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.
“He who embarks on that fickle sea, requires to possess the skill of the pilot and the fortitude of the navigator, and after all may be wrecked and lost, unless the gales of fortune breathe in his favour.”
Scott, Walter. The Complete Novels of Sir Walter Scott
If you need a laugh, bypass this entire post and go straight to the video at the end!
I want to talk about a few things today. The first if that I am really excited about Navigator RPG. The game has reached release and is live on DriveThruRPG. The game is a free (Pay What You Want) PDF and is also available in full colour softcover and hardback editions.
But why do you care, this is not Rolemaster?
Because it is a complete rebuild going back to the original sources, or close to, and creating everything a new.
There is a huge amount that you will recognise.
Players select their race, they are called Species in the SF version, a culture, their profession, they roll all their stats on d100 and then spend Development points to buy skills.
There is stuff in here you will instantly recognise. You have your stats, professions and skills.
You have maneuvers, attack tables (one table per weapon) and critical tables.
The game is also a toolbox. When I talk about species, they are built out of talents and flaws, but I also show how to make your own. So I provide a few to get you playing and give you the tools to make as many as you want.
The same hold true for cultures and professions.
Everything in here is intended to be extended by the GM.
Equally as important is the fact that this game is covered by the Open Gaming License. It means that anyone can take what I have done, add to it, change it, publish it even sell it.
Even if ICE were to disappear tomorrow, and forever. If someone bought up the Rolemaster IP and said they were never going to write another thing for it. You can use these books to play Rolemaster, well technically, Space Master but there is more to come.
The quote at the top of this article is a quote by Sir Walter Scott, from Rob Roy. This game is Navigator RPG. The next book will be the Fantasy version. That is Pilot RPG, but more ships pilot rather than fighter pilot. There are also going to be some draconic mounts involved.
For a bit of light relief I am not going to embarrass myself.
I have started a YouTube channel. It is mainly about the stuff I make and the mistakes that happen along the way. There is going to be quite a bit of Rolemaster in there, as you may have guessed I quite like the game.
The first few videos are desperately poor! I tried and failed to make an unboxing video for Navigator RPG.
Here it is. Please consider subscribing to the channel. When I started this blog I think I wrote twice a week for a year before anyone commented on a post. Starting out can be a bit like stumbling around in the dark, without feedback.
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)
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:
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.
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.
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: https://www.enworld.org/threads/the-grapplers-manual-2-0-grappling-in-5th-edition.468737/ ). 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.
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.
I like to think of plots as a mix of two completely different ingredients. The first is a really simple structure making them easy to manage, even after the first contact with the player characters.
The second is just enough chaos, mayhem and evil doings to make the plot worthwhile in completing. Assuming most players characters and party’s are good, of course.
I have always been a fan of post-it notes. I have started to write my plot structures using five post-its.
Plot Hook and initial barrier
A non-combat challenge
Obstacles to overcome
A major final encounter
An unexpected twist or gateway to further adventure
The point of the post-it note is that I can stick to the page of my GM notes at the place where there could be an interesting side plot.
If the characters stroll right on past the plot hook, it goes back in my folder for another day.
There are two big gains in this, from a campaign point of view.
I can create adventures separate from the actual campaign’s overarching plot. Salt them into the game sessions and let the players do what seems natural.
Tweaking a plot hook to make it seem new is minor, so unused plots can be reintroduced at a different point, at which time the characters may want to bite on the hook.
This is not railroading. I am not saying “I have written this and you will play it, like or not!” It is more a case of keeping fresh options open to the characters. Every session can easily offer up three or more side quests which may make perfect sense to the characters.
The actual structure is designed to behave more like a cake than like a recipe. It is not a step by step order of events. It is more like ingredients. Just as you cannot get the egg our of a cake once you have made it. So obstacles are an intrinsic part of a great adventure.
The structure means that most character professions, if you use them, can play a role. Only one element of the structure implies a fight or battle. It could be that your barbarian struggles with all the other elements except the fight, whereas you healer may revel in everything bar the battle.
Adventures should give every character a chance to shine. Using the structure as a remember to build more than just a list of combat encounters is a useful reminder.
I like to think of it as five opportunities to be horrible to the characters, just as they are likely to be horrible to your villain. Remember it takes a lot longer to create an evil necromancer than it does for the party to kill them!
There is a guy on one of the OSE Discord servers I lurk in that reminds me a lot of Hurin. He isn’t Hurin under a different name unless Hurin has a secret double life in Australia, but that is beside the point.
This guy is one of the big personalities in the OSR/OSRIC/DnD nerd community. He happened to say the line that is the title of this post that two 10th level fighters dueling with daggers was a low point of DnD.
