Rolemaster at Gen Con 2020

Gen Con went down last weekend as a purely virtual affair, and there was quite a lot of Rolemaster activity. I ran two sessions of RMU via Roll20 and there were several other official sessions (I believe of RM2) on Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. There was also a lively Discord chat that included Nicholas Caldwell, Terry Amthor, our own Peter, and various other luminaries. So let’s get right into it.

First, the biggest news, which came through the chat:

–RMU is advancing through the editing process. Arms Law and Character Law are pretty much done, aside from some examples, and about to move to layout. Spell Law is being edited as we speak. Art is now being commissioned. The developers wanted to know whether customers would prefer black and white (cheaper printing), standard colour, or premium colour (the most votes seemed to be for colour). The timelines outlined suggested that the books could be published as early as the end of this year, but likely early next. A condensed version of the rules will likely appear before this. So we are really getting very close to the publication of RMU rules.

–Nicholas wants people to write adventures and modules for RMU. There was also talk of providing RMU stats for old modules such as the Shadow World line as well (which I think would be fabulous), so if anyone with a good knowledge of Shadow World and RMU is interested in that, I think you should contact ICE.

–One person asked about the possibility of a Spacemaster Unified in the future, and the response was that writers would be needed for that. I was kind of excited about the idea, and confess I was even tempted to take a stab at it. I wonder if anyone else (such as Peter?) might be interested as well, given the recent appearance of his Spacemaster-inspired game.

–ICE is working on establishing its own permanent Discord server. I think one silver lining to all of us having to play by internet is that it has shown the powers that be in ICE land the importance and potential of Discord and the Virtual Table Tops.

In addition to the chat, there were also several Rolemaster sessions. I ran two sessions of RMU and was quite happy with how they turned out. I got to meet some people I hitherto knew only via the Blog and the ICE forums (such as Siltoneous and Amano), as they played in my games.

One interesting fact was that of all the classes available to play, the Warrior Mage was the most often chosen: two players chose him first, and a third had him as their second choice. The class is still very popular! Also popular were the Paladin and the Lay Healer (so each party in my two sessions had a Warrior Mage, a Paladin, and a Lay Healer). The other characters played were Sorcerer, Fighter, and Mystic, though the guy who played the Mystic was a bit underwhelmed by its abilities. Other classes that players contemplated playing were Druid, Magent, Ranger, and Thief.

The players who had not had prior experience with RMU were generally impressed with the speed of RMU and the simplicity of things like spellcasting (no more need for BAR and RR charts!). One player who I think was an RM2 guy was also very happy with the way RMU allows semi spellcasters to cast spells while also attacking (remember that in RM2, casters have very few hit points and instantaneous spells use 75% activity). So that I think is a real selling point for RMU: casters no longer need three rounds to cast a shield spell, and semis can cast a lot more while fighting.

That’s all I can think of now, but I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone else has.

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?

RMU: Pregenerated Characters of (Almost) Every Class

Bored at home? Looking for something to do? Check out these RMU characters I made by hand. You can find them in the Downloads>RMU dropdown menu above. They were done in Excel, on my own homemade character sheet. They include two of almost every class (at level 2 and at level 5).

I built these characters for several reasons. First, I wanted to have a stable of pregens for any playtestests I run, like the one I did at GenCon last year. I also wanted to include them in the introductory adventures I am writing. I find that one of the barriers to playing Rolemaster for new groups especially is the complexities of the character creation process, so having characters ready to go I think might entice more people to give the system a try. Another thing I wanted to do was to see which classes are viable in combat, and which might need help — and indeed this process was quite enlightening. Finally, I wanted to have a list of ‘Templates’, or a set of skills to buy for 60 DP (the allotment each character gets each level), as a guide to players for how to make a viable build. That too can be overwhelming for new players: not just making a character, but levelling her up.

I built characters of almost every class. I didn’t include the non-PC classes Laborer or Scholar, nor did I try my hand at a No Profession (though a heavy armor Mentalist semi would be a very good class indeed in RMU!). I also didn’t build a Dabbler, because I simply could not make a combat-viable one; I preferred instead to make my own (homebrewed) Warrior Mage, which is much more capable. I also didn’t make a Healer, since I think players already have lots of Healing options, most notably Cleric and Lay Healer.

