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.

PBP Update

This is just aquick note to say that I am busy preparing the character creation details as PDFs to be shared on rpol.

If anyone would like to join the pbp game then they are welcome.

I am also on holiday/vacation all this week so things will be a bit quiet around here!

You’re far too keen on where and how, but not so hot on why

Spell Law has an advice section on how to handle different spells and their effects such as invisibility, illusions and how spell effects can interfere with each other such as Aura and Blur counteracting each other. What it doesn’t handle is the future.

There are two ways of seeing into your characters future, divination and magic. The first is a mundane skill, anyone can learn it and it involves using tarot cards, runes, tea leaves and crystal balls etc. to get a glimpse of the future. The skill is a RM2 skill and appears in Companion II along with a neat little table of modifiers and difficulties. It is great for predicting the very near future in vague terms with limited accuracy. I have a Seer in my world who keeps telling party members that ‘there will be a death in the next two minutes’. As a GM I can be fairly certain that if the party is about to sneak around the corner into a Drow partrol then that prediction is likely to come true but also dividination is vague. Yes the death card comes up but you never know whos death. The seer casts rune stones for her divining and that is not something that you can do in the pitch black while everyone is trying to be quiet. Divination I think works well. The other option is harder to handle.

There is the sort of thing I mean. this is the first level spell from the Seer base lists.

1. Intuitions I – Caster gets a vision of what will happen in the next minute if they take a specified action.

So the party are about to burst through the door and confront the bad guys body guard. Does the vision include the death of one of the party? What if it doesn’t but as it turns out it should have done?

As a GM you should have a reasonable idea of relative difficulty of each encounter but there is always the chance of a freak accident or the dice gremlins prevent the main fighter in the group from rolling anything about a 06.

You could argue that the simple act of knowing the future changes the future and what the seer saw was one possible and the most probable future at that moment if the seer had not cast the spell and the party forewarned. The spell above is the first level spell but at fifth level the Seer can see five minutes into the future and at 15th they can see one minute for every level so that could easily extend into the half hours.

Imagine the Seer casts Intuitions I while the party are preparing to kick in the door. He or she sees that the guards are caught entirely by surprise and a fight ensues with the party winning at the time the vision ends. The Seer does not tell anyone what he saw. The door flies open, the magic user casts fireball, fumbles and the attack goes off at ground zero blowing up the party. Surely the Seer would have seen that? The arguemets over the Seer changing the future do not really hold up as the plan was formulated before the spell was cast and not changed as a result, it is not even a case of the plan being delayed even by 10 seconds. Everything should have been as the vision showed.

I don’t know the right solution to this but this is what I am doing currently.

For the duration of the spell if there is a game changing dice roll I pick a number from a random number chart and use that instead. So if the player fumbles his fireball I change the dice roll. The players all know that once magic has been invoked then their fate is already ‘written’. As soon as the sixth round is over then all dice rolls stand.

The table above is an axample of a random number table. You just start at row one column one and if it is a d100 you want just take two columns. There is even a nice 00 at row 14 column 7/8!

This has worked well so far as the players know I am not ‘fudging’ dice rolls or fixing things. It is literally just the few rounds and the few critical freak rolls that get changed.

I also use this table for subtle perception rolls. If the party all walk past a secret door but no one is explicitly looking for it I will just pick their dice roll from the table. I think my players are paranoid, as soon as the GM picks up his dice the pary draw their swords.

It is easy enough to create something like this is a spreadsheet but I find I barely use a single row in a weekend and at three weekends gaming a year a single page will last me 10 years.

does anyone else have any ideas on how to handle a player knowing the future?

p.s. I am on holiday/vacation next week. I will still see, read and approve all your comments but there may be a bit of delay. I don’t spend my entire holiday glued to my phone.

Roleplaying Games Do Not Exist

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Roleplayers as people exist and roleplayers as gamers exist but roleplaying games do not really exist. What is in the rule books is a framework from which the Game Master can create a vision of his world, or bring another world to life.

There was a thread onthe ICE Forums this week about how many development points you as a GM give your players. Some gave more, some gave less and it really sort of stacked up along ruleset lines. RMSS/RMFRP generally gave more as that game has many more skills that the characters are expected to have. RM2 has many skills and so the GMs generally gave more and RMC GMs seemed to give the least but the game has the least skills. No shocks there really but what was interesting was that nearly every GM clearly had a difference of opinion of that was requird or what was the ‘norm’ and even what was possible but we were all broadly meant to be playing the same game and even if you split us into ruleset camps we still did not generally agree.

Another reason only see the rules as a framework is that I have spent nearly 6 months now working with another GM in trying to decide exactly what rules we want to apply from all the rulebooks and companions. We mostly agree but there are red lines that we have drawn because to cross them would break our personal world view(s). We are nearly half a year in to this and less than half way through the companions. We have been playing together since about 1984, you would not think that two people playing the same game would be so far apart.

