For discussion. The ubiquity of “armored up, all the time” in your game setting.

Recently during a game session, we had a bit of a dispute over what weapons and armor a player might have had on them while in a city. Even in a lengthy campaign, many of my RPG experiences have defaulted to the idea that players have just 1 “kit”–basically the clothes, armor, weapons and gear that are listed on their equipment sheet. As “murder hobos” they don’t have a home, wardrobe or a lot of possessions beyond gear and wealth. Therefore, the players are always in their adventure gear; fully kitted out, armed and armored.

But that’s just silly in many situations. Certainly major cities have laws and rules about armed citizenry. Some may only allow nobles to carry blades; others may require “peace knots” on weapons, or others may require registration or membership in a guild or militia to permit being armed in public.

Those are regulatory issues, but there should also be cultural norms as well. Clanking around in plate or chain armor and wearing a full helm should seem rude or unacceptable in major urban areas. Visitations to courts, merchants houses or administrative facilities will probably require dis-arming. Certainly higher end taverns, inns and restaurants are not going to allow customers that are fully armed or armored.

Finally, it’s just not hygienic to wear the same clothes, underclothes, padding, armor, helms and adventuring clothes all the time! The players will stink, boots will be worn out from travel, clothes torn, armor will dent or bend and a host of wear & tear that’s normal in everyday life. If you’ve ever done any lengthy hiking or outdoor adventuring you know how fast gear can wear out.

In my game, players default to “civilian kit”. They have a appropriate wardrobe for normal, everyday life, often based on their cultural and racial background. We also rate it in a variety of ways (poor, functional, merchant, noble, luxurious or just rank it from 1-10). The quality of the garb will dictate how they interact with various societal classes. As the players have grown in power and reputation, they find themselves interacting with high levels of society. So while they might be murder hobos, they can’t dress like one! Typically they will be armed–but only a staff, or short blade so the heavy fighters feel at a real disadvantage.

Since their civvies are the defaults, that means they have to tell me when they are getting into their combat/adventure kit. Even when travelling, I don’t assume players will continually wear heavy armor, have a shield strapped onto their armor and have a weapon drawn. Of course players want to have all of that when they are ambushed or a sudden encounter unfolds!

This is more of a concern in campaigns–if you are running one-off adventures, dungeon crawls, or just independent adventures most of this won’t matter. The players “gear up” and run the gauntlet. However, if you are running a session or game that doesn’t focus on wilderness/tomb/ruins, and are more urban, what do you do? Do you have an “open carry” “armored up” style game?


Game Campaigns. Do they End with a bang or do they end with a whimper?

So I needed to take a small break from my 2000 word blog posts, so I thought I would write some quick thoughts on campaign endings.

As a GM it’s important that a campaign, or extended adventure series end satisfactorily. From a design standpoint, some of that can be charted through a multiple act structure, but the open ended nature of gaming (and RM dice!) means that things can go astray. It can be frustrating to have the final act end with the players feeling dissatisfied, the conclusion anti-climactic or the challenge easily met.

On the other hand, it would also be too easy to manipulate dice, events and other factors to force a cinematic ending to a long game session or campaign. Acting completely neutral means that hours of hard work managing a well designed narrative could “end with a whimper”. Uhh…”So that’s it?” the players ask. That can feel very deflating for the GM.

I’ve had both in my years of gaming–some incredible finales and some now real duds. Now, spending much of time writing game hooks, modules and adventures I’m exploring the mechanics behind these conclusions. This has become critical in my “Legends of Shadow World” tourney module. At 50th lvl things better be pretty epic!!!!

  • If at 50th, death has no real meaning due to lifegiving, is their any tension in combat?
  • If a great crit roll can kill the most powerful of entities, then a lengthy combat could last mere seconds, robbing it of impact.
  • What reward provides the payoff to players? There are no new spells, probably not any artifacts they haven’t obtained and not much upside to another level up is there a real payoff?

But looking at those above, I can’t help but think they are not unlike the same questions for lower level characters.

  • “The end” provides a out of game break that can hand wave away any severe injuries. There are no “next room” or “next level” to survive with wounds. So many lower level final acts lose some of that tension as well.
  • Crits are always the wild ace in the RM game.
  • What is a commensurate reward for any level?