A few things to note about my characters:

–‘RAW’ or ‘Kosher’ means characters built according to the RMU beta2 Rules As Written. Homebrew means I have included either my own new spell lists (for the Bard, Druid, and Ranger) or both my own new spell lists as well as my own new class (the Warrior Mage is one I made from scratch).

–I built these characters without using the Footwork skill or Knacks, since I don’t need or use either of those. I also didn’t much use the Grace skill, since the mechanics of it are still in flux, and I worry it is a bit overpowered. But I did use it for a few classes that I thought could make the most use of it.

–Some of the later costs for Combat Training skills are a bit of an estimate, since the released beta2 rules only include costs for the first four Combat Training skills.

–The full list of talents for each race involved a bit of guesswork, since the talents are changing as we speak (as Creature Law reduces the number of them). JDale was very helpful however in giving guidance on the talents for the new races I used (High Men, Hvasstonn, Idiyva, Nycamerith, and Sstoi), though, so those should be accurate,. Thanks very much to the always helpful JDale!

–These characters are built for combat. My players are classic Hack and Slashers, which means that in my group, any classes that can’t contribute in combat simply don’t get played. That’s why I needed to add new spells lists (many of which were reworked versions of old RM2 spell lists) for the Bard, Ranger, and Druid. Otherwise, these classes really did not offer much in terms of combat ability. If you play a more combat-light style, you would probably want to exchange some of the combat skills for more spells, and Lore, Crafting, and Social skills.

–I have built Clerics and Druids as both healers and as more battle-versions, so that’s why you’ll see multiple Clerics and Druids, with some focused more on healing and others fighting. I found that even the battle Cleric could still heal quite well though (the Druid wasn’t as effective at that, since he doesn’t get Lifekeeping/-Giving spells like the Cleric does).

–The characters are all Shadow World characters insofar as their languages and lore go, so as long as you are ok with some of the new RMU races being in Shadow World, these should be ready for Kulthea.

I have also added my templates for each class. You will find them in the Downloads>RMU>Templates for RMU Classes file. I also plan to blog soon on what I’ve learned about which classes in particular need help. But for now, enjoy!

Shadow World Spin Cycle: Umbar, Haven of the Corsairs

Today we are going to be looking at Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs. Like The Court of Ardor, Umbar was one of the first MERP products put out by I.C.E. and like Court of Ardor fits very easily into Shadow World.

Image result for umbar haven of the corsairs

Welcome to another “Spin Cycle” blog post! If you aren’t familiar with my previous entries on re-purposing MERP products for Shadow World. You can find my take on the Court of Ardor HEREHERE and HERE. and the MERP adventure module “Thieves of Tharbad” 

Today we are going to be looking at Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs. Like The Court of Ardor, Umbar was one of the first MERP products put out by I.C.E. and like Court of Ardor fits very easily into Shadow World. Cover art is by Gail Mcintosh–I always like this art for representing my idea of Rolemaster combat: gritty, dangerous (they never have much armor on!) and this is cool because it’s on a boat that’s tilting!

So why is Umbar such a useful module and a good fit for Shadow World?

  1. Strip away the Middle Earth material and you have great adventure content. The city of Umbar with city maps, sewer maps, tavern maps, 6 city towers of various “Captains”, info on the Wizard Guild, smugglers, merchants, Thieves Guild, City Milita, healers, Armorers Guild, Dark Religion and ships and sailors. Plus there layouts for 6 small castle/keeps that are great drop in plans for any adventure. This is classic RPG material. The Middle Earth info is just window dressing.
  2. Where does this fit into Shadow World? Plasidar. There isn’t much material on Plasidar in the Jaiman source book but a few data points:

Piracy along the Melurian Straits is on the rise…..the lords of Plasidar, and the Xooba raiders all increase activities.

Generally considered a ‘wild land’ filled with thieves
and pirates
, Plasidar most likely is not quite as bad as it is
made out to be.

The Duke of Plasidar….is an Elven merchant-lord who
commands an impressive fleet.

