Rolemaster Classic PBP

I haven’t posted anything for a while about my dabbling in play by post (PBP). The game I am in is ticking along quite nicely. I have nearly killed myself at least once due to massive over confidence in my own meagre abilities and, I believe, technically I am no longer a combat virgin. It was not a traditional fight and whether my oppenent was actually intent on attacking me or not is probably up for debate. The important thing is that I ‘won’. I cannot share any more details both to save my own blushes and just in case I inadvertantly give away a spoiler for some of the other players.

I am 99% certain that I am going to run a PBP game of my own based upon nearly pure Rolemaster Classic rules. The only optional rule I will truly miss would be the expanded character background options from Rolemaster Companion I.

The game setting would be the forgotten realms, of course, around the city of Waterdeep and the North. This would be exactly the same world/campaign that my face to face game would be taking place in. That party are in the Dalelands right now.

The only PBP gaming site I have used is RPOL but there are other sites I have not even looked at but seem frequently mentioned such as Fantasy Grounds. For this first foray I think I will stick with RPOL and what I know. I think I have grasped pretty much has the game administration works from what I can see from the game I am playing in.

I still need to do a lot of preparation before I could possibly run a game and I would like to get more experrience of this style of gaming. There are certainly some aspects that are better than face to face gaming [NPC interactions for one] but at the same time some aspects are lacking [the social aspect and banter]. This will remain a work in progress project for the time being. As it happens my face to face group will be meeting again in early May so that is the perfect excuse not to launch into anything new before then.

Going back the the PBP game. I think the next big evolution I am waiting for is when the party starts to form. Right now I am almost entirely surrounded by NPCs. I suspect that I have encountered another PC at least in passing but one cannnot be sure. While it is just me and the GM and we happen to be both awake at the same time then the posts can come thick and fast. How the game works when you are waiting for the input from several people remains to be seen. I am sure it will be fine, if it wasn’t then I do not think PBP would have such a large fan base as it appears to have.


An update on Rolemaster Character Design

I have been creating some rangers and monks this weekend following on from last week’s post on non-random spell list acquisition. Character Design is a very personal thing. Some players like to have a few skills to as high a score as possible whereas others like a nice wide skill base but accept that they may fail more often. I am in the second camp and I build characters with many skills.

When it comes to semi spell users there is another issue to consider. Do you lean towards your magical aspect or the physical? I think the strength in the semi spell users really lies in their magic use when combined with their non-dependence on magic. What I mean is that if you can fight all day and all night just using sword, armour and shield, you get through doors using your skills with a lock pick and tools, and track your foe back to their favourite haunt just through tracking and observation then you are an effective member of the team. If on top of that you can heal wounds, always find the fastest path and slip by even the most observant guards then that is over and above what a meer mortal can do. My rangers almost never run out of power points because they are just using their magic to accent their existing skills.

Another question is when to start learning magic. I like to leave it for the first four or five levels. Get a good solid skills base in place, learn to use your armour and sword. Learning magic is expensive but once you have 10 ranks in a skill you are in the realms of diminishing returns so it makes sense to spend less on those skills and divert those saved points to your spell lists. Probably the to most useful spell lists for a fledgling ranger are not the ranger base lists at all. I think they are concussion ways and detection mastery. The simple act of being able to heal your own hits and keep on fighting or even restore some hits to the parties primary fighter can make all the difference. Detection mastery is excellent for scanning a room or hoard and looking for magical items, If you cannot carry it all then you may as well take the best. You can also use it to sweep for a hidden magic user if you know what realm you are looking for,

So results of my testing were that it really depends on how many points you want to put into spell lists. That may sound stupidly obvious but it isn’t. Under the pure rules as I call them (5% per rank and no stat bonuses) you can only find 12DP per level then you will learn spell lists faster than a character using non-random learning. If you can muster 20DP then it makes very little difference. The pure rules character generally learns a list a level sooner than the non-random counterpart but a couple of unlucky rolls can wipe that out. It is not reliable. Statistically you will learn lists faster under the pure rules but in my testing I only created six characters (three monks and three rangers) and worked them up to 10th level buying the skills I really would have wanted. The character with the least magic did have rigid leather armour, spear and a decent ambush skill and decent subterfuge skills. The most magically able version just had soft leather armour, no ambush skill and could not pick locks or detect traps.

