Seconds ticking away

Following on from my last post about movement and mounted combat I have been thinking about combat rounds.

There are three combat round lengths in the ICE world. RM2, Spacemaster and I guess RMSS use the 10 second round. RMU uses 5 second rounds and HARP uses a 2 second round.

If was obvious that the 10 second round didn’t work for modern day and Sci Fi. There is no way you can only squeeze  the trigger of a gun once every ten seconds. The fix was to introduce fire phase 1 and 2 into the standard RM2 phased combat round.

If everyone was using firearms, which was not unusual in modern settings then it left anyone who had to move wading through molasses. If you could not get from cover to cover in a single move then you would get ripped to pieces.

Splitting the round into two five second rounds does improve things slightly but there is always going to be a disparity between how long different tasks take. Picking a lock could be seen as a 10 second activity for a skilled thief but it becomes more of a stretch at 5 seconds and surely for the typical PC two seconds is not likely?

Is it better to have some actions take multiple rounds compared to some actions happening multiple times in a single round?

I think I am inclined to go for the very short round and things just take as long as they take. We are used to bows taking rounds to reload. I think those times are a little exaggerated in RM2/RMC but that is because they have been rounded to an easy number of whole rounds. I know that I can shoot five arrows in twenty seconds from a galloping horse and be on target. That does not marry up with one arrow every 2 rounds for a short bow in RM2. One arrow every two rounds in HARP is closer to my observed reality.

But lets ignore combat for a moment. A real dramatic plot device is the hero in action movies defusing the bomb with 3,2,1… seconds to go. If you are in combat time, the rest of the party are keeping the enemy at bay while you are defusing the bomb then ten second time chunks do not fit well with this staple of the action genre. If you treat bomb disposal as a static action you really want to avoid partial or near success as either of those leave you with having another go 10 seconds AFTER the bomb went off.

The more I think about this the more I think the 5 second round is not the right choice for RMU. 2 seconds is tried and tested in HARP and works without compaint. Sure it means rejigging spell casting, durations, movement and critical results (bleeding) but they are rebuilding all of RM anyway so now is the time to do it and not in a future companion as an optional rule.

What do you all think? 10, 5 or 2?

#RPGaDAY2017 15th to 18th

I am having a frustrating week this week. I had so many plans, my wife is away at the Edinburgh Fringe so I could really dedicate loads of time to just writing (and horse riding whenever I get stuck). As it happens I have spent the week mostly in the car going from one place to another and have achieved very little and I have the same in store all weekend! This was supposed to be the week I tackled my Rolemaster for young players project (GameMaster Kids). For a bit of light relief I was going to put some more meat on the bones of my HARP/FATE hybrid under the working title of FART. I am way behind with my 50 in 50 adventures and that just about sums up my week.

This weeks questions for #RPGaDAY 2017 could be answered in just two words. I am not a hoarder of games and books and nor do I buy stuff I have no intention of using. When you see the questions you will understand…

15th Which RPG do you enjoy adpating the most?

Well Duh, that would be Rolemaster.

16th Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

That would be Rolemaster and more specificaly RMC.

17th Which RPG have you owned for the longest but not played?

This would be HARP that I bought last Christmas and is still as yet unplayed.

18th Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Anyone for Rolemaster?

So the answers were either Rolemaster or HARP. I think RMC specifically works well as is and without any house rules if you want a pretty generic fantasy RPG. I have dropped wholesale into the Forgotten Realms without modification and as D&D was equally generic it just works. I could just have as easily dropped it into Greyhawk and had the same results.

My adaptation of RMC into my own game is a result of wanting to make the rules invisible during normal play. If I had may way there would be no need to pick up a rulebook from the start from the session to the end. I haven’t achieved that because of Arms Law or which ever flavour of combat system you prefer. About 50% of the effort went into adapting the rules to what I wanted and the other 50% went into adapting my prep time. The better organised I am the less time is lost at the gaming table. That is true of every GM but as you all probably know I go so far as to copy and paste sections of the rule books from the PDFs into my game notes so that if someone were to be at risk of drowning then the rule for that is the next paragraph in my notes, if you may fall off a cliff the next page in my notes is the Fall/Crush table from Arms Law and so on. I have merged rules and adventure notes so I need no other documents beyond characters sheets, my notes and the combat tables (and even those I have as individual sheets that I sort so that I only have the weapons/attacks I need for that session to minimise the number of pages. The less pages then the less page flipping to find the right table!)