Gûl is the capital city of Plasidar and certainly Umbar is a good stand in for the port city. Umbar has the 6 “Captains of the Havens” while Plasidar has it’s Sea Captain “Lords”. Umbar has Corsairs, Black Numenoreans and Haradrim raiders, (plus smugglers and merchants) while Plasidar has thieves, pirates, raiders and merchants. All in all, a pretty good fit! Given that the new updated Jaiman source book is complete and unlikely to be revised again, using Umbar fills in a fairly large chunk of southern Jaimain that’s close to other important areas: Lethys, Nomikos, and across the sea from Emer and Eidolon.

Since this isn’t meant to be a straight up product review, I’m going to skip down to page 11 where the content starts becoming usable for Shadow World.

Lords of Umbar

3.1. There are 6 Captains the rule the city, each has their own fleet, tower in the city and castle with liege lord outside the city. The names themselves are “Tolkien” style, but dropping the accents, and putting in apostrophes convert to “Shadow World” style. Each lord gets a paragraph with a good description to flesh them out as NPC’s. The Lords are in the 20-25th lvl range, so they make great higher level bosses. There are also stats and info on each lords Chief Captain; these NPC’s are 10-13th lvl.

4.0. City of Umbar. Like most ICE products, Umbar has great color maps with building color coded as well for Alchemists, Lay Healers, Mentalists, Magicians, Herbalists and other professions. Umbar is pre-MERP so all the RM classes are used in these early products. Another bonus for Shadow World use.

Sewer Map

There are layouts and information on two taverns, The Drunken Goose and The Red Sunset. These are perfect hang-outs, meeting places and starting points for a group of adventurers.

Middle Class Establishment…
….dive bar.

5.1. Describes the 6 city towers of each lord. There are floorplans and layout keys and are perfect for a thieving expedition.

8.0 Organizations. Several pages are dedicated to city organizations that the players could interact with or even belong to: The Wizards Guild, Smugglers, Merchants and Merchant Houses, Thieves Guild, City Guard, Healers and Healing Orders, Ships and Sailors, Armorers Guild and a Dark Cult. There are stats for key NPC’s of each, some building or lair layouts and certainly enough information to easily build adventures.

10. Castles of Umbar.

Umbar contains the layouts and keys for 6 keeps, each controlled by one of the lords. Nearby are farmlands and villages that support each keep and the city.

Finally there are the usual and useful summary charts for NPC’s, master military chart, herbs, key people, magic items and some supplementary adventure info.

Umbar is a fantastic “mid-size” campaign module that easily fills in the blanks of Plasidar. The format is easily understood by SW and ICE players, the art work is cool and the stats are straight Rolemaster. The additional info on ships is a great bonus for ocean adventuring, pirates and smuggling scenarios.

While Umbar is OOP, there are multiple online sources for usable PDFs. Check it out and enjoy!

Box of frogs

It is a rare day that I don’t know what I am going to blog about. Today is not exactly one of those days but one where there is so much I could write about that I am not sure where to start.

This could turn into one of Brian’s whiskey rants, but without the whiskey.

Value of Words

In the directors briefing Nicholas “Terry has now produced 26,000 words of new content for Haalkitaine”. When Terry releases these Shadow World books they sell as PDFs for $15.

Sean Van Damme, who you have probably never heard of but he is an independent writer for D&D 5e, Zweihander and other systems, has updated his Concordance series. This time adding 23,230 words of new content. The retail price? $2.99.

The problem is that I think $15 is exceptionally good value for money so ICE is not overcharging. The problem is that indie developers cannot sell equally good quality content at similar prices without some kind of big name behind them, which kind of defeats the entire definition of being an indie game developer.

Shadow World or Calidar?

Staying with Shadow World for a bit…

I don’t know much around Shadow World. I have played in the world but my GM asked me not to buy any Shadow World books because of the potential for spoilers.

So from a players perspective I remember sky ships, we visited a sort of bunker with modern day fluorescent tube lighting and I met a pretentious git with six fingers that our elven mage was fawning all over. I know about Essence storms, dragons, loremasters, that it takes place in the Space Master universe and you cannot sail around the world.

Converting from D&D or Pathfinder to Rolemaster is a dead easy task. Calidar is, in the author’s own words, ” Although written with role-playing games in mind, contents are non game-specific, therefore easily adaptable to most RPG systems. Guidelines are nonetheless provided in the book for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.” Each core book is only $9.95.

On Calidar the races arrived from the moons that orbit the planet, there are threats from space that overarch the petty threats that darken most people’s days. You can read more about it all here https://bruce-heard.blogspot.com/p/a-word-about-calidar.html

The maps look pretty and there is plenty of source material.

