Does Low Fantasy Gaming work with Rolemaster?

I have stolen this idea from Brian’s weekend round up. I think the answer is an emphatic yes to Low Fantasy; especially RM2/RMC when played with the core rules and no options.

Why core only? The first one is magic. The actual base ruling on spell list acquisition is in RM2 and RMC is D100 + ranks in the list. Roll 101+and you learn the list. You can learn only one list at a time unless you buy 20 ranks in the first list and then start to learn a second. If you fail to learn a list you can carry those ranks over to the next level and continue learning that list or you can lose all those ranks and try and learn a different list. You will note that there are no bonuses to that spell list acquisition roll, no level bonuses, no stat bonuses.

Building a character that way you tend to end up with maybe 4 spell lists every 5 levels, sometimes slightly less. As most essence spell casters want to be able to fly and go invisible and cast sleep this means that a magician may have just one of their base lists by 5th level, maybe two by 10th level.

The problem with learning lots of Magician base lists is that you need to learn lots of Directed Spells skills to make use of the bolts and the natural development point economy means that you simply cannot afford to diversify like that.

If Low Fantasy is meant to be scarce then making spell lists hard to learn makes spell casters less attractive to the players. If there is a very real chance that your first level character is going to start the game with just 1 first level spell you are going to make the average RM player uncomfortable.

With just the core rules there is no undercasting and no overcasting so they are really stuck with just that one spell.

So pure Rolemaster played RAW (rules as written) fits the magic specification for Low Fantasy.

Fast and Engaging Combat

There is no more engaging combat system than Rolemaster with its descriptive criticals and deadly edge. I personally prefer the Combat Companion version but I have said this is core RM only. Without all the bells and whistles bolted on to combat by many of the companion books rolemaster combat is pretty fast. When I used to use Arms Law I would print the page from the PDF of the weapon used by an NPC and of the PCs and put them in a folder with the most common critical chart facing it. In essence what I had was just the pages of Arms Law I needed for that session. It cut down the rules look ups and page turning.

Rules Light

Without all the companions Rolemaster is not that rules heavy. It has a reputation for being a mammoth but it is really undeserved.

Once you simply know that a skill roll total of 101+ (plus any difficulty mod) equals success you can play for hours without having to look at a single rulebook. Without the companions there are are only something like 50 secondary skills. That is enough to differentiate the characters without bogging the game down.

I have condensed the entire rules down to just 12 pages for running a weekend of gaming.

A Realistic World

Rolemaster does realistic mediaval worlds very well. If anything it is less monster driven than many RPGs including D&D and Pathfinder. If you want to poison someone in RM you do get to choose what type of poison and that describes the effect. This is not a game of make your saving throw or take x points of damage. Poisons are very realistically handled for a game.

Falls are not 1d6 per 10′ fallen. We have an attack table that takes into account velocity and criticals that are in tune with having fallen. This does not add to complexity as it is still jsut roll a d100 + the distance fallen in feet and look up the result but it is a lot more realistic than 1d6 per 10′.

The list can go on. Almost every natural hazard has been given a realistic work over in Rolemaster. So this is another tick in the RM box regarding Low Fantasy.

Rolemaster is also setting neutral

The Low Fantasy that the article points to says it is setting independent. Rolemaster is also setting neutral. Shadow World is the offical world setting but there are no setting specific rules in the rulebooks tying it that setting. It actually works the other way around with the Shadow World books referring to Rolemaster materials not the Rolemaster books referring to Shadow World.

So yes RM is most definitely capable of Low Fantasy judging by the definition above. Just leave all your companions and add on Laws at home.

18 Replies to “Does Low Fantasy Gaming work with Rolemaster?”

  1. I think the line illustrations the he is using for LFG certainly evokes the original Dragon Magazine ad for Arms Law and Iron Wind. One of the original attractions to RM for us was the “grittiness” in the ads, Jorgensen artwork and the module “Iron Wind” which feels very Low Fantasy despite the presence of powerful entities.

    1. My current campaign is pure low fantasy. We had come straight off the back of a seven year ‘save the world’ campaign in Shadow World so I wanted to offer something a bit different. That is why I am recasting all these D&D modules into RM. I would never do that for a proper homebrew campaign.

