Based on the recent discussions about Mystics here on the Rolemasterblog and the RM Forums, I think one interpretation is that the Mystic could serve as a proto-type “Assassin” profession in lieu of companion classes like the Nightblade.
That got me to thinking about Assassins as a rpg profession in general–and perhaps the first iteration in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement by Dave Arneson. Most of the Assassin material was wholly transplanted to the 1st Ed. Players Handbook (p.27). The Assassin is a subclass of the Thief, and generally gains the same abilities with a few Assassin specific skills:
Assassination. With a successful backstab attack the Assassin can use the Assassination table to determine if their is a kill strike.
Language. Assassins can learn other alignment tongues. (recently discussed HERE.)
Of course, all three are cool abilities, but how does an Assassin fit into an adventure group? It’s implied that Assassins can pose as a Thief or perhaps another class or person (using another alignment tongue and disguise) but would that last long in a cohesive group?
I’ve read a bit about Gygax and the early development of D&D and an Assassin class just seems incongruous to the core idea of a “balanced group” and spirit of play. Rolemaster has Professions similar to an Assassin; the Nightblade could be seen more as a Ninja style character, but nothing like the D&D version which is described thusly: “The primary function of assassins is killing.”. That’s pretty straight forward, but how does “assassinations” fit into a traditional fantasy game? What about poisons? I’ve seen quite a bit of comments/feedback from people who dislike the idea of poisons in gameplay.
Has anyone played an Assassin in D&D or similar in Rolemaster? If you GM, would you allow an assassin in your group?
For those that follow various RPG blogs, you are probably familiar with Grognardia, written and curated by James Maliszewski. James ended the blog back in 2012 and it looked like he was done with the project. Perhaps he ran out of creative energy, or there was no topic left unturned.
Many of his older posts are worth perusing, but as it turns out, James is back and restarted the blog after an 8 year hiatus! Since the restart he has been prolific with 309 posts in 2020 alone! We managed 1 or 2 months of almost hitting 1 post a day here at the Rolemasterblog, and that was with 3 or more contributors!
James brings a true OSR viewpoint to his writing and he has in depth knowledge of the early Golden Age of roleplaying. He’s posted several articles on MERP and has some familiarity with Rolemaster even though he’s not a fan of the system. Welcome back James!
Before I get into my thoughts on the Bard, it’s probably important to look into the past. The rpg Bard profession was introduced in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook, wayyyy in the back on page 117 as optional material. What does Gary say regarding the bard:
As this character class subsumes the functions of two other classes, fighters and thieves, and tops them off with magical abilities, it is often not allowed by Dungeon Masters. Even though this presentation is greatly modified from the original bard character class, it is offered as supplemental to the system, and your DM will be the final arbiter as to the inclusion of bards in your campaign.
AD&D not only required the Bard to have fairly incredible stat scores to qualify, but they needed to attain at least 5th lvl fighter, than switch to thief, then attain at least 5th level and then start tutelage as a Druid!!! That’s a pretty steep climb for any character class. What was it about the Bard that required multi-classing and high attributes?
That wasn’t the final word on the Bard. New material for the Bard was presented in Dragon Magazine #56 of December 1981. Both the original Players Handbook and Dragon Magazine article are worth a read just to understand the origins and ideas around the Bard class. The Dragon article, in particular really delves into the western cultural history of bards.
Obviously, the RM Bard profession was included to match up with the AD&D rules, but where does a Bard really fit into a gaming group in Rolemaster? Like any semi-spell user, they are weak by nature of the balance between spell acquisition and martial skills. Song spells require them to perform at the cost of all other actions, and their lore and knowledge skills are only important if the game requires it–the RM “Attunement” skill takes over a lot of magical item analysis.
Several original RM professions seemed more geared towards being NPC’s than PC’s: Healers, Astrologers, Alchemists, Seers certainly, and Bards might be just a toss-up? So what might a player character Bard bring to the table?
A “Jack of All Trades” role for the group.
AoE Spells. (with major limitations)
That’s a great list if you are playing AD&D that has strict profession requirements and limitations, but how does that work with Rolemaster?
Jack of All Trades. Rolemaster already allows any profession to access all available skills. You can be a “Jack of All Trades” with virtually any profession.