It was a throwaway line but it struck a chord with me. I can see the scene being imagined as two guys, probably with 60-70HP grinding away hours doing 1d4 + strength bonus damage when they did manage to hit. In old school DnD a combat round was a minute long. This fight could go on for hours.
Except that it doesn’t.
There are two flaws in this thinking. The first is that if a challenge carries no risk and has no consequences to the character’s story then you shouldn’t be rolling for it. The other flaw was the idea that 1d4+ strength bonus was damage, it isn’t.
I will take the second flaw first. The very concept of hit points is widely misunderstood. Hit points are your character’s skill, and an element of luck at avoiding being hit or harmed. In Rolemaster terms, it would be like having a finite pool of Parry that you burn through adding it to your DB.
That description of Hit Points was in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It would be ridiculous to think that just because a character had had a successful adventure or two, that they could now survive being stabbed with a sword more times. Hit Points as skill at parrying, dodging and evasion make perfect sense in contrast. This is why Fighters get more hit points than Magic-Users, they are trained to parry, dodge and evade. You Con bonus is not because you are ‘meatier’ it is because fatigue can slow a person’s reactions when parrying, dodging and evading.
DnD and Chainmail evolved out of tabletop war games where typically a unit that was hit was destroyed. To introduce named heroes into that needed a way for them to have more than a ‘one hit, you are dead’ mechanic. The core concept that if you are stabbed with a sword, hit with a mace or stabbed with a dagger, you will die unless someone saved you. That is why HPs go down to -8, each describing the severity of the mortal wound.
DnD characters are binary. They have 1HP if you think of hit points as meat. If you have 1HP then you are fighting fit, if you don’t have 1HP then you are dead or dying. All hit points above 1 are burned up in avoiding being hit.
Those are the rules pretty much as written in the original DnD.
The next problem with our two 10th level fighters is the hour-long combat. Knowing what hit points are has eliminated the idea of them each being stabbed 15 times and still standing. We have turned that into an interplay with both fighters lunging, feinting, dodging.
The problem is that the first half of the battle is of little or no consequence. You cannot kill a 10th level fighter is a dagger strike. Many strikes may but the first definitely won’t.
It is relatively easy to eyeball a battle as GM, or DM in this case, and see that Fighter 1 has a slightly better to hit number and slightly better damage due to a bigger strength bonus. Why not play the first round or two, let the Character get the size of his opponent. Ask the player how he intends to play out this fight, underhand and dirty or is it more an elegant gentleman’s duel? Now skip forward 10 rounds. If one fighter is more likely to land hits than the other then one takes four dagger strikes and the other may only take three. You can make sure that the number of hits and the damage is in line with the actual abilities of the two combatants. Now describe how the fight went up until this point. Is the other fighter the better or more skilled fighter? Is he or she using their strength to their advantage or is their speed frustrating your attempts to corner them? Tell the player what the character would know. If the character went into this thinking it would be an easy win but now finds themselves at a disadvantage they may want to change tack.
You get the player’s input and then skip forward another 10 rounds. Deal out typical damage and describe the impact this duel is having. Where was the fight taking place? In a banquet hall? In a clearing in the woods? Are there seconds standing by looking concerned? 10 more rounds have gone by, you could be down to half hits and your opponent is looking a lot fresher and more confident than you. What do you do?
By now it is possible that one or the other is at half hit points. Does that change their perception? Is the duel taking place in a larger context? Is now the time to concede honorably?
You can now skip forward another 10 rounds. At this point, you could if you wanted to, play out the rest of the combat. The banquet hall could be a complete wreck with tables upturned, benches smashed to smithereens and the floor awash with trampled food. From this point on the actions can have real consequences, the rule to not roll for things that don’t matter no longer applies.
What could have been a grinding hundred rounds of roll to hit, roll 1d4 for damage has been avoided and turned into narrative description in which the player gets to take an active part.
So What About Rolemaster?
A RM2 10th level Fighter probably has about a 100OB with dagger. Based on one rank per level of half of their sword skill, about +18 from Stat and +30 from Professional bonus.
Assuming this is an unarmoured fight in a banquet hall, just because I like the idea of food fights, with both combatants using AT1. They need about 90 to make contact with each other and about 100 to do a critical.
If they parried with half their OB and we give them a +10 Qu DB they, open ended rolls to hurt each other. One in 20 strikes will yield any damage and assuming a typical final roll of 96 + 50 at the attack roll, + 50OB – 60DB give a final result of 136 or 16ES.