It all comes down to choice and the type of character you want to play. It even depends to some extent to the initial stat and potential stat rolls. I used the same stat rolls for all six characters and the character started with 33DP and went up to 40 by 7th level and then down to 39 where it stayed through to 10th. Your DPs are variable but the cost of buying that magic 5 ranks a level is fixed at 20DP. Poorer stats can make a huge difference to the other skills you can buy. This was doubly true for the monk characters. Rangers have a lot of useful skills that cost just a single DP and you can round out a character with a handful of those skills. The monks have very few one point skills which limit them significantly.

I am not sure what my conclusion is. I would have said that if you are in a skills heavy game then pure spell list acquisition will give you more magic in the long run but if the GM is looking for characters to be proficient at magic then non-random will only give you that if you are prepared to spend at least 20DP a level and every level to get those spell lists. I am not convinced this is a good thing and would rather not tie my players hands that way but each GM is their own boss.

How optional rules affect character design

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The other GM and I have been doing all this optional rules checking and testing over the last two weeks. Where we differ the most is over magic and the implications that has for character design.

My setting is what I am calling Community Magic. By that I mean that every community will have some access to magic. It coud be that there is a mad witch that lives in the woods that can arrange everything from love potions to revenge to healing or it may be the local priest. In towns and larger settlements than more ‘respectable’ magic users may be found. In Shadowdale, which is where the party are still hanging out there are at least six suspected magic users including a seer, a bard, a cleric, an alchemist and two monks. The bard is itinerant and the monks are part of a different adventuring party and as such are just passing through. That still leaves three resident magic users in a town of under 1,000 people.

The other GM is using what I call Family Magic in that most families will have at least one magic user. The whole fabric of society is interwoven with magic and its use is common place and unsurprising.

These two world views have an impact on our character creation or design rules. I do not allow stat bonuses to be added to the spell acquisition rolls meaning that spells are harder to learn and everyone has less spell lists. Two magic users of the same profession are likely to have different lists and may have very little cross over. There are far more lists than most magic users will ever learn. The other game has magic as something that is much easier to learn.

There is an option for non random spell list acquisition. You buy a number of ranks and when you have enough you get the list automatically. The threshold is set to 10 ranks to learn a list to 10th level (what is called a ‘b’ list). In my game you would have to buy 20 ranks to guarantee to learn the same list.

excerpt from spell law showing the optional rule.
excerpt from spell law showing the optional rule.

For pure spell users each rank costs one development point and most PCs have about 30-35 available. It is not unreasonable for a character to be able to spend 10 points per level or even a few more on magic.

So for pure spell users in my game after three levels worth of spending a magic user would probably (statistically speaking) two spell lists and maybe if the dice had been particularly kind a third one. In the other game the same character would have three lists and would be on the way to a fourth list. Not a huge difference really if the character is a well-rounded one with two-thirds of their points spent on other things than just spells.

If the character is a  hardcore magic user and spends 20 points per level and sacrifices most other skills then i my game they are guaranteed the three lists but in the other game they have a guaranteed six spell  lists. It is certainly possible to build such a focused character. The remaining 15 points you spend on some body development (hit points) perception and maybe stalk and hide. Everything is fine as long as you never run out of spells and have to try to fight for your life as you will have sacrificed all your combat training. I think this would be a fairly selfish character relying on other party members to carry them figuratively speaking.

