RMu Training Packages

The discussion on the forums that caught my eye this week was the discussion about RMu Training packages.

I am not a fan of Training Packages, but like Hurin pointed out, TPs are not part of the RM2/RMC way of thinking.

From the outside looking in, TPs appear to slow down character creation simply by dint of there being so many possible TPs to consider, add to book bloat, because TPs end up being spread over multiple companions and GM notes, and encourage min/maxing by picking TPs that give the biggest discounts for the skills or spells that you were going to buy anyway.

That looks like a really negative list. The reason there are no positives on it is because I have never played in a game with them, so I have never seen the benefits at the table.

But does RMu need them?

Need is a strong word. The way I see it is that if you have really nice rules for creating professions built in to the core rules, can the GM not just create unique variations of the core professions to reflect the subtleties of their setting? Nibble a point of a skill here, add a point there and you can shape the professions as you want them. If you want to make wood elf culture more brutal, make the performing arts and crafts more expensive and shave a point off of the combat and subterfuge skills.

It all remains balanced, it makes your world more unique and rich in lore.

I recently got to play with The Lore System. This is a d00 lite system. Its unique feature is called Lore Sheets. Sheets are a bit if a misnomer as a sheet is about 3 sentences. You work with the GM and then write two or three sentences in the first person. These sentences describe something of your place in the world, and come with a game mechanical advantage.

An example would be something like “I grew up in a gang run by the thieves guild in Eidolon, and still know many members. I get +5 to streetwise and attempts to bribe lower-ranking officials inside the city.

The nice thing about Lore Sheets is that they tie the character in to the setting. They are negotiated between the GM and player. That +5 could just as easily be +10 or +25. The bonuses the GM wants to give are up to them.

Another advantage is that there is no library of existing lore sheets that players need to browse through to find the lore sheets that fit their need.

TPs are described as history. Lore Sheets are rooted in the characters background/story but are also current. ‘I did this then, so I can do this now’.

In the Lore System, lore sheets come and go. If you upset the thieves guild, you could lose that benefit, but if you entered the employ of a lore master you could gain something else. As long as it is all wrapped up in the game world I think that lore sheets tick the same mechanical box as the TPs, without the min/maxing and game bloat drawbacks. Lore sheets also help a player understand where their character is coming from.

I know players that write their backstory during char gen, and then never reference it ever again. Lore sheets add the benefit, because they are written first person and feature on the character record, front and centre, that they instantly bring the characters background into the present.

The flaw with the lore sheet model is that it doesn’t sell books. You can fill entire companions with TPs. TPs build Companions and Companions drive sales.

Companions full of optional stuff is the ICE way of doing things, and it seems to work for PathFinder.

I, personally, would be cautious with doing that with RMu. The entire RM brand is sensitive to the accusation of bloat. That accusation is false and unfair, just look at PathFinder. RM is a minnow by comparison, but truth and opinion are often strangers.

I would launch the core rules, and then build adventures that use those rules. As soon as you start outputting optional rules, writing adventures becomes impossible. Optional rules produce power creep, simply by virtue of the fact that later characters had more options to choose from, so can choose options that suit them that earlier characters did not have.

As you get power creep, and adventure that is not optimised with the newest optional rules becomes a walkover for newer characters.

If an adventure does use all the available options, then the GM needs to have spent $1000 buying every possible book just to play a $9.99 adventure.

So that is my thoughts on TPs, but I reiterate, I haven’t used TPs so I don’t really know what good they do to a game. I have used lore sheets and I am very impressed with them. I will be introducing them into my game when we get to play face to face again.

2d8 Zombies revisited

I use 2d8 zombies as a ‘go to’ example for many situations. I idea is that 2 zombies is likely a pushover for most parties, 16 zombies is a likely TPK. In Rolemaster superior numbers can swing any battle.

My problem with 2d8 zombies is that it implies a carelessness about the encounter and the adventure. It suggests that no forethought went into the encounter.

If the encounter is a simple device to use up PP, healing or ammunition, then the GM should be scaling the encounter to be a specific level of threat. Too much and the characters may not make it to the BBEG. Too little and the encounter doesn’t do what the GM wanted.

