Combat in 3D environments.

3D Combat Risers - Deluxe Set - Clear Mithril
3D Combat Risers for Game Simulation

Back in 2016 I wrote this BLOG that I want to revisit a bit due to some recent work. I wanted to start a discussion on combat in 3D environments with a focus on 3 “terrains”: underwater, aerial. and zero g. While there are specific challenges to each of these, they all share 1 specific trait–the ability of characters to maneuver and fight in 3 dimensions. Before I delve into this, a small disclaimer. There is probably rules for each of these in one of the dozens of RM supplements. I don’t have any of them and I’ve read even fewer. I might be going over “old ground”, but for purposes of this blog, we can also discuss how this might work in RMU. I’m not aware of any rules in the new version for 3 dimensional interaction.

Rolemaster combat assumes combat will occur on a hard surface and attacks will come from front, flank and rear (and maybe overhead on occasion). When you add in a third level of coordinates AND the ability of a players to rotate, turn and pivot simultaneously then things can get more interesting. How should this be handled? There might need to be a separate set of rules for each situation, but conceptually they are similar enough that a shared mechanic might be possible.

Underwater. For anyone experienced with snorkeling and/or diving knows that it can take time to feel comfortable with varying degrees of orientation underwater. But with some skill it’s easier to swim upside down, inverted or rotate comfortable and maintain perspective. But non-native swimmers don’t move through liquid easily or quickly. The resistance of water, lack of fins or flippers and encumbrances of clothing and equipment make movement slow, fast weapon attacks extremely difficult and thrown weapons entirely useless. From a pure movement mechanic perspective, perhaps a simple approach is to set a underwater movement rate/rnd and then establish a % of activity from normal baseline. Other rules could be developed around increased damage from vacuum spells, decreased damage from heat/fire etc.

Zero G. In some respects, Zero gravity is the opposite of underwater: inertia, momentum and mass over enhance basic movements and there is no real force except hard objects or force to offset momentum. Not having real life experience in zero gravity it’s hard for me to intuitively model game mechanics. One idea I have is to leave movement rate the same, but require MM roles to maintain orientation, change or stop an action and orientation roles anytime a change occurs.

Aerial. It’s easy to think of aerial combat in terms of our own experience with lift and thrust. Assuming a magical flying mechanism does not require momentum to generate lift, than aerial combat is a combination of underwater and zero g. A bit of limitless rotation and orientation but with two resistance forces: gravity and inertia.

There are really two overarching issues to tackle: environment specific mechanics that effect movement, combat, spells, breathing etc and the resolution of player orientation, attack vector, environmental awareness and perceptual capacity. This last piece feels like it could be dealt with using a simple unifying mechanic.

In my own adventures, Priest-King has a significant amount of underwater adventures, Empire of the Black Dragon has both underwater and zero g and Legends of Shadow World has some zero gravity as well. I generally GM it with a loose hand and the players tend to find fixed “anchors” to launch from, provide protection from some directions and minimize disorientation.

Does anyone have any thoughts or innovations?

Grappling with Grappling, Part III: New Options for Grappling in RMU

Indian Wrestler by Lordeeas:

In the first two installments of this trilogy of blogs, we saw how previous editions of Rolemaster struggled to simulate grappling, primarily because they tried to fit grappling into the standard paradigm of attack chart and critical chart. This forced wrestlers to choose between being bad wrestlers or good murderers, because successful attacks always did some concussion hit damage, and criticals were both erratic and deadly. The RM2 companions and RMSS/FRP tried to solve the problem by adding new skills, but this just increased skill bloat, without reducing the swingy-ness or the lethality of Grappling. We also saw how D&D currently offers a simple and reasonable nonlethal option for grappling, and how RMU innovates as well by adding a Grapple% to the Grappling critical chart and changing the action economy to one that runs on Action Points.

Using the new tools provided by the beta RMU rules, and simultaneously adopting the best of what previous RM editions and the present edition of D&D have to offer, I here present two options for better representing grappling in RMU. I call the first suggestion the ‘Tweak’ Option because it represents some relatively modest additons to the existing RMU rules: mostly just adding a couple of basic grappling maneuvers. I call the second option the Alternative Option because it offers an another way of resolving nonlethal grapples that you can use instead of or along with the default RMU option. But note that you can mix and match elements of these two options to produce exactly the system you want. You could for example implement the Tweak Option’s two basic maneuvers but also use the Alternative Option’s method of resolving grappling attempts with skill checks rather than attack and critical charts (see below).

