Rolemaster Critical Mass

Probably the greatest selling point for Rolemaster is its critical tables. Rather than rolling to hit and then rolling damage as you do in many other games in rolemaster the to hit and damage are the same roll. the higher the roll the more damage you do, the lower the roll the greater the likelihood of a glancing blow or complete miss. Once you have made that attack roll there is often a second d100 roll and that is for your critical (Yay!) or fumble (boo!). Your critical gives you a bundle of extras. It tells you the location of your hit, special effects such as knocking your opponent back or down, a description of the wound and bonus damage such as additin damage, bleeding (or being on fire if it was a fireball) and can lead to instant death.

A critical table normally has five levels of critical (A to E) and 20 criticals per level. An ‘A’ critical is rarely fatal in its own right. An ‘E’ critical is fatal about 15%-20% of the time. There are some wonderfully gory criticals such as “Nasty cut across both legs knocks foe down. Foe struggles back on his feet for 5 more
rounds, then his femoral arteries burst in a gout of blood, killing him.” That was one of the  ‘E’ Slash criticals from the new RMU Beta.

Criticals are defined by the type of wound. The most common are slash critical, puncture and crush (known as Krush in Rolemaster). These are used for your swords, arrows and maces etc. A sword may do a slash critical against an unarmed foe but a krush against someone in plate armour as the attack tables take into account both the armour and the weapon. There are criticals for each unique type of damage so on top of the traditional weapon type damage you have fire, cold, electricity, martial arts (strikes and throws) and less obvious things like steam and acid. If a Black Dragon spits acid at you then you are not just going to take a dozen d6 of damage, you are going to pretty much eaten alive.

These criticals have been in Rolemaster right from the start and have largely remained unchanged. Except for once (to my knowledge). ICE had a dalliance with weapon specific criticals back in the noughties (2008). These described damage by weapon rather than by damage type. What that means is that in the normal critical tables a puncture critical of the same severity with the same critical dice roll from a spear, an arrow and a rapier would all do the same damage. Lets say you did a ‘C’ critical and then rolled an 88 for your critical roll. The result reads “Point passes through arm. Blood comes out on both sides.” (I have removed references to additional damage as RMU has different ways of recording the additional damage.)

In a weapon specific critical table the results vary. Look at these three. (all are 88 results for C criticals)

Your blow takes his shield arm right off. +25 hits, bleeding 6
hits/rnd, stunned no parry 4 rnds and -10 to all actions. If he’s got a shield it’s shattered but his arm is only broken; -20 to all actions.

He bites his tongue as your point sinks into bicep and blood sprays everywhere whenever he moves his arm. +17 hits, bleeding 5 hits/rnd and stunned no parry 4 rnds.

Striking the bone in his forearm, your arrow deflects up and inwards until only the feathers are showing. +12 hits, bleeding 6 hits/rnd, stunned no parry 2 rnds, stunned 2 more rnds and at -15 to all actions.

It is fairly easy to see the difference between the spear and the rapier (the feathers give the arrow away in our little line up). I am a big fan of weapon specific criticals and still use them in preference to the standard tables. Even so with the typical sword it can do up to 300 different unique wounds just on the standard tables alone (A to E, and a mix of slashes, punctures and krushes). You cannot do that on just a d8 and don’t get me started on holy, slaying and burning weapons. they get really dangerous!

If you have never played Rolemaster and you get a chance to try out the RMU Beta I would take the opportunity. You can download the rules from the ICE forum if you have some players who are prepared to have a go!

Who is Unified Rolemaster (RMU) For?

Rolemaster Logo

This week Nicholas Caldwell published the October Director’s Briefing. I seriously recommend reading it if you are interested in any form of Rolemaster.

I think you should never be afraid of people who challenge your ideas or disagree with you. In business we say you will learn more from a single customer complaint than from 100 positive reviews. I love Rolemaster and think it is the best fantasy roleplaying game of all time (so far) and the second best rpg rules system across any genre. I have played a lot of games, as I am sure you all have. I also think Nicholas Caldwell is somewhat wrong in his conclusions of the right target audience for RMU.

It was me that asserted ICE needs RMU ( in the original discusion for all the reasons that he quite rightly outlines. You cannot expect the company to support so many incompatible systems. That I agree with. I think that RMU should be developed first and foremost to attract new players into the RM world.

Here is my reasoning.

