I’m Your Greatest Fan!

I was thinking about NPCs today. In particular about NPCs that join the party. I know some GMs like to throw in an NPC healer just because RM is so bloody dangerous that someone needs to keep the characters alive.

I am not a fan of NPC healers. I like having an NPC to give me a voice in the party. I am not sure that is always a good thing.

So, I am there happily thinking about NPCs and suddenly thought “There is a plot idea!” Imagine an NPC that is so entranced by one of the PCs that not only do they want to be in the band but they want to get rid of the others so they can have the PC to themselves.

So I am thinking along the lines of a cuckoo in the nest sort of plot with the NPC as the cuckoo. This could slowly ferment and bubble away under the skin. You could always have the NPC run short of herbs just when they get to which ever PC is closest (emotionally) to the ‘target PC’, or happen to ‘not hear’ requests for healing if it is a chaotic situation.

How soon before you reach a crisis if the healer withdraws their support?

This is an off the cuff thought this morning but scarily this is the second post I have done where the Healer is the bad guy.

Does that say something about me or should we not go there? 🙂

Professional Gamemasters For Hire. The solution for boosting the RPG community?

After reading that blog entry, I can’t keep thinking about the possibilities around an expansive system for hiring and paying GM/DMs to run games. Curious, I looked up “DMforhire.com” and found a DM in Canada offering his services through that website. Looking it over, it’s clear that John is offering a premium service: props, music, miniatures, theatrical touches etc. John is obviously just promoting himself—what I envision is a “Uber” of GM services. A scalable platform that:

  1. Allows GMs to create an account and offer their services. This would include the types/systems, play style, availability, pricing and a feedback system that rates the GMs.
  2. A scheduling and payment system to allow a GM to host an event that will manage signups and handle payments.
  3. A search function that allows a group to find a GM or an individual to find a game session.

This software solution is already “off the shelf” functionality. A combination of Angies List, Constant Contact and Meetup and some websites already trying to offer part of the concept. This includes sites like: nearbygames.com and rpggamefind.com. What I’ve found is that these “game finder” sites don’t really work—they are not enough content, participants or incentives.

However, I think the issue is not the number of interested games, but the number of available GMs. If you read forums and blog sites you’ll find quite a few articles about the challenges of GMs: finding time to prepare material, the cost of game books, the cost of snacks, players not taking things seriously etc. Being a GM is rewarding, but it can be time consuming and costly. Let’s say that an average GM can charge $5/hr: that’s $25/hr or $150 per day long session. Does that seem like a lot? Maybe for ready to play material, but what if the GM is writing proprietary material, providing appropriate miniatures (and painting them), drawing battle maps and drafting dungeon layouts. 10 hours of prep, 6 hours of game time comes out to about $9/hr. So not great, but if you are a top rated GM that can charge $10-$20/hr/player then it starts to look better.

Almost like a DJ, a GM could build their brand by a combination of hosting games and selling their own content. Would this motivate more people to become GMs, create their own material and work to improve their craft? Is a GM no different than any other performance artist, director or event planner? Is professionalizing GMs the last step to formalizing the RPG economy? A recent thread post over at the RM Forums made me think that this solution addresses a lot of issues that people are just picking around the edges.

Some other possible benefits:

  1. Brand building could allow game companies to target to rated GMs to use their game systems.
  2. By paying, players should get a more professional and polished session.
  3. Since they are paying, players may take their role-playing more seriously, and game sessions may be less prone to distractions.
  4. More GMs mean more game sessions, which boosts active players, grows the community and thus, the industry as a whole.
  5. A more formal structure gives game companies the ability to sponsor top performing GMs. That could entail paying travelling expenses to convetions, new products or even subsidizing their service fee.

I’m not suggesting a “pay for play” solution across the board, only as a supplement to the current hobby. Most parts of this have already been tried: scheduling software, find-a-game websites, sanctioned GMs, and sponsored GMs to participate at conventions. The one piece missing? GMs being paid for their work, effort and creativity. I think it could be a solution worth exploring.

