Rolemaster: Outside Looking In.

I’ve been reading quite a few RPG blogs lately, and as you might imagine most of them discuss DnD or one of it’s near variants. Some of it is nostalgia (OSR), part curiosity, and general interest in other viewpoints and experiences. One thing I notice over and over–most of these other blogs and forums don’t spend too much time on rule litigation/arbitration. Most blog posts are:

  1. Product reviews or retrospectives
  2. In game experiences
  3. General advice on creating content or running games.

That made me wonder what non-RM rpg players see when they encounter online RM content. First, if you google “rolemaster, blog” you won’t get that many results. Some of it is older forum discussion on “chartmaster”, “rulesmaster” or the complexity of playing. That’s probably not best foot foward. So how about the people that check out the RM Forums? What do they see or what impression do they get? If they aren’t a member they won’t see the RMU development forums (that may not be a bad thing–those discussions really get in the weeds). If you are active on the RM Forums, take a step back and look at it through the lense of a new user.

One of the most active thread topics of course is “Rolemaster”. What are the current topics? “Withdrawing from Melee”, “How to teleport into a moving target”, “how to handle Perception/Stalking”, “monster orientation roles”. These threads and many, many more are adjudication topics–“How do I handle this or interpret the ruleset”?

I’ve made the analogy before comparing Rolemaster to DOS and other game systems to MAC OS. DOS users love to tinker and program while MAC users just want a packaged user experience. While I consider the “rule programming” of RM a plus, I often wonder if it has been at the cost of user experiences (game content). Obviously Terry can only write so much, so fast. MERP is in permanent stasis, Cyradon and Echoes of Heaven are…(I have no idea really)? When people do wax nostalgic about RM it’s usually about the old MERP modules: artwork, maps etc and of course the cool critical tables. How do you create more content? Does opening up to third parties help? Is there even a large enough user base?

When I read about cool new content and modules in other RPG blogs, I sometimes feel like an outsider. What do other players see when they look at RM now?

12 Replies to “Rolemaster: Outside Looking In.”

  1. Cyradon is, I think, waiting for some of the HARP books to be completed. Folkways may have been one of them; Bestiary is probably another. So once they are done, Cyradon will probably move forward.

    Echoes of Heaven; I think that largely depends on how busy Defendi is in real life (you know, that annoying thing). It’s moving forward, but a bit too slowly for buyers.

    I’ve said it before, but really I don’t think Rolemaster is any more complicated than D&D 3.x/Pathfinder now. Pathfinder is now at the stage RM2 would be if it had released several companions every year since the 80s. Plus fan-based material. It’s all optional of course, but there a million optional rules (no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating!).

    Shadow World, and RM, does have the problem in that everyone has other stuff to do as well in order to do silly things like put food on the table! I think a major problem is there is only one of Nicholas and one of Terry. I do think having others producing at least some material on at least a semi-regular basis (such as the PDF series I’ve mentioned a few times) would be a big help, but it does require both Terry and Nicholas to find the time in their schedules.

    A couple of things I would consider if I was doing things would be to, first, make a Pathfinder Master Atlas to get people interested in Shadow World, then give them the option of buying RMU at a reduced price (once it’s complete of course). Another would be to go back to ICE’s roots and make an Arms Law/Claw Law add-on for Pathfinder and D&D 5E, and try and suck people in that way as well. Unfortunately, MERP, which is how I came to the system being, like many, a Tolkien fan back in the day, is permanently out.

  2. Pathfinder Master Atlas… that’s a cool idea!

    I think also if RM players had a bit more of a presence on some of the forums like ENWorld, it might help to bring players in. I try to post there from time to time but right now I think there are a lot of people who don’t know Rolemaster has been revived and is still around. Just getting the word out about that could be very helpful.

  3. One of the issues I’ve always seen with RM is the lack of an accessible setting that includes all the provided game races and the like. While I admire Terry’s work, I’ve never been a fan of Shadow World when it comes time to game, and I know other players who feel the same way. MERP had the distinct advantage of setting, and so did D&D from the very early days (Greyhawk and then Forgotten Realms). RM has always been the “odd man out” when it comes to an accessible fantasy setting with the tropes newcomers expect to find.

