Body Development

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This is just a short post today as I am still thinking about whether I am going down the right road or not.

Do we actually need a Body Development skill?

Every race has a racial maximum so it is a bit of a development tax, every character has to buy it, on low level characters. Once you have maxed out your #hits you can just forget about it.

It is one of the more complex calculations and I have seen people posting on the forum getting the calculation for total hits wrong when it comes to a negative Con stat bonus.

The more #hits a character has the more leighway a GM has and the greater the staying power of a party. So more #hits is better than less.

So why not just use the characters Con stat + Racial Con bonus as their Total hits? It will still go up over time for most characters as their temp stat improves through stat gain rolls.

So I ask, do we need a body development skill that costs DPs? Can the non #hits elements of body development not be rolled into an Athletics meta skill?

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Musings on High Elves in Shadow World

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I’m not a fan of Elves, but I am a fan of Shadow World. Can those two feelings co-exist? Fiction has exposed us to many portrayals of Elves but one constant is that Elves are very long lived or immortal. In a past RMU discussion, the immortal “trait” was discussed: how do you subscribe a value to a trait like immortality when it has little impact on gameplay?

From a world-building viewpoint, immortality has had a significant impact on the role of Elves. Reading through the Master Atlas, Emer and the other major SW core books, Elves make up the majority of the powerful characters in Kulthea. How could they not? These immortal NPC’s have had THOUSANDS of years to gain experience, level up and accumulate wealth and power. A general summary:

Priest Arnak: 100% Dyar

The Silver Dawn: 100% Erlin

Steel Rain: 75% Erlin

Golden Eye: 100% Loar

Loremasters: 60% Elvish

The Secret Circle: 100% (mostly Iylar)

Navigators: 30% Elvish

So we are left with a disconnect between the negligible impact of immortality on gameplay and its significant effect on the world order. How do these immortal creatures dominate the powerful roles they have in Kulthea. I have a few theories to explain this:

  1. Theory of Inevitability. Only immortality can provide the time needed to achieve higher levels, power and wealth. However if this is correct than mortal PC’s couldn’t possibly achieve higher levels. This obviously “breaks the game”.
  2. Theory of Racial Superiority. Something about Elves gives them a competitive advantage for resources or their natural abilities are superior to mortal races. However, if this theory is correct than there is an inherent advantage to Elves that favor them over other races. From a gameplay standpoint what could this be?
  3. Theory of Environment. SW is not really all that dangerous, allowing these beings to grow in power without threat or harm until the PC’s show up. However if this theory is correct than the PC’s are some sort of historical aberration: a gang of Elf killing, murderhobos. Like #2 this is a bit of a “game breaker”.

The only theory that really works is #2: Elves are superior to mortals. This superiority is not just immortality but some inherent ability or quality that allows them to surpass other races. So I’m reluctant to allow PC’s to play “High Elves” (Iylar and Linoeri) due to their appearance and implied superiority. Do they even fit as a PC in a low level adventure?

Anyway just a few thoughts–what’s yours?

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It is not the critical but the special effects that count!

I am building an NPC and this one is a going to have a few unique spells. I am not one that goes looking for work to do so I am more than happy to take an existing spell, change the special effects and see how far that gets me. Now want I wanted was a spell that tearst he world apart and hurls it at the players, so nothing too spectacular.

What is the easiest way to do this?

At first glance this seemed to be an extremely powerful version of the Hurling spell from the Telekinsis/Essence Hand lists. These pick up cobblestone sized lumps of rock and throw them at the target. If I wanted hundreds of bits of rock then this is a big step up.

I then thought about making it area of effect and that then made me think of Stun Cloud on the magicians Wind Law list.

4. Stun Cloud I – Creates a 5’’R cloud of
charged gas particles: delivers a ‘C’ Electricity
critical on first and second rounds, a ‘B’
on rounds 3 and 4, and a ‘A’ on rounds 5
and 6. It drifts with the wind and affects all
in radius. The cloud takes one round to
form, so anyone in the radius when it is cast
may make a maneuver to move out of the
radius without taking a critical; however,
after that anyone within the radius at
anytime in the round takes the critical
indicated (a maximum of one per round).

So if I turn the Electricity criticals into Krush criticals and the cloud is a vortex of flying stones, rocks, earth and debris would that fit the bill? I think it does. It is no more powerful than the Stun Cloud original but because the special effect is so different It is hardly recognisable in play when it is cast.

