Three weeks and counting

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My next face to face game session is in 3 weeks today. The party has been in the same underground cave system (under the tower of Ashaba) in human terms since November 2014. They have had 24hrs of actual play time since then and hopefully they should get another 20hrs of play time in the next gaming weekend. This particular weekend will be a bit different as one game we have been playing for the past six years will come to an end. We had been having half the weekend playing in Shadow World and half in my Forgotten Realms world. I suspect that all the Shadow World characters will die very quickly on Friday night or early Saturday.

I am still migrating them slowly off of Rolemaster 2nd Edition (RM2) and onto Rolemaster Classic (RMC) and this time they will see the biggest changes to play.

The stand out changes will be in combat and there is normally a lot of combat in our sessions. The Shadow World GM liked to have one big fight at the end of each session, al most like an end of level boss. After years of this several things stood out. Firstly as a GM he would tend to evenly match the numbers of bad guys to players. I do not mean that there were always four bad guys, but we stormed a tower and every level had four defenders. I do not remember how many guys were with the boss at the top but there were definitely the boss and two lieutenants but there probably was someone else as well. In another fight there were four war trolls as body guard to an evil sorcerer, we sort of defiled a temple to Orgiana and had to fight four demons and then three summoned monsters and a living statue. As you may guess that there are four characters in the party. Where this would fall down was that as we grew more powerful some of us had multiple attacks via haste, adrenal move speed or two weapon combo or a comination of two of those. Others in the party were still doing one single attack a round. Now four enemy vs four PCs did not equate to one kill each. What actually happened is that two of us would kill our target and then finish off the wounded foe of another party member. Over time this lead to up to a six levels difference between the highest and lowest level party members. Six levels makes a lot of difference in Rolemaster.

The second observation was that it was extremely rare for a combat to take more than six rounds to complete. It is very rare for anyone to last more than three rounds in single combat and it was unusual for the GM to pit us against more than two vs one odds. When you get to three against one in Rolemaster the fight is much more likely to bigger force. What this means is that the Magician in the party really did not believe in conserving power points.

As a GM I have a different style. The players have not really noticed yet as they are just first level and there is a limit of how much you can throw at a first level party but things will change. They already have enough experience to level up and the job is not done yet and the biggest challenges are yet to come as are the biggest rewards.

So to get back on topic, I am migrating the party more over to RMC and the changes this time will be in combat. One of the big differences between the two systems is that in RMC you roll initiative and the fastest person goes first. In RM2 that is not strictly true. RM2 has a system of Phases. Magic is resolved first, then missile, then movement and finally melee. So imagine this situation. One character draws back his bow string and aims at almost point blank range at a high level magician. At the start of the next round before that arrow can be released the magician can cast a spell. If the magician is over 17th level he can cast lightning bolt and kill the archer or teleport and escape because they take place in the spell phase and the magician needs no preparation time then only way the archer can possibly kill the magician is if the mage fumbles his attack roll. Even of the archer rolled the best initiate roll possible and the magician rolled the worst magic always goes first. Not in RMC. You roll your initiative and the fastest person goes first. Bang,.. dead magician!

The second change is that I am using the condensed combat system from the Rolemaster Classic Combat Companion. This was an excelent companion but you can only get it on ebay these days despite begging for an updated version (something to do with (licensing the artwork).

Going back to the Shadow World game, the bog end of level boss fight as I have said was generally four vs four or four vs five and generally lasted no more than six combat rounds. This would probably take three hours to resolve. Part of the problem was that we generally had so many attacks to resolve but still six combat rounds in three hours is not exactly a blistering pace.

The condensed combat system takes everything from eight to ten pages of Arms Law and condenses it down on to a single page. You get multiple weapons on a page and the matching critical. If in the past one person was using a scimitar and another a broadsword each would have their own page for attacking and you could need three different critical tables (each on their own page). Each page ofthe condensed system handles up to 10 weapons and their criticals.

Another nice touch is that before every pointy weapon did puncture critical, every blade did slases, every blunt instrument did krushes (as the books had it). Now long blades have their own critical, great blades have their own. Crossbows do different criticals than drawn bows and so on. This section of the book offers greater realism and greater simplicity and greater speed of exectution.

The way I like to run combats is more like you see in the James Bond movies, a sequence of encounters, back to back with little or no respite. In a big blow out if someone gets injured it makes little difference as you can heal them after the event and everyone is fit to fight another day. In a rolling combat you have to carry this wounded companion with you. Bleeding wounds are a bigger issue and healing on the move. The spell casters will need to conserve their power and that means making the best possible use of the lower level spells that than firing off a fireball every round.

Lots of people like to use the RM software Combat Minion but I am reticent to use a computer programme to resolve combat. I may go there but if I can avoid it I will.

In the meantime I will let you know how long it takes to carry out a decent combat.

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Creating a Rolemaster Golem (or “In just 7 days I could make you a man”)

I am still trying to read as much Realms Lore as possible and one of the things that struck me was that Golems are a fairly common magical defence for the spell casters of Faerun but there is no mechanism for their creation in Rolemaster (that I know of).

Under the ‘good old days’ of Rolemaster 2nd Edition (RM2) there should have been a whole companion dedicated to Golems and at least a profession of Golem maker.

