Rolemaster Ambush Skill: How Could it work?

In the original Rolemaster, Ambush was one of the skills that worked differently than others. I’m sure at the time, they were just trying to fit a square peg in a round hole to get the desired result, but actually it was quit brilliant and should have been pursued in greater detail for other skills.

What do I mean? That the # of skill ranks can serve as a rule mechanic just like total skill bonus. RM made Ambush a skill rank only skill where the other skills were purely total skill bonus. But why not have both for all skills?

What does Ambush skill really entail? The skill description requires that the skill be developed with a specific weapon, but does that really make sense? Ambush is not about the weapon, it’s about surprise and the ability to target kill points on a body. A competent assassin can kill with a knife, a stapler or a pen by targeting soft spots or vulnerabilities. The type of weapon is irrelevant as long as it can physically carry out such an attack.

So what might be a way to handle Ambush using both # of skill ranks and skill bonus? Here is how we do it. The ambush skill bonus is used for the Offensive Bonus-no matter what the weapon or object. The GM chooses the attack chart/size based on the weapon and type of damage it might inflict (a flail would not be great in close quarters, while a wooden splinter would be great but do very little damage w/o a great attack roll). Obviously this is a close quarter attack, ambush shouldn’t work for missile, or thrown weapons (that’s a called shot with surprise bonus). The skill bonus reflects the versatility of training using any weapon or object to kill. Also, it recognizes that the ambush weapon is being used to kill with a direct strike and perhaps not how the weapon is normally used. If the attack is successful, then the # of Skill Ranks is used to adjust the critical roll. A bit different than the original rules: some would argue that this allows the assassin to use any weapon or object to kill a target. Correct.

In any event, that’s how we play it. does it seem overpowered? The Assassin would need to get into striking range without being detected (a different skill/ability), have some type of damage inflicting weapon, and generate a critical result attack.

Just my take, using my own hybrid system (S.W.A.R.M.). What’s yours?

Thrown Weapons in Arms Law. A critical component of combat.

A recent thread over at the RMU Arms Law Beta Forums discussed the viability of thrown weapons. The general impression is that thrown weapons aren’t used regularly by most players; according to the poll over 60% of player use thrown weapons 0-20% of the time. There are a number of reasons stated or implied for the low use of thrown weapons:

  1. Limited damage.
  2. Limited range.
  3. Limited “ammo”; once you throw it, it’s gone for the remainder of combat usually.

But there might be a systemic problem within Rolemaster combat that minimizes the use of thrown weapons–I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s distinguish between larger thrown weapons like spears and war hammers and smaller less potent weapons like daggers, darts, shurikens, needles or even ball bearings. All of these smaller weapons are cool, add personality to players and NPC’s and are portrayed as being quite deadly in popular fiction. But in many RPG’s, small thrown weapons aren’t that potent; or as seen in the forum thread, rarely used.

Terry includes a lot of thrown weapons in his NPC’s. Wrist dart guns, axes and  shurikens are frequently used, but they are often magical (return via long door) or have other bonus properties (exploding flame cartridges or sleep powder). These “add-ons” overcome some of the real or perceived  limitations of thrown weapons, but also reinforce the idea that mundane small thrown weapons aren’t that usable.

So solution 1 is to enhance thrown weapons with Weapon Runes, poisons, or powders/pastes. I like this solution as it adds even more utility to the Herb/Poison skill and can be a accessible solution for lower level players.

Where and when does one throw a weapon? The base 50′ movement rate/rnd allows players to shift from long distance ranged weapon use to melee in a single round. 50′ is usually too far for effective thrown weapon use, and within 10′ it’s basically melee engagement. Throwing while moving incurs fairly high penalties and basically removes the ability of the player to use a more effective melee attack at the end of the movement phase. It feels like a small window of opportunity and combined with low damage, makes thrown skill less important when allocating scarce development points. Certainly everyone modifies or house rules their combat rounds, so ask yourself how your methodology encourages or discourages thrown weapons.

