Inherent ability or skill: another look at Perception.


Back in December I wrote a post about Perception and whether is was even a trainable skill. I think a lot goes into “perception” ( alertness, visual acuity, intuition, reasoning) and the way it’s used by Rolemaster makes it an incredible skill that covers a huge expanse of ability.

But even if you could make an argument (and many did) that perception is a trainable skill, it’s vast multi-disciplinary scope is harder to argue. For instance, while a fighter may be able to perceive an opponents sword skill, the apparent movement of troops or even a carefully laid ambush it’s harder to accept they might be able to detect a trap or secret door if they have no relevant experience in such.

Doesn’t that make sense? No matter how alert or perceptive you are, you can’t perceive small details or glean information on a subject with which you have no skill, training or education. I consider myself a perceptive person, but I can’t look at a horse and draw any conclusions the way Peter could. In other words, perception should be tied to subject matter fluency.

Of course one solution is to add a ton of perceptual sub-skills: perception: reality distortion, perception: traps, perception ambush etc. Of course the list is virtually limitless and would add dozens of new skills to an already bloated system.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying something new and it’s working quite well: I’m using the SKILL RANKS of the appropriate skill/lore as a bonus or modifier to the perception check. If there are no ranks then it’s -25 (along with any difficulty modifiers). So the Thief with 18 ranks in locks/traps gets a +18 bonus to their perception roll related to locks/traps. It’s simple, makes sense and once again creates a use for skill ranks as a measure of proficiency.

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!



Chargen Part 2 Questions

I used to have a GM that would start the first game session with dishing out about 5 pages of questions about your  character. The format was sort of question followed by about 10 lines of space then next question and so on. I cannot remember the actual questions except the very last one which was “What would your character sell his soul for?

I used to detest these questions. For a start I rarely know my characters personality when I sit down to play. I tend to have an idea of what I want to play but I am heavily influenced by the other players characters and the first adventure.

It is not the actual questioning I objected to but the timing of it. During that first session there is so much to take in, you could be getting to grasp with an entirely new setting, your new character, new party members, a new mission and possibly new rules or variations on the rules you thought you knew.

What brings this all to mind are twofold.

  1. Spectre771 mentioned in a comment to my last post about the differentiation between experienced players and newer less experienced players.
  2. My reading of the 7th Sea rules.

One of the things that my Rolemaster house rules always share is that character generation is always diceless. In RMC I use fixed #hits and point buy stats. In RMU hits are skill based, not rolled, and there is a core rule for point buying stats. Spell acquisition is skill based in both games although using different methods but the net effect is the same. If you know my house rules then you can create your character well in advance. For me it means that I can then devote my time and effort to any new players who cannot be left to create a character without some support.

7th Sea is also a diceless character generation system, you just pick options at each stage to create your hero. It is exceptionally quick and easy but lacks much of the detail and granularity of RM.

The stand out difference is that 7th Sea starts with 20 questions. These start with objective things like What Nation is your Hero from? and progress through things like What are your Hero’s highest ambitions? and What is your Hero’s opinion of his country? to eventually end up with What does your Hero think of Sorcery?

The fundamental difference between these questions and my old GM’s questions is that of timing. I can give out the 7th Sea questions along with a primer on my setting, nations and game world long before the game starts. That way you get to think about the sort of character you want to play in your own time. You can answer the questions then go back and change your mind. The answers you come up with then turn into a blue print to use in creating your character.

Adopting the same technique for Rolemaster, particularly with new players, has massive advantages. For really new players coming to RPGs for the first time the difference between Roll play and Role play are not always clear in their minds, particularly if they are coming from a wargaming background where the use of dice for combat resolution is an idea they are comfortable with.

I don’t see this just as a structure for new players either. It doesn’t hurt to give it to experienced players. My group have a tendency to slip into the same old personalities again and again. I get my players to create a post-it sized personality description which is stuck on the front of their character sheets. At the start of every session I ask them to read it to themselves as a reminder. If they tell me they do something that I think would be seriously out of character then I will ask them to read their post-it and then reconsider. Sometimes they read it and then insist that they are happy with their original choice, others they retract the action and do things differently because the character simply would not rip the innocent bartenders fingernails out just to get the address of an informant.

The 20 7th Sea questions do not take up any game time as they happen before the first game session but they make creating that personality prompt post-it much easier. It also makes creating a character with a new player easier too. As a guiding GM with a new player if you know what the player wants to play it is easier to help them achieve that. This is doubly true with a fully expanded RM2 I would say.

If you want I will list the 20 questions but I would also suggest that you create your own and make them setting specific. For modern espionage settings (I’m looking at you Intothatdarkness) you could style it like a psych evaluation. For shadow world if you have already decided on your characters starting location then you can add in cultural influences or drop in questions to hint at the Unlife or if everyone is going to be Gryphon College trained then twist things to reflect their world view.