What I like about Rolemaster Classic (RMC) is that it does not come with that huge canon of companions and expansions. Just three pages from Spell Law are about all you need to introduce a coherent set of spells needed to introduce Golems into your world.

Firstly lets have a look at a Golem. A flesh golem is a 5th level creature. The description is pretty much what you would expect if you are familiar with the D&D creature, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster inbued with a spirit. I don’t see this as an inherently evil act, it is not particularly pleasant and not to be done on the kitchen table but I do not want to restrict the construction of flesh golems to the evil magician profession.

Here is how I want to approach it. I am assuming that creating the flesh golem is not that different from creating an undead. Rather than having to have a whole dead body the body may be constructed from different parts but the body needs to exist and is not created by the spell. The Golem is 5th level and a Type III undead is also 5th level. To create a Type III undead requires an 11th level spell (Necromancy, Evil Clearic Base List). I think this is just about the right level and 11th level is a bit special. Hybrid and Semi spell users cannot cast 11th or higher level spells unless they have chosen the list as one of their base lists. This will keep Golems on the rare side and not something that everyone seems to do. Below is the description for the Create Undead I spell, Create Undead III just allows upto type III udead to be created.

-5. Create Undead I – Given a body that has been dead less than 1 week, the caster can turn the body into a Class I Undead. The Undead will attempt to attack the closest living being (if uncontrolled), but can take no other activity other than moving to the being and attacking. If controlled, the Undead will do anything (within its capabilities) that the caster wills. The Undead can be Dispelled, Repelled, or just smashed into little pieces.

So to create my spell I can use this as a model so we get

-11th lvl, Create Flesh Golem, Area varies, Duration P, Range 10′, Type F.

Given a suitable body the caster can turn the body into a Flesh Golem. The Golem will attempt to attack the closest living being (if uncontrolled), but can take no other activity other than moving to the being and attacking. If controlled, the Golem will do anything within its capabilities.

So what list does this belong on? I could create a ‘Golem Ways’, or Golem Mastery list as I am not going to stop at just flesh golems and that is a real possibility but the key here is that the golem is a body inbued with a spirit and one of the cornerstone spell lists for nearly all essence spell users is Spirit Mastery. So I am going to put this on the spirit mastery list.

We still have an outstanding problem though. Our golem is uncontrolled. We need a way of controllling it. On the spirit mastery spell list, the stock 11th level spell is Quest

-11. Quest – Target is given one task; failure results in a penalty determined by the GM (task must be within capabilities of target). If the target ignores the quest, they will suffer the same effects as for failure.

This is perfect! As soon as the Golem is created you then have to give it a quest, the quest being its purpose. This means that the purpose must be defined at the time of creation. This will stop a player from creating an army of golems to do act as general purpose soldiers. The failure condition I would rule will release the spirit from the golem effectively killing it.

The three pages of spell law are pages 52-54, Spell Research. Our spell right now does not exist. For a spell caster to learn it they will need to do the research. To research an 11th level spell takes 8 months 1 week. (33 weeks) assuming 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week. (in RMU it will only take 18 weeks as a different formula is used for spell research durations.) As a rule of thumb that is not something that most PCs are going to do but they could if it was that important. The spell could be taught to another spell caster who knew Spirit Mastery already in 8 weeks. Now that is short enough to fit into most campaigns. I have seen characters with wounds that took longer to heal than that. This even is beginning to sound like a reason to go on an adventure to find someone who has already researched this sort of magic and so on.

What  have described is the process to give this spell to essence users but there is no reason why this does not appear on the necromancy list or at a stretch on the Life Mastery list (Cleric Base). On that list 12th level is the first time a Cleric can actually raise the dead so binding a soul into a flesh body is still viable if the clerics god would allow that. The 11th level Sorcerer Soul Destruction list acutally has a spell that can transfer part of a soul into an organic object. If they are already moving souls around this could then fit in here as well. These other professions may lack the Quest part of the process but then they just need to research that if there is no suitable spell available.

Flesh Golems are all very well but you wouldn’t want to take one home to meet your parents.

A Stone Golem is 10th level and a Type IV undead is 10th level. I think we have a match there. I would put it on the Earth Law list for the Magician but equally it fits on Solid Manipulation. The matching Create Undead spell is 15th level so I would put Create Stone Golem at 15th level. It would still need the 11th level Quest spell to control it. Iron Golems are 15th level and the matching undead spell is 25th level.

The question is, is it worth creating an entire list of for creating constructs? There are all sorts of things that could be created this way from stone gargoyles, living statues and animated suits of armour. You could dot the spells around on suitable lists such as animate object spells on the Essence Hand or Telekinesis lists or bring them all together.

It is my preference, and nothing but preference, to dot them around the other lists. If I put them all together and a player learns that list they are going to want to use it, logically enough. Whilst golems are no more powerful than undead social convention prevents them [the undead] from being used excessively. Stone Golems on the other hand could be placed around the formal gardens of a house with a purpose of protecting the inhabitants in great number. Suits of armour could line every hallway ready to leap into action and so on.

If you are familiar with Faerun then you will know that golems are use a lot as protectors of magicians towers, bank vaults and the like. Now I have the mechanism for their creation and control.

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Forgotten Realms Realmslore

This week I have been mainly studying Forgotten Realms realmslore. I must admit I am quite impressed.

