Firearms in Rolemaster – The Mechanics

In my last entry I talked a bit about how I revised the attack tables for firearms in Rolemaster. That’s not the only change you need to make if you plan on adding realistic firearms to a game using any flavor of the Rolemaster rules. I’m a firm believer in using a two second, phased round for firearms, but you also need to make some core mechanics adjustments. That’s what I’m talking about today.


First, consider that in a more modern game most PCs won’t be wearing armor or using shields to enhance their DBs. On the whole, PCs will take far more damage from each successful attack as a result. The core Rolemaster DB simply isn’t sufficient, and also doesn’t adequately model the aiming challenges involved in hitting a moving target. Thus I’ve added Moving Target to-hit modifiers to the combat tables. With this the DB is more of a “speed bonus” than the entire movement modifier. There are also modifiers for the shooter’s movement and actions during a Round. To deal with recoil I’ve also added a consecutive shot penalty that compounds with each shot (-10 for the second shot, -20 for the third, and so on). You need to take a full Phase to steady if you want to reset the penalty, and the penalties accumulate through consecutive Rounds until a Steady action is taken.


The second change involves range. To a great degree, firearm accuracy is determined (and modified) by the length of the weapon’s barrel. Weapons still have the range brackets of Point Blank, Short, Medium, Long and Extreme, but the distances for those brackets are determined by barrel length. Weapons are divided into Classes based on barrel length (so Pistol, SMG, Carbine, and so on). How does this work? At Medium Range a Pistol and a Rifle both have a -50 To Hit, but Medium Range for a pistol is 10-30 meters while for a rifle it’s 55-150 meters. Longer barrels allow the bullet to rotate longer in the rifling before leaving the barrel, making them more stable. For longer range shots, wind also contributes a to-hit modifier.

Attacks in Practice

It might sound complicated, but I’ve tried to streamline the mechanics as much as possible. All you need to know to resolve a firearm attack is the weapon’s Class (Pistol, SMG, and so on) and Caliber. Class tells you what column to use on the Range Table and which Attack Table to use (combined with caliber), and Caliber tells you what the maximum damage of the weapon will be. For example, an M-4 is a Carbine (so it uses the Carbine column on the Range Table) chambered for 5.56mm NATO, so it uses the Rifle Attack Table. The M-16 (the M-4’s ‘big brother’) uses the Assault Rifle column on the Range Table (it has a longer barrel) but is chambered for the same round so it also uses the Rifle Attack Table. They have different range profiles, but both are capable of delivering a 31D Critical Hit (the maximum possible for 5.56 NATO).

What’s Next

I’ve found these changes to be very satisfactory when it comes to modeling firearms and integrating them into Rolemaster. The final hurdle for firearms is redesigning the Critical Strike tables to reflect hit location (aiming is a big part of firearms combat) and deal with how bullets inflict damage. As Peter pointed out in an earlier comment, using Puncture critical for firearms isn’t satisfactory for a number of reasons, and the old Rolemaster tables simply don’t allow for either precision aiming or sniping. That needs to change.

2 Replies to “Firearms in Rolemaster – The Mechanics”

  1. I have found in my modern setting RM games that cover was used a lot, it is much easier to fire a handgun from around a corner or level a rifle over the bonnet of a car than it is to fire a bow a sling from the same sorts of cover.

  2. True enough, but most RM rules modifications don’t reflect how difficult it can be to return fire from cover if you want to aim properly. My adjusted THMs reflect that. So while full cover gives you almost total protection from direct fire, it’s also very difficult to return fire if you’re in full cover.

    Using cover is vital if you’ve got firearms modeled accurately.

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