Any thoughts? Do you want to see the questions?

Current Affairs: Thoughts on Magical Languages in Rolemaster and Shadow World.

Warning: this might be a whisky rant as well.

A recent THREAD at the Rolemaster Forums is discussing Magical Languages. Since I have some opinions on this subject I thought I would write a quick post. For those following my discussion on BASiL or have downloaded the spells probably know that I use a “no profession” system for my own Shadow World campaign.

After reading lots of comments I realize that most people only understand my reference to “no profession” as a direct reference to the RM system “no profession”. That’s not it at all! My players have profession names–but those are descriptors driven by the sum of skills and abilities of the character. With BASiL I allow access to all the realms (but  I have no hybrid realms which break logical mechanics). Professions and classes do reinforce group roles, but again, Rolemaster mostly broke that a long time ago…AND…that’s why players liked it! So having broad access to all realms has the appearance of unbalance but it’s really just the case of applying “free market” principles to control player skill selection. Early on, I decided to use pre-requisite lore skills to gain access or use certain spell lists. This would be similar to requiring advanced math to do astronomical calculations or basic anatomy for healing skills (spells or otherwise). So BASE lists might require more lore ranks to learn while OPEN lists only need a few ranks. To me that made sense. But BASiL is a work in progress and participation in the Rolemasterblog and RMForums has introduced me to new ideas.

So lately I have backed off on the Lore skill pre-req approach. It added too much to my skill offering and was not tight enough. Instead I have changed my approach to the use of Magical Languages. It’s such a simple, elegant mechanic and solves a lot of problems.

In the past, Magical Languages have been a “bolt-on” mechanic; introduced in Companions and referenced in SW for added casting bonuses etc. Spell casting requires certain mechanics: verbal, gestures, focus, components whatever. But what is that verbal and gesture component? Should it have an underlying science behind it? Is the verbal component linguistically diverse? Can a French person speaking french or a German speaking German recite the same words in their own particular language to cast? That makes NO sense! Immediately, it would be argued that they aren’t speaking French or German but reciting “arcane sounds”. Exactly!!–casting requires a power language of some time that is divested of speaking languages. Once that is accepted the conclusion follows the logic: spells need be cast using a magic vernacular, a magical language. This doesn’t have to be just verbal recitation but gestures, body motions, chants or katas.

If you accept that, than building a number of magical “languages” becomes a powerful tool to limiting spell list access rather than arbitrary “professions”. An Elemental Language might allow casting element spells, while another may allow for Illusions, Arcane or other.

From a mechanics standpoint, I use the Magical Language skill bonus for the SCR. How can anyone cast a high level spell if they have a kindergarten mastery of a language needed to cast the spell? Mastery of magical language is mastery of casting. Creating numbers of “Power Languages”  that are needed for certain types of magic limits a casters ability to learn a wide range of spells and therefore reinforces “class tropes”. (on a side note, to me, the very people that argue for professions LOVE the Arch-mage, Warrior-Mage, and other unbalanced classes).

Reconsidering the Magician

I’ve never really warmed to Rolemaster’s archetypal blaster, the Magician. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I’ve never liked any character that concentrates primarily on ‘blasting’, in any system, unless the blasting is interesting, like firing a swarm of wasps or an ethereal bolt that causes the target to blink in and out of their current dimension.  My problem with the Magician, however, is more specific: at the risk of sounding pompous, I feel that the Magician does violence to the richness and potential of the elements. One of the things I really liked about the Elemental Companion was the wide and fascinating range of elemental effects available to players (although the generic nature of the lists represented, I felt, an opportunity lost).

The thing with the elements is that they provide a window to a whole system of symbolism, psychology and metaphysics. I find myself thinking here of crossovers between the classical elements and astrology, elements and humoral theory, elements and cosmology (as per Thales, for example). If one accepts the idea of elements as metaphysical building blocks of varying complexity, and adds to that the notion that a certain level of mastery of a particular element in its raw form grants access to more ‘metaphysical’ expressions of that elements sphere of influence, then you can move beyond bolts, balls and walls to…anywhere, really.

So, what elements to use? Rolemaster has traditionally concentrated on the classical four elements with Ice and Light thrown in (more bolts and balls!). My own campaign’s take on this is that the classical four plus four others are the starting point and the basis of all further elaboration. The four other key elements form two dichotomies: one represents that between Law and Chaos, Order and Entropy, whilst the others could be represented by Death and Life, Good and Evil, Void and Being or Negative and Positive. There are also several anomalous ‘elements’ or forces that stand somewhat outside of these eight fundamentals. Here are contained such conceptual forces as Time, Mind, Dream and the binding/linking force of the Ether.