Both solutions involve adding some additional actions, or combat maneuvers, to the RMU list of actions and their action point costs. I think adding some specific moves is the secret to enabling varied and realistic grappling without risking skill bloat. Thus, instead of RMSS’s Tackle skill, you just have a Tackle maneuver, which you can use so long as you have at least 1 rank in Unarmed: Wrestling. Now, you don’t have to worry every level up about buying a distinct Tackle skill in addition to Wrestling skill; instead, tackling just enters the repertoire of things you can do with your Wrestling skill. We thus avoid skill bloat while also allowing wrestlers to do all the things they love to do.

Another beneficial feature of this maneuvers system is that it allows you to choose which specific maneuvers you want to add to your game, thus enabling you to tailor the RMU grappling rules to your own playstyle, whether it is simple, complex, or anything in between. You can also easily adjust the Action Point costs of individual maneuvers to whatever you think appropriate for your game. And if you like the system, you can add further distinctive moves for various grappling styles, such as Judo’s rear naked choke, and you can assign them different prerequisites in terms of position, Grapple%, and even skill ranks (or you can keep the move simple, and your combat more fantasy-esque, by just ignoring those prerequisites).

Adding formalized maneuvers works especially well for grappling because although real-life wrestling involves a great deal of improvisation, it also encompasses a vast array of set moves with specific names, both offensive and defensive (single-leg takedown, double-leg takedown, fireman’s carry/throw, sprawl, etc.). These manuevers are thus somewhat analogous to the standard maneuvers Rolemaster has already implemented for its weapon combat (e.g. parry, shield block, dodge, disarm, subdue).

Perhaps best of all, adding these sorts of moves to Rolemaster is now easier than ever, because of the changes RMU makes to the action economy. As Aspire2Hope noted, the shorter RMU round (5 seconds as opposed to 10) makes RMU’s combat considerably more specific and less abstract. The fact that the 5 second RMU round can then be broken down still further, into 4 action points of roughly 1.25 seconds each, moves Rolemaster further away from the abstract ‘flurry of blows’ approach of earlier editions and towards a true second-by-second and move-by-move combat system. It is almost as if RMU were tailor made for this sort of grappling system.

The Tweak Option

            The first of the two options I offer here is the Tweak Option. The Tweak Option just adds two new, basic combat actions – Takedown and Shove – to RMU’s grappling rules and action costs table. These additional actions (detailed below) are the sorts of actions that grapplers are going to want to make frequently, so formalizing them with specific AP costs, prerequisites, and written descriptions provides helpful guidance for how to implement them, mechanically.

I express these maneuvers below in a manner similar to the way JDale presented his combat styles a while back (IIRC, since the forums are down and I can’t check this); I suspect my moves could be integrated into his system with little effort. Do note though that the prerequisites I list are optional, and the action point costs are tentative (feedback especially welcome on these!). These actions are also similar to the combat moves you find in games such as All Flesh Must Be Eaten (thanks Mark for that reference!). The fact that we can express these maneuvers so simply is also a feature of RMU’s streamlined action point system:


Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites (optional): Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: You try to tackle your target. Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill check (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top. If you are using tokens/figures and squares or hexes, you occupy the target’s square.


Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: You try to push your target. Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill check (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), or 5’ backwards (your choice). 

Size: The last thing to consider is how to handle size. Because in grappling, size really matters; that’s why wrestling has so many weight categories. D&D as we saw prohibits characters from grappling creatures more than one size larger than their own. But RMU has many more weight categories than D&D, and the RMU categories are more finely graded, so we should probably add some typical Rolemaster open-endedness instead. I suggest that combatants in RMU get a bonus to size-dependent maneuvers equivalent to 50 times the square of the size advantage. So a human fighting a Halfling (one size difference) gets a +50 bonus to any maneuvers. A Troll fighting a Halfling gets a +200 bonus. So yes, the Halfling can still try to take that Troll down, and might get very lucky. But he’ll probably have to roll at least double open-ended to do it. And he’ll have to roll high open-ended 8 times or more to trip a dragon. (If you want a still more granular approach to relative weights, you can use the bonuses in the RMU Feats of Strength rules, which rely on a precise comparison of combatants’ weights even within a size category).