It seems to me that most of what makes Shadow World unique is all the crap going on behind the scenes that the players will probably never get to hear about.

How big a leap would it be to, for example, take The Grand Campaign and remap it to a system neutral setting?

If you are curious you can read a bit more here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/221899/Game-Mechanics-for-the-World-of-Calidar

Maybe there is something else that makes people really buy into Shadow World that I missed?

All is quiet in Rolemaster world.

I have literally 5 minutes to spare so I thought I would get in a quick blog! As RMBlogs reader have seen, activity is WAY DOWN on the blog and even the RM Forums are pretty slow moving. Let’s chalk it up to the dog days of summer, real life commitments and a temporary lull in the conversation. I have 5-6 posts stewing on the dashboard that I hope to get to, some polishing up on the 50in50’s and then of course the rest of my projects.

So what have I gleaned from quick and random perusals around RM land?

  1. It feels like RMU is close. There was a flurry of activity on the development forums on several topics and it looks like some tightening of the rules. Generally though it feels like most everything is now set and close to publication. That is just my sense–no inside info.
  2. GenCon. I was sad to see Terry had to cancel  his GenCon game. I think his presence would have been a big hit and brought some exposure to Rolemaster and Shadow World. On the other hand, it’s time for newer younger players to take up the banner and run with it via RMU and new products.
  3. Real life news. No not politics! There has been a ton of cool archaeology news lately. I should do a weekend round up soon!
  4. According to Terry, my SW submission and Lethys are on the shelf! He has asked Nicholas to find a new editor since he is busy with his own projects. That’s discouraging… I’m leading towards just publishing it for free so I can have closure and move on to the next one.
  5. When things free up we are going to put together a super edition of the Fanzine with a compilation of updated SW material. I promise Peter!

ok, back to the grindstone. If anyone wants to put their big toe into the land of RM or RPG blogging now would be the time! And it would be a great help.

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?

Bone Weapons in Rolemaster & Shadow World

Figure 1.

Last October I posted up some of my work with “Special Armor“: cultural armor that utilizes special materials that is specific to various Shadow World cultures or groups. Since then, I’ve been building on this idea with weapons, and specifically weapons made of bone.

While bone may seem too fragile or may splinter too easily to make good weapons, there are historical precedents. The picture at the top are human bone daggers utilized by tribes in New Guinea. Not only is the idea of human bones cool/grim, the “Runes” carved into the daggers lends itself to a fantasy RPG setting. The tribes also made daggers from bones of the Cassowary, a large flightless bird similar to an Ostrich. For inspiration, check out this article on real weapons made from animal components. Some of these are quite intimidating!

Figure 4.

While scientists have concluded that the human thigh bone has excellent properties for use as a piercing weapon, a fantasy game setting opens up the opportunities for bone weapons made from magical creatures: Dragons, Shards etc.  So let’s take it one further: combining magical bone with Weapon Runes. These become totemic cultural weapons that can help define a unique culture. Special bone weapons are common in other game systems and fantasy computer games, but not really represented in Shadow World. I added  a tribe for my Shadow World campaign:

Igata – Triangle Glyph. Outer islands. The Igata are a reclusive tribe living on the long island south of the Demon Gap. They will trade with passing ships but their isolation from the mainland makes them cautious of strangers. The Igata consider themselves caretakers of the waters of the Ssoei’dawass and the Sea Serpents that travel to the sheltered bay to spawn, and eventually, die. The Igata collect shell fragments and bones from the bay and carve them with powerful runes and fashion them into potent weapons. Their main hall is framed with the rib bones of an enormous serpent.

The Igata skills combining Sea Serpent bones with ritual and inscribed magic (Runes and such) to make charms, weapons, staves, rods and other powerful items that are sought after. The magically infused and unnaturally strong Sea Serpent bone lends itself to enchantment. (see my post and chart on enchantment and material strength; I use a single number for both material strength and enchantment capacity). While bone items may be better for Crushing or Piercing weapons,  I also allow the magical properties of special bone to be used for Slashing as well–or alternatively by utilizing an  “Edging” Weapon Rune.

