Rolemaster Deconstruction: Familiars. How should they work?

 

Familiars are not only a staple of fantasy fiction but a core visual ingredient of Rolemaster book covers–specifically the ongoing series of Angus McBride covers from earlier RM books that featured a cast of PC’s with several small animal Familiars.

Familiars had a more sinister aspect in early fiction; most often a demonic imp, crow or other dark-aspected animal tied to an evil antagonist. Early D&D applied this concept to any M-U, and broadened it to a simple servitor or animalistic henchmen of a spell-caster.

First, let’s differentiate between “animal control” spells and “familiars”. Animal control spells are featured in the Animist, Beast Master, Druid and similar professional lists in Spell Law and Companions. These are spells that summon/call, control/master and sometimes allow the caster to sense through a controlled animal. These are all powerful affects, in in some ways SUPERIOR to the limitations and penalties associated with Familiars. So how does Rolemaster deal with Familiars? Fairly easily, in fact, so easy that it behooves a caster to immediately have one.

So why would a caster have a Familiar?

Familiars have a symbiotic connection to the caster where animal control is just a magical charm or affect on a creature. So what is the symbiotic relationship? What benefit does it provide besides cinematics? How does it work, mechanically via the rules?

The basic premise is that there is a REAL benefit to the caster, but at the cost of INVESTITURE. In other words, if the relationship is severed there is a real, physical or psychosomatic cost to the caster. Otherwise isn’t it just easier and less risk to control creatures when needed?

So what is the benefit, or possible benefits, of a familiar that differentiate it from other animal control spells? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Communication. The Familiar bond should allow for free two way communication between the caster and creature. This may not be actual “language” but at least a strong empathic bond.
  2. Awareness. The caster and familiar should have some base awareness in terms of location/distance of each other at all times.
  3. Shared Awareness. With concentration the caster might be allowed to project sensory ability and awareness through their Familiar.
  4. Control. The caster, with concentration, should be able to have some control over their familiar or, at least, give simple instructions for a Familiar to execute.
  5. Shared abilities. A caster might gain some extra-abilities through the Familiar relationship. Perhaps better vision, languages, strength, sensory etc. On the flip side, a Familiar could gain some intellectual ability bestowed by the Familiar bond.

Most of these benefits mirror other animal control spells. But those are temporary spell effects; a Familiar is permanent.

My belief is that GM’s are reluctant or adverse to Familiars. Why? Familiars are really NPC’s for the benefit of the PC’s. That really complicates the narrative.  GM’s not only have to manage normal NPC’s but a constant stream of Familiars that can upend the storyline unless the GM takes the Familiars into consideration!!! At that point, who is the audience? Additionaly, Familiars can change the challenge/reaction of normal adventures–familiars act as scouts or agents with heightened senses that can off-set the normal challenge-balance. At the least, Familiars can be the “canary in the coal mine” and alert the group of traps or other imminent obstacles.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Familiars are GM agents. You can better control the narrative through them.
  • They should be of animal intelligence. They may act with pro-forma intelligence via their caster, but their base ability should be simple animal intelligence.
  • Size. Should they be of smaller size? Should a caster have a bull as a familiar? Probably not. I would restrain the spell limits using the size rules to Small or less.
  • The penalty for losing a familiar should be EXTREME, or at least cautionary. The tie that binds should snap back accordingly and in proportion. This could be loss of temp CO. or even a permanent CO pt, a general activity penalty and even worse.

Again, this goes back to risk/reward. No GM wants to manage intelligent Familiars that run the unknown gauntlet, trip the traps and distract the monsters. At that point, who is playing? Familiars should be carefully hoarded resources–a cool benefit that needs to be defended! Are familiars a great resource in you game?

Of course, if easy and beneficial, every player will have a Familiar. But if the risks and rewards are balanced, would it be different? Maybe the whole concept should be reduced to a simplified, professional agnostic “Animal Bond” mechanic and spell list. That eliminates the whole D&D Magic-User familiar trope and become a generic but specific rule-set that could be used by a variety of PC’s or classes: Magician, Animist, Druid, Beast Master, Barbarian etc. What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

Tie a yellow ribbon around the Angry Druid!

This post was meant to be published yesterday but I was up before dawn on my way to my first ever elite fencing competition. The difference between sport and combat is that I would have died about 17 seconds in if this was a combat but as it was I vanquished two foes but was defeated five times myself. Not the best hit rate by anyone’s reckoning. If there is every a quest to save the world, I am probably not the hero you are looking for.

The weird title to this post is a bastardisation of the latest two 50 in 50 adventures. I wrote ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon‘ and Brian produced ‘The Angry Druid‘.

I always try and have fun with my adventure titles and in this case Tie A Yellow Ribbon is obviously a reference to a dreadful 1970s song but is a deadly serious adventure which could cost either the players or hundreds of innocents their lives.

