Rolemaster Ambush Skill: How Could it work?

In the original Rolemaster, Ambush was one of the skills that worked differently than others. I’m sure at the time, they were just trying to fit a square peg in a round hole to get the desired result, but actually it was quit brilliant and should have been pursued in greater detail for other skills.

What do I mean? That the # of skill ranks can serve as a rule mechanic just like total skill bonus. RM made Ambush a skill rank only skill where the other skills were purely total skill bonus. But why not have both for all skills?

What does Ambush skill really entail? The skill description requires that the skill be developed with a specific weapon, but does that really make sense? Ambush is not about the weapon, it’s about surprise and the ability to target kill points on a body. A competent assassin can kill with a knife, a stapler or a pen by targeting soft spots or vulnerabilities. The type of weapon is irrelevant as long as it can physically carry out such an attack.

So what might be a way to handle Ambush using both # of skill ranks and skill bonus? Here is how we do it. The ambush skill bonus is used for the Offensive Bonus-no matter what the weapon or object. The GM chooses the attack chart/size based on the weapon and type of damage it might inflict (a flail would not be great in close quarters, while a wooden splinter would be great but do very little damage w/o a great attack roll). Obviously this is a close quarter attack, ambush shouldn’t work for missile, or thrown weapons (that’s a called shot with surprise bonus). The skill bonus reflects the versatility of training using any weapon or object to kill. Also, it recognizes that the ambush weapon is being used to kill with a direct strike and perhaps not how the weapon is normally used. If the attack is successful, then the # of Skill Ranks is used to adjust the critical roll. A bit different than the original rules: some would argue that this allows the assassin to use any weapon or object to kill a target. Correct.

In any event, that’s how we play it. does it seem overpowered? The Assassin would need to get into striking range without being detected (a different skill/ability), have some type of damage inflicting weapon, and generate a critical result attack.

Just my take, using my own hybrid system (S.W.A.R.M.). What’s yours?

9 Replies to “Rolemaster Ambush Skill: How Could it work?”

  1. An interesting idea, though personally I think I still like the original way of doing it: have the ambusher use the weapon skill as the OB, and the ranks in Ambush as the modifier to the crit. I like this because what if you are ambushing with a +10 Magical dagger? You should get the +10 for the item, and I’m not sure you would if you were using the Ambush skill bonus. Maybe you would?

    However, I do like the idea of allowing someone with the Ambush skill to use it for any weapon in which they are trained. I think that makes more sense than requiring Ambush to be developed absolutely separately for each weapon. So I think I will still use the weapon OB, but allow Ambush to apply to all weapons the character is trained in. If you know how to cut someone’s throat with a dagger, you can probably do it with a shortsword too.

  2. I never really liked the idea of a separate ambush skill for each weapon. I can see the logic of it and how it differentiates characters or can even help define cultural backgrounds.

    I would allow ambush with ranged weapons, that is what snipers do every day, in my opinion.

    1. I do like your single ambush skill idea regardless of weapon or OB.

      “I would allow ambush with ranged weapons, that is what snipers do every day, in my opinion.”
      Could there perhaps be a single Ambush for Melee Weapons and a single Ambush for Ranged Weapons?

      Whereas slicing someone’s throat with a knife is very similar to slicing it with a dagger or short sword, perhaps Ranged Weapons are significantly different enough to warrant a separate skill?

      I personally like RMFRP’s skill category system and specific skills for specific tasks instead of RMC’s limited skills used for a multitude of different scenarios. I prefer to ‘role play’ within the confines of the character’s ‘roll play’ so having a separate skill for each task makes it easier for me as a player. RMFRP does have an issue with it’s Perception / Observation / Alertness / Awareness / Senses type skills though and I have limited those in my game but I’ve kept most of the other skills as is. Going off-topic momentarily, RMFRP’s 5 ‘Senses’ skills could instead be extra ‘stats (type things)’ that impact the perception skills similarly how I use the characters ‘Apearence’ to adjust a character’s ‘Influence’ based skills.

      I like your argument to have a single Ambush skill though so I’ll keep that for now (but will have a separate Snipe (Ranged Ambush) skill if I decide to allow such a skill). Perhaps the snipers critical roll shift could even be based on how many rounds he was aiming (and it could also be limited to how many ranks he has in his ‘Sniping’ skill)? I may be making it overly complex but I think I’ll use the ‘Sniping’ skill that way unless convinced otherwise (I am easily convinced though as I don’t have any experience in game mechanics myself).

      I’m not sure whether to use the ‘Sniping’ skill bonus or the weapon OB for the attack roll though. Is Sniping different enough from Ambush that Ambush would use the Ambush bonus for the OB but Sniping would use the Weapon OB?

  3. In one of the Companions, “Ambush with a Ranged Weapon” is the Sniping Skill. I think it may be in Arms Companion. It works exactly the same as Ambush, except you use a ranged weapon.

    We’ve always handled Ambush differently from RAW. I ( and a couple of other people from the groups over the years) didn’t like that Ambush as a # of Ranks-only type of skill. We added to that the ability to stage an Ambush as well. Why would one have the ability to SENSE an ambush, but no ability to actually STAGE an ambush? The rules state that Ambush can be used to modify the crit roll if the target is unaware, but how can you determine if the target is unaware?