As the briefing states trying to perform the balancing act between the wants of the two existing systems requires compromises. Trying to balance the needs of three groups, the RM2ers, the RMSS (that sounds sinister doesn’t it?) and completely new players is an even harder balancing act. You do not need to worry about us old hands. The truth is that all that is going to happen is from two factions you will get three factions, RM2, RMSS and RMU. In the same way that in the D&D world there are still people playing 1st Edition AD&D today when the current version is 5th Edition so you will still have your RM2 players playing RM2 after RMU is released. So trying to unify the audience into a single market will not work.

Secondly if you completely ignored the existing players and just made the best possible new Rolemaster then those people who are starved of new RM material will buy in. Some people jumped from RM2 to RMSS and some jumped from RM2 to RMC. A proportion of those will adopt RMU just because it is RM and it is NEW.

If you just make the best possible Rolemaster, then by extension, you will attract more new players. I defy anyone to argue that ‘the best possible Rolemaster’ will be in anyway inferior to ‘the best possible compromise between all old versions of Rolemaster’.

In the Director’s Briefing he says “Gamers who like very rules-lite systems or cannot abide detail are unlikely to play any edition of Rolemaster.” the flaw in this argument is that I am both 100% committed to Rolemaster (I am a volunteer editor for the Guild Companion, frequent contributor to the ICE forums and one of the few RM bloggers.) and I am one of those people who like very rules-lite systems. Maybe I am the exception that proves the rule or maybe the designers do not like rules-lite systems so assume that the players are like themselves? Who knows.

It is true that targeting the existing players is the easiest audience for ICE to reach but ‘easiest’ is both subjective and relative. How hard is any audience to reach these days? There are 550+ followers of the Shadow World facebook page. A single status update about the release of the new version could reach more people than habitually visit the ICE website (the busiest day ever on the ICE forum saw 276 people). A copy of the game sent to the top games websites for review can reach tens of thousands of roleplayers who have never even seen a RM rulebook. If the game is designed from the ground up for the ‘new to RM’ audience the barrier to entry will be extremely low. Building for the existing userbase is like taking an extremely short ladder into an orchard. Yes it works great while you are picking the low hanging fruit but once that is all gone you have a much harder job on your hands and your early decision is now a  hinderance.

I would send a press release to the top gaming websites asking for beta testers with the only qualification being that they have not played any version of RM in the last 10 years. That would give you a completely different kind of feedback to what we are seeing right now. It may bring lost players back into the RM world. It will definitely give free publicity to ICE and ICE’s products. I would be extremely tempted to create a closed forum just for these ‘new to the fold’ beta testers so they do not get shouted down ‘because they do not know how to play Rolemaster’.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I have never written a game or published a game. I admire everything that has been done so far. I am only writing this because I want RMU to be a raging success. There are something like 7million roleplayers out there and probably 6+million have never had the pleasure of experiencing Rolemaster. I just want the next Rolemaster to be the best possible Rolemaster.

I am a commercial animal at heart and I would love to know ICE’s marketing plans, the market research they did before starting work and how they intend to reach those 7million potential customers. Somehow I don’t think they will let me in on the secret(s) though for which I cannot blame them. I am in no way affiliated with ICE.

My final comment is this. I think I said in that ‘target audience’ thread that I will not be buying RMU. The truth is that, as I have written before, the beta test has made me reevaluate what I thought about all aspects of the different RM rules and options. As a consequence I have gone out and bought HARP. I would not have bought that if it wasn’t for the beta test. Another example is that I was against the game concept of Talents and Flaws but now I get them. RMU is not finished and it is foolish to say ‘I haven’t even seen the finished game but I am not going to like it whatever you do’. That is not what I meant or how I meant it. What I meant was that at that precise moment there were elements of the game that, for me, were what Nicholas refers to as deal breakers. That was then, RMU is the future.

Player Character Downtime

Rolemaster Logo

There have been three mentions of this recently on the Ironcrown forums. How do you handle the time when the player characters are not adventuring? This is also part of the problem I have with sea voyages as I was writing about recently.

The discussions I mentioned involved playing an alchemist who by necessity requires great amounts of time to create magical items, characters that take to crafting or mining and simply healing time for fighters. In my case I was thinking of enforced inactivity while on a boat or ship.

The easy option is naturally enough to hit fast forward and say two weeks later you are all healed, the alchemist makes his spell casting rolls  to see if he was sucessful, the crafter make their craft rolls and so on. You then get on with the adventuring.