I have one face to face group that meet three times a year for a long weekend of gaming and this summer I am going to start a pbp game set in and around Waterdeep and the North. The idea is to move the face to face group up into the north so that they are adventuring in the same region.

What I wanted to do was to have all the PCs in roughly the same region so that the time I devote to developing my game gets the most return on the effort. If I have the groups too spread out I have to do double the work for no extra gain.

The first port of call was the campaign setting books. Shadowdale is well detailed in the prime campaign setting and there was also a dedicated book on Waterdeep or City of Splendors as it is known, having read them I was not entirely sure what to read next. There are so many books it was not obvious which were the best references. I joined the Candlekeep forum as that looked like a pretty good place to ask questions and sure enough they came up trumps.

The first book they recommended that I read was the Volo’s guide and at the end of the Preface by Elminster was this post script.

P.S. FR1 Waterdeep and the North
remains the definitive guide to features
of Waterdeep, augmented by the City
System and Ruins of Undermountain
boxed sets, the Knight of the Living Dead
gamebook, and the module FRE3 Waterdeep.
Those desiring to explore alleys Volo
mentions would do well to consult where
the alleys meet with the sewers, on page
28 of Waterdeep and the North, if they
wish to avoid (or find, I suppose) danger.

So kindly enough right at the beginning of the first book is a reading list. As it happens I have most of the books listed and I have got stuck in. The members at Candlekeep also pointed me to the Icewind Dale series of books which are less than £7 on Amazon for the entire series. I think I may push my players up through the Dales via Icewind Dale before dropping them into the North.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy
The Icewind Dale Trilogy

As I have said before, I think, the party are made up of a Sorcerer, Cleric, Warrior Mage, Seer and only one fighter class. Seeing as the barbarian tribes living in the north are very distrustful of magic they should be in for a fine old time!

What all this brings home is what a rich setting Faerun is and what a wealth of resources are available for both the GM and the players. It certainly will not hurt the game if the players read these novels and if it helps give them more of a feel for where their characters are in the world then that has to be a good thing.

From a GM’s point of view converting stats from AD&D to Rolemaster is a doddle for monsters, traps and magic items and treasures. NPCs can take a while longer but that is only because Rolemaster is so much more detailed in its character creation. So what if you have to spend some time building your world. I have never heard of a GM who complained about he time they spend bringing their game to life.


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Rolemaster Rogues, Thieves, Burglars and the Nightblade

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I have covered a lot about the different spell casters and fighters so here is something about rolemaster thieves.

We have a sliding scale with the more violent at one end and then less violent the other. On that scale then the thieving classes pretty much fall into the order that I listed them in the title. The rogue is almost a cross over between fighter and thief, they get the best (cheapest) weapon skill costs at the expense of some of the subterfuge skills. They can still learn them but they are a little more expensive.

The thief is also called the scout and is the best all round adventuring thief with passable combat skills albeit with a limited range of weapons, good subterfuge skills and the outdoor skills to rival a ranger. Your burglar goes the other way with the best subterfuge skills but weaker in combat. Where the burgular really excels is in acts of concentration and at climbing. The official dummary of a burglar reads “He is similar to the normal thief except he has avoided almost entirely the awkward encumbrance of armor, and instead dodges and ducks very much like a martial artist.”

The final member of this team is the Nightblade. The nightblade has worse weapon and armour costs than the straight thief but has similar subterfuge skills. The big advantage is that the nightblade is a semi spell caster. As a mentalist a nightblade can wear any armour as long as he/she does not wear a head covering such as a helm but given the points cost it is going to be a bit of a hard slog to learn armour.

I have never played a nightblade so all this is theoretical. With semi spell users generally what works best is to avoid buying any magic or invest a minimal amount of development points into magic and just let it ride for the first five levels. At about fifth level something happens and that is that your core skills that you have been developing start to hit the first point of deminishing returns. Secondly some skills are ‘finished’ by that I mean some skills like armour only needs to be learned to a particular point and after that no further bonus is gained. So if you have been learning armour then you no longer need to spend points on that so you can put them into spell lists, if you were buying two ranks in your weapon skills (12 points) to gain +10 per level that would drop to just +4. If you go to just a single rank per level it costs 3 points and gives a +2. I would settle for the +2 to my attack roll and put the other 9 points towards my spell lists. The core thiefy skills are going to cost so something like 2 points for a +2, 7 points for a +4, so take the +2 and put the other 5 points towards your spells. You get the idea I hope. Everything you need to do still imporves but you can probably find 20 or so points every level to build up your spells. Also by fifth level you should have enough power points to make use of the spells as you gain them and you may well have found a spell bonus item (that allow more spells to be cast each day) to further boost your magic. Finally by starting to learn spells when you are 5th level means that when you do learn a list at least you get a handful of spells for your effort. Learn a list at 1st level and you get one spell and barely have enough powerpoints to make any use of it. Finally if you wait until you are about 5th level to learn magic your fellow adventurers may not even realise that you are a spell user at all and it is something you can keep under your hat.

A final word on the nightblades magic. This goes for any semi spell user really but you do not have to learn all your base lists (those special to the nightblade profession) it is entirely viable to learn the open mentalism lists as these are often better than the nightblade ones. There is a nightblade list relating to poisons. If you GM doesn’t want you using poisons any way and gets fed up with you killing everything that way then buying magic to amplify that is not going to go down well. On the other hand buying the mentalist healing list is brilliant for an adventurer, being able to see into the future is useful as being able to detect magic items. There is more to nightblade magic than the nightblade base lists.

