Monks kick butt. Meta-physical or not.

It’s no secret that Monks are my favorite profession. From the early days of AD&D to the later days of Rolemaster, when I have been a player it’s always been Caylis the Monk. As I have mentioned before, I like the independence of the Monk—a class that uniquely breaks the whole trope of the balanced party. Monks don’t need equipment (10’ pole, oil flasks or iron spikes), don’t need armor or weapons, have stealth, resistance to disease and poison and can hit as a magic weapon…WAIT…just had an AD&D flashback….

In Rolemaster there are no inherent class abilities, but…Warrior Monks have low cost of adrenal moves, adrenal defense, wear no armor and have unarmed combat ability. One of my favorite AD&D skills the Monk had: Slow Fall. This was duplicated as an Adrenal Skill in Rolemaster and still one of my favorites and allowed for great gameplay situations. Some would say that a simple levitation spell does the same thing but that’s more of a RM Monk thing than a non-spell user Warrior Monk.

So, a funny thing. In my efforts towards a level-less/classless system I greatly reduced the number of skills—basically corralling them into ‘meta-skills’ for parity and utility. (rather than unlimited parsing). Part of that process was removing ‘magical skills’—abilities that broke into the metaphysical realm, and this included the Slow Fall skill (which really makes no real sense) My changes nerfed some of the Monks skills—specifically Adrenal Defense which, while AWESOME, also made no sense. My solution—just allow normal parry allocation for martial artists. Rather than a physical parry of blade blocking blade, it’s assumed that martial arts provides a reactive defense against armed opponents including missile parry. This means that a martial artist will lose OB to increase DB like any RM combatant—where before they got the AD bonus at no cost to their OB. At the same time, we applied individual weapon modifiers and unarmed combat gets a MAJOR bump due to its low situational penalties: multiple attacks, multiple opponents, reverse, 180d etc.

In my rewrite of RM I probably hurt my favorite profession. That’s ok. Monks are still awesome and shouldn’t be given special spell-like abilities to enforce their character tropes. In my rules,

  1. Monks are the few characters that get targeted skills in Adolescence plus focused skills in Apprenticeship/Vocation. This means they have a more narrow, targeted skill set than other starting characters with more general and broad skill range.
  2. I don’t expect unarmed combat to be effective against an armored foe or animal/monster so the idea of Monks hitting non-corporeal creatures was silly anyway.
  3. In an anthropomorphic setting, Monks are at little disadvantage since most of their opponents will be human-like.
  4. I do use a meta skill ‘Meditation’ that provides for controlling metabolic activity (feign death, oxygen use, blood loss, calming etc). Monks have that as part of their adolescent and vocational skill package.
  5. I allow for unlimited* skill development so a focused vocation like Monks can develop a higher level of a few skills.

In my campaigns, Monks are still cool but certainly lack special powers granted in other game systems. Strangely enough, my work towards a level-less system was driven by the Changramai Monks of Shadow World. (and to the same degree Loremasters, and Navigators).

In our world, there are real Monks with amazing skills and tribulations. How about the  Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei?


RPG Maps. A new tech solution?

In my opinion, maps and layouts are the linchpin of RPG’s and adventures. While you could argue that form follows narrative, it is possible, and perhaps easier to build a story around a map than it is to come up with a story first. Peter touched upon this with his decahedron blog post: how many of you thought to use this great 3d layout?

I am a poor artist, mapmaker and layout illustrator–that’s fine when my group never sees the source doc, but a horrible handicap when creating products for print!  My perfect solution would be to find an artist that can create awesome maps and layouts and I can fill in the content. What I call the “Elton/Bernie” solution. Unfortunately, I have yet to find my art muse…

What if there is a better solution for our map woes? What if there were a way to create “Fenlon” style maps on demand, quickly, that can provide filler for a GM’s campaign?