In Just Seven Days I can Make You A Man!

Tucked away at the back of different versions of Creatures & Treasures are some interesting little add on chapters. In the first C&T that I owned it has the comversion stats for D&D and Runequest. In the RMC Creatures and Treasures it has guidelines for creating your own monsters.

I am a dab hand at D&D monster conversions as I convert from old FR modules to RM all the time but creating new monsters is not something I have ever done.

There are three immediate uses I can think of for new monsters but I only want to discuss one of them here and now.

If your characters have been around for years (such as the hypothetical 50th level characters in BriH’s adventure plans) then they have probably met and killed everything many times over. So how about something completely new?

Trying to find a monster in the book to challenge a party of high level characters is simply not possible. I have never played at 50th level but a small party of 30th level characters, I know from experience, can eat Balrogs for breakfast and have Nazgul for whipping boys. Been there and done that, if not quite literally. Four us us once fought three Dragons simultaneously on the slopes of Mount Erabor. The monsters in C&T simply do not cut it when it comes to VHL characters.

The easy option and the one I have seen most often is to resort to evil NPCs as the end of level boss. These scale well and are the only thing that can challenge a party. 12 50th level bad guys will be a real challenge for a normal party of 50th level characters. The problem is that I guess the end of level boss is always an evil magician or evil mentalist and at that level everyone has all the spell lists so where is the sense of excitement?

Toss in something new and all of a sudden the players do not know how to handle it. So my challenge to myself is to create some adventures around completely new monsters. I have one really cool idea already that is now on my to do list.

So who here has actually made their own monsters?

Weekend Roundup: May 5th 2017

I’m straight out with projects, but I wanted to get something posted today to maintain our 1 post/day goal for this month! After this month, for the summer, I expect we’ll slow the posting frequency for the next few months so we can finalize the 50in50 adventure challenge and get some other files finished. This would be a good time for guest bloggers, so if you have any interest reach out to Peter.

Every news article is an RPG idea!

If this is true, how much power in a Dragon bite?

Real monsters…are real. And this is just freaky.

Mana from the heavens.

Cool? Reminds me of this book series.

Rise of the Althans…it’s beginning.

Early attempts at Ritual Magic.

Everytime we try to frame the future in a Scifi RPG, reality seeps in…

First it was time crystals…now “Hyper Crystals“….soon “Essaence Crystals”.

THIS requires more discussion or an in depth blog post.



Gun Powder in Shadow World.

So, I’ve introduced gun powder to Shadow World. Part of this is based on hints that Terry has made in various SW products and the other is my integration of “Alchemy” into my rule set. I’ve already established that the Essaence affects covalent and ionic bonds (which explains magical materials) and Kulthea is not rich with reactive minerals.

Gun Powder is interesting, unpredictable, and not necessarily a game changer in a world with Elemental Magic, but technology is still progressing. I like the steampunk opportunities in Shadow World, and I like the “Musketeers” angle that can be created by combining simple guns with sword play.

As an ancillary example, someone brought up the “Powder Mage” books on the RM forums. I think you could easily model that world with Rolemaster, but you would have to create a ruleset around the “powder control” displayed in the book. Any of the Magician elemental lists are good templates: rather than controlling an element, you just create spells around detecting, sensing, controlling or buffing using gun powder. The book series also has regular mages—very powerful and would need their own powers or spell lists. Otherwise, in response to that forum post, the Powder Mage setting is easily modeled with RM rules.

Back to Shadow Word. We have ancient tech lasers and energy weapons, crystal power, steam energy, electric zap guns and everything in between. Why not introduce gun powder and guns as a unreliable, but occasionally potent technology? Shadow World Gun Slinger anyone?

50th level adventures in Rolemaster. Does it work?