There is one thing that makes all thieves stand out and that is that they are probably the single most useful professions in all of Rolemaster. Their skills extend into combat, stealth, subtly, information gathering and even magic and healing. A well rounded thief is almost never out of options and is always an asset to his team and can slip into any role. Th eweakest thief is probably the burglar and that is only because he has chosen to move away from that ‘all rounder’ characteristic and becomes a little bit more of a specialist.

Others of course may disagree.

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Rolemaster Fighters Rock pt III

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Question:What are the differences between a european-esque knight, a centurion, a samurai and a viking berserker?

Answer:What the player wanted to get out of the game.

In Rolemaster there are two approaches to getting exactly the PC you had in mind. The first is the hard earned cash version where you go out and buy all the Rolemaster companions and build the character to the profession as defined in those books. There will be as many companions for the new RMU as there is demand for and there are more companions for RM2/RMC/RMSS/FRP than any sane person requires (but we are roleplayers so we have them all).

The other approach is the ‘distilled essence’ approach. What makes a viking a viking? Well I would say, a bit of it is equipment, chain shirt, big shield, battle axe and a brace of hand axes would just about do it.

Skills-wise then the must have is Frenzy (bonus ‘to hit’, double damage and can take more damage before falling down), sailing/navigation/rowing and tale telling would just about cover it if you asked me.

You can have all of that with a stock fighter profession with points to spare.

The Samaurai? Well, rigid leather armour, katana, wakizashi (short sword), long bow for both skills and equipment and caligraphy as a skill. There is a useful skill called tumbling attack and a couple of combat skills such as reverse strike to attack people directly behind you and Ia strike to draw and strike in a single movement. I think that just about does it.

The knight is heavy on the weapons and armour, platemail, broadsword, flail, and lance, ride horse and some heraldry skill.

The centurion I would give a platemail breastplate (Armour Type 17 in Rolemaster parlance) and shield, shortsword, pilum (javelin) and definitely some skill in seige engineering and tactics.

Rolemaster has some really useful skills to compliment the straight weapon and armour skills. You do not need them all but you can use them to add that bit of something extra to a fighter. There are tumbling skills for evasion and attacking, reverse strike for attacking those behind you, two different ways of getting a quickdraw (by adreanal move and by Ia strike), ambush, martial arts (several), jousting and subduing to name just a handful.

I have found with some groups of players they start out with a strong sense of identity and a concept behind the character but as soon as you wave a nice magic item in front of them the concept goes out window.

Here is what I mean Player: Thrud is a barbarian from the wilds and shuns heavy armour as a sign of cowardice. 24 hours pass… GM: You open the chest and inside is a suit of +3 platemail Player: Cool I’m having that!

In Rolemaster you generally end up sticking to your original concept more because the choices you make at character design time can have a long term impact. You rank the different weapon skills so that one is easy to learn (cheap to buy with development points) and the others get progressively more expensive. If you have already chosen to learn broadsword, flail and lance then you regardless of how good that battle axe is it is going to be a major investment in time and effort before you get any good a wielding it. The same goes for the armour skills. To become fully proficient in moving in any type of armour takes an investment and commitment. Really light armours are easy to learn but your chain and plate armours will take you many levels to learn.

Going back to professions (character classes) Rolemaster Classic with no expansion of the rules has nine pure spell casters, three hybrid spell casters, three semi spell casters and only four non spell casters (realm of arms as they are called). This is not because Rolemaster is lop sided and bias towards the magical side of fantasy rolepalying it is because you can do so much realise your charcter concept right off the page with no need to define new professions. Those four are actually just Fighter, Rogue, Thief and Warrior Monk but with that spectrum from heavy armour to no armour as the default starting point you can pretty much build whatever you want.

My favourite theif character (may the gods rest his soul) wore platemail, he used a spear, hung out with knights most of the time, he had learned a little mentalism magic (attack avoidance and self healing) and was very adept at adrenal moves.  He could hold his own in a joust using a lance, which is treated as a similar weapon to spear so can use half his spear skill. When his skill is combined with adreanal move strength to get a boost to his attack roll and deliver double damage and magical protection from his spells (staking shield and blade turn) he could get pretty far in a tourney. He was even mistaken for a Paladin once and whilst he never claimed that himself he didn’t see the need to set the record straight too vociferously.

Buying Platemail for that character was a nightmare and a real drain on his development points but I wanted the character to be more con artist and confidence trickster at court and for that the armour was worth the investment. Without the amour on he was a competent thief and forger more inclined to steal documents than coin.

A different arms user I built recently was the one I described on Monday that leads with a volley of hand axes, one in each hand and with Adrenal Move Speed. He really does pile in like a ton of bricks. His weakness is that he is as stealthy as a bucket of bolts in a tumble dryer.

In Rolemaster there are so many choices beyond the “long sword, long bow, shield and plate” fighter of my D&D days but you can play that too if that is what you want.

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Rolemaster Fighters Rock! pt II

It is easy to build almost any kind of fighter in Rolemaster but you should not be blinkered, there can be a lot of cross over between the different types of non-spell caster. Is a pirate a fighter with some maritime skills who steals things or a thief that likes to fight first and ask questions later? In Rolemaster the answer is which ever you want to play it.