The Alternative Option

            The Alternative Option involves adding a few more moves, but also offers an alternative, nonlethal method for resolving basic grappling attacks: namely, opposed skill checks. This is the system that D&D uses, and it seems to work fine; at least I don’t see too many people complaining that grappling isn’t random or deadly enough in D&D. The system I present here is influenced by the D&D system, and is thus both simpler and in some ways more realistic than the present RMU system insofar as it requires no attack chart (or even critical chart – see below). It also has the advantage of allowing me to grapple my young son without killing him, just like I do every day in real life. This solution also has an RMU twist, though, because it uses RMU skills, and can still use part of the RMU Grappling Critical chart if you want it to. To resolve grapples nonlethally in RMU, then, try adding this move:

Grapple (basic, nonlethal)

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill)

Modifiers: As melee attack

Effect: Make an Unarmed skill roll, opposed by your target’s skill roll (target’s choice of Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, roll a critical on the Grapple critical chart. The severity of the critical is determined by how much your roll exceeded your target’s: 1-10 = A critical; 11-20 = B; 21-30 = C; 31-40 = D; 41-50 = E; 51-60 = F; etc. Apply any results of ‘Grapple%’ to your target, but ignore all other results. All other RMU Grappling rules apply (see Arms and Character Law, 2.7 ‘Criticals and Injuries: Grapple’).

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use the Grappling critical chart at all, then the Grapple% you impose with a successful attack equals the amount by which your roll beat your target’s (e.g. if you beat his roll by 30, you impose a 30% Grapple).

Note that this system allows you to resolve grappling attacks without any chart at all. You can still use the RMU Grappling critical chart whenever you feel like it of course, if for example you want your combat to have a chance at being lethal; and you can also at any time switch to the current RMU Grapple attack chart if you want to represent the more hostile grapples of the sort that wild creatures perform, or if the party Ranger is possessed by a demon, and the party Fighter is trying to wrestle him to the ground. You still have that flexibility.

This chartless method of resolving grappling explains how wrestlers can spar for hours without dying due to concussion hit loss. In the Rolemaster rules as they are currently written, which rely on both attack and critical charts, each successful attack causes some concussion hit damage, and even B criticals can be deadly. This means that wrestlers (especially level 1 adolescents) cannot sustain such attacks indefinitely without being knocked out or even killed. In real life, though, a single practice session for wrestlers sees them subjected to literally dozens of attacks; yet they aren’t constantly falling unconscious and dying. This is what I mean when I say a nonlethal method of resolution is actually more realistic at representing wrestling.

Now that we understand the basic system of moves and nonlethal skill resolution, we can proceed to offer some sample advanced maneuvers:

Single-Leg Takedown

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill); at least 25% Grapple (position).

Modifiers: +15 to your skill check; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top.  

Double-Leg Takedown

Cost: 3 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed (skill); at least 50% Grapple (position)

Modifiers: +30 to your skill check; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target is knocked down (supine), with you on top.

Rear Naked Choke

Cost: 8 AP

Prerequisites: Unarmed or Subdual rank 5 (skill); at least 50% Grapple (position); rear (position); a breathing target

Modifiers: -25 if target is standing; otherwise as melee attack

Effect: Having taken your opponent’s back, you leverage your arms around his throat and squeeze.Roll an Unarmed skill check, opposed by your target’s skill (Acrobatics, Contortions, or Unarmed). If you win, your target falls unconscious.

Note that the single-leg takedown is better than the basic grapple or takedown: it benefits from a +15 modifier. This is because it also requires that you have a hold of one of your opponent’s legs first (the 25% grapple prerequisite). So if you can set this up by doing a basic grapple first, you will have a better chance of landing it. Similarly, the double-leg takedown has a better modifier (+30), but requires that you have a hold of both legs (50% grapple). Finally, the rear naked choke renders an opponent unconscious, but has the highest requirements and takes the most time: it costs 8 AP, and can only be performed if you already have rear position. These different maneuvers simulate the way a grappler breaks down an opponent.

Suggested Additional Rules

–Close Quarters: If you think these options make wrestling too strong, you could allow a target’s Grapple penalties to be reduced by her RMU Restricted Quarters skill, since that skill represents training in fighting in tight spaces, with a restricted range of movement. This creates an appropriate and pretty effective counter skill to wrestling, but one that only Arms users are likely to be able to afford. (Spellcasters already have lots of other tools for evading grapples, such as Teleport spells).