I present to you, the “Uncharted Atlas” per Atlas Obscura: “a Twitter bot made to produce a new map every hour, each with its own array of  mountains and rivers, fjords, island archipelagoes, and deserts. 

The landscapes are rendered in the pen-and-ink style of maps printed at the front of certain fantasy novels à la Tolkien, complete with alien names: “The Pez-mes-Lüch Coast,” “The Confederation of nos-Us,” “Outer Háukwuénoé.” (the designer built a language generator, too).”

Tell me this isn’t the future? I recall talking to Matt about the future of Rolemaster/Shadow World years ago. The solution, above all else, is maps. Terry writes amazing content but the most useful material is campaign and tactical level maps. Check out the original Loremaster series or Court of Ardor. Those Fenlon maps marked roads, trails, terrain, cities, forts, ruins and other useful markers. As a GM that’s all I really need to create an adventure (plus my random encounter tables). Campaign Cartographer already has a “Fenlon Style Pack“: how about combining the style of Fenlon with the instant computer generation of Uncharted Atlas?

Fairly soon, cool maps will become a computer generated solution. Personally, I can’t wait!

By Jove I think I’ve Got It!

<I have a horrible feeling that is a miss-quote from Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady>

I have been thinking a lot about my Rolemaster feeder system rules and I think I can build two systems one for 4yrs to 8yrs and one for 9yrs to 12yrs. It took the example criticals that BriH suggested (“Bam!! Foe hit in face and forced to blink for 1 rnd”, “Kapow!! Foe is disarmed”) and some comments by Edgcltd to give me the inspiration.

I think I can build a game for 4 year olds. I am going to have to examine the National Curriculum in some more detail to see what skills I can expect children to have but that is actually a useful framework to work to.

So down to by game concept.

Imagine rendering skills down to a number of gold stars. You get no stars for having no ranks (-25) and then roughly one star for every +25 or so as we would think of it. So a typical OB would be in a 1 star to 5 or 6 star range. DB would be 1 star for a shield. Magic armour may be 1 star or maybe even 2 star.

You attach roll would normally be in a no star to 4 star range with open ended rolls taking it up to 8 or more stars.

Stat bonuses would typically be no stars or one star.

If any of you have young children or have had them you may be familiar with a number line. It is used for teaching addition and subtraction (check this out if you don’t know what it is

So I am sticking with cards as they remove the need for dice and being able to self print cards makes the game easily expandable.

Each card will have the attack/skill roll as a number of stars in a top corner. The body of the card will have a number of criticals on a vertical number line. The player when they want to make an attack draws a battle card, sees how many stars on the card and then counts on to add their OB, and counts back to take off the defenders DB and then reads across for the result. That is where the “Thwack! Foe is knocked down and out!” comes in.

Healing would be cinematic and fights last until everyone is either knocked out or runs away. At which point the surviving characters help their friends to the their feet and the adventure continues or the character wakes up in a cell held by the villain.

I think I need three professions; knight, archer and magician.

I think I need 4 stats. Players will be given 9 stars to share between the four stats.

Strength will combine Strength and Con.

Agility will combine Agility and Quickness

Sympathy will combine Empathy and Intuition

Cool will combine Memory and Reasoning (yes, being a geek is cool!)

Presence and Self Discipline are not needed in this simplified version.

The nine into eight means that everyone gets at least one stand out stat.

There will be at least three races Human, Elf and Dwarf. This is not yest fixed in my mind. I think I would like more but not sure which.

There will be battle cards, skill cards, movement cards and spell cards. The battle cards will work as I described above. Skill and moving maneuver cards will work in a similar way but the content of the table will resolve the static action or moving maneuvers. Spell cards will a pack per spell list with half being utility spells such as Light and the other attack spells like Lightning Bolt. So there will be many Lightning Bolt cards each with its own attack roll and unique critical table. The utility spell cards will have the roll for BAR or SCR built into them.

So that is a whirlwind tour of Rolemaster for 4 year olds.