    Maybe a return to the old idea of ‘this is how you include RM in your existing game’ would help. After all, that’s how RM got started in the first place. Bringing back the RM2 conversion tables for 3-18 or d20 stats might help.

  4. I think in some way this is due to RM being generic–the user base doesn’t have a lot of shared setting or adventure memories. We can’t chew the fat on how we experienced module 149A similarly and differently. The one thing which binds most of us together is the ruleset.

    And since the rules attract more sim-leaning folks, we are perhaps too concerned with how others would adjudicate situation A or B. Or we’re wondering if the situation didn’t need adjudication had we just understood the entire ruleset. And thus we ask about withdrawing from melee and teleporting to a moving target.

    So I think one thing which could help make the forum more new-player attractive is to organize it differently. Rule adjudication topics should go in one place (separating by editions is fine) and the folder name should make this clear. And then we can have folders in the forums to more clearly have conversations like those you noticed in other games’ web presences.

    Second thing is we need more shared settings. Sure some people played Shadow, or Cyradon, etc, but RM is generic. But on top of that, it’s very indie at this point, which means super-slow releases. Too slow to get any new person’s attention and keep it.
    What we could use is different creators getting together and working together on something public and shared, like via a wiki. Some how one would have to describe the setting in a way which distinguishes it from others, and so creators don’t butt heads too much nor donate content which conflicts or invalidates another’s contribution.
    Would adventures work in a project like this? I don’t know. If it’s openly available on the web for all GMs to use, then any player could look at it too; but I guess that’s not a particularly different problem from player and gm books.

    1. This is a great comprehensive comment! I think there was a crowd source effort for game content on the forums–they had a private thread that you can’t see but don’t know where it is.

      1. I’m in that crowd sourced project, so I can see it, but it hasn’t really progressed in a while. I’ve done what I had planned to do at the current stage; now I’m basically waiting on others, and some of that is waiting on RMU.

        One other project I’ve had in mind (I have no shortage of ideas!) is a sort of “Living” project seen with AD&D/D&D. In particular, in SWMA4 there is the Bay of Izar. I’ve thought that might be a good area for various people to flesh out; there are many small locations and possible adventure sites. Okay, that isn’t quite public given the use of IP. One public project is Aioskoru, some of which is here.

  5. So lots of good commentary and we’ve discussed marketing ideas and growth opportunities for RM/RMU in the past, but to get back to the core question:
    “how do other games see or would see RM if they were to visit the site and Forums”?

    Some of you play other systems so have a better perspective on this. I’m a 1 system guy–I just don’t have the time to play other games.

    1. I have a feeling that “complicated” would probably be the overall opinion. Which isn’t as true as it once was, especially as computers can get rid of a lot of the complicated part now, and other systems are equally complicated (hence the popularity of OSR systems).

  6. Other games (DnD) have a common vernacular based on game content. People identify on whether they played Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft –that tells you something about them. You mention “Tomb of Horrors” to most players and it will elicit some response and perhaps fond memories. Shared experiences create groups and “shared” adventures tie a community together.
    Does ICE/RM have the same common denominator? While people talk about how cool Ardor was, I never hear actual stories about game play. No one really talks about “Legacy of the Sea Drake”. Is it perhaps the RM modules lean too much towards sandbox style? Does the lack of short, 4 hour or tournament style adventures create a gap in RM’s shared language and experience?
    I tried to think of an equivalency–and you know what? There is a common vernacular that players share about RM: critical results. Whether its “trip over an invisible tortoise” or “blast skeleton out of body”, you see people share these bits among themselves, in forums and on blogs. That’s the common language of RM. But what does that mean?

    1. It means that RM often shows its roots as a modular plug-in for other games. But it doesn’t feel that way in many places. For example, the races often feel like they were designed for a particular setting…one that the player (and GM) never really sees. It’s that mix of “modular but not really” that can be off-putting to some people.

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