Now that is a cool special effect
Now that is a cool special effect

My players are so experienced that when we were playing in Shadow World the Mage’s player could identify spells and deduce professions and levels pretty quickly. They find it harder in my game for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I only describe the special effects and not the give the spell name. They were the target of a Shock Bolt recently and I described the caster touching the floor and white energy arcing along the cracks between the flagstones as it raced towards the character being targetted. As it happens the player said they made sure they were not standing on any cracks on the pavement and as it happens the shock bolt missed and now they think they would only be effected if you stand on the cracks. This was not a new spell, it was just a different description of a shock bolt.

Secondly nearly ever caster has at least one spell they have researched themselves in my game. I mostly do low level spells as if this is part of the casters passage from apprentice to journeyman. If there are genuinely new spells out there then the it is hard to try and second guess the level and profession of the caster.

So coming back to my Cloud of Debris spell. It would make a useful addition to Earth Law, a list that lacks much in the way of offence anyway. It is low level at 4th and I see no reason why this variant is any more or less powerful than the Wind Law version and it gives the the leighway to create either a larger radius version or a Death Cloud version if I need it.

In my game most magicians tend to only have one or two of their base lists, it is just too hard to learn spell lists to concentrate on just your base lists and ignore all the open and closed lists. A 10th level magician would probably only have 8 lists in total. At that point they also have to choose between learning more at 1-10th or learning some at 11-20th.

Given those conditions then Essence Hand + Earth Law plus at my new spell and you have an effective villain. A Death Cloud (Cloud of Stones?) version would weigh in at 11th level and deliver a couple of rounds of E krush criticals and 10 criticals in total if anyone was stupid enough to stay in the radius.

I like this idea, I think it fits the bill and it wasn’t too much work either!

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Rolemaster Diseases

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Last week I visited a church built shortly before the plague of the 17th century hit Switzerland. This got me thinking about rolemaster diseases. What I have below is a house rule I have not yet had the chance to play or test. It has just been rolling around in my head for the best part of a week,

I apologise for having missed my last two posts , Friday and Monday, but as you can now guess I have been traveling. I spend most of my time in Switzerland but also went into the black forest region of Germany for my ‘Grimm Sword‘ project. But enough excuses, here is my idea about disease.

The current rules base the severity on the level of resistance roll failure. Fail by 01-25 and you get a mild form of the disease, 26-50 is moderate, 51-100 is serious and 101+ is extreme and normally terminal.

My House Rule

Recently I had a cold or similar virus, it seemed to rush though a day of headaches, a day of sore throat, a day of aching joints and then weeks of a running nose. There were days when I felt almost well again but then at least a week were I was too ill to go running. The point is that my health was not linear. I had ups and downs.

It doesn’t add much complexity, and none to the players side, to modify diseases slightly so they get three additional parameters.

  • Minimum severity
  • Maximum severity
  • Time period

  A ‘touch’ of Rabies

The minimum severity would specify that if the resistance roll is failed then rather than possibly just being mild (fail by 01-25) the minimum effect can be controlled. The idea is that it would stop someone just having a touch of Rabies but they will be fine tomorrow.

The maximum severity just specifies the maximum starting severity. I put this in place because of the nature of open ended rolls. The school I went to as a teen ager had 1200 pupils. Baring in mind that 1 in 20 rolls are open ended down and one in 400 are double open ended downwards you don’t want the common cold killing 3 students on average every time a virus went around the school. Put simply not every disease is fatal.

The final parameter is Time period. So a 24hr virus would have a time period of 1 day. Every day you get to roll a new resistance roll. If you make it you get one severity less ill and if you fail you get one severity worse.

Other diseases may have much longer time periods so you are saving every two or three days. This means that people can recover, have relapses, worsen and die and so on.

It makes sense that if the sufferer has lots of rest and food then they will get a plus to their resistance roll. Those that are physically active get a penalty. Characters may well choose to battle on though a minor illness. If they start to get worse and the penalties and symptoms are getting worse then they may think again.

Players quest

Every GM at some point has a players quest where they have to find some ingredient for a cure. Now the longer that quest takes to complete the worse the consequences are going to be.

What I think the real benefit is when the characters have the disease and the potential for them to get worse over time. I am going to apply the penalties they suffer from the condition, as specified in Character Law, to the future resistance rolls. So without help all but the strongest characters are more likely to slowly get worse, not better. All I need now is a magical disease that will infect those smug elves!

The only elves in my games right now are an elf and a half elf in my face to face game. I will not be able to test this is play until the spring. There is a definite plot in here somewhere!