I am thinking of calling it Gamemaster Kids as I have not had any response from ICE when I emailed them and that would mean I am no longer using any of their IP. The version for lightly older players could then be Gamemaster Heroes. That would be the true feeder system into RMU.


Grand Apathy? Where are all the 50th lvl characters?

“The Hero’s Journey” is an oft used theme for fantasy fiction; an unknown and lowly character is drawn into a grand adventure, grows and ultimately defeats an existential threat. As a fiction narrative, it provides a predictable but satisfying arc, and for an RPG the Hero’s Journey is the very essence of a PC’s path.

Anecdotally, few campaigns actually last long enough to see a PC progress from 1st to 50th lvl, and there just seems to be few high level 20+ adventures as well. The more common Hero’s Journey is from level 1 to around level 15–leaving unaddressed how many higher level NPCs actual populate the world. There have been conversations on the RM Forums about the distribution/frequency of spell casters in various world settings with the implication that no matter how common low level casters are, there needs to be at least one 50th lvl caster on the other end of the spectrum. In short, there are 50th lvl NPCs somewhere—so where are they and why don’t they do anything when the shit hits the fan?

Fiction and gaming is ripe with examples of world threats being confronted and defeated by modest means—it’s the very essence of the Hero’s Journey trope. But given a world shaking threat, why don’t these high level NPC take care of things? Obviously, that wouldn’t make for a good story or campaign arc. For example:

  1. Middle Earth. Why doesn’t Gandalf just jump on a Giant Eagle, fly to Mount Doom and drop that damn ring into the volcano?
  2. Star Trek. How do you create narrative conflict when you a technologically powerful civilization? You handcuff them with the “Prime Directive”.
  3. Shadow World. The bad guys (Jerak Ahrenrath) have no trouble utilizing their powerful members to create havoc—including stealing the Northern Eye. Why wouldn’t the Lord of Orhan just command their Arch Clerics and most powerful followers to get together and deal with it? It’s not as if the disruption of the Essence Flows is a small issue, or beneath their notice.

The obvious answer is that allowing powerful NPC’s to intervene eliminates these challenges for lower level PC’s. So an excuse is built in to prohibit or explain the lack of high level intervention:

  1. Aloof. The Gods are indifferent to the common plight or mundane issues of the world.
  2. The “Balance”. The use of high level power would destabilize the world.
  3. Destiny. Only the “chosen one” can solve the problem.
  4. John Galt. The powerful have withdrawn from the world of man.

If the very foundation of RPG’s is built around the common man solving meta-threats what role is there for high level characters? In order on create an appropriate challenge for a 50th lvl player, you need to come up with an appropriate threat: end of world ritual, evil god empire, extra planar entity, Lord of the Demons, etc. You would think that such a threat would demand the involvement of every powerful character in the world—but where were they for threats just slightly below world destruction?

As I outline out a half dozen adventures for 50th lvl I have to come up with threats so serious that they would require the involvement of powerful PC’s and would challenge them but aren’t realistic adventures for lower level adventurers. That seems easier in D&D when there are real differences in levels than in RM where there aren’t any innate class abilities, and spells and skills follow a graduated progression.

What possible threat requires a group of 4-6 50th lvl PC’s? It’s been an interesting exercise, both mentally  and creatively.

An Opportunity Creating Rolemaster Adventures

I don’t know if you have all seen this thread but if you have wanted an opportunity to create something ‘Official’ for Rolemaster then now is a real chance.

Colin has given a single paragraph hook for their three samples on the ICE Blog

Now, I know we have been teasing people with the hidden project called 50 in 50 but I can let on that you will be getting more than a single paragraph from each of our adventure hooks. I have been flicking through them and each runs to a typical 1000 words with environmental considerations, battle tactics and nicely developed pen portraits of key NPCs so you could play them off the page if you are competent seat of the pants GM.

