Rolemaster Skill Consolidation. Pt. 3: TRICKERY


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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An Interview with Terry K. Amthor. Author of Shadow World and I.C.E. Founder.


Anyone reading this RolemasterBlog should be familiar with Terry K. Amthor. One of the founding members of Iron Crown Enterprises and author of Court of Ardor, Lorien and Thieves of Tharbad (to name just a few). Terry is now the principal of Eidolon Studios where he continues to publish fantastic Shadow World material. There have been detailed accounts written about I.C.E. and their history and the epic battle for M.E. licensing, so I thought it would be enjoyable to get a more personal perspective from Terry himself.

BH: Terry, there have been several comprehensive articles about ICE and in depth interviews with I.C.E. founders but relatively few interviews with you. Anecdotally, there are few designers and authors that have survived on one setting or rule-set as long as you. Shadow World was introduced in 1989 and you’ve been the master architect for all of that time. Do you have thoughts or perceptions on your own role or influence on RPG’s?

TKA: Well, to be honest, I think what limited notoriety or influence I have had was my role in Middle-earth Role Playing, as the editor and author of several books. MERP was one of the biggest selling RPGs of all time after D&D. And I was happy to stand in Pete Fenlon‘s shadow; he’s kind of larger-than-life. But I’m also proud of my role in the creation of Rolemaster. Olivia Johnston and I basically invented the Mentalism realm, and many of those critical hits and spell lists were written by me. Now of course I look at RM and think that it is rather daunting. Ha! Regarding Shadow World, I was honored and excited that it was agreed that I would be the world creator. I built heavily on our work in Iron Wind and went from there.

‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’

And in a somewhat unrelated topic, I got a little fame for my article ‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’ in White Wolf Magazine back in 1994, about feeling isolated as the only gay gamer (besides one other guy in the industry) that I knew of. The WW guys said it got a tremendous response. The last few years at GenCon now they hold a seminar with that name.

BH: As you mentioned, your 1994 article in White Wolf “Queer as a Three-sided Die” helped motivate a recurring seminar at Gen-Con of the same name. You’ve included both gays and women in Shadow World: the Sarnak amazons and the Komaren Cluster “Sherikaan” (SW term for gays). There seems to be an emphasis on “minorities”, can you elaborate on that and its importance to you in your creative process

TKA: I dunno, it just seemed natural to me. I knew I was taking a risk of offending people including an entire gay culture in SW, but that was when I was writing SW unsupervised for the first time and thought, what the hell. (The main protagonist in my SW novel is also gay). I never got any negative feedback, and even got a few letters and emails praising it.

As far as women and other races, it just seemed natural to me, especially after Middle-earth, which is totally dominated by men, (except for Galadriel), and the only people of color were savages from Harad who served Sauron. Back in the 80’s the gaming world was overwhelmingly white and str8. Fortunately it has changed quite a bit, along with popular culture.

BH: Your background in architectural design must have played a role in your work. Is your creative process driven by physical design or does narrative drive the form factor?

‘but how does that work, really?’

TKA: Ha! Though in many ways I think my architecture experience helped, sometimes I think it has held me back from creating really exotic building designs. Pete would design these beautiful but totally impractical structures, and in the back of my mind I was always wondering. ‘but how does that work, really?’ I’ve gotten a little better at letting go over the years, I hope.

BH: One of your earlier SW products, Jaiman, had the Dragonlord fortress–that was pretty fantastical! 

TKA: Heh, yes that was kind of wild. But to be honest, I can’t remember if my design came first, or if I had to retro-design it after the artist’s work. I think the latter.

BH: Many of us are in our 40’s or 50’s and consumers of early RPG’s in the heady days of the 80’s RPG industry. Early business successes are often attributed to “lightning in a bottle”–a mixture of right time, right place and right team. Charlottesville is a special place and UVA is an amazing institution. Certainly I.C.E. benefited from a confluence of factors: a start-up industry, Fenlon’s maps and the original ME campaign, your layouts and design aesthetic and a solid publishing team. I.C.E published A LOT of quality material in a short period of time, 1980-1990. What is your perspective of that time and the factors for success?

TKA: I have to say that I have often thought how different my life would be if I had not allowed myself to be talked into going to my first D&D session by a friend, way back in 1976 when I was first year in college. I loved LotR, but the game idea sounded silly to me. We went and I joined Pete’s early quest to destroy the Iron crown and I was hooked. Most of the people who would go on to found ICE were there. We had many all-nighter gaming sessions.

After ICE was established, we often joked that we were probably the only RPG company run by committee, for better or worse. All the other major companies of the time seemed to be run by one man. Pete was the driving force, but all of us founders had a voice. And yes we had an enormous pool of talent! Most of us were UVa grads, but we managed to get some great freelance artists and writers. It was an exciting time, especially the early 80’s. We all put in long hours, and often were down in shipping, collating and packing games.

“gold standard”

BH: MERP is considered a “gold standard” for M.E. reference material. Anecdotally I’ve heard that Peter Jackson used I.C.E. material in the LOTR production. Had you heard that?