The mere fact that it’s the “end” creates new problems the GM has to anticipate. What has been your experience? Is just finishing reward enough?

Here are a few blog articles (of varying usefulness) on the subject. HERE and HERE



Too much gold!

I have been thinking about character wealth. Really this span out of the discussion about Fate points and Inspiration.  As I said I don’t use any kind of fate system. I don’t need one as my party was sponsored by a powerful priest in the early days and the PC cleric is fast approaching the point where he can cast Life Keeping, buying enough time to effect any repairs and stave off death. If the PCs can dodge death then fate points do dodge death only devalue the role played by the cleric.

Of course there are conditions that the cleric cannot cure and when that happens Life Keeping can keep the victim ‘on ice’ until the characters can get to a cleric or healer that can effect the cure. At this point gold enters the equation as the cleric or church is going to require some hefty donation or possibly a duty in payment.

Healing by NPCs is a great way of taking excess money out of the campaign.

In my world getting permanent magic items made is hugely expensive, massively time consuming and alchemists of required skill are extremely rare. The net result is that no PC has ever succeeded in having an item made. This isn’t by accident, magic per se is rarer in my world than RM would have it. I have reduced the chances of finding magical items in the treasure charts and made spell lists harder to learn. Characters have less spell lists in general which leads to greater differentiation between different characters who would appear to be broadly of the same profession.

Right now the PC party are around the 5th/6th level and whilst not counting every copper coin, they are still having to seriously manage their money.

How do others manage excess money in their campaigns?

Shadow World. What would a definitive Master Atlas look like? Pt. 2

There has been endless speculation about adapting Shadow World to the RMU ruleset, but every year that goes by only makes the task of converting all the Shadow World books into the new format less and less likely. On top of that Terry is methodically going through older source books and updating them and adding new content still using the RM2 ruleset. A third iteration of that process seems hard to imagine.

So where does that leave a new, revised Master Atlas? Last spring I wrote a blog post on this subject, but now with the Rolemasterblog having new readers and another year gone by in the RMU development process I thought I would revisit this topic.

To me, it seems unlikely  that SW will ever have a comprehensive reformat to fit the RMU rule set–that would be over a dozen books? But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a final Master Atlas that creates a definitive baseline for Shadow World and any or all future projects. In my mind, the DMA (Definitive Master Atlas) would set SW Canon, tackle a lot of the unaddressed issues and become the road map for any third party books (if that ever occurs). Of course, as egdcltd commented, you could also make the DMA system agnostic. To me, that’s a very interesting idea!!!

If you’ve followed my “Misc SW Material” thread on the RM Forums, you may realize that many of those partial files are part of a much larger document–our own, in house, DMA we’ve been adding to for 30+ years. Our own book is around 350 pages and that doesn’t include charts, illustrations/art, graphics or any Flora/Fauna material. A strong pass-through edit and I’m fairly confident that a DMA could be 500 pages. Is that possible to publish or print in hard copy format? I personally have no idea, so please weigh in on that.

Ok, so what would a DMA include? There should be guidelines on what material qualifies as “world spanning”, “canon” or appropriate for a Master Atlas and not just a regional source book. Should it incorporate some of the material found in the original Gamemaster Law? The Shadow World Players Guide was well received: although it was mostly collated content, the presentation, art and production value were topnotch. A definitive Master Atlas might only need 100-200 pages of new material, culling of 50-100 pages (timeline removed?) and the addition of 100 or so pages of material found in other source books that are better suited for a MA. I think much of the Powers could be incorporated into the DMA while information on the Iron Wind, Raven Queen or Silver Dawn should be more regional in nature.

What would be on your list for a Definitive Master Atlas?

  1. Should the ever changing timeline be removed and handled elsewhere?
  2.  Should there be a final Essence Flow & Greater Foci map of the hemisphere?
  3. What organizations  or content are “world-spanning” and what is “regional”.
  4. Is there any material in other SW books (canonical) that should be moved to a DMA?
  5. What topics or material should be included or expanded upon?
  6. Should a DMA be all encompassing or should it be a multi-book endeavor. For instance, it could be 3 parts: a MA, a Flora/Fauna supplement and a Gazetteer with a variety of maps and keys  that expands upon the geographical chapter in the current MA?
  7. A box set with hardcovers?
  8. A map supplement that has every map every printed for SW–new detailed maps of all the continents with key locations, some poster maps. Some enlarged city maps?
  9. Could this be a Kickstarter project to fund great artwork, mapmaking, a wiki  and project management?

