Character Background and Culture – DPs vs. Skill Ranks

One thing I’ve noticed from my visits here and on the RM forums is that I appear to be alone in the method I use to develop both cultures and backgrounds for characters. Most GMs use the No Profession skill costs and a number of development points to generate both cultures and background options. I’ve gone a different route.

Continue reading “Character Background and Culture – DPs vs. Skill Ranks”

Which Version of Rolemaster Do You Normally Play

For the past eternity, or so it seems, there have been small polls running here that ask a random question.

I recently did a reshuffle and so we have a whole new set of questions going on now but I thought I would share some of the results.

Today it is the results of the Which Version question.

I am not that familiar RMX (by which I mean I have never even seen the rules) so I don’t know which family it falls into but even without RMX the RM2/RMC camp is by far the largest segment.

It is nice to see that we have 14 RMU playtesters here.

I suspect that because just about everyone who writes on here is in the RM2 and RMU camps it is not unsurprising that RMSS & RMFRP are less well represented. On the other hand it could be that RMSS and RMFRP are less popular  systems.

I don’t really know.

Any thoughts?

Rolemaster Fanzine Issue #3 is here!

I am really pleased to announce that the third edition of the Fanzine is now on sale on RPGnow.

You will notice that I have skipped a month in the dates. We have an April, May and July. It just takes too long to get a print publication approved.

I cannot select the articles to include, write the additional fanzine content, page layout and submit the newsletter fast enough when RPGNow take up to 18 days to approve, print and mail out the first proof.

By jumping a month I have bought myself another 30 days, taken off some of the pressure and everything feels much more relaxed.

I think the highlight is the adventure outline Alchemical Zombies but you will have to get a copy if you want to check it out. 🙂

Blogging Shall Resume!

Back from a great trip to Iceland! Not sure if Peter feels the same way, but it gave me a great “Iron Wind” vibe and the landscape was certainly surreal and fantastic.

Lots going on to finalize the upcoming 50 in 50 adventure hooks and the 50th level adventures so I’ll be posting once or twice a week for the rest of the summer so I can focus on these other projects.

Now that I’m back I’ll be putting together the playtest packets for the 1st Chapter (of 5) of the 50th lvl adventure “Legends of Shadow World” preliminary titled “The Lense of Strok”. This will includes the mixed group of pre-gen characters, stats, layout and notes stat’ed for RM2 (plus some BASiL lists) for the 3/4 groups that have contacted me. I’m hoping 5 iterations will provide good feedback and ascertain an average 4 hour run time. Packets will be ready by end of month.


Play Test Session #2

This actually took place a while ago now but what with Christmas and the #12daysofRolemaster this post got pushed back somewhat.  My playtest player is back from university soon and it suddenly dawned on me that I never posted this write up. It was also useful to me to come back up to speed with where Gao is.

We left Gao out cold after losing a sword fight with a couple of assassins. Unbeknownst to Gao the assassins had left him for dead. The Emperor had used the body of the assassin that Gao had disabled to cover himself with fresh blood and had played dead.  Eventually the assassins had been discovered by the palace guards, the alarm raised and a running battle ensued as the assassins attempted to flee though the Forbidden City.

The Emperor had been recovering in bed when the assassins had attacked having been magically healed by a court healer (lay healer). The Emperor’s wounds and Gao’s had me go over the healing rules in Arms & Character Law. I did really want to use the rules as written but there is no way on earth I am ever going to apply those healing rules. The rules would have had Gao laid up in bed for 10 days given the Injuries and Recovery roll and by chance there would have been a permanent injury because of an even double roll! In my RMC game we use cinematic healing and the same will apply here. The issue is not just with, possibly, realistic healing times but also the plot was supposed to follow this thread. The Emperor has witnessed first hand that Gao saved his life on the night of the first attack and saved it again on the second when someone had obviously arranged for the guards to be elsewhere. When no one can be trusted at court Gao is the shining exception. Thus the Emperor can entrust Gao with the task of finding who the assassins are working for. If Gao is laid up for 10 days then this is ridiculous and any trail would be stone cold by then and even the Emperor would not sit on his hands for nearly two weeks doing nothing when assassins could strike at any time. One option would be to massively up the level of the Lay Healer. The way the spell acquisition works in RMU a 25th level Lay Healer would be more than capable of solving the whole conspiracy anyway without Gao so the whole adventure is moot. Option ‘B’ is to go back to Cinematic healing. This heals Gao’s broken bones in 10 hours rather than 10 days and giving him his #hits back is not a problem.