50th lvl…the mythical pinnacle of roleplaying achievement. I vaguely recall 1sted. D&D and I don’t recall 50th lvl (maybe it was 20th in that game system?). I do remember looking through Rolemaster for the very first time and thought the 50th lvl spells were so crazy—and cool! It opened up a world of possibilities. After that, MERP modules continued to introduce VHL (very high level) NPCs that continued pushing this perception of Rolemaster: deadly, complex and high level. After that…Shadow World. Again, the inference was that this was a high fantasy world, only populated by incredibly powerful NPCs and organizations.

So, Peter and I are working on a 50th level adventure series. Mine are based in Shadow World, but I’m going to convert these adventures to a generic format. So guess what? Creating adventures can be hard, but creating an adventure for a group of 50th lvl +- adventurers is even tougher!

Some people would argue that RM system rules break down around 15th lvl. Others would argue that the gradual power progression of RM spells, while potent, is not the same progression as the power progression of spells in AD&D—spells like “Wish” make high level Magic Users or Cleric almost god-like. Many 50th lvl spells in Spell Law are just “Laws”: the ability to cast lower level spells 1/rnd. That’s an efficient resource spell, but perhaps doesn’t lend itself to a transcendent narrative.

My first question when starting this adventure design was: “Under what circumstances would a 50th lvl PC even get involved? Not all world threats should, or can be, handled by a “well balanced group” of 5-15th lvl characters. An adventure should be: challenging, interesting and rewarding. Once a PC reaches the heights of 50th lvl, what is challenging? What adventure could possibly be new, novel or interesting? What could be rewarding for a player group equaling 200-250 levels?

We are going to try and find out with our Rolemasterblog 5of50 later this year. Have you run or played in a VHL adventure or campaign? What worked? What didn’t?

Rolemaster Adventure Hooks: Head Fake or Trope Embrace?

If you are a regular reader here than you probably know that Rolemasterblog is putting together a challenge of writing 50 Adventures in 50 Days! These are short adventures or “hooks”, and while there is no such thing as a new idea, I think that Peter and I have come up with some twists and turns that add depth to a one dimensional challenge.

For me this is an exercise in both creativity and discipline. I try to outline an idea every day or two and work to add an interesting element to give it some “flair”.  What I have found is that I’m torn between embracing classic RPG tropes and trying to come up with something new and novel. As much as I want to avoid standard adventures ideas, there is something appealing about an old fashion dungeon crawl or fortress layout! But I also enjoy subverting classic tropes and messing with my players assumptions!

Hopefully, people will enjoy the Rolemasterblog creative content–even derivative ideas could spark your own creative process.


Personal Bugbear

There is one bit of every version of Rolemaster so far that I absolutely detest. That is the use of cryptic lookup codes. These are the codes that appear on the herbs and poison list and the monster locations/habitats.

It is the monsters habitats I really cannot stand. I know this has come up in the past but I was statting out an adventure the other night and these codes had me flipping back and forth through Creatures and Treasures yet again.

Black Stalker

This time is was the Black Stalker. This is the first line of their entry in C&T.

Black Stalker – [(–)–EK#–8]; 5’6″–7′;

At least it isn’t obtuse or unclear where these hunters are found! What is even more bizarre is the translation of these particular codes resolves as Enchanted/magical places and the cross-over points between dimensions and also ruins. Which is in fact wrong!

The whole point of the stalker is that it can be found anywhere. They hunt their designated target without fail, where ever they are. This really is like having the Terminator after you!

Creature Law

I was looking at the new Creature Law again and I noticed that these codes have finally been stripped out.

In the new Creature Law the Black Stalker has been somewhat toned down making them easier to defeat (slower initiative, weaker armour, poorer stalk & hide skill and the magical bonus on their weapon has been halved).

I don’t think toning them down is a bad thing but I was thinking about BriH’s goal of writing adventures for 50th level characters and these were going to be my go to villain. They were potentially too dangerous to use with a ‘normal’ party. They certainly punch above their weight on the battle field.