That is what I normally think when I see adventures, probably converted from D&D or PF for use with Rolemaster.

But, what if you go with the randon ‘No. Appearing’?

Does every encounter need to be solvable? If there are 16 zombies this time, shouldn’t the party be thinking about a different approach rather than drawing blades and wading in?

If they met 2 zombies last time, and 3 zombies the time before that, they may well rush in, expecting there to be small numbers again, only to have to re-evaluate and extract themselves when they find out the true size of the force against them.

Does every encounter need to be solvable? That is a populat discussion in its own right.

My players would rather avoid than confront. This makes them rather easy to manipulate. You just put an obvious threat in the places you don’t want them to go, and they would rather not confront it.

Put an obvious threat in all directions and they have to do their little risk assessments to choose how best to ‘win’. They are obsessed with winning, this is not a group that are satisfied with staggering away with 1 #hit and a hard won victory. No, these guys want to walk away without a hair out of place.

They want to save the world, but doing it while well dressed and looking presentable.

I still think that rolling No. Appearing at the game table is not a good thing. If you roll it during GM prep, and then use the result to shape the encounter, or add meaning to it, then that is good.

The biggest gain I think could be that having an unexpectedly hard encounter may go counter to what you may normally choose to do. If the players are used to a few warm up battles, maybe increasing in severity as they get further in to the adventure, then random strengths of foes could throw them off balance.

This goes completely against my normal way of balancing encounter.

Thoughts on asymmetric combats in Rolemaster.

War Law (Rolemaster) [BOX SET]: Charlton, S. Coleman: 9781558060999:  Amazon.com: Books

Strangely, I started this blog post a month or so ago, and subsequently there has been several discussions re: War Law on the Forums or the Discord server.

Before I get started, I don’t think I have ever read War Law, but believe it allows bolt on rules for large combats by using a wargame style ruleset? (I used to play Squad Leader so I get turn based, hex movement, unit scale war gaming). So like many of posts and musings, the answer to many of my questions is probably somewhere in a Rolemaster Companion or War Law.

So my question is: Is there a simple, fast and effective way to run combats for larger numbers of combatants–especially situations that involve one or a few against many? Some people find Rolemaster combat slow and unwieldy and adding dozens of combatants can real bog things down.

I working on this because Chapter 4 of my “Legends of Shadow World” involves the players fighting HORDES of demons. On the plus side, this allows the characters to unleash and really utilize those 50th lvl, “mass” and “Lord” spells. On the down side, there is a bit of handwaving when it comes to tracking hundreds or thousands of foes on a large field of battle.

One thought I had was using the RMU size scaling system to have one attack role that represents dozens of same/similar attacks. Of course the total number of attacks should be limited by space limitations: front/flank/rear/up/down etc. OTOH, I don’t want combat to feel abstract, even if a 100′ wide fireball can essentially wipe out hundreds of densely packed foes.

I don’t want to reduce combat down to wargame rules–that feels right for armies, units and similar. For example, I’m thinking of situations where my group of 4-6 15th lvl players are confronting a zombie army of 100’s of undead, or swarms of giant wasps, or legions of orcs. The level disparity and skills of the players will generally mean each attack results in a kill or two, but a slow attrition rate can be boring. Even with the threat of open-ended rolls and criticals, my players never feel the sense of danger when confronting numbers of lower level creatures.

However, using a single “group” attack with a a larger OB that represents the likelihood of at least 1 of 12 attacks being successful AND scaling that damage results to represent the real threat can speed up these combats while still making them a challenge.

Anyone have any thoughts or played around with this? Has this already been addressed in a companion or zine?

A New ERA

Some of you will remember that I wrote Navigator RPG last year, beta tested into the beginning of 2020 and published it in the Spring.

The game is PDF, premium softcover and premium hardcover.

And it looks really cool, even if I say so myself.

One my todo list is Pilot RPG, the natural partner to Navigator RPG and an as yet unnamed Cthulhu hack. Both of the latter games will be derived from Bare Metal Edition, which was also derived from Navigator RPG.

20200426_143236sml.jpg

Voriig Kye today sent me the full version of Navigator RPG ERA.

