Deconstruction: Rolemaster Arms Law. How often should you fumble?


Have you ever fought in a melee? With weapons? Every played around with nunchakus, flails, morning stars or just goofed off with chains, ropes, whips or similar objects? Ever chopped wood? Ever been in a fight? Have you been in a stressful dangerous situation where your heart raced, adrenaline kicked in and your palms started sweating?

If so, chances are you have also fumbled an object: it slipped out of your hands, bounced dangerously off a hard object, it was over-swung and you actually hit yourself or you missed a target completely and lost balance, tripped or even fell. That’s completely normal and expected. Wielding weapons in battle should be more difficult than playing around with mock combat.

Rolemaster has a system for fumbles: each weapon has a fumble range, generally between 1-10 with an optional rule that the # of skill ranks can reduce the fumble range (but never below 1). In practical terms, that means that by level 3-5 most fighter types will  have reduced their fumble to 1 in their chosen weapon(s).

Many people probably feel that fiddling with fumble ranges is like encumbrance and exhaustion: too much realism and/or record keeping for not a lot of benefit. I get that. However, swinging around a sharp object, as HARD AS YOU CAN, in a confusing and disorienting environment is incredibly dangerous!

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Now imagine weapons even more unwieldy than a basic sword, club, mace or dagger. How about a 8′ glaive? A whip? A chained morning star? Should 2, 3 or  5 skill ranks in these weapons impart enough competency to reduce fumbles to a natural “1”?

As part of our expansion of weapon individualization, I’ve been tweaking weapon fumble ranges–some ranges as high as 20, 30 and even 50. This does several things: it models the actual ergonomics of a particular weapon, it adds a counterbalance to some exotic, dangerous weapons that should be difficult to wield correctly (kynac, chakram) and it ties expertise (not total bonus) into the proper handling of a weapon.

Let’s consider the Urumi. This weapon looks particular dangerous to wield doesn’t it! I give this a fumble range of “50”! Basically only a true master can wield it effectively–in normal progression that’s around 20-25th lvl. (But it also imparts a fairly low combat penalty against multiple opponents so there are benefits to using it as well). But even at 10th lvl and 2 ranks/lvl, it will still have a fumble range of 30! It’s one thing to twirl around and show off, but imagine using that in actual combat. Whipping it up to speed, recovering from a missed hit or withdrawing defensively.

Most common weapons have a fumble range of 10-20 so my players can reduce that to “1” by 5-10 level. That seems right to me. And if they want to use a “special” Shadow World weapon (Irgaak) to benefit from bonuses to AT or extra crits, they’ll probably have to deal with a much higher fumble range. Increased fumble ranges and weapon specific modifiers add a whole new dimension to weapon selection–more than just max damage, critical thresh hold and efficacy vs armor.

11 Replies to “Deconstruction: Rolemaster Arms Law. How often should you fumble?”

  1. I do two ‘combat sports’. I fence epee which is a modern interpretation of the duel to first blood. I have never done anything that looks even vaguely like a fumble in either training or competition and I have competed at international level all be it as a veteran.
    I also do horseback archery, also as an international. That is a much more fast paced sport where you are controlling a galloping horse, nocking arrows all while looking for the next target. You are pretty much doing three things at once, riding the horse with your legs, nocking and drawing the arrow with your hands and tracking the target with your eyes. I estimate I fumble one in nine shots where I maybe drop the arrow drawing it from the quiver, draw two arrows at once instead of one, cannot get the arrow on the string, release the string accidentally before coming to full draw and that sort of thing. So 11% for a bow as a fumble range?

    1. So horse archery is a bit different, but as you point out, you may “fumble” 11% of the time. Based on my example let’s assume that you have 10 ranks in archery/horse, so in my system that would be a base fumble of 20% +-. How often would someone fumble with a bow on a horse if they have never or only shot a bow a few times? quite a bit more than 20%?

  2. 50% fumble rate???? Egads! I’d rather hurl creative insults at my foe rather than brain myself for him. Even a fumble range of 20%-30% is absurd. There’s no point in using the weapon if you have a 1-in-3 chance of screwing it up. Give me a stick or a rock instead.

    I’m not a fan of the #-of-ranks reduces your fumble range. That FR is already calculated into the weapon for someone who is proficient with it (not an expert or master). There is an optional skill called Expertise that allows the player to train specifically with that weapon to lower the fumble range. I’m all for that school of thought. Work harder, focus more, spend time developing with that particular weapon, learn the subtleties and nuances of that weapon and become a master? Okie Doke!

    Expertise with a weapon is like using your favorite PlayStation 4 controller forever, then going to your friend’s house and using his PS4 controller and he tools on you like a newbie. Same game, same game system, stock PS4 controllers… but it’s not quite the same. Something just isn’t quite right about it. Given enough time paying with that new controller, sure, you learn the nuances of that controller and you can gain ‘expertise’ with that controller but it’s something that needs to be developed specifically.

    It goes back to the double dipping a skill. You get the bonus for your OB and you get a free FR reduction at the same time. Assuming a weapon with a FR of 1-6, buying 5 ranks in a weapon shouldn’t automatically confer “Master-level training” and a FR of 1. Keeping in mind RM2 allows Level 0 training. A level 2 PC should not be a weapon master simply because he has 5 ranks in a weapon.