So on with the adventure!

Gao wakes up in a comfortable bed overlooking a tranquil palace garden being attended by many servants. His aches and pains have gone but he has no memory of anything since being in the fight with the assassins. Soon after he is awake an official brings him the Emperors gratitude and a request to attend the Emperor in his chambers. What happens is the Emperor explains that no one can be trusted except just a few of his closest advisors, including the court healer who could easily have declared the Emperors original chest wound fatal and allowed him to die though inaction. Simply by healing the Emperor he has proven his loyalty. As no one else can be trusted it falls on Gao to find the traitor that is plotting against the Emperor. There are some clues to start off with. The assassins’ weapons all bear the makers mark of an honoured sword smith here in the Forbidden City. Furthermore, three of the assassins that were killed have been identified as men sentenced to months in a cangue (punishment cage) for violent crimes. It is possible that these men had bought their freedom in agreeing to slay the Emperor. Gao gets a set of documents that give him freedom of movement around the city and a rank equivalent to an auditor or tax collector that means he had great authority. This comes complete with an over robe bearing a square badge displaying a Peacock known as a Mandarin Square.

The audience ends with Gao being given a fine quality Qi Jian. I am not normally in favour of giving out free bonus items but the combat last time was so disappointing and the fact that with only one PC the chances of him being out numbered is great I think he needs a bit of added fire power.

Gao leaves the palace and decides to investigate the sword smith first. What follows is three failed perception rolls cumulating in an open ended downwards which leaves him completely miss informed. The emperor had sent a couple of trusted guards individually to shadow Gao with two ideas in mind. If they are loyal then should be able to lend him some assistance if he gets into trouble. If one is loyal and the other is not, then chances are the traitorous one will try and kill Gao and the second will still be able to assist him. If both are traitorous then Gao will die but two more traitors have been exposed.

The player had been trying to see if anyone was following him through the narrow streets of the city or looking suspicious. The failed rolls had meant that the guards were not spotted but at this point I made a mistake. I thought that with the open ended roll leaving Gao completely miss informed I would tell him that one of the stall holders was paying a bit too much attention to him. This send the player into a spin of paranoia and and at one point the player was considering doubling back to kill the stall holder. I think in retrospect I should have ignored the OE downwards and just treated it as a normal failure. That cost us a great deal of the game session, we live and learn.

Eventually we arrived at the weapon smiths abode. It is a double storey building with sloping red tiled roof and a central courtyard. Dragon shaped ‘gargoyles’ project from under the roof tiles carry rain water away from the walls and ornate iron gates, again with the dragon motif give access to the courtyard.

Gao has the vocational skill for Oriental Administration so he knows how to act as a tax collector and his plan was to inspect the weapon smith’s order books to see who bought the weapons. Gao decided to go in heavy handed and try an intimidate the weapon smith. Seeing as he is dressed in official mandarin garb and has all the right credentials I gave Gao a +20 to his intimidation attempt but as it happens he didn’t need it, he succeeded with his natural skill. Furthermore, Gao makes a Vocational skill roll to understand the order books and the abbreviations and marks. This is only partially successful but he gets the weapon smith to explain what he doesn’t understand. It turns out that weapons were ordered and paid for by a Magistrate here inside the Forbidden City. The only address is for the palace and the weapons were collected in person so he does not have a delivery address. These blades stuck in the weapon smith’s memory because he made 4 sets of 8 blades. 8 is the luckiest of numbers representing fortune but 4 is the number of death. Most of his orders are for pairs of blades as these are both lucky and bring peace.

Gao decided that he was probably dealing with an innocent here and commanding the weapon smith to report any more orders by the magistrate directly to the palace for approval in future he left the workshop.

Leaving the shop Gao again totally failed to spot anyone following him or acting suspiciously.

Before the session started I had not decided if one, both or neither of the guards following Gao were actually traitors. I try and have one combat per session but with all the faffing about with fake spies earlier I decided to just roll and see if either of these guards had it in for Gao. As it happens the first I rolled for turned out to be a traitor. I also habitually roll the Empathy, Reasoning and Self Discipline of my casual NPCs so I can get an idea of how to play them. This first guard has a 12 Empathy, 92 for Reasoning and 19 for SD. It is not a great leap to guess that he has worked out that Gao is now heading to the guard house and this is not good for the traitors. Gao is heading straight towards him when Guard 1 draws his Qi Jian and attacks. This fight turned into another grind it out, chipping away at #hits. Neither combatant moved much, the first guard caught Gao flat footed etc. but the attack roll was abysmal and after that they stood in the street and parried and counter attacked at each other. Gao slowly increased the percentage of his OB to attack once he realised the person fighting him was not getting through. The worst critical inflicted in 6 rounds was 5AK. Previously I had not read up on the changes to stun so this time rather than having Dazed, staggered and so on we just had the different levels of stun (-25/-50/-75). This didn’t make much difference but the important thing in this fight was the fact that the traitor guard is alive despite being unconscious.

That is where we left this session. Gao is down to 12#hits and is standing over the knocked out guard.

Next time…

I am hoping next week to be able to continue this game using RMU Beta 2. I am using the Beta RAW with the exception of the changes listed in JDales New Tables thread on the forums and next time I will be using double the #hits damage as discussed on the forum.


Big Beasts and Big Hits

There is an ongoing discussion on the RMU beta test forum over weapon sizes. How do you handle a halfling wielding a trolls dagger? Is the dagger a shortsword or a broadsword to the halfling. Does the fact that it was made for different hands make a difference to how you wield the weapon? There were complications where using an under or oversized weapon such as a undersized two handed weapon may be more effective than using a one handed weapon specifically made for you race. So all your human warriors are using halfling two handed swords rather than broadswords.

This is a long rambling debate and you can check the ICE forums if you want to get involved. One of the things I find frustrating is that one never really knows what the devs have taken on board, what their solution is, if any, and is just being ignored because that part of the rules is are already written.

I will say I am not a fan of the RMU size rules. I think they sound fine in principle but they just didn’t work for my play test group so much so that the group didn’t want to play any more.  The play test lasted two sessions!

So how do I handle size variation between different size combatants? I totally agree that all things being equal a giant hitting hitting a halfling should do more damage than the halfling hitting the giant. There is just more kinetic energy in the attack!

The big monster hitting the little character requires no modification. The big monster has its size and mass figured into its OB. So that was easy, just play the RAW.

The smaller combatant hitting a larger one though does need a slight adjustment. It doesn’t need the multiplied hits or stepping up and down for criticals. The very largest creatures have this built in in C&T anyway. So what I do is for every relative size smaller than Medium incurs a -10 OB, every relative step above Medium gives a +10 OB. That results in smaller creatures doing less damage and maybe a lesser crit. Larger combatants tend towards harder hits.

Breaking 150

In another closely related rule is my ‘breaking 150’. For me I use a +1 on your critical roll for every 10 more than 150 rolled. So an attack roll total of +175 would give a +2 to your critical. This also tends to mean that massive attacks tend to do better criticals. My critical tables have an UM66 and a second 66 result. Obviously you cannot shift your critical up to the UM66 result.

Wrong Size Weapons

So how do I handle wrong sized weapons. Well the weapon uses the table for what the weapon actually is. So a halfling using a human broadsword as a two handed sword still uses the broadsword table. But for every one step in size difference gives a -10 OB. This reflects the fact that the weapon was just not designed for that size hand.

It also takes into account that a dagger is a stabbing weapon designed for pushing into the gaps between armoured plates. A broadsword is a swinging weapon designed to use speed and mass to inflict damage. A human picking up a halfling breadsword does not change the shape and design of the weapon and turn it into a dagger.

So the example of Sting. Could Bilbo wield Sting? Sting is regarded as a Elven shortsword in RM terms. So Bilbo would be using it as a shortsword but at -10 OB. Chances are that Sting has a greater than +10 magical OB anyway so even with my penalty it is still worth using Sting in combat and its orc sensing powers make it even more useful.

So in conclusion I would say whilst it may not be the idea engineers solution my rules are very quick and easy to use, easy to understand and cope with all the combinations I have ever had to adjudicate on.

Managing the narratives in your Shadow World or RPG Campaign.

Unless you are running single session, one-off adventures, you probably have three layers of narratives in your Shadow World campaign: your immediate adventure plot, the regional politics and power and then the world overview/timeline. If you enjoy world building, or are using a comprehensive setting like Shadow World, you want your group to discover the details of the setting. But much of the disclosure has a longer-term payoff when the PCs reach higher levels of power. Coordinating these narrative layers is like building a house—you lay the “foundation” and then erect the structure, brick by brick, floor by floor.

  1. Building the foundation. Starting your players with a basic world background provides a reference point that will tie the rest of the campaign together. Many GMs do this through comprehensive player backgrounds; perhaps giving each player a unique slice of information that will prove important later in the game. For settings like Shadow World there is a “Players Guide” that provides a broad world overview of the setting.
  2. Layer 1. Local plots & adventures. The simplest narratives are the short backgrounds or primers that start an adventure. Whether it’s looting a tomb, rescuing a princess or defeating marauding monster the players are given the basics to justify group motivations. Because they are simple plots, the players aren’t required to remember too much detail, relationships, politics—just a mission direction. However, this is an excellent layer to “seed” future plot devices. Maybe the GM introduces a group nemesis, establishes a rich, but anonymous, patron for the group or places a seemingly random object or place in the adventure that becomes important later. Perhaps a goal will be to plant 10-12 narrative elements in adventures as your party goes from 1st to 5th Write them down with ideas on how they might be used. You probably won’t use them all, but you’ll be glad for them later.
  3. Layer 2. Local and regional narratives. As the players expand their travels and world awareness, their adventures may take on more importance, they will encounter key NPCs and may influence geo-political events. Layer 2 can be the densest and perhaps the most challenging to manage in terms of the sheer volume of information or relationships that can be introduced to the group. Shadow World has an expansive timeline of local events that adds flavor and intrigue to the setting, but gamers that are juggling their hobby with real life, or only play intermittently, are going to have a very hard time remembering the nuances and intricacies of fleshed-out world settings. Throw in complicated place and people names and the carefully constructed setting can just become overwhelming. One strategy is to organize your adventures into chapters that are more easily digestible and maintain familiar reference points (common NPCs or places). This is the layer where carefully planted seeds from low level adventures should be re-introduced. To the players, it will seem familiar, and impress upon them the inter-relationships of your game world. This is also the layer you should seed with a half-dozen elements for higher level adventures. Rather than providing familiarity for the players, these seeds are tied to world events. In SW, this might be hints regarding the Secret Circle, the Northern Eye, or even the “East”.
  4. Layer 3. The World. Once the players become powerful and perhaps “renowned”, they’ll be dealing with higher level NPC’s and epic quests. In many ways, this layer can feel as personal and . intimate as Level 1—as the sand box gets larger, the framework around the group actions is more defined. Whether it’s considered “high fantasy”, you probably won’t bother with incidental encounters or low fantasy granularity. The world neighborhood is populated by fewer, more powerful people and creatures. The hints planted in Layer 2 become the starting point for these epic adventures.

A few other suggestions or thoughts.

  1. When using a detailed world like SW or Forgotten Realms, it’s understandable to want to embrace the complexity. Think of it as a “firehose” of information that you’ll need to throttle and control. Start small and simple, if your group can assimilate new/more information introduce it into the game. Don’t start with a massive data dump—it’s cool but can be an anchor on the narrative. 1st level characters aren’t going to know a lot—why should the players. It’s always better to start small and then go big then it is the reverse.
  2. Controlling information. Nowadays, a player can download free PDFs of almost any gaming product, how can a GM keep crucial information hidden until the right time in the campaign? Matt’s Nomikos library tried to control access through a GM code, but that project is gone. Terry’s Shadow World novel was full of high level spoilers (sorry Terry but it’s true! While it was a great addition to the SW ecosystem it gave out too much information!!!) Most players in SW will probably know about Andraax, details of the Gods and stats for most PCs—that takes a lot of the mystery out of the game! My advice is to work in the “tertiary”: use less known or newly created NPCs, agents or creatures so the group isn’t automatically informed about the challenge or encounter. You can also turn tropes upside down—change known elements, stats or abilities to confuse the player and teach them not to rely on meta-gaming.
  3. Memory as a game mechanic. Ultimately, your players might forget a crucial clue or piece of information that is needed for the campaign to prosper. In these cases, have the PC make a memory role so you can remind the player or re-introduce the information to the group.

In the end: focus on fewer, more manageable, plot seeds. Less information is better than more. Maintain a sense of the unknown and mystery. Counter meta-gamers with a change-up.

Monster Weekend

I have spent the weekend thinking about monsters. I have said many times before that I am a monster snob. I think Gelatinous Cubes and Black Puddings are better suited to nouveau cuisine than for battling player characters. I just cannot buy into them.

I think I put my finger on what it is that a monster needs to have for me to want to use them and it comes down to two factors.


I like my monsters to feel real, like they could actually exist. If you tell me that Orcs are an evil corruption of Elves then I can kind of get that. The reason they exist is that someone made them. They are evil because they were intentionally made that way.