Yes, there are already 4 versions of the Master Atlas, so is this even possible or worth discussing? I think the only issue is new content that would need to be written or approved by Terry. The rest, much like the Players Guide, would be editorial and organizational.

Any thoughts?

“what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”

I continued to be a big fan of RM/SM until 1989. I could see ways to do just about every gaming setting, and several non-gaming settings (Aliens, Dune, etc.) using those rules. But, something happened over the summer of 1989. I was at DragonCon, and a naval war gamer challenged me that if I need more than 1 sheet of paper (4 pages) for rules, for a war game, then that was too many. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t get away from the idea of minimalism.

Though, he was an extreme-minimalist. Minimalism isn’t “the least”. It’s “what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”.

The quote above comes from the Stargazer’s World site in a comment on Michael Wolf’s review of RMU. The comment was by a regular contributor called Johnkzin.

It is an interesting idea, what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less.

I have had that going around my head all week. They are talking about wargames and RPGs are not wargames. What that means to me is that to play the game at the table the monster stats are not part of that 4 page limit. Monsters and their stats are easily condensed down to what the GM needs at the table but the monster book is a resource and not ‘rules’.

I think spells and spell lists are part of the PC or NPC. You can give your players a copy of their own lists, I think that is pretty much common practice, and the same for NPCs. The rest of spell law is just reference material and not rules needed at the gaming table.

I also think that character creation is not needed at the table and does not need to count towards our 4 page limit.

That removes a lot of bulk.

So what do we need? Arms Law for one and skill resolution for a second. Base Spells and resistance rolls for third. One is relatively big and the other relatively small and spell casting is just a simple look up. So how low can we go?

The following two documents are a single page (2 sides) super condensed combat and skills resolution version of Rolemaster. This is really not intended to challenge Arms Law in any way and it is not meant to be historically accurate. You will also notice that it draws on bits of MERP, bits of RMU and everything in between.

What you get is a single attack table that is generic but below it are modifications for each weapon so to all intents and purposes each weapon is differentiated.

You get a hit location system using the units dice to give a 1-0 result.

The critical is then rolled for that location and the bonus damage, stun and bleeding scales with the critical severity. The GM also has to insert descriptive words like blow/strike/hit to vary things a little. Each critical does come in two parts for armoured and unarmoured so what looks like just 16 possible criticals is actually nearer to 100 possible outcomes.

Why would anyone ever want to use this?

One of the best roleplaying sessions I ever played in took place on bicycles riding though country lanes. We used the stop watch function on digital watches (this was the early 80s) for dice and we knew our characters and the rules of D&D well enough to not need any books. That sort of game session is almost impossible with Rolemaster because of its table dependence. On the other hand if you had a dice roller app on your phone and just these two pdfs you could pretty much run an impromptu game session with nothing else.

I would go so far as to say that you could run an entire game session using this and most of your players would not notice the difference unless a particular favourite critical should have come up.

This is a bit too minimalist even for me but it was an interesting experiment.

Does anyone think they could do a 2 page character creation? I suspect I could, but then I have had a week’s head start.

Rolemaster deconstruction: critical tables.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time deconstructing Rolemaster, analyzing RMU and trading thoughts on various house rules.  One thing is evident, that while some tinkering may be necessary, the critical charts are the core of RM differentiation and perhaps the most beloved mechanic of the system.  I think these critical charts work so well is that they provide expository for combat damage. Where most early RPG’s relied upon simple hit damage, critical charts allow a GM to provide flavor to the combat without having to ad lib damage effects. So while some see charts as crunchy or clunky, I see a powerful tool for combat narrative.

A year ago, Peter blogged about the RM critical charts, but I wanted to take it one more step–how do the original critical charts stand up after almost 40 years?

