Is Rolemaster Rules Heavy?

I saw a survey today that listed Rolemaster as an example of a ‘Rules Heavy’ system. If you bought ALL of RMC that would be Character Law, Arms Law, Spell Law, Creatures & Treasures and Companion 1 you would have the entire published system and the entier page count runs to about 800 pages. That is roughly the size of just the three core DnD 5e PHB, DMG and Monster Manual.

Page count is not the best way of measuring the weight of the rules. If we were to look at spells every spell in Rolemaster works in one of just a few ways. Either you roll on an attack table (eg Fireball), the spell effect is dependent on the severity of the targets failed resistance roll (eg Sudden Light) or the spell is not variable and has a baked in effect (eg Projected Light). If we look at DnD you get every spell with its own bespoke rules and formulae such as Magic Missile that fires of a variable number of projectiles depending on the level of the caster but never misses. As a magic system Rolemaster is a lot lighter than DnD 5e. Incidentally DnD 5e was quoted as a medium weight system in the survey above!

Combat in DnD vs Rolemaster is a hard one to compare because I have never known anyone apply the rules correctly in either system. DnD is often protrayed as Roll to hit, roll your damage and move on. That sounds really easy and fast but then you add in initiative rolls, and weapon vs armour modifications and different ‘to hit’ tables for different professions/classes and a few hundred classes and things are not as simple if you apply the rules as written. In rolemaster the big bug bear is exhaustion points. I have never even read the rules in full, I have never played them and do not know anyone who has played them. If you ignore exhaustion then Rolemaster looks more complicated with books of tables, one page for each weapon and books worth of critical tables but it still comes down to roll to hit and roll damage (our beloved criticals). rolemaster has more pages but actually less rules. It does have a hell of a lot more flavour than DnD combat. It is aledgedly more dangerous but that is down to how many first level magic users you have tried to play in DnD I suppose.

The point I am trying to make I suppose is that what makes one system ‘rules light’, I think my RM variant is very rules light, one rules medium and another rules heavy is I think the eye of the beholder. the person who created the survey thinks or has heard that Rolemaster is rules heavy and therefore puts it as an example of a rules heavy system perpetuating the myth.

I think ICE need to address that perception and one way to do that is to adopt the Adventure Path methodology and literally put a ready to play pa together that new players can pick up and start playing in the same evening. Of course with a new generation of RM about to be released this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

16 Replies to “Is Rolemaster Rules Heavy?”

  1. Have people read Pathfinder/D&D3.x? That is not a rules lite system. Combat is massively complicated and essentially impossible to play without miniatures.

    1. I think people often confuse ‘easy’ with ‘familiar’. I can run rolemaster with just a handful of pages of core tables and it is a fast moving game. A new player couldn’t do that. The same works to other way around.

      1. That’s where computers are useful.

        Even having familiarity with D&D/AD&D/AD&D 2nd Edition, I still found 3.x to be really hard to understand. I’m still not sure I’ve grasped it (I probably won’t know for sure unless I actually play it, which would help with the learning anyway).

        1. I know I use a tablet PC at the gaming table but I am not a fan of tools like ERA and Combat Minion.

          I guess DnD has it’s own tools.

          I saw there is a free lite version of 5e. I may take a look. The last version I ran was 1st edition AD&D and the last I played was 2nd Ed.

    2. Indeed, as the guy who made the survey posted above I firmly believe D&D 3rd/3.5/Pathfinder fall in the rules heavy category. Perhaps it is easier for me to play than Rolemaster because of familiarity, but the rule set can be hard handful.

      1. I’m still trying to get to grips with Pathfinder. I was used to D&D, AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition, but the gap between that and the 3.x versions is enormous. It’s like trying to use Windows 8!

        1. I am reading the DnD 5e free PlayerBasicRules right now. I haven’t seen or played DnD since 2nd Ed. so I thought I would catch up.

          Interestingly I would not have bothered to buy the rules just to read them but the free edition running to just a few hundred pages is worth the investment in time.

          I don’t think I am alone in that sort of attitude which adds weight to the arugument that the new Rolemaster should seriously look at a free lite edition.

  2. Yes (oddly I can’t reply to your comment directly; probably a comment limit) although nothing much seems to be happening at the moment. The forum has been quiet for a bit over a month; real life may be rearing its ugly head and getting in the way. Whether or not it’s going to be a definite Adventure Path when complete is not entirely certain, but hopefully. Getting a first, starter module written will be a good test.

    1. I think the modular nature of rolemaster is a barrier to useable user created content, it is very hard to use other people’s NPCs if they are built using different rules and options.

      Officially sanctioned material would help cement a set of ‘norms’ and consequently encourage more free content.

      1. The focus on rules and reality modeling is unique to RM. probably because it is as meant to be a modular insert to the D&D ecosystem. From a business standpoint– less ruleset more adventures/modules is better. RM has followed the opposit– endless quest for modeling perfection at the expense of game material. The RM forums are a great example– endless arguments on arcane rule analysis and very little setting/adventure development.

        Build a world and the rules will follow.

        A scuba shop inland doesnt work. You can learn the techniques but the readily accessible environment drives the user.

  3. I think the rules heavy aspect comes from two major sources. First the number of charts. The rule is simple but the charts make it slow (we computerized combat). Second, I have read many comments from people who couldn’t figure out what to do with RMC 2-7 + companions and were baffled by the “you actually need to figure out which rules you wanna use” approach.

    I used as many as I could and threw in some from HARN and other games for good measure and made some up. In the end I still found it simpler than pathfinder. In rolemaster the rules are consistent through every class. In pathfinder/D&D I feel every class is a series of exceptions to the rules because every class has its own set of rules.

    Fortunately have a friend working on a program (lost the old one, and ICE’S is very clunky last time I used it ) so I can teach my kid RMC with all supplements I have (12 books or so)

    1. If you looked at the DMG at the time there were hundreds of tables and thousands of optional/minor rules. RM organized and consolidated all of these . By bringing all the tables together or even pre calculating many modifiers and putting them into a table the rules appear to be all tables.
      The big difference between D&D and RM at the time was that you could play a light version of the game because you knew what the common spells did, you knew what damage your weapon did and you only needed THAC0 to run a combat. For us that meant D&D during school breaks or anywhere else.
      You could never do that with RM. You were never off-book.

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