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!

Undeath like you mean it

I am sketching out 25 adventures for our next set of 50 adventures in 50 weeks and I keep coming back to the undead. I don’t want to write same ol’ same ol’ stuff, but the undead are just such good villains. They are uncomplicated, everyone knows who the bad guys are and what needs to be done.

The one class of monster goes from low level challenge with skeletons and zombies right up to wraiths and liches.

I am going to write at least one undead themed entry this time, but the emphasis is more on doing interesting things with them rather than just lining them up for you to knock down.

One of the things I have done this time is flip though Creatures and Treasures and look for under used, at least by me, monsters, with the intention of giving them an outing an moment in the spotlight.

This has been a real eye opener, there are some really fearsome monsters in C&T. I seem to have forgotten a lot of them over the years. I think many settings suggest a much reduced monster ecology. Middle Earth is very much like that. It is just not teeming with fantastical creatures, unlike ancient greece, where you couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with harpies, hydras, skeletons, at least one cyclops, a minotaur and a sorceress or two for good measure.

Last year, I wrote a lot of stuff with demons of all levels and all the incorporeal undead. I think I have over done those a bit.

This year, I want to make it the year of the weird and the wonderful.

Do you have any favourite RM monsters?

Adventure Styles

I was struggling somewhat to write those city adventures last month, and I was talking on Discord recently and commented that Rolemaster is not ideal for dungeon delves, as the injuries and penalties mount up very quickly.

I have been playing Forbidden Lands recently and that is all about the hex crawl and a sandbox world with masses of things happening all around the characters. The characters can engage with those that they want to, or not. Other events will sweep up the characters eventually, like it or not.

I could see that working with Rolemaster. With the characters in the driving seat, the pace would fall upon them. Plenty of time for healing and recovery, but also a hex crawl calls for rounded characters with many cross over skills, something that RM does exceptionally well.

The one part of Forbidden Lands I was less keen on was the resource management side of the game. It felt a bit like an old Age of Empires game where you had to manage the amount of Stone and Wood to build different functions into your strongholds. Once you had a stronghold you can use it as an adventuring base or a point at which adventures come to you.

Underground Overground

One of the nice things about wilderness adventures is that you can mix up the adventure sites, ruined castles, natural caves or open terrain all come naturally. In the open, the long ranges of bows can be a deciding factor, if you are skillful enough to hit at range. Put the characters in a cave or building and melee becomes the order of the day.

With a much wider range of terrain and adventure sites you also get to use a much wider variety of foes.

Random Encounters

If I was going to run a wilderness game, the place to put all the effort in is random encounters. Randomly rolling for a bunch of orcs is frankly boring. It is boring on multiple levels. I have been playing RM with my group since the late 80s and we have butchered thousands of orcs, been there done that.

It is also boring because it is See Orcs, Kill Orcs, move on. The encounter does not really bring anything to the game.

I would want to rolled a dozen random encounters before the game starts. Look at what the table throws up and then take each one and make the absolute most out of each one. Ask why are these threats being encountered? What do they want to achieve? What are they doing and why?

Sure they may encounter a band of orcs, but what if the orcs have an elven hostage? What if the orcs are expecting the characters to be bringing them a ransom in gold? This is a possible mistaken identity situation. The orcs want to parley at first, they want their money. Maybe the orcs feel betrayed or double crossed? But, what if the characters do have enough gold to pay the ransom anyway?

Now we are role playing and not roll playing.

I would want to give this treatment to every random encounter. Look at what the encounter is with, where it is likely to happen and when. Is the creature nocturnal? Is it likely to be the hunter or the hunted? What complications can be weaved into the encounter? How can I increase the stakes, such as the hostage with the orcs.

The goal would be for the players not to know what was a ‘wandering monster’ and what was an intrinsic part of their plot or storyline.

Another part of what makes RM settings uniquely RM is the existence of healing herbs. Herbs that have specific biomes. Herbs can bring together character collaboration, a wide range of skills, region lore, foraging, herb lore, survival to name the ones that come to mind. If someone is carrying an injury, looking for the right herb can become a side quest in its own right.

Anecdote: In a MERP game we had a seriously hurt character and there was one herb that could possibly save him. I cannot remember the name but it was the one that could heal anything in the hands of an ordained king. We decided to try and look for it. The very first roll I made was a 350+ foraging open ended roll. The GM decided that I had idly picked one while the healer was explaining what we were looking for, so I held it up and said “Does it look like this?” Needless to say, the character survived.