I can buy into Dragons. Technically, I have seen just as many living dragons as I have dinosaurs. I have no problem in believing dinosaurs were real so why not have fantasy dragons in a fantasy world?

Puddings, cubes, cloakers and mimics just do not reach my credibility threshold when it comes to monsters.

No Fear!

My second criteria is the fear factor. I like my monsters to induce a sense of fear in my player characters. I don’t mean necessary the Resistance Roll inducing game mechanic sort of fear but the ‘Are we going to get out of this alive?’ sort of fear. In a recent game session the characters slowly retreated from ground floor to first floor to the attic as the monsters surrounded and closed in on them.

One of my favourite monsters is the Drider. Think spider centaur. The top half is a dark elf failed priestess of an evil spider goddess and the bottom half is giant spider. the reason for their existence is a punishment for failing to meet the goddesses standards. My players characters nearly met one once. They looked up at her nest and retreated. With a Drider you have to think an plan in three dimensions. They would throw amazing shadows down cave passages as they advanced. Retreating may not be an option either if you are being hemmed in by web filled passage ways. All you can hear is up ahead is the scuttle of spider legs on stone while silently above you another drifts down on a single strand of web out of the dark.

I have written something like 27 adventures in the last two months and one of the recurring themes is that of trying to scare the characters. I don’t think a straight, in your face, battle is that scary. Players know that most of the time the odds are in their favour as they are the heroes of the story. The GM is not out to kill them. At least I am not out to kill my players characters.

Give them a foe they cannot see, or cannot count, or do not understand and all of a sudden this is a not only a battle but it is a puzzle or trap on two legs (if you know what I mean).

These monsters are easily killable if you can catch them or split them up into manageable groups and that is the challenge. En mass the heroes may die, if they cannot control the fight the heroes may die.

So this brings me back to my thinking this weekend about monsters. A Kobold is not scary because you know it is weak. When you reach a certain level a giant is not that scary once you have killed eight of them. So I have been planning monster variations. Twists on existing monsters. These are subtly different from their brethren, just enough so that when they meet the heroes it makes the players think ‘That is not right!’.

After all, I do think there should ever be a ‘comfort zone’ in a dungeon, should there?

Which Witch?

In my game most villages will have access to a spell caster. These spell casters will often be the local witch or wiseman/woman.

I know there is a Witch RM2 profession that works with RMC but for me I have found that the Sorcerer hybrid is the perfect fit for this role.

The sorcerer has access to the closed healing lists which fits with the idea of turning to the wise woman when there little hope of normal healing.

The sorcerer also has access to their own base lists which are great for putting ‘curses’ on people in the form of inducing neuroses.

Demon summoning and control is also great for requests for real revenge.

All in all the sorcerer is a great all rounder for the local villagers to rely on.

The point of this is to suggest to you to try creating an NPC sorcerer, dump the professional name and stick them in a hovel on the edge of a village.

There have been a few references this year about healers. How simply using them as a bolt on to the PC party is a cliche, how one can do more with them. What I am suggesting here is how about making the only healer available to the party a hag or a crazy old man in a hovel in the centre of the woods?

Meet the party’s new healer!

Not making the healer an attached part of the party means that the party now have to think strategically about their health and their healing.

Legends of Shadow World pt3: The %#!@ hits the fan.

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Last night the group attempted Chapter 3 of “Legends of Shadow World”. It did not go well. The session only ended up being 2.5 hours with 3 out 5 players killed and the other two “tapping out” since they could see the writing on the wall. This section was just too hard, and there are still 2 more! However, there is a gap between C4 and C5 where the group can rest, heal and gear up for the final confrontation.

I’m running these with loose notes, a rough outline and after the session I do an edit and then update the online files. Since they are meant as “tourney style” modules there is considerable railroading built into the adventure to segue between the chapters.

I’m heading off for an overseas adventure, so we won’t run Chapter 4 until next month. That will give me time to adjust the first three. What I would like to do is have another group play test these for feedback and other ideas. I can’t really run my own players through again and get good feedback now that they’ve already done it.

Keep in mind that these are not “publish ready”–it’s some bare-bones copy, a bit of exposition, pre-gen characters and hand-drawn layouts. I’m not interested in an editor or idea feedback–I need a 5 person group and GM run it in a session for gameplay feedback.

If you have an interest let me know. I can be reached at bhportland at yahoo.