TKA: Yes, that was amazing that Pete managed to secure the rights. And yes I heard that as well. And looking at the cover of ‘Lorien’ by Angus McBride (which I art directed), its hard not to think that he was inspired by some of our art and materials. I prefer to be flattered about that. However, how the license holders treated ICE when the movies were about to come out and they smelled big money, that was inexcusable.

BH: Many of the larger ME books are as much reference material as a gaming product. Were you all Tolkien scholars? With all the other product lines you were working on, how did the company manage the output and product quality? I can’t imagine many companies taking on the challenge of mapping Moria!

TKA: Pete and I both prided ourselves on being Tolkien ‘scholars’ and we researched what was available. I learned how to write Elven script, learned a lot of vocabulary, and got deep into the lineage of the Eldar, especially Galadriel and her history. It was an obsession of mine back then. Of course, sadly, most of that is gone from my brain-cells.

As far as quality, I don’t know, but we wanted to get it right when dealing with Middle-earth history, but make an exciting game. Meanwhile at ICE I moved from editor to production manager to art director, so it was a crazy time for a guy in his 20’s. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even the office moves, the hiring, the buying new technology and being the go-to Mac geek (while we had Coleman the PhD in Computer Science, who was above that crap).

I was so excited to bring Kevin Barrett on with Space Master. (I actually drove up to Toronto with a monstrous KAYPRO computer to meet Kevin, and we spent a weekend working out Space Master. The whole thing started as a random mailed-in submission that Coleman and I both liked (that was rare!!!)

BH: How do you see Shadow World in the ecosystem of RPG settings?

TKA: I am pleased that it has survived and remains profitable, but these days it is kind of a niche setting, along with many others. Long gone are the huge print runs and massive distributor networks of the 80’s and 90’s. And from the beginning, SW suffered from some unfortunate compromises in the early days. I had to include Fantasy HERO stats, which took up a lot of space, and from what we could tell, there was very little interest from the FH players. I was also ‘encouraged’ to accept some less than high-quality modules that had little to do with my idea of SW. A couple of the other ICE principals strongly wanted SW to be very a generic, plug-and-play world, which I was strongly against.

I was grateful that, when I left ICE in 1992 and moved to Northern Virginia, Pete allowed me to take SW, and licensed RM to me for a minimal fee. That’s when I founded Eidolon Studio and began self-publishing. Then I could do whatever I wanted. SW did also maybe suffer because it got the reputation of being a high-powered world. I think that was possibly unfair; there were high-powered NPCs, but plenty of low-level adventure possibilities. It may have also suffered because it was tied so closely to Rolemaster, which had a rep as a complex high-powered system. SW is definitely a very narrow kind of setting. It is high fantasy with sci-fi elements (which people love or hate), and a very detailed history, with major plots going on that the PCs might never know about. Like Rolemaster, it might seem daunting to a GM just starting out, but I hear about people jumping in to SW all the time.

BH: MERP had the benefit of Tolkien’s world-building and history. Did that later influence your work on the extensive SW timeline? Not many settings have 110,000 year+ of back history!

TKA: Absolutely. I wanted SW to have a deep history of its own with legends and epic events that most current inhabitants assume are just stories. But the gods are real. And that ancient history is infused with tech, and even in the present, a space empire is watching Shadow World from orbit. It’s all kind of fun. One of my tenants of Shadow World Is the Arthur C. Clark Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

BH: Typeface/font choices have been an important design element for the Shadow World line. However, you made an abrupt change with the Xa’ar book. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: I had to go pull out a copy of Xa-ar to see what you meant. Back with Eidolon (before returning to the fold of the new ‘ICE’) I went a little crazy with typefaces. They can tell a story and add a lot of flavor. And the type foundry ‘P22’ came out with all these cool handwriting faces… I think I used a lot in a free downloadable file of handouts for the GM of clues.

BH: How do you think your SW writing has changed over time? The Emer box set and MA addendum had a much darker feel than the original SW box set. Eidolon had a touch of anime and steampunk. You’re now working on Wurilis; do you choose a tone first or does the tone reveal itself while you write?

TKA: To be honest, I had not noticed a change of tone. The books you refer to are 20 years back, and I was also production manager at ICE and fighting for some quiet time to write, so it’s hard to say. When I was close to a deadline on a SW book I would literally lock myself in my office, assign an assistant to run production (it was not that hard) and ask that no one disturb me for days. I don’t choose a ‘tone’ but Wuliris is an area with a lot of buried ancient tech, so that will be evident in the book. I always thought of SW as a dark place, what with Priests Arnak and evil gods, but I never wanted it to be gratuitous or gory (despite our critical hits, I guess!).

I do hope that my writing has improved through practice over the years. Practice, reading, practice!

BH: Let’s talk about your creative inspirations. You’ve mentioned your passion for Star Trek and it seems there is some anime influence as well? Any other movies, books or aesthetic that guides your work or has been an inspiration?