So there you have it. I fairly uninspiring set of answers this week. Next week is more about publishers and different games so the answers will not all be RM & HARP.

Three Wheels On My Wagon

I am intrigued by ITDs critical tables. I have never seen them but it came up recently in a discussion on on armour by the piece that there are different critical tables by location and only three locations; limbs, head and body.

For me the only piece of RM that has to be retained is the critical; everything else has to earn its place at the table. If it is more effort that it adds to the game I am inclined to cut or replace it.

Despite my slash and burn approach to rules I am mostly still following the roll your dice, find the right table, look up the roll and roll your critical procedure.

In all the companions and discussions I have never seen a superior system. I don’t care about the #hits, the rounds of stun, the bleeding or whatever. It is the wit and dark humour I like and the graphic descriptions of wounds. You will never get that with 1d8 damage. Decades ago rolling a 20 and getting double damage used to excite me but “Your bolt goes right through his temple and stands there quivering. Astonishingly enough, he’s still standing. But any attempt to remove it will kill him instantly. +25 hits, stunned no parry 2 rnds and bleeding 12 hits/rnd.” is a level above.

I have a half formed diceless RM combat system and I have an outline for HARP/FATE bastardised system. That uses the HARP critical tables and FATE dice and has a working title of FART.

FART is really good fun and fast to play. It just needs some time spent on it writing it up and putting it out there to the FATE community. The mission objective would be to hook FATE players into trying RMU once it is released. It is my understanding that FATE is one of the most successful games of recent years but despite that you will never get to put your crossbow bolt into someone’s head.

So we have ripped just about everything apart recently on here. What, in your perfect combat system, are the absolutely non-negotiable elements?

RMU – to infinity and beyond!

There was a comment to my last post that read:

The challenge I see with RMU as opposed to RM2 is the apparent lack of willingness to look beyond fantasy (and even then it’s their definition of fantasy). RM has always suffered (IMO) from the lack of a solid, accessible setting, and RMU just seems to accelerate that trend. They also took steps (especially in the combat system) to render it almost useless for non-magic settings if you leave it RAW. The flexibility that came with RM2 (and even RMSS in its own way) seems to be disappearing.

In addition in a recent comment Hurin had noted the amount of HARP that seems to have found its way into RMU. There is nothing wrong with HARP but HARP is not Rolemaster and definitely not RM2!

That got me thinking. Last year I bought HARP Fantasy and HARP SF. I bought them because I want to run a SF game soon and as I have said many times before I have lost my Spacemaster books.

So HARP is certainly not locked into a fantasy setting and not into one single fantasy setting. Shadow World is statted out for HARP and HARP has its own core setting of Cyradon. HARP SF plays out in Tintamar but by default it also shares the same setting as Kulthea and Spacemaster because of the Shadow World connection.

One of the things I like about HARP is that the last release was to truly unify the fantasy and sf rules and make them interchangeable. I only needed the fantasy rules as monsters make great aliens.

There is a massive gulf between RM2 and HARP and I agree there is a lot of HARP in RMU. The skill system is the same, character creation is very similar. The move in RMU to less combat tables is almost a single step towards the HARP way of thinking and that I think is the problem with RMU. The only weakness as I see it with HARP, looking from a RM background point of view, is the combat system and the criticals in particular. The same old critical comes around again and again way too often and even in the same fight. The rest of the combat system works really nicely as far as I can tell.

Another interesting thing is that the HARP forums are far busier than the RM forums if you exclude the BETA test forums. If you include them then you also need to include the HARP development forums as well. I see a far greater variety of voices in the HARP debates than in the RM ones these days. There is an active HARP community around the game and new HARP books are eagerly awaited,even if most of them are just re-releases to bring them in line with the unified Fantasy/SF rules.

Whether HARP’s firearms are as good as intothatdarkness’s firearms is a completely different question but the fact remains that HARP does have viable settings and it does have modern day and SF elements that make it go well beyond the fantasy genre.