    Fumbling should be possible and it should depend on the complexity of the weapon. Ropes and chained weapons have a higher level of difficulty and that should be reflected in gameplay. That fumble range can be lowered, but it shouldn’t occur for free.

  3. Don’t forget, too, that we don’t really know if the fumble number for melee weapons is based on one attack or many (the whole “flurry of blows” thing, remember?). Given that sloppy mechanic it’s hard to say if a melee attack is one blow or six. Missile weapons are much easier, since that’s a discrete attack (one arrow=1 roll). And so long as the FoB mechanic remains in place I’m VERY reluctant to tinker with fumble ranges for reasons similar to Spectre’s.

    Peter, your example is great in that it points out one of the issues when transposing fumble tables and numbers to other activities. I seriously doubt that the bow fumble numbers were calculated with horse archers in mind. So how do we deal with that? In my games I typically have mounted combatants make a Riding roll prior to any attack. If they succeed they get everything in order and can attack. If not, something’s amiss and they can’t attack. There are also the various THMs that come into play. Maybe we just treat the potential fumble as a Miss of some kind?

    On a related note I’m becoming more and more tempted to formally deconstruct RM combat. I’m finding issues with the AP system (always have, really) and (surprise) I can’t stand the FoB mechanic.

    1. In this case Intothatdarkness, I’m going to side with “it’s a single blow just as it’s a single bow.” You only roll the attack once for your melee and once for your bow attack. It’s not a flurry of arrows and it’s not “roll your melee 6 times to see if you fumbled during your flurry of 5 feints and 1 attack.”

      Which of course, RM2 has a skill for – Feinting. Yet another skill none of my players have ever purchased.

      I completely agree with Hurin, there are some weapons that are simply “complex” and very difficult. Chain/rope weapons are the more difficult to master just in practice. I can’t even imagine trying them in the heat of battle with someone trying to kill me. In all honesty, I’ve practiced with weapons for years, I’ve sparred people for decades, and I’ve been in one “real” fight, but no weapons were involved and my life wasn’t in danger. I knew who I was fighting against and what his skills were. His life was in danger and he realized it days later and apologized to me and thanked me for not seriously hurting him. (I admit it, I had it coming to me so I let him get it out of his system and I simply controlled the fight.)

      There are some weapons that shouldn’t decrease to a 1 fumble range. I think (if I remember correctly) the Expertise skill can’t lower the FR below 1, but it can only reduce it to 1/2 the existing FR? Something like a steel whip or heavy flail should be inherently more difficult then a sword, club, dagger. Even Martial Arts Skills fumble on 1-2 and there are no weapons involved there.

      1. I get your position, but the RM Raw stance has always been the “flurry of blows” argument. That’s the one I don’t buy.

        There are obviously more complex weapons, which in turn tend to have higher fumble numbers. Personally I think most of them are high enough and don’t need to be increased or reduced. If you like, you could look at a Fumble roll as a Malfunction roll, and that case no matter how skilled you are things can still go wrong with the weapon. Most of the firearms fumbles I’ve developed are in fact written that way. The less ‘serious’ ones involve operator error (like flipping the safety ‘on’ or having trigger issues), but when you get into the higher roll territory it’s almost always a mechanical failure of some kind.

  4. I very much appreciate Peter’s comments; it is great to get some perspective from people who are using these skills in the real world!

    Like Spectre, I am not a big fan of the idea that ranks reduce your fumble range. RMU gives a modified version of this by saying every 5 ranks reduces your fumble by 1. This is better than 1 rank = 1 reduction imho, but I still don’t really like the idea in general because it erodes the differences between weapons. A heavy flail is just inherently more difficult to use than a dagger, no matter how much of a master you are. If I had to use the rule, I might make it 10 ranks per level of reduction, which would still preserve the distinctions between weapons except for very high level characters.

    Making it 10 ranks would also mean you could tone down some of those very high (50%) fumble rates for the unusual weapons. Toning the 50 down to say a 20 or 15 would mean that the weapon still might be usable.

  5. I did fencing (foil) and archery when I was younger (so long ago now it’s scary!). I don’t actually recall fumbling much with the foil; most problem i remember were from being young and lacking wrist strength. Admittedly, fencing was done in very constrained conditions.

    I remember more problems with archery, but a lot of that was probably down to using cheap club bows – the “sights” on these bows tended to be a piece of glued-on polystyrene with a pin sticking out of it.

  6. Combat Companion Styles included a style option to reduce fumble range by 1 plus 1/10ranks in the style at an increased DP cost. It seems to work well for me, but I have yet to have a player really worry about it.
    I also use my guild companion/house rule that modifies the fumble range by the pace of the mount when riding. It is basically +1 to the fumble range for each of: stand/walk/gallop/canter/trot
    That has worked out well, I have a horseman that has specialized in mounted combat skills and she quite enjoys the options.

    1. I would definitely agree that pace makes a big difference but walk and canter are a lot easier to work with than trot because of the amount of movement.

  7. That is why I used the order I did. Walk ends up with a +2 to the fumble range, Trot is at +5. I had some other mods as well as some additional options for styles in the sep, oct, nov 2013 issues of the guild companion.

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