TKA: There’s no question that Anime has been an influence. I was totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki‘s ‘Laputa, City in the Sky.’ It was an influence for Eidolon, though of course the two are completely different cities. Miyazaki’s characters and storytelling, and his amazing steampunk settings, are really inspiring. His movies really inspired my vision of the SW steampunk Loari Elves. Watching his movies makes me feel young again.

BH: I occasionally see comments (or complaints) about the lack of new products for SW. But if you really look at the list of SW books there is easily enough material for YEARS of play. I think what people are saying is they want new material from you! That’s a good thing-right? Do you feel pressure from SW fans to “produce” or to come up with something new and original?

TKA: Well, we have built up a catalog, but obviously we are missing some key products like Emer I and II and Haalkitaine, so I am working on the revisions of those. I am a slow writer, but we also have some freelancer submissions that I am working on editing.

BH: You’ve recently moved back to Charlottesville after almost 25 years. Has that impacted your creative process–coming back to “where it all started”?

TKA: I love being back in this wonderful town; it is so unlike northern VA/DC. Part of me wishes I had never left, but water under the bridge. I am still getting fully settled and hope to meet up with more of my old friends again who are still here. I have a nice condo with a beautiful view out of my home office.

BH: Media companies often look for ways to monetize content they already own in different ways. For example, Disney is masterful about taking a brand and developing it through multiple channels: movies, books, games, toys etc. You’re doing that now with your Shadow World novel but have you thought about other opportunities? Certainly a d20 conversion of existing SW material could potentially open up a huge player market for you. Is there demand for licensing a SW creatures line to a miniatures company? That Eidolon map you had printed on canvas was fantastic (and a great gift item). I think someone did a SW comic book concept. Just throwing out ideas but wondering if you’ve explored anything.

TKA: A D20 version of the Atlas was started but several editors dropped the ball. It fell on my lap, but my knowledge of D20 was insufficient to do the system charts, so it once again fell by the wayside. As far as miniatures, that is outside of my arena. The current ICE owners could better answer.

BH: Given the size of the timeline, the number of Master Atlas editions there have been miscellaneous errata and inconsistencies in the SW books. Putting that aside, is there any earlier material you’d like to retcon to better fit your current view of Shadow World or something significant you’d change or delete?

TKA: Yes there are inconsistencies. SW needs a content editor. I’d really like someone to redo the Jaiman book as an atlas of the continent without all the dungeons.

BH: Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. Have you looked at any of the Numenera products? Multiple past ages, high tech, the “Iron Wind”, strange constructs and artificial creatures. While any RPG borrows from common tropes and memes, there seems to be a distinct bit of SW in Numenera. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: When Numenera came out, I admit I was a bit annoyed because it smelled like SW, and the game was selling on an idea of ancient tech, and that very evocative art of the floating crystal. And Monte worked at ICE during my Shadow World time. But Monte created a very different and compelling universe. If maybe SW inspired him, I’m flattered. I wish him the best.

BH: Some of the ICE founders have moved on to other gaming companies. Have you ever been interested, considered, or been approached to work at another gaming company. (besides your work with Kult)?

TKA: Pete and Coleman went on to Mayfair and of course, Catan! I could not be happier for them. But no, we don’t really talk about business.

BH: Given the various changes that have occurred at ICE, I think a lot of people are probably confused about the status of some of the older SW products. You mentioned Emer I, II and Haalkitaine. Can those just go through a reprint or do you need new material & artwork? Are there any other older products you would have liked to see re-published? 

TKA: The Emers and Haalkitaine all suffer from sub-standard artwork (I was on a very tight budget, doing those books on my own!), and as the years went by, I thought of a lot more material I wanted to cover in those books (Emer III ended up being almost twice as large as those early books). So for me, new editions were imperative. Actually I am working on Haalkitaine and Emer I now; Haalkitaine might be out by the end of the year.

BH: The lack of a full-time employees and in-house resources must make it difficult to spin out new ideas or products. On the other hand, you have a fairly broad skill set: writer, designer, page layout, art etc and you continue to generate well produced and well-received products. Is there ever times when you feel like “ramping up” and growing Eidolon studios or even doing a Kickstarter campaign?

TKA: I’m not sure what you mean? Right now Eidolon pretty much exists to do ICE products. I am doing layout for some HARP books, which is some nice easy income, and hope to continue our relationship with producing mutually lucrative Shadow World books. I don’t really have the time (or much desire) to go off and do something independently outside of those borders. Some other publishers have had big success with kickstarters, but that’s really not my call.

BH: You seem to have covered all the major elements in the “SW story”: gods, major organizations, key artifacts, etc. With this framework in place, is it now just “filling in the gaps” with regional material like Wurilis and Emer IV?

TKA: Pretty much! I mean, should I ever get bored with this hemisphere, there is always the East, beyond the Barrier. But there is still so much to tell here.

BH: Between the Grand Campaign, the timeline and your Shadow World novel, the larger meta-narrative appears to be heading towards a climactic conclusion. Do you have the major plot points outlined? Are there any new elements that have yet to be introduced to GM’s or players in the books so far? (spoiler-free of course)

TKA: Heh-heh. Yes, events seem to be heading to a few major confrontations. The novel obviously uses the characters I’ve created, but I assume that GMs will put their own PCs in those key positions where they can ‘save the world’ if they desire. And at the rate I am going, the big catastrophe is years away in real-world terms…

BH: Are there any other continents besides Emer and Jaiman that you’ve written notes/materials that you’d like to tackle?

