Probably the greatest selling point for Rolemaster is its critical tables. Rather than rolling to hit and then rolling damage as you do in many other games in rolemaster the to hit and damage are the same roll. the higher the roll the more damage you do, the lower the roll the greater the likelihood of a glancing blow or complete miss. Once you have made that attack roll there is often a second d100 roll and that is for your critical (Yay!) or fumble (boo!). Your critical gives you a bundle of extras. It tells you the location of your hit, special effects such as knocking your opponent back or down, a description of the wound and bonus damage such as additin damage, bleeding (or being on fire if it was a fireball) and can lead to instant death.
A critical table normally has five levels of critical (A to E) and 20 criticals per level. An ‘A’ critical is rarely fatal in its own right. An ‘E’ critical is fatal about 15%-20% of the time. There are some wonderfully gory criticals such as “Nasty cut across both legs knocks foe down. Foe struggles back on his feet for 5 more
rounds, then his femoral arteries burst in a gout of blood, killing him.” That was one of the ‘E’ Slash criticals from the new RMU Beta.
Criticals are defined by the type of wound. The most common are slash critical, puncture and crush (known as Krush in Rolemaster). These are used for your swords, arrows and maces etc. A sword may do a slash critical against an unarmed foe but a krush against someone in plate armour as the attack tables take into account both the armour and the weapon. There are criticals for each unique type of damage so on top of the traditional weapon type damage you have fire, cold, electricity, martial arts (strikes and throws) and less obvious things like steam and acid. If a Black Dragon spits acid at you then you are not just going to take a dozen d6 of damage, you are going to pretty much eaten alive.
These criticals have been in Rolemaster right from the start and have largely remained unchanged. Except for once (to my knowledge). ICE had a dalliance with weapon specific criticals back in the noughties (2008). These described damage by weapon rather than by damage type. What that means is that in the normal critical tables a puncture critical of the same severity with the same critical dice roll from a spear, an arrow and a rapier would all do the same damage. Lets say you did a ‘C’ critical and then rolled an 88 for your critical roll. The result reads “Point passes through arm. Blood comes out on both sides.” (I have removed references to additional damage as RMU has different ways of recording the additional damage.)
In a weapon specific critical table the results vary. Look at these three. (all are 88 results for C criticals)
Your blow takes his shield arm right off. +25 hits, bleeding 6
hits/rnd, stunned no parry 4 rnds and -10 to all actions. If he’s got a shield it’s shattered but his arm is only broken; -20 to all actions.
He bites his tongue as your point sinks into bicep and blood sprays everywhere whenever he moves his arm. +17 hits, bleeding 5 hits/rnd and stunned no parry 4 rnds.
Striking the bone in his forearm, your arrow deflects up and inwards until only the feathers are showing. +12 hits, bleeding 6 hits/rnd, stunned no parry 2 rnds, stunned 2 more rnds and at -15 to all actions.
It is fairly easy to see the difference between the spear and the rapier (the feathers give the arrow away in our little line up). I am a big fan of weapon specific criticals and still use them in preference to the standard tables. Even so with the typical sword it can do up to 300 different unique wounds just on the standard tables alone (A to E, and a mix of slashes, punctures and krushes). You cannot do that on just a d8 and don’t get me started on holy, slaying and burning weapons. they get really dangerous!
If you have never played Rolemaster and you get a chance to try out the RMU Beta I would take the opportunity. You can download the rules from the ICE forum if you have some players who are prepared to have a go!