    A party wants to ambush a stage coach in the woods, the Ambush Skill would allow them to find the best point along the road with the best cover and highest probability of success. We’d follow the same static maneuver tables 76+ partial success. greater than 117? (whatever the number is) is total success, 176+ is super-duper success… We would then have the target roll Sense Ambush Assassin vs. the Ambush roll. If the Ambush skill was higher, the Ambush succeeds, the target is flat footed or surprised or whatever is appropriate, not necessarily for crit roll modification. Perhaps the group wanted the occupants of the stage coach taken alive, there is no need for a crit roll. (Unless using the Stun Crit or Sparring Crit tables.)

    If it’s a single assassin, he needs to roll his Ambush skill to get into a good position to stage the Ambush. If the SAA vs. Ambush roll is in his favor, he gets to use his Ambush ranks to modify the crit roll per as usual. I’ve had a player fumble his Ambush skill. He hid behind he curtain with his feet sticking out from under the curtain. It was a bad Ambush, what can I say?

    Ambush was no longer solely for the use of modifying a crit roll. I believe the stats are IN/RE, add the skill rank bonus, Profession Bonus and Ambush is a hearty and worthwhile skill now. As it was then, I only saw one player invest in Ambush and he hated it because it always had two obstacles to overcome 1) Surprise 2) Rolling well enough to just to get a crit.

    Once we made the switch to allow Ambush to have more use, more players invested in it.

  4. Spacemaster had not only Sniping (ranged Ambush) but Mounted Weapons Ambush (with ‘mounted’ meaning not on horseback, but starship-type weapons vs. other ships so long as the other ships were immobile and their shields were down.

    I like Spectre’s idea of using Ambush as the skill to set up an Ambush. I also think Ambush will be a more useful skill if you can use it with any weapon you’re trained in.

  5. Let’s face it, this is not an ambush skill, it is a precise strike skill which can only be used with the element of surprise. The restriction on a particular weapon for each skill is ridiculous. You are right, a skilled fighter is aiming for specific targets on his foe. In a melee, this is compromised by the awareness of your opponent (covered by DB and Parry bonus to reflect the attempt to cover up these areas).
    I go Ambush roll for setting up the conditions for an ambush – if you like the best knowledge of where to hide and approach from. Stalk and hide as required. Melee roll followed by Ambush roll, and then applying the crit modification.
    What I would rather have is an Ambush skill and a deadly strike skill. The former is the tactical knowledge to prepare for an ambush and the latter controls the attack. This latter skill would also be open to missile weapons and use in combat, although, penalties would need to be applied. Perhaps precise strike could be restricted to melee weapons and missile weapons groups or a particular type of weapon as it would involve knowing how to use a weapon type effectively. Personally, in the average fantasy game I doubt many players would see a benefit against the generic skills needed to support a successful adventurer. Precise strike vs detect trap or ride?

  6. This just popped into my head. Arms Companion also has Increase Critical Skill which, in my mind, is a foolish skill to invest in, but it does fit in with the differentiation we are making now between “ambush” and “modifying a crit roll.”

    Increase Wounds occurs on the round after one gets a crit roll. The attacker my choose to “not withdraw the weapon from the foe” but to instead increase the crit damage. And that’s the simplest it gets.

    When you decide to actually use this foolish skill, you have to roll a few more times, do a bunch of math, hope your foe doesn’t extricate himself from your weapon, overcome some difficulty rolls, look on the chart for the type of weapon you are wielding, then pray to whatever god you believe in that you have enough left over from your initial roll to actually make use of the ridiculous skill.

    Technically, this is modifying a crit roll at the expense of making a separate attack roll and hoping to get another crit.

    I’d rather roll for another attack. Maybe this would be helpful if one is lucky enough to bury sword of dragon-slaying into a drake on a lucky roll, then opting to twist the blade around a bit to do better slaying crits.

  7. First, I basically agree with almost every comment! However, I think some of the disagreements are based on language. I think the issue is the skill “Ambush” implicitly combines two mechanics: Surprise and Called Shots into a whole skill. AL already sets the stage for surprise and allows for a bonus to the attack. Called shots already allows for a “precise strike” with a negative modifier and a adjustment to the critical chart.
    With that in mind, we renamed “Ambush” to “Assassination”. We use “meta-skills” so Assassination better encapsulated the skill than an already existing combat mechanic.
    So, if you can surprise a target and make a called shot (melee or missile) than what is the need for an Ambush skill? It’s already built into the system.
    Again, I think Ambush skill is really a different skill than what is what meant or devised back in the early days of replacing D&D.

  8. Ambush is ‘broken’ for the same reason much of RM combat is broken: the ‘flurry of blows’ as opposed to ‘one discrete shot’ mechanics. At least as far as I’m concerned.

    Sniping has more to do with shot (or projectile) placement at longer ranges than it does critical hits, which is how I’ve reworked it for my stuff. Setting ambushes properly resides in the realm of tactics, and I tended to keep it there as well. Once you’re done with those two changes, the original Ambush skill really fades away. I don’t think you can really use it with Melee attacks until you address that whole ‘flurry of blows’ idea, which so far RM has not in any meaningful way. Shortening the round is a start., but there are still too many issues with the AP mechanic for my taste.

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