All of these elements are sourced from their own plane, a dimensional zone where they reign supreme, and each of these dimensions, whirling in the intricate and infinite geometries of the multiverse ‘rub’ against one another, producing small hybrid dimensions I call ‘niches’. Fire and Water, for example, create the Niche of Steam. The list of potential combinations is fairly large, especially given that each Niche can then contact each other, spawning ever more complex creations. The Niche of Wood is created by the intersection of Life, Earth, Water and Light (itself a product of Fire and Ether). When this Niche is then contacted by that of Decay (Time and Chaos), the Niche of Rot comes into being.

This is the general structure, but it has comparatively little bearing on the standard RM organisation of spell lists, which may be considered to operate at a level that does not require much knowledge or application of the underlying metaphysics. It is only when planar travel and specific summoning (“By all that is holy! This situation calls for a Rot Elemental!”) are required does this lore become a necessity, and only a few sages (and my updated version of RoCo IV’s Astral Traveller) are privy to it.

Back to the Magician: if the elements are as complex and fundamental as the above model assumes, then Magicians, as the primary manipulators of basic elemental matter, ought conceivably to have a command of both the aggressive/defensive manifestations of the elements but also the more metaphysical aspects of the elements. This degree and style of learning requires that Magicians have ‘primary’ access to one – and one only – element, in which they can potentially master all the power an element provides.  Thus a magician might specialise in Fire: they gain lists that manipulate the transcendent aspects of Fire (the chosen list here is Fire Law) and the immanent aspects. I used the list Fire Forms from RoCo VII and the list Fire’s Influence from the January 2009 Guild Companion. So that’s three of six Base Lists. I also gave them Elemental Summons (RoCo II), with the proviso that only Fire Elementals could be summoned using the list. Fire Magicians also gain a ‘metaphysical’ list linked to the element: I selected the Paladin list Inspirations (RoCo II) to represent the courage and inspiration that Fire grants. Finally, I gave the list Mage Sign (RoCo VII) to all Magician’s regardless of elemental selection, to reflect a basic training that all Magicians receive.

I did retain the six elements of the original Magician and added ‘Dark’ as a seventh – more because I wanted to draw on the existing material in the Core and Companions rather than spending the rest of my life concocting spell lists for all of the basic elements and the Niches. One of these days, I’d like to give the system my full attention and create a set of lists that appropriately reflects the juiciness of the underlying concept (without following the rather generic path of the Elemental Companion).

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Daily X Magic Items.

Back from vacation and thought I would dip my toe back into blogging with a short deconstruction article! Today I wanted to address “Daily X” items and the mechanics around it.

When I first started with RM, the Daily X magic items were great: they softened the power of traditional permanent items found in D&D and they worked well with the Imbedding spell lists. These items were also a great way to augment player shortcomings or add spell capability to non-magic users.

My only real issue is the “Daily X” part itself–that the spell abilities “recover” at the start of the next day. Sort of an instant charge that occurs at 12:01. I’ve had players abuse this before; they scheduled attacks right before midnight hoping to use their Daily X items right before, and then again, right after midnight. Certainly that’s an annoying exploit and a sensible GM may arbitrarily stop that…but that’s not how the rule reads.

To avoid this type of rule abuse, I changed “Daily X” definition to a per/hour calculation. So a Daily V item could be used up to once per 5 hours or a Daily I every 24 hours. This certainly nerfs the Daily X items, but I also have Battle Runes, permanent imbeds and other options in the BASiL lists to fill in those gaps.

“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.

RMU Attack Tables

I have spent my down time over Christmas working on a spreadsheet to create attack tables in the most usable format we have seen so far.

The biggest issue with RMU for me has been the size rules. There were two issues really, firstly, in incessant math required to even work out how much damage an attack does. It may be relatively simple math but it is a mechanical step that slows down almost every attack. In fact it is more than one step as a quick calculation is needed to work out the size of the attack before the attack roll and then a calculation after the attack roll to calculate the damage. Size also still effects the OB and DB of the targets, according to Beta 2 but that may have changed and it then adjusts the critical.

My second issue with the size rules is that it looks like a solution looking for a problem. The same progression that is being applied via the size rules is being applied every which where regardless of whether it works or not.

On one hand the proponents that like the size rules are seeing this as an elegant solution unifying many disparate game mechanics. Those, like me that do not like the rules just see a bad rule wrongly applied.

It is possible that I am wrong, according to Mrs R that has happened before.

To that end, the game I am going to run this year is going to use the size rules but there are some attack chart layouts that have been suggested on the forums that precalculate the size shifts.