With so many cool magical metals and alloys in Shadow World, it probably doesn’t seem necessary to add enchanted bone weapons, but I think it adds a lot of cultural flavor to the game. Have you used Bone Weapons? What SW or RM creature would have “good bones” for use in these weapons?

 

 

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Familiars. How should they work?

 

Familiars are not only a staple of fantasy fiction but a core visual ingredient of Rolemaster book covers–specifically the ongoing series of Angus McBride covers from earlier RM books that featured a cast of PC’s with several small animal Familiars.

Familiars had a more sinister aspect in early fiction; most often a demonic imp, crow or other dark-aspected animal tied to an evil antagonist. Early D&D applied this concept to any M-U, and broadened it to a simple servitor or animalistic henchmen of a spell-caster.

First, let’s differentiate between “animal control” spells and “familiars”. Animal control spells are featured in the Animist, Beast Master, Druid and similar professional lists in Spell Law and Companions. These are spells that summon/call, control/master and sometimes allow the caster to sense through a controlled animal. These are all powerful affects, in in some ways SUPERIOR to the limitations and penalties associated with Familiars. So how does Rolemaster deal with Familiars? Fairly easily, in fact, so easy that it behooves a caster to immediately have one.

So why would a caster have a Familiar?

Familiars have a symbiotic connection to the caster where animal control is just a magical charm or affect on a creature. So what is the symbiotic relationship? What benefit does it provide besides cinematics? How does it work, mechanically via the rules?

The basic premise is that there is a REAL benefit to the caster, but at the cost of INVESTITURE. In other words, if the relationship is severed there is a real, physical or psychosomatic cost to the caster. Otherwise isn’t it just easier and less risk to control creatures when needed?

So what is the benefit, or possible benefits, of a familiar that differentiate it from other animal control spells? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Communication. The Familiar bond should allow for free two way communication between the caster and creature. This may not be actual “language” but at least a strong empathic bond.
  2. Awareness. The caster and familiar should have some base awareness in terms of location/distance of each other at all times.
  3. Shared Awareness. With concentration the caster might be allowed to project sensory ability and awareness through their Familiar.
  4. Control. The caster, with concentration, should be able to have some control over their familiar or, at least, give simple instructions for a Familiar to execute.
  5. Shared abilities. A caster might gain some extra-abilities through the Familiar relationship. Perhaps better vision, languages, strength, sensory etc. On the flip side, a Familiar could gain some intellectual ability bestowed by the Familiar bond.

Most of these benefits mirror other animal control spells. But those are temporary spell effects; a Familiar is permanent.

My belief is that GM’s are reluctant or adverse to Familiars. Why? Familiars are really NPC’s for the benefit of the PC’s. That really complicates the narrative.  GM’s not only have to manage normal NPC’s but a constant stream of Familiars that can upend the storyline unless the GM takes the Familiars into consideration!!! At that point, who is the audience? Additionaly, Familiars can change the challenge/reaction of normal adventures–familiars act as scouts or agents with heightened senses that can off-set the normal challenge-balance. At the least, Familiars can be the “canary in the coal mine” and alert the group of traps or other imminent obstacles.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Familiars are GM agents. You can better control the narrative through them.
  • They should be of animal intelligence. They may act with pro-forma intelligence via their caster, but their base ability should be simple animal intelligence.
  • Size. Should they be of smaller size? Should a caster have a bull as a familiar? Probably not. I would restrain the spell limits using the size rules to Small or less.
  • The penalty for losing a familiar should be EXTREME, or at least cautionary. The tie that binds should snap back accordingly and in proportion. This could be loss of temp CO. or even a permanent CO pt, a general activity penalty and even worse.

Again, this goes back to risk/reward. No GM wants to manage intelligent Familiars that run the unknown gauntlet, trip the traps and distract the monsters. At that point, who is playing? Familiars should be carefully hoarded resources–a cool benefit that needs to be defended! Are familiars a great resource in you game?

Of course, if easy and beneficial, every player will have a Familiar. But if the risks and rewards are balanced, would it be different? Maybe the whole concept should be reduced to a simplified, professional agnostic “Animal Bond” mechanic and spell list. That eliminates the whole D&D Magic-User familiar trope and become a generic but specific rule-set that could be used by a variety of PC’s or classes: Magician, Animist, Druid, Beast Master, Barbarian etc. What are your thoughts?