Therefore, Solution 2 addresses issues that might be arising from the RM combat rules itself by allowing for thrown weapon use in melee. If we consider normal melee engagement distance to be between 5′ to 10′ then allowing small thrown weapons at the outer limits of that range, as an extra attack, to be advantageous. We’ve worked this into our system with the “combat sphere” in our initiative rules and our individual weapon modifiers. With this system, if the “thrower” wins the initiative they’ve created a small space/distance to effectively throw (similar to the combat sphere of a polearm wielder). That means an opponent with a shorter weapon will be at a disadvantage against the thrower.

However, you don’t need to add those extra rules –just permit  thrown small size weapon use in melee with the understanding that the small give and take positioning of combat allows for gaps needed to throw. Allowing more flexibility with thrown weapons and adding some enhancements can make these small, even innocuous, weapons quite deadly!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That removes a lot of bulk.

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

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

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

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

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

Why would anyone ever want to use this?

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

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

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

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

Player Combat Charts

Do you give your players a copy of their combat chart for rolling their own attack?

I know lots of people do this but I am not one of them. I believe the objective is to speed up combat. Everyone has one copy of every chart they use so there is no page flipping back and forth through Arms Law. The GM only then has to manage the NPCs attacks.

I do something similar with Spell Law so everyone has a copy of their spell lists so the spell casters are not queuing up to get their hands on spell law to see what spell to cast.

I think combat tables are different. Here is my thinking.

Now imagine this. The players had discussed their plan. They were going to take out any patrols on the castle wall, dumping the bodies over the wall into the marshy ground beside the moat.

The players attack a knight with surprise, from behind. They make their roll, add their OB and I then have to tell them the knights AT and DB.

The knight has a DB of 90! Yes, that is right a DB not dependent on shields or being aware of the attack. Telling that to the player is certain to raise an eyebrow at least. Do you honestly think that the characters are still going to throw the knight, armour and all over the wall and into the moat?

Or how about the poor knight is wearing cursed armour? It looks like AT17 but protects as AT2. What will the players think then?

I think giving the combat table to the players, for me, is giving away too many spoilers. Those situations do not come up every day or every session but they do come up.

I have ‘cured’ my players from excessive meta gaming. We had a situation where all the players fell into a detailed and somewhat heated discussion about their plans while they were in easy earshot of an informer. There was no possible way for the characters to share the information that the players were sharing without vocalising it so I rolled a perception roll for the informer and he heard it all. Several crimes were part of their plans and one of the bad guys was the local sheriff. Things got hot for the characters pretty quickly and one of the players said that his character would never have said all that out loud in the middle of the market. The obvious answer was to ask well how did you think the characters were having this discussion? Other players were still interacting with people in the market while the discussion was going on. I was still describing the evolving scene as more stalls opened and more towns folk filtered into the market and so on.

From that point on the players all accepted that all their communications are their characters communications unless they have explicitly said they are passing a note or using some kind of magical method.

Bandying around the foes AT and DB to me seems to be too much information to be giving the players. I think it has the potential to change the characters tactical thinking based upon things the character simply cannot know. If there are two enemy in from of you and you don’t have a very good OB, you are going to pick the one with a poor DB, it is simple self preservation surely?

Rolemaster Combat Hack: Expanded weapon modifiers for Rolemaster.

Even in the earliest editions Rolemaster Arms Law contained a detailed chart of weapons with a variety of data: mods to hit ATs, length, weight, speed, notes etc. Beyond any additional to hit bonuses we never really referred to that chart at all–but it did give hints to useful information that could be incorporated into combat.

Recently RMU expanded various “combat maneuvers” and combat situations into the rules. Some of these set penalties can be offset by the appropriate combat maneuver skill (contra skill) or are just specific penalties based on certain situations (close quarter combat). Two situational penalties did take the actual weapon into effect: subdue and close quarters, but the rest just set a base penalty. (rear attack, protect, etc). It seems obvious that this concept can be expanded much further; that each weapon or weapon type should have custom penalties based on it’s speed, reach and style. For instance, the effort to strike behind (rear attack) should be much different for a martial artist than someone wielding a 2-hand sword.  Or the penalty to protect should be lower for someone wielding a polearm than someone with a dagger.

