Rolemaster – An Embarrassment of Riches

I have an idea for a game I want to run. Rather than strict ‘rules as written’ this time I want to house rule to fit the game world. I intend ripping out as much of the rulebook as possible and stripping things back to as close to ‘no rules’ as possible whilst still being recognisably Rolemaster.

Most people seem to say that the thng that drew them in to Rolemaster in the first place was the critical tables. I think the two most striking features are both the critical table and the open ended roll. I will keep both of those.

Another central element of rolemaster is that any character can learn to do anything, not necessarily easily or quickly but there are very few hard limits. I want to keep that.

Those three things are not really constraining me that much but I do have some other ideas I want to incorporate. I want to do away with all the professions, to make rolemaster ‘classless’. This is not hard, Rolemaster Classic and HARP both have the No Profession ‘profession’ and the new Rolemaster Unified will almost certainly keep it too. So I can go with any of those and still have the game I want. I have bought HARP and HARP SF recently and I aready own RMC. I will buy RMU when it is released. So I wil have all the rules I need. The RMU skills buying system is simpler than RMC with its single cost per category of skills but HARP is even simpler again with all skills falling into two piles those that cost 2pts and those that cost 4pts. Both HARP and RMU have finxed DPs for character creation that gives them the edge over RMC for generating characters.

I am scrapping levels and experience points in this game and instead I am going for a runequest/CoC style ‘roll to improve the skills you have been using’ method of advancement. So powerpoints will have to based upon a skill rather than level.

I am also moving to a one or two second combat round and that means that the HARP combat system may be the better suited. I am leaning that way anyway as the final solution for the size rules in RMU is as yet unknow to me.

The magic in the game is an interesting question. The idea will be that you buy ranks in the spell list and you can cast up to that level. This is known as spells as skills in RMC, it is the standard method of learning spells in RMU and closely related to the way spells are individually developed in HARP. The RMU Spell Law is quite closely integrated with the RMU combat system especially when dealing with what are known as Action Points (AP). Whereas in the old rules Haste spells would give you double actions for the duration, RMU Haste gives and increase in APs. That is going to be harder to translate. The RMC Spell Law is based more on Level for the effects and durations. You can simply read Skill Rank for level and nothing breaks. HARP is already built around skill ranks in spells so no problem there. I like the HARP magic system but none of my players have every used it. They are very familiar with the RMC Spell Law havin played RM2 and then RMC since the late 1980s.

The combat round and initiative I am lifting out of Champions or Hero System as it now is. This will make the quickness stat more important as that will be used for calculating the characters speed. This gives me a ‘turn’ of 12 seconds and characters can act a set number of seconds within that turn based upon their quickness stat. We call each second a segment and count though them. Characters will bleed or do their bookkeeping of stun and such on the first segment of each turn. This is so alien to all forms of Rolemaster that it is effectively system neutral.  One of my new turns will be six HARP rounds, two RMU rounds or one RMC round.

I like the idea of Training Packages. I have never used them before in RM2/RMC but the rules for creating them as stated in the HARP rules is so simple that they can be imposed on any system. At present the only set of rules I have that use them is HARP so they are the rule I will use.

Healing. Healing has always been an issue in Rolemaster. It takes too damn long for my taste. RMU has a set of rules called ‘Cinematic Healing’ I want to use these as it puts what I do informally in a structured set of rules. I am using rules from RMU in my current RMC games and there have been no problems with the transplant.

Logically the next step from Healing is Combat. Not sure what to do yet with this. I want to see the new Arms Law before I discard it. I like the RMC condensed combat. I am more than capable of recreating it with the RMU stats if needed. I have never used the HARP combat system but I do like the look of it and it is by far the simplest. There is one potential issue with it but fixing that would be only a fraction of the work required to recreate the condensed combat system for RMU.

So as it stands I am am man with an idea but so many different version of Rolemaster to play with I don’t know quite where to start. I think it is quite likely that I will end up with a fusion of the best of all of them in my final game. I will let you know how it turns out.

An exciting New Year for Rolemaster

I just read Nicholas Caldwell’s directors briefing January 2016. Is really exciting to see that RMU won’t be going to a third beta but rather straight to a draft edition of the final rules. The draft edition should be there just for us to catch any missing tables spelling mistakes typos that sort of thing. It will be cool to see how the final rules I’m sure they will not have satisfied all of the people who are not happy with how the rules frankly I don’t think that was possible anyway, we have all modified our own versions rolemaster and no new edition that ever satisfy everybody.

I am interested to see how RNU stacks up against HARP. I’ve been really impressed with HARP so far as the criticism of the entire system is that the critical tables a little thin, the same critical, again and again. But it is not difficult just to create your own alternative criticals..