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Game Master talk: “Murder Hobos”

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murderhobo

def. The typical protagonist of a fantasy role-playing game, who is a homeless guy who goes around killing people and taking their stuff.

Due to the holidays I only have time for a quick blog, but thought I would delve into this a bit–especially since Thanksgiving is really the “Last Supper” before we went all Murder Hobo on the native Americans!

A lot of GM’s pride themselves on running games that focus on other narrative elements than just combat; but let’s be honest, players love combat and Rolemaster’s critical charts makes combat more immersive and ultimately rewarding. RPG’s reward MurderHobo behavior! Video games have further reinforced this style. Digital games, limited in part by the defined experience and finite sandbox, also tend to focus on conflict and combat as the primary mechanism for player gains and advancement.

Despite mechanisms like “Alignments”, religious constraints and the good v. evil meme, many PC groups default to “kill whatever you encounter and take their stuff”. We certainly played like that when we were younger and in almost every game session since there has been at least one group member that opts for combat before anything else. In a game system that has terrible monsters, cruel creatures and real evil, their needs to be little rationalization: bad monsters should be killed!

I tend to a more grayscale approach to morality in gaming and Shadow World lends itself well to that. Most encounters are with other humanoids and while many of them may be selfish, greedy or dangerous they are probably not evil in the purest sense. Generally, people act in self-interest.

So while a GM can design an adventure that focuses on non-combat elements, that doesn’t mean the players will stay on script. So, how can you build some constraints into your gaming group?

  1. Actions have consequences. Combat results in criticals, and criticals can result in serious or permanent damage. At lower levels PC’s may not have the resources to regenerate a limb. Certain injuries could cause stat loss (temp and permanent). Scars can reduce Ap. Healing costs $$$!
  2. There are fates worth than death. Even if they triumph over the PC’s, opponents may still be seriously injured and will need to seek refuge and healing. They may not necessarily delivery a “coup de grace” on the players, but they could certainly loot them and take their valuable stuff!
  3. One size DOES NOT fit all. I’m not a believer that magic armor, bracers, rings etc have inherent magical “resizing” ability. In fact, that sounds like a fairly high level ability to enchant into an object. My players don’t expect to simple loot and put in opponents armor and have it fit or work effectively. This reduces some of their impulse to kill anything with nice stuff.
  4. What’s in a name? Horses have brands, armor may have insignia or religious symbols, “named” weapons may have a reputation. Flaunting your opponents marked equipment may be problematic—PC’s could be considered thieves or looters!

Hey, I like combat as much as anyone but when you really think about it, the “murderhobo” concept defines PC’s. What are your thoughts?

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ROLEMASTER SKILL CONSOLIDATION PT. 5: SOCIAL

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To continue with the subject of skill consolidation, I want to move on to our meta-skill “Social”. From a GM perspective social skills have always been a problem to me. Used as a blanket mechanism in the game the social skill roll can replace any real attempt at ‘role-playing’. But relying on pure role-playing can create tension between the player and GM (NPC) and force arbitrary game results.

RMU tackles a wide variety of social skills: persuasion, leadership, torture, interrogation etc. and once again I’m convinced that only 1 meta skill is really necessary here. This is the one skill that relies heavily (Ap/Ap/Pr) on the “Appearance” stat.

While persuasion could rely on innate charm, any salesperson knows that social skills can be learned and trained.  Our meta Social skill includes the ability to “read” people (lie detection), inspire them, charm them, haggle and negotiate as well as reading social normative cues through body language, posture, dress, deference etc. This includes the “skill as lore” aspect of understanding social customs and rituals.

Arguments against a single social skill is that it conflates negative social skills with positive ones. For example, a torturer would have high positive social skills along with the torture skill. This doesn’t fit the “professional meme” associated with a torturer. Keep in mind that psychopaths are most often have highly functional social skills, are manipulative and charming! I don’t see charisma as being the same as a developed social skill. A PC could have a very low presence and physical appearance and still be inspiring, convincing or manipulative. Likewise, the character with a high presence and appearance may be naive or socially inept.

As a GM, the social skill often provides an excuse to the player to rely on a skill roll rather than role playing–that can be an issue. However, when a random outcome is needed or I can quickly fill in 500 years of intricate social rules for a random society encountered by the players than the social skill works well.

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ROLEMASTER SKILL CONSOLIDATION PT. 4: ATHLETICS

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I was going to go back to my long simmering Shadow World Spin Cycle blog topic, but since there is so much discussion around “meta-skills” I thought I would continue with rolemaster skill consolidation.

