Gaming Weekend

(I am writing this on my phone and on the train so if there are any predictive textisms I apologise and will edit it down later!)

I am on the train to Faerún again to run my face to face game. This is the haunted house session in which a disgruntled follower of Lathander will attempt to lure the party to their deaths at the haunted house. He is after vengeance after they ‘accidentally’ defiled on of Lathander temples.
The adventure should take place between the first two Daggerdale modules (the Doom of Daggerdale and the Sword of Daggerdale).
For me this means that I have three prepped adventures. Colderan The Razor is still at large in Daggerfalls and is out to get the characters, the sinister secret of Saltmarsh should be the nail entertainment for the weekend and the Sword of Daggerdale is where the campaign is going next.
It also means that in terms of raw game notes, encounters, physical challenges and such all my game prep is done for the next two years or so. What I will have to do is make adjustments to the challenge level depending on the relative strength of the characters but that is just a level here or an extra foe there.
On the other hand what I can do is continue to layer on ways of making the game better. This time the players will be treated to me ensuring that I don’t forget all if the characters senses. I have made explicit notes about what the characters can hear, smell and taste as well as temperature.
This time they also get the pleasure of all the creepy special effects courtesy of Azukail Games. I intend to use up to twenty selected effects this time.
If I can get my timing right the characters should reach the house during our evening and late night session. It has to be better playing a spooky game at night rather than in glorious autumnal sunshine.
We are also in a new venue. We have rented a house in Glastonbury with views of the Tor. If I had known where we were going to be I probably would have done something with evil druids!

Prepping for The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

Following Brian’s suggestion I have taken the haunted house from The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh as the basis of my haunted house. We are going to play this on the 16th so it is time to finalise my prep.

You can see, but probably not read my hand writing, that I am doing my usual sprinkling of post-it notes.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
A highlighted page from the module

Noting the Encounters

The top post-it has just enough details for me to run an encounter with the snake(s). The original module had just a single poisonous snake at this point but I have swapped that out and made it a pair of vipers.  The note reads 2x Vipers and then just enough details from Creatures and Treasures, the level, Mv, hits, AT, DB and OB etc. The block handing down below are the details of the poison taken from Character Law about the type and effect of the poison.

In this way I have saved myself two book look ups just by copying the core details onto the page. From a prepping point of view it takes very little time to write out just a single note so I can do a page or two each time I take a tea break.

Keeping track of Experience

The other thing that is popular is the game journal. We play so infrequently that the chances of remembering every step or clue in the game from one session to the next is almost nil. By taking my post-its off the page when they are finished with, the combat done or the NPC encountered. I can move them to where I keep my journal notes. I also use that for experience; so the details of the fight or however the vipers in this case were circumvented goes with the note into the journal.

As I am converting from one system to another there are a lot of changes to make to a bought module such as this but no more than if I was writing an adventure myself. The point is that I cam looking up the rules that will be called into play now rather than at the gaming table.

What to convert?

The sort of things I have noting are:

  • Converting D&D Potions into Rolemaster Herbs where possible.
  • Converting Monsters over to Rolemaster creatures if they exist, if not I am doing a manual conversion.
  • Creating NPCs as RM characters.
  • Checking and inserting the rules for poisons, diseases and traps.
  • Setting difficulty factors for traps, locks and manoeuvres.
  • Converting money from D&D to the Rolemaster decimal system.

Funnily enough it is the conversion of the magical items into RM herbs or into RM spell effects that makes the biggest difference to the feel of the game. D&D just does not have the herb culture and being able to smoothly integrate the herbs into the setting where they did not exist before works well. Conversely Rolemaster does not have a potion culture like D&D so by toning the use of poisons down helps.

In the current adventure there is a ring of protection +1 to be had fairly easily. We all know these from our D&D backgrounds but again they are not a Rolemaster ‘thing’. In the game as it will be played it will be a Ring (Daily III item casting Blur). They are not exactly the same but the trade off is that the ring of protection is a constant effect item that would give +5DB but I am giving away a +10DB but can only be used three times a day for short periods.

It is little tweaks like this that make the module feel like it is native Rolemaster rather than converted D&D.