TKA: A couple (Folenn and Falias) are kind of taken-care of. I would like to go southwest to Thuul…

BH: Throughout the SW books there are tantalizing tidbits or references to things, places or people that haven’t been covered yet. (My favorite is the Mazatlak Pillar City). Is there any person/place/thing that you’ve referenced that you’d like to explore further?

TKA: I’d like to learn about Mazatlak Pillar City too! 😉 Yes, in the Atlas (and in the Emer I maps) I designated a bunch of locations with little or no description. They were mainly meant as teasers for the GM to develop, but I may get to some of them eventually.

BH: You commented that you weren’t happy with the art in Emer I and Haalkitaine but I’d like to get your thoughts on RPG artwork for the last few decades. Like D&D, ICE started with b&w line illustrations and hand drawn layouts and regional maps. You then oversaw the artwork for MERP and the popular Angus McBride covers (which might have influenced the artwork for the LOTR movies). I recall you diving into computer rendered art for the Shadow World website in the 90’s. Now RPG’s have embraced full color illustrations that seem drawn out of computer gaming: exaggerated or out of scale features or excess musculature drawn from comic book aesthetics. There has been some comments on the forums about re-introducing hand drawn and colored maps but that sounds a bit too labor intensive? That’s a lot to unpack, but I guess the question is. if and how has your artistic sensibility has changed over the years?

TKA: That is a long, complicated, and unfortunately often painful story. Back in the old ICE, we often were very late in paying artists (and sadly, I fear ICE did not pay some artists what they were owed, but I am not sure. I had no control over how money was paid out). This continued until the current managers (GuildCompanion), who are very careful about staying in budget and paying on time. However, with smaller numbers of product sold ICE cannot afford the prices of the well-known hand-drawing artists any more.

(re: the Emer and Haalkitaine art, I got that mostly from copyright-free books and um, other sources.)

I experimented with computer rendering back in the 90’s with a little program called Bryce, which was great for landscapes, but sucked beyond that (and print-quality renderings took hours, even on the most powerful Macs back then). But again, I had no money, and it seemed like a way to convey some atmosphere. I know some people resist it even now, despite the gorgeous renderings by our artist Craig, but I think they really convey the Shadow World.

Now, since we are doing Shadow World books in full color, we are sticking with computer renders for illustrations (I work very closely with Craig to get the scenes, characters and costumes just right), and we will mix hand-drawn and computer maps.

BH: Last question. Most SW products are a combination of small narrative vignettes, text body and stats. When you are writing a product do you develop the three in a linear fashion? Write the copy first and then the stats? Floorplans first? Do you have a writing process or system that you’ve developed over the years?

Using my current work on Emer IV and NE Jaiman as a guide, I guess I start with the big picture, and almost naturally work through a book in a similar way to which it is presented. I do the geography and environment, governments, then towns and interactions, then bore down to individuals, interesting characters. Adventures and floorplans are usually last. I find it hard to write adventures.

As a side note, the novel came out a result of a series of ‘Kalen’s journal entries’ I published on an old web site years ago, which people seemed to enjoy and thought gave the SW some additional personal life.

BH: Thanks Terry. We all waited for each new addition to the “Journals of Kalen Avanir” back in the day!  It’s interesting to note that “serial stories” like yours are all the rage now on the internet. You were a pioneer!

Anyway, I want to thank you for decades of inspiration, great gaming sessions and creative content! For those that want a more detailed background for Terry you can see his wiki HERE. If you are interested in Shadow World you should check out Eidolon Studios and the Shadow World Forum.

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D&D 5e SRD converted to D100

I have mentioned this SRD project before and Ken and I completed it at the very end of October. The bit I was most interested in was the monsters. As I run Rolemaster in the Forgotten Realms having easy to pick up and use encounters is a huge boon.

To see how D&D monsters stack up against RM monsters I took the humble Orc as a test subject. Below is a 1 to 1 comparison.

This is an Orc as defined by the D&D 5e SRD but converted to D100. (5e x5) I will point out that we did not convert hit points or damage by multiplying by 5 just the stats, skills and saving throws.


Medium humanoid (orc), chaotic evil

Armor Class 65 (hide armor)

Hit Points 15 (2d8 + 6)

Speed 30 ft.


Skills Intimidation +10

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 50

Languages Common, Orc

Challenge 1/2 (100 XP)

Aggressive. As a bonus action, the orc can move up to its speed toward a hostile creature that it can see.


Greataxe. Melee Weapon Attack: +25 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d12 + 3) slashing damage.

Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack:+25 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.

So the Orc gets +25 to hit but also has a stat bonus. In RMC terms that would be ST/ST/AG for the Great Axe or (15+15+5)/3 = 11.66 or 12 in terms of OB. Add those together and an D&D Orc would have an OB of +37. In Creatures and Treasures an orc has an OB of 40 with a melee weapon.