–Multiple Hands: How do you handle a grappler with multiple hands? You could give a bonus (e.g. +10) to grappling attacks/defenses for each additional hand a combatant employs, beyond the first. Vard Orcs will definitely be happy with that!

–Subdual: One skill that could nicely complement Unarmed: Wrestling is RMU’s Subdual skill. I like the idea of making Subdual an alternative grappling skill that could be used for moves such as the rear naked choke. This is why I list Subdual as an alternative prerequisite skill in my Rear Naked Choke move above.

–Ground and Pound: If you want to simulate an MMA-style ‘ground and pound’, whereby a wrestler first gains position on an opponent and then delivers strikes to him, you can just switch to Unarmed: Strikes once you have obtained sufficient Grapple%. All positional bonuses still apply, and you can still use the default RMU rules for breaking grips.


I could throw some more moves at you, but this is already a ridiculously long article, and I think now you all get the basic idea. You can probably think of many more maneuvers to add. I certainly will, and both earlier editions of Rolemaster (e.g. the Martial Arts Companion) and other games (e.g. All Flesh Must Be Eaten) give dozens more moves too. And that of course is part of the fun of the system. You can create entire combat styles that represent real or fantasy fighting traditions. And you can make grappling as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

            The most important point to note, though, is that RMU already has a chassis better built for grappling than any prior edition of Rolemaster. The action point system, the 5-second round, and the new grappling critical chart all make our job far easier than it has ever been. As long as you are willing to recognize that grappling doesn’t really fit very well into the standard Rolemaster attack chart, and that D&D can have a good idea or two sometimes, then I think the door is open to a much better system of grappling for RMU.

Grappling with Grappling, Part II: The RMU and D&D Approaches

In part I of this series, I explained how the first editions of Rolemaster initially tried to fit wrestling into their normal attack paradigm. They used specific attack charts (Sweeps & Throws, Grappling), which were tied to specific critical charts (Sweeps & Throws, Grappling); and they also offered a non-lethal option by capping results at 105 if you wanted to pull your punches (or grapples as the case may be). The main problem with this approach was that it forced would-be grapplers to choose between being bad wrestlers (since even a maximum result at 105 on the attack chart was unlikely to immobilize an opponent) or good murderers (since the higher results often ended in serious injury or death). In an attempt to solve these problems, the RM2 Companions and RMSS/FRP offered options that mixed different attack charts (Grapple, Sweeps, even Striking) with the different critical charts (Grappling, Sweeps, Unbalancing) almost interchangeably. The Companions and RMSS/FRP also added more skills, such that RMSS had separate skills for Sweeps and Throws; Tackling; Wrestling; and Blocking. But all this really did was introduce skill bloat. In RMSS, you literally had to switch skills three times (from Blocking to Tackling to Wrestling) if you wanted to stop an opponent from running past you and take him to the ground. And RMSS/FRP never solved the problem of the grappler’s Hobson’s Choice between bad wrestling and good murdering.

The final result, then, was still rather unrealistic. I wrestle with my 5-year-old son pretty much every day, but if I used the RM2 or RMSS grappling rules to do this, I would either be very bad at catching him (an attack table result of 105 is unlikely to give me a good grip on him, unless I get lucky with my critical roll), or I would have outright killed him years ago. But in reality I can catch him pretty easily, and the worst injury I have ever given him was a small red mark on his temple due to the fact that I had not cut my fingernails closely enough that day. The earlier editions of Rolemaster never gave me a system that allows me to wrestle him effectively without risking murdering him.

So what’s the solution? The new edition of Rolemaster gives us with some very useful new tools, and I think we can add to them a few ideas from Dungeons & Dragons. Together, I think these finally solve the problem of grappling.

RMU offers us a new system closely tied to earlier editions of Rolemaster. There is still a Grappling table and a Sweeps Throws table, and both still have their own distinct critical tables. But there are also clearer rules for subduing attacks, as well as a Subdual critical table (I think that is an RMSS innovation?). There is also a Wrestling skill, which is a specialization of the Unarmed skill, right alongside Martial Arts Strikes and Sweeps & Throws, where I think it fits well. But thankfully there are no separate ‘Athletic Games’ or ‘Tackling’ or ‘Blocking’ skills to bloat the RMU skill list.