I think RMU is trying to learn from HARP but is struggling to take the old guard with it to some extent. Which is a pity as we are the old guard.

Rolemaster and multiclass characters

I am spending the day travelling today. I was up at the crack of dawn to get the train to London and right now I am sat in Caffè Nero at Heathrow terminal 5 waiting for my flight to Switzerland. Initially I thought I may end up missing my Friday article this week. One the Iron Crown forum there is a discussion going on about allowing a character to change professions.

Professions are so ‘loaded’ in Rolemaster that I knew this would turn into one of those rambling threads.

Changing or having multiple character classes is so integral to D&D that I am surprised that this question doesn’t come up more often. D&D, as I remember it, has  two options, you can start out with two or more classes and your experience is split evenly between each or you choose to change from one to another and once your new level catches up with your old one you can start to use features of both classes. For a game with many hundreds of classes the need to create new combinations us a little odd but who am I to criticise, there are millions of D&D players and they all seem happy enough to me.

Rolemaster professions are not character classes. A Rolemaster profession is intended to be an entire way of life and represents the characters entire world view, their education and sets their aptitudes for their entire life. The are not something that you can change at gheeta drop of a hat.

In my Rolemaster Classic (Rules as written) game  the party met and have been adventuring for just 22 days but they are already on the verge of achieving 5th level. In the forum thread the character wanting to change profession is just 4th level. That is a pretty short window in which to shift ones entire world view. Of course the character in the thread may have been adventuring for years, we don’t know.

So in Rolemaster there are few if any hard limits on what a character can learn to do. Fighters can cast spells if they invest the points into spell lists and makes can wear armour if they are prepared to take the rusks of spell failure. These soft caps were meant to remove the need for multi classing to changing profession.

The fact is  that a fighter with a spell list is not a mage. Going against the professional archetype will never be the same as adopting the new archetype and that is what the player wants to do in the forum thread.

HARP does allow multi classes and is balanced to take these into account so it is possible but the RMC/RM2/RMSS/RMFRP development point system of individual skill costs mean that multiple professions will always be over powered. It will much more viable in RMU as the professions are much more like HARP professions, remember that HARP is a much younger system than RM and has the benefit of a lot of hindsight in its design.

The other option is to use the No Profession. This is my preferred solution. You cannot have multiples or change things you don’t have. It gets rid of some much ‘baggage’ that this forum thread has reinforced my view that No Profession is the right way to go for Rolemaster. It is one of the best things about this modular system that No Profession was available as a built in option right from the beginning.

Rolemaster’s Best Feature? Is it the criticals?

We all know the skills system(s) in Rolemaster are a bit of a shambles, the stats system is decidedly wonky with its 11 stats working in several different ways. The magic system seems to have as many people favouring HARP scalable spells as those that like the lists and those that like spells as skills. What almost everyone seems to agree on is that the Criticals with their mix of graphic description, dark humour make Rolemaster completely Rolemaster.

There was a recent forum thread about the condensed combat system that got rid of all the combat tables and criticals and just used #hits of damage. It didn’t take long before someone pointed out that if you only want to do hit points of damage then you may as well play that other system. Criticals are what make Rolemaster combat what it is.

There are those that cannot have enough tables.

There seem to be three camps of people when talking about combat and criticals. There are those that cannot have enough tables. They love the way that the damage from each and every weapon is modelled to interact with every kind of armour.  They cannot have enough critical tables to give graphic images of the wounds from every possible sort of harm from stress criticals to plasma weapons.


The next camp are more minimalist. I know some people use the MERP combat system that pretty much fits on 4 sheets of paper. One attack table for all slashing weapons, one for crushing and one for piercing and so on. These are condensed tables so they all fit on one or two pages. Another page has a single column for each critical type. An A critical is a straight D100, a B is D100+5, C a D100+10 and so on. the tables go from 01-120.

I do not go that far but my preferred version uses 18 pages to model every possible weapon, spell, falls and natural attacks. I don’t have puncture, slash and krush criticals, I get Arrow criticals for bows, long blade criticals for swords, club criticals for all the varieties of club and so on. One critical table for every one of the 18 attack types.

Finally, there are a few who seem to be content to roll damage on the dice and ignore criticals although these are few and far between so it appears.