A D&D orc has 15 hits but add 10% of its Con = +8 for a total of 23 plus a 15% Con bonus give a total hits of 26 hits. In Creatures and Treasures an Orc gets 50 hits.  So you could just double D&D creatures hits by the look of things.

Armour Type-wise the D&D Orc gets Hide Armour which is AT 7 or 8, in C&T the AT is 8 so that is equivelent again.

Movement, the D&D orc moves 30ft in 6 seconds, the CT orc goes 50′ in 10 seconds so that is the same.

DB, the D&D orc has a Dex bonus of +5. The C&T orc gets a 30 including a shield. So +25DB vs +30DB (unless that was a +25/+25 shield which I doubt) I would call that pretty similar.

So off the page with only a bit of fiddling with the hit points D&D orcs seem almost on a par with a C&T orc. So how about something that is not in C&T? How would a 5e Owlbear look?

D&D Owlbear from the D&D SRD
An Owlbear for all seasons.

Here is the 5e stat block (converted to D100)


Large monstrosity, unaligned

Armor Class 65 (natural armor)

Hit Points 59 (7d10 + 21)

Speed 40 ft.


Skills Perception +15

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 65


Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Keen Sight and Smell. The owlbear has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or smell.


Multiattack. The owlbear makes two attacks: one with its beak and one with its claws.

Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +35 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (1d10 + 5) piercing damage.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +35 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8 + 5) slashing damage.

In Rolemaster the Owlbear looks like this…

So AT we have a large creature with natural armour so that is AT4.

#Hits = 59 + 9 + 15% = 78 hits.

OB and attacks-wise under the RM2 D&D conversion rules you don’t give multiple attacks, you increase the OB by 25% for every additional attack. That would give the Owl Bear a +90OB with large Claw or Beak attacks. (+35 to hit, =25 ST bonus +50% for multiple attacks)

DB is just +5.

Move is 80’/round.

That is a perfectly usable ‘classic’ D&D monster with no difficult maths. The question of do we need yet another Owlbear type monster is down the individual GMs to answer.

5e x5 SRD

I think the power of the 5e x5 SRD is with some of the stand out creatures like the Beholder and the Mindflayer (beware all you mentalist out there!). We do not have stats for them in any of the C&T books, although there is a sort of Beholder called the Eye Entity in C&T II.

Ken is selling the converted SRD, not just the monsters but the entire thing including the spells, magical items and so on in a Kickstarter format. You can have it for free but the bigger donation the more you get including free gift version so of his Aioskoru world and my 3Deep game if you have deep pockets. Also everyone who donates anything gets a mention in the credits (you will have to send Ken your details for inclusion). You can see how it is all set up by following this link.



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Weekend Roundup: Sunday November 6th 2016


Lots of news, info and entertainment to catch up on!

Sometime during the Interregnum?

Old School Renaissance.

Swim-Fu, the deadly skills of the Mermen-Monk.

Emulating the Worim “longskulls”?

Another Essaence Storm—damn climate change.

Here come the Omega Droids.

Real or Surreal?

Add another useful plant to the Rolemaster herb list.

If just 1 monsters could wipe out humanity…how do we survive the “Monster Manual”?

The downfall of the Althans.

Blasts from the Past.

What is old is new again.

Lords of Essaence facilities?

Ancient underground civilizations?

Can humans truly understand Elves?

Post money society. Good? Bad?

Land of Giants.

A new way of thinking.

Earthwarden Portal?

Bri’s Book Recommendation. The RELIC GUILD.


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Gaming Styles – Roll it or Role it?

Twice recently, once on the ICE Forums and the second time here ( the topic of how to check for traps has come up. There are two competing ideas, the first is what I call the Roll it option of declaring you want to check for traps and the GM says “fine, roll your skill”. The second option is you say you want to check for traps and the GM says “How are you doing that?” This is the OSR method or Role Play it version.

My Shadow World GM is one of the “How are you going to do that?” school. In that game I played a thief called Alfred and I was by far the most powerful character in the group. That is not egotism, it was an unfortunate fact. We were playing a high level game and we started out with pregen characters of 10th level. I have talked about this character a lot in the past so I won’t go into too much details. The GM made a mistake in the pregen character which both he and I recognised. The mistake was that in a group with only one fighter, in a very much hack and slash game, where the GM likes to put his villains in plate mail making the thiefs primary OB ‘thrown dagger’ was a serious problem. In Rolemaster it is not the hits that kill you but the criticals. If you have a character where the maximum damage they can do is 3CP and that  is from virtually point blank. Even throwing the dagger from 1′ away from your target incurs a -10 penalty on OB, at 11′ it is -20 and over 25′ it is -30. The character had a built in penalty to every single attack, extremely limited ammunition and pretty much anyone he fought could moving into melee in the next round and attack with a greater proportion of their OB than I could hit them with than I had used to attack them because of range penalties. The GM had given me AT5 with is a bit of a walking death sentence so overall beind cast as the second fighter in the group was not good for my prospects.

