Rolemaster Player Challenge. Finding the perfect pairing

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I thought I would skip my “Weekly Roundup” for a player challenge. The challenge: suggest an interesting, creative or clever RM profession/magic item combination. The basic guidelines:

  1. One profession and one item.
  2. Artifacts are excluded.
  3. The combination should strive to make the “whole greater than the parts” or add an interesting dynamic or ability to the character.
  4. Extra kudos to the player who comes up with the best combo using the least powerful magic item.

Of course I’ll go first as an example. When I’m not GM’ing, I’m almost always a Warrior Monk. (Caylis, who gets occasional mentions in some RM books). I think I like the simplicity of a non-spell caster and the minimalist nature of the Monk after the intensive, detailed process of being a GM. Playing a Monk goes all the way back to my earliest days of playing AD&D and our Court of Ardor campaign in ’83. I didn’t worry about hoarding gold, armor, losing items etc. I liked the self-reliance of a Monk in AD&D (Feign Death, hitting as magical weapons, immunities) and always strived for some of those same abilities in RM without opting for the Mentalist spell casting version Monk.

With that in mind, my favorite go to item for my monk is the “Ring of Free Action” or some iteration of it. This was an actual AD&D item that had far more expansive powers than an RM spell. In RM the closest is probably “Underwater Movement”, only a 5th lvl spell on the Closed Mentalist list “Movement”. That’s a pretty modest item to get make into a Daily X item and frees the Monk to operate underwater and use martial arts without restrictions. It’s not an overtly powerful ability but can really add to game play, combat choices (if near water)and group abilities.

What’s your combination? I received a suggestion yesterday that made sense. What’s a contest without a prize? If we get at least 10 responses the winner of the best suggestion will get a brand new copy of the Iron Wind (the 80’s edition). This is “new, old stock” I bought from ICE when they were shutting down. Never been used but aren’t individually shrink wrapped. There may be the option to get the Cloudlords of Tanara instead but I’ll have to check to see what we have left.

Winner will be determined by the criteria above: originality in pairing, uniqueness, power of item (the lower the better) and of course the swimwear segment!

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Engaging the senses

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I have been through the adventure notes today adding post-it notes to scenes and locations with little added comments about sounds, smells and little visual ‘clips’ such as dust swirling in a vortex as a door slams shut.

These serve no purpose at all except to remind me to be more descriptive, not great long tracts of prose to be read out just little details to drop into the scene. I am hoping to bring scenes to life a little more, to make the sessions are little more atmospheric and engage more of the characters senses through the players’ imagination.

I am not sure why I have this love affair with post-it notes, I think it could be the immediacy they lend to editing. They are also great for moving anot NPC or monster around a location.

I read a post the other day about turning off your electronic devices while you are playing so you can focus on the game. I think that although I love having PDF rulebooks and my PDF GMs quick reference if I had to choose between post-its and and my tablet I would choose the sticky notes every time.

The motivation for the senses notes is two fold. Firstly I think it will make for a better game experience. Secondly I have an ulterior motive. I need to do to things in the next session. I want to try and make my players characters bond more. This may require more role play and less killing things so engaging the players in the world may help. I also want to ‘teach one of my players a lesson’. That sounds harsh but the way he has built his character is to pile all his DPs into weapons, body development, Spells and perception. The only other skills he has are things I gave away free or skills I pretty much insisted he buy. That is OK if you want to play a completely uneducated oaf but on the contrary, he keeps insisting that his character would know this or that because of his background.

In the next session I am going to make the challenges more skills based. Normally he is the überman of the party, the highest OB, the most spells, he sees danger coming and is normally the last man standing. I want to put him in a difficult situation where his sword is not going to help him.

Indirectly my sensory notes will feed into the slight change of tack. I don’t want to make him feel victimised, more like I want to demonstrate the value of being a more rounded character.

I also know now what I am going to do with the party. I think a haunted house is in order. I cannot remember ever doing a haunted house scene with these players and I have been GMing them on and off since 1985. I thing it must be a bit over due.

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Gaming Group Size: Is “ONE” the loneliest number?

 

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I was reading Gnomestew blog the other day (and linked to some on the Weekend Roundup) and started thinking about optimal party size for me personally as a GM. It’s certainly harder to put together any group as I get older—conflicting schedules and responsibilities of adult players creates significant barriers to game times. Right now I have 3 core players who can attend our bi-weekly game and another 2 that attend less frequently.

Certainly fewer players allows me to create much richer backgrounds for the PC’s and gives the players more time to “shine” during game play. More players and you run into group dynamics (distractions, leadership issues, group decision making etc). Here are my thoughts on the typical party size.

1 Player. Not for me anymore. When I was just starting out, any chance to play was good so having a GM and 1 player was better than nothing. (ignoring solo adventures). Now I’d rather not GM if I only have 1 player. It’s not rewarding for me for the work and effort needed.