The 3 basic weapon critical charts are the Crush, Slash and Puncture that elegantly handle the imaginable ways most weapons can deliver kinetic damage. More importantly, almost any damage delivering device a GM can think of (traps, spell effects, environmental) can probably utilize these 3 core crit charts to model effects. I can’t think of any other critical types that are needed, nor why any of these three are unneeded. They stand the test of time. A+

The next three important critical charts are the Heat, Electricity & Cold tables. While they provide the basis for the Magician spells, they can also be used for extreme environment effects (magma, blizzards, natural lightning etc).  A+

Martial Arts. Of all the attack forms, having cool martial arts requires a novel mechanic. Again, while basic damage delivery is mundane and uninspiring, critical charts provide the  cinematic approach that brings unarmed combat the “fantasy movie” treatment. I’ve played Monks in AD&D–besides the special level abilities, the damage delivery is as boring as all the other weapon attacks. A

So what other Critical Charts remain that I don’t use?

  1. vs. Large & Super Large Creatures. 2 critical charts help balance the system geared towards human size combatants. Interestingly, both of these charts go up to 251 and also accommodate special weapons: magic, Holy, Slaying. For an early RPG, this isn’t a bad band-aid to sizing problems, but it’s still a band-aid. D
  2. Impact Critical. Found in Spell Law, this chart is for other elemental spells that delivery damage due to mass/velocity and not from a special property.  It’s a cool crit chart, but is it necessary when the Crush critical table could do the same? Alternatively, this might be the better chart for Falling/Crush and Bash attacks which currently use the Crush Crit table? For someone looking to par down the charts, perhaps this one is redundant? C
  3. Tiny Animals. Like the “Large” or “Super Large” charts, this table is meant address small creature damage. While I like the Beta sizing rules (which would just adjust crits down) there are other solutions as well. D
  4. Unbalancing. This is an interesting chart. If you read the effects, it does seem like there is a focus on stuns and unbalancing. However, much of the crit results are similar to the Impact and Crush crits and it should be obvious that any major impact from a weapon or creature should have a “unbalancing” effect.  New RMU beta rules already incorporate unbalancing and various stun effects into all critical types. It’s interesting, but I think it’s redundant. Crush/Impact/Unbalancing should be consolidated into 1 chart. B-
  5. Grappling.  In RM, grappling is a poorly executed mechanic so this crit table helps define it without adding much to a workable system. Grapple/entanglement/ensnare crit chart needs to be reworked, but more importantly there needs to be a core mechanic to address this in general: penalties to MM and ability to escape etc. B-

So of course there are tons of other critical charts found in Companions and Shadow World books. They are a great add-on and cool but are there any that should be “Core”? I have 3 that I use that compliment the 8 I use from above:

Stress – Mental. I use this for mind attacks, spell failure, concentration issues, time or dimensional travel, meditation or even secondary fear effects.

Stress – Physical. For failed MM’s, slips, fatigue issues etc this results in tears, sprains, and bruising.

Shrapnel – This is the great catch all for secondary explosion effects, insect swarm attacks, shattering objects etc.

That’s it for me — 11 perfectly distilled critical charts that handle almost any situation or damage effect. This of course excludes unique spell crit charts (nether, plasma) that I might use in special circumstances or is required by a spell list.

What do you think? Did I miss anything that could be “Core” or one that is widely useful that these charts don’t address?

Is it better to beg forgiveness or ask for permission?

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

I know for certain that it is a damn sight faster to get things done if you just do it and then ask for forgiveness afterwards.

Here is my dilemma and objective. I spent last evening rereading all of JDales ‘New Tables’ thread to try and come back up to speed with RMU. The motivation is to try and put together a set of rules I am happy with that use the rules as close to what will be in the final released game as possible.

The cornerstone will be the No Profession profession as that is RAW. There are lots of things that I want to house rule and the problem is do you house rule and have a better game or do you play RAW and have a viable play test?

I am coming down on the side of house rules. ICE have had years of play test feedback and the impression I get now is that the rules are pretty much set. Even with house rules I would not be changing EVERYTHING so all that remains unchanged will be viable playtest feedback.

What I would like to do is play a game and then publish my impressions here on the blog. Now that is very dodgy considering the NDA but if I do not publish the rules as written, which is what I think the NDA is there to prevent, then I feel morally comfortable with that.