Knowledge/Lore. Meta-gaming aside, this will really be dependent on the GM and the game. Rolemaster has the Attunement skill and there are various spells to assess items so a specialist Bard might not be critical.
Language Skills. Language should be important but can often be a plot obstruction. However there are Channeling and Mentalism spells that allow for communication.
Social Skills. For many games, social interactions are just roleplayed. I think social skills can add depth to a game, but does a GM want to develop greetings, insults, eating graces and social norms for every culture, civilization or group the game meets? In social situations–which could be virtually every encounter that isn’t met with immediate violence, the Bard could be a lifesaver. Literally.
AoE spells. The one standard thread of Bard’s abilities is the power of music and song. This allows a Bard to cast “buffs” on the group and possibly neutralize adverse affects like “Fear”, “Loss of Morale”, “Sonic attacks” etc.
So, looking over this list, there are 2 items that stand out as Bard specific: Social skills and AoE spells. Do these two abilities justify the Bard profession? Does it only come down to a handful of constructed spell lists to make a Bard? If so, do normal skills and skill costs matter if virtually all of the Bard’s abilities are derived from their Base lists?
Putting aside the D&D versions of the Bard, what works of fiction depict Bards? My earliest idea of a Bard came from the Black Cauldron series: Fflewddur Fflam. Later, there were traces of “bardic” DNA in Tolkien: poems, epic stories, songs and even slight ditties were sprinkled throughout the story. Obviously, there was “Bard” in the Hobbit: a descendant from the men of might, who slew Smaug and became the lord of Dale. Of course, his name evoked an image of “Bard” but not necessarily “a Bard” profession. In more recent works, we have Kvothe, from the Kingkiller trilogy. Kvothe is a man of many talents, a “Jack of All Trades” who has spellbound people with the power of his music. But he is also a “Wind Mage”, “Alchemist” and “Martial Artist”. Is Kvothe a “Bard” drawing from fantasy inspirations, or simply drawing from the “Philosopher King” mythos? It’s apparent that in myth and literature, Bards are truly unique individuals; AD&D reinforces this principle with the stat requirements and lengthy development process. But every PC cannot be king or group leader by mere fact of their profession. How do Bards fit into a fantasy RPG group?
Whether you base it on Welsh, English, Western or Eastern lore, Bards can be defined by their titles: Minstrel, Troubadour, Jester, Actor, Diplomat, Tinkerer, Jongleur, Poet, Musician or even Balladeer. Some seem noble, others tricksters. Some are repositories of truth while others spread fantastical tales for fame or fortune. These wide ranging and varied definitions are no different than any other RM profession. But the single factor that defines a Bard over another class is the use of music and song. Otherwise, the tertiary skills of Bards are purely cultural and are driven by the fantasy world it occupies.
Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Bard Loremasters serve as advisors, observors, tutors and diplomats to governments, leaders, and rulers.
While a Loremaster is not an official RM Profession, they hold a quasi professional status in Terry’s world. They have Base Lists, organization etc but under RM rules still have to be proscribed a traditional RM class rather. (It would be easier just to create a quick skill cost list and designate the Loremaster as a SW specific profession!) When looking at the roles and skills of Loremasters: historians, mentors, advisors and teachers, the Bard class seems well suited for this job! Loremasters will often appear to be powerful NPC’s that can guide the players, but Loremasters have to be low level to start! Making your Bard PC a journeymen Loremaster is a great solution for the class. They can provide campaign guidance to the group, become a vector for new adventure paths, access information and help when needed and not necessary imbalance the game. A low level initiate in the Loremaster organization and being in an adventure group are not exclusive!
Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Cleric Bards serve as Masters of Ceremonies, lead Holiday and Festival events, entertain, spread cheer and goodwill and impartial but fair judges.
If you drop the mental models around classes and realms it’s easy to see that a Bard could easily be a “Cleric” of Kieron. Sure, you might need to change the spell Realm to Channeling, but so what! Kieron is the God of Festivals, and he would definitely want a Bard type to be his emissary on Kulthea. This really doesn’t change the nature of the Bard and probably makes more sense from a learning and institutional process.