We’ve been using the RMU fatigue rules for several years now and before that used a simplified version of the optional fatigue points rules. As I’ve mentioned before, I think fatigue is a critical component of our campaign and a major narrative point in fantasy literature. (Frodo’s walk towards Mt. Doom as the penultimate example). Given that we had included “Endurance” as an important, primary skill. At first, the skill bonus was used for fatigue points and then later using the RMU beta the skill bonus was used for fatigue checks (rather than body development). I saw endurance/cardio fitness as distinct from body development and wanted to separate the two to allow for non-fighter types to have good endurance without the automatic benefit of more hit points.

In the past year we’ve further consolidated skills and rolled the “Endurance” skill into a meta-skill: Athletics.  We refer to this as the “Bruce Jenner” skill–think ancient Greek athletes and the decathalon. Athletics includes cardio endurance, hand/eye coordination, throwing (for distance not necessarily accuracy), jumping, running, hiking and even feats of strength.

While it could be argued that many of these subskills should use varying stat bonuses, I generally use Str/Ag/Co. The meta-skill is meant to be a broad indicator of general athleticism and physical games. Certainly a few of these lose some “realism” by not having more specific stat bonus assignments but for this one, simplicity wins out!

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Meta Skills

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

Brian and I both share the same philosophy when it comes to skills, less is more. Meta skills are a way of having less skills that enable your characters do more.

More is less

The more skills you have in your game the less capable the characters are. If there are only 40 skills and a character can afford to buy 10 plus some body development, weapons and perception then they have 25% of all the skill bases covered.

If you have 100 skills in your game and they can afford to buy 10 skills then the character has only 10% of all the bases covered.

If you have 200 skills then 10 skills covers just 5% of skills.

As you up the total skill count one option is to increase the number of development points each character has. This was introduced with the firs set of secondary skills in Character Law. They added 45 secondary skills and recommended adding 25% more development points. So by the time you get to 200 skills you need to be giving the characters double development points just to stand still.

I can agree that if you have more skills you should give the characters more development points to compensate but this brings with it its own problems. If your character starts off with relatively few DPs because he or she has lowish temp stats (but decent potentials) then your fellow characters are going to be able to do more than you in more situations. This is already a  problem but now the effect has been quadrupled (it was doubled by doubling the demand on the limited DPs and then exacerbated by doubling the difference between a character with high stats and one with low stats). Your fellow characters have more opportunities to earn experience so they level up faster and get more DPs and so the problem gets worse. What you have is a vicious circle.

The other option is Meta Skills. Brian has a Survival skill but does not have Foraging or Region Lore or tracking. If you hae a full set of survival skills for a particular region then that includes where to find food, water, the lie of the land. You can also build a fire and probably tie knots covered by rope mastery.

RMU shows some of its strengths

This is where RMU shows some of its strengths. Firstly you get a fixed number of DPs per level, the default is 50 so having great stats or poor is no handicap but also it has the Vocational Skill.

Vocational is the ultimate meta skill

Vocational is the ultimate meta skill. If you take Vocation:Knight then you gain all the minor day to day skills that a knight would know from recognizing the devices and standard of other noble families to etiquette to handling hunting dogs and birds of prey. A character can have multiple Vocation skills so you could have Vocation:Squire and Vocation:Knight if your character came up through the ranks, so to speak. You can pretty much define your characters back story skills in terms of Vocational Skills. Vocation does not supersede any specific named skills, you cannot use Vocation:Knight in place of Riding:Horse by claiming that riding is a knightly pursuit.

This is how I think all skills should work. I don’t use the Survival skill but I do have Foraging and Tracking. Brian and I have identified the same problem arrived at the same answer but we started from different places. In my gaming group my players love the Tracking skill so it was not on the cards to remove it. It would have been missed too badly to take it away. On the other hand no one bought the survival skill, in those survival moments the players turned to foraging for food or tracking game (animals have to drink so follow the tracks and you will find water).

In both cases, Brian’s Shadow World campaign and my Forgotten Realms game we have both arrived at a total skill count of about 45 skills. The characters are going on similar adventures, facing similar challenges and coming to similar solutions I assume as people the world over are all the same. As long as the game and skill system gives the players the levers they want to pull the players are happy.

The reduced skill count actually makes the players happier as their characters are more capable and more of their ideas are successful ‘on the round’ as the characters are able to put the plans into action. It reduces the need for quite so many NPCs and so on.