My solution was to immediately start developing two weapon combo and thrown dagger in the off hand. If I could only do tiny amounts of damage then I may as well try and double it up. The character was given Adrenal Move speed anyway so I could at least attempt to get 4 attacks in in the first round. If I could do 4 criticals then there was a chance I could put my foe down. Of course this was a long term solution as it was going to take many lavels to build up a new weapon skill and two weapon combo.

The GM soon realised that I was not effective in the role he had pretty much assigned me. In fact our first few combats went pretty badly. The fighter had been given 2H Sword and Frenzy and his best skills. The ranger was great with a long bow but was terrible with his shortsword. The fourth character was a magician. Our first four fights were all close quarters combats inside a tower, mostly on the stairs. Things did not go well.

The GM wanted a quick solution that was to dish out some powerful magic items. The fighter got a pair of laen broadswords and that motivated him to start investing in his secondary weapon and two weapon combo.

For me he gave a set of three uber daggers. They were +30 when thrown and hit as broadswords. At the end of the round they longdoored back to their sheaths. So all of a sudden from doing one ineffective attack each round I went to three full on broadsword attacks. I was throwing two of the daggers with my primary OB and one with my evolving off hand OB but with a useful professional bonus, plus stat, plus +30 for the weapon and just a few ranks made for an OB up in the 90s.

Within three game sessions I had totally eclipsed the fighter as the main battle tank in the group. I coordinated well with the mage and between us were were taking down the lions share of the enemy before melee even started. I had also from the very first time I spend DPs starteed to invest in a spell list. Concussion Ways was my first choice

But I was not a fighter I was a thief. It was me that scouted out the way ahead, it was me that defeated traps and opened the locks. Thieves are very much the skill using profession and they get a lot of skills very cheaply in RM2. Compared to almost everyone else I could ‘do it all’.

The GM had created this monster and in doing so he was finding it hard to challenge us. We played the game for seven years and during that time I tried to select magical items from our adventures that gave daily spell effects. So I had my own spells from just a few open channelling lists plus a handful of other spells that could be used a few times each day. Magically I was like a little low powered hybrid with maybe thirty spells to my name. Given that all my spells were 5th level to less my 50 powerpoints went quite a long way and then I gained a x2 multiplier so I pretty much had unlimited spell casting. In combat I was a death dealing gattling gun of magical daggers. The GM still used the combat phases so missile attacks, the GM included throw attacks in this phase, came before melee and movement. Out of combat I was the one with the broadest skill set.

I think the idea of ‘role playing your skills’ was introduced to try and limit my power in some respects. As I was accelerating away from the other characters in the party my skills were improving rapidly. So when I approached a lock I was throwing a +120 to +140 skill at it. Even absurdly difficult locks were 50/50 and in that situation I would use meditation that gives a +20 bonus. That pushed the odds to 70/30 in my favour. You cannot fill the world with everything being so insanely difficult that all rolls are made at -70 just to make it challenging. That was when the GM suddenly started asking me ‘How’. so when I said I wanted to check a lock for any traps he would reply with ‘How was I going to do that?’ This sort of had me on the back foot for a few minutes until I could think of a few logical methods for what I wanted to look for and how. As I am a RoleMaster player I started thinking abou this. If I am looking for any additional holes that could be exit holes for needles, for trying to feel for any weak spots or dimples on the wood that may suggest they are just a thin veneer hiding points where needles or blades may come from (just as examples) why am I not now using General Perception? If I was not a a thief profession and I asked my GM the same questions in the same situation he would probably allow me to roll perception to see if what I am looking for is discernable. No GM is ever going to say “No, you cannot roll to see if you can see that.” when the player is stood right next to the thing that they want to look at. They may not see it but that is another issue.

So if my knowledge as a player is less than a 23rd level thief is my thief’s ability limited by my lack of knowledge? Do you ask the healer exactly how they are going suture a wound? How the mage is going to cast fireball? I have never heard of anyone trying to use this roleplaying technique for anything except the stealth and subterfuge skills.

In the example of OSR role playing on the ICE forums the example given was again the poor old thief.

A thief suspended from a rope to steal something.
I defy anyone to describe their character doing it like this and not to end up on their backside with a duff roll at some point!

On another point if you are playing the thief character, you can possibly bring rangers into this as well, and you are asked “How are you going to do that?” you could quite possibly come up with a dozen suggestions. Each one you describe what you are attempting, the GM describes what you discover. You then try something else and you get the feedback on that and so on. You could quite easily ‘waste’ half the entire game session with just you trying to detect a trap on a chest when there is no trap there to be found. The rest of the party need not have even bothered to come.

I think in Rolemaster with its sophisticated skill system, particularly with the more compact meta skills that Brian and I use the OSR approach is unnecessary. It slows the game and devalues the skills. If you are only as good at Survival as the play playing the character why bother buying the skill? You would be better off just buying more ranks in General Perception as everything from tracking to detect traps to lip reading and interogation can all really be described in terms of perception rolls looking for tell tale signs.