Spell Lists: Bard Base “Controlling Songs”, Mentalist “Mind Merge” and “Mind Speech”, Druid Base “Natures Lore”
Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Keep hidden or lost knowledge alive. Search/find/protect bloodlines of past empires. Recover knowledge and artifacts of past eras.
There are 2 major empires that might have a “legacy organization”–a small group of survivors that retain the knowledge of a past era. If we focus only on Jaiman and Emer that would be the combined crown Kingdoms of Jaiman in the early part of the third Era and the Emerian Empire of the 2nd Era. Imagine a hidden group of loosely organized Bards. Who better to retain and disseminate the knowledge of these past empires and work to return the world to it’s old glory. Emerian Bards might be secretly fighting the new Orders that have been subverted while the Jaimani Bards work to re-unite the splintered realms.
Bard Type: Jack of All Trades, Tinkerer, Minstrel, Troubador, Adventurer
Spell Lists: Bard Base, Mystic Base “Confusing Ways”, various Open and Closed up to 5th lvl. Minor Illusions.
Like a “Hedge Wizard” a Travelling Bard is more akin to a Tinkerer, an informally trained “Jack of All Trades”. These Bards wander and survive on their wits and skills. They have spells, but they are generally lower level and represent a broad hodge-podge of spell powers. These Bards still play instruments and perhaps sing, but not with a great deal of skill. Travelling Bards are great random NPC’s or can be a fun addition to the group by straddling the role of Thief, Negotiator and Comic Relief!
So that’s my thoughts on 4 types of Bards that can be great in Shadow World or Bard archetypes to be used in any setting. Really, there is a Bard for every occasion!!!
Several days ago, Peter blogged about the Ranger and then Hurin responded with his own blog post and thoughts on the Ranger. Since they both weighed in, how I could resist not adding my own ideas on the Ranger! Since there have been two previous posts, why not “Three Tales of the Ranger”? ( a subtle reference to the writings of Elor Once Dark and the three tales of Tor’lan p. 26)?
Peter. First let me tackle a few items from their posts. Peter, while you titled it regarding RMU, you also needed to drag in a 20 year old spell list from RM Companion to flesh out the Ranger. Fair enough, but that allows me to utilize other non-RMU spell lists for my own Ranger build! Yes?
Hurin. Welcome to the club! While you fully didn’t embrace “no-profession” in your post, you clearly embraced the spirit of flexible chargen. Your story about your Thief character that had convincingly played as a “Scout”, “Ranger” and even a “Paladin” is great anecdotal evidence that skills define the character and not an arbitrary profession designation! If your Thief was spending DP’s on spells, transcend armor and other non-core skills is he really a Thief? I also appreciate your eagerness to adopt Mentalism or Essence realms to build your ideal character. With some type of no-profession philosophy you can build whatever type of PC you want; and call him whatever you want. You didn’t transcend armor, you transcended class tropes! Congrats!
While I don’t use standard professions and build off a profession DP template, it’s easy to build a “Ranger” in my ruleset. Not only build a “Ranger”, but virtually any type of Ranger or subclass concept the player wants. However, I’m not going to dive into skill minutia, but instead define a Ranger via spell lists as Peter and Hurin have done. Luckily, I have a whole slew of non-ICE spells to choose from, that were designed for exactly this type of flexibility: BASiL Channeling! And guess what–they are non system, general d100 spells that could be PUBLISHED shortly for any d100 system.
But wait, doesn’t that conflict with some game company IP? NO.
RMU RANGER LISTS.
First, I wanted to address my personal issues with RMU Spell Law/Ranger lists. These are my opinions, not mean to be criticism since RMU was meant to be the gentle arbiter of all RM and ICE conflict.
Beastly Ways. Generally I think this is a great list and improvement from RM Spell Law. First, I’m not sure it’s “Ranger” spell list as I conceptualize the profession. Druid? Sure. Beastmaster? Absolutely. Shaman. Of course. I think it needs some tinkering and I would use SW specific names (rather than Terran animals). Definitely could be treated as a Mentalism or Essence list as well.
Inner Walls. Another improved list and a good generalist list for any spell caster. I think there are some small logic errors and OOP spells: Sterilization which affects other than the caster, and Martial Wall should have some logical mechanism for it’s implementation.