  2. I’ve always felt that Rolemaster seems like a lower fantasy system than such as D&D/Pathfinder. No potions for one thing and weapons with bonuses are often simply well made, not magical.

    One thing that I have wondered, specifically regarding Shadow World, is what effect many low level spellusers would have on the world. If there’s a 20th level caster in a city, surely there would be dozens, if not hundreds of lower level ones – and even low level spells can significantly alter the magic level of a setting in enough numbers.

    1. I suppose it comes down to the ability of those potential spell casters to earn experience and advance in levels.

      I can imagine clerics and all the healing professions should be in frequent demand and often in stressful situations, so no problem there.

      Seers make brilliant investigators and sorcerers are amazing at resolving hostage situations, soul destruction as a list is perfect for resolving stand offs peacefully. Law enforcement and magic even at low levelseason is a powerful combination.

      The alchemist is very powerful in a city situation. They do have access to potions they can make themselves along with runes and rune paper. They can stockpile magical power very easily and relatively quickly, just a matter of weeks.

      I can see illusionists and the entertainment industry going hand in hand but your alchemist with lesser illusion as a list can do the same things.

      The magician is the odd one out if you only look at the Spell Law lists. They are very destructive which is not too useful in itself although cracks call in a quarry is useful.

      That is where you need the prosaic lists or spell research to make socially useful spells.

      Water based magic would be popular in largely wood built cities and towns as would the affect normal fires spells.

      1. There’s quite a good book, A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe that analyses the role magic would play in a typical D&D based setting. It makes an impressive difference. Shadow World doesn’t seem to have the basis of minor magic that one might expect – especially when you compare it with some D&D cities, which are practically dripping with magic.

        1. I haven’t read it [A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe] but I agree with D&D being dripping with magic. I like the fire service in Waterdeep being made up any spell caster that can control water or fire. In a magical society it is both easy and logical to use it to preserve life and property.

          1. Waterdeep was one I was thinking of in particular, having recently read the 2nd edition boxed set. City of Delights is another and the Rock of Bral, given its location, naturally has a lot of magic.

            1. Thay is an entire country ruled by magicians with undead ‘slave labour’ fuelling the economy.

              I think a lot of the Forgotten Realms is over the top magic-wise. In a low fantasy setting even a small amount of magic can go a very long way. What is interesting about Rolemaster magic is that limiting factor on spell casters is meant to be power points but the rules also give low level (starting at about 3rd level) characters the ability to create permanent and semi permanent magic items starting with Runes but your channelers can use Symbolic Ways to empower standing stones at 5th level.

              This ability to create items can massively extend a characters (PC or NPC) available power.

              1. I’d forgotten about Thay.

                It could be interesting to see if you can calculate using some statistics how many 1st to 3rd level casters would be resident in a city with a handful of level 20 spellusers (assuming they haven’t gone down the Sith route of one master one apprentice).

                Then see what spells these casters would have access to, and see how that would actually affect everyday life.

                1. I don’t think you could do it. There would be too many cultural influences. If in one place there is a magical academy turning out dozens of newly qualified spell casters every year you would have a different profile to a culture where each master just tales on a single or maybe two apprentices.

                  Places where magic is welcomed and openly used for the good of all then magic users would have a high survival rate. In places where magic is feared and despised or where mages progress through assassination then less apprentices will make it up though the levels.

                  I think churches with their supportive structure would bring up more spell casters to higher levels simply because in many of those churches the organisation would exist to help and support its members and the simple fact that channelers have access to healing magic means that they should be harder to put down and keep down.

                  If the authorities are trying to suppress magic that will reduce your magical population whereas cultures that celebrate magic will have many people aspiring to become magic users.

                  Then you have the experience point factor. If a healthy, happy and settled spell caster is only going to gain 1 level every 5 years because they are rarely ever under any stress then the chances of them living unto 20th level is slim.

                  If a spell caster is living on the edge they could earn a level pretty quickly but the chances of meeting an untimely demise is much greater.