In a one player/one GM game you can easily jump days, weeks or even years and no one will mind. You can just as easily roleplay every minute of every day. There was once a brilliant session we had where the party were rightly accused of a hideous crime but it wasn’t really their fault. They did kill the dwarven queen but the queen and her body guard were covered by an illusion so they appeared as Uruk Hai. Once the illusion was lifted it was too late, the queen was dead and her dwarven body guard were not in a listening mood. I was playing a fighter and I really did my best not to kill anyone but I even accidentally killed a couple of the bodyguard. I was limiting myself to ‘A’ criticals and still managed to roll a straight 00. I didn’t even draw my Falchion, that was with martial arts rank 1. When things are going against you there is nothing you can do.

Anyway, it is really hard to escape justice in a magical world and we ended up in a dwarven prison cell. Half the party wanted to bust out and anyone who got in the way had better be able to take care of themselves. Myself and one other were dead set against taking any more dwarven lives. The arguement raged back and forth for 8 realtime hours and was carried out entirely in character. An elven PC was suffering a curse that he always belived anything that was stated as a fact so we had to be really careful not to make ascertions too strongly or the elf would change his opinion and swing the vote the other way.

The end result was that only a few additional dwarves died and the Iron Hills are not on my list of holiday destinations.

We really tried not to kill anyone but some characters will take in on the chin and turn the other cheek and others will rip your head off and kick it down the corridor.

The point is though that the entire session ened up being 8hrs of just talk, effectively downtime with the party locked in a room followed by 2hrs of on the hoof escaping. If we had fast forwarded through the debate we would have missed one of the best scenes in the entire campaign.

There are other considerations here. If you hit fast forward only good things happen. If as a GM you say “OK six months pass and your business fails, you loose your house and you are about to be chased out of town by an angry mob who you owe thousands of silver to.” the player may be upset. That may be the logical result of the player trying to use very poor skills to achieve the impossible but the player would not accept that result. The flip of that is what happens when only good things or nothing happens?

Our alchemist having aquired all the necessary components in the previous adventure presumeably make a couple of rolls and walks away with a free magic item.

A mentalist does not need spellbooks and libraries to research spells, just meditation so during the same perriod all the pure and hybrid mentalists walk away with new spells.

Channeler only need to pray to research new spells so they get a free gift too.

Essence users cannot research new spells so easily, they do need research materials, libraries and possibly mentors but on the other hand if they have rune paper they could fully ‘charge up’ all of it with their most useful spells. Normally this is a risky task out on the trail as to create a 5th level rune takes about 15 power points. The result is that if the caster does that last thing at night and then gets disturbed or attacked he or she may be seriously depleted in power the next day. That way it can take weeks to replace the scrolls used up in a single encounter or adventure. My illusionist uses scrolls a lot for movement type spells from fly to change self and also for spell extension spells. Airlifting the party a long distance can pretty much wipe out his stock of runes.

The crafters on the other hand gain a lot of sellable assets or pure money. I don’t know about your games but I often find taking money off the players is harder than giving it to them. That is the problem with treasure hoards, they tend to be full of money.

The fighters on the other hand do not gain a lot from these extended enforced rests. Yes they heal their wounds and you be able to say, yes you can learn that new skill because you found a trainer while you were in town but that is still not much of a gain.

This is one of those things that I have never really been satisfied with how to handle it. A pure adventuring party is easy but the non-adventuring professions such as labourers through to alchemists do complicate the issue as they do need that down time to use the skills that are the reason for their existence.

You never know when you are going to need an army of mounted archers!

British Horseback Archery Association National Championships 2015
British Horseback Archery Association National Championships 2015

This is the sort of thing we get up to on a Sunday morning down here in deepest darkest Cornwall. When most people are reading the paper or having a late breakfast we are training the next mongolian horde. You never know when you are going to need an army of mounted archers!

It is one thing to discuss on the ICE forums whether this combat round model is realistic or not and (see the Beta 2 Arms Law discussions) it is quite another to see people who really can do these things for real. The thing is that role playing games are just that, a game. They are not realistic. If they were then characters would probably take a single hit and then roll around on the floor crying out for you not to kill them. No one is going to take a full on strike from a battle axe and then carry on adventuring for three more days!

In the same way what I was watching yesterday was not combat but sport. Yes they were drawing and firing five arrows in less than 12 seconds but they were not drawing the bow sufficiently to penitrate armour (mind you it took two people to get some of the arrows out of the wooden stands), they were not firing at dodging  and evading targets either.  On the other hand they were cantering unfamiliar* horses with no hands.

