Rolemaster Unification: One Size Rule fits ALL!

For me, one of the great innovations in early RMU Betas was the new sizing/scaling rules. Of course, much of that rule was modified due to player feedback, but the core idea is still incredibly useful as a scaling and informational tool for the game. In it’s basic form, the size scaling allowed for damage adjustments between combatants of differing sizes. Player feedback argued that on the fly adjustments added to much work to the game flow, and subsequent RMU beta’s incorporated size differentials into the weapon charts. However, the size rules can be applied to more than melee attacks. What information does/can a Size impart:

  1. Toughness: A size difference implies that a larger target will take less damage from a smaller. However, a GM can also apply a size label to a creature that is different from their actual size to make them more tough and harder to damage. For example, a Steel Golem may be human sized, but for combat purposes be treated as Large or Very Large.
  2. Deadliness: Larger size opponents should do more damage to smaller targets relatively. But again, a GM can adjust size to model a unique deadliness or efficacy of a smaller creature to perform as if larger as in the example above.
  3. Geometry: Size labels can impart information about the general dimensions (DIMS) in relation to other objects. This allows the size rules to not only apply to beings, but to objects like vehicles, space ships, wagons, carts etc. This allows easier comparison of one object to another. For example, a Skyship to a flying Dragon.
  4. Capacity: Tying into geometry above, using the size rules to impart carrying capacity: weight allowance or # of passengers can impart useful game mechanics without further explanation. A medium rowboat could hold 1 human size passenger, a large tent could shelter 2 people, a very large cabin could hold 4-6 people.
  5. Weight: While size rules can bend and adjust to scale certain effects, it is also a placeholder for weight/mass. That can be useful in Ram/Butt/Crush results.

What mechanic can use the Size rules? Combatants and melee have already been changed in newer Beta rules, but that doesn’t mean the mechanical framework should be dismissed.

  1. Spells. Spells are often defined by range, AoE and a presumed default size. Should a massive dragon cast the same size firebolt as a 7th level magician? With size rules, it doesn’t matter–size is established via the Spells or the size rules. In addition, size rules can establish effective radii. A small fireball might have a radius of 5′ while a medium would have a 10′ radius.
  2. Traps. Looking through the old MERP modules it’s clear that traps were a prominent feature. Most traps deadliness were modified by 2 components: a + to hit and a multiple of damage. Both had to described. With size rules you can just scale traps up or down via size. Not only does that model efficacy but it sets size parameters as well. A “Small” 5′ wide pit trap isn’t going to be a very effective on a Huge Troll.
  3. Structures. As discussed above in capacity, the size rules can establish occupancy limits for huts, tents, lean-to’s, cabins, towers etc.
  4. Vehicles. Rolemaster is part of a wider genre ecosystem. Spaceship hull sizes can be quantified in the same way a Dragon, Kraken or other gigantic creature.

The great aspect to the size rules is that its incredibly easy to add  categories-especially if you don’t worry about qualitative labels. I use 10 sizes, I-X, just to make scaling calculations easy and direct. Is it possible to add more? Yes, it’s easy and “scalable”. Certainly, for Scifi or modern settings it might be helpful to expand the sizing: smaller categories for molecular/nano level objects and much larger to incorporate massive space stations or even planet size categories!

I’m not re-arguing the role of size scaling in combat–only recognizing the power of scaling efficacy as short-hand for the Rolemaster system to unify 5 varying aspects of a creature or object. As a GM I find it invaluable.


4 Replies to “Rolemaster Unification: One Size Rule fits ALL!”

  1. I am on the opposite side of the size argument. If the beta size rules had remained in place I would not have played RMU if it was the last game on earth.

    One of the things that I really dislike about Creatures and Treasures was the excess of arcane codes. One of the ‘favouite’ examples is the elephant.
    African – [hmnstw–FQ,CDHP–6]; 19’6″–24’6″ long, 9–13′ high; 1 calf

    I am sure there are GMs out there that can tell me what hmnstw–FQ,CDHP–6 means without referring to the descriptions in C&T. I am not one of them. That is also a rhetorical question. I don’t need know what hmnstw–FQ,CDHP–6 means to tell me that African Elephants live in Africa. I can also make a reasonable stab at guessing where Asian Elephants live as well.