Just eyeballing it suggests that you would need to do a typical 4 E criticals to take someone down, they are fatal or debilitating 25% of the time. So we are looking at possibly 1 in 20 x 4, or 80 combat rounds. I would say that the first bleeding critical on either side would finish the fight. Not so much from breeding out the penalties from lost hits would wipe out your OB, reducing your ability to deliver any damage and reducing your parry DB.
Almost all E Slash criticals do bleeding and 2-4 hits per round are common.
For all their training and experience, a Rolemaster fight between two high level fighters will actually be decided, more often than not, but the very first lucky roll.
You could even strategize for this. Fight until you have that first crit and then all-out parry until your foe bleeds out.
Looking at RMu and there is a bigger issue, passive DB inflation. Our 10th level fighters are likely to have +20 ranks (at least) in Running. By 10th level, you can have a decent Qu bonus with is x3 for DB. If you parried with +50 of your OB, you are looking at +80DB vs a +50OB, a net -30 on your attack roll. Open-ended is needed to even do hits of damage and a 96+50 attack roll yields only 4BP. I know that JDale has increased the damage in the RMu tables but they have not made 4 and a B puncture equal to 16 and an E slash critical.
I am not known for using things like exhaustion points but it looks like having to wait, a statistical average of, 20 rounds just to do 4 hits of damage. A fight like this could last three-quarters of an hour for the characters and take days of real time to play.
The chances of the fight coming down to just a lucky blow, probably a double open-ended roll is more likely than any actual skill on the part of the combatants.
Over Christmas, I set myself three goals, one of which was to read the Call of Cthulhu rules. I had only ever played the game, never run it, so was familiar with the rule in practice but had never sat behind the keeper’s screen.
It is now the middle of Feb and I am still reading.
Alongside that, quite a while ago I borrowed Dark Space from one of the guys in my Rolemaster group and I have now bought the book from him as he has said that he will never run it.
This throws up the issue of insanity in Rolemaster. I have written an article about this in the latest Fanzine. The gist of the article is about how dodgy using something as glib as a low-level neurosis spell is on a player or a player who has never experienced mental health issues trying to play a neurosis for laughs could be if you have someone sat at your table that has been struggling with their own mental health.
I don’t think the argument that a group may have been playing together for years and none of you have mental health problems so this doesn’t apply to you doesn’t stack up. People can and do hide issues for years. I know that my long term GM suffered from Schizophrenia for decades before getting a diagnosis. It is also recognized that role-players as a group have higher instances of mental health issues than the population as a whole. Presumably, the possibility of living someone else’s life for a while has an appeal. I cannot find the research right now but I think it was based upon a sampling of US role players so that may not apply globally but I cannot see why it shouldn’t. People are people all over the world.
Since writing the article in the fanzine I have been thinking about this a bit more. Not from a mental health perspective but from a game mechanic point of view.
Dark Space has two options. The first is to use Stress and Depression criticals from RoCoIII, which I am really not that impressed with. The second option is to use a new Stat called Rationality (Ra). The Ra stat is a complete carbon copy of the CoC Sanity stat and you lose Ra points depending on what the character experienced and loss of Ra leads to temporary or long term insanities, which you roll on a table. This pretty much imports all of the potential problems with CoC into Rolemaster.
The Criticals solution is equally crass. It just tells the player to play their character as either depressed or suicidal with a percentage chance of suicide each week.
I am thinking about a solution that has more shades of grey to it. We already have Co drain from the undead, could we have mental [temp] stat drain from a variety of stats. So studying some material that makes you question your very understanding of how the universe works could give you a resistance roll with your Re bonus as an assist but failure leads to a reduction in your Re stat, x number of points for every 10 points of RR failure. But, here is the first of two clever bits, if the trauma were emotional you could use In as the pertinent stat and damage the In temp as a consequence.
We can import the idea of temporary mental health issues from CoC. If you lose 20% of your remaining temporary stat in a short period of time but rather than rolling on a table what we, as GMs, do is you talk to the player and discuss how their character should react to this to that trauma. This negotiated behavior means that two characters facing the same emotional hurt could react very differently. One player could choose to be callous and unfeeling, wall themselves off from others and emotional bonds. Another player may choose to make their character desperate for emotional support.
As GM you are there and agreed with how the player was going to play this personality change. That means that you can use it to reward good role-playing. You know the criteria so you can measure performance against expectations.
Now we have a system that allows you to model different types of stress and trauma, it gives the player an active role in portraying the effects and the character gets rewarded for the player playing their character well.
You could also introduce parapsychology and psychiatry as skills and use these to restore lost tempory stats. There has long been a lack of clarity in how undead Co drain was supposed to be recovered.
Back in July of 2016 I went a bit off topic to blog about a new TV series I saw: Stranger Things. What a difference a few years make, as the show went on to become a cultural sensation and further promoted the D&D legacy into our culture.