2 Players. We had a few sessions with last minute player cancellation and went ahead with 2 players. The group was in the middle of a busy part of the adventure so I needed to carry the missing PC’s as NPC’s. I think the two players had fun in that session but didn’t enjoy the extra duties. What if it were just the 2 players? That might have worked but I’ve found that with only 2 players each wants to pursue individual agendas and goals. That’s easier to do now via PBM mechanisms between game sessions. (having magic items made, training etc)

3 Players. I like 3 players—decisions are made quicker, game flow moves and each PC can take an over sized role in the narrative. Since we use “NO Profession” there is rarely an issue with skill deficits or party balance. I can really focus on integrating the PC’s background, skills and the players interests into the narrative which makes for more personal “payoffs” for the group.

4 Players. Is this the standard trope? (Fighter, Thief, Magic User, Cleric). Even with us discarding professions the group still finds itself trying to create skill balances to emulate this traditional 4 PC party. I like 4 players for the added diversity but keeping the smaller group dynamic and efficiency.

5 Players. The majority of my groups have been 5 players. I do like the added energy and the additional power/abilities from the extra player. However, I’ve found with 5 players there is always 1 player who doesn’t quite fit in, has an over or under-sized role, or is a distraction to game play. I’ve found that to be the nature of the larger groups.

6 Players. I’ve had a few opportunities to GM 6 player groups. Not really for me unless it’s a “one-off” tournament style adventure. (Like the Lair of Ozymandias). Combat goes very slow, the group gets distracted easily, inter-player competitiveness becomes more pronounced and it’s harder to give every player “time to shine”.

What’s been your experience?

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Refreshed and Reinvigorated

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I have just got back from Iceland having done a riding tour from the northern coast up a river valley to the last farm before the uninhabitied high lands. The whole experience was amazing as was the riding and the horses.

My PBP game has been faltering recently as I was away, my players had busy lives and it had almost withered away. The day before my flight to Iceland one of my players contacted me and said he was back and able to play. This is great news as we can get the game up and rolling again.

I am also now starting to prepare the next face to face gaming weekend for my RMC game.

It is a real pity that none of my players’ characters are in the Frozen North as I have some great ideas and inspiration but no one to inflict it upon!

So what comes next? The weakest element of my face to face game is that the party are still very much acting as individuals who are traveling together rather than as a robust whole. I feel that if I was to test the party bonds then it would fall apart in a fit of self interest. I want to address that ‘weakness’ and try and knit them together somewhat. The danger is ofcourse that in trying to encourage them to bond I would have them rail in the opposite direction.

My mission tonight is to go back over every characters’ background story and try and write an adventure that furthers all of there individual goals at the same time. That should get them working together. From memory I think I have one idea I can use.

In my PBP game things were about to get really interesting just when the momentum failed. I am really looking forward to getting that going and as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on this post I will be writing an update for Riako the halfling monk.

When I have spent the week plotting adventures I will see what gremlins have popped up to cause complications!

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Weekend Roundup: July 30th 2016

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Wow, July is almost finished…already. I’m off to my annual motorcycle trip with Matt, our other brother and our father. Back on August 3rd, but Peter is back from his trip today!

Those Vikings had some weapons. Axe or Sword.

What’s new with I.C.E.? Keep up with the Director’s Briefing.

Shadow World “Longheads”. Ancestors of the Worim?

Short a player from your group? Utilizing NPC’s.

Or, down to just 1 player?

Living it up like Bilbo.

Want an inexpensive, compact game mat? Try Noteboard.

Book pick of the week. Love those armored Greatcoats!

Magic and technology…really the same!

Have a great weekend!

 

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Shadow World Adventure Hooks: Taking your game to a new place.

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One of my previous blogs discussed the “Many Flavors of Shadow World” and I felt like expanding on a few specific adventure environments that we’ve used that really enhanced our campaign.

  1. Underwater adventures. Having your players adventure underwater can add a new dimension to your SW environment. Lost cities, shipwrecks and new races can all be encountered and the challenges of breathing, moving and fighting add a new strategic element to group tactics and abilities. My current I.C.E. module submission, Priest-King of Shade, is focused on water/underwater adventures and environments. It’s in edit/review and hopefully will see print in the near future.
  2. Zero G. There is a sci-fi angle to SW, why not exploit it. Introducing your players to a no-gravity environment can be a lot of fun—especially if they don’t understand their situation. (they assume it’s a magical effect of some sort). I’ve includes a great Zero-G adventure in my second project, “Realm of the Black Dragon” that is part of a larger adventure thread but would work as a one-off tourney style module.
  3. Skyships. I’m drafting a new adventure thread that takes place on a Skyship. It’s a bit of a clockwork/pirates of the sky/high adventure derring-do where almost all of the action takes place in the air with multiple aerial combats. The players will need to adapt to these new types of engagements and are limited by their environment (small Skyship), general lack of flying ability, and dynamic combat. The whole adventure is inspired by a random encounter my players had with a hijacked Skyship, a crazy old man and pursuit by the Eidolon air fleet. It was a side adventure, purely organic and events were driven completely by random dice rolls.