There are pretty much three stages to combat, Initiative, the attack/parry/db roll and the critical roll. There are hours of discussion over initiative, optional rules, alternative systems, phases and action points that come in 4s or 5s and I have no idea which is the best option. I have my preferences and my players like it so the arguments do not impact us.

The actual attack roll stage is almost as hotly contested with zones of control, facings, positional modifiers, what penalties to apply or not, does size matter, how thick is your armour and so on.

Rolemasters best feature

It is only the critical roll that no one really seems to argue over. If I was to throw out everything else then it would be the critical rolls that I would keep. The only changes I have made over the years are to change which critical tables I use and to rewrite some criticals because they were becoming too familiar having been inflicted again and again.

I think the Critical is Rolemasters best feature and for a lot of us that makes other systems seem bland in comparison.

Keeping Up Appearances – The Appearance Stat

A nice round 11 stats

Deconstructing Rolemaster a little, the stats system is not particularly outstanding. The whole stats system lacks conviction, there is one option to use just a single stat bonus with skills, another to use the average of two or three stats and the latest version with smaller stat bonuses that are added together. If you bring HARP into the frame then there are 8 stats, in Rolemaster there are 10 stats if you ignore the poor relation of Appearance that makes 11 stats.

Appearance is rolled like all the other stats but then modified by Presence. Take a look at this example from the RMC Character Law pg33

Example 2: Linthea is 6’1″ and 170 pounds. Tall and lithe, she stands out among humans. Her hair is a deep brown, and is quite pretty when down, but most often kept tied in a bun at the back of her head. Her green eyes have a slightly slitted pupil, and her pointed ears also show her elvish ancestry, though she has earlobes like a human. Lauren rolls a 38 for appearance, +10 for Linthea’s presence modification. A 48 is slightly below average, the GM explains that her half human appearance is found odd by the elves. Among humans Linthea is considered exotic and attractive, though she sees herself as plain. Her persona is quite friendly for an elf, but among humans she comes across as reserved, mysterious, and a trifle odd.

The bold text is added by me to highlight the pertinent point. No other stat is modified in this way. All the other stats are pretty much 1-100 for ‘normal’ people but not Appearance. Appearance works on a -24 to 125 scale.

Appearance gives no stat bonus and is not relevant to any skills


This is one of those “Rolemasterisms”. I have complained in the past about how the skill system is so inconsistent. To put it briefly some skills cancel out minuses such as armour skills, some are 101+ for success or failure, some are incremental, some give +5 per rank (then +2, +½ etc.), some give +1 for every rank. Most have stat bonuses, some have none, some use one pricing rule like weapons, and musical instruments and others use a different system (the 2/6 for two ranks). Some are disposable, like spell lists where once you have the list you discard the ranks (this is important if a caster stops learning a one list to start another) and so on. There are so many variations it is hard to keep track. Don’t get me started on the skills with special rules and the ones with almost magical powers like the adrenal moves, disarming, iai strike and stunned maneuver!

DB, DP & Hits

The stats situation is not as bad but it is in the same vein. Some stats give development points, some don’t, some stats are used only for stat bonuses but others like Constitution and Quickness have a massive impact, hits and DB in this case. Then you get powerpoints. You have a different stat depending on your realm, or the average if you are a hybrid.

If you have high stats at 1st level then if all things are equal then you will massivelyh out strip your companions in experience and levels as you get more DPs, so more skills, so you can do more and earn more experience.

At mid to higher level stats are irrelevent. You may have a total skill bonus of +150 or more but the difference between a character with an average stat of about 50 and an exceptional character with a 90 is just ±10 on that total.

All in all if you look at Rolemaster stats too closely you see just what a hodge podge they really are.

Rolemaster Player Challenge. Finding the perfect pairing


I thought I would skip my “Weekly Roundup” for a player challenge. The challenge: suggest an interesting, creative or clever RM profession/magic item combination. The basic guidelines:

  1. One profession and one item.
  2. Artifacts are excluded.
  3. The combination should strive to make the “whole greater than the parts” or add an interesting dynamic or ability to the character.
  4. Extra kudos to the player who comes up with the best combo using the least powerful magic item.