If we look at what are called semi spell users, these are your rangers, monks, paladins etc. Their spell lists do not cost one point but four points a rank. If we dedicate 12 development points to spell lists then under my rules statistically the character would have a 90% chance of one list, a 30% of two lists and 5% of three lists or there about. Under the other rules system the character would have a 0% chance of any lists at all (three levels at three ranks per level equals nine ranks, one short of the magic 10).

It appears to me that an optional rule designed to make magic more common actually makes magic harder to learn unless everyone is a pure spell user which seems unlikely.

I am going to design a bunch characters under this optional rule to see if what I suspect is actually reflecting in the reality of the characters created. I will feed back next week.

Rolemaster Classic

Last time I wrote about how we are attacking all the optional rules. My fellow GM has some of the oldest rule books in the known world, I think, and I convinced him that seeing that his ipad is basically welded to his hand anyway why not go for the pdf rules. He conceded and now is the proud owner of Rolemaster Classic.

I have been using the pdf Rolemaster Classic for a while now but most of my other books are on paper or home scanned versions.Just so we are both singing from the same hymn sheet I bought the Rolemaster Classic Arms Law, Spell Law and Creatures and Treasures this week.

In my mind Rolemaster (RM2) and Rolemaster Classic are pretty much the same game but I was shocked to see that the date on the RMC Spell Law was 2011! I always think of Rolemaster as a quality game from the 80s not something that new.

I have been reading my nice new rule books and I have to say I am even more impressed than I thought I would be. I loved the new and updated rules section in Arms Law but Spell Law is by far my favourite updated rulebook.

There is only one fly in the ointment and that is Creatures and Treasures. A lot of my time is spent converting creatures or monsters over from AD&D as they are native to Faerun. The rules for this have disappeared from Creatures and Treasures. I still have my old books so it is not a show stopper but it ould have been nice to be able to just have the four books and say that is it, everything I need to run my game.

On a side note I bought a cheap android tablet to accompany my new rules from Amazon and it cost me just £70. It is no ipad but it will only b used for displaying pdf rules and running combat minion. I have run the minion freebie version on my phone so I am pretty certain that the tablet will be up to the job. All my NPCs are in pdf format all ready as these are created using the RCU and printed using cutePDF writer. and the adventures are all in PDF format too. I think the next game session could be entirely run from the tablet. Up until now it has all been books, files, a laptop and copious print outs. I feel like in the last four months I have been ushered into the 21st century and have lost me preconceptions of pbp gaming and now I have bought my first tablet (I could never see the point of them before this).

Optional Rules Options

The way our gaming group is set up is that we are a group of five that meet regularly and when we meet we normally play two games, both Rolemaster. Up until recently that has been one Shadow World and one Faerun/Forgotten Realms.

When we next get together to play; the Shadow World game should come to an end as we are about to take on the ultimate bad guy and either save the world or die trying with no other options on the cards.

What this means is that we need a new game and it is someone else’s turn to GM. As it happens the new GM has not game mastered Rolemaster for many years (in fact his rule books are so old his spell law is printed in a hand written style font in blue ink, what was going on with that?). What we are doing is taking the opportunity to go through ever single companion and every single optional rule and skill and between us trying to unify exactly what options we are using.

The Cover of Rolemaster Companion IV
Rolemaster Companion IV

One of the nicest features of all the Rolemaster Companions after Companion IV is that they contain a couple of pages of tick lists with all the optional rules and how important that option is, whether it is considered a core rule now, is it highly recommended, does it add a lot of complexity to the game and so on. As two separate GMs we can complete the tick lists apart, see what is the same and then look at where we diverge and discuss those particular rules.

I think this is a brilliant concept of not only identifying every rule and where to find it but also how important the game designers felt each rule was. I am a bit of a miserable git at times and think that every optional rule I introduce has to add something substantial to the game, to pay its way so to speak.

The framework we create in the coming months will probably be our default game now for the next ten years unless I can convince them all to do a Rolemaster Unified Beta II play test.

Watch this space.