This simple solution adds another layer to weapon complexity without any new rules, creates real differentiation between weapons for specific combat circumstances and reduces the problem of multiple weapons sharing the same attack table. An additional benefit is that if new combat situations are created or a new weapon added, it’s easy to expand the chart without any other design work (like creating a new attack chart). We’ve added these mods right on the character sheet for easy reference.

(Another category I’m going to add is a “Thrown” penalty for melee weapons and initiative modifiers for use with our initiative rules)

I’ve uploaded the chart in Excel for ease of editing.  At the top is a simpler version which classifies weapons into 4 categories based on weapon reach. Below are a breakout of individual weapons, and SW special weapons. (Pete, not sure I did the file upload process correctly…)

RM Weapon Modifier Chart

Rolemaster Combat Maneuvers: Fighting Naked.

So RM & RMU has introduced a variety of combat maneuvers and combat penalties: blind fighting, close quarters, protect, mounted combat etc. How about a new one: Naked Fighting.

Sure you might not have the advantage of armor, but you would, or could, have the advantage of “shock & awe”. Maybe an extra “stress” or “depression” critical is dealt when the naked fighter crits?

How about a whole cadre or group of warriors that went into battle naked?

So, I did have one naked NPC attack the group once years ago. But I like the theatrics of a group of naked beserkers rushing the group. Thoughts?

btw: look who did that picture!!!

Firearms in Rolemaster – The Mechanics

In my last entry I talked a bit about how I revised the attack tables for firearms in Rolemaster. That’s not the only change you need to make if you plan on adding realistic firearms to a game using any flavor of the Rolemaster rules. I’m a firm believer in using a two second, phased round for firearms, but you also need to make some core mechanics adjustments. That’s what I’m talking about today.

Continue reading “Firearms in Rolemaster – The Mechanics”

Body Development

Rolemaster Logo

This is just a short post today as I am still thinking about whether I am going down the right road or not.

Do we actually need a Body Development skill?

Every race has a racial maximum so it is a bit of a development tax, every character has to buy it, on low level characters. Once you have maxed out your #hits you can just forget about it.

It is one of the more complex calculations and I have seen people posting on the forum getting the calculation for total hits wrong when it comes to a negative Con stat bonus.

The more #hits a character has the more leighway a GM has and the greater the staying power of a party. So more #hits is better than less.

So why not just use the characters Con stat + Racial Con bonus as their Total hits? It will still go up over time for most characters as their temp stat improves through stat gain rolls.

So I ask, do we need a body development skill that costs DPs? Can the non #hits elements of body development not be rolled into an Athletics meta skill?

RM Combat Hack: Simplified armor & encumbrance


While both encumbrance and fatigue are critical elements in our game it’s always added an extra step of record keeping that was onerous. We’ve played around with several mechanisms but found that the new piecemeal armor and fatigue rule in RMU work great but we’ve taken it one step further.

First, we’ve eliminated the Maneuvering in Armor skill. I’ve always had an issue with it in concept and it unnecessarily complicated encumbrance rules by having this “dual path” calculation of min/max armor penalties, encumbrance by weight and the Quickness penalty. Since MnvArm is a skill that basically ties a characters ability to wear better/heavier armor to their level. I’ve heard the argument that it’s “for game balance”—I think that’s absurd. Can you imagine a game system that says a fighter can only use a dagger at 1st level, then moves up to a short sword, than a long sword and finally at higher level can use a 2-handed sword? That’s the same thing.

I’ve always seen armor as a “handicap”—it adds weight and restriction of movement. There are benefits (protection) and negatives (penalties) that a player has to balance out. I don’t think it’s something that’s “trainable” like other RM skills. Getting rid of MnvArm eliminates a skill (good) and eliminates the dual process of armor penalties & encumbrance calculation.

Second we’ve adopted the RMU encumbrance calculation as a % of body weight and applied adjusted %’s to armor pieces. I’ve inserted the table below. For example, a character wearing full plate would have an armor encumbrance penalty of 66% (Plate 40, Plate Sleeves 8, Plate Leggings 12, Full Helm 6). We’ve also added some armor penalties for Perception and Missile weapons. This simplified armor/encumbrance also makes it easy to create new armor types for cultures or materials.