Of course I’ll go first as an example. When I’m not GM’ing, I’m almost always a Warrior Monk. (Caylis, who gets occasional mentions in some RM books). I think I like the simplicity of a non-spell caster and the minimalist nature of the Monk after the intensive, detailed process of being a GM. Playing a Monk goes all the way back to my earliest days of playing AD&D and our Court of Ardor campaign in ’83. I didn’t worry about hoarding gold, armor, losing items etc. I liked the self-reliance of a Monk in AD&D (Feign Death, hitting as magical weapons, immunities) and always strived for some of those same abilities in RM without opting for the Mentalist spell casting version Monk.

With that in mind, my favorite go to item for my monk is the “Ring of Free Action” or some iteration of it. This was an actual AD&D item that had far more expansive powers than an RM spell. In RM the closest is probably “Underwater Movement”, only a 5th lvl spell on the Closed Mentalist list “Movement”. That’s a pretty modest item to get make into a Daily X item and frees the Monk to operate underwater and use martial arts without restrictions. It’s not an overtly powerful ability but can really add to game play, combat choices (if near water)and group abilities.

What’s your combination? I received a suggestion yesterday that made sense. What’s a contest without a prize? If we get at least 10 responses the winner of the best suggestion will get a brand new copy of the Iron Wind (the 80’s edition). This is “new, old stock” I bought from ICE when they were shutting down. Never been used but aren’t individually shrink wrapped. There may be the option to get the Cloudlords of Tanara instead but I’ll have to check to see what we have left.

Winner will be determined by the criteria above: originality in pairing, uniqueness, power of item (the lower the better) and of course the swimwear segment!

Gaming Group Size: Is “ONE” the loneliest number?



I was reading Gnomestew blog the other day (and linked to some on the Weekend Roundup) and started thinking about optimal party size for me personally as a GM. It’s certainly harder to put together any group as I get older—conflicting schedules and responsibilities of adult players creates significant barriers to game times. Right now I have 3 core players who can attend our bi-weekly game and another 2 that attend less frequently.

Certainly fewer players allows me to create much richer backgrounds for the PC’s and gives the players more time to “shine” during game play. More players and you run into group dynamics (distractions, leadership issues, group decision making etc). Here are my thoughts on the typical party size.

1 Player. Not for me anymore. When I was just starting out, any chance to play was good so having a GM and 1 player was better than nothing. (ignoring solo adventures). Now I’d rather not GM if I only have 1 player. It’s not rewarding for me for the work and effort needed.

2 Players. We had a few sessions with last minute player cancellation and went ahead with 2 players. The group was in the middle of a busy part of the adventure so I needed to carry the missing PC’s as NPC’s. I think the two players had fun in that session but didn’t enjoy the extra duties. What if it were just the 2 players? That might have worked but I’ve found that with only 2 players each wants to pursue individual agendas and goals. That’s easier to do now via PBM mechanisms between game sessions. (having magic items made, training etc)

3 Players. I like 3 players—decisions are made quicker, game flow moves and each PC can take an over sized role in the narrative. Since we use “NO Profession” there is rarely an issue with skill deficits or party balance. I can really focus on integrating the PC’s background, skills and the players interests into the narrative which makes for more personal “payoffs” for the group.

4 Players. Is this the standard trope? (Fighter, Thief, Magic User, Cleric). Even with us discarding professions the group still finds itself trying to create skill balances to emulate this traditional 4 PC party. I like 4 players for the added diversity but keeping the smaller group dynamic and efficiency.

5 Players. The majority of my groups have been 5 players. I do like the added energy and the additional power/abilities from the extra player. However, I’ve found with 5 players there is always 1 player who doesn’t quite fit in, has an over or under-sized role, or is a distraction to game play. I’ve found that to be the nature of the larger groups.

6 Players. I’ve had a few opportunities to GM 6 player groups. Not really for me unless it’s a “one-off” tournament style adventure. (Like the Lair of Ozymandias). Combat goes very slow, the group gets distracted easily, inter-player competitiveness becomes more pronounced and it’s harder to give every player “time to shine”.

What’s been your experience?

In Search of the Unknown: Reintroducing caution to your players.


