A recent discussion on the RM boards regarding splitting up Creature Law got me thinking about something that could be the elephant in the room: are we talking about RMU the engine or RMU the fantasy game/setting? By engine I mean RMU’s basic mechanics (character creation, skill system, and combat mechanics/format: basically ChL&AL without the races and professions) and by game I mean the fantasy RMU we’re looking at now (spells, races, fantastic monsters, and even professions). The engine is something that can be used in any setting or genre, while the game is tied to fantasy and a particular setting.
From a game engine perspective, it might be nice or advisable to have a number of fairly generic monster supplements out there. Things GMs could take and plug into their own settings confident they’d work with the RMU engine. But from a fantasy setting perspective, RMU the fantasy game needs a self-contained book of creatures designed for the official setting. Nothing else needs to be included if it doesn’t fit into the setting.
This discussion matters because RMU is really two things at once: the engine and the game. Things that make sense for the engine might not work for the game, and the reverse is also true. Clear thinking is needed when it comes to the initial game release. It should have everything required for the GAME to work in the official setting, but not necessarily those bits the ENGINE requires to be flexible and adaptable. It’s those engine bits that can (and possibly should) appear as supplements or add-ons: core GAME materials should not.
Since RM started life as a series of game engine plug-ins for AD&D, this may be something of a shift for people conditioned to think of RM as an almost-endless series of supplements and additions. But if the engine in its new form is going to have a chance the game (for once) needs to come first. What does that mean in practice? Tie the game officially to a setting. Ensure the core has the races, spells, treasures, and creatures to function with that setting and don’t worry about anything else. It’s the game (engine-setting-tools) that matters now.
It’s all about the Game
Once the game takes off, it’s possible to look at a series of “powered by RM” products focusing on the engine itself. But that comes AFTER the game is out. If a race being contemplated doesn’t fit into the setting, don’t develop it now. Spells that don’t fit? Hold them for something else. Same for creatures and monsters. Everything in the core is based on the engine, but HAS to support the game (engine plus setting). If it doesn’t support the game, leave it out. The CORE GAME should have everything a GM needs to start running adventures in the setting NOW, rather than wait for another book or two.
Right now it seems to be split between a discussion of the game and the engine, often without an awareness of the difference between the two. My sense is the engine is more or less done, at least in core terms (character creation, combat, skills) as I define engine. Maybe the time has come to draw a line around what’s considered the game (setting, professions, races) and just finish that. Monsters and races not part of the core setting can wait for future supplements. If the engine’s solid it can drive any number of game types. But it needs a game to get out of the garage and on the road.