I would then want some players who are happy for the game to be publicly discussed although obviously they would not be discussed, just their characters and what happened in the game world.

The blogs would then cover character creation, the selection of the house rules and the official optional rules and how the game sessions played out.

I would run the game as a PBP so that I had a written record that I could then review for the blogs.

This blog exists in part to promote RM in all its forms so publicly promoting RMU has to be part of its remit surely?

My Christmas Day post will be the list of options and house rules that I intend to use, these will be up for discussion so anyone else that is playing RMU can chip in their own suggestions as to anything they think I will regret.

Playing for time

Have any of those reading this ever played an adventure backwards?

What I mean is, your group sits down, you hand out the character sheets and then say “You are stood on the rocky ledge with a precipice falling away into darkness at your feet, opposite you the rock cliff face disappears up into the darkness above your heads. Waves of heat emanate from the depths below. The only sound is the approaching beat of leathery wings, you have found the subject of you quest, the Dragon Lord is coming. What do you do?”

Having played out the finale you can then retrospectively go back and reveal how the players got there.

To take this one step further you could just suddenly reference an NPC they have never heard of, one that didn’t feature in that first/last scene. As soon as someone notices this new NPC, you put the current scene on hold and play a flashback to how the party met that NPC and how they joined the party. Once that is played out you then pick up the previous scene exactly where you left off.

If you use miniatures then you could prepare tableaus of the key scenes and reveal them every time there is a cut in the action.

If you were playing this traditionally the session(s) may go like this.

  1. The players get given a quest to slay a dragon
  2. they adventure into the mountains
  3. they meet a hermit/ranger who can show them the way into caves
  4. battle with dragons kin/defenders
  5. hermit dies
  6. adventure further into caves
  7. dragon lord end of level boss
  8. joyous return to the starting point.
  9. Deliver whatever thing the quest giver demanded
  10. Start next adventure

To play it in an alternative manner could go like this.

<session 1>

7. dragon lord end of level boss
1. The players get given a quest to slay a dragon
2. they adventure into the mountains <cut scene>

<Session 2>
4. battle with dragons kin/defenders <cut short>
3. <flashback> they meet a hermit/ranger who can show them the way into caves
4. <concludes>battle with dragons kin/defenders
5. hermit dies

<Session 3>
8. joyous return to the starting point.
9. Deliver whatever thing the quest giver demanded
10.Start next adventure

So why even attempt this?

What I am thinking is that sometimes ending a session with the successful conclusion of the quest can seem a little contrived. It is a bit like when you know the perilous scene in a movie isn’t the end because you still have an hour to run. Ending the session at the end of a quest can sometimes rob the end scene of some of its energy, or even, if you know that your players have to leave at a particular time to catch trains or planes then you could hurry a scene up to get to a convenient stopping point. Putting the end of the quest at the front of the session means that for an action ending (point 7 above) it gets a real wow! factor. For a story ending (point 9 above) ‘the end’ is obviously not ‘the end’ and so does not bring with it a loss of energy.

So imagine again that you took your players character sheets and made multiple copies. To one you tippex out their primary weapon and replace it with “Blade of the Balrog”. As soon as your player notices you stop the scene and play a flashback where the players play out a scene that ends with the character acquiring the Blade of the Balrog. If someone dies you pass a prepared note to one character saying that “You have a vial that contains a shard of a saints soul, if someone on the point of death is anointed with it they will be restored to life.” If anyone questions where this came from then, you guessed it, cut scene back to before the character died and you have a challenge where the prize is the vial.

I have painted this very much in a hack and slash sort of way but then my main group is a hack and slash group. It actually works even better in a role play heavy session. In a hack and slash group if someone dies in the opening/quest completing battle then it doesn’t matter as they were alive and well in all the flashbacks so they are still included. You may have to keep people alive through some mechanism if they were alive at the start of the battle; they must arrive in that state. Without the hack and slash element then chopping and changing the time line is easier.

