Rolemaster Review: Initiative.

I was ready to post pt 2 of my blog series on high level adventures, but recent discussions on the forums and discord server about initiative caught my eye and I had a few thoughts.


While I’m shying away from writing about rules (everyone has their own strongly held beliefs), I’ve always felt that initiative was a critical, but overlooked, component to Arms Law. One of my best working house rules was adopting a d100 initiative system and including it into the allocation of OB process. I wrote about it back in 2016. We use the allocated skill bonus all the time, but my rules around “combat spheres” is only used for 1 on 1 combat with disparate weapon reaches due to it’s complexity with multiple combatants.

In the RM combat system, attacking first can be the difference between winning or losing a battle. In many cases, a good hit and critical will be the result of a very high or open-ended role and the first to inflict a stun or similar effect is going to give the advantage. Thus initiative is no less important than the OB or the allocation to defense for parrying. The balance between attacking fast, attacking hard or defending can be real player strategy. For my players, the process is so intuitive and natural they probably assume it was baked into RAW.

Opportunity Action is also Lost Opportunity.

The second aspect to our initiative system that we’ve fiddled with is in regards to “Opportunity Action”. In our game, a player can delay their action until later in the tur, but it will cost them 50%. (-50 penalty). This not only reflects the lost time in waiting for in turn developments (we use a 5 second round) but also the precious seconds in processing unfolding events and then deciding how to respond. Allowing the player full action later, or at the end of the round, might risk them getting attacked but gives them too much agency. I don’t know if this our own invention or something I picked up from a early companion or someone’s house rules, but it works very well.

Initiative in High Level Play.

Ultimately, this touches upon our own analysis of high level play. At 50th level, the allocation of OB between initiative, offense and defense can make the difference between success and failure.

One Reply to “Rolemaster Review: Initiative.”

  1. I’m posting a reply to this blog, but it’s about the 2016 one! Time is a flat circle etc.

    So I really like the idea of using OB for initiative as well. Yet another trade space. It almost makes sense to move hastily and less accurate. And the “weapon spheres” are realistic and thematic. However, I don’t get why you delay the parry declaration portion. Doesn’t that kind of cheat? I mean the dude with a Halberd seeing a nimble cloak wearing dagger wielder … if he is like “OK I need to attack now-now”, then isn’t he committed? So likewise wouldn’t he be committed to attack vs defense? Trying to understand the logic there given the split second decisions being made.

    It actually goes into another problem with combat and initiative in general (in RM or any system) and that is “simultaneous action”. Back to the Halberd vs Dagger example … if I were the Halberd person I would probably go 50% parry, 50% initiative (i.e. +0 OB). In other words, get into a defense stance ASAP and keep the dagger guy from closing the gap. THEN once the sphere has been established, take a whack at him.

    I’ve seen some good videos on other initiative systems where everything gets resolved all at once. Everyone “makes a plan” then all plans happen at the same time (see Dungeon Craft channel on youtube for multiple examples). Of course there are issues there too and “reactions” go out the window more or less. It would be like two chess players moving a piece at the same time, perhaps breaking the rules of the game, then resolving who wins.

    I’ve personally never really liked ANY system for round resolution. They all have flaws and the idea that two people are sparring in an N second round to make their one big attack seems to break down in the presence of multi-foe, or many other actions that could be happening in that N second window. Did anyone every like watch people fight in different situations (ex: street fighting) and time a round? It’s pretty crazy to watch how variable those things can be!

    I’ll having to jump into Discord and see what people have been talking about. For now though I might try your “OB allocation” idea. For sure, those that go first in RM can often go last.

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