(Updated 1/17/21) Rolemaster Profession Review: The Astrologer

While the Astrologer has not been included in RMu, it does hold an interesting place in the minds of Rolemaster players. What was the point of the Astrologer? Is the profession even a useful PC? Why are the base lists so sparse? I decided to ask Terry if he could remember anything about the origins of the Astrologer from the early gaming days in Charlottesville. It’s been 40 years, but he did have this to say:

It was included partly for the spell-user realm symmetry (we needed a hybrid mentalist/Channeling?) I never played one; I think they are better suited as NPCs.

That’s interesting and re-affirms my thinking that some of the original RM professions were probably never gamed extensively. (Not dis-similar to the new RMu Delver). Nonetheless, the Astrologer is a profession in RM and I’ve had a few thoughts about it recently:

  1. Astrology implies a game setting that supports the concept. Sure, the Astrology spells are mostly replicated in other spell lists, but the conceit itself relies upon some systems around the sun, moon, stars or “heavenly” bodies. Does that work in all settings? Probably not. Does it work in Shadow World. Yes!
  2. Many of the Astrology spells are divination based. That can create challenges for the GM in terms of predicting future events. The more vague the information (for instance through “Dreams”) the easier, but specific info about the future may require the GM to funnel the gameplay to meet a desired, predicted outcome.
  3. The Astrology base lists need work. I addressed some of that in my blog below.

Conceptually what is an Astrologer? For me, the Profession invokes ancient magic, star-cults, sun based worship or Zoroastrian magic rather than “horoscopic” mumbo jumbo. The Zorastrians were seen as a priesthood and called Magus or Magi, so it was a combination of religion and magic. In Rolemaster, Astrologers are Channeling/Mentalism hybrids, but you could make the argument for Channeling/Essence given their “star-fire” powers.

The Astrologer was a prominent feature in early MERP products and shown in color coded city maps using red fill with a question mark for Seer/Astrologer. Clearly, Peter & Co. saw a need for Diviners in their early campaigns even if those professions were left out of the MERP ruleset. As an NPC, the Profession adds an air of mystery and exoticism and would be a useful resource on occasion. As PC, it’s not clear that the Astrologer would be that effective.

In other “Profