Life Giving

Funnily enough both Brian and I spent some time over Christmas planning a few blog posts in advance to take a bit of pressure off. Brian published his on Wednesday and has a proper Shadow World bent to it. Inspired by the same forum post I wanted to take a look at what Life Giving actually means in terms of practicalities for the PC.

If I remember correctly D&D’s Raise Dead spell left the newly returned to the living person on 1hp for a week while they recover. I think you had to be a 9th level Cleric to cast it as well.

I was thinking today about Rolemasters equivalent which is Life Giving. As with most RM spells there are multiple versions Life Giving I, II, III, IV, V and True. They start at 12th level and Life Giving True is the 50th level biggy. What changes between iterations are two parameters.

When Life Giving I is cast not only does the caster have to successfully cast the spell but the person being brought back to life needs to roll under their constitution on a D100. With the first version for every day that the person was dead 10 is added to that percentage roll. Now technically the spell can bring back anyone who has been dead for up to a year but for that to happen they would have to roll under their Con stat with +3650 on the dice. That is a hell of an open ended downwards roll. In practice a successful raising is unlikely to happen if they have been dead for more than 5 days unless they were built like and Ox.

Once a person has been brought back they are at -100 to all actions for a period of time. With Life Giving I that period is 100 days for every day dead. So if you were dead for two days then you are at -100 for 200 days. That is a bit of a steeper tariff than the 1 week at 1hp back in my D&D days.

So imagine a PC is killed and it takes three days to get them to a suitable cleric. The character rolls under their Con despite the +30 on the roll. They are now at -100 for 300 days. That is the best part of a year. I think that pretty much puts the character out of the game. Unless the entire party decides to do a year’s worth of spell research to bide their time while the character recovers I cannot see that character remaining part of the party. In my RMC game the party came together about 4 weeks ago. When they met they were 1st level now they are mix of third, fourth and fifth level. That has been non-stop high combat fighting for their lives. What would be the disparity in the characters if one took a year off while the others carried on? Obviously the levelling would tail off slightly as exp demands got tougher and I have been accelerating the characters though their first few levels to allow them to grow into their skills, but still I think you are looking at a 10 or 15 level difference if you extended that a year into the future.

Life Giving I will put your character out of the game despite being technically being alive.

Life Giving I is not that useful for characters/PCs but it is brilliant for NPCs. It is a damn sight easier to interrogate someone who is alive than someone who is dead! It is easier to claim the reward for returning the kidnapping victim if they are still alive and not every bounty is Dead or Alive, some are a bit more specific. Life Giving I is a great spell when cast by the characters rather than on the characters.

Now this is a playing group ‘thing’ but we do not tend to play beyond 20th level if we even reach that level. In my level less game spell lists rarely get above 20th level as that requires an open ended roll for each spell about 19th.

So what does a 20th level Life Giving look like? This is much more useable. The roll under your Con penalty is +1 for each day dead so our three day dead character has just +3 on the roll. That should hopefully be doable. The recovery time is 1 day for every day dead, so just 3 days in this case. That is Life Giving IV. There are not going to be many 20th level casters around but if you can find one and they are prepared to cast the spell then that is viable for PCs to carry on their careers.

Of course that is just the mechanics in the core rules whether your game world and the gods agree is a completely different issue!

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Thoughts on Resurrection in Rolemaster & Shadow World.

First off, Happy New Year! Over the holiday break I’ve been able to plot out a number of blog topics for the coming year and working on at least one new interview. I’m also hoping that my long gestating Shadow World module: Priest-King of Shade will make publication this year! (It seems unlikely that “Empire of the Black Dragon” will be published anytime soon even if I get the final draft to Terry and Nicholas in the next few weeks).

There was a recent POST on the RM Forums about Resurrection that caught my attention. It included a great poll that broke down some good options for Resurrection, but I wanted to explore the subject in greater detail as it touches upon several other blogs I’ve written recently. This topic is really a subset of the “impact of magic on a setting”. I explored another subset of this in a blog on “Musings on Magic and War” and a sub-topic of the “Gap between game rules and setting“.

RM was initially designed as an insert rule-set for the D&D world, and as such, still contains quite a bit of D&D DNA that is rarely questioned. As the forum responses suggest, Resurrection and its uses differ from GM to GM and raises a lot of issues around the games metaphysical setting as well.

RM expands upon the basic DnD Resurrection by dividing death into 3 separate processes:

  1. Soul departure. RM Soul departure rules are byzantine—calculating the time of death from unconsciousness and then applying a number of rounds for soul departure based on the character’s race. Unnecessarily complicated? Absolutely.
  2. Physical deterioration (stat loss). There are some vague rules in RM about recovering lost stats but despite a comprehensive healing system RM never fleshes out a consistent framework for causes of stat loss (undead, Unlife, spells, drain etc) and spells to cure temporary stat loss. A consistent system could unite various processes that use different mechanisms: unlife draining, life levels, Unlife corruption etc.
  3. Soul recovery. Returning a soul to the body is a fairly straight forward affair, with a number of spells at various levels allowing for resurrection.

Spell Law provides three spell mechanisms to deal with these: lifekeeping (keeps soul from departing), preservation (keeps body from decaying and stat loss), and lifegiving (returns soul to body). There are various iterations of these spells and herbs that allow for body preservation and lifekeeping. The first question I have is whether this is the best framework to deal with death and resurrection and at what level should these spell abilities occur? I don’t think I thought about this enough in my Spell Law rewrite so I may end up going back and changing some things! The second question is how rare is resurrection and how does the metaphysical framework of the setting  enable resurrection?

Barring the two extremes: resurrection is very common and easily obtained or it doesn’t occur at all except in myths, there are two aspects that could be explored.

Economics. If we conflate resurrection with technology and healthcare than the U.S. healthcare system is a great model for seeing resurrection in an economic framework. Resurrection can be seen as an expensive, elective procedure available to the wealthy and/or privileged. Is this any different than what we know of medieval or class based societies? The wealthy live longer, healthier lives because they have access to healthcare, safer environmental conditions and better diets? Does treating Resurrection as an expensive, exclusive, service unbalance or disrupt the game setting? Resurrection alone is not an age prolonging treatment, just an option for traumatic injury or illness. (I would argue that life-prolonging magic should also be available either through a spell list or ritual magic).

Religion. For resurrection to work there needs to be a meta-physical framework for “souls”. What is a soul? Where does it go? How does it come back? In Shadow World, Eissa is the Orhan god of death, but does she alone control the gate to death and the disposition of souls? Why/how do some souls stay on as ghosts or undead while others pass to somewhere else? Do Elves have souls? If not than what happens to them? Are followers of the Dark Gods prohibited from resurrection since they are opposed to Eissa? Even if you don’t use Shadow World as a setting these can still be valid questions. What about “spirits” and other totem spells introduced in the RM Companions—how do they figure into all this? To me, this seems like the setting drives the mechanism and not the other way around. This makes it hard for generic rule sets like RM to be a good fit for any setting without the setting being genericized.

For the GM that wants resurrection and wants it rationed via the settings religious structure than there are lots of great options. Perhaps resurrection is only available to followers of a “God of Death”. (Probably not the most popular of Gods) Getting resurrection from a Death Cult might require quite a bit of sacrifice from the party. Another option is that a priest can only resurrect someone from their own religion. That would neuter the “generalist” Cleric in the group unless the party was all part of the same religion.

Some things to think about. Personally I’m going to review and revise my spell list “Life Mastery” and follow this basic framework.

  1. “Resurrection” is a higher level ability (starting at 12th lvl?) thus making it rarer in general.
  2. As a Closed list, Life Mastery is only available through a few of the Gods.
  3. In general, most religions are reluctant to provide services to follower of another god. (UOC and the Orhanian pantheons provide some leeway).
  4. The cost will be high in either an offering or services.
  5. Stat loss, both temporary and potential will be notable, increasing the cost of resurrection.

These rules almost preclude a battle-field resurrection occurring. Instead, the group would need to find a cleric of the right religion, of the right level, pay the cost in either money or service and the resurrected player will need to recover and pay a cost in stat loss. That’s a lot of hurdles that may not make sense for the group. However, it does provide an adventure hook if they do.

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2017 ahead

Well we have completed the 12 days of Rolemaster as Christmas is now over.

We thought we ring a few changes for 2017 and the first of these is that we have a new blogger!

Hurin is a stalwart if the ICE forums and an avid RMU play tester. His Rolemaster background is very much RM2.

We have a new schedule. Individually we will be creating less posts. I will be posting every Friday or ‘something for the weekend’ as I like to think of it. Brian will be posting on Wednesdays. There will be weekend round ups as well. This gives us room to bring you Hurin’s posts and we hope to have a fourth voice to announce soon.

We also hit 500 twitter followers over Christmas which is really cool. The last time I looked we were at 520+.

I am hoping that in 2017 we will be able to bring you more product reviews. ICE certainly seems to be gearing up for more and more frequent new products.

So until next Friday, when I will post the second instalment of my RMU play test, have fun.

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5th Excepting Perception, Stalk & Hide and Body Development, of all the skills in all the books which one would you say is the single most important for a player to take?

Brian: Attunement. In our rules, every spell ability in an item, power storing, recharging etc all require attunement skill. Plus, many althan/ka’ta’viir devices use mental interfaces which can be accessed with attunement. So even non spell-casters should have some ability, especially at higher levels.

Peter: Lore skills particularly those relating to herbs. Whether you use Herb Lore, Herbalism or Lore:Technical. I suspect that my game is a bit more hack and slash than Brian’s but being able to select the right herb and apply it is a key skill for my players.

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4th In my opinion the best bit of RMU is…?

Brian: Hands down it’s the size rules (which may be changed or modified). Such a useful tool for scaling deadliness of a creature, spell, object or trap within the rule frame. I understand that many people didn’t like the math, but it really is fantastic.

Peter: This was a hard choice and I am wavering between two possibles. I love the experience rules. I first saw them in HARP and I am really pleased to see them being used as the default rules in RMU. I was using the HARP rules, house ruled into my RMC game but now I am using the RMU rules in their place. My other love is Spell Law, pretty much all of it from the completed spell lists to the use of the spell aquisition skill as spell mastery.

Interestingly Brian and I are on different sides of the RMU size rules argument. I found the rules cumbersome, awkward and terminally slow. They initally really applied mostly to Arms Law and I though I could just junk all of Arms Law and rewrite my existing combat tables to fit RMU, which I probably will do anyway. That was before I saw Creature Law and the normalised creatures. It is a tribute to RMU and all flavours of Rolemaster that it is so modular that something as central as these rules can be changed without breaking the system.

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3rd Of all the companions and ‘laws’ which book could you not be without?

Brian: I don’t really use any of them now, but Companion I had a lot of material that could have been “core” or included in RM. Paladin being the most obvious. Arcane magic was ok, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to classify it as a realm. Battlerunes were very cool and we just rolled them into Open Essence at the time.

Peter: No surprise here but the RMC Combat Companion is my book I could not be without. I thnk it is one of the ‘lost’ books because of IP issues and mine is falling apart but I have scanned and OCRed much of it into word and the condensed combat tables I hand typed into Excel. What you get is a few professions if you use them, armour by the piece which I derived from HARP I believe, weapon katas and fighting styles which puts two weapon combo back into RMC and the jewel in the crown the condensed combat system. There is a sample below and you can see that you get the 10 armour types, criticals that are not split into Slash, Krush, Puncture but rather customised to the type of attack, so arrow criticals for bows, dagger criticals for short blades and the like. You get many weaons per page and the size modifications tucked into a corner. You can run entire combats without having to turn an page if the weapons are similar enough. The only drawback is that the same criticals come around again a little too often. That is why I have excel versions of these pages. There are only 18 attack pages of which 6 are frequently used. Those 6 I have rewritten the criticals keeping the effects the same in terms of hits, bleeding and stun etc., the location the same but just changing the prose descriptions. I started with two copies and used to swap between sets for each game session to keep the criticals varied but I now have a couple of pages with three versions after being inspired one evening. This book and the condensed combat system really triggered my appetite for simplifying RM as combats became so fast and exciting to run that it made everything else look slow by combarison!