Armour skills are increasingly expensive as the armour gets heavier which means that if you want to play a light, nimble warrior then what you save in armour costs you can spend on other skills. A platemailed knight will spend more on armour but probably would not be spending points on acrobatics and tumbling.

Now I am dredging  my memory here but as we went up levels in D&D fighters got to do more attacks, something like:

Fighter Level Attacks per Round
1-6 l/round
7-12 3/2 rounds
13&up 2/round

In Rolemaster you have more than one option for doing this and none of them are hard and fast level based.

You really have two options which are not mutually exclusive. The first is two weapon combo or fighting with a weapon in each hand thus:

It is expensive to learn fighting with two weapons but it is open to everyone. If you are not particularly skills you will get a penalty while using this style and it has disadvantages. Unless you are seriously deformed in some way you will not be able to use a shield and I would like to see you parry an incoming arrow.

Your second option is what is called an Adrenal Move Speed, this is a skill where you take a minus in one round to ‘prepared’ and in the next round if you are sucessful with your skill roll you are effectively hasted for one round. So no you can have your three attacks every two rounds if your adrenal move speed skill is good enough.

If you really have the need for speed why not combine these two? Yes you can really get two attacks/four attacks/two attacks/four attacks but combining two weapon combo and adrenal most speed. From a game play point of view  the balancing factor is that the rounds when you are preparing your adrenal move you would be at a minus, if you failed the skill roll then you don’t get the bonus and the development point costs would limit the character in other areas. You would also be at a disadvantage compared to a shield user against bow fire or other missile weapons.

Now almost every combat system I have ever experienced has the same feature of when you start to lose it is very hard to swing the balance back the other way. In Rolemaster this is equally true. With things like criticals giving wounded characters penalties to their actions, stunning them and bleeding wounds losing can be a steep slippery slope. Figthers can use this to their advantage.

I always like to start a fight by going in hard and fast, the proverbial bull in a china shop. Most fights take place in relatively confined spaces and at short distances. If you are surprised then there is not a great deal you can do about it but if you are the agressor then heck lets give it to them! Learning skills like two weapon combo with thrown weapons like hand axes means that you can open the fight with a opening barrage before they even get into melee. Hopefully you manager to get your sword out before they do crash into you but that double hit in the opening round can make all the difference between back foot or front foot for the rest of the fight. Unlike arrows axes do not go that far so you should be able to recover them If over time you manage to build up that adrenal move speed then you will be truly scary in that first round.

In a recent game we knew there were a group of Uruk Hai guards beyond the next door guarding a staircase we had to get up. The ranger wanted me to open the door so he could take a shot with his long bow to which I argued back that compared to him I had a broadside like a battle ship in such close quarters. It was true at such short rangees and with us choosing when to open that door and open fire I could prepare everything. I killed, maimed or otherwise put down two out of four Uruks and wounded a third. There was no way the Ranger could have done anywhere near the same damage despite being better with a bow than I was and him having an item that give him haste.

So if you like your fighters big and heavy then build them to go in like a ton of bricks and you will be very pleased with the results. you may not be able to cast fireball but you can be just as dangerous all day everyday as a fighter.

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Enough about Spell Casters, Fighters Rock!

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I have spent most of this month telling you how Rolemaster spell casters are streets ahead of their D&D couterparts… wait until you see a Rolemaster figher in action.

My memories of playing D&D fighters was something like:

Round 1, Kobold hits you, take damage, roll to hit, roll damage, kobold is dead.

Round 2, Kobold misses you, roll to hit, roll damage, kobold is dead.

Two to one odds, kobolds vs first or second level fighter and the kobolds have little or no chance. Try that in Rolemaster and I wouldn’t like to say which way the fight is going to go. It is not that Kobolds are dangerous it is just as soon as anyone starts waving swords around people are going to get hurt, that is just the way of things.

One of the really nice things about Rolemaster combat is that a 1st level character can take on a 10th level one and the result is not a forgone conclusion. The rolemaster rules have two mechanisms to faciitate this. the first is the ‘open ended roll’.

Open Ended Rolls

Ever since I played D&D there was always some rule in place that if you rolled a 20 on your to hit then you got some sort of bonus be it double damage or you did max damage. Open ended rolls are Rolemasters answer to that. As RM is played with D100 and not a D20 the magic starts when you roll a 96+. You then get to roll another D100 and add the result. This can go on forever if required. There is a bad version of this and roll 01-04 and you have to roll again and deduct the second dice roll. Once the direction is set, open ended up or open ended down then that is set. So roll and 01 and you are going downwards, roll a 96 and that is another open ended roll so you roll again but the result continues going downwards. If the third rol was a 50 the result would be 01-(96+50) = -145. That is never going to be a good result.

In RM the attack roll and damage roll are one and the same so an exceptionally high roll not only is going to guarantee the hit but also do pretty good damage. Now anyone who has heard anything about any flavour of RM knows about the critical tables. There is a second D100 roll that you may get if your attack was good enough and that is your critical. For the most part these range from A to E with E being the most likely to kill you.

The way that the combat system works (Arms Law) is that with light armour you are hard to hit but take a lot of damage and more severe critical, with heavy armour you are easier to hit but take little damage and less severe criticals. An A or B critical will not kill you even on a roll of 100 but they could knock you out cold. An E critical will probably kill on a roll of 80+. Delivering E criticals is good taking them regularly is not good.