I am not sure if I am just being lazy, urban adventures are hard to pull off, and dungeon crawls are equally hard, but I just instinctively think that wilderness and/or hex crawl explorations really suit RM as a style of adventuring.

Throttling magic in your game setting.

A recent POST in the RM Forums asked for advice about handling “secular” /non-magic combatants against spellcasters. While the scope of the question was defined to the poster’s specific setting, the responses and scope touched upon issues that we have discussed before: low magic versus high magic settings; technology in a fantasy world; settings and rule systems; and the ubiquity of casters in a setting, among other topics.

So in no particular order I wanted to put some thoughts down on paper.

Combat: non-casters versus spell-casters. The primary questions the poster raised, is how can a non-magic using society/group fight against magic-users. What general techniques or plot devices can be utilized to allow “fighters” to prevail against “magic-users”? I think we have all had experience using RM with this exact situation and the question answers itself. Arms Law criticals, combined with the casting limitations makes combat against spell-casters quite easy–especially in situations with numerical advantages. In the poster’s situation, the war is already won–the winning “non-magic using” side (the Steel Rebels) is in charge. There is no need to explain how the Rebels originally won. It could have been superiority in numbers, luck, subterfuge or a combination of factors. At this point, keeping the diffusion of magical knowledge is a combination of identifying potential M-Us at an early age and destroying the knowledge base of magic (books, schools, tomes, etc). Basically the destruction of the Library at Alexandria. Certainly this is a great start pointing for a spellcaster in a campaign. Not only do they have to survive against a magic hostile regime, but they also have to uncover lost bits of magic to advance their skill.

Faith vs Science. One of the common tropes in fantasy literature is the battle between religion (channeling) and secularism (magic). Obviously this mirrors our own social tensions between faith and science. In fantasy literature, one side dominates the power structures and attempts to suppress the other. A religious sect has the “inquisition” to root out the evil of magic or a Magic-User cabal banishes faith and clerics from their domain. Rolemaster’s division of magical realms makes these possibilities interesting; especially when realm spells are more distinct from one another and gives Channelers strengths and weaknesses that are different than Essence users.

Science vs Magic. So how can technology nullify or overcome magic in a fantasy setting? Certainly much advanced technology mirrors or is indistinguishable from magic; but unlike magic, can be utilized by non-spellcasters. That’s a huge advantage. But technology doesn’t have to be sufficiently advanced, it can merely be an advantage: better alloy armors, tactical communication systems, battlefield intelligence etc. In my SW campaign, “alchemy” is used to counter battle magic with explosive munitions. Sure it’s not that reliable, but can be used by regular soldiers.

Prejudices and social biases. Being a magic-user can be problematic in a society that fears, hates or discriminates against spellcasters. What can a caster do if the entire populace refuses to talk to, trade with or provide services to them? Casters can be turned away at borders, refused entry into gated cities and harassed and mocked in public. What if casters are required to wear a “scarlet letter” or other visible symbol that “marks” them to the rest of the suspicious populace? Imagine a city or society that requires a caster to wear a Kregora collar to prohibit casting while in city limits? Social constraints alone can make spellcasters challenging to play.

Those are just a few thoughts on limiting magic without relying on tweaks to game mechanics. What have you used in your setting to constrain spellcasters?

Time to Shut Down the Beta?

I was looking at the ICE forums this morning and it struck me that the text for RMu is now fixed. No changes are going to be made, but the discussions are still on going.

This can lead to two things. Either the perception that ICE are not listening. Or that RMu is just being pushed out the door regardless of its state.

No one can say that ICE have rushed RMu to market. I just cannot see the debates about how each and every part of RMu works ever ending.

Two that jumped out at me were Haste and the Simple Round. The reason why these struck me was that they were both Action Point related issues. Action Points are seen as new and they are not something most GMs are used to.

Lock the Forums

If there is going to be a ramping up of media coverage for RMu, that should bring about more visitors to the forums. People interested in the new RMu will be drawn to the Beta forums being the only place to find out about RMu.

And there they will see daily posts about things that people see as not working, or not working well.

This is not the best first impression.

Why not lock down the beta forums and create a new forum for RMu Companion One?

Now we can debate proposed revisions and alternative options and in doing so create the impression of a forward thinking and active community. A game where new things are in the pipeline.

RMu has the dubious honour of being a game where house rules were published before the actual game. Hurin’s individual skill costs per profession were put out in the GC, possibly, two years ago now?