This time imagine an adventure where the players start trapped in a collapsed mine. Where you would normally describe the setting and NPCs if the players were in a normal scene, this time you do the same but you put much more emphasis on the NPCs, as if the characters know them. It soon becomes apparent that someone has triggered the mine collapse trapping the characters and NPCs here. As the characters talk to each NPC it triggers a series of flashbacks as to who they are and the players learn why they are here in the mine and what part of their back story. Think alone the lines of a TV detective in the final scene where they reveal who the killer is.

As a session format it certainly is challenging and something different. Any thoughts or experiences?

Rolemaster Skill Deconstruction: Perception, is it even a skill?

PERCEPTION: This skill affects how much information and how many clues a character gets through observation. It may be used to notice the right things, to find carelessly hidden objects, to see that pile of old clothes in the corner, to notice the imperfection in the wall that hides the secret door, the trigger for the trap ahead, the ambush. These are the type of things that the GM cannot mention to the players because to do so would call them to special attention that the character’s perception might not allow. (ref. Character Law)

Arguably one of the most important skills for any character to have is Perception. At least in my player groups, it’s a skill that is taken at least 1 rank every level. Why is it so important? Perception is the gateway for the game narrative. This is critical for table top role-playing where most information is provided by a GM through exposition. Information can be provided or withheld based on a players perception skill–it’s a throttle that can increase or decrease the game experience!

Like many elements of Rolemaster, the perception skill was probably based on the “find traps” or “detect secret door” ability in D&D. But RM perception is a massive expansion of that specific ability and it’s not just an active skill, but can be used as a passive one which greatly improves it’s utility. In my game it’s almost automatic that a player will announce that they are going to make a perception check. Basically what they are asking, is for any “hidden knowledge” based on a skill roll. For me, that’s very reductionist, it lowers the roleplaying experience down to a randomized game mechanic. And because every character in the group has perception, it’s also not uncommon for every player to make a perception check to maximize the probability of a successful result. Even if every character has an average +50 skill bonus, one of 4 or 5 players is going to roll high. At higher levels every character is a “crack observer”. No absent minded or myopic mages in my groups!

As a GM, I usually WANT the group to find secret doors and other mysteries to enhance their enjoyment or reward them. So having them able to perform successful perception checks can be important. On the other hand, these rolls also take some of the narrative control from me. Either way there is no denying the importance or impact of the Perception skill.

So what makes up perception? Quality of eyesight? Tactile sensitivity? Smell? Hearing? If that’s the case, than perception is based on innate physical abilities. Can you train up better vision? Teach yourself better hearing? Probably not. Perception should be purely physical based with an added emphasis on any racial ability.

Or is perception a trainable skill with “rules”, “systems” and processes that can be taught and learned? Aren’t spies taught the ability to notice small details? Are policemen taught to “detect” things? Aren’t soldiers taught to detect tripwires and boobytraps?

If perception is mostly physical capacity then perhaps it shouldn’t be a skill at all. However, if it is a trainable skill shouldn’t it be considered quite specialized and not classified as a general skill? Shouldn’t it be left to professions like thieves, assassins or mystics? Wouldn’t that make it more interesting for game play and give a cool niche role for certain profession types?

What are your thoughts?

Relative Adventuring

This is not my idea but one I have borrowed from the Conan game by Modiphius.

Imagine you are reading an adventure module for Rolemaster. The adventure describes an ambush by goblins at a river ford. In the details it says ‘There will be two goblins for every character’. In the next encounter, in an outer chamber of the goblin lair the numbers are ‘There will be three more goblins than characters.’

Every encounter describes the strength of the encounter relative to the strength of the adventuring party.

We all know in RM superior numbers can be the critical factor in a battle. Even a first level character can open ended and kill anything in the first round if they are lucky enough.

My party of 5th level characters got into serious trouble against a raiding party of kobolds. The same raid against D&D characters would have been a non-event.

So the idea is that the level that the adventure is pitched at is highly flexible. If you write an adventure and the main bad guy is a 70th level drake then that is not a starting adventure but more middle of the road stuff just flexes to meet the strength of the party, not by level but by threat.

This has never really been an issue before now, but as the number of monsters available grows and now eDGCLTD is sowing the seeds of self publishing, BriH is asking about short form monster stat blocks all the pieces are coming together for unofficial RM modules.

So what are your thoughts?