harder to see them coming and to turn to parry, block, or dodge. But what about a target such as a giant amoeba, that does not have eyes and does not parry, block, or dodge? Why should the amoeba’s attackers get positional bonuses against it?

The other thing that got me thinking of positional bonuses is DnD 5e’s system of positional bonuses — or lack thereof. (My group plays DnD about half the time and about Rolemaster half the time, so I am always comparing the two systems.) The 5e player handbook, which contains the core combat rules, uses no positional bonuses at all — not even flanking. That is of course terrible. However, the Dungeon Master’s Guide lays out optional rules for flanking and facing. Flanking provides advantage (i.e. you get to roll 2 d20s for your attack and take the higher one), which is neat, but can become a bit overpowering; and the downside is that to gain flanking, you have to be on the exact opposite end of the target square/hex from an ally who is also attacking your target. This leads to odd combats that devolve into the famous ‘conga line of death’, a long line of combatants, alternating ally – enemy – ally – enemy, as everyone tries to get the flank bonus by aligning exactly on the opposite edge of an enemy. That isn’t really very realistic and kind of makes a mockery of formations.

The 5e DMG also offers optional rules for facing: attacks through the rear arc benefit from advantage and the target does not get a shield bonus. The shield bonus only applies to attacks through the front and shield side arcs. This is better, and also contains the stipulation that some creatures, such as ‘an amorphous ochre jelly’, do not have rear arcs, as well as more detailed rules for playing on both a square and a hex grid. The downside of the 5e DMG facing rules, however, is that 5e does not have sufficiently developed rules for ‘sticky’ combat: characters only get attacks of opportunity when opponents leave their zones of control too hastily, not just when they move through them too hastily. This means that in 5e, you can circle strafe to an enemy’s rear and attack with advantage all in the same turn with virtually no penalty. Oops — this is the reason why turn-based systems need some ‘stickiness’ to their combat, so that characters have a reasonable chance to react to the actions of their enemies.

To fix DnD 5e’s rules, I’ve brought back 4e’s rule about moving through an enemy’s zone of control: moving through or out of an enemy’s zone of control now provokes opportunity attacks if the movement is hasty (i.e. not using the ‘withdraw’, ‘disengage’ or ‘5-foot-step’ action). This houserule change largely solves the strafing issue. I can now use 5e’s facing rules without getting too annoyed.

But making this change also got me thinking of an innovation to eliminate the ‘conga line of death’ and make formations matter more again: instead of giving advantage in the case of two combatants being on exactly different sides of their opponents, I would only give them a +2 flanking bonus. Similarly, attacks from the flanks (back left and back right on a square grid) would only get a +2 flanking bonus. To get advantage (i.e. the right to roll 2 d20s and take the higher one), you would have to attack through the rear arc only, because advantage can be a huge bonus.

Then I went a bit farther, and thought, instead of flanking bonuses, why not just say that targets don’t get the benefit of any Dexterity bonus against attacks through the flank? Because really, the flanking bonus is meant to represent the fact that it is harder to dodge/block/parry an attack that you can’t really see coming very well. So wouldn’t it be easier just to eliminate the set ‘flank bonus’ altogether, and instead just say that targets don’t get a Dex bonus vs. flank attacks?

Thinking of how I would fix DnD 5e’s positional rules in this way also led me to think about an experiment in applying a similar rule to Rolemaster. What about instead of set bonuses (+15 for flank, +20 for rear) for positional modifiers, we tailored the bonus to the situation and the abilities of the combatants in a more realistic way? What if we said this:

–A Flank attack is an attack made through the left flank or right flank hex. Because such attacks are harder to see and therefore defend against, the target cannot benefit from any shield bonus, and receives only half his quickness and/or parry bonuses.

–A rear attack is an attack made through the rear hex. Because such attacks are especially hard to see and defend against, the target cannot benefit from any shield, quickness, or parry bonuses.

Rather than giving creatures set bonuses, then, we would instead be limiting their defenses in a more realistic way. There would no longer be any abstract ‘flank’ or ‘rear’ bonus that worked the same for every creature and combination of battlefield conditions; rather, flank and rear attacks would be deadlier against combatants that rely on seeing attacks coming and actively defending against them, and less deadly on creatures that don’t defend or even see at all. Amoebas, Gelatinous Cubes, and amorphous ochre jellies everywhere would rejoice (though we’d never hear them, since they don’t have mouths). And we will no longer have any conga lines of death!