The Guild Companion finally died in May 2019, so that is 14 months ago, and I am sure it limped along for a few months with just previews of HARP books.

Look Forward Not Back

I think trying to paint the RMu community as forward thinking and creative, with new books, adventures, and options being lined up for publication will create a better impression than pointing out more flaws in a game that has had its last editing pass and is now going to layout.

Picking holes in the text now is not going to improve the game or its chances of success in a really tough market.

If we want RMu to be successful, we need to put it out there as being a great game to play and fun to bring to your table.

City Adventures (…again)

This time last week I was musing about city adventures. It seemed a common theme that the crux of the problem was that most city adventures involve wrong doing, and that there would always be people better suited to dealing with wrong doers than a heavily armed gang of vigilantes, or PCs as we like to call them.

The core of this months fanzine is city adventures. I think I came up with a pair of interesting and exciting situations for players to try and unravel.

As I was finishing writing the issue, I started to reflect and at the time what struck me was that what I was offering took this form (under th ehood, not literally)

  • These are the bad guys
  • These are their plans
  • This is how they carry them out
  • This is how the PCs can get caught up in this mess

I know GMs that love that structure. It gives them great flexibility to play out the ‘adventure’ in their own style. What it isn’t is a dungeon in city clothes.

For city adventures, palace intrigues/assassinations/insurrections are over done.

Equally, the sewers seem to be the ‘go to’ place to put the bad guys.

It is the middle ground that appears to be the hardest territory to run something. That is where the town guard walk the streets, where inconvenient witnesses could see too much.

If I were writing up and adventure idea for my own game, then I may happily burn a city to the ground. I could then run adventures arround the rebuilding. Doing that in someone else’s game is possibly overstepping the mark.

In adventures I have previously published, I have burned cities to the ground, open portals to the time of dinosaurs, had them ripped apart by active trees/treants, and infected them with the plague.

The common factor is that the city becomes the canvas against which the adventure takes place. In the city burning, there is only one potential combat encounter, but the adventure is best served by talking the situation out, not by killing the person that is being awkward.

In the dinosaur adventure it is pure hack and slash with T. Rexes in the street and pterodactyls in the air and big swishing tails mashing through the fronts of buildings.

The Treants may or may not have been borrowed from Isengard, an idea I can neither confirm or deny. Only this time the characters are on the inside of the ring of trees.

With the plague city/town, it is almost a casual obstacle in the characters way. They are supposed to resupply in the next town, when you get there is it is closed because of the plague. No supplies, no rest, but there could well be a chance to earn some serious brownie points and reputation.

What has struck me is, in the same way that the most dangerous threat that a PC can meet is an NPC, they are much more dangerous than any monster, so it is with city adventures. What makes the adventures work are the NPCs and their plans.

The actual setting is backdrop, even more so than in a dungeon or in teh wilderness.

Urban Adventures

One of the things I have to do this week is put together the July issue for the fanzine.

One of the things I want to include is an adventure for beginning level characters, which I consider 1st to 3rd level, set in a town.

Being in a town poses some challenges.

  • From a hack and slash point of view, the town guard is more likely to a better bet than the characters at dealing with threats.
  • There is a more limited selection of beasties to use for hack and slash encounters.
  • Using intelligent creatures means they will more likely want a fair trial then be summarily executed by the characters.

From a non-hack and slash perspective we have other problems.

  • Characters may not be diversified enough to have the social skills for a social conflict adventure.
  • ‘Prime movers’ in social circles are highly likely to be a vastly higher level than the characters.

One of the things I struggle most with for urban adventures is how to create a challenge for the characters that makes sense for the characters to actively take part in. If the challenge is clearly illegal, what is to stop the characters simply calling the guard in to take care of it?

If it isn’t illegal, what is to stop the antagonists just calling in the guard to arrest the characters for the medieval version of harrassment?

In my face to face game, which we played before lockdown and we are due to play again in October or November, so has a chance of happening but no promises, the players are both hunting and hunted by at least one assassin. The actual number of assassins is not known. They could be the same person or different.

The identity of the assassin is also not known.

This is almost on a par with a superhero/villain with a public and secret identity. That is where some of the tension is coming from. The characters don’t know who they can trust. As they are also the hunted as well as the hunters they cannot afford to do nothing.

So over the course of today I will be wandering around the farm thinking of horrible things to do the the characters that are not to difficult for them to resolve, but not to easy either!