But perhaps the most important change RMU makes is the reworking of the Grappling critical chart. It now includes numerical ‘Grapple %’ results alongside its descriptions of other effects. The Grapple% is a penalty that applies to all the target’s actions so long as it remains grappled. This penalty represents how good a grip/lock the grappler has on her opponent. So when attacked by a grappler who obtains a critical against you, you might suffer a result of ‘30% Grapple’, which means you are at -30 until you break that grapple. Breaking the Grapple is a 4 AP or full-round action, and you can use the Wrestling, Contortions, ‘or other appropriate grappling skill’ to perform it. The amount you roll over 100 is the amount by which you reduce your Grapple% penalty.

So far, so good. The discussion on the forums in recent weeks focused on an apparent oversight in the RMU rules about moving while grappled. In the RMU Rules As Written (RAW), any grapple% result stops all movement for the grappler and the grapplee until the hold is broken. This is a bit of a problem, because it means a Halfing gaining the slightest Grapple% (5%) on a Troll could rather easily stop him from moving altogether. Forum posters suggested various ways of solving this. My own suggestion was to add a stipulation that a grappled target takes on the added encumbrance (including body weight) of his/her grappler. This would mean that the Troll could rather easily drag the Halfling around, but a Halfling grabbed by a Troll would be more or less completely immobilized. In commenting on my suggestion, JDale coined our new RMU slogan — ‘That’s reasonable’ — so I am hoping this might be the solution the developers adopt.

Overall, I like the innovation of adding a grappling % to the critical results, and I think it is one of the keys to improving grappling, but I feel RMU still lacks a two things, namely:

–A controlled, consistently nonlethal Grappling option. In reality, as opposed to the RM grappling rules, a champion wrestler is able to put you where he wants you, and keep you there. That control is to me the very essence of wrestling. But this also means a champion is not going to hurt you inadvertently. Yet, the RMU Grappling attack table still inflicts concussion hit damage (even if it is low), and the RMU Grappling critical chart still causes broken bones, severe injuries, and death on even B criticals. So I still can’t wrestle my son within the RMU Rules As Written. I still have to choose between having less control than I do in reality, or being less effective than I am in reality.

–More standardized maneuvers with specific AP costs, such as ‘takedown/tackle’, so I don’t have to constantly houserule common maneuvers. RMU has thankfully done away with the skill bloat that gave us separate skills for Blocking, Tackling, Wrestling, and Athletic Games. We can now just use Wrestling for all these, and treat Blocking and Tackling as Wrestling maneuvers. But to do that easily, we still need exact AP costs and some basic guidance as to how to handle these as maneuvers.

Dungeons & Dragons offers some ideas for how we can solve these last remaining problems. Why bother with D&D? Well, D&D has a system that is in some ways simpler and better at capturing nonlethal grappling (for a good breakdown, see: ). D&D is also by far the most heavily played and playtested system in the world, which means that there is a good chance your players are already familiar with it, and there are some lessons we can learn from the vast amount of feedback it has accumulated. The relevant aspects of the D&D system are these:

–Grappling is resolved by an opposed skill check (attacker’s Athletics skill vs. defender’s Athletics or Acrobatics skill) rather than a regular attack. Grappling therefore never does hit point damage. Its primary effect is to impose the ‘Grappled’ condition, which reduces the target’s speed to 0.

–Characters can make additional moves beyond the initial grabbing, most notably tackling/takedowns (the ‘Shove’ action).

–Size limits grappling. You can’t grapple a creature more than 1 size larger than you. And you can’t drag a creature you’ve grappled if it weighs more than your carrying capacity.

D&D thus offers quite a lot, namely: a controlled, nonlethal mechanic for resolving Grappling attacks (i.e. using skill checks rather than attack charts); clear rules for takedowns; and a detailed explanation of how size affects grappling.

In my third and final part of this trilogy of blogs, I’ll give specific rules for how similar measures can be implemented to improve grappling in RMU.

Grappling with Grappling, Part I: The Problem

Rolemaster has never done a particularly good job of capturing the mechanics of grappling or wrestling. With the new edition of Rolemaster around the corner, discussion of RMU’s grappling mechanics recently came up on the ICE forums (before they went down). I thought this would be a good occasion to review these rules and offer a few suggestions as to how they can be improved.