Has anyone ever tried anything like this?

RMU Update: An Action Point System in Action — Divinity: Original Sin 2

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Each character gets 4 Action Points to spend on activity each round. Spells like Haste increase that number. You can spend action points to move.

That sounds much like RMu’s new action economy, but in fact it is also the system in the videogame Divinity: Original Sin 2. I am blogging about this because I think the RMu’s new action point economy sometimes gets dismissed by players before they’ve really tried it — who wants to change a system you’ve been using for decades? But I wanted to suggest that if you are on the fence about this issue and really want to experience a game with an action economy like RMu’s, you can try Divinity: Original Sin 2. (I recommend you try Divinity 2 rather than 1, because for reasons I explain below, Divinity 1 had a somewhat different system). If you liked the old isometric Baldur’s Gate games, I think you will probably like Divinity. And note that the studio that made Divinity (Larian Studios) is now busily at work making Baldur’s Gate III.

Basically, the idea behind an action point economy is that instead of actions costing a percentage of your round’s activity, they instead just cost points. This simplifies the game math because you’re never left with 17% activity remaining in your turn, trying desperately to find your calculator to figure out what 17% of your BMR of 45′ is, and whether that will get you within melee range of the orc archer over there. You either have a point left for movement or you don’t, and you either spend it to move up to your BMR or you don’t. You also don’t need separate rules for all the combinations of things you can do in a round, like ‘move-and-melee’, ‘move-and-cast-spell’, ‘react-and-attack’, ‘press-and-attack’ and all of the other combinations RM2 and RMSS tried to account for. You just spend your points and combine your actions any way you want.

I’ve learned a few lessons from playing Divinity’s Action Point system. First and foremost is that everything is easier if you just charge Action Points for movement rather than if you try to make movement some sort of different, special action that doesn’t cost points and has its own rules. Making movement a different beast creates a whole host of problems that you can already see in 5e Dungeons and Dragons, which treats movement differently than all other actions (a backwards step, IMHO, from what 4e DnD did in that regard). One problem is that you need to write entirely different rules for the different types of actions: not just normal actions vs. movement, but interactions (for opening doors, drawing weapons, etc.), bonus actions, reactions, etc. Not only does this lead to rules bloat, but these types of actions are now even less comptabile and interchangeable now than they were in 4e DnD. In 4e for example, you used to be able to spend your standard action to charge (move-and-attack), but you can no longer do that. In 5e, characters have to buy a feat in order to be able merely to charge! Similarly, our group has been playing 5e (on and off) since it was released, but it was only last month that we realized that casting a spell as a bonus action prevents you from casting another spell as your normal action in the same turn. Who knew?

Another lesson that the developers of the Divinity series learned is to resist the temptation to give quicker characters more action points. Divinity 1 actually allowed this: characters got a bonus to their number of action points dependent on their Speed stat. This was unnecessary, however, because Speed already gave boosts to distance moved and initiative. It also created balance issues. So, in DOS2, all characters get the same number of AP to spend each turn (barring spells and special abilities).

The big news recently, which I mentioned above, is that Larian Studios is now busily at work on Baldur’s Gate III, which will use the 5e DnD ruleset. I will be eager to see what they do with it. Will they try to implement the 5e DnD style movement rules, which treats movement as a separate action that has different rules than all other types of actions? Or will they try to implement a more streamlined system like the one they used for the Divinity Games? I’m guessing the former, but I will be eager to find out.

For now, if you want a preview of what the RMu action economy is like, you can get a pretty good picture by playing Divinity. I have to say, it is not only simple and intiutive, it is also a lot of fun!

Edit: I just realized I should have noted that RMu currently offers two ways of handling movement: it allows you to pay AP to move, as I explained above (it calls this ‘Sequential Movement’); but it also allows you the alternative of not paying AP and instead incurring pace penalties to your actions for how far/fast you move. So if you really want to require your players to pull out a pace chart every time they move, you do have that second option (yes, that’s sarcasm!).

Edit2: One last thing to note is that Pathfinder 2 is going the Divinity route, and making movement just another action like all other actions (and without separate rules). In Pathfinder 2, players get 3 actions per turn instead of 4, but the basic idea is much the same. The developers quite eloquently explained why they made this choice, and how it enabled them to simplify their action economy and reduce the number of special rules they needed for unique types of actions, right here: