Hacking Darkmaster

I’m guessing that it’s not precisely “news” to readers here that the QuickStart Deluxe of Against the Darkmaster (VsD) has been released as pay what you want on DriveThruRPG. The latest articulation has introduced some changes to my game. Most radical is a reduction of five Armours (None, Soft Leather, Rigid Leather, Chain and Plate) to four (None, Light, Medium, Heavy). Most sneaky is total Success on the maneuver table has been reduced to 100 from 110.

The most radical change, however, (and I’m talking specifically about my home game now) is how I’ve undertaken to transform VsD’s entire d100 system into something that works better for the players at my table. Approaching something like this, I often feel out of place in the company I keep here on this blog. I’m becoming convinced that a “simple,” homebrewed d20 system is most comfortable for my gaming table, though I continue to be enamored with the design possibilities in Rolemaster d100 mechanisms.

And I thought I was going to revert to a d20 system and simply carry on with the campaign characters until I remembered how one player in particular appreciates VsD’s and others’ core percentile principle.

A lot of what I’m going to say here I already have shared with the VsD designers, but I think these comments might be of equal interest to RM gamers. I’m going to structure this discussion by presenting two “problems” that I have been endeavoring to “solve,” each followed by a “solution.”


At the beginning of last year I determined to run Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP). I quickly grew irritated, while trying to track the various weapon “stats” that modified the rolls and results on the attack tables. A “solution” appeared to be to adopt RM2, but then my burden was to track tables for every single weapon.


I’m already anticipating a response from the RM community to my complaints, so let me try to provide more context here. When I was young, my friends and I were deeply interested in the simulationist aspects of rpgs. We didn’t care at all how much time—or math—was required of us to resolve a single conflict. It was common for a combat to involve hours of our time. My group now isn’t interested as much in that. Obviously, we’re not plunging fully into story games, but we’re more interested in narrative. We also don’t believe that a lucky shot from a mook necessarily should be able to outright kill a player character.

I have received advice from RM gamers concerning the time management element. Give attack tables to the players, say some gamers. I’m certain this works for some groups, but not mine. One of my players will outright refuse. He says that I’m lucky he “rolls his own dice,” and he’s only partly jesting here. And even if the other players were willing to take on this work, as GM I’d still have to be monitoring their work. These are casual gamers.

So the bottom line is that all this, as it is with any group, is about how my players and I detail the game system that we need for our table. And our struggles and solutions might be of interest to some other groups.

VsD, cleaving more closely to MERP than RM, uses weapon stats and consolidated attack tables. I have consolidated the attack tables into a single one closely modeled on the maneuver table. All weapon types are assigned damage dice, based on 1d10 for one-handed and 2d10 for two-handed. Armours deduct results on the critical tables in increments of 10 per armour type.


“I use like three of these,” said a player, referring to a VsD character sheet that, incidentally, is significantly more compressed than any RM sheet. So we reduced Skills into general categories, and each breaks down into two types of uses or applications, and each of these are modified by two discrete character Stats. I enjoy how other versions of RM use multiple and complementary attributes to modify specific Skills. The latest version of RM uses three of its ten for each Skill, sometimes “double dipping,” when there aren’t other clear associations.

So, instead of assigning Ranks to granular Skills, in our hack, at Level advancement PCs gain bonuses in broader Skill categories.

Concluding Thoughts 

My group has made changes, also, to how the GM handles NPCs, and it’s also wrestling with VsD’s use of Drive Points—in fact, we’re considering outright dropping this meta currency. But the largest consideration we have is whether we keep the d100 roll. I think most of us will agree that most bonuses in an RM game reduce neatly from +5 (on a d100) to a +1 (on a d20). So why deal with 100 numbers rather than 20? Honestly, for greater ease of roll resolution, I see no reason outside of the relative Fumble values, though these could be remedied: a second roll could follow any roll of 1 to determine if a particular weapon is fumbled. Incidentally, I see that Chivalry & Sorcery has done something similar, offering a C&S “Essence” rules set in addition to its “Rebirth.” I’m similarly curious about the news of an upcoming “lite” version of RM.

What are your thoughts? Why do we gamers want 100 numbers?

One Reply to “Hacking Darkmaster”

  1. I personally like using d100 because it allows more flexibility in terms of modifications and results. I’m working on a modern system with fair detail in the combat system (modeling as many different calibers as possible using bullet weight and muzzle energy to determine damage), and a d20 just doesn’t cut it when you need to model wide ranges of damage. I also like the idea of being able to toss in a +5 or -5 mod from time to time knowing it likely won’t break anything, whereas my experience with d20-based games is a +1 or -1 has an impact (even if it’s just perceived) that’s out of proportion.
    If d20 works for your group, great! That’s the beauty of this hobby. But most of my groups have been casual gamers as well (normally with a high percentage of first-time players), and they never had issues with rolling d100 or looking up results. I also didn’t use tons of optional rules for combat, which helps move things along.
    And with the multiple dice thing…I played with a group once that used 1d6 and 1d10 in place of a d20 because they didn’t feel d20s rolled correctly.

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