Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and Complexity

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and ComplexitySo, you may have heard that in the past week or so that Paizo has just announced the playtest for the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with an aim to publish the new edition in 2019.

I admit I’m not that clued up on all the details but I have been reading what others have posted who seem to have rather more of an understanding on what is happening.

One of the changes would appear to be a lack of backwards compatibility between the second edition of Pathfinder and the original rules, which could prove to be a mistake. After all, lack of backwards compatibility between D&D 4 and 3.5 was probably one of the factors that led to Pathfinder’s success in the first place. Paizo got a lot of players from D&D 3.x who didn’t want to move to the 4th Edition.

In the decade since then, some of Paizo’s customers will have purchased perhaps thousands of dollars of official material from Paizo (given the various subscriptions) that may not be compatible with the second edition, never mind third party content. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to have that all written off. So this could cause the Pathfinder market to fragment.

However, that is not really why I am writing this post. One thing I have taken note of is that, according to more than a few comments, Pathfinder Second Edition seems to have quite a bit in common with D&D 5E, in terms of reduced complexity. So, perhaps the system is being simplified to regain market share. 5E may have taken some players from Pathfinder.

Now, after I admit I have no idea how many official rulebooks, the Pathfinder system was getting a bit bloated, and perhaps impossible to keep on top of. I have stated more than once that Pathfinder is at least as complex as Rolemaster. So, if Paizo is shifting towards a less complex format with the second edition, such as seen in 5E, that does not exactly bode well for complex systems such as RMU.

Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems and, if so, what does this hold for Rolemaster? Will it remain an extremely niche game system even after the release of RMU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Definitive Shadow World Master Atlas. What should it contain? Pt. 3

From the earliest days of the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio, it’s been expected that comprehensive fantasy settings include a “Master Atlas” or a “Gazetteer” to set the tone and include fundamental information about the world. Nine years late, ICE introduced Shadow World: Master Atlas Boxed Set.

The first Master Atlas set the stage for the new Shadow World line–an expansion of the original Loremaster Series published between 1980-1984.  SW was now a professionally published product with a glossy presentation. The original boxed set included to books: the World Guide & Inhabitants Guide plus a poster size color map of the hemisphere. It was a great start to world building, but it never felt complete until combined with Jaiman: Land of Twilight and Emer: The Great Continent. Between those 3 products (all written by Terry Amthor) a GM could piece together a coherent and in depth profile of Shadow World augmented by the original Loremaster books (Iron Wind, Cloudlords of Tanara & Vog Mur). Since then, Terry has expanded SW Canon with 3 Emer regional books, Powers of Light and Darkness, 2 city books (Haalkitaine & Eidolon) plus Xa’ar in NW Jaiman. In the queue are Wurilis (NE Jaiman) the final Emer regional book and a re-write of Jaiman. Once those are completed, GM’s and gamers have an extremely robust overview of the two “main” continents: Jaiman and Emer.

It’s difficult to say if Terry will ever be able to tackle a third (or more) continent in such a comprehensive way with multiple books, but no one could argue that there isn’t enough material for years or even decades of game play with existing Shadow World material. And even with all the current SW books, both Emer and Jaiman have plenty of room for new material, short adventures, city books  and smaller regional supplements.

However, despite 4 editions of the SW Master Atlas, these books are hardly comprehensive. “World” level information is often found scattered throughout the other regional SW books, important cultural information is left unaddressed and various topics could use more campaign level information. In Pt. 2 and Pt. 3 I covered a number of these items that could be included, but I thought I would print off the Table of Contents for my own “Master Atlas” to show what could be in new version. I actually have 40-50 more pages that I haven’t incorporated into the master file, but this one is 281 pages.

Click below to download my own “Definitive Master Atlas Table of Contents” :


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any thoughts?

Anatomy of an online game

I have reached the point with my Play By Post game where I am adding the players and starting to upload the information they need to create their characters.

The way that RPOL works is with a collection of discussion threads with restricted permissions. This means that players can only read or add to their own threads but can also see threads set to ‘public’.

Each player will have access to two threads, one is their story where everything is ‘in character’ and a second thread where they can ask my, the GM, questions or for clarifications. The characters story thread then reads like a piece of LitRPG.

So I am adding setting information known to everyone to the public threads as well as the character creation rules.

All the chargen rules will be straight out of the beta Character & Arms Law. I am actually trying to keep house rules to an absolute minimum just to make it a viable play test.