The point of this is that we get to pretend we are horsemen or women or warriors but it is actually very easy and relatively cheap to do many of these things for real (as long as you do not want to go running around killing people). You should look out for events and opportunities to give these things a try. I hope to be able to post a photo of me doing this in the new year!

*Horseback archery is carried out using a pool of horses which you are alloted by random draw. You do not get to use your own horse even if you have one. It is one of the things I like about the sport. The entry point is very low. The same is true of the Modern Pentathlon, another sport I am interested in.

We love our Giants

Rolemaster Logo

I have spoken about giants and the local legends before in When is a rock not a rock? Now it just so happens that I encountered a couple more giants last weekend then they deserve a bit of an honourable mention, especially as they stood still long enough for me to catch them in a photo.

It appears out first giant has just woken up and could be in a bit of trouble. I think I read somewhere that the head represents about 1/7th of the entire body so the bit you can see was about 5′ and was half his head making him approximately 70′ tall if he stood up straight.
Out second lady giant is considerably smaller at a meer 35′ tall and somewhat more shapely than her male kin. Obviously both giants have been slumbering sor quite a while which is why nature had almost entirely concealed them.

Giants are cool. They make a complete mockery of most parties battle formations. For most spells if you are close enough to fire a spell at them you are close enough to get hit with a pretty big rock by return post.

In my world I get to choose from a whole host of giants from the Arcane and Cyclops which are fairly distinctive to (and this is a pretty give list) Cloud, Desert, Fire, Fog, Formorian, Frost, Hill, Jungle, Mountian, Reef, Stone, Storm and Wood Giants plus Ettins, Firbolg, and Verbeeg.

In the RMU Creature Law (I know, I just couldn’t keep away!) you get a selection of the most common eg Cyclops, Cloud, Fire, Frost, Hill, Mountain, Stone, Storm, Forestand Water Giant plus three known as Minor, Normal and Major. In RMC you get same cast as RMU.

So who has the toughest giants? The answer has to be RMU giants kick arse! The reason being is magic. In AD&D giants did have inate abilites and there was always a chance that a giat has a low leve cast with them. In RMC wach giant has a couple of spell lists (up to four lists for Cloud Giants) but RMU Giants are incredible spell casters with the king of the heap being the Mountain Giant with 14 spell lists to pick from all to the giants level.

Reading the RMC and RMU giant monster descriptions I am reminded somewhat of the original Greek myth variatons of the giants rather than their Norse brethren but most of all I was really impressed with the reworking they have recieved in RMU.

But what about the missing giants? The Jungle Giant, Firbolg and Verbeeg etc.? These are going to be pretty easy to convert over for my game if and when I need them but now I have refreshed myself with the Rolemaster image of giants I think I may be giving them a bit of a shot in the arm and a general beefing up. Now that has to be a job for a lazy summer afternoon.

I am avoiding RMU! (and the missing subterfuge skills!)

Rolemaster Logo

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned that much about RMU. The truth is that I have had a collegue on annual leave, I have had to go on 6 sessions of full day training, I have been away my self (a paintballing weekend) and various other demands on my time (blame the Greeks). I simply have not had time to read the books in the detail they deserve and conversely there is a really detailed discussion going on on the ICE forums that is far better than anything I could write with the added advantage of feedback from the actual authors.

If you want to know more about RMU then head over here I will deal with each book in turn when I have the time to do it justice.

RM2 vs My brand of RMC

One of my PBP players today asked me where have all the subterfuge skills gone. RM2 players are used to having dozens of skills detailing the minituae of every aspect of life it seems. For example they have Build Trap, Set Trap, Detect Trap and Disarm Trap in addition you can learn Trap Lore to give you a knowledge base to work from.

In my world I still have Trap Lore but the only skill for traps is Disarm Trap. As I explained to the player if you are looking for traps and it is a trip wire or pressure plate sort of affair then Perception is the skill to use. Just tell me what you are looking for and roll the dice. If it is a complex lock mechanism that you are studying in detail and you want to know if it has an embedded trap then the Disarm Trap skill is suitable.

What about the building and setting of traps? As I see it if you are relying on a trip wire or noose then I would use rope mastery, if it is a snare to all intents and purposes then why not use a foraging roll? If it is none of those but you can explain to me how you want it to work and how to set it up then I am good wth that. Not everything has to have a roll but if there is a chance of failure then we have 10 stats we can use. I am inclined to use a different mix of stat bonuses from case to case depending on the design of the trap. Some will require a more reasoned approach others nimble fingers and a steady hand. Trap Lore would come into this as well. If the principles are well know and obvious then a knowledge of Trap Lore will warn you of some of the common reasons for failure and tips to aid success.