It is the potted rule lookups on the page where they are needed that save time at the table.

The monster stats on the page with any special rules to run them that helps speed up combat. As I have said before for NPCs I note down the general plan for the first three rounds of combat and if or not they would try to escape and how.

Keeping it Sinister

Finally I have one other type of post-it on these pages. I am using them to remind me to lay on the atmosphere. This is meant to be a haunted house. With all the ideas I have to use from the 100 Creepy things books ( ) I want to lay on the spooky effects. This is not intended to be a dungeon crawl and these little reminders are there to reinforce that point.

Demons and Devils – 5ex5

Asmodius the Demon Prince

I have had an incredibly busy week, so much so that I missed blogging on Monday completely! What I should have been doing is working on the D&D 5th Edition conversion to a D100 system. I am doing this conversion very much with a Rolemaster hat on and it is interesting to see what D&D has that Rolemaster doesn’t and what it does very differently.  One of those are the Demons and Devils.

Demon Princes

You can tell I am working on the Monster Manual right now can’t you. Demons are a classic fantasy monster and we have our own rolemaster demons with our type 1 to 5 pales and so on. When you compare that to the D&D world you get an entire ecology of abominations to play with from relatively weak monsters to named demon princes. I had forgotten just how many of these there actually were in the core D&D books.

Asmodius the Demon Prince
Asmodius the Demon Prince

Crusading Knights

I think that D&D had its origins in a fairly real world concept. You can almost see the fighter class being cast as a crusading knight. As soon as you take a step in that Christian direction then demons and devils are nature enemies to be defeated.

Rolemaster has a strong Tolkien heritage

Rolemaster on the other hand has a strong Tolkien heritage and in that setting there are certainly no devils but the Balrog certainly seems demonic even if they are of the maiar. Once you step away from middle earth then that demonic niche needs filling. I think the developers gave us elven demons and human demons to fill the gap. Seeing as Middle Earth had no devils then Rolemaster has no devils.

I think it is interesting that in 30+ years I have never felt the need to reintroduce devils back into the monsterous ecology of my game world which is in fact their natural environment of Faerun.

Rolemaster Player Challenge. Finding the perfect pairing


I thought I would skip my “Weekly Roundup” for a player challenge. The challenge: suggest an interesting, creative or clever RM profession/magic item combination. The basic guidelines:

  1. One profession and one item.
  2. Artifacts are excluded.
  3. The combination should strive to make the “whole greater than the parts” or add an interesting dynamic or ability to the character.
  4. Extra kudos to the player who comes up with the best combo using the least powerful magic item.

Of course I’ll go first as an example. When I’m not GM’ing, I’m almost always a Warrior Monk. (Caylis, who gets occasional mentions in some RM books). I think I like the simplicity of a non-spell caster and the minimalist nature of the Monk after the intensive, detailed process of being a GM. Playing a Monk goes all the way back to my earliest days of playing AD&D and our Court of Ardor campaign in ’83. I didn’t worry about hoarding gold, armor, losing items etc. I liked the self-reliance of a Monk in AD&D (Feign Death, hitting as magical weapons, immunities) and always strived for some of those same abilities in RM without opting for the Mentalist spell casting version Monk.

With that in mind, my favorite go to item for my monk is the “Ring of Free Action” or some iteration of it. This was an actual AD&D item that had far more expansive powers than an RM spell. In RM the closest is probably “Underwater Movement”, only a 5th lvl spell on the Closed Mentalist list “Movement”. That’s a pretty modest item to get make into a Daily X item and frees the Monk to operate underwater and use martial arts without restrictions. It’s not an overtly powerful ability but can really add to game play, combat choices (if near water)and group abilities.

What’s your combination? I received a suggestion yesterday that made sense. What’s a contest without a prize? If we get at least 10 responses the winner of the best suggestion will get a brand new copy of the Iron Wind (the 80’s edition). This is “new, old stock” I bought from ICE when they were shutting down. Never been used but aren’t individually shrink wrapped. There may be the option to get the Cloudlords of Tanara instead but I’ll have to check to see what we have left.

Winner will be determined by the criteria above: originality in pairing, uniqueness, power of item (the lower the better) and of course the swimwear segment!