To tell you more about critical, they often give the location specific details, the gorey details of the strike and additional damage. Slashing and puncturing weapons may cause bleeding, crushing weapons are more likely to stun you, you can have muscles and tendons slashed and lose the use of your weapon or shield arm and so on.

Being stunned is really bad, you cannot attack when stunned*, you are easier to hit and find it harder to parry and to carry out manouveurs.

So lets glance back to our 2 on 1 kobold fight and each kobold has a 1 in 20 chance of getting that open ended attack roll and as there are two of them that is a 10% chance that one of them at least will be lucky. Should one of our lucky kobolds manage to get a critical strike in and stun the fighter then he is immediately on the defensive. he becomes easier to hit, cannot easily attack back and finds it difficult to defend effectively, our kobolds suddenly have the upper hand regardless of what level you are and that is something that almost never happens in D&D.

Creating a fighter in RM is just a case of picking that profession and then buying the skills that you want. Moving in armour is a skill so you can pick the type of armour that you fancy, weapons are learned individually and then there are lots of other combat skills that allow you to quickdraw, blind fight, reverse stroke, dodge opponents attacks and a multitude more. It is very easy to build your vision.

Fighters are balanced in the game mechanics by a system of deminishing returns on skills so the more skill ranks you buy eventually they start to add less to your skill bonuses. Th emore different classes of weapon that you know the more expensive the skills are to buy so it is harder to be really good with swords, bows, polearms, crushing weapons like maces and thrown weapons. You could of course be that jack of trades but you would pay for it elsewhere in your character development.

Now just like the spell casters there is more to the RM fighters than sword, shield, platemail and big muscles. Next time I will highlight some of the features that can make a fighter a really scarey foe.

* There is a skill available to learn called stunned manouveur that allows you to attempt to overcome the effects of stun but it depends on how hard you were hit and good you are at the skill.

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Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths pt III

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The spell casters from two out of the three realms of magic, essence and channeling, have relatively simple to learn ways of storing power in inanimate objects. There is a fourth ‘realm’ known as Arcane that can be utilsed by any realm that also has this ability if and only if as a GM you choose to use this option from Rolemaster Companion One. As a rule and for the purposes of this post I am going to assume you are only using the four core books (Character Law, Spell Law, Arms Law and Creatures & Treasures) and therefore mentalists do not have this ability.

Anyone who has played a magic user of any description in almost any level based roleplaying game has been through the trauma of being first level and having barely a single squirt of magic to use per day. Things do not improve much at second level with maybe two sqirts and at third level three or four squirts. Rolemaster is less restrictive because it is a power point based system. In my game most spell users have typically two or three power points per level because I use an optional rule that bases power points on the total stat bonus a character has in the controling stat rather than the basic stat itself. This makes elves a more magical race and more inclined to manipulate mentalism and essence and it makes trolls less likely to be spell casters. The maximum number of power points for a player character is going to be 4 per level and the minimum is zero.

First level spells normally require one power point, second level two points and so on until you reach 50th level spells that take 50 power points.

That should be simple enough. So your first level spell caster will probably have two or thress spell lists and would be able to cast two of three of the first level spells on those list.

So now to storing magic…

I want to deal with Channeling users first. The realm of channeling has a closed list called Symbolic Ways. What that means is that pure channeling spell casters can learn this list as can hybrid spell casters but the semi spell casters such as rangers cannot nor can non spell casting classes. The first instance of spell storing on this list occurs at 4th level (in the RMC spell law) and allows a 2000lb stone or slab to be incribed with a single symbol. That symbol can be any first level spell. The symbol creator can then set a criteria that will trigger the spell and that spell can be triggered once per day.

In my Fearun most towns and villages do not have a temple to every god. Instead what you get is on the outskirts of these places are shrines to gods that are important to the people. You will find shrines to Chauntea commonly in rural areas, Mielikki on the edges of woods and forests and so on. So under Rolemasters rules any 4th level channeller who has chosen the symbolic way list of spells can create a semi permenant magical standing stone. This is not going to be of earth shattering power. At that level only a symbol of a first level spell can be enscribed but it is a start. As the character levels up then more powerful spells can be enscribed. At 7th level a second level spell can be enscribed, at 9th a 3rd level at 11th a 5th level, you get the picture.

Creating the symbol involves casting the required symbol spell and then the spell the be enscribed within the rounds (30 seconds). This is not particularly onerous and if we take the example of a resident priest demanding a penance from a sinner of assisting with raising a standing stone is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Villagers may not have a lot of money to give to the church but a days labour is always an option. Over time then the countryside around this village becomes dotted with standing stones, caves where villagers can hide from bandits can also become dedicated by the priest.

What a manifestation of power it is to have a stone in the centre of your village that anyone who prays to it is cured of disease.

You can have stones that heal, create food and drink, raise the dead or even summon demons to defend the church.

As a player character you are not going to carry one of these things into battle but if the party set up camp in a cave or outcropping of stone then you can certainly use that to your advantage, especically if you then fell in battle. The possibilities are really down to the lists of spells you have, the access to stones and your imagination.

And so to essence….