So is this Build Trap, Set Trap or Foraging?

So the most important thing is what are you trying to catch? If the answer is a rabbit then using the trap above is without a doubt foraging. If you want to catch an Orc then under RM2 you would need two completely different skills (Build and Set). Why is that?

Why Remove Skills from the Game?

I am not on a mission to remove skills from the game. What I noticed was that with every companion there were new skills being added. This puts pressure on the GM to give more Development Points each level, makes leveling up slower, makes each RM2 Character incompatible with any other game that didn’t use the same mix of companions and as almost every skills is coloured by how much scope each GM gives it makes playing the game under two different GMs potentially confusing.

Thieves are one of the nicest ‘skills based’ professions there is. They have good combat skills and their skill costs are pretty cheap normaly 1/3 for most subterfuge skills. RM2 then breaks this by adding so many skills that just to build and then set a trap requires two skills (effectively make a cost of 2/6) and two chances of fumbling (a net 10% chance or two attempts at not rolling 1-5 of an OE down roll).

It is not just thieves and subterfuge skills. Spell casters have Spell Mastery but also Spell Trickery. Why? I have rolled both these into one skill. We have different difficulty penalty gradings from Routine to Absurd for a reason. There is no reason as far as I am concerned to constantly break everything down and down into ever more granular skills.

There was a debate on the ICE forums about how many development points (DPs) do GMs give. Up until this current game I have always stuck to the original core rule for development points but I did used to give six free ranks as ‘hobby’ skills. This time I have tried using 25% of the characters normal DPs as hobby skills instead. Chances are I suspect that it will even out as pretty much the same but I would not be surprised if the the characters end up more limited by this method. I am thinking that if a character has just DPs to spend they are more likely to buy skills that are cheap for their profession. With a flat 6 ranks to allocate then you can pick from across the board of secondary skills irrespective of cost.

Rolemaster Lore

Rolemaster has ample scope for individualising a characters knowledge and learning from any possible background or upbringing. You can have as many Lore skills as you like and as many Craft skills as you like. This I do not have a problem with. I think it is one of the great things about rolemaster that every character cn be so unique AND true to the players vision. What I do not see is a cnstant need to add ever more skills or bloat to the a game system that already allowed heroes to be exactly what the players controling them envisioned.

RMU Creature Law First Impressions

Copyright; 2002-2014 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC. All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.

The new public playtest editions of RMU are monsters. Creature Law weighs in at 898 pages (Spell Law is now 475 pages) and to do them any justice is going to require time to really read them. That said I thought I would share some first impressions and first up is Creature Law.

I am really pleased to see the inclusion of the genric NPC tables. In old versions of Character Law there was always a table that gave you each profession and typical stats and skills at 1st, 3rd, 5th level and so on so if you needed a quick NPC you could just lift one off the page. Well this is now back and it is better than ever before. They are now called Archetypes and they have been developed for every level from 1st to 50th. Rather than having a list of Magicians from 1st to 50th and then Thieves 1st to 50th now you have generic descriptions such as Offensive, Defensive, Skilled, Semi Spell User and so on. The advantage to this method seems to be that however many new professions* the powers that be decide to add to the game these tables should continue to hold true.

Staying with the Archetype tables this gives me something else that is valuable. When you are creating new PCs for the first time with a new ruleset, having a benchmark you can measure your creation against is a useful tool.

You are not going to buy Creature Law just for a list of generic NPCs. You want monsters and lots of them. This leads me on to a negative point. Creature Law does not look or feel like a second beta version. What if feel like is something any one of us would cobble together in word if you were making a load of new monsters for a particular game. The tables of stats are all over the place. It just feels like a mess. Worst of all the terrible terse enviornmental codes still exist. I do not know anyone who likes these and these days they serve no purpose except to make the book hard to read, understand and use.

All in all I would say I am disappointed at first glance. This book simply is not of the same quality as the other RMU works to date and feels like someone was ruhing to get their homework in on time.

To sum up, great ideas but terrible execution.

* I get the impression that the intention is after the initial release of RMU core rules is to release companion after companion. I understand that the percieved wisdom is that every company has a need to continue to generate new sales but the main criticisms of Rolemaster has been that it is too complicated, has too many optional rules and too many charts and tables. Following the same route again that taking a new set of rules and then adding in more and more options, complications and charts just seems to be repeating the mistakes of the past.

Unified Rolemaster Beta Two is coming!

