Fun is more important than realism.

I know that the cornerstone of Rolemaster has always been a more realistic D&D. It all goes back to throwing yourself off a 100′ cliff and knowing you cannot die because you had 63 hit points and the damage from a 100′ fall was 10d6.

But, realism in fantasy is just a bit weird. How do you calculate the psychic shock from confronting an entity from a different plane? We have a Fear mechanic, but how do we know it is ‘realistic’. Ultimately it is all made up and game balance is of greater importance than realism, and this is a game and not a simulation.

The problem with that is when something is compromised in favour of game balance, and the compromise works against your character. “Yeah sure, in the real world that would work, but it is unbalancing in the game so it doesn’t”. That would upset some players.

We can fix these things on an ad-hoc basis by ignoring the compromise if it would make sense narratively. The danger is that at some point you will meet a player that will argue that if it worked once it should work every time and will then attempt to engineer the situation that the compromise was designed to avoid. There is always at least one!

It is no secret that I was very opposed to the size rules. I found them distinctly unfun. I remain unconvinced that they fix anything at all. Having said that, I haven’t seen the finished rules, so I don’t really have a valid opinion. In all the playtests I ran, they did not add anything to the experience but did suck the fun out of combats.

This is the sort of ‘problem’ that VTT automation will simply make go away. It will know the sizes and it will auto calculate the results. There will be no shifts to forget. There is one major problem that I cannot really see an easy solution to. There were originally two size effects. The first was multiplying the hits damage and the second was shifting the critical severity. The hits multiple is optional.

How can any published encounters account for such widely differing danger levels? If games that prefer the increased realism of modifying hits delivered will be doing massively more, or less damage than the book says, how can a published adventure ‘balance encounters’ to a ball park level?

In a sandbox, balancing encounters isn’t so much of a thing. If you are stupid enough to confront a dragon at 1st level, that is your own fault. In an adventure intended for 1st level to 3rd level characters (the starting range for RMu) you want encounters that are challenging, but not suicide. You can die in any encounter via stupidity or bad dice rolls, but planned encounters that can only be survived via exceptionally good dice rolls remove all layer skill from the game, and are distinctly unfun.

I was planning an encounter recently and I wanted foes that had a ‘glass jaw’. I wanted them to do large amounts of damage but to have extremely poor defences and low hits. The reason for this was that I wanted to put my characters under time pressure and so the fight would ideally be over quickly, and not turn into a slugfest.

Adding the Frenzy skill/ability to weaker foes does the trick, they gain OB, lose DB, and double damage. Frenzy and no shield makes things extremely easy to hit and do good damage too.

Would this encounter have worked with the full size rules in play? I am not sure it would. The characters were fairly low level, so being able to hit 175 on the tables would only happen on an OE roll. Dividing the damage down for the smaller characters, or those using smaller-sized weapons would have just dragged the encounter out. The critical shift would have been less important as the fight was intended to be finishable just by taking the foes’ #hits down.

This isn’t a thought experiment, this is a real encounter from a real game that I don’t think would work under the size rules.

The issue with it making published adventures extremely unpredictable is also a very real problem. If RMu is going to be played, it needs playable material.

If RMu is going to be played it has to be fun.

If RMu is going to be played it also has to be fast at the table.

There are enough long in the tooth detractors that will remember the endless page flipping and book hunting of previous editions. If we want to win over these people, people who may be willing to come back and try RM again, RMu needs to dispell their fears that RM is slow and more work than fun.

Ultimately it all comes down to games have to be fun, or they won’t be played.

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8 Replies to “Fun is more important than realism.”

  1. I am unsure at this point how the size rules work, and I know there’s been pages and pages on discussion about it.

    But keeping on the idea of glass jaw monsters, couldn’t they be created as Size X for attacks, Size Y for defense? I mean, they bite as Huge foes, but are treated like Small in all other respects, that would give opponents a damage multiplier, or the creatures less hits in total, or whatever the rules currently state. I haven’t prepared an adventure in months, and can’t recall what the betas said on terms of size rules, but that’s how I would have approached it.

    Also, I’m certain software should fix all that and make away with those worries. About the adventure books, shouldn’t they contain a basic value following the default rules, and maybe and optional box suggesting what to do in case the group applies specific optional rules that could change the balance of the adventure?

    1. I imagine that if we ever see any published adventures for RMu, we will see a footnote or comment to reduce the number encountered by x if using the damage reduction optional rule. Or some wording like that.
      I stopped reading the forum posts on it after a while. When Jdale stopped posting updated tables, it because impossible to playtest the rules as they were going to be.

  2. I’m still a fan of “size rules” but I certainly understand the added complexity. However, a useable size framework was/is very helpful for BASiL in scaling spells, spell limitations and AoE. The secondary effect, damage modification, is of lesser concern. I’m still curious what the end result for RMu will be, but I’m an old dog with old tricks so I’ll stick with RM2.

    1. I want to see the finished rules. I am very much hoping that we get a pre-release copy so we can do some reviewing content before the big day.

    2. RM (at least to me) has always felt like an awkward balance between realism and abstraction, especially when it comes to combat. I will be curious to see the end result, but I really doubt I’ll use it. My version of RM2 is so customized for my setting it would be a major pain in the backside to try to adjust RMU to fit (although I may lift bits depending).

      1. To coin a phrase, RM seeks “verisimilitude” for combat. However, it is very hard, if not impossible to revert back to HP attrition style like D&D after playing it–no matter the mathmatics or book keeping. Is RM deadly? yes! Should it be. Absolutely!

        1. I’ve never complained about the deadliness of RM combat. Far from it. But to my mind there are issues with how it treats certain forms of combat (the infamous “flurry of blows” discussion as opposed to missile weapons) and it certainly was never exported well to other settings. Of course, most of the older fantasy combat systems were designed around magic (at least in my view) so they’re stuck with longer rounds just based on how they all seemed to view spell casting. RMU gets away from this, but it shares enough base DNA with RM that it’s very hard to convert to non-magic settings.

      2. This will be a major hurdle, the fact that the mainstay of RM GMs have all the books and options they need, and have finessed their games to suit their table by drawing from all these different sources and then refining them.
        Going from that to just the core books again, and having to do things differently because of rules changes, and having to recreate bucket loads of NPCs, with just the core professions is not an attractive proposition.

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