RMU Character Law – a second look

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I thought I would take a second look at the Unified Rolemaster (RMU) Character Law. I haven’t touched it in a while and now the dust has settled a bit I thought it would bare a second look over.

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover
Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

The first thing that stands out is how well laid out the book is. I recently bought a new copy of the Character Law I actively use (the RMC version) and by comparison the RMU Character is far, far better in guiding the player through the character creation process.

There are still parts of RMU that I do not like but just because I don’t like them doesn’t make them bad or wrong. They are just not to my taste. The three issues I have with the RMU character creation process are:

Talents and Flaws. These have been around for a while as part of the RMSS/RMFRP world. I didn’t like these but I have been doing a lot of character creation recently and what RM2/RMC has is background options which RMU doesn’t use. When you look at Talents as the background options then they are not so bad. You can ignore this now as an issue as I think I ‘get it’ and how to use them.

Spells as Skills. There are two philosophies for learning spells in the RM world it seems. Those that learn lists and those that learn individual spells. This has been around since about the late 80s in various guises and I believe it is the standard method in RMSS/RMFRP. I can see the attraction to this method as it gives spell casters access to a wider variety of spells much faster than list based learning but it also has a tendancy to make all spell casters the same. It blurs the lines between spell casting professions and the realms of magic with druids hurling fireballs and wizards praying to gods for healing which doesn’t sit well. I will confess now that if I ever use RMU I will scrap this and go back to list based learning. If you have never played Rolemaster before then you probably will enjoy this as a method as a player.

1st level characters are not ready. This is really silly objection. To my mind and experience RPG games start at 1st level. That is the natural order of the world. In RM we have always had a kind of Level 0 which represented the characters apprenticeship or adolescence. You bought the skills and everything else exactly the same way that you would for normal leveling up but this all hapened before play started. In RMU 0th level is now 1st level and it seems that most GMs are starting the players are around 3rd level or higher. Somehow that seems slightly wrong to me butI can see how and why they did it that way.

So looking back at that list with a bit of hindsight there are no major flaws in the character creation process. That is hardly a high accolade but it is a start. So lets look on the positive side. What has really impressed me?

For a start three things have made it into my own game already. One of the nice things about the entire RM world is that it is so modular that you can broadly swap things in and out of the different systems with little modification.

The three shining stars are:

The experience system. I have been using this for 18 months now and I like it and all my players like it and other GMs I have told about it like it and have adopted it. This seems like a winner. The best thing about it is that the emphasis is no longer on killing everything it is now more about goal achievement. You still get experience for killing monsters but you would get just as much experience for tricking your way past the monster as you would for spitting it on your lance.

The Vocational Skill. This is a sort of generic skill that rolls up all the little things that a character would know about their job or background. If you have the vocational skill for a knight then you can recognise the various standards of the other noble families and you can tend to your horse and care for your equipment. You know the polite forms of address and all those miriad of other little bits and bobs. In the past you would have had to buy the heraldry skill, probably courtly dance, etiquette and so on. The PC I have recently created grew up on river barges so he would know how to moor a barge, how to tow it using oxen andhow to operate locks and so on. This kind of generic skill tidies up a lot of unnecessary minor skills while at the same time allowing the same kind of realism that we have come to expect from the RM world.

Rapid Skill Development. Normal skill development is considered buying just a single rank in a skill per level. Rapid development is considered two ranks per level. For most skills that is the maximum you can buy at any one time The losts are listed as say 2/4 which means that you pay 2 points for the first rank each evel and 4 for a second rank. You cannot buy more than two at a time. A few rare skills such as First Aid for the Healer is listed as 1/2/2 menaing you can buy three ranks per level for a total cost of 5 points. Some skills do not have these limitations, the classic examples are armour skills and spell lists. In the books they are listed as say 4/* or 1/* which means you can buy as many ranks as you like but the cost would be 4 points per rank or 1 point per rank. In RMU skills are all treated as if they were ‘starred’. So a skill that cost 2/4 before would now be 2/4/* so it is two points for one rank, six points to buy two ranks (two plus the four) and ten points for three ranks (2+4+4). The only limiting factor is that you can never have more ranks than twice your level. (That is why they go rid of 0th level or the math would not work!) Why this is significant is that if you decided at 5th level to start learning Spear, under the old rules you would never be able to catch up with someone who started out learning spear.

I think the negatives I saw when I first looked were simply my own personal bias. On this second pass I am beginning to see more of the potential that RMU has. This is all still based upon the first beta version of the unified Rolemaster Character Law. I am hoping that when I see Beta 2 I will look at it with less prejudice than I did this edition.

2 thoughts on “RMU Character Law – a second look”

  1. I too did a read through of the 1st Beta of RMU and set it aside. Not having anyone to really run through some playtime with me made it more difficult to grasp. I’m eagerly awaiting the 2nd Beta release.

    I am also a fan of Level 0/Adolescent level. I/we used it with very strict limitations. You were only able to use the DP generated by the stats without any stat gain rolls. The DP were considerably lower, but they were “freebie” points as far as I was concerned. Free, Low points are better than zero points.

    I’m also a huge supporter of Spell List acquisition. We really tried to limit the amount of optional rules that were thrown into the game. RM2 has VOLUMES of optional rules. Sticking with the spell lists made it feel more realistic and helped keep unique identities for the spell professions. Like you said, a Druid with Fireball spells and Wizards with healing spells? Sure it’s possible and RM allows spell users to learn spell lists not of their profession, so why not use that to its fullest?

    The draw of RM is that there are so many professions from which to choose. By making it so everyone can do every thing, you’ve removed that uniqueness and made it into a 4 profession system; Fighter, Rogue, Druid, Spell User. I know other games with those professions and they aren’t as much fun to play.

    1. I believe the idea of Clerics doing one kind of magic and magic users doing another is actually a D&D idea that just stuck as ‘how it should be in roleplaying games’. RM challenges that with the whole concept of hybrid spell casters.

      I like my roleplaying games fast and light. I don’t use the hundreds of professions as every one of them can be constructed from the basic types and just picking the skills that engender that profession. Even in my restricted world view I am still using about 20 professions and variant clerics, elemental warriors and the different flavours of champion add in many more subtle differences.

      I too do not have anyone to actually play RMU with and with beta 2 on the horizen it is not worth spending too much time with this version. I just spent an afternoon looking over it again and came away feeling much more positive.

      I am doing spell law next.

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