I normally try to play with rules as written but with a completely new set of what none of my players have played this would be really good time to try a customised game. I have always been tempted to play again based on a mix of rolemaster hero system and runequest to create a level-less experience-less classless system. I think the way that RMU does the character skills is perfect for what I have in mind.

I think I need to buy a couple more HARP rulebooks and build some of the key NPC’s first and then try and recreate the using the RMU rules when they are available. Hopefully the comparison will tell me if my hybrid idea will work. If it turns out I wanted to it should look and feel exactly like rolemaster but with a damn sight less hunting through pages of books to find 1,000,001 obscure tables.
This is one of those things that HARP does so well with the entire core system coming in at well under 250 pages. I’ll be amazed if RMU comes in under 2 1/2 thousand pages just for the core books. Admittedly they are different beasts but at the end of the day they are both only frameworks but all GM’s can use to create their own worlds, adventures and tell the story.

What I do need to do first of all is buy HARP SF.

I cannot help but be impressed by the RMU Dev Team

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

Firstly I do not envy the dev team on bit. If you have a hard core player community that have ben playing the same game pretty much for 30 years or more and then you wan tto come along and ‘improve’ it then you are on a hiding to nothing in my opinion.

Now I think I am a pretty reasonable guy, I know and love RM2 (which is obviously and clearly the best version of Rolemaster every written and I am not in the slightest bit biased at all) but I have bought and embraced RMC and I can see it is an improvement. I have bought HARP and I can see good things in that as well. Rolemaster Unified on the other handis a pretty big departure from what has gone before.

The public beta testing is mostly been carried out by that hardcore community which I am not sure is a good thing. We are all too opinionated if you aks me. If you follow the discussions they are 1% reported issue and 99% suggested fixes with two or more arm chair designers expounding on their own vision of how the game should be played.

What has impressed me though is the number of, and the speed with which it seems to happen, changes the dev team are prepared to make.  One would have thought that even prior to play test the devs would have had a fairly well developed concept of what the game should lok and play like. To accept the level of change they have speaks very highly of them I think. I know damn well they will not please all of the members of the community ut that was never going to be possible and I am pretty sure they knew that. There were two bits of RMU I didn’t like and one has been changed and the other is pretty minor and I will either learn to live with it or ignore it.

The best thing from my personal point of view is that without RMU I would never have discovered HARP. I knew it existed of course but I would never have bought into the rules. I want to buy myself HARP SF next but that is another story.

Who is Unified Rolemaster (RMU) For?

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This week Nicholas Caldwell published the October Director’s Briefing. I seriously recommend reading it if you are interested in any form of Rolemaster.

I think you should never be afraid of people who challenge your ideas or disagree with you. In business we say you will learn more from a single customer complaint than from 100 positive reviews. I love Rolemaster and think it is the best fantasy roleplaying game of all time (so far) and the second best rpg rules system across any genre. I have played a lot of games, as I am sure you all have. I also think Nicholas Caldwell is somewhat wrong in his conclusions of the right target audience for RMU.

It was me that asserted ICE needs RMU ( in the original discusion for all the reasons that he quite rightly outlines. You cannot expect the company to support so many incompatible systems. That I agree with. I think that RMU should be developed first and foremost to attract new players into the RM world.

Here is my reasoning.

As the briefing states trying to perform the balancing act between the wants of the two existing systems requires compromises. Trying to balance the needs of three groups, the RM2ers, the RMSS (that sounds sinister doesn’t it?) and completely new players is an even harder balancing act. You do not need to worry about us old hands. The truth is that all that is going to happen is from two factions you will get three factions, RM2, RMSS and RMU. In the same way that in the D&D world there are still people playing 1st Edition AD&D today when the current version is 5th Edition so you will still have your RM2 players playing RM2 after RMU is released. So trying to unify the audience into a single market will not work.

Secondly if you completely ignored the existing players and just made the best possible new Rolemaster then those people who are starved of new RM material will buy in. Some people jumped from RM2 to RMSS and some jumped from RM2 to RMC. A proportion of those will adopt RMU just because it is RM and it is NEW.

If you just make the best possible Rolemaster, then by extension, you will attract more new players. I defy anyone to argue that ‘the best possible Rolemaster’ will be in anyway inferior to ‘the best possible compromise between all old versions of Rolemaster’.

In the Director’s Briefing he says “Gamers who like very rules-lite systems or cannot abide detail are unlikely to play any edition of Rolemaster.” the flaw in this argument is that I am both 100% committed to Rolemaster (I am a volunteer editor for the Guild Companion, frequent contributor to the ICE forums and one of the few RM bloggers.) and I am one of those people who like very rules-lite systems. Maybe I am the exception that proves the rule or maybe the designers do not like rules-lite systems so assume that the players are like themselves? Who knows.