I really struggle with the whole idea of ready to run adventures for Rolemaster. What I know about RMSS/RMFRP could be written on the back of a gnats testicle and still leave room for house rules. Even my beloved RMC is different from its grandpa RM2. Just take for instance a basic skill roll. Imagine you have a fairly good skill of +57 as a 2nd level character (two ranks for the 3 levels, two lots of level bonus and a +13 stat bonus for example) and you make a middling roll of exactly 50. The skill was an absolute pass or fail test.

Total roll of +106. Did you pass or fail?

RM2 = Pass.

RMC = Fail.

To the best of my knowledge RM2 and RMC are the two most closely related RM versions there are so if RMC NPCs and characters need skills to be a typical 10 points higher than the same character in RM2 how do you balance a prepared adventure?

How about HARP? Does anyone know all the systems well enough to cross stat?

What about setting? I think the setting should be interweaved into each and every adventure. Whether it is maybe different cultures of NPCs sat around in the inns and taverns, languages heard in the market places. When I write adventures I like to explicitly write in these cultural references so I do not forget to mention them to the players. I am picturing one thing in my mind’s eye but they may not be seeing the same thing.  If the fields are filled with Aurochs grazing open common land they would look different than Bos Indicus.

Are there Shadow World races and cultures or do you not mention them?

It sounds like a real nightmare to me. In my recent post An Explosive Situation the actual setting I had in mind was an Arabian desert town with a dusty market place and white plastered buildings, the taverna with hookah pipes on the tables and curtains in the the doorways. None of that is in the text but if I had written it for myself then that would have all be there to project that across to my players.

This all sounds more negative than I had intended but going back to the beginning. Colin has make an opportunity or three available for anyone who want to have a crack at it.

Gender in RMU

Here are some unrelated gender based observations.

I have been lucky enough to game alongside 23 players in my gaming lifetime. Of those 20 were men and 3 were women.

I have glanced at some of the fantasy rich ‘fandom’ peer groups and there is see an almost 50/50 or maybe even female dominant population, people like your Whovians and Pottermores to name but two.

As far as I am aware there are no female developers on the RMU dev team although I could be wrong on that.

I have only seen 3 pieces of RMU art, the covers of Arms/Character Law, Creature Law and Spell Law and not one of them features a female hero, or villain for that matter.

Looking at Arms / Character Law there are just three(!) uses of ‘her’ but 432 uses of ‘his’ in the examples. There no uses of ‘she’ but 375 ‘he’s.

Leadership or just being bossy?

In all the examples there is only a single positive female reference and that is…

“Working together, they can search the area faster,
Kamina splits up the work and coordinates the effort
(putting her leadership into play) and they begin to
search. The average of their perception bonuses is (90 +
70 + 75) = 235 / 3 = 78 + 10 (Kamina’s ranks in
leadership) = 88. Just one perception maneuver is made
at +88. It would take one person thirty minutes to
search, so for three it takes just 10 minutes (30 / 3 = 10),
so they get one perception maneuver at +90 for every 10
minutes they spend searching. The GM decides this will
be resolved as a Percentage Maneuver, since the key is
definitely there in the long grass, and will eventually be
found if they keep looking.”

So actually her efforts are irrelevant as the GM has decided that the key would be found anyway regardless of Kamina’s leadership ability.

I am not entirely sure how positive an image that is either. Is Kamina being portrayed as bossing her friends around? Maybe I am just jumping at shadows there.

The world of fantasy and Sci Fi is full of really cool, strong, positive female characters, Ellen Ripley (Alien), Hermione (Harry Potter), Katniss Everdean (Hunger Games), Tris Prior (Divergent), Jessica Jones and Annabeth Chase (Heroes of Olympus) to name a few. So why is RMU devoid of anything that may want younger female roleplayers want to engage with it?

Is there a reason that I have missed somewhere?

From Little Acorns

I want to tell you a little story.