On the topic of play test, I wonder if it is actually even worthwhile now? I get the real impression that Character Law, especially, is pretty much ready to ‘go to print’ and if that is true then any feedback is of limited value. This s probably just an RMU game for the sheer fun of playing Rolemaster!

On the other hand…

PBP games are amazing playtest tools. The reason for this is that absolutely everything is trackable. Every dice roll is recorded (in RPOL this is the case) and the whole narrative there as a permanent record. In no other game format could you replay an entire scene and have everything identical.

So hopefully by tomorrow I will have all the Chargen rules up for the players to start creating their PCs.

Artists wanted.

We’ve discussed the difficulty in finding good artwork or artists for our projects. In that vein, if there are any artists, mappers or layout professionals that read this, I have work for you. Among the various projects:

1. A banner graphic for

2.  Finalized art, layouts and maps for Priest-king of Shade.

3. City map for Non-ta-taku.

4. Layout and item graphics for BASiL.

5. Layouts for Legends of Shadow World.

6.  Layout for Book of Pales.

7.  Art, layouts and maps for Empire of the Black Dragon.

if you have ability, talent or interest let me know,

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Daily X Magic Items.

Back from vacation and thought I would dip my toe back into blogging with a short deconstruction article! Today I wanted to address “Daily X” items and the mechanics around it.

When I first started with RM, the Daily X magic items were great: they softened the power of traditional permanent items found in D&D and they worked well with the Imbedding spell lists. These items were also a great way to augment player shortcomings or add spell capability to non-magic users.

My only real issue is the “Daily X” part itself–that the spell abilities “recover” at the start of the next day. Sort of an instant charge that occurs at 12:01. I’ve had players abuse this before; they scheduled attacks right before midnight hoping to use their Daily X items right before, and then again, right after midnight. Certainly that’s an annoying exploit and a sensible GM may arbitrarily stop that…but that’s not how the rule reads.

To avoid this type of rule abuse, I changed “Daily X” definition to a per/hour calculation. So a Daily V item could be used up to once per 5 hours or a Daily I every 24 hours. This certainly nerfs the Daily X items, but I also have Battle Runes, permanent imbeds and other options in the BASiL lists to fill in those gaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That removes a lot of bulk.

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

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

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

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

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

Why would anyone ever want to use this?

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

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

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

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

Rolemaster & Fantasy RPG’s. What are monsters really?

Since this is my last blog post for several weeks I thought I would write on a more general topic: Monsters. While “Monsters” are the mainstay of fantasy RPG’s, they were not entirely embraced by Rolemaster. Again, probably due to the influence of the generally monster-less Middle Earth and Pete Fenlon’s original campaign.

Even my earliest experiences with RM coming off of AD&D, I always appreciated the monster-lite approach that was in sharp contrast to the Gygaxian Naturalism found in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. The parade of fantastical creatures felt like an endless one-up manship that could never be slated.

Even Rolemaster’s “Creatures & Treasures” generally avoided the term monster and looking through it, there were very few truly bizarre creatures. The standard dragon/griffin/unicorn mythical tropes were all there but the homogenization process of monster creation was lacking. Shadow World introduced a few cool “monsters” (artificial creatures) but these were setting driven and fit into the conceptual world framework.

In the real world, “Monsters” are imaginary, fictional beings. What then would you call creatures that were as real and encounter-able as horses, giraffes or alligators? In a few recent Post, I discussed whether monsters should be treated like any other race or creature; those with intelligence should be considered a “Race” just as much as a human or Elf.

The larger issue of course is whether the term “Monster” becomes less an abstract idea then a defining rule mechanic. For instance, D&D created spells for summoning or controlling “Monsters” and spells for summoning or controlling “Animals”. Suddenly we have a delineating wall–a need to classify creatures as monsters or animals. A simplistic approach would be to define “Animals” as creatures that exist in our real world, while “Monsters” are fantasy creatures that exist in the rule books. Doesn’t that sort of feel like ‘breaking the fourth wall’ from a rule perspective? Another mechanism would be that Clerics/Druids can Summon/Control Animals while Mages can summon/control Monsters. Again, that feels quite arbitrary doesn’t it?

These are real questions I ask myself while I work on various spell list re-writes. Putting aside Gates/Summons/Calls, how does one define creatures in terms of spell mechanics. These rules should be flexible enough to address different settings (than Shadow World), different game styles, but still be strict enough to avoid vagueness or excessive rule lawyer-ing.