I dealt with channeling because stones are to some extent fairly common, you could throw a stick and have a fair chance of hitting one. The Essence version of spell storing requires something a little less common. In D&D when you read a scroll then *poof* the scroll is gone, dead, deceased, it is no more. Rolemaster is different. Firstly scrolls are pretty much exclusively called Runes and secondly the paper survives and can be reused.

The spell list for creating the rune on the paper is called Rune Mastery and is an open list. This means that any essence spell caster can learn it and even non spell casting professions like your fighters, thieves and barbarians can attempt this if they choose the realm of essence.

Rune Mastery do not allow you to create the paper, only to scribe your own spell on to it. As with channeling the higher level you are the higher the level of spell you can store. at 3rd level you can store a 1st, at 6th a 2nd, 8th a 3rd, 10th a 4th, 12 a 5th and so on. So an Essence user can start doing this sooner than a channeling and rune paper is more portable. The down side is that rune paper is less common than big rocks, slightly more flamable and liable to water damage.

Not all rune paper is equal. When it is created it is given a maximum level of spell that it can hold. This is determined by the power of the alchemist that creates it. A master alchemist is capable of far greater things than an apprentice. Alchemists are a fully developed profession in Rolemaster Classic and they have their own spell lists for creating all sorts of magical items including rume paper, potions and enchanted objects. Rume paper features on the standard equipment and suplies price list in Character Law but it would be down to the individual GM to decide on the actual cost and availability.

Having a stock of rune paper available does mean that you can extend the essence spell casters ‘operational range’ significantly, especially when on a mission the party can prepare for. In a recent game all the magic required to get the party into an enemy stronghold (flight, invisibilty, silence and sleep spells) all came from runes meaning that I had my full set of power points available when our stealth finally failed us and the alarm was raised.

Ten sheets of rune paper in the hands of just a 3rd level essence spell caster adds a potential ten more first level spells. Considering that that spell caster may have only six power points of their own that is nearly a tripling of their available magic and leaves those six points free for their more powerful spells.

In play I have found that the hybrid and pure spell users gain the most from runes. These are the ones most dependent on their magic and extending the amount of magic available gives both the player and the character greater flexibility.

As a GMing tip I would say if you are new to Rolemaster then I would not allow the party to buy rune paper. Let them find runes as part of their treasure they find and reuse the paper. That means that they have earned every sheet. The party has to reach 3rd level any way before they can use it so there is enough time to trickle a few sheets into the game and see how it effects the balance of play before you decide how much more to allow. Rune paper is easily removed from a game as well at the hands of a fireball.

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Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths pt II

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I think that the variety of spell casters that Rolemaster provides makes the system very flexible. The profession you choose defines not only the spell lists available but the skills that profession is inclined to buy, illusionists are observant, mystics subtle, mentalists are a bit gungho. The spell lists open to each profession also help define that profession, obviously. If Rolemaster stopped there then it is possible that all magicians would end up the same, all clerics the same and so on.

That is the situation with D&D last time I played it. Every magic user was desperate to get to 5th level so they could cast fireball. If you made that that far then finally you had the fighters’ respect and could do something they couldn’t. Rolemaster doesn’t stop there though. The magic is only just beginning.

There is a really important part of the Spell Law rule book on magical research. What this relates to is creating your own spells to fit into the spell lists you have learned. Most spell lists in Rolemaster do not have one spell for every level. There are gaps in the spell lists so you may have a 1st level spell, a 3rd, 4th, 7th and 10th but no spell available for the other levels. Illusionists for example have no spells at all between 15th and 20th. With spell research you can either fill in the gaps in your spell lists or define new spells to sit alongside the existing ones. There is really no reason not to have two 5th level spells.

It is quite a good starting adventure for a new spell using character to have his master send him some where to complete some research and give him a spell that no one else has. There are loads of really simple things you could do with just first level spells. As an example if the player wanted to play a fire based mage and has Fire Law then researching a Detect Fires spell. Give it the same parameters the other detection law/mastery spells but allows the caster to detect fires through walls, floors and ceilings. This will teach the player the mechanics of researching spell and open them up to the potential.

I have one player that always misses not having ‘magic missile’ in Rolemaster. I think Shockbolt is meant to fulfill that roll but it is not the same. This is one of the things that spell research is meant to address. You want it your way? You got it! As the advertising slogan says.

Researching spells takes a week per level of the spell for spells 1st-5th level and 2 weeks a level for 6th-10th and so on if you are researching a spell to fit into your own lists(in RMC, RMU uses a different formula). In addition to the time you need access to research materials; books, ancient scrolls, other mages research and so on. Here in is the basis of a first adventure, get to a library or another spell caster’s personal library and complete the research, that is the reason for the spell user to leave his master and set out in the world.

With spell research in play you can have two spell casters of the same level and profession, knowing the same spell lists and even freakishly having the same stats and number of power points but playing completely differently and having different abilities because they have researched different aspects of their spell lists.

The rules (in RMC) literally take up less than two pages in Spell Law so this is not a complex, advanced players option despite the fact that many GMs and players treat it that way. The sooner you get your players creating their own spells the sooner you will have them putting their own stamp on their characters. Then of course you have the option of having players teaching spells they have learned to other characters. This only takes a quarter of the time but does make player cooperation really interesting.

Now even with professions, spell lists and their own custom spells Rolemaster has even more to give the magic user. I will continue with that next time.