This is exciting for two reasons. The first is that this is the first 3rd Party addon to Navigator RPG. It was my intention right from the start that Navigator RPG should be a free and open platform for anyone to hack and play around with.

In August the game was downloaded 36 times. That may not sound a lot, but it is more than once a day, and although the game is free, and always will be, people are buying the physical books and what is more, they are donating through the PWYW channel as well.

What I want to do is take the game system in to new territory for the “Rolemaster way”. We have not had a 1920s Cthulhu game before, we haven’t had a Kelly’s Heroes WWII Rolemaster game either. Those are just the first two on my to do list.

New ERA

For ERA this is the first non-Rolemaster version. I would love to see ERA for some of the bigger name games out there, like Zweihander or Savage Worlds.

One of the reasons that I write for so many games, outside of Rolemaster, is that a broad spectrum reaches the most people. There is no reason why ERA could not have an audience and potential market of hundreds of thousands of GMs around the world.

I hope we will see ERA for Navigator RPG on DriveThruRPG soon!

Adventure and Daring Do!

Somethings just hang around for so long, that I kind of forget that they are still in progress. One of these has been the 50in50 Adventures.

I was looking this morning and realised that we have published four of the new season already.

In order they are:

The Haunted Dagger is an adventure hook featuring a dagger that has been possessed by the souls of some of those it has killed. These souls can provide benefits, or perhaps be a problem. Characters could try to utilise the dagger’s peculiar abilities, or they might try to release the souls.

Crypt of Shadows sees the characters exploring an ancient crypt below some standing stones that is guarded by druids, as they have been asked to do so to look for some ancient magic. The crypt is dangerous, though, and entering it will release packs of shadows.

The Horn of Holmir sees the characters hired to go and examine a burial boat that has recently been uncovered after a storm. The burial site is defended but more than that, other groups know of it and also want the treasure. Either trying to get there before the characters, or robbing them on the way back.

Treacherous Gold sees the characters stumble across a group of orcs escorting some hostages. The orcs think the characters are those they are meeting to exchange the hostages with for gold. The characters may choose to do so, or they may get ambushed by the orcs either before or after the exchange.

What I like about these right now, is that although they were written with Rolemaster in mind, they are actually stat-less. Treacherous Gold uses Orcs. Anyone can find the stats for orcs, for example.

Why that is cool right now is that again RMu is just around the corner. I know that we were told that RMu would be published in 2019 on way or another. Now we are told it is due in early 2021. That is little more than 3 months away.

Stat-less adventures can be played in any version of Rolemaster, you just plug in the monster stats, or NPC stats of your preferred edition and you are good to go.

With these being hot off the press, so to speak, none of your players will have played them before. Even if you parachute them into Shadow World or middle earth, they are still unique.

We can never have too many Rolemaster adventures. So far this is 4 down, 46 more to go. You have to love a challenge…

Teleport Plot Device

I have been playing with an idea for a plot device.

Imagine the characters have the bad guys fighting a tactical withdrawal. They are falling back slamming and locking doors with the intention of slowing the characters down.

This presupposes that the bad guys have something that the characters need.

Lock and Magic Lock are 1st and 2nd level spells, Opening I is 4th level (based upon the RMu beta Spell Law), so the doors are a powerpoint drain on the party, more so than on the retreating bad guys.

At the end of the chase, or the top of the tower, is a small plinth, that the characters get to see the villain step on to and disappear. Not a subtle winking out, but with your best sci-fi shockwave and thunderclap, to accompany the disappearance.

The plinth glows slightly and this takes two or three rounds to fade, and then another minion steps on to the plinth and disappears. The glow and fade process happens again, and then a third minion disappears.

So by now the characters should have the idea that this only works on every third round, or it takes two rounds to cool off and reset.

Whatever the characters needed are on the other side of this teleport portal.

Do the characters follow?

This is the first dilemma. If they are going to follow the villain into their lair, they need to go one at a time.

You can bet your bottom dollar that appearing at the other end is not going to be any more subtle than disappearing was. Going in visible and trying to sneak through is not going to work here!

They will also be facing every bad guy that went through, vs just the first character to arrive, and then the next.