On the other hand The Angry Druid sounds like a dangerous foe, which he is, but is actually a bit of a tongue in cheek adventure.

We have passed a bit of a milestone and you can now by a bundle of the first 10 adventures, at a discount if you have bought any of the individual issues. The 1-10 bundle is obviously going to be the first of at least 5 bundles.

Going forward there is going to be a post each Saturday with a round up of what we have published this week. I think I will recap any new uploads in the same post.

I feel that this is going to grow in importance in 2018. Looking at the Directors Briefing for January, if you are not using Shadow World then excepting RMU there are no planned releases for RMC/RMSS or Spacemaster for 2018 at all.

While we await the Singularity we will try and keep RM alive and kicking!

Rolemaster Combat Hack: Expanded weapon modifiers for Rolemaster.

Even in the earliest editions Rolemaster Arms Law contained a detailed chart of weapons with a variety of data: mods to hit ATs, length, weight, speed, notes etc. Beyond any additional to hit bonuses we never really referred to that chart at all–but it did give hints to useful information that could be incorporated into combat.

Recently RMU expanded various “combat maneuvers” and combat situations into the rules. Some of these set penalties can be offset by the appropriate combat maneuver skill (contra skill) or are just specific penalties based on certain situations (close quarter combat). Two situational penalties did take the actual weapon into effect: subdue and close quarters, but the rest just set a base penalty. (rear attack, protect, etc). It seems obvious that this concept can be expanded much further; that each weapon or weapon type should have custom penalties based on it’s speed, reach and style. For instance, the effort to strike behind (rear attack) should be much different for a martial artist than someone wielding a 2-hand sword.  Or the penalty to protect should be lower for someone wielding a polearm than someone with a dagger.

This simple solution adds another layer to weapon complexity without any new rules, creates real differentiation between weapons for specific combat circumstances and reduces the problem of multiple weapons sharing the same attack table. An additional benefit is that if new combat situations are created or a new weapon added, it’s easy to expand the chart without any other design work (like creating a new attack chart). We’ve added these mods right on the character sheet for easy reference.

(Another category I’m going to add is a “Thrown” penalty for melee weapons and initiative modifiers for use with our initiative rules)

I’ve uploaded the chart in Excel for ease of editing.  At the top is a simpler version which classifies weapons into 4 categories based on weapon reach. Below are a breakout of individual weapons, and SW special weapons. (Pete, not sure I did the file upload process correctly…)

RM Weapon Modifier Chart

Another Step Forward Downloads!

This blog is a bit of a lesson in humility for me. I set it up just because  there was a perceived need for this kind of blog and to attract more people to Rolemaster.

It started off as “I am trying this”, “I am trying that” now I am pleased to say it is very much “We are trying this”, “We are trying that”. We have a nice team of writers now and this blog is as much theirs as it was ever mine.

The big thing that I want to share today is our new Downloads feature. You can see it hopefully to the right if you are on a bog screen or below if you are on a mobile. This was kicked of by Brih but I am going back over old posts to find downloads we can add to the list. There is a downloads menu as well and as the number of downloads grows this will get organised into categories to make it easier to find what you want.

I know full well that there are part finished project I have started over the years. I hope this will prompt me to get those topped off and added to the the download list.

Shadow World: Master Encounter Table

One of the earlier files I posted on the Shadow World thread was a master encounter table. I put a lot of work into it, included every creature, plant, herb, profession, race or group found in SW Canon products.  These encounter categories include: weather, accidents, essence, flora, herbs, creatures, creature (unusual), humanoids, groups, sub groups, vehicles, professions, objects, structures, events, special.

It starts with an encounter category table divided into simplified environmental zones with sub tables depending on the result. It also has two aux charts for distance to encounter and attitude/behavior of encounter if applicable. With just these tables it is easy to randomly generate SW encounters on the fly, generate a quick NPC group or other random event or encounter.

But oddly, I got fewer messages or feedback on the encounter chart than I did with many of the other uploads. I’ve included it below in Excel format so it’s easy to change, adapt or expand as needed.

SW Encounter Charts

Project BASiL: Channeling & Essence

I’m starting the process of consolidating all of my uploaded files on the RM Forums over here to the Rolemasterblog.com. I’ve uploaded over 200 docs scattered throughout the Rolemaster and Shadow World threads, but to see them or download them requires a user account.

These are just the lists and not the associated notes that accompany each. For info on our Channeling mechanics, I blogged about it HERE and for Essence mechanics HERE.

Channeling pt 1

Channeling pt 2

and an extra Channeling List “Channeling”

Channeling

Essence pt1

Essence pt2

Essence pt3

And Cantrips we use is our SW campaign.

Cantrips