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Magic Is One of Rolemasters Strengths

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I remember when I first saw Spell Law, the rolemaster magic rule book, I was not overly impressed. When dealing with magic my background was largely D&D with the hundreds of PHB spells and probably an equal number of add on spells from Dragon magazine and from the backs of modules and such. Spell Law and the Rolemaster magic system takes a bit of getting used to but if you leave your preconceptions at the door it is an amazing system.

The first danger facing a new gamemaster is to make learning magic too easy. There are several optional rules about learning spell lists and entirely alternative learning methods availabel to the GM in the core rules and companions. Every one of them makes magic easier to learn. I have tried most of them over the years and have come back full circle to using the strictest rules and these give the players the most fun. There was an awful lot of moaning from my players when I did impose the strict rule set but that was because they had become spoiled by the overly generous rules they had been playing under. It doesn’t help that in our gaming weekends we have spent half the weekend playing 20th level characters created under the generous rules and half playing 1st level characters under the strict set. That is one hell of a culture shock.

At first glance it appears that Spell Law gives distinct sets of spells with each ‘set’ or list going from 1st to 20th and then 25th, 30th and 50th. The spell caster can cast all the spells of his level or lower from all the sets they know. Lists have to be learned in blocks of 1-10, 11-20th and then the three highest level spells are learned as up to 25th, up to 30th and up to 50th.

The first thing to realise that that basic model is not always true. Some character classes, ‘professions’ in RM, have specific lists that work differently. The two that spring to mind are healers who have a transference list that is a list of just one spell and illusionists who have their prime illusion lists completely interconnected so that they would all have to be learned before they can effectively create illusions, more on this below.

What you can do within rolemaster’s magic system is layer spells. Many spells work on the next spell you cast for example to increase the duration of a spell you would cast and Extension spell followed by the spell you want to extend. Runes can be written to specially prepared paper the same way and a door could be warded or a standing stone inscribed with powerful symbol. Other lists need to have their spells used together, different protective spells will only protect against one type of magic and so you will have to layer different protective spells.

There are rules on which spells ‘stack’ and which don’t. The rule being that spells with the same name do not stack. Using Extension as an example Extension II is a 3rd level spell and doubles the duration of a spell, Extension III is a 7th level spell and triples the duration. Despite the numbering these are the same spell so you could not cast both and try and get six times the duration on your spell. Certain spells do not stack simply because they are contradictory. There is a spell called Aura that makes the caster appear incredibly powerful and adds to the caster’s defence. There is another spell that makes the cast hazy and indistinct. It also adds to the casters defence. You cannot use Aura and Blur at the same time. Apart from a few exceptions like this you can stack pretty much anything and use that option to create so many more magical effect. A mid to high level magic user of about 10th level can litterally have more than 100 spells to choose from. Although many spells are very specific and of limited day to day use having them to hand for that one time they are just the right tool for the job is invaluable.

If you are new to Rolemaster then it is certainly worth reading all the spell lists available to a profession and seeing which lists work together before planning which lists to learn.

Now Illusionists in Rolemaster are NOTHING like a D&D illusionist! Firstly, you cannot disbelieve and illusion. There is no saving throw, Resistance Roll in Rolemaster parlance, as the illusion is actually created. What I mean is that a simple light mirage spell does actually create the image, if you stick your hand through it then you will know it isn’t a real elephant or whatever but the image is really theree. If you create an sound mirage of a claxon to raise the alarm then there really will be a big loud noise, the device that made it may not exist but the noise does. Illusionists have seperate lists for dealing with light, sound and touch/feel etc. They then have a master list called Greater Illusions but you can only use the ‘senses’ in your greater illusions if you know the corresponding spell for that sense. What the illusions (stationary) and phantasms (mobile) do is combine the different mirage spells into coherent multisensory illusions. If the illusionist know the touch/feel mirage then you can actually touch the illusion, pick it up and carry it off if you wanted or on the other hand it could fall on you and do real damage. For the duration of the spell an illusion is on the verge of being a real thing under the mental control of the illusionist. I would not recommend an illusionist as a first character in Rolemasters until you are really au fait with the magic system.

I have writen about this before but there are so many more types of magic using profession in Rolemaster that you will have to leave a lot of your D&D preconeptions behind. The sheer power of many spells simply is not apparent from reading the description in the book, you have to see it in action. There is a spell that make herbs more effective. Healing herbs play a big part in most rolemaster games. A typical common healing herb is Rewk, you brew it up and drink it and it heals 2-20 hits. Most mid to high level characters have 130-150 hits for comparison purposes. Rewk is both common and cheap to buy but is often over looked by characters because they would have to carry so much of it because of the disparity of healing to total hits. As an animist goes up levels they can double and triple the effectiveness of herbs and by 15th level they can times that by 10. Now you common or garden Rewk is healing 20-200hits. Rewk costs 9sp, less than one gold piece a dose. Yavethalion is a herb that heals 5-50 and costs 45gp, Gefnul heals 100 hits and costs 90gp. A starting character starts the game with 3gp typically (I seem to remember about 150gp was common in D&D as starting money) so you can see that that simple spell can mean the difference between life and death or at the very least empty money bags!

Spell Law I believe contains about 2000 spells split between three realms of power and those can be stacked and combined to make a lot of variations to fit your characters vision but the spell lists as presented only account for one part of the magic system within Spell Law.

Next time I will give you a primer on magical research.

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