But why build a portal that works so slowly? How about one that leaves a character disoriented on arrival. Anyone arriving is stunned for a round by the concussion caused by their arrival. The time lock allowed for this and for the person to get clear before anyone else teleported in.

If you can get three or four bad guys through the portal before the characters take control of it, you have odds of four to one against, and the one is stunned for at least the first round.

You can also assume that the last bad guy through will have told the others the state of the battle they left behind. The bad guys will know when the next person through will not be friendly.

What parties and players thrive on is working together as an elite team. They take on odds that they should never survive.

This challenge will test them, as individuals, as pairs and then as smal teams. It almost feels like those puzzles when you have to get a wolf, a chicken and sack of grain across a river.

Does a fighter go first, to create a foothold, and let the others go first? But a fighter vs. a well prepared spell caster rarely bodes well for the fighter. When do you send the healer through? After 3 rounds or 6? The magician would be a good idea to go higher up the batting order, especially as there is no longer a need to prep, but how many power points will they have left if they have been unlocking or blasting their way through doors?

Where did Everyone Go?

If we just teleported everyone somewhere, where did we put them? And does it matter?

Imagine you had nearly unlimited time and either Gate Mastery or Earth Law. The gate master could summon and hopefully control an elemental at 6th level, without overcasting. Grade I elementals are not too useful but a Grade II can turn rock to earth (which is easier to excavate) and generally throw Earth Law spells around at up to 9th level. If you have Earth Law you can do this yourself.

With an earth elemental you can start building your Bond Villain base.

I am talking about teleporting the characters inside a mountain or even straight down. The only real need would be for some kind of ventilation, for air.

You can now put your somewhat depleted characters through a dungeon crawl. If the bad guy had kept some rune paper down here and made a supply of summoning/gate type spells. They can throw disposable monsters at the characters. The bad guy could also get a message out, and bring more minions, agents or even mercenaries through the same portal to bring in ever more foes.

The teleport portal is of course one way, and somehere down here is its twin, that gets you out again.

The characters now need to find the villain, retrieve whatever it was that they needed, and then find the portal to get out, whilst fighting all the nasties that you can throw at them.

Going out, resting up, and coming back for more is not an option.

Now doesn’t that sound fun?

The simplicity of RMu

When I write these blog posts, I am often juggling three or four thoughts, all of which could be a post in their own right, but they kind of clash or have a bearing on each other.

I have spent most of August playing Cthulhu Mythos games, a bit of Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, a bit of Eldritch Tales and the classic Call of Cthulhu itself. This is influence number one, but I am not sure that Rolemaster fans want to read about other games on the Rolemasterblog.

I was interesting to read Hurin’s experience at the virtual gen con, but this line stood out “So that I think is a real selling point for RMU: casters no longer need three rounds to cast a shield spell, and semis can cast a lot more while fighting.” This is influence number two.

I hangout online with a few other publister, Azukail Games is our own Egdcltd on the blog and forums, I talk to the owner of SadfisheGames alot, and the owner of Earl of Fife. In three seperate conversations/interactions yesterday the real nub of the topic was ‘what do you want to be’. This is influence number three.

Cthulhu

So I am playing CoC and the basic mechanic is the same as RuneQuest and BRP, d100 roll under your skill using d100. Roll over it and you fail your skill test, rolling under and you have graduated successes, Success, Hard Success and Extreme Success.

I can see an analogy, we have partial success, success and absolute successes.

The difference is that, roll under mechanics feel really anti climactic.

If I am a barely capable swordsman (not a great stretch of the imagination) and I roll a 24 with a skill of 25, I hit you.

If you were a master swordsman with a skill of 75 and you roll a 24, you hit me.

There is no difference in the roll. There also no difference in the perception of the roll.

Now lets look at a rolemaster character. Imagine the roll was a 76, which is on a par with the 24, as CoC is roll under, RM is roll high.

My 76 + my 25 skill gives me 101, Success! Fighting someone of about my ability, depending on how we split OBs and DBs I may have landed a blow.

Our master swordsman rolls 76 + 75 skill and they get 151. There skill suddenly plays a much larger part in the game.