Game Tweeting Failure

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I did say on Friday that I was going to try to tweet live updates as the gaming weekend progressed. I managed a grand total of zero tweets. The problem was that there was never a convenient time to tweet and if my players had kept picking up their phones to text or tweet I would have been unimpressed so doing the same to them just wasn’t going to work. I have written the whole idea of tweeting from game sessions off as a bad job.

So here is a quick run down of the players progress…

The party have been trying to map the tunnels under the tower of Ashaba in the town of Shadowdale. Their first incurson ended when they rescued an escaped dwarvish slave. The party had fought a couple of Quaggoth lookouts, avoided a larger patrol in the caves and now had a non-combatant civilian to try to evacuate. They managed to get out with only one more fight which went relatively easily for them and no one was injured beyond a few cuts and bruises. The party at that point consisted of a sorceress, a warrior mage and a cleric all of whom are on their very first adventure.

The Dwarf hostage was given over to Lord Mourgrimm’s healers and the party returned to the Old Skull Inn to rest.

That was the first two sessions in the briefest of detail. This weekends session took up where the last left off with the party coming down for breakfast.

Jhaele, the landlady of the Old Skull Inn, had heard that the party had rescued a slave from the tunnels and as a reward breakfast was on the house for our three heroes. Having fed themselves they make their way back to the tower, greet a few guards they have met before and are show down to the tunnel entrances below the tower. There they are met by the Chief Warder and he has two companions with him. He introduces them to the party and Arnie and Dru.

Having spoken to Simon, the rescued Dwarf the Chief Warder has learned that he was enslaved by the Drow before he escaped. The Drow are almost certainly too much for the three heroes to deal with so he had scoured the town for available adventurers and come up with these two. He introduces Arnie as a warrior and Dru as healer.

The party introduce themselves and then set off to reenter the tunnels. It doesn’t take long before it is obvious that the first incursion has been discovered at the party are confronted by two half orcs and four boorgin (the more intelligent half-breed variant of the quaggoth).

The battle is touch and go for a while and without the new warrior to strengthen their front rank the original party certainly would have lost. The odds are 6 vs 5 in favour of the bad guys but the cleric summons a crocodile right behind one the half orcs and that causes some confusion in their ranks, the fighters engage all four boogin which is brave of them. Dru is sticks with the sorceress and cleric but is ready with her scimitars to defend them but luckily it doesn’t come to that. The battle goes on and the croc takes out one orc, three boogin fall to the fighters and then finally a sleep spell fells the remaining half orc and boogin.

The party is more than prepared to just finish off the boogin, not even entertaining the idea that they could be an intelligent race (they look like grey haired Wookies carrying two-handed swords). They do attempt to interrogate the half orc but his common is very poor and they do not speak Orcish. They even attempt a bit of torture but the half orc is more afraid of his Drow masters than he is of the party and does not believe they would kill him in cold blood. He was wrong is seems.

The party stop a while and tend their wounds, and then press on further into the cave system and eventually having nearly drowned and riled up an already angry cave badger they finally make it into the Drow inhabited portion of the cave system. The do their best to sneak around without giving the alarm and make their way around quite a way. They identify some Drow set booby traps on some disused tunnels, when I say identify I mean the hard way(!) and eventually discover the lair of one or more giant spiders. The party can hear them clacking away amongst a forest of web. The party being dyed in the wool heroes decide that that is too scary and try to find a less dangerous tunnel to investigate but most of them around here seem to show signs of giant spider activity. Eventually they find a tunnel that seems too small for giant spiders and they is more to their taste. In here the find their second dwarf escapee. This chap is in a seriously bad way. He has lost all his fingers to torture, what remains of his hands have been smashed, he tongue ripped out and they even tried to cut his throat. He was then left for dead but amazingly survived.

This chap had difficulty communicating but tries to show them that he is a priest and does manage, at great risk to himself, to heal one of the remaining and more serious wounds that the warrior mage was carrying.