In this post, which is the first of three I will make on grappling, I will just survey the rules for wrestling in previous editions (pre-RMU) of Rolemaster. This will get us all up to speed on how Rolemaster has tried to solve the problem of wrestling, and I think it will also make several things abundantly clear: The original Rolemaster’s system of attack charts and criticals never really captured wrestling’s effects very well, and subsequent editions merely added new skills without fixing the underlying problems, which resulted in a confusing proliferation of skills, and frankly a rather hopeless mess of mechanics. I think Rolemaster can do better than that.

Full disclosure: this is a topic dear to my heart. I actually wrestled a little bit (the real kind—what Americans call ‘amateur’ or ‘olympic’ wresting, as opposed to the fake ‘professional’ wrestling) in middle and high school. I love the sport. It is the hardest one I have ever done, for it demands every ounce of your energy and attention. And the list of UFC champions will testify that it is one of the most effective martial arts in the world.

The rules for grappling in RM2 were pretty simple. There was an attack table for ‘Grapple/Grasp/Envelop/Swallow’ (the picture showed a squid and a snake), which did relatively few hit points in damage and resulted in Grapple criticals. One unique thing about this table was the note at the bottom saying that for each round that a creature obtained a critical against its target, the creature got a +10 to OB against that target. This seemed to be an attempt to show a creature sinking in a deeper hold on its target. There was also a Martial Arts: Sweeps and Throws skill, which was meant to simulate martial arts such as Judo and Wrestling. Its attack chart too did relatively few hit points and resulted in Grapple criticals. There was a note that combatants trying to subdue an enemy without doing serious damage could roll on the Grapple or the Sweeps attack table, with a maximum result of 105; this was the cutoff for ‘Small’ attacks, with a maximum critical of ‘B’ severity, which ensured that the attack would be non-lethal… but also make the attack less likely to actually grapple or immobilize its target. On more severe results, the Grapple critical chart could inflict some serious injuries, including death. 91-5 on a C for example resulted in the target being stunned and unable to parry for 44 rounds (is that a record?) and at -95 afterwards. This forced wrestlers to make a choice between the lesser of two evils: play it safe and be a bad wrestler; or be a good wrestler and risk murdering your opponent. That wasn’t ideal.

I imagine RM2’s Unbalancing chart could also be used to represent grapples, but it includes lots of broken bones and very serious injuries, including death, so it isn’t ideal either for capturing two wrestlers in a sparring match.

RM2 also had the Subdual skill, but is was far more Vulcan Nerve Pinch than Rear Naked Choke, and it required a lot more setup than wrestlers did. It was more of a fantasy skill to render unconscious a foe that you approached unawares, and who had no armor on its upper body. You also had to develop the skill separately for different types of creatures. Mechanically, you had to roll 101+ on a skill check, and your bonus was halved if your foe was in melee, so it wasn’t really something a wrestler thought of doing. Even if you succeeded, the defender still got an RR versus your skill ranks in Subduing. To this day, I’m not quite sure what stat affected this RR (I am assuming Constitution?).

The RM companions did not add much more. Companion IV lamented the lack of ability to attack to subdue, and offered some additional options for that, such as changing lethal criticals to non-lethal criticals, provided the attacker accepted a penalty (-20 or more) to the attack’s OB, and that the attack was of a type that could be used non-lethally (e.g. yes for Grapples, no for Lightning Bolts). The Arms Companion added the ‘Melee Scuffle’ skill, which was essentially a tripping skill that used 40% of your activity for the round.

RMSS/FRP tried to solve the problem by adding many more wrestling-like skills. However, these skills seemed at times to overlap with and even contradict one another, and even then, they never really offered wrestlers any other option than the traditional ones of being either a bad wrestler or a good murderer. The RMSS core rules added a Tackling skill, which fell under the Martial Arts: Strikes category. The description of Tackling said it was the skill to use for bringing someone to the ground and temporarily immobilizing them. Tackling used the Martial Arts: Strikes attack table, but with results capped at rank 1, and the criticals were Grappling rather than MA Srikes. Confusingly, RMSS then added that if the contest continued after the initial tackle, then a separate ‘Wrestling’ skill was to be used (I guess no one was thinking of Greco-Roman wrestling here). This Wrestling skill was in the MA: Sweeps category rather than Strikes, and used the Sweeps attack chart rather than the Strikes attack chart, but again with Grappling criticals and a cap of rank 1 results. One problem with this was that the skill descriptions said Tackling had more of an intent to injure whereas Wrestling was just aimed at immobilization, but mechanically, both attacks used exactly the same criticals (Grappling). And those Grappling criticals resulted in lots of broken bones and even instant death.