Gaming Group Size: Is “ONE” the loneliest number?



I was reading Gnomestew blog the other day (and linked to some on the Weekend Roundup) and started thinking about optimal party size for me personally as a GM. It’s certainly harder to put together any group as I get older—conflicting schedules and responsibilities of adult players creates significant barriers to game times. Right now I have 3 core players who can attend our bi-weekly game and another 2 that attend less frequently.

Certainly fewer players allows me to create much richer backgrounds for the PC’s and gives the players more time to “shine” during game play. More players and you run into group dynamics (distractions, leadership issues, group decision making etc). Here are my thoughts on the typical party size.

1 Player. Not for me anymore. When I was just starting out, any chance to play was good so having a GM and 1 player was better than nothing. (ignoring solo adventures). Now I’d rather not GM if I only have 1 player. It’s not rewarding for me for the work and effort needed.

2 Players. We had a few sessions with last minute player cancellation and went ahead with 2 players. The group was in the middle of a busy part of the adventure so I needed to carry the missing PC’s as NPC’s. I think the two players had fun in that session but didn’t enjoy the extra duties. What if it were just the 2 players? That might have worked but I’ve found that with only 2 players each wants to pursue individual agendas and goals. That’s easier to do now via PBM mechanisms between game sessions. (having magic items made, training etc)

3 Players. I like 3 players—decisions are made quicker, game flow moves and each PC can take an over sized role in the narrative. Since we use “NO Profession” there is rarely an issue with skill deficits or party balance. I can really focus on integrating the PC’s background, skills and the players interests into the narrative which makes for more personal “payoffs” for the group.

4 Players. Is this the standard trope? (Fighter, Thief, Magic User, Cleric). Even with us discarding professions the group still finds itself trying to create skill balances to emulate this traditional 4 PC party. I like 4 players for the added diversity but keeping the smaller group dynamic and efficiency.

5 Players. The majority of my groups have been 5 players. I do like the added energy and the additional power/abilities from the extra player. However, I’ve found with 5 players there is always 1 player who doesn’t quite fit in, has an over or under-sized role, or is a distraction to game play. I’ve found that to be the nature of the larger groups.

6 Players. I’ve had a few opportunities to GM 6 player groups. Not really for me unless it’s a “one-off” tournament style adventure. (Like the Lair of Ozymandias). Combat goes very slow, the group gets distracted easily, inter-player competitiveness becomes more pronounced and it’s harder to give every player “time to shine”.

What’s been your experience?

Refreshed and Reinvigorated

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I have just got back from Iceland having done a riding tour from the northern coast up a river valley to the last farm before the uninhabitied high lands. The whole experience was amazing as was the riding and the horses.

My PBP game has been faltering recently as I was away, my players had busy lives and it had almost withered away. The day before my flight to Iceland one of my players contacted me and said he was back and able to play. This is great news as we can get the game up and rolling again.

I am also now starting to prepare the next face to face gaming weekend for my RMC game.

It is a real pity that none of my players’ characters are in the Frozen North as I have some great ideas and inspiration but no one to inflict it upon!

So what comes next? The weakest element of my face to face game is that the party are still very much acting as individuals who are traveling together rather than as a robust whole. I feel that if I was to test the party bonds then it would fall apart in a fit of self interest. I want to address that ‘weakness’ and try and knit them together somewhat. The danger is ofcourse that in trying to encourage them to bond I would have them rail in the opposite direction.

My mission tonight is to go back over every characters’ background story and try and write an adventure that furthers all of there individual goals at the same time. That should get them working together. From memory I think I have one idea I can use.

In my PBP game things were about to get really interesting just when the momentum failed. I am really looking forward to getting that going and as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on this post I will be writing an update for Riako the halfling monk.

When I have spent the week plotting adventures I will see what gremlins have popped up to cause complications!

Rule sets and settings. The gap between Rolemaster and Shadow World.