What were your most unique adventure environments? Share your game stories!

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Shadow World Game Hook: The Lair of Ozymandias

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You slowly open your eyes, paint stabbing through your head and your body aching from head to toe. Gradually, your surroundings come into focus. Above, a smooth stone roof dripping cold water. Moving your head cautiously you realize you are in a small stone room blocked by rusting narrow bars. You are not alone. Other bedraggled figures are likewise laying on the floor. All appear to be bruised, their clothes in tatters and are moving feebly taking in their surroundings.

In the distance you hear the squeal of hinges, a heavy door scraping against the floor and metal clanging on metal. Footsteps approach, methodical and clad in metal boots. You and your fellow prisoners manage to sit upright and await your captor. From around the corner a metal horror appears glinting in the flickering torch light. A towering armored figure is revealed, adorned in full plate covered in razor edges down the greaves and vambraces. Instead of hands, the ends arms end in weapons: on the right a circular cutting blade and on the left a 3 pronged stabbing tip.

Your mind is frantic…what is this figure? A man, a creature or something else? You look around, realization dawning that none of these other people are familiar to you. In shock you can’t recall how you arrived here. You have no recollection of the past…or who you are….

This is the player introduction for one of my first RM games (pre-Shadow World, mid 80’s). The players find themselves in a bare cell with no memories. They don’t know their past, how they got there, their skills or even their professions. I’ve run this 4-5 times over the year as both a short “tournament style” adventure and as the start to longer campaigns.

Besides designing pre-gen characters (which can change some of the adventure obstacles and challenges) the adventure can be quickly set-up. No need for backgrounds, history or even gear! It can organically evolve into a longer campaign and allows the GM to adapt player backgrounds as the narrative unfolds.

This works well if you want your players to gradually immerse themselves into the larger SW plots but prefer to keep it simple at the start. The memory loss can be later attributed to Andraax, Lorgalis or another important NPC.

This adventure was also the start of my journey towards a “no profession” game. What I realized is that my players didn’t fall into GAAP (Generally Accepted Adventuring Practices—that’s an accounting joke btw) because they didn’t even know what profession they were playing. There was a novelty and newness to their behaviors that was more akin to a player’s first roleplaying experience than a seasoned RPG’er. As the players attempted various actions they were able to recover some of their abilities. Even then it wasn’t obvious what the profession was. Their actions were driven by the narrative and not their abilities or group assigned roles.

Anyway, as an interesting start to your SW campaign or as a stand-alone adventure for a game day it’s a great hook.

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Rolemaster Weekend Roundup July 23rd 2016

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Welcome to RolemasterBlog’s first “Weekend Roundup”. Here we will feature interesting links, stories or news items that might be of interest to RPG’ers or curious minds!

The price of fashion. Getting around in ARMOR.

What a bunch of NERDS!

Celebrities aren’t the only ones PLAYING D&D.

What every growing boy needs…the CRATE OF DOOM!

Cryptonomicon…I don’t think so. Try the CODEX SERAPHINIANUS.

Interesting article on PROTO LANGUAGES.

The Gods of Death in Shadow World. RESURRECTION discussion.

You call that a KNIFE?

Till next time!

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All my players want to be Clerics.

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You know that guy…the player that begrudgingly agrees to play the Cleric for the “good of the team”. After dispensing some essential buffs, he waits around to dole out some healing and maybe, just maybe, get a few licks in during combat. Add to that, the group leader role is usually played by the more assertive, dynamic player who is the fighter. That guy gets the glory and the bulk of combat. Oh the indignity.

There are ways to make the Cleric more interesting and even the most desirable character to play. Here is how I did it.