In my game I do not use the full breadth of the creatures in the D&D universe. Although I play in the Forgotten Realms the average module will have 20 different species living in the same location often with not a hint as to how they co-exist. I tend to slim those down. RM allows you to level creatures up and down so I don’t need to have kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, ogres, bugbears, owlbears, a gelatinous cube, two green slimes and a black pudding all in the same cave to create a challenge. When I am doing a conversion like that those dreaded creature codes can burn up 10% to 20% of all my prepping time trying make these things coherent and true to the setting and rules.

Good riddance to them is all I can say!

Rolemasterbloggery: Happy Anniversary–to ME!

It completely escaped my notice until today, but April 26th was 1 year since my first post on Rolemasterblog.com. Since that first blog I was able to put up 114 posts in 12 months–almost 1 blog post every 3 days! I’m not sure how long I can continue that pace; part of the reason Peter and I would like to see other contributors on the blog (plus it’s nice to have new voices, thoughts and viewpoints).

I’ve started reviewing some of these older posts; even in one years time some of my ideas and positions have changed.  Plus I couldn’t even recall half of what I wrote so it’s fun to reread some of them to remind myself what I was thinking at the time. In no particular order, here are a few that I thought are worth revisiting:

5/15/16. Skill Atrophy. Judging by the response, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for this rule proposal, but, we’ve been using it for quite some time and I still like it. For anyone that took the winter off from exercise, you know that loss of physical fitness is a real phenomena. Skill atrophy models that,  it incentives players to continue spending DPs on core competencies,  and it tackles skill bloat at higher levels.

5/28 Missile Parry.  We’ve been using missile parry for so long I think of it as core RAW. Our missile parry encompasses the missile DB of Adrenal Defense, the secondary skill for blocking missiles and adds cinematic elements of master swordsmen knocking arrows out of the air. Like other combat modifiers, parrying a missile is subject to a modifier based on the missile type and the effectiveness of the weapon iteself. So blocking an arrow with a war mattock is not going to be that effective. ( Martial Arts generally have the lowest penalties).

6/4/16. Cool Shadow World Mounts. Terry’s use of cool animals for mounts is a great ADD for SW!

7/12/16. Quantitative Labeling.  I moved almost completely away from qualitative labeling in my RM game. Difficulties are just assigned penalties, creature sizes are numbered etc.

11/9/16. Interview with Terry Amthor. Always worth a re-read. I keep thinking of new questions to ask Terry but he is just too busy!!

12/12/16. Chartless Rolemaster.  This wasn’t the best written post, but it’s an important argument. Barring attack charts, crits and fumble charts we’ve eliminated virtually all charts in our RM game. My recent blog about character creation in 15 minutes and there is a path and counter narrative to the “RM Complexity/Chartmaster” complaints.

For this coming year, we are focusing on more game content rather than just rule hacks. Our 50in50 will introduce 50 adventure hooks: 1 per day for 50 days. For my own goals, I’ll be putting out a 50 page magic item supplement, a adventure guide for the Shadow World “Pales”, 5 high level adventures (hopefully with some help), SWARM ruleset…plus Mentalism realm for my BASiL project!!! In that time, I’m really hoping to have ICE/Terry move ahead with publishing “Priest King” and starting the review of “Empire of the Black Dragon”.

Rolemaster Character Creation in 15 Minutes.

Search around the internet for Rolemaster discussions and you’ll see that a lot of people gripe about how much time it takes to make a 1st lvl character. Much of this complaining is grounded in the deadliness of the system: it sucks spending an hour or two on creating a character only having them die with a bad fumble or high critical roll in their first outing. I get it.