To add further confusion, RMSS also had yet another separate skill called ‘Athletic Games’, in an entirely separate category (Athletic Games: Brawn), whose written description specifically cited ‘Wrestling’ as one of these games. The lesson here, kids, is that adding more skills is not the solution to every problem! RM2 had had a secondary skill called ‘Athletic Games’, but the description in Rolemaster Companions I and II never mentioned Wrestling, so I am assuming RMSS just added that in here.

RMFRP also redid the Grappling critical charts, changing some of the results. For example, it changed 00 on an E critical from crushing foe’s windpipe to crushing foe’s windpipe and literally ripping his head off. So much for sparring I guess.

The RMSS Martial Arts Companion added an optional rule that adjusted the maximum damage of Wrestling according to the difference in sizes of the combatants. That was kind of neat. It also offered a ‘Locking Holds’ skill, that used the Sweeps attack chart (again limited to rank 1 results) and a new ‘Locking Holds’ critical chart. Again, that was pretty cool. Unfortunately, that chart’s results included lots and lots of broken bones, so it wasn’t very suitable for wrestling.

The RMFRP School of Hard Knocks further confused matters (to me at least) by citing ‘wrestling’ as an example of its Athletic Games: Brawn skill, but then going on to talk mostly about ball sports. To further confuse you, the School of Hard Knocks’ description of the Tackling skill was illustrated by two figures that are clearly Wrestling.

So what does this trip through memory lane prove? To me, it clearly shows that adding a plethora of new skills will not solve the problem of realistically representing grappling. RMSS’s multiplication of skills just amplified confusion over how to resolve wrestling actions. The real solution – for me at least – lies in using existing skills and mechanics instead, and simplifying them to produce a more realistic and workable system. Wrestlers should not have to choose between being bad wrestlers or good murderers.

My next post will compare how two other systems can offer help in achieving these goals. The two systems are: Dungeons and Dragons, which offers a very simple and reasonably good method for resolving grapples (especially the non-lethal kind); and RMU, which presents a new Grapple critical table, new size rules, and a simpler action economy, which enable us to simplify the rules for grappling while at the same time making them more realistic than they have ever been. In my third and final post of this trilogy on Grappling, I’ll offer my own houserules for handling grappling in RMU.

Two 10th Level Fighters Dueling With Daggers

There is a guy on one of the OSE Discord servers I lurk in that reminds me a lot of Hurin. He isn’t Hurin under a different name unless Hurin has a secret double life in Australia, but that is beside the point.

This guy is one of the big personalities in the OSR/OSRIC/DnD nerd community. He happened to say the line that is the title of this post that two 10th level fighters dueling with daggers was a low point of DnD.

It was a throwaway line but it struck a chord with me. I can see the scene being imagined as two guys, probably with 60-70HP grinding away hours doing 1d4 + strength bonus damage when they did manage to hit. In old school DnD a combat round was a minute long. This fight could go on for hours.

Except that it doesn’t.

There are two flaws in this thinking. The first is that if a challenge carries no risk and has no consequences to the character’s story then you shouldn’t be rolling for it. The other flaw was the idea that 1d4+ strength bonus was damage, it isn’t.

I will take the second flaw first. The very concept of hit points is widely misunderstood. Hit points are your character’s skill, and an element of luck at avoiding being hit or harmed. In Rolemaster terms, it would be like having a finite pool of Parry that you burn through adding it to your DB.

That description of Hit Points was in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It would be ridiculous to think that just because a character had had a successful adventure or two, that they could now survive being stabbed with a sword more times. Hit Points as skill at parrying, dodging and evasion make perfect sense in contrast. This is why Fighters get more hit points than Magic-Users, they are trained to parry, dodge and evade. You Con bonus is not because you are ‘meatier’ it is because fatigue can slow a person’s reactions when parrying, dodging and evading.

DnD and Chainmail evolved out of tabletop war games where typically a unit that was hit was destroyed. To introduce named heroes into that needed a way for them to have more than a ‘one hit, you are dead’ mechanic. The core concept that if you are stabbed with a sword, hit with a mace or stabbed with a dagger, you will die unless someone saved you. That is why HPs go down to -8, each describing the severity of the mortal wound.

DnD characters are binary. They have 1HP if you think of hit points as meat. If you have 1HP then you are fighting fit, if you don’t have 1HP then you are dead or dying. All hit points above 1 are burned up in avoiding being hit.