Even for pass or fail tests, ignore weapons for now. Isn’t it just more satisfying to declare a total of 151 to the GM, than a 24?

Get That Message Out

I think that the beauty and simplicity of Roll + Skill is the message that ICE needs to get out. We need actual plays on video where people get to show the excitement of declaring big numbers. The excitement of getting an open-ended roll (up), the despair of the OE down and the glee of the GM capitalizing on it and applying a great narrative description.

Technically, rolling under your skill is easier math that adding your skill to the diceroll. One is a simple comparison and the other is sum, but when you start having to calaculate the hard and extreme successes, the math in CoC/RQ/BRP is significantly more difficult than it is in Rolemaster.

Going back to Hurin’s experience, people were impressed by how easy RMu was. Admittedly, that was as a player, the game is more complex to run, but that is true of almost every game.

Games that are simple to play and learn and fast at the table are extremely popular. GMs love to prep, half the fun of being GM is the prep that goes before a session. Being able to ‘craft’ encounters is not a bad thing. I would say it is a selling point. A good GM should not be rolling for wandering monsters, they should be crafting meaningful encounters.

Now this brings me to the third thing that Hurin mentions, Spacemaster. It was me that asked about SMu. I was somewhat disappointed about there not being plans to bring out a SMu system.

I do have my Navigator RPG. That is my sci fi offering. The core system is now called Bare Metal Edition, and it a standalone game engine. It enables anyone to take a RM-style game engine and build a game, with all of the game mechanics made for you. It is the world building and flavour that will engage the player, that is the bit you need to build.

I said that I was going to try and build a fantasy version, called Pilot RPG this year. That is still on the cards, but may be a bit late. In a funny way it is being covid delayed, my day job was severely hit, so I have ramped up my writing and I have replaced my lost income. Writing for RM is not something you do for the money, it is purely a love thing.

What this means for Pilot RPG is that it will appear in 2021, probably early 2021. It will still be followed by a 1920s Cthulhu RM-esque game and a WWII themed RM-esque game as well. I want to teach the world the joy of the open-ended roll and the E critical, using a rules light approach. From there they can migrate to full RMu.

This brings me to the past real question. RM has always positioned itself as an Advanced System, implying it is harder to run. Yet, the most positive responses are that it is easy. So what does RM want to be? What is its identity? Until ICE can answer that question it is going to be hard to put together a case compelling enough to make people who don’t know the game to part with their money.

Rolemaster at Gen Con 2020

Gen Con went down last weekend as a purely virtual affair, and there was quite a lot of Rolemaster activity. I ran two sessions of RMU via Roll20 and there were several other official sessions (I believe of RM2) on Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. There was also a lively Discord chat that included Nicholas Caldwell, Terry Amthor, our own Peter, and various other luminaries. So let’s get right into it.

First, the biggest news, which came through the chat:

–RMU is advancing through the editing process. Arms Law and Character Law are pretty much done, aside from some examples, and about to move to layout. Spell Law is being edited as we speak. Art is now being commissioned. The developers wanted to know whether customers would prefer black and white (cheaper printing), standard colour, or premium colour (the most votes seemed to be for colour). The timelines outlined suggested that the books could be published as early as the end of this year, but likely early next. A condensed version of the rules will likely appear before this. So we are really getting very close to the publication of RMU rules.

–Nicholas wants people to write adventures and modules for RMU. There was also talk of providing RMU stats for old modules such as the Shadow World line as well (which I think would be fabulous), so if anyone with a good knowledge of Shadow World and RMU is interested in that, I think you should contact ICE.

–One person asked about the possibility of a Spacemaster Unified in the future, and the response was that writers would be needed for that. I was kind of excited about the idea, and confess I was even tempted to take a stab at it. I wonder if anyone else (such as Peter?) might be interested as well, given the recent appearance of his Spacemaster-inspired game.

–ICE is working on establishing its own permanent Discord server. I think one silver lining to all of us having to play by internet is that it has shown the powers that be in ICE land the importance and potential of Discord and the Virtual Table Tops.