A recent forum thread started me thinking about the “tensions” between a game setting and a game system. Specifically rulesets and worlds published by the same company (not like Peter’s use of FR for his RM game). Certainly Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms were designed to incorporate the full breadth of the D&D rules, but what issues are created when a game world doesn’t fully embrace the system it’s meant to support? MERP is a good example of this. The original modules used the RM rule set, but that rule set never really fit the low magic world of Tolkien. ICE eventually introduced MERP, which stripped out many of the professions to better fit the setting.

So let’s examine RM (in all its’ variations) and Shadow World. The two always seemed slightly “out of phase” to me. While some argue that SW is very “kitchen sink”, it has elements and mechanisms that break from normal RM standards. RM’s origins as a slot in system meant that it duplicated a lot of D&D material and had quite a bit of generic content. Shadow World however, is a very specific setting that often throws away RM rules or requires some re-calibration to make things work just right. Some examples:

  1. Gods, death and resurrection. RM spell law contains specific rules about resurrection, lifekeeping and death but doesn’t make any inferences about the larger world and how that might work. Shadow World has Eissa, the Goddess of Death who appears to be the “gatekeeper” to the afterlife. But this begs a whole set of questions. Does this gateway to the afterlife only appear on Kulthea or is there a standard mechanism throughout the universe? How does Eissa control this gateway given that the Lords are more extra-dimensional beings than real gods? As discussed in the previously noted thread, can other Dieties provide resurrection powers to their priests?
  2. The planes. D&D has a well fleshed out world of planes and other dimensions that tie into specific spells and effects. RM describes the Void and demonic planes, has spells about summoning demons and other entities but it’s all very general. SW embraces and used the Pales much more but doesn’t really touch upon other dimensions.
  3. What are undead? RM has the usual suspects: Mummy, Vampire, Wraiths, Shadows etc but are they anchored evil souls? Summoned spirits? Cursed individuals? If they are souls how does that work with #1? Can Eissa block souls from being dragged back to Kulthea?
  4. What are the Navigator and Loremaster Base lists? Reviewing the NPC stats, Loremasters and Navigators are all assigned standard RM professions but also have access to these new added organizational base lists. How does that work? Should be ignore it since they are NPC’s?
  5. I already blogged about my disdain for D&D style Giants, but the full roster of RM creatures doesn’t really work in the specific SW setting.
  6. There isn’t much discussion about advanced technology in RM, but SW brims with it.
  7. SW is enveloped with the flows of Essaence (not to be confused with the Essence Realm). This magical energy is then….parsed into three different unique flavors? Doesn’t it make more sense to just have the Essaence be the “motive” power for spells rather than this cumbersome split into three realms energy types, each with its multiplier devices? And then you have the Hybrid realms which mix them back together…

This ambiguity between RM and Shadow World is much different then Numenera whose rule set and setting were created hand in hand. The setting informs the rules and the rules drive the setting.  Is there a solution? Does there need to be one? Perhaps not, but it probably doesn’t help to have this divide between the rules and the setting. Like MERP before it, I think the Shadow World setting would be helped by having a modified RM rule set.

Can you think of any other companies that have a rule set and setting that don’t quite match up?

Shadow World Adventure Hooks: “Rock Star” fortresses!


My campaigns have never featured a lot of traditional RPG dungeon crawls; I’ve always felt they were a little contrived and disrupted the grittier/realistic feel I was striving. Instead of stocked underground mazes filled with traps, puzzles and commensurate rewards I challenge my players with fortresses, strongholds, castles and lairs. Creative architecture is not my strongest skill, so I look to real life examples for ideas and templates. A google image search under “archaeological floorplans” generates a wealth of great layouts that can be printed and used for gaming. Most of these archaeological layouts are for ancient sites destroyed years ago and forensically recreated from the remnants of historical records, foundation stones and building science so I’m always excited to see an intact site.

Structures and fortresses built on isolated rocks are my favorites. They look cool, they are manageable projects to map out, they represent a controlled finite game environment and they can be a challenging mission to infiltrate/access. Here are a few of my favorite “Rock Star” fortresses.

Aragonese Castle


During my trip to Italy I came across a fantastic fortress: Aragonese Castle on the island of Ischea. Just looking at it makes you want to explore it! The island is skirted with sheer cliffs and the only access is through a long causeway into a tunnel that accesses the fortress. A perfect adventure site.