Those are the rules pretty much as written in the original DnD.

The next problem with our two 10th level fighters is the hour-long combat. Knowing what hit points are has eliminated the idea of them each being stabbed 15 times and still standing. We have turned that into an interplay with both fighters lunging, feinting, dodging.

The problem is that the first half of the battle is of little or no consequence. You cannot kill a 10th level fighter is a dagger strike. Many strikes may but the first definitely won’t.

It is relatively easy to eyeball a battle as GM, or DM in this case, and see that Fighter 1 has a slightly better to hit number and slightly better damage due to a bigger strength bonus. Why not play the first round or two, let the Character get the size of his opponent. Ask the player how he intends to play out this fight, underhand and dirty or is it more an elegant gentleman’s duel? Now skip forward 10 rounds. If one fighter is more likely to land hits than the other then one takes four dagger strikes and the other may only take three. You can make sure that the number of hits and the damage is in line with the actual abilities of the two combatants. Now describe how the fight went up until this point. Is the other fighter the better or more skilled fighter? Is he or she using their strength to their advantage or is their speed frustrating your attempts to corner them? Tell the player what the character would know. If the character went into this thinking it would be an easy win but now finds themselves at a disadvantage they may want to change tack.

You get the player’s input and then skip forward another 10 rounds. Deal out typical damage and describe the impact this duel is having. Where was the fight taking place? In a banquet hall? In a clearing in the woods? Are there seconds standing by looking concerned? 10 more rounds have gone by, you could be down to half hits and your opponent is looking a lot fresher and more confident than you. What do you do?

By now it is possible that one or the other is at half hit points. Does that change their perception? Is the duel taking place in a larger context? Is now the time to concede honorably?

You can now skip forward another 10 rounds. At this point, you could if you wanted to, play out the rest of the combat. The banquet hall could be a complete wreck with tables upturned, benches smashed to smithereens and the floor awash with trampled food. From this point on the actions can have real consequences, the rule to not roll for things that don’t matter no longer applies.

What could have been a grinding hundred rounds of roll to hit, roll 1d4 for damage has been avoided and turned into narrative description in which the player gets to take an active part.

So What About Rolemaster?

A RM2 10th level Fighter probably has about a 100OB with dagger. Based on one rank per level of half of their sword skill, about +18 from Stat and +30 from Professional bonus.

Assuming this is an unarmoured fight in a banquet hall, just because I like the idea of food fights, with both combatants using AT1. They need about 90 to make contact with each other and about 100 to do a critical.

If they parried with half their OB and we give them a +10 Qu DB they, open ended rolls to hurt each other. One in 20 strikes will yield any damage and assuming a typical final roll of 96 + 50 at the attack roll, + 50OB – 60DB give a final result of 136 or 16ES.

Just eyeballing it suggests that you would need to do a typical 4 E criticals to take someone down, they are fatal or debilitating 25% of the time. So we are looking at possibly 1 in 20 x 4, or 80 combat rounds. I would say that the first bleeding critical on either side would finish the fight. Not so much from breeding out the penalties from lost hits would wipe out your OB, reducing your ability to deliver any damage and reducing your parry DB.

Almost all E Slash criticals do bleeding and 2-4 hits per round are common.

For all their training and experience, a Rolemaster fight between two high level fighters will actually be decided, more often than not, but the very first lucky roll.

You could even strategize for this. Fight until you have that first crit and then all-out parry until your foe bleeds out.

Looking at RMu and there is a bigger issue, passive DB inflation. Our 10th level fighters are likely to have +20 ranks (at least) in Running. By 10th level, you can have a decent Qu bonus with is x3 for DB. If you parried with +50 of your OB, you are looking at +80DB vs a +50OB, a net -30 on your attack roll. Open-ended is needed to even do hits of damage and a 96+50 attack roll yields only 4BP. I know that JDale has increased the damage in the RMu tables but they have not made 4 and a B puncture equal to 16 and an E slash critical.

I am not known for using things like exhaustion points but it looks like having to wait, a statistical average of, 20 rounds just to do 4 hits of damage. A fight like this could last three-quarters of an hour for the characters and take days of real time to play.

The chances of the fight coming down to just a lucky blow, probably a double open-ended roll is more likely than any actual skill on the part of the combatants.

This does not seem right to me.

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