Recently I had the opportunity to watch a new show, The
Mandalorian, that has quickly become the new “It Show”. Much of that is due to
the popularity of Star Wars for over 40 years, and some of it to the quality of
I’m not going to review the show or risk spoilers, but just in case—spoiler alert! What struck me the most about the show was how closely it adhered to classic RPG beats. It was similar to reading a RPGLit book—the dice rolls, traditions and tropes were all right there on the screen. Some may argue that these are devices more similar to video games; that may be true but video games themselves drew from tabletop traditions. I find this revealing: for decades Star Wars was defined as following ancient mythical storylines: The Heroes Journey and classic fairy tales wrapped in a fantasy/scifi setting. But throughout the Star Wars trilogy there hasn’t really been traditional gaming mechanics. Yes, characters develop some abilities—mostly the young Jedi protagonists—but this was done through plot advancement and some handwaving. (Lukes Jedi training might only have lasted in days or weeks, and yet was the sum of his formal education in the movies).
The Mandalorian is a completely different beast. There is a serial adventure nature to the show. “Mando” finishes adventures with special alloy treasure that he brings to the “Armorer” to have forged into upgraded equipment. There are side adventures. There is new, cool equipment that gives added abilities and firepower. The Mando takes real damage, needs healing and is restrained by ammo and weapon limitations. You have temporary NPC’s (who mostly die and thus don’t have a lengthy plotline) that aid the Mandalorian for that particular adventure. I think it’s incredible that popular culture is embracing (perhaps unknowingly) a clear gaming format into a high-profile serialized event.
I’m not sure I’ve seen another high budget show that adheres
to gaming mechanics in such a clear way. Thoughts?
I use the generator, copy it all into word and then rip out everything I don’t like. I then create the NPCs I want to play, reprising any that I think deserve another outing and from there I can start the stage dressing. That is the thing about RPGs, they are all about the people. No people then no role playing. If the NPCs are barbarians then you get an instant impression of the locations. If they are ninjas then that suggest something else, wood elves are another thing all together.
For my random toys idea, I could:
Run the Donjon random generator enough times and borrow the ideas to build some d10 tables. Eliminate the bits I don’t like. Then mash up Brian’s encounter tables to make it more Rolemaster.
Buy the design kit myself and build a random generator myself with Rolemaster as a design criteria right from the start. It only costs $4.99 for nearly 100 pages of stuff that I could adapt.
Both options have problems. The first is that I would be using second hand random tables. There are only 7 possible ‘cruel tricks’ in the Donjon tool. Does that mean that there were only 7 in the original book? Did the original table say 1-3 no trick, then the 7 tricks were listed from 4 to 10? I personally don’t think 70% of adventures should have a cruel trick in the tale.
I also don’t really want to build a web tool. I feel I want to keep my cake and eat it. I was detail and sophistication but I also want the simplicity of a few tables and only a few rolls.
There is a part of me that would quite like to try and get the entire adventure generator on to a double page spread. That gives quite a lot of paper real estate to work on. Pages 1-2 could be Alpine adventures, 53-54 would be Waste/Barren adventures and so on. Creatures and Treasures defines 27 different environments.
Preselecting an environment would mean that I would know what monsters are viable, the weather conditions could be tailored as well.
Without having actually tried this I am guessing I would be able to fit four d100 tables, one per column over a double page spread or eight to twelve d10 tables. The Design Kit uses 22 criteria which I would have to condense into 12 or less tables. I could then combine things like Omen/Prophesy, Moral Quandary, Red Herring and Cruel Tricks into a single table. There is also the option of on an 99-00 roll twice and use both results. so they do not become mutually exclusive but also not every adventure will be driven by a prophesy and have the players face a moral dilemma.
The more I look at the Donjon tool the more I think it can be compressed into my double page spread format. If I don’t buy the Design Kit I cannot be accused of copying their work either. At most it is a derived work from a derived work with a healthy dose of Rolemaster thrown in as well.
Four d100 rolls or 12 d10 rolls are more dice than I originally intended but everything on just two pages also seems to be pretty light weight. It also does away, to some extent, with RM’s obsession with obscure codes for climate and terrain.
The last key factor is what monster to include in each environment. I could just go with my Creatures & Treasures but there are a few monsters that are in RMFRP/RMSS and RMu that are not in RM2/RMC. There aren’t many but there are some. If I put this project on a back burner until January we will have the actual Creature Law book to work from or at the very least I can work from the RMC Creature Law, which is the most restricted monster book out of all the RM versions.
I really think there could be a book in all of this somewhere. What do you think?