Mont St. Michel Abbey

St Michel 1

This famous site is more of a walled city/castle than a small fortress. Nonetheless it makes for a great adventure setting. I see this as inspiration for the fortress of the Raven Queen in Shadow World.





Sigiriya 3



A huge exposed rock sticking out of the jungle? A winding staircase up to a fortress? An entrance gate flanked by huge carved lion’s paws? What’s not to love!



Agia Triada

Agia Triada 1

Some of you will recognize this as the monastery featured in James Bond “For your Eyes Only”. That movie came out in 1981—the heights of the D&D craze for my friends and I. The assault on the fortress in the movie—the crossbow, rock climbing and the rope basket elevator was pure awesome.


Those are a few of my favorites—do you have any real life examples you’ve used?

RMC House Rules – Character Creation #4 – Cultural Background

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Cultural Background is another element of RMU that I really like. The mechanism is really simple. There are a number of predefined backgrounds such as urban, nomad, coastal and sylvan, plus 4 others in RMU, and there is a mix of skills that are typical for people growing up in that culture. So you choose your culture and you get free skill ranks to assign into skill categories defined by your culture.

This has two immediate effects. Firstly it replaces at least in part the adolesence level for buying skills. you are just given a few ranks in some or all skill categories and regardless of the cost you just pick the skills that you want. The second effect is to force every character to have a good balance of background skills.

Avoiding Meta-Gaming?

I have a player in my face to face game that has only spent development points on weapons, magic, body development and perception and a couple of other skills that I insisted on. For hobby skills I give away 13 ranks that you can assign to secondary skills and he always tries to assign some or all of them to combat and magical skills. Compared to all the other characters he has the most hits, the biggest OB and the most magic. On the other hand he gets very upset when the challenges facing the party require tracking, lore or any of the other useful skills he eskewed in favour of big weapons.

I will confess that every now and again I take great pleasure in seperating him from he rest of the party by a wall, pit, door or whatever and give him a really simple challenge that everyone on one side of the door could easily do and he is completely perplexed by.

It is also no surprise that this player is the biggest meta gamer in the party who most of the time is using his own knowledge to decide his characters actions rather than what the chracter knows.

How Cultural Backgrounds Work

Anyway back to cultural backgrounds! Each background in my variation comprises 35 ranks spread over 13 different skill categories. The average skill costs for a single rank is about 2DP so that equates to about 50DP as an apprentice level although the single biggest block goes to languages which are traditionally cheaper.

The point of these character cultural background ranks for me is two fold. It is both faster and easier to just pick skills from a list than to try and spend exactly a fixed number of DPs. We have all been in a situation where you have to trade off one skill against another to make everything fit into your budget. Secondly it will make a Barbarian from the Frozen North significantly different from a Warrior from Chult and that difference has an impact on those characters which will last a long time into the characters careers.

Actually implementing this I have skewed everything to fit my world setting of the Forgotten Realms. If you are from Thay then you will have a significantly different skill set than if you are from Chult. On the other hand I have not really split it alone national lines. Both Waterdeep and Thay are magically very rich places and the citizens will both have a great amount of day to day experience of magic.

Cultural Background Skills Table




(Sword Coast)


(Frozen North)
Highland Nomad Rural






Athletic 1 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Awareness 1 2 3 2 2 1 2 1 1
Body Development 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Combat Maneuvers 1 1
Communcations 13 10 6 8 10 8 10 10 12
Crafts 5 6 4 5 5 7 5 6 7
Influence 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2
Lore 4 4 5 4 4 4 4 4 4
Martial Arts 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Outdoor 3 2 5 3 2 1
Scientific Analytic 1 1 1
Subterfuge 1 1 1 2
Technical/Trade 7 6 6 6 5 8 7 5 6

When assigning these ranks the same rule applies as with buying skills. You cannot buy ore than 2 ranks in a single skills unless the skill is listed as 1*, 2* etc., such as languages. This forces players with say 7 ranks in Technical/Trade skills to buy a range of skills.

You will notice that there are no weapon skills or armour skills in here. That means that all of your OB has to come from your 1st level development points.