Once upon a time Kwickham emailed me and said that he wanted to publish his Aiorskoru game world and that I had blogged about it. He suggested that I could repurpose those blog posts, edit them into standalone documents and put them on RPGnow and maybe make a few Dollars.

So I did.

That got me thinking so I packaged up my professionless and level less RMC rules and put them on RPGNow, there is a link to them on the left here, and I get downloads of those every single week.

In another email exchange Kwickham was telling me about a game he has written and is still developing called ABS12. ABS12 is as simple a system as it is possible to get. There is just a single stat and the entire system runs on 1d12 rolls. This gives 12 possibles all of equal probability, there is no bell curve  created by using added dice rolls. My part in the exchange was to describe a game I had often thought about writing but had never committed to paper. In a single email I laid out al the core rules with examples. That game became 3Deep, again see the links on the left.

I make a few Dollars a month from selling these documents on RPGnow and the other OBS sites.

I recently had an idea. I thought I could repurpose some of the blog posts here and create a Rolemaster Fanzine. It would take almost no time to copy ‘n’ paste a selection of blog posts into a word document and a quick editorial pass to resolve links into the actual addresses for people to use. So I did it. I created a RolemasterBlog Monthly as a PDF on RPGnow.

Then I thought PDFs are all very well but if you are reading it on screen you may as well read the same articles on the blog and that way you get all the comments and links too. The blog is a much richer experience in my opinion. Unless you love physical books that is.

So I make a print on demand version. This was the first document I had ever done the complete layout for print on including the cover design.

I have on my desk right now the first proof copy of the first edition of the RolemasterBlog Monthly, the Rolemaster fanzine. 
This was a mile stone for me. To have a real physical book. I have noticed a couple of layout problems with the proof but I fixed them last night and I have uploaded the corrected print files.

Despite that, it is lovely and glossy and feels nice. At 36 pages (A5) it is no mammoth tome but then it is only intended to be a fanzine. Everything I learn in producing this I will apply to all future issues and so on.

I honestly hope to have the final print copy on sale (you cannot do free books on RPGnow) within 10 days.

With the actual launch I will announce it first here. If you love the touchy, feely experience from dead trees then I hope you like the RMB Monthly!

“Let the Wookie Win”: Turning a group loss into a campaign positive.

I recently read this blog and it got me thinking about the standard adventure and campaign progression. It also immediately brought to mind this scene and quote from an Indiana Jones movie.

Single adventures usually follow a linear narrative that provide a final challenge or battle that the players want to, and should win. But what about longer campaigns? Is it a series of wins, each providing experience and levelling up or is it a campaign of fits and starts? Can the players and groups lose at the end of a chapter? How about at the end of the novel? Gaming should be both fun and rewarding and few GM’s want to end a long running campaign with failure but significant set backs and even tragic losses during the campaign will make the eventual triumph that much sweeter.

An early blog I wrote was on “Newmans“–long running adversaries for the PC’s. If these adversaries are less enemies and more competitors it’s natural that they should succeed as well. But what about the opponent of “ultimate evil” or “mob boss”–should they put some points on the scoreboard or get a major win?

Of course a GM may want to build some early losses into an extended campaign–but those are intentional and meant to control the narrative. What about unpredictable losses? In RM the critical system and open ended rolls works both ways. Short of TPK, can a GM turn a unexpected tragic encounter into a positive for the campaign? Of course: most fantasy RPG’s have some form of resurrection, Rolemaster has healing spells for almost every unimaginable injury and equipment and items can be replaced eventually.

Anyone have thoughts? Have you turned a catastrophe into something better?

BASiL Deep Dive: Automaton Spell List

Part of my deconstruction of Spell Law was to come up with simpler rules for various alchemical processes that could be more easily used “in game”. One of the appeals of original RM was the framework for creating magic items, but the time and effort involved in making items needed to occur outside gameplay. The alchemist was better as an NPC or the spells should have been shifted to Closed lists (like the detailed healing spells lists in the Channeling Realm).