As I get older I find I can retain the definition of 40-50 skills easily enough but on the other hand trying to remember 200 skills when about half of them ‘break the rules’ (things like the way that stunned maneuver works, or iai strike that have unique rules for just one skill). I am never going to retain that many skills and rules and I don’t think new players will either.

I kind of hope that RMU resists the urge to bolt on more and more skills a the system matures. There is no need to repeat the mistakes of the past when there are so many new ones we can all make!

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Rolemaster Skill Consolidation. Pt. 3: TRICKERY

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Welcome to Pt. 3 of my blog on Rolemaster Skill Consolidation. In this blog series we explore the creation of “meta-skills”—broader skills that roll up lesser or secondary skills to reduce skill bloat and better skill equality across the board. You can see Pt. 1 Channeling and Pt. 2 Survival here. Both “meta-skills” and “skills as lore” allow for PCs to act within the game rules and me to focus on the narrative flow without resorting to highly technical refereeing calls. As Pete discussed in an earlier blog, I prefer meta-skills for the balance between “rolling it” (via skill bonus) and “role-playing it” via the broad scope of meta-skills.

Today I want to focus on our meta-skill “Trickery”. I’ve played around with a number of names for this skill including “Subterfuge” and “Mummery”, but right now I’m sticking to Trickery although it lacks a certain gravitas. Our trickery skill was inspired by “The Lies of Locke Lamora”—a fantasy book about a group of thieves. The story includes great details on the thieving profession from a simple cut-purse to the skilled “long-con”. The book really inspired me to think about urban adventures, adventure narrative and mystery/detective style adventures.

The Trickery skill rolls up a number of interesting and useful secondary skills into one more comprehensive skill: pick-pockets, sleight of hand, mimicry, ventriloquism, forgery, disguise, hand-signals, and misdirection. While each of those sub-skills are cool with great potential for game play, I don’t think they stand up on their own as a primary skill. Rolling it into a meta-skill really gives it some punch and allows for creative use by the PC. Rather than having a “rule-lawyer” argument about a questionable application of the pick-pocket skill, the PCs action will fall under the broader skill subject to their skill rank and my ruling on difficulty.

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Rolemaster and multiclass characters

I am spending the day travelling today. I was up at the crack of dawn to get the train to London and right now I am sat in Caffè Nero at Heathrow terminal 5 waiting for my flight to Switzerland. Initially I thought I may end up missing my Friday article this week. One the Iron Crown forum there is a discussion going on about allowing a character to change professions.

Professions are so ‘loaded’ in Rolemaster that I knew this would turn into one of those rambling threads.

Changing or having multiple character classes is so integral to D&D that I am surprised that this question doesn’t come up more often. D&D, as I remember it, has  two options, you can start out with two or more classes and your experience is split evenly between each or you choose to change from one to another and once your new level catches up with your old one you can start to use features of both classes. For a game with many hundreds of classes the need to create new combinations us a little odd but who am I to criticise, there are millions of D&D players and they all seem happy enough to me.

Rolemaster professions are not character classes. A Rolemaster profession is intended to be an entire way of life and represents the characters entire world view, their education and sets their aptitudes for their entire life. The are not something that you can change at gheeta drop of a hat.

In my Rolemaster Classic (Rules as written) game  the party met and have been adventuring for just 22 days but they are already on the verge of achieving 5th level. In the forum thread the character wanting to change profession is just 4th level. That is a pretty short window in which to shift ones entire world view. Of course the character in the thread may have been adventuring for years, we don’t know.

So in Rolemaster there are few if any hard limits on what a character can learn to do. Fighters can cast spells if they invest the points into spell lists and makes can wear armour if they are prepared to take the rusks of spell failure. These soft caps were meant to remove the need for multi classing to changing profession.

The fact is  that a fighter with a spell list is not a mage. Going against the professional archetype will never be the same as adopting the new archetype and that is what the player wants to do in the forum thread.

HARP does allow multi classes and is balanced to take these into account so it is possible but the RMC/RM2/RMSS/RMFRP development point system of individual skill costs mean that multiple professions will always be over powered. It will much more viable in RMU as the professions are much more like HARP professions, remember that HARP is a much younger system than RM and has the benefit of a lot of hindsight in its design.

The other option is to use the No Profession. This is my preferred solution. You cannot have multiples or change things you don’t have. It gets rid of some much ‘baggage’ that this forum thread has reinforced my view that No Profession is the right way to go for Rolemaster. It is one of the best things about this modular system that No Profession was available as a built in option right from the beginning.

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