Rolemaster Logo

At the beginning of month we had the usual director’s briefing from Nicholas Caldwell at Guild Companion Publications. This month (June 2015) we were told that Beta 2 of RMU is almost upon us.

Three days ago they tweeted that the second beta is coming soon. I really hope they are beating the drums in preparation for the release.




What is slightly worrying is that we have had RMU beta one since 2012 and issues are still coming to light now, the most recent I can remember being the way healing magic works. I myself only just noticed that Spell Law has introduced material components, of sorts, for Wall spells for the first time. You cannot cast a wall spell unless you are withing 50′ of a piece of the material you want the wall to be made out of. So no water walls more than 50′ away from a water source, no walls of wood in a desert and so on.

The initiative and round sequence got people agitated last time and if it isn’t changed then it will end up as something most poeple will ignore or house rule around, I believe. I find it just too cumbersome to use at present and slow. I am all in favour for light and fast in my games. If they have changed the initiative and round sequence then that will require serious examination. This is always going to be a thorny subject for the RM community as it seems that the creators have a desire for accuracy and real world modelling that is not necessary shared or matched by the actual players.

For RMU to succeed it has to be the game system that draws in tens of thousands of new players to the game. RMU Beta 1 was not that system (again, in my opinion).

Another achillies heel for Rolemaster is that it is such an fantasically flexible system with its modular approach that for the existing user base it is perfectly possible to take what they like from RMU and integrate it into their current games without having to make that commitment to buy the new system. I have already done this to some extent. I really liked the idea of the Vocational Skill and I am now using that, I liked the experience system so I am using that and I like many of the spells in spell law and I am encouraging players to research them and I will research RMU spells in a game where I am playing. Really RMU can be reduced down to nothing more than another companion or set of companions from which you can pick and choose what you want to integrate into your world.

There is no way any RPG games company can force people to upgrade to a new version and very few of us will because we have invested too much in learning the exisitng rules, buying the books and creating our worlds around those rules. To throw it all away is a lot to ask just to buy a new set of rules designed to achieve the same objective but without all the community support that is out there right now.

What I have not seen yet is a USP orUnique Selling Point for RMU that is going to go out there and grab the next generation of table top gamers.

Multimedia, multi-screen or multi-device?

Bearing in mind that we are still only waiting for Beta 2 and nothing is finished yet maybe what RMU needs is to take the Unified part and take it off paper, so on release day make sure that there is an RMU combat minion, RMU ERA and even RMU fantasy grounds module.

I have made a fairly simple pdf of all the most commonly used GM charts (base spells, RRs, MM and SM tables). I have this on a tablet pc when I am GMing and it saves me about 50 book checks every session at least. It is just a flick of a finger to scroll through all the most commonly used charts.

None of those components are required but if you want to go electronic then they can make life easier. I have all the rules for my game, every npc and all my adventure notes all saved in dropbox and therefore on my PCs, phone and tablet. It doesn’t matter where I am, I can answer player questions or create an adventure.

I personally do not think that is enough to grab an entire new generation of players but it is a step in the right direction.

RMU Character Law – a second look

Copyright; 2002-2014 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC. All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.

I thought I would take a second look at the Unified Rolemaster (RMU) Character Law. I haven’t touched it in a while and now the dust has settled a bit I thought it would bare a second look over.

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover
Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

The first thing that stands out is how well laid out the book is. I recently bought a new copy of the Character Law I actively use (the RMC version) and by comparison the RMU Character is far, far better in guiding the player through the character creation process.

There are still parts of RMU that I do not like but just because I don’t like them doesn’t make them bad or wrong. They are just not to my taste. The three issues I have with the RMU character creation process are:

Talents and Flaws. These have been around for a while as part of the RMSS/RMFRP world. I didn’t like these but I have been doing a lot of character creation recently and what RM2/RMC has is background options which RMU doesn’t use. When you look at Talents as the background options then they are not so bad. You can ignore this now as an issue as I think I ‘get it’ and how to use them.

Spells as Skills. There are two philosophies for learning spells in the RM world it seems. Those that learn lists and those that learn individual spells. This has been around since about the late 80s in various guises and I believe it is the standard method in RMSS/RMFRP. I can see the attraction to this method as it gives spell casters access to a wider variety of spells much faster than list based learning but it also has a tendancy to make all spell casters the same. It blurs the lines between spell casting professions and the realms of magic with druids hurling fireballs and wizards praying to gods for healing which doesn’t sit well. I will confess now that if I ever use RMU I will scrap this and go back to list based learning. If you have never played Rolemaster before then you probably will enjoy this as a method as a player.