    Using your example of the metal golem you are adding additional codes because the golem is mediumly big in physical size but hugely big in density. So I now need two size codes. Would that be (III, VII)?

    But let us look at the flesh golem. This is human sized, presumably size III, but its attacks are a Small Bash, Medium Grapple in C&T so now you need to apply one size fits all size rules to variable attacks.

    Surely it is easier to envisage a 3-man tent rather than a Tent (IV)?

    The way things work at the moment is kind of logarithmic with ever greater games between the larger sizes for example 2x, 5x, 8x, 12x, 30x, 50x is one progression. So there is an increasing loss of fidelity.

    Is a battle cruiser the same size as a deathstar and a destroyer? They probably will be if the size system continues the progression. We have hit the top of the scale with the biggest creatures plus weapon, talent, magic and movement combinations already . I think actually it is feasible that the top reaches the rules have broken the size rules with every possible combination. So where does SMU go?

    Groucho Marx said “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

    The size rules appear to have been created by politicians.

    At the heart of the size rules is a ‘Elephant in the room’ that no one is talking about. I will blog about it on Friday.

  2. I like the concept of the size rules, as I think it can be very useful, for the reasons Brian enunciated. I hadn’t even really thought of traps yet, but it works well for them.

    The challenge IMHO is to make them easy to use. At first, they weren’t really all that easy to use. We had attack sizes changing due to relative size (i.e. the difference between attacker and target) rather than absolute size (e.g. a medium sized broadsword always uses the medium sized attack chart). That has been mostly remedied. We also had a bumpy integer curve, where the hit point modifiers did not scale regularly and thus was hard to predict; I think that has been partly remedied as well: I’d prefer it to go: x.1, x.25, x.5, x1, x2, x4, x8 myself, so that each step up essentially doubles or halves damage.

    I think the last real hurdle to making the size rules work better is to remove all the math that players are required to do. We had extensive discussions about how to do this, and I offered an attack table that included 7 sizes simultaneously on a single page. It was a bit busy, but I’d much prefer having to consult only a single busy chart than having to constantly be multiplying or dividing numbers every time I made an attack. I think that last downside of the size rules was a real problem for many groups.

    Let’s not forget though that the old RM2 size rules had problems too. We had to have separate critical charts for Tiny, Large, and Super-Large creatures; we probably should have had them for Small Creatures; and the game didn’t do a very good job of giving unique results for the larger creatures (e.g. the large attack charts were essentially just hit point differentials), and it didn’t unify all sizes on a single scale.

    So in the end, I think the new size rules are a good addition to RMU, and can solve a lot of problems, so long as they are made as easy to use as possible.

    1. I really liked the compound combat chart that you made and the others in that same discussion. That does not change the fact that a two handed sword is not a big broadsword.

      BriH came up with an interesting point. Is a firebolt cast by a dragon any bigger than a firebolt cast by a PC? I would rule they are the same, the visual effect may be different, but then I use different special effects for different spell casters cast the same spells anyway. But if the Dragon spends the same PPs on the same spell then they get the same result, in my opinion.

  3. I agree with you on both the fact that a two-handed sword is not just a big broadsword and that the spells should be the same size regardless of the caster.

    On the spell size issue, the way you describe it is actually the way it currently works in RMU: spells don’t change size depending on the size of the caster. Rather, spells all have a set size. One consequence of this I think is that spells are more useful for smaller creatures like pixies: they allow smaller creatures to attack without any reductions in size.

    On the issue of weapon sizes, I am hoping that one day we will get charts for two-handed weapons that are separate from the one handed weapon charts. Short of that, I have proposed a houserule workaround of giving two-handed weapons an OB bonus (+15 suggested) to allow them to start doing criticals earlier on the chart than one handed weapons (just like they did in earlier RM editions). This method isn’t perfect, but it does help to salvage two-handed weapons. If RMU arrives without any changes, I’ll write this up into a full system and post it on the blog here as a rules Hack.

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