  1. Roleplaying religion. D&D was clever enough to have alignments as proxies for religious belief. The God had an alignment, the character had an alignment so the player just needed to role-play within that framework. RM doesn’t have alignments and the Orhan and even Charon Pantheons don’t really fall into the Good/Evil spectrum: true evil is reserved for the Unlife. We use the Prayer skill for a variety of functions: Channeling spell castings, spell level limitations, invocation and as a measure of dedication. It’s a bit more abstract and quantitative than alignments, but for players that are uncomfortable or unable to role-play “religiousity” it works. They can enjoy the Cleric character without a real or perceived burden of special role-playing.
  2. We’ve rewritten the Channeling spells with more of an emphasis on followers. Priests/Clerics can summon a variety of help and have powerful spells that only effect members of the same religion. Being able to summon Holy Warriors, retainers and followers can have a great benefit and can also take the game narrative in new and interesting directions! Plus it puts the Priest into a leadership role.
  3. Aspect Spells. Most Gods have an Aspect or Flavor—their followers and Priests should be able to access spells that tap into that Aspect. Channeling Companion fleshes this out but GM’s should embrace this. Who should have better access to Fire spells—a mage studying Essence in a library or a True Cleric of the God of Fire? Some GMs might be cautious of crossing the delineation of Realms—don’t be.
  4. Membership has its privileges. If you have a priest you have an organization. That organization should be a wealth of resources, even to a low level member. Refuge, healing, equipment and even information could be available. Obviously this is not one sided—a church will want to the party to pursue goals that are either directly or tangentially to their benefit. Additionally, members of the group that worship Gods in opposition to the Church will not be extended such benefits.
  5. Invocation. In our Shadow World campaign, all characters can call upon their God in times of need. See Chart here and Diety modifiers here. However, Clerics have as added advantage given their focus on the Prayer skill and their innate connection to their patron God. Plus,  Invocation works better than Fate Points—it allows for a saving grace, miracle or intervention within the narrative and not rely upon some abstract points used to make a re-roll or ret-con a game result.

A Priest is the emissary, avatar and representative of that God. Their job is to pursue the interests of the God, the “Church” and the God’s followers. That provides them special privileges unavailable to other professions. The Cleric is not just a singular character and member of the group, but the “tip of the spear”, representing a powerful organization and omniscient being. In practical terms that’s a direct line to God (the GM)! Who wouldn’t want to play a character like that?

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Rule sets and settings. The gap between Rolemaster and Shadow World.

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A recent forum thread started me thinking about the “tensions” between a game setting and a game system. Specifically rulesets and worlds published by the same company (not like Peter’s use of FR for his RM game). Certainly Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms were designed to incorporate the full breadth of the D&D rules, but what issues are created when a game world doesn’t fully embrace the system it’s meant to support? MERP is a good example of this. The original modules used the RM rule set, but that rule set never really fit the low magic world of Tolkien. ICE eventually introduced MERP, which stripped out many of the professions to better fit the setting.

So let’s examine RM (in all its’ variations) and Shadow World. The two always seemed slightly “out of phase” to me. While some argue that SW is very “kitchen sink”, it has elements and mechanisms that break from normal RM standards. RM’s origins as a slot in system meant that it duplicated a lot of D&D material and had quite a bit of generic content. Shadow World however, is a very specific setting that often throws away RM rules or requires some re-calibration to make things work just right. Some examples:

  1. Gods, death and resurrection. RM spell law contains specific rules about resurrection, lifekeeping and death but doesn’t make any inferences about the larger world and how that might work. Shadow World has Eissa, the Goddess of Death who appears to be the “gatekeeper” to the afterlife. But this begs a whole set of questions. Does this gateway to the afterlife only appear on Kulthea or is there a standard mechanism throughout the universe? How does Eissa control this gateway given that the Lords are more extra-dimensional beings than real gods? As discussed in the previously noted thread, can other Dieties provide resurrection powers to their priests?
  2. The planes. D&D has a well fleshed out world of planes and other dimensions that tie into specific spells and effects. RM describes the Void and demonic planes, has spells about summoning demons and other entities but it’s all very general. SW embraces and used the Pales much more but doesn’t really touch upon other dimensions.
  3. What are undead? RM has the usual suspects: Mummy, Vampire, Wraiths, Shadows etc but are they anchored evil souls? Summoned spirits? Cursed individuals? If they are souls how does that work with #1? Can Eissa block souls from being dragged back to Kulthea?
  4. What are the Navigator and Loremaster Base lists? Reviewing the NPC stats, Loremasters and Navigators are all assigned standard RM professions but also have access to these new added organizational base lists. How does that work? Should be ignore it since they are NPC’s?
  5. I already blogged about my disdain for D&D style Giants, but the full roster of RM creatures doesn’t really work in the specific SW setting.
  6. There isn’t much discussion about advanced technology in RM, but SW brims with it.
  7. SW is enveloped with the flows of Essaence (not to be confused with the Essence Realm). This magical energy is then….parsed into three different unique flavors? Doesn’t it make more sense to just have the Essaence be the “motive” power for spells rather than this cumbersome split into three realms energy types, each with its multiplier devices? And then you have the Hybrid realms which mix them back together…

This ambiguity between RM and Shadow World is much different then Numenera whose rule set and setting were created hand in hand. The setting informs the rules and the rules drive the setting.  Is there a solution? Does there need to be one? Perhaps not, but it probably doesn’t help to have this divide between the rules and the setting. Like MERP before it, I think the Shadow World setting would be helped by having a modified RM rule set.

Can you think of any other companies that have a rule set and setting that don’t quite match up?

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