All versions of Rolemaster that I have seen (I have never played or even read the rulebooks for RMSS/RMFRP or Rolemaster Express) have been very modular and very consistent in their approach to describing the characters world. This means that it is very easy to slot in an optional rule and have it work seamlessly with all the other rules. The companions have optional rules and options for the optional rules. Some options have four or more solutions to the proposed problem, all of them viable but some impact on complexity others on the power level of the game.

This modular approach lends itself to house rules because you know that the rules will work if you follow the style of the rules as written. I am not a fan of house rules and generally do not use them, I don’t see the need and in my opinion most cause more problems that they solve because they are normally one persons opinion and completely or relatively untested.

When I played DnD I can remember discounting great swathes of the rules (the table of all the different weapons vs armour classes and all the plusses and minuses never got used) and almost every month when we bought White Dwarf or Dragon magazine we would add in more spells, character classes or alternative rules. House ruling is not a Rolemaster problem is a natural occurance when you have highly creative and imaginative people trying to create worlds.

I would say there are as many versions of every roleplaying game as there are GMs running those games. All variations are valid and of equal worth and all are unique. DnD does not exist but there are a great many DnD derived games just as there are a great many Rolemaster variations out there.

Ironically I would have said that there are as many versions of the Fearun as there are GMs/DMs running that setting too. As GMs I don’t really think we can leave anything alone can we?

Comparing DnD and Rolemaster Professions

What I would like to achieve is attract some new players into the Rolemaster fold. Additionally Spectre771 has recently asked me what character professions were available. Below is a table with the DnD classes on the left and the possible best match professions to the right. I took this list from Wikipedia and it does not match my memory. I definitely remember the assassin as a profession and I am sure that wizards were called magic users but then there have been so many versions of DnD since I played that I am well out of touch.

D ‘n’ D Class Rolemaster Profession
Barbarian Barbarian
Bard Bard
Cleric Cleric (variations based upon deity)
Druid Animist
Fighter Fighter
Monk Monk
Warrior Monk
High Warrior Monk
Paladin Paladin
Ranger Ranger
Rogue Thief
Sorcerer Sorcerer
Arch Mage
Wizard Magician

There are some other professons that do not seem to have a direct equivelant. These are the Elemental Warrior (seven variants) which I suspect is on a par with the swordmage and six other spell casters; Healer, Alchemist, Astrologer, Mentalist, Lay Healer and Delver.

In my personal view Healers are terrible PCs. The way magic works in Rolemaster is that you learn lists of spells and they fall into three groups. Open lists are the easiest to learn but also the least powerful. Closed lists are restricted to just the pure and hybrid spell casters and are more powerful and Base lists that are unique to each profession. So the difference between an illusionist’s spells and a magician’s will be in the six base lists for each profession. Channelling spell caster’s closed lists are frequently about healing so all pure and hybrid channeling users can heal. A Healer then has access to the weaker open lists and then closed healing magic and then even more base healing magic. It is just a bit too much of the same thing with too few other options.

The Astrologer is often a hard character to GM as the profession can see into the future. How do you handle a character than knows what will happen before the party even open the door to the vault?

The alchemist is there to create magic items, that is what they do. Their spells and processes can take weeks to cast and complete but their range of spells is quite useful.

The Delver is a knowledge seeker. The best Delver I have ever seen in play was heavily influenced by Indiana Jones and was quite fun to play alongside.

The mentalism professions are the pure Mentalist and the Lay Healer. Think of these as your psionicists or as I like to think of them Jedi. The lay healer is one of my favourite professions for a PC.

So if you are one of the people who wants to play in my version of the Forgotten Realms then those are the professions you have to choose from and if you are moving from DnD to Rolemaster those are the equivelants to help you get oriented.

I am farily sure I will have offended someone with my assessment of the Healer but then every class probably has their own fans and detractors.

My Take On Spell Lists and Spell Casters

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I don’t watch much TV but one of the programmes I do like is The Good Wife. There is an episode called Goliath and David which centres around copyright and derivative works. Bear with, I going somewhere with this. In the TV programme one group of musicians had covered another artists song with permission, so that was fine but they had changed it considerable musically, the melody etc. A third group, a major TV station had then taken the derived work and used it in a TV show and then released it on iTunes and made $2.3Million dollars.

The TV lawyers argue back and forth with the defence for the TV network being that their song writer was inspired by the same original song and arrived at the same melody just by chance. The Judge at that point cannot possibly rule as to who was inspired by what and the story moves on.