It is true that targeting the existing players is the easiest audience for ICE to reach but ‘easiest’ is both subjective and relative. How hard is any audience to reach these days? There are 550+ followers of the Shadow World facebook page. A single status update about the release of the new version could reach more people than habitually visit the ICE website (the busiest day ever on the ICE forum saw 276 people). A copy of the game sent to the top games websites for review can reach tens of thousands of roleplayers who have never even seen a RM rulebook. If the game is designed from the ground up for the ‘new to RM’ audience the barrier to entry will be extremely low. Building for the existing userbase is like taking an extremely short ladder into an orchard. Yes it works great while you are picking the low hanging fruit but once that is all gone you have a much harder job on your hands and your early decision is now a  hinderance.

I would send a press release to the top gaming websites asking for beta testers with the only qualification being that they have not played any version of RM in the last 10 years. That would give you a completely different kind of feedback to what we are seeing right now. It may bring lost players back into the RM world. It will definitely give free publicity to ICE and ICE’s products. I would be extremely tempted to create a closed forum just for these ‘new to the fold’ beta testers so they do not get shouted down ‘because they do not know how to play Rolemaster’.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I have never written a game or published a game. I admire everything that has been done so far. I am only writing this because I want RMU to be a raging success. There are something like 7million roleplayers out there and probably 6+million have never had the pleasure of experiencing Rolemaster. I just want the next Rolemaster to be the best possible Rolemaster.

I am a commercial animal at heart and I would love to know ICE’s marketing plans, the market research they did before starting work and how they intend to reach those 7million potential customers. Somehow I don’t think they will let me in on the secret(s) though for which I cannot blame them. I am in no way affiliated with ICE.

My final comment is this. I think I said in that ‘target audience’ thread that I will not be buying RMU. The truth is that, as I have written before, the beta test has made me reevaluate what I thought about all aspects of the different RM rules and options. As a consequence I have gone out and bought HARP. I would not have bought that if it wasn’t for the beta test. Another example is that I was against the game concept of Talents and Flaws but now I get them. RMU is not finished and it is foolish to say ‘I haven’t even seen the finished game but I am not going to like it whatever you do’. That is not what I meant or how I meant it. What I meant was that at that precise moment there were elements of the game that, for me, were what Nicholas refers to as deal breakers. That was then, RMU is the future.

Fate Points

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I have ever used Fate Points in a game before. I have mooted them to the players and generally the reception was not particularly possitive. As a consequence I had never really sat down and read the rules around them. They are not part of the core RM2 or RMC rules but I was familiar enough with the concept and the role they fulfilled.

There are times when you just do not want to fail that moving maneuver roll.

Last night I read the High Adventure Roleplaying (HARP) rules on Fate Points and I do think they are a good thing. It appears they are designed to help shove the story along where it would otherwise have stalled. Take for example the idea the the party have to resuce the princess from some deep underground orc fortress. The party come to a fissure in the tunnel floor and decide to jump it but the princess has swooned into the fighters arms some time ago and has not yet revived. The fighter takes a firm grip on her and leaps the fissure, and fumbles his roll. Dp you let the character and the princess fall to their doom?

In my game, yes I would. I would let him make a couple of other rolls to try and catchhol of some outcrop of rock and if he failed all of them I would have the pair of them crash into some ledge and take the appropriate damage. With Fate Points the player could choose to burn a couple of points and boost that leaping roll until he makes it. The player only starts with 3 points so you will not have the players skewing rolls all over the place but the onus is then on them to save their characters and not on me or you as GM to get them out of their predicament.

If they are on the ledge 100′ below the passageway with their escape just discovered by the orcs the party had better come up with a decent rescue plan pretty quickly. If they don’t then as a GM you could find yourself having to invent a new passageway along which they fighter and princess can escape. It could all unravel fairly fast if they are just having one of those bad dice rolling days. With Fate Points, the jump was made and the party escape, the princess was rescued and disaster averted and the universe did not have to be bent to save anyone.

I like the idea that the players have a distinctly limited supply and that although when they level up they can replenish them they can never have more than 5 in total.

I think in my face to face game this is pretty much happening already. There seems to me to be a fair amount of rolling the dice and then deciding which one is tens after the event. A practice highlighted a couple of years ago when one of the players accidentally picked up a D8 and a D10. He designated the D8 as the ‘tens’ and then managed to roll several open ended rolls during the session. Fate was truly on his side that day.

I generally do not live in fear of killing characters. I do not go out of the way to do it but I do normally give the players some sort of access to Life Keeping and Life Giving magic through either single use items, access to an NPC or herbs. There is a double punishment in there with the dead characters player now being on Tea Duty and there being some loss of assets to the party.

I was going to ask how people felt about Fate Points but I guess that those that like them will be using them and those that like me didn’t like the idea don’t use them and very few will have wavered between to two camps. I am defintely going to try them in the next game I run that is for sure.