It was not long after this that the party met their first drow. The party tried to retreat to a defensive position before meeting them but well into such disarray that the Drow using their ability to create darkness managed to sneak up to the party and launch an attack, the healer fled immediately and that was enough to put the entire party to flight. At the next junction the party decide to turn and face the Drow before they run headlong into something worse and end up surrounded. They try to arrange themselves in time but this is a new party and they do not really know what each other are capable of. As it happens the cleric has a gift that allows him to create a demonic gate and control the minor demon that comes through. What he does is try to summon this behind the advancing Drow. The sight of the demon puts the drow to flight and the party see the drow rushing them with a demon at their heels. There is no way the party can fight three drow warriors AND a demon so they panic and flee. Everyone bolts past the cleric who is entranced trying to control this demon who kills the first Drow decapitating it. The drow are fleet of foot and soon they are in amongst the party and pushing them out of the way to get away from the demon. The party push back but with swords and it doesn’t take long for the drow to fall in a blood bath.

You have rarely seen such an angry party round on their cleric. I think some of the party will have to clean their armour when they get out of here!

That then was the end of the their time in Faerun until later this year. There was a bit more going on but those were the highlights so to speak.


Faerun Campaign Update

Today I am traveling to meet up with my players for the second weekend of my Rolemaster / Faerun campaign.

For the first session I only had three of the four players so the party looked like a Sorceress, Cleric and Warrior Mage. This time those three will be joined by the fourth player character and an NPC being a Paladin and a Mystic, The mystic is “Little Miss Defensive” from previous posts. I finally made up my mind on Tuesday night as to which version I was going to use and the mystic won out in the end.

All in all this is a very magical group of characters that is pretty much what I wanted. Every realm is represented to some degree and there is a little bit of cross over which is good. In my world magic users of all persuasions tend to have less spell lists each to force players into deciding what is really important to them. If you look at the realms of magic in this party you have essence/channeling (sorceress), channeling (cleric), arms/essence (warrior mage), arms/channeling (paladin) and essence/mentalism (mystic). Everyone is unique but at the same time they can share and learn from one another.

I have seen a few people on twitter talk about tweeting their game ‘live’. I am in two minds about this. Would it be distracting to be constantly picking up your phone to tweet? I think it will not do any harm to try it at least once so it is my intention to tweet the party progress tonight and if it seems OK then tomorrow as well. We will see how that works out.

I have given the stats for a few monsters that are common to Faerun but new to Rolemaster over the past three months. Once the party have met them, and that should happen this weekend all being well, I will share a few more creatures with you.

If you are a D&D DM considering trying Rolemaster then let me know any creatures you know and love and I will make sure you have the stats if they are not in any of the official books. The conversion process is pretty simple and not particularly time-consuming.

In the meantime there is a link to my twitter account to the left and look out for some tweets from me after about 6pm.

Rolemaster and Faerun – A little Background

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I thought I would share a little bit of background as to why I am so interested in Rolemaster and Faerun. The game I am running is not your usual Friday night gaming session. My players and I get together just twice a year for a gaming only weekend where we manage about 30hrs of pure roleplaying once you take out the time needed for sleeping and eating. The next of these mammoth weekends is just eight days away and I have been working up to this session since November last year.

The game is set in Faerun as you know and after the time of troubles. I have never played a game in the forgotten releams before but I do own a lot of the materials, picked up cheaply second-hand, and none of my players have adventured in there either. Due to the infrequency of the gaming sessions I wanted something that would keep the game alive between meetings. There are so many forgotten realms books now on kindle for free or so cheap as to be almost free

Forgotten realsm books on Amazon
14 books fo 99p or if that is too expensive then you can have books for free.

that both my players and I could read about the world gaining in our understanding of the setting and its lore.

My players are familiar with Shadow World, a native Rolemaster game setting, and one of the features of Shadow World are Eassence Storms. Faerun after the time of troubles had areas of wild magic and for me I can make the two almost synonymous and give my players a point of reference they can identify with.