Even if you are an experienced RMer, you can easily spend an hour building a character and filling out the multi-page character sheet. But what if it only takes 15 minutes or so to make a character in Rolemaster? We’ve simplified and modified the rules enough that character creation is flexible, easy and quick…and…a player can make virtually any character type they want. The key is using “packages” to replace the normal Adolescent and Apprenticeship skill picks. We combine this approach with our own ‘no profession‘ rule set, but it can work for the standard professions rules as well. It’s also not an “all or nothing” proposition; players can still go through individual skill buy for character creation if they want, and normal skill selection is still used after the first level.

We recently added a player to our group so I had the chance to test my newer rules out. So how do we do character creation? First, I have a player sketch out their character concept and review the various skill packages (cultural and vocational—we’ll get to that in a bit). They now have strong idea of the character they want to play and probably a solid plan moving forward. This was done prior to, on their own time and I didn’t add it to the creation time, but, that conceptual planning certainly makes the quick creation time possible.

Step 1. Roll Stats. I have the players roll 11 sets (appearance stat is used) of 3 rolls. The lowest roll in each set is dropped, the next lowest is the temp and the highest the potential. There is no minimum threshold and there are no prime stats that can be replaced with 90’s, but the player can assign the stat roll sets as they see fit. We have started adopting innate stat skills, so every stat now has some important use. Time: 2-3 minutes.

Step 2. Choose a race & culture. Like RMU we use preset skill packages for various general cultures, races and specific SW societies. This replaces the original “Adolescent Skill Pick” step in RM. You can see some of the choices HERE (need RM Forums account to download).  Time 2-3 minutes.

Step 3. Choose a vocation/profession package. We have over 40 regular vocations to choose from, plus another 20 SW specific vocations. This replaces the “Apprenticeship Skill Pick” step in standard RM and represents the time spent after childhood in teen and early adult years. Vocation packages include cultural notes, type of training, years spent at vocation, skills, spell lists, established relationships, experiences, starting equipment, and wealth and property. You can see some of the choices HERETime: 2-3 minutes.

Step 4. Special Skill Rank Bonus. Players have 6 “points” that can assign as skill rank bonus(s)—sort of like aptitudes and replaces the normal assigned profession rank bonus. They have the choice of: (1) +3 OR (2) +2, OR (1) +2 and (3) +3 OR (6) +1 to assign to specific skills of their choice. This gives the player flexibility to really shape the character’s abilities and talents! Time: 2-3 minutes

Step 5. Pick Spell Lists if applicable. Cultural and Vocational Packages will give general and/or specific spell lists but some choices might need to be made. We individual spell pick. Time: 0-5 minutes.

Step 6. Calculate HPs and PPs. Calculate rank bonuses, special bonuses and stat bonuses for skills. Time: 5 minutes.

Step 7: Fill in character sheet. Add equipment, calculate encumbrance and DB. Time: 2-5 minutes.

Obviously with a spreadsheet version, steps 6 & 7 are almost automatic, reducing time further. In my player’s example, he chose a Fustir-Gost Shaman which gave him a good range of outdoor skills,  fighting ability, and practical Channeling magic. It took him 21 minutes to make complete his character.

A couple of points to emphasize:

  • After the 1st lvl players follow normal skill selection (50 DPs)—the packages are only for adolescent and apprenticeship.
  • New cultural packages are easy to design and introduce and can be effective in framing a particular race or culture’s comparative advantages or unique attributes.
  • While we use around 50 vocational packages, the possibilities are infinite. For example, a Fustir-gost fisherman will have a different profile of skills than a Sulini fisherman or a soldier from Eidolon will have different skills than a soldier from Rhakhaan.
  • Vocation packages include more than skills—it provides a variety of resources and background cues to flesh out the character. Here is a rough outline for several of the “Militia” professions:

Vocation Packages Sample

Quick character creation doesn’t mean generic characters—50+ cultural packages and 50+ vocational packages allows for thousands of unique combinations. For us it’s a great solution for simplifying and shortening the Rolemaster character creation process and it may be a good bolt in when introducing new players to the game.