1st level characters are not ready. This is really silly objection. To my mind and experience RPG games start at 1st level. That is the natural order of the world. In RM we have always had a kind of Level 0 which represented the characters apprenticeship or adolescence. You bought the skills and everything else exactly the same way that you would for normal leveling up but this all hapened before play started. In RMU 0th level is now 1st level and it seems that most GMs are starting the players are around 3rd level or higher. Somehow that seems slightly wrong to me butI can see how and why they did it that way.

So looking back at that list with a bit of hindsight there are no major flaws in the character creation process. That is hardly a high accolade but it is a start. So lets look on the positive side. What has really impressed me?

For a start three things have made it into my own game already. One of the nice things about the entire RM world is that it is so modular that you can broadly swap things in and out of the different systems with little modification.

The three shining stars are:

The experience system. I have been using this for 18 months now and I like it and all my players like it and other GMs I have told about it like it and have adopted it. This seems like a winner. The best thing about it is that the emphasis is no longer on killing everything it is now more about goal achievement. You still get experience for killing monsters but you would get just as much experience for tricking your way past the monster as you would for spitting it on your lance.

The Vocational Skill. This is a sort of generic skill that rolls up all the little things that a character would know about their job or background. If you have the vocational skill for a knight then you can recognise the various standards of the other noble families and you can tend to your horse and care for your equipment. You know the polite forms of address and all those miriad of other little bits and bobs. In the past you would have had to buy the heraldry skill, probably courtly dance, etiquette and so on. The PC I have recently created grew up on river barges so he would know how to moor a barge, how to tow it using oxen andhow to operate locks and so on. This kind of generic skill tidies up a lot of unnecessary minor skills while at the same time allowing the same kind of realism that we have come to expect from the RM world.

Rapid Skill Development. Normal skill development is considered buying just a single rank in a skill per level. Rapid development is considered two ranks per level. For most skills that is the maximum you can buy at any one time The losts are listed as say 2/4 which means that you pay 2 points for the first rank each evel and 4 for a second rank. You cannot buy more than two at a time. A few rare skills such as First Aid for the Healer is listed as 1/2/2 menaing you can buy three ranks per level for a total cost of 5 points. Some skills do not have these limitations, the classic examples are armour skills and spell lists. In the books they are listed as say 4/* or 1/* which means you can buy as many ranks as you like but the cost would be 4 points per rank or 1 point per rank. In RMU skills are all treated as if they were ‘starred’. So a skill that cost 2/4 before would now be 2/4/* so it is two points for one rank, six points to buy two ranks (two plus the four) and ten points for three ranks (2+4+4). The only limiting factor is that you can never have more ranks than twice your level. (That is why they go rid of 0th level or the math would not work!) Why this is significant is that if you decided at 5th level to start learning Spear, under the old rules you would never be able to catch up with someone who started out learning spear.

I think the negatives I saw when I first looked were simply my own personal bias. On this second pass I am beginning to see more of the potential that RMU has. This is all still based upon the first beta version of the unified Rolemaster Character Law. I am hoping that when I see Beta 2 I will look at it with less prejudice than I did this edition.

Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths pt III

Rolemaster Logo

The spell casters from two out of the three realms of magic, essence and channeling, have relatively simple to learn ways of storing power in inanimate objects. There is a fourth ‘realm’ known as Arcane that can be utilsed by any realm that also has this ability if and only if as a GM you choose to use this option from Rolemaster Companion One. As a rule and for the purposes of this post I am going to assume you are only using the four core books (Character Law, Spell Law, Arms Law and Creatures & Treasures) and therefore mentalists do not have this ability.

Anyone who has played a magic user of any description in almost any level based roleplaying game has been through the trauma of being first level and having barely a single squirt of magic to use per day. Things do not improve much at second level with maybe two sqirts and at third level three or four squirts. Rolemaster is less restrictive because it is a power point based system. In my game most spell users have typically two or three power points per level because I use an optional rule that bases power points on the total stat bonus a character has in the controling stat rather than the basic stat itself. This makes elves a more magical race and more inclined to manipulate mentalism and essence and it makes trolls less likely to be spell casters. The maximum number of power points for a player character is going to be 4 per level and the minimum is zero.

First level spells normally require one power point, second level two points and so on until you reach 50th level spells that take 50 power points.

That should be simple enough. So your first level spell caster will probably have two or thress spell lists and would be able to cast two of three of the first level spells on those list.