I hope you can see that as a setting the realms is an incredibly easy option even if like me and all my players you have busy lives and obligations and cannot devote the hours and days required to create a believable and rich bespoke gaming world of your own. I honestly believe that if you have never visited the realms and you are planning on starting a new campaign then it is definitely worth your consideration.

If you are coming from the D&D world then as a transition to Rolemaster it is easier to have as many familiar points of reference for your players and again the realms can serve you well. Not every monster or race has a direct one to one equivalent but that is one of the things I am addressing here. I am creating the Rolemaster statistics for anything I find in the forgotten realms that I cannot find in the Rolemaster rules and more importantly I am going to create them for the forth coming new edition of Rolemaster, Rolemaster Unified (RMU).

I have up until now been holding some things back. These are creatures and such that my players have not yet met and I do not want to reveal before the game session coming up just in case they stumble upon this blog. They do not know I am writing this and I am not going to tell them. Once they have met/defeated and have the measure of the next new monster on the menu then I will happily share the stats with you all.

I will of course share with you the parties progress as they get on with their adventures.

PC Perils #4 The Wamping Willow Has Nothing On This One!

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Don’t say I didn’t warn you but this is going to smack some one up really badly when it unwinds!

Tree showing distinct twisting in the trunk.
This is going to hurt when it unwinds and takes you full in the face!

In the Monster Manual we had Treants, in MERP they were Ents and Active Trees. If you are just coming to Rolemaster then Creatures & Treasures (Page 51) gives you three varieties to play with, the Awakened Tree, Slowroots and Treeherds being 5th, 10th and 20th level respectively.

Your Awakened Tree is the the classic horror moving dark forest that the innocent fool wanders into before disappearing never to be seen again while everyone in the audience is thinking “Why do they always go into the forest in the middle of the night all alone when people are disappearing?” (If you know what I mean.)

Your Slowroots and Treeherds are the more ‘goodly’ variants and the Rolemaster equivalents of Tolkien Ents as seen in the Lord of the Rings.

I am pretty sure the tree in the photo above is completely natural and the twisting just a turn of fate (groan!) and that I didn’t catch it about the beat the hell out of me. If that is true then how would a party of adventurers ever be able to tell when they walk into an ambush of this kind?

Rolemaster Unified in 2015

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I did say a while ago that I was going to give the gameable stats for both RM2/RMC and RMU for everything I write about. In Nicholas Caldwell’s directors briefing this month he says how well the second beta of Rolemaster Unified is coming along and there is the promise of the RMU Creature Law to come too.

I cannot see the benefit of statting things out for RMU Beta 1 when Beta 2 is just around the corner so for the time being I will skip the RMU stats and just stick to RM2/RMC.

What I am really looking forward to is getting some RMU stats for the Undead. There are a few adventures I would like to create using the undead as the main existential threat with an evil cleric or necromancer pulling the strings in the background. I like playing an NPC to the absolute max of their ability to see just what they could achieve.

This is one area where Rolemaster spell casters massively out-gun their D&D counterparts. In the AD&D that I used to play Animate Dead was a 3rd level Cleric and a 5th level Magic User spell meaning that the characters needed to be 5th or 9th level respectively to case it. In Rolemaster your evil cleric can go around raising his Zombies or Skeletons from 1st level although they will only last for a minute a level at that point. From 5th level onwards he or she can create permenant undead followers.

One of the beauties of Rolemaster spell users and spell lists is the way you can combine things. With Channeling users such as Clerics they can use Symbols to create your classic standing stone type shrine that will happily create an undead ‘guardian’ once a day if an infidel were to wander by. Again this is a 5th level spell. So even if the evil cleric isn’t at home when the players come knocking they still get to fight any permenant undead they ay have created and have others effectively respawn should the players return the following night.

Fearûn definitely has enough evil gods to give any GM ample opportunity to play with the undead, evil clerics and necromancers in abundance.