                  In my world sorcerers are one of the most common magical professions in poor rural areas. They are capable of healing magic, they are good if you want revenge on your spurned lover or love rival. They are good at finding out things they shouldn’t know with the essence perceptions lists. They are very good at the whole ‘swiss army knife of magic’ thing. Where they are strong is when there is no other magic users around as, as a hybrid profession, they have a wide range of spells but none are particularly powerful outside their own base lists. Put a sorcerer in a high magic situation and they are out classed at every turn. That is how it is in my games, in a different setting and game world it could be completely different.

                  1. I have a feeling that any culture that wasn’t turning out a lot of spellcasters every year, or had a cultural bias against them, would have a serious disadvantage in a world compared to ones that were. And if it’s uncommon for any caster to reach 20th level – which it more than likely is – then there would probably need to be a lot of those at lower levels (probably biased towards the lower end for various reasons) to account for every unusual high level caster.

                    1. The Thay model has a handful of very powerful mages to use assassination and murder to keep down potential upstart rivals. They use longevity potions to live for centuries. This allows the time for them to accumulate a great power (i.e.. many levels)

                      The Waterdeep model has the free and open use of magic and guilds to promote its teaching and civic use, such as the fire watch and using magic for the defence of the city.

                      Waterdeep would have a great number of low and mid level spell casters to call upon, Thay would not,

                      I am playing in one game right now where the game world is very magical, to the point where most family units have a spell caster. Effectively everyone you meet is a low level caster. As the party myself and my fellow players all chose to play spell casters in that world because not having magic would leave you seriously outclassed.

                      In my game magic is much harder to learn (both in term so of development points and in access to teaching) and there are far fewer spell casters and these tend to be of a lower level. Every one of the players chose to play a spell caster as if magic is so rare then having magic would give them an advantage.

                      If my players are ‘normal’, which is debatable, then in every society you would have people aspiring to get an advantage through magic and that would translate into every state wanting access to magic. The overall level of magic would probably be constant then difference would be whether it was concentrated in a few individuals or widely spread amongst many.

                      If magic is concentrated in a few high powered casters then you would not see that much magic. They would hardly be using it day in day out for menial tasks.

                      If low level magic is widely available then you would probably see it everywhere as the advantage of having magic is in what you can do with it.

                      It is pretty much the same argument of democracy vs dictatorship. Although the dictator appears to wield the most power democracies tend to be more resilient. To take this analogy further if you think how many times each day, week or month you are asked to cast some kind of vote be it on what a group should do, an online poll or an election and that is how frequently you would encounter magic in a magical world. I am pretty sure people living under a dictatorship do not to get to vote that often even if it is on things as trivial as sports personality of the year.

    1. I don’t think I can share them. We sail pretty close to the wind here regarding ICE intellectual property and get away with it because we are all about spreading the RM love.

      I think if I started sharing a 12 page condensed version then the goodwill would disappear pretty quickly.

      Making your own version is simple though. The next time you play a session stick a post-it on every page you have to reference. After the session copy and paste if you have the PDF rules or scan and insert them into Word if you have paper book. Remove anything you don’t use or need.

      I use the extended static manoeuvre chart from Companion 1 so that is in. I use the MM chart from Character Law so that is in. I frequently use the stock NPCs table so that is in as are the base spells rolls and the resistance rolls. I have the tables for OB and DB mods for combat and the stat gain rolls.

      I think that is the core of what most people would need to run a session. I also use the condensed combat system from Combat Companion.

      Your mix of tables is likely to be different but I would wager not that different. Just look at what you actually use. At the end of each session see if you need to add something else in. I have all these as a Word doc and a PDF. I then use a cheap 10.1″ tablet with the PDF as is really quick and easy to flick through a relatively short document rather than using Spell Law for the resistance rolls and Base spells, Arms Law for the OB/DB and initiatve mods, Character Law for the stock NPCs and manoeuvres and then a couple of companions for odd bits and bobs.

      Each player has a print off of every spell list they have so they do not need to reference Spell Law which prevents a bottle neck forming as everyone waits for the same book. Yes character sheets turn into small books, but I think my players rather like having hulking great character records.

        1. The only issue is that it would vary from GM to GM and even for myself I add and remove from it. When I wrote that post it was 12 pages. After that session I must have changed it as it is now only 12 pages. I don’t think you should think of it as a document but rather as a method or technique for GMing.

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