Random Musings: Dealing with Undead in Rolemaster.

Like a lot Rolemaster’s content, much of the mechanics around Undead are design artifacts from D&D; more specifically the issues of “Turning” and “Draining”.

Turning. It’s generally accepted in RPG’s that Clerics have the holy ability to “Turn” undead: basically, repel or even destroy them based on the level of the cleric. In D&D this is a class ability and in Rolemaster was converted to a Base spell list which is essentially the same thing, an implied core ability of the Cleric/Priest class.

There is a lot of talk on Turning in various D&D blogs—here is a good summary and discussion. Like many accepted fantasy tropes, once you step back from Turning as a core ability of the priest it’s pretty obvious that this power should be granted to specific types of priests—ones who follow or worship the god of life or death. In other words, an aspected list. Why should a Priest of the God of Fire have the ability to affect Undead? In fact, I moved Turning ability into a separate list Repulsions—basically a closed list.

I feel there are a lot of problems with the original Rolemaster repulsion spells—they try to maintain some of the elements of the D&D system by organizing undead by Class and then having spells affect a certain # of Class types. It’s just complicated for no reason. Why not treat Repulsions like a sleep spell? Any targets within the AoE must make an RR with the effects (cower, flee, destroyed) be based on the Fail? Higher level Undead will either resist or not fail by much while lower level Undead could easily be destroyed. You get the same solution without the complications of counting up the # of Classes present. Instead the spell is driven by the attack level and AoE.

Draining. The original RM had Undead causing Co drains. Later Companions introduced Life Levels with a corresponding spell list to regain lost life levels. D&D has LEVEL DRAIN—that was crazy. Why even try “Life Levels”? A while back Peter wrote a blog post touching upon stat drains as an effective Undead effect. I like the oringal simplicity of stat drain and a corresponding mechanism to regain the lost temp stat through time/rest or a restorative spell.

Stat drain is a great universal effect that could be applied to a number of agents besides Undead:

  1. The Unlife. The Unlife could drain a non-physical stats like Self-Discipline or Presence.
  2. Different types of Demons could drain different stats.
  3. Unholy Objects. Cursed or “evil’ weapons could leach stats point when used in general or when a specific power is used.
  4. New spells could allow a caster to drain and use a targets stat points for their own use. (like in Runelords).

The Undead don’t have to be complicated or identical to D&D–simple mechanisms and solutions work best within the flexibility of the Rolemaster system.

4 Replies to “Random Musings: Dealing with Undead in Rolemaster.”

  1. The really weird thing is that the core rules for RMC has NO mechanism for stat recovery other than levelling up.

    I hadn’t given much thought to repulsions. I suppose it is because we are all former AD&D players so turning undead just seems to be the right thing to do.

    I know you have your internal memos for your rule changes amongst your players but the best name ever for testing house rules has to be Experimental Law Variations or ELVes.

    1. So part of my re-writes is complete deconstruction of basic assumptions. Luckily, just reading D&D blogs by older players delves into a lot of these issues.
      The blogs on saving throws got me thinking about it’s role in mechanics (not gameplay as it’s usually thought). Turning always seemed like an aspected power driven by the diety and not a ubiquitous power granted to all Priests.

  2. The detrimental side of level draining could be why Pathfinder (and, I presume, D&D 3.x) moved to negative levels rather than level draining., which can be removed in a variety of ways, including rest and spells.

  3. I very much like the idea of moving away from affecting a certain number of ‘levels’ of undead, and toward simple AoEs; I think that would make for a much easier resolution and remove the need to classify Undead into types.

    Peter also is right on to note the difficulty in RM in restoring stats. That too I think was a vestige of DnD. I like the idea of stat drain so long as there are ways of recovering the stat, and I would point out that stat drain is a more attractive option now in RMU, since the stat bonus for skills is not an average but a simple matter of addition. So it is easier to calculate what a -5 to my strength means for my skills.

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