The more I think about this OSR way of doing things the more I think of it as incompatible with the Rolemaster system.

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Revisiting Spell Law. Spell casting mechanisms Pt. 4 Mentalism.


The changes we made to casting mechanics for Essence and Channeling seemed obvious (to us) and were fairly straightforward, but we really struggled with the Mentalism realm. It could be argued that mentalism is the least restrictive of the realms: no armor penalties, a broad range of spell abilities and not much for casting requirements. One of our goals with Project BASiL was to increase the differentiation between realms and build some specific advantages and disadvantages for each.

Based on how we saw Mentalism working we kept the basics and then added 1 major advantage and 1 major disadvantage

The basics:

  1. Helmets or head coverings interferes with casting. There are no other armor or encumbrance penalties for casting Mentalism.
  2. Spells don’t seem to require a verbal or gesture component. Mentalism casting is purely a thinking exercise of forming “mental frameworks”.

Major Advantage: Casting Time. Since Mentalism spells can be formed and cast at the “speed of thought” we’ve made all Mentalism spells casting time either Instantaneous of 1 rnd. That may sound extreme or unbalancing but this is offset by the disadvantage.

Major Disadvantage: Concentration Requirement. While Mentalism spells are quick to cast, those that work over a duration require the caster to maintain concentration while the spell is in effect. Concentration is a -50% to all actions, so maintaining a spell can have a real impact on the caster.

We made Magical Language skill a requirement for Essence Casting and Prayer skill a requirement for Channeling. For Mentalism we use “Mental Focus” skill. This skill allows the caster to not only offset the concentration penalty, but “partition” their mind to allow concentrating on multiple tasks. That means that Mentalism spell casters can cast and concentrate on multiple spells (not to exceed -100% and total spell levels not to exceed Mental Focus skill ranks).

As an example, Caylis the Monk 10 ranks, +60 in Mental Focus. He decides to cast Nightvision (3rd lvl) and then Waterwalking (5th lvl). Since he is concentrating on 2 spells, he would be at –100 to all actions, but the penalty is offset by his 60 skill bonus. Therefore Caylis is at -40 for the duration of the 2 spells.

Overall, we’ve been happy with our revised casting mechanics. The various realms offer real plusses and minuses for the players and greatly changed the calculation when choosing spells.

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Rolemaster’s Best Feature? Is it the criticals?

Rolemaster Logo

We all know the skills system(s) in Rolemaster are a bit of a shambles, the stats system is decidedly wonky with its 11 stats working in several different ways. The magic system seems to have as many people favouring HARP scalable spells as those that like the lists and those that like spells as skills. What almost everyone seems to agree on is that the Criticals with their mix of graphic description, dark humour make Rolemaster completely Rolemaster.

There was a recent forum thread about the condensed combat system that got rid of all the combat tables and criticals and just used #hits of damage. It didn’t take long before someone pointed out that if you only want to do hit points of damage then you may as well play that other system. Criticals are what make Rolemaster combat what it is.

There are those that cannot have enough tables.

There seem to be three camps of people when talking about combat and criticals. There are those that cannot have enough tables. They love the way that the damage from each and every weapon is modelled to interact with every kind of armour.  They cannot have enough critical tables to give graphic images of the wounds from every possible sort of harm from stress criticals to plasma weapons.


The next camp are more minimalist. I know some people use the MERP combat system that pretty much fits on 4 sheets of paper. One attack table for all slashing weapons, one for crushing and one for piercing and so on. These are condensed tables so they all fit on one or two pages. Another page has a single column for each critical type. An A critical is a straight D100, a B is D100+5, C a D100+10 and so on. the tables go from 01-120.

I do not go that far but my preferred version uses 18 pages to model every possible weapon, spell, falls and natural attacks. I don’t have puncture, slash and krush criticals, I get Arrow criticals for bows, long blade criticals for swords, club criticals for all the varieties of club and so on. One critical table for every one of the 18 attack types.

Finally, there are a few who seem to be content to roll damage on the dice and ignore criticals although these are few and far between so it appears.

There are pretty much three stages to combat, Initiative, the attack/parry/db roll and the critical roll. There are hours of discussion over initiative, optional rules, alternative systems, phases and action points that come in 4s or 5s and I have no idea which is the best option. I have my preferences and my players like it so the arguments do not impact us.

The actual attack roll stage is almost as hotly contested with zones of control, facings, positional modifiers, what penalties to apply or not, does size matter, how thick is your armour and so on.

Rolemasters best feature

It is only the critical roll that no one really seems to argue over. If I was to throw out everything else then it would be the critical rolls that I would keep. The only changes I have made over the years are to change which critical tables I use and to rewrite some criticals because they were becoming too familiar having been inflicted again and again.

I think the Critical is Rolemasters best feature and for a lot of us that makes other systems seem bland in comparison.

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Rolemaster Skill Consolidation. Pt. 2


This is pt. 2 of an ongoing blog segment on Rolemaster “skill consolidation. The first part on the Channeling skills can be found HERE.