So now to storing magic…

I want to deal with Channeling users first. The realm of channeling has a closed list called Symbolic Ways. What that means is that pure channeling spell casters can learn this list as can hybrid spell casters but the semi spell casters such as rangers cannot nor can non spell casting classes. The first instance of spell storing on this list occurs at 4th level (in the RMC spell law) and allows a 2000lb stone or slab to be incribed with a single symbol. That symbol can be any first level spell. The symbol creator can then set a criteria that will trigger the spell and that spell can be triggered once per day.

In my Fearun most towns and villages do not have a temple to every god. Instead what you get is on the outskirts of these places are shrines to gods that are important to the people. You will find shrines to Chauntea commonly in rural areas, Mielikki on the edges of woods and forests and so on. So under Rolemasters rules any 4th level channeller who has chosen the symbolic way list of spells can create a semi permenant magical standing stone. This is not going to be of earth shattering power. At that level only a symbol of a first level spell can be enscribed but it is a start. As the character levels up then more powerful spells can be enscribed. At 7th level a second level spell can be enscribed, at 9th a 3rd level at 11th a 5th level, you get the picture.

Creating the symbol involves casting the required symbol spell and then the spell the be enscribed within the rounds (30 seconds). This is not particularly onerous and if we take the example of a resident priest demanding a penance from a sinner of assisting with raising a standing stone is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Villagers may not have a lot of money to give to the church but a days labour is always an option. Over time then the countryside around this village becomes dotted with standing stones, caves where villagers can hide from bandits can also become dedicated by the priest.

What a manifestation of power it is to have a stone in the centre of your village that anyone who prays to it is cured of disease.

You can have stones that heal, create food and drink, raise the dead or even summon demons to defend the church.

As a player character you are not going to carry one of these things into battle but if the party set up camp in a cave or outcropping of stone then you can certainly use that to your advantage, especically if you then fell in battle. The possibilities are really down to the lists of spells you have, the access to stones and your imagination.

And so to essence….

I dealt with channeling because stones are to some extent fairly common, you could throw a stick and have a fair chance of hitting one. The Essence version of spell storing requires something a little less common. In D&D when you read a scroll then *poof* the scroll is gone, dead, deceased, it is no more. Rolemaster is different. Firstly scrolls are pretty much exclusively called Runes and secondly the paper survives and can be reused.

The spell list for creating the rune on the paper is called Rune Mastery and is an open list. This means that any essence spell caster can learn it and even non spell casting professions like your fighters, thieves and barbarians can attempt this if they choose the realm of essence.

Rune Mastery do not allow you to create the paper, only to scribe your own spell on to it. As with channeling the higher level you are the higher the level of spell you can store. at 3rd level you can store a 1st, at 6th a 2nd, 8th a 3rd, 10th a 4th, 12 a 5th and so on. So an Essence user can start doing this sooner than a channeling and rune paper is more portable. The down side is that rune paper is less common than big rocks, slightly more flamable and liable to water damage.

Not all rune paper is equal. When it is created it is given a maximum level of spell that it can hold. This is determined by the power of the alchemist that creates it. A master alchemist is capable of far greater things than an apprentice. Alchemists are a fully developed profession in Rolemaster Classic and they have their own spell lists for creating all sorts of magical items including rume paper, potions and enchanted objects. Rume paper features on the standard equipment and suplies price list in Character Law but it would be down to the individual GM to decide on the actual cost and availability.

Having a stock of rune paper available does mean that you can extend the essence spell casters ‘operational range’ significantly, especially when on a mission the party can prepare for. In a recent game all the magic required to get the party into an enemy stronghold (flight, invisibilty, silence and sleep spells) all came from runes meaning that I had my full set of power points available when our stealth finally failed us and the alarm was raised.

Ten sheets of rune paper in the hands of just a 3rd level essence spell caster adds a potential ten more first level spells. Considering that that spell caster may have only six power points of their own that is nearly a tripling of their available magic and leaves those six points free for their more powerful spells.

In play I have found that the hybrid and pure spell users gain the most from runes. These are the ones most dependent on their magic and extending the amount of magic available gives both the player and the character greater flexibility.

As a GMing tip I would say if you are new to Rolemaster then I would not allow the party to buy rune paper. Let them find runes as part of their treasure they find and reuse the paper. That means that they have earned every sheet. The party has to reach 3rd level any way before they can use it so there is enough time to trickle a few sheets into the game and see how it effects the balance of play before you decide how much more to allow. Rune paper is easily removed from a game as well at the hands of a fireball.