What sort of alchemical processes could be simplified to be usable in actual game play?

  1. Simple Alchemical Formulae or Devices:  acids, grenades, glues, glow lanterns etc that can be made in hours or a day.
  2. Single use simple embedded items: charms, candles, elixirs, salves, lotions, oils, powders that are consumed when activated.
  3. Basic constructs: drones, miniatures, robots, engines, machines that can be powered and controlled.

With #3 above in mind, one of my favorite new spells lists is “Automaton”, a Closed Essence list I created as part of my BASiL project. My intent was to create a very simple and flexible spell list that allowed for basic automata: motive power (movement), direction (control), and agency (sensory data). Basically simple robot capability with a few lines of programming code.

All of my BASiL spell lists include 1-2 pages of GM/player notes that provide more detailed direction on use and limitations but I didn’t include those in my file uploads to date. I’ve had a few questions about this list and we’ve grappled with some in game usage with one of my players so I thought I would dive deeper into the list as I envision it.

  1. First, the list isn’t just limited to a “robot” or stereotype anthropoid construct found in RM “Creatures and Treasures”. This spell list could function on any mechanical or compound device: a propeller, pulley, wheel axle etc.
  2. The spells do not create structural integrity or range of motion–functionality must be built into the object or target. For instance, animate dead might create a skeleton undead and it’s assumed that the spell “binds” the bones together into a coherent form again. These spells do not do this: cast on a stone statue it wouldn’t imbue flexibility or fluidity to solid stone. However, this spell could animate a corpse. A GM will need to adjudicate some items. For instance its conceivable that a paper origami dog has flexibility to move it’s legs, neck  or wag it’s tail.
  3. The strength and durability of the target is not improved or increased by this spell. (The paper dog would be destroyed if it got wet, a glass rod would still shatter if exposed to hard surface or torque).
  4. Tasks and Triggers should be seen as simple computer code. “And”, “If” and a few word sentence. This spell does not impart sentience or even basic A.I.
  5. Animate has a duration, otherwise it could create a perpetual motion machine or free work. Because of this duration (and perhaps spell list accessibility) it isn’t practical for a primary drive system in skyships, airbarges, paddle boats etc.
  6. Animate spells are constrained by the size of the object powered–not by the size of the moving part only.  So you can’t use a Animate I to power a TINY engine to drive a 120′ warship. Basically I’m trying to tie in concepts of HP & torque into the RMU size framework.

One of my players has really been clever with this spell list and while occasionally he pushes it’s use, I feel the size and duration limitations balance it out well and make it useful for in game play.

You can download the list here (Peter still haven’t figured this file thing out yet)




Mentalism and Water Memory

This is just an idea I have. In our world there is the idea of Water Memory and is popular with some supporters of homeopathy. the principle is that you can dilute a solution of a healing herb extract so much that there is in probability not a single molecule of the herb extract in any one sample of the water but the water retains a memory or imprint of the herb being there and retains the healing properties of the herb.

Now mentalism allows one to both manipulate water (Liquid Manipulation) and memory (Mind Mastery).

Could a mentalist develop a spell list that allowed them to create single dose potions by imprinting spells into vials of water? Essence allows casters to create runes from 3rd level and channelling allows stones to be enchanted using symbols (Symbolic Ways) from 4th level.

Could a mentalist be able to create 1st level spells as potions from 5th level?

I can see that this would make the realm of mentalism much more powerful. The potions are portable in a way that standing stones are not and can be drunk by anyone without skill unlike runes that require a level of education investment.

An alchemist can create a 1st level potion at third level so it would take something away from the alchemists profession if other people could also make potions.

I am a great supporter of players researching their own lists and spells and think it should be encouraged. So we are talking about a fairly big investment in development points as well as time. A 5th level spell takes something like 5 weeks of meditation to research. Higher level spells to create 2nd and 3rd level potions would take at least 3 months if not years.

Would you consider allowing a player to create such a list?