Now does it not strike you as strange that four magicians, all of who have an interest in fire leave the guild/academy/their master with exactly the same spell, being Boil Water. To make it worse these four magicians come from very different places, races, cultures. One comes from Middle Earth, one from Shadow World, one from Shadowdale in Fearun and one from the world of Greyhawk but they still all only know the one boil water spell. If a similar melody in two different cover versions of a song is suspicious then what is going on here?

Anyone who wants to play a spell caster in either my face to face game or my pbp game is going to discover that learning magic is hard. I do not allow you to add any stat or level bonus to spell gain rolls. I do not allow more than one list to be learned at the same time (unless you buy 20 ranks in the first list of course) and I do not use the ‘magic as a skill’ rules. You will probably get one list per level with a some people investing a lot in spell lists getting a slim chance of learning a second list (spend 21DP on magic gives you one automatic list and 5% chance of a second list). Typically PCs get 35-40DPs a level so 21 is a huge investment at the cost of everything else.

You would think that if a first level spell caster only has the two lists (one at apprenticeship and one at first level) then they are even more likely to be exactly the same.

That isn’t true. In another game I am just creating a character for magic is more common and my first level character has 5 lists, two learned at apprenticeship and three at first level. I will be starting with almost all of the professions base lists. Any other person under the same rules and the same profession would be severely tempted to learn all of the base lists as well.

This does of course change with the profession. All the healers would be silly to not buy all their base lists. Who wants a healer who looks at the main fighter in the group and then tuts and says “Sorry mate, I don’t do bones.” Illusionists are the same, you cannot use your Major Illusion base list unless you already know all the seperate ‘mirage’ spells so they must learn all bar one of their base lists.

Magicians are different. Every base list basically has a mix of offensive and defensive spells. Shockbolt is the lowest level directed spell but you have to wait until much later to get lightning bolt, the most powerful directed spell. Firebolt comes much later than Shockbolt but you then get Fireball soon after. Wall of Fire doesn’t offer any protection but does hurt your opponent, Wall of Water adds 80 to your DB. They are a group of comparable spell lists rather than complimentary spell lists. If you had five lists at first level then maybe two of your base lists are worth having but also start to learn the invisibility list, the flying list and the detection spell list.

Now this is where my rules start to create more variety. Rather than everyone knowing all their base lists by second level, you have to start to make those choices. What is important to YOUR character? You can meet two different first level magicians and have them know different spells and that will change their approach to all the problems faced by the party. The magician with detection and scrying magic is just as important as the Fireball thrower.

Restricting lists is only part of it. On its own it could be seen as taking some of the fun away from playing a low level spell caster. Afterall, two spells and you are probably done for the day.

I actively encourage  and almost insist on spell research. I imagine it as the spell casters right of passage from apprentice to being their own man/woman. Now you may have only two lists but you should be on the way to learning a new, unique to you, first level spell. This spell gives you (at first level) as many spells as someone with three lists and if you learn more first level spells then the same as four lists or five lists. There is no reason not to have three first level spells on each list if you have the inspiration.

A DnD first level magic users has the choice of charm person, magic missile, burning hands and sleep. All of which give them an offensive capability. A rolemaster magician can make the tea. It is not quite the same. Of that list of DnD spells the only one open to a first level magician is Sleep. Do you as a GM want every single magician to learn Spirit Mastery and then cast sleep at the start of every encounter?

I have written a lot recently on spell research both here and in articles for the Guild Companion. I feel really strongly about it being the missing link in the chain that that stops the ‘spell list’ model from producing jelly mold or cookie cutter spell users.

If you are going to play a spell caster in any of my games prepare to get creative!

Clear the decks, the PCs are coming!

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I have run two weekends now of my face to face Forgotten Realms game and there is nothing else planned until September. This leaves me free to concentrate on my pbp game.

The setting will be Waterdeep and the North. The rules will be mostly RMC with a few options thrown in from RM2 companions and the condensed combat system from the Combat Companion. The gaming platform will be www.rpol.net.

If you read this blog and are interested in being a player then drop me an email. I already have two players lined up.

You will be starting as a solo character to give you a chance to find you feet and if parties form then it will because they happened naturally. I am not going to force people together unnaturally.

I have most of my free time on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I would prefer a posting frequency of twice a week but if the character is alone or just in conversation then I will happily post more frequently. I am based in the UK so will be operating on GMT but I am generally online from 7am until 11pm most days.

Any questions then give me a shout.

Well that was a hard core RPG weekend

As you know I normally post my Monday updates at about 8am but there was no way that was going to happen today! We started gaming at about 2:40pm on Friday and finally gave up at 3am Saturday morning. Up again at 6am and played until 1am Sunday but we did take two hours out to go to an Indian restaurant for a Lamb Biryani then up at 6am Sunday and played through until Midday.