With armor simplified, encumbrance becomes a pretty easy calculation. Tally total weight, convert to % of body weight, add armor encumbrance % and reduce by the weight allowance. I like encumbrance to have a real impact and armor should have appropriate draws backs to reduce the incentive for everyone to wear the heaviest armor. For weight allowance we use a much lower threshold than RMU: 10% + str bonus. So a character with 100str could carry up to 25% (10 + 15 assuming no racial Str mods) of their body weight before incurring penalties. That makes sense to me—a 200lb person could carry 50#s without penalty. If anything that’s still too generous. If that character were wearing Full Plate and carrying nothing else they would have a 41% (66-25) encumbrance penalty. For GM’s that want to lessen the impact of encumbrance just use a higher weight allowance: 10% + Str bonus x2 or even x3.

Finally because we have one simple encumbrance number that represents carried load and armor it can be applied in a variety of ways.

Encumbrance Penalty (Load – weight allowance)

  1. Modifies MMs or any action where weight is a factor.
  2. Modifies fatigue rolls.
  3. Reduces pace/distance. (replaces the encumbrance/pace chart)
  4. Cancels Quickness bonus for DB or optionally reduces DB.
  5. Total encumbrance % is used to modify Essence SCR.
  6. Calban, a 5th lvl fighter with a 100 str weighs 200lbs. His weight allowance is 25% (50lbs). Calban decides he’s going to wear Full Chain/Mail armor and a half helm. His armor encumbrance would be 47%. He’s also carrying 30lbs of gear (15%) for a total load of 62%. His encumbrance penalty is 37% (62-25).

                Calban attempts to somersault over an opponent. In addition to difficult modifiers and his acrobatic skill bonus the attempt will be modified by the -37% encumbrance penalty.

                Calban is required to make a fatigue roll—it’s modified by -37%.

                Calban wants to sprint x5. His base rate is 20’rnd so he’s attempting to move 100’ but the distance moved is reduced by 37% (63’) due to his encumbrance penalty.

                Calban has a -10 DB which is cancelled out due to his encumbrance. Optionally, if a GM wants encumbrance to have an even greater impact than his DB would be -27 making him easier to hit due to his lack of maneuverability! (does that sounds harsh? Keep in mind that he’s basically carrying a 134lbs load).

For our game these rules work great.

  1. The reduce skill bloat.
  2. They disconnect the idea that heavier/better armor use is tied to character level.
  3. Creates one encumbrance number that can be applied in a variety of situations.
  4. Eliminates encumbrance pace chart, min/max armor penalties.
  5. Allows us to incorporate strength buff spells and weight reduction spells in our Spell Law which have a real impact.
  6. Creates advantages/disadvantages to armor that fits into our “free market”, “no-profession” game.
  7. Creates a quick way to generate new armors for cultures/tech.
  8. Easy to adjust. A GM can change the armor %’s, the weight allowance calculation or both!
  9. Utilizes RMU piecemeal armor rules which we like!

To aid in record keeping we have a game work sheet for each player that tracks encumbrance, hits, damage etc, In the margin of the worksheet we include a chart to convert total weight to % based on the characters body weight. We usually round off the penalty to simplify even further. Most of the players can separate out their kit so in combat they can drop a pack or sack and immediately have and know their adjusted encumbrance.

Armor AT Type Percept Miss Pen Enc.
None 1 0
Heavy Cloth 2 VL 2
Soft Leather 3 VL 5
Hide Scale 4 L 10
Laminar 5 L 15
Rigid Leather 6 M 20
Metal Scale 7 M 25
Mail 8 M 30
Brigandine 9 H 35
Plate 10 H 40
Leather Sleeves VL 1
Hide Sleeves L 5 3
Mail Sleeves M 15 5
Plate Sleeves H 20 8
Leather Leggings VL 3
Hide Leggings L 7
Mail Leggings M 10
Plate Leggings H 12
Leather Cap VL 0.5
Half Helm L 5 2
3/4 Helm M 10 4
Full Helm H 15 6
Target 15 2
Normal 20 5
Full 25 5 10
Wall 30 15 20
Reinforced Cloak 5 5