After decades of GMing one of my greatest challenges has been to consistently invoke the feeling of surprise, wonder, fear and even caution into gameplay. While they may not be “jaded”, my gaming group have seen it all: there is no plot device, game trope or foe that will truly surprise them. We will probably never replicate the wonder and surprise we felt gaming when we young teenagers but I would still like to instill some caution into my players—they often make decisions based on the assumption that every encounter is perfectly balanced or that they will get bailed out by “greater forces” if they get in over their head.

I think a number of factors have contributed to this:

  1. Simplified combat systems. Starting out on d20 game systems reinforced combat by attrition. Battles were a methodical race to 0 hits with no real impacts. You were either combat capable or unconscious. At mid to higher levels it was easy to keep a running tally of average hit damage; combined with players knowledge of monster stats combat became an exercise in simple math. The introduction of criticals in Rolemaster changed that calculation—combat could be decisive—quickly—and accumulated damage had a real impact on characters performance. Nonetheless there are still a great number of players who never parry, preferring all offense all the time.
  2. Assumption of “Game Balance”. There is a lot of lip service paid to game balance but let’s be clear—as long as there is a human arbiter (the GM) there really is no such thing as pure game mechanics ruled by random number generation. GM’s will often put their influence on the scales of balance. Players know this and rely upon the GM to tip encounters and balance in their favor to maintain the storyline. No GM wants to be considered heartless—this is after all a game, played for enjoyment—and allowing PC’s to die can be a fun killer. As a GM I want adventures to challenge, but I also want my players to act rationally.
  3. The Heroic Journey. Characters/players see themselves as the central characters in a storyline—and main characters don’t get killed. Heroes don’t retreat, don’t surrender and never take prisoners!
  4. Inside Baseball. Most experienced players are well versed in the rules and the monster stats. Combat becomes a quick calculation of abilities, offense, hits etc. Knowing what’s behind the curtain can take some of the fun out of the game and combat choices becomes a calculation of odds rather than true “role-playing” of the character.
  5. Magical Healing. Making most injuries healable, often instantly takes some of the penalty out of reckless behavior.

To counter these player mindset’s I use a number of strategies:

  1. Upend Tropes. I love using my player’s bias’s and assumptions against them. The “mysterious old man in a tattered cloak”: Disguised god? Powerful enchanter? Nope, he’s exactly what he looks like—a low level bum. The “red shirt” city guard: Low level fighter? Throw away nobody? Nope—he’s a retired army commander of considerable skill.
  2. Random Encounters. I use the random encounter table quite a bit without adjusting for the group’s level. They will encounter powerful beings or situations but they’ll have a chance to talk, parley, hide or run. Shadow World is a dangerous place and the players are a “tiny fish on a big hook”.
  3. Ancillary costs of losing. I don’t want my players to die but I’m not rewarding foolishness. There are other potential costs to losing a battle: being captured, losing possession/favorite items, temp stat loss from injuries or even more serious permanent stat loss or loss of a finger/limb/organ. Most damage be fixed with magical healing and items replaced but it’s going to cost the players time and effort.
  4. Personalize opponents. I think players react different when their opponent is personalized a bit more. Fighting “4 mercenaries wearing leather armor and wielding short swords” is antiseptic and anonymous. However, when the players are confronted by “3 men and a women wearing worn and dirty leather armor, all with long unkempt hair, dirty faces and rusty swords approach the party hesitantly but with a desperate look in their eyes…” the players will not only visualize their adversaries but perhaps react differently as well.
  5. Have foes behave rationally. Whether humanoids, animals or monsters, my foes behave to their nature. They don’t fight to the death; they flee when injured, surrender when beaten or call for the PC’s to surrender when triumphant.
  6. Most opponents are NPC characters. Our Shadow World is “monster lite” and we use a “no profession” system so it’s difficult to gauge the powers and abilities of NPC’s. My players have to be cautious when engaging with NPC’s and they can’t assume typical abilities implied by the profession system when a NPC utilizes a distinct skill or spell.

Over time my players have become naturally distrustful—mostly of my craftiness—but that translates to their gameplay. They are cautious engaging and they rely on an initial strategy of defense until they can take the measure of their opponent. They understand the importance of parrying and they know there are worse things than death! How about waking up unclothed, without any of their hard-won treasured items and missing your sword hand? Yikes.