In addition to the chat, there were also several Rolemaster sessions. I ran two sessions of RMU and was quite happy with how they turned out. I got to meet some people I hitherto knew only via the Blog and the ICE forums (such as Siltoneous and Amano), as they played in my games.

One interesting fact was that of all the classes available to play, the Warrior Mage was the most often chosen: two players chose him first, and a third had him as their second choice. The class is still very popular! Also popular were the Paladin and the Lay Healer (so each party in my two sessions had a Warrior Mage, a Paladin, and a Lay Healer). The other characters played were Sorcerer, Fighter, and Mystic, though the guy who played the Mystic was a bit underwhelmed by its abilities. Other classes that players contemplated playing were Druid, Magent, Ranger, and Thief.

The players who had not had prior experience with RMU were generally impressed with the speed of RMU and the simplicity of things like spellcasting (no more need for BAR and RR charts!). One player who I think was an RM2 guy was also very happy with the way RMU allows semi spellcasters to cast spells while also attacking (remember that in RM2, casters have very few hit points and instantaneous spells use 75% activity). So that I think is a real selling point for RMU: casters no longer need three rounds to cast a shield spell, and semis can cast a lot more while fighting.

That’s all I can think of now, but I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone else has.

Dark Tales

This month I have read Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, which is a modernday setting filled with black magic, sorcery and cosmic horror. I am also reading Eldritch Tales, which is your classic 1920s Cthulhu era horror setting and the next thing on my reading list is to take another look at the original Cthulhu rules, all be it 6th edition.

There is a theme forming here. You may also remember that I was also loaned, and then given, Dark Space.

I am thinking that it appears somewhat harder to run a horror game in a fantasy setting. In most, the characters face things that would petrify us on an almost daily basis. You could throw a beast from another dimension at your party but they will either die or cut it down. Are the Fungi from Yuggoth any different from Uruk Hai when it comes down to it?

I have just finished writing the 40th issue of the Rolemaster fanzine and it contains two adventures. Both of which contain an element of horror, if you look at them through that lense. What I wanted to do was scare the characters, and put the players in fear for their characters. This is not easy to do, especially if you are not gunning for a TPK.

So how do you scare people who fight undead dinosaurs for a living?

Miscellaneous Musings

I’m not sure if Peter is scheduled for a post tomorrow, but I thought I would write a quick post with some random items that have been on my mind of late.

  1. Discord. I’m still trying to get my head around the Discord server and it’s overall utility. Does it add functionality beyond the RM Forums? I feel like I’m missing something, and normally I’d say I was showing my age–but all you other RM players are my age as well!
  2. Was there a Gen Con or was it just a virtual convention. Does that work? I’m looking forward to Hurin’s report on running a game.
  3. We have started our new “50 in 50” this past weekend. The first adventure hook is The Haunted Dagger. Like virtually all of my mini-hooks they were extracted from past games or ultimately intended for the Shadow World setting. I mostly strip setting specific material out.
  4. Reviews. Obviously we are not writing these adventures for any real monetary motivation, but sales and exposure can depend on reviews. Three of my adventures have gotten poor reviews: The City of Spiders, Bokars Wagon and Curse of the Ancient Tomb. So CoS I get–the reviewer wanted more “meat on the bone” in terms of city maps etc. That would be nice, and perhaps some day we’ll expand upon these with new, more evolved versions. However, I was surprised by Bokars Wagon. I thought it was cool and Adrian did a solid floor plan of the wagon. It was an interesting little NPC drop-in. Unfortunately, all I can see is a 2-star review with no feedback on what the issue or problem was with the product. The same for “Curse of the Ancient Tomb”. 1-star! Really, I’m no Stephen King but I didn’t think it was that bad. I had to make some changes to strip it of SW stuff, and the Time magic might be too complicated for a GM come on–if you gave me the 1-star I would appreciate a few sentences explaining why. Now that we are writing more adventures, ANY feedback is helpful.
  5. RMU. We seem to be getting closer…
  6. Pandemic. Will we see an increase in gaming from people/families/friends being forced to stay at home and quarantine? Is this an opportunity to reach a broader market while people are spending so much time online? Is RM Forums, Rolemasterblog etc seeing an increase in registered users and traffic? Just curious.

Stay safe!