So stating in the bottom left with Diminutive, then tiny, small, the bold result is the medium, then the top row, right to left is big, large and huge.

That image is from the spreadsheet I am working on. Merkir from the forums has shared a Google Sheet that will generate attack tables on the fly for any of the standard weapons. If I paste that into my spreadsheet it then explodes every individual result into the seven displayed sizes. That takes away one of the game slowing steps.

Another option is that once you paste the Merkir table into the spreadsheet you can apply adjustments to it. So Rather than a short sword being a Dagger +1 size I can apply a +10OB shift to the Dagger table and then generate a dedicated Short Sword table. I can do the same for two handed swords so they are no longer Broadswords +1 size. This takes away one more size calculation.

I accept that magic and things like charging will always involve a size shift. I do not have a problem with that. I personally feel that +1 size for charging is a retrograde step that harks all the way back to D&D basic rules where a charge just gave you double damage. +1 size does basically the same thing and ignores 40 years of increasing sophistication and any attempt to model what happens in the real world. I am happy to accept the size solution as it fits nicely with my desire for fast and simple rules.

The sizes of the damage shifts in my tables do not follow the RAW in beta 2. As Hurin has pointed out the RAW favours smaller attackers by giving them disproportionate amounts of damage. The result being that rabbits being overly dangerous.

My tables will diverge slightly from the standard tables and it is all down to rounding. Normally if you were doing 0.4 of a hit in damage you would expect that to be rounded down to nothing. The problem with this is that all touch magic requires a successful unarmed attack that delivers 1 hit. If you have a small or diminutive spell caster it is impossible for them to cast any magic against a foe in AT 9 or 10. For that reason I have chosen to always round up to the next whole hit in damage. So if the Medium attack did at least 1 hit then at all sizes at least 1 hit will be delivered.

This puts my charts mostly towards Hurin’s toned down charts, without the killer rabbits, but fractionally above them so a bit from a rabbit will still do 1 hit if it hits where the Hurin formula would have rounded down to zero.

What I have left to do is mostly donkey work of copy and pasting my spreadsheet formula into hundreds if not thousands of cells. I cannot just fill the spreadsheet as the formula has too many nested functions that Excel cannot cope with updating all the references to the look up tables. As soon as I have something to show I will share some finished tables with you. How much I can share is a different question as I think I am really on the edge of the Beta NDA if I start sharing complete sets of attack tables!



Merry RMU Christmas

You will be glad to know that I am not actually here on Christmas morning writing a blog post. For me it is Christmas eve and family are all dozing on the sofa after lunch.

I am spending any boring moments reading up on RMU as I have not used it much. I have decided on a few rule choices and house rules.

  1. First up it is definitely a No Profession game.
  2. No Passive bonuses from skills such as footwork, running and Shields
  3. Stats will be point buy.
  4. Skill Costs, the 9/12 (Combat Skill #4 and Closed lists) will be 7/10.

Behind the scenes I have the combat tables spreadsheets from Merkir and Thrud from the forums. I will be using the 7 sizes on a single table, see this thread for an idea.  I need to make these tables but I will be trying to create unique tables for every weapon in use in the game. Related to the tables I will be doubling the basic #hits damage done by each attack.

That is all I have for now.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Have a great day!

Is it better to beg forgiveness or ask for permission?

I know for certain that it is a damn sight faster to get things done if you just do it and then ask for forgiveness afterwards.

Here is my dilemma and objective. I spent last evening rereading all of JDales ‘New Tables’ thread to try and come back up to speed with RMU. The motivation is to try and put together a set of rules I am happy with that use the rules as close to what will be in the final released game as possible.

The cornerstone will be the No Profession profession as that is RAW. There are lots of things that I want to house rule and the problem is do you house rule and have a better game or do you play RAW and have a viable play test?

I am coming down on the side of house rules. ICE have had years of play test feedback and the impression I get now is that the rules are pretty much set. Even with house rules I would not be changing EVERYTHING so all that remains unchanged will be viable playtest feedback.

What I would like to do is play a game and then publish my impressions here on the blog. Now that is very dodgy considering the NDA but if I do not publish the rules as written, which is what I think the NDA is there to prevent, then I feel morally comfortable with that.

I would then want some players who are happy for the game to be publicly discussed although obviously they would not be discussed, just their characters and what happened in the game world.

The blogs would then cover character creation, the selection of the house rules and the official optional rules and how the game sessions played out.

I would run the game as a PBP so that I had a written record that I could then review for the blogs.

This blog exists in part to promote RM in all its forms so publicly promoting RMU has to be part of its remit surely?

My Christmas Day post will be the list of options and house rules that I intend to use, these will be up for discussion so anyone else that is playing RMU can chip in their own suggestions as to anything they think I will regret.