While character differentiation is important, the absorption of secondary skills into primary skills caused not only skill bloat but also a huge disparity in the value of various skills. For our game, one of the most effective consolidations is the use of the “Survival” skill. Depending on the environment, the Survival skill rolls up quite a few useful, but minor, skills: foraging, fauna or flora lore, bribing, hunting, tracking, weather watching, trap/snare, fire starting, shelter building, etc. None of those skills are learned in a vacuum, but are part of a larger survival skill set. Since we use cultural skill sets for adolescence, PC’s will have several ranks of Survival skill which encompasses the environmentally appropriate sub-skills.

At first, one of the biggest push-backs from my players was the elimination of the Tracking skill. Tracking has long been a main-stay in RPG’s, a core skill for a Ranger and a primary skill in the original RM rules. Probably a result of the Arathorn’s tracking the Uruk-hai and Gollum; key plot points in the story. In fiction, the tracking skill is used to great effect as an expository device but I’ve never found it of great use in any of my campaigns—at low levels the skill is somewhat ineffective and at higher levels spells can replace the skill.

But again, we didn’t eliminate the Tracking skill, just de-emphasized it as a stand-alone and made it part of a broader skill. There is still a bit of an arbitrary nature in our survival skill but as a few examples:

  1. Survival: Desert/Wasteland. Finding Water, Navigation, Foraging, Assess Terrain, Build Shelter etc.
  2. Survival: Woods. Tracking, Snares, Foraging, Fauna/Flora Lore, Field-dress, Fire Starting, Build Shelter
  3. Survival: Urban. Gather rumors, Bribery, Street Navigation, Barter, Assess Terrain, Contact Underworld etc.
  4. Survival: Ocean. Fishing, rowing, sailing, weather watching, navigation.

Much of this is common sense and the PC’s efficacy will of course be driven by their skill level. Any of course with “Meta Skills” there can be cross over with other skills like vocations: “Huntsmen” or “Sailor”.

What I’ve discovered is that even with very tightly defined skills, players will still make situational arguments in the game to broaden out the scope of that ability. As a GM that can be frustrating—you either get one or the other, not both: broad skills that allow for flexibility or specific skills that shouldn’t have any flexibility. I’d rather user fewer meta-skills that give PC’s the room to be creative.

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Keeping Up Appearances – The Appearance Stat

A nice round 11 stats

Deconstructing Rolemaster a little, the stats system is not particularly outstanding. The whole stats system lacks conviction, there is one option to use just a single stat bonus with skills, another to use the average of two or three stats and the latest version with smaller stat bonuses that are added together. If you bring HARP into the frame then there are 8 stats, in Rolemaster there are 10 stats if you ignore the poor relation of Appearance that makes 11 stats.

Appearance is rolled like all the other stats but then modified by Presence. Take a look at this example from the RMC Character Law pg33

Example 2: Linthea is 6’1″ and 170 pounds. Tall and lithe, she stands out among humans. Her hair is a deep brown, and is quite pretty when down, but most often kept tied in a bun at the back of her head. Her green eyes have a slightly slitted pupil, and her pointed ears also show her elvish ancestry, though she has earlobes like a human. Lauren rolls a 38 for appearance, +10 for Linthea’s presence modification. A 48 is slightly below average, the GM explains that her half human appearance is found odd by the elves. Among humans Linthea is considered exotic and attractive, though she sees herself as plain. Her persona is quite friendly for an elf, but among humans she comes across as reserved, mysterious, and a trifle odd.

The bold text is added by me to highlight the pertinent point. No other stat is modified in this way. All the other stats are pretty much 1-100 for ‘normal’ people but not Appearance. Appearance works on a -24 to 125 scale.

Appearance gives no stat bonus and is not relevant to any skills


This is one of those “Rolemasterisms”. I have complained in the past about how the skill system is so inconsistent. To put it briefly some skills cancel out minuses such as armour skills, some are 101+ for success or failure, some are incremental, some give +5 per rank (then +2, +½ etc.), some give +1 for every rank. Most have stat bonuses, some have none, some use one pricing rule like weapons, and musical instruments and others use a different system (the 2/6 for two ranks). Some are disposable, like spell lists where once you have the list you discard the ranks (this is important if a caster stops learning a one list to start another) and so on. There are so many variations it is hard to keep track. Don’t get me started on the skills with special rules and the ones with almost magical powers like the adrenal moves, disarming, iai strike and stunned maneuver!

DB, DP & Hits

The stats situation is not as bad but it is in the same vein. Some stats give development points, some don’t, some stats are used only for stat bonuses but others like Constitution and Quickness have a massive impact, hits and DB in this case. Then you get powerpoints. You have a different stat depending on your realm, or the average if you are a hybrid.

If you have high stats at 1st level then if all things are equal then you will massivelyh out strip your companions in experience and levels as you get more DPs, so more skills, so you can do more and earn more experience.

At mid to higher level stats are irrelevent. You may have a total skill bonus of +150 or more but the difference between a character with an average stat of about 50 and an exceptional character with a 90 is just ±10 on that total.

All in all if you look at Rolemaster stats too closely you see just what a hodge podge they really are.

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