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2nd Best layout/structure in a RM product?

Brian: One of my favorite is Uda Tyygk, in the Iron Wind. Hidden fortress, the Thyfuriak. Very cool. Reminds me of a toy I used to have: the mountain fortress from MAC (mobile action command)

Peter: For me it has to be the MERP campaign book Northern Mirkwood. This book has everything, the floor plans vary from the great halls of Erebor to towers and orc holds, every one of them I have reused time and again. The master military charts with every NPC, and class or adverary clearly detailed make off the cuff encounters dead easy and the amount of unique content to make the region really stand out as being different from any other woods or forest. This was also the first MERP campaign book I bought and with my only other experience of ‘modules’ being D&D ones, this book completely changed my concept of what a rpg suppliment could and should be.

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1st Is there any cunning plan you can share that you are hoping to spring on your players this year? If you don’t want to spoil it then what was the best cunning plan from the last 12 months?

Brian: My group has been playtesting “Priest-King of Shade” for 2 years now. There are 12 adventures that can be combined into a long adventure path that they are doing and are up to part VI. I went a bit off script and threw a Battle-Priest of Z’taar at them during a particularly tough fight they were having. The Priests are unpredictable—chaos agents really. The Priest attacked their enemies first but then saw one of the players as a “worthy opponent” and switched to attacking that player and the party. Ha! Perhaps not cunning but it was a bit of a shock to the players to deal with a Battle-Priest in full Beserker mode.

Peter: I was really pleased how I lured the party to the deserted, remote, haunted house, despite telling them that it was a remote, deserted, haunted house and then threw tons of undead at them. It was only when the they were actually confronted with the obvious ghost that they stopped trying to work out who was trying to scare them off. According to feedback there was no way that it could be a real haunted house as things are never as the GM says they are. So that could be cunning or it is one of those reverse, reverse, reverse psychology things. Where I told them the truth, so they wouldn’t believe me as I never tell them the truth, so by really telling them the truth I put them off the scent!

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31st Best “cool bit” from a RM product?

Brian: I’ve always liked Terry’s magic items. As a Warrior Monk there were very few magic items that I could use, so I really appreciated those. Two of my favorites are in Cloudlords of Tanara:

Fist of Agonar. A spiked gauntlet that destroys doors.

Jarn’s Shurikens. 2 shurikens that hold small red disks that explode as Firbolts 4x damage. The disk is spent but the shurikens return via Long Door.

Peter: My favourite ‘cool bit’ isn’t a thing, it is a monent. It is when you get a new RM book and it has new critical tables and you get to read though the really dangerous fatal wounds for the first time, normally trying not to laugh or smirk and the gory deaths.

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30th Your Rolemaster favourite spell (from any list)?

Brian: I’ve always liked the Mystic base list “Hiding” and on it are two cool spells: 14th lvl “Merging” which is a great escape/hide spell and 13th lvl “Flattening” which makes a player 2 dimensions. How cool is that?

Peter: Mass Vibrations I, 13th level Essence Hand. Everyone in your field of vision needs to make an RR every round of fumble their weapon. It is absolutely brilliant and far better than any kind of blade turning. The first time I discovered this spell I was playing an invisible illusionist who cast this followed by a summoning spell that gave me a pair of tigers against a dozen guards. It was carnage and I don’t think any of them survived! Even the lower level spells are cool. In RM you rarely meet massed enemy so Vibrations I as a first level spell is a great defence once your caster reaches 4th or 5th level.

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