Sunday evening was calculating experience time and then this morning I was so tired I could barely put a sentence together let along spell it correctly. Someone recently pointed out that I was spelling Kobold as Kobald. This morning I was spelling Peter as ;sjrhga;lrfhfa. I just went horse riding for an hour and the horse just looked at me as if I was stupid whenever I tried to tell it to do anything. I guess today I cannot speak horse either. God help me tonight at the fencing club.

So the highlights of the weekend was the Party finally making it the Drow stronghold section of the cave complex they have been exploring and mapping. Having bypassed the outer guards, gatecrashed a religious ceremony and slaughtered the unsuspecting drow worshipers they then made short work of the Priestess of Lloth but not before she had turned one of the dead Drow into a Zombie behind the party. A lucky strike made short work of it taking half its head off in the first blow of the combat. Job Done! The party pressed on into the stronghold freeing dwarven slaves as they went and trying to find the drow overseer who they had learned was here with an apprentice. Int he end the overseer fled as he was seriously out numbered and his ruse to get the party to surrender failed. A general round of clapping each other on the back of a job well done when the Zombie reentered the fray having recovered from its wounds.

The party had had enough it him this time and chopped him into lots of little bits and the kicked the bits all over the place. I guess that should keep him down of a while this time.

All in all a sucessful outcome. The party still haven’t explored everything they set out to map but with nearly 30 slave hostages to return to the surface they have had to escort them out first. As a first level party a night in an inn to recover from wounds and restore some power points is not a bad idea.

Hopefully next time they will finish this mission as they are starting to get a bit of a reputation amongst the locals for being a bit heroic.

As for Shadow World technically we all survived and we saved the world. Actually I died in the first round of combat in t he big showdown but they brought me back afterwards. I was playing my illusionist and the big boss was not effected by illusions which left me with just the ‘Strike’ spell. We were in fairly close quarters so range was not an issue. The entire party bar myself was enthralled by the 60th level (as we were told afterwards) Godling and I needed to do something to save them. It is hard to use the phrase ‘all guns blazing’ when all you can do is a rank 1 martial arts strike using a 2nd level spell. I also missed despite having a directed spells skill with Strike of +167. That is not what I wanted to be remembered for though. In my telling of the story “I was in lone combat with a God to save the world. The world is still here so you can guess the outcome yourself.” That is my version and I am sticking to it!


Shadow World – So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu

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This will be a very brief post. I am on my way to Shadow World or more accurately I am about to get the train to meet up with my fellow players and GM for the final battle in the Shadow World campaign.

Considering that the characters were created for a one off adventure to introduce us to Shadow World and that was six years ago I think as an introduction it worked pretty well. Either tonight or tomorrow morning we will defeat the evil god Kabis or die trying either way that will be the end of our adventures in Shadow World.

We have been running two games each weekend to share the GMing duties and so everyone gets to play. These have been my Forgotten Realms game and the Curse of Kabis in Shadow World. Starting in the Autumn it will be Faerûn and a homebrew world.

Our Shadow World GM was the last diehard RM2 advocate as well. Myself and the new GM have both made the jump to Rolemaster Classic so it will be a little bit of a changing of the guard in that respect as well.

I will report back how the party faired next week. Hopefully they will get a bit further on and I will be able to share more details of creatures I have converted over. I had expected their opening adventure to be over long before this but you can never tell. What looks like something they will skip through in minutes can end up taking half a day to roleplay.

Until next week then…

The Ghost of Christmas to Come

Right now I am holding on to a handful of monsters statistics I have converted over from D&D to Rolemaster. The reason being that I am converting them as needed for my game but my players have not encountered them yet. Some of these will be a real spoiler if the players knew they were around the next corner. It is a little frustrating as I really want to share them but cannot yet.

I was thinking about these creatures the other day and I had a cool idea. What I am going to build is a sort of (depending on which side of the fence you are looking in from) Monster Manual or Creatures and Treasures addendum. D&D monsters but Rolemaster stats but just for the creatures found in the Forgotten Realms and missing from the existing Creatures and Treasures.

I looked into this and as long as I do not intend to sell it then as I am promoting the Forgotten Realms then I would be covered by the Wizards of the Coast Fan Site license to use their intelectual property.

The descriptions I could take from the Forgotten Realms Wiki. I am more than happy to give attribution to that site. I think that site needs as much support as I can give it.

The rules for moster conversions are available on page 92 of the the RM2 Creatures and Treasures or as a seperate download from the Iron Crown website ‘vault’

My only contribution will be the time and effort to actually do the conversions plus the page layout and hosting. I will give the document away for free. I am not in this to make money off of other peoples ideas.

I am going to play around with some page layouts this weekend and share them on Monday. I will welcome any constructive feedback.