Moving Ways. Great spell list and probably what I would consider the “Core” list of the Ranger concept: it has to do with travel, movement and traversal. I would tinker with it and the 50th lvl spell “Submarine Ways” is a horrible 50th level spell. (allows a 50th lvl caster to swim 50 miles w/o fatigue!!!! WOW!!!!). That should be a 10th lvl or under spell. The 35th lvl spell Distance Running should be a 5th lvl spell–especially with groups that don’t focus on fatigue mechanisms.
Nature’s Guises. Good conceptually, but really just a grab bag of ideas. Not sure what 3rd lvl “Freeze” is doing in this list (should be in a “Nature’s Manipulation” list, and “Animal Thought” is a bit of an oddity as well-That should be in “Natures Communing”). Pruned and tightened up a bit and it’s a great spell list that would work for a Ranger, Shaman, Druid or Animist–if you even think there is a needed mechanistic difference between those classes!
Pathmastery. This is another list that seems tailor made for a type of Ranger. Again, there are some outlier spells that don’t fit thematically in the list: Nature’s Tongue comes to mind. I’m also not a fan of bonus to skill spells. It just feels lazy and it undermines the value of the underlying skill itself. At third level a +50 bonus to Tracking? Why would the player even bother with taking more than a handful of tracking skill ranks at lower levels?
Survival’s Way. This is a solid spell list with some problems. Again, bonus to skill spells like the 3rd lvl Wound Tending I find problematic. How does that work? Does it bestow knowledge to the caster? Better coordination? A steady hand? Divine intervention? Also the 35th lvl Adaption should be moved to the “Inner Walls” spell list.
To be clear, these RMU Beta lists seem like a solid improvement over past Spell Law iterations. If there is a requirement for 6 base lists it will suffice. However I feel that a this archetype needs around 2-3 lists: some type of Moving Ways, Pathmaster and Survial Ways. All three RMU lists above need tweeking but certainly act as a foundation for the character trope. Looking at the remaining lists, I would combine some of the spells in Survival’s Way into Pathmastery and Inner Walls, move the Change spells into Natures Guises and Beastly Ways and maybe make a new list Natures Commune for plant/animal speech, thoughts, control and mastery.
BASiL “Ranger” Lists.
So writing this blog to the “Ranger Series” of blog posts, I hadn’t reviewed my BASiL channeling in several years (working on Mentalism final revisions). Luckily, these changes were prior to RMU Beta spell lists. I’m going back to review and revise, but this was a great opportunity to analyze them after several years!
While I purposefully didn’t organize BASiL to track with Open, Closed or Base–it’s fairly evident that it can easily follow along with this process. So for a “Ranger”, “Druid”, “Animist”, “Beastmaster”, “Pathfinder”, “Scout”, “Warden”, “Hunt Master”, “Shaman”, “Witch”, “Forest Wizard”, “Path Blazer”, “Elf”, “Liberal”, “Eco-Terrorist” or any similar ridiculous class or profession name, these are the following BASiL core spells:
Natures Guises. This is a cleaned up version we discussed above. Discarded nonconforming spells, adjusted powers to level and attempted to increase utility of ALL spells in the list (rather than meaningless placeholders.) All these spells are about concealment, disguise, misdirection etc.
Locating Ways. This is meant to be the core locating power of a Ranger, Bounty Hunter (fantasy Mandalorian!), Beastmaster, Detective etc. There is a light overlap with Nature’s Lore, but far less than the overlap and redundancy of RM spell lists. None of these spells devalue, replace or simply add a bonus to RM skills.
Finally: though not really “Ranger”. Weather Mastery. This is more a Druid/Animist or Nature Cleric style spell, but depending on the campaign or setting could be used by a Ranger type for some weather and elemental control.
So this is just a classic Ranger build. If you want more Tolkien I would add a lesser healing spell list, lower level weapon rune spell list or even a lesser fire law list! (all can be found on BASiL spell lists btw). If you want a more martial Ranger, I would replace a few lists with some Mentalism lists for Warriors, Monks, Disciplars, Weapon Masters, Erudites etc :
So, lots of options, cleaned up spell lists, flexibility to build YOUR idea of a Ranger AND a real functional Ranger. Whatever that means to you! That is my Third Tale of the Ranger for the Rolemasterblog.com!