Since I think it’s impossible to delineate a creature from an animal from a monster in general rule set terms it requires more concrete attributes. Some possible game mechanic criteria:

  1. Creature size. For me, this was the first and foremost important criteria. 1st level spell users shouldn’t be able to “spell” super-large creatures easily, if at all, not matter what their deadliness.
  2. Creature intelligence. This gets to the general difference behind animals and intelligent beings and allows for spell limitations due to intelligence levels.
  3. Creature morality/alignment. Rolemaster doesn’t use alignments, but for settings that do, perhaps limiting spell users on a creatures alignment might make sense.
  4. Creature natural environment. Requiring that a creature is indigenous to the local environment makes sense as well.

I believe that the term “Monster” is just too arbitrary to be useful in game mechanics. Remember, that the “Monster” you just killed probably had a mother somewhere!!!


RMU Attack Tables

I have spent my down time over Christmas working on a spreadsheet to create attack tables in the most usable format we have seen so far.

The biggest issue with RMU for me has been the size rules. There were two issues really, firstly, in incessant math required to even work out how much damage an attack does. It may be relatively simple math but it is a mechanical step that slows down almost every attack. In fact it is more than one step as a quick calculation is needed to work out the size of the attack before the attack roll and then a calculation after the attack roll to calculate the damage. Size also still effects the OB and DB of the targets, according to Beta 2 but that may have changed and it then adjusts the critical.

My second issue with the size rules is that it looks like a solution looking for a problem. The same progression that is being applied via the size rules is being applied every which where regardless of whether it works or not.

On one hand the proponents that like the size rules are seeing this as an elegant solution unifying many disparate game mechanics. Those, like me that do not like the rules just see a bad rule wrongly applied.

It is possible that I am wrong, according to Mrs R that has happened before.

To that end, the game I am going to run this year is going to use the size rules but there are some attack chart layouts that have been suggested on the forums that precalculate the size shifts.

So stating in the bottom left with Diminutive, then tiny, small, the bold result is the medium, then the top row, right to left is big, large and huge.

That image is from the spreadsheet I am working on. Merkir from the forums has shared a Google Sheet that will generate attack tables on the fly for any of the standard weapons. If I paste that into my spreadsheet it then explodes every individual result into the seven displayed sizes. That takes away one of the game slowing steps.

Another option is that once you paste the Merkir table into the spreadsheet you can apply adjustments to it. So Rather than a short sword being a Dagger +1 size I can apply a +10OB shift to the Dagger table and then generate a dedicated Short Sword table. I can do the same for two handed swords so they are no longer Broadswords +1 size. This takes away one more size calculation.

I accept that magic and things like charging will always involve a size shift. I do not have a problem with that. I personally feel that +1 size for charging is a retrograde step that harks all the way back to D&D basic rules where a charge just gave you double damage. +1 size does basically the same thing and ignores 40 years of increasing sophistication and any attempt to model what happens in the real world. I am happy to accept the size solution as it fits nicely with my desire for fast and simple rules.

The sizes of the damage shifts in my tables do not follow the RAW in beta 2. As Hurin has pointed out the RAW favours smaller attackers by giving them disproportionate amounts of damage. The result being that rabbits being overly dangerous.

My tables will diverge slightly from the standard tables and it is all down to rounding. Normally if you were doing 0.4 of a hit in damage you would expect that to be rounded down to nothing. The problem with this is that all touch magic requires a successful unarmed attack that delivers 1 hit. If you have a small or diminutive spell caster it is impossible for them to cast any magic against a foe in AT 9 or 10. For that reason I have chosen to always round up to the next whole hit in damage. So if the Medium attack did at least 1 hit then at all sizes at least 1 hit will be delivered.

This puts my charts mostly towards Hurin’s toned down charts, without the killer rabbits, but fractionally above them so a bit from a rabbit will still do 1 hit if it hits where the Hurin formula would have rounded down to zero.

What I have left to do is mostly donkey work of copy and pasting my spreadsheet formula into hundreds if not thousands of cells. I cannot just fill the spreadsheet as the formula has too many nested functions that Excel cannot cope with updating all the references to the look up tables. As soon as I have something to show I will share some finished tables with you. How much I can share is a different question as I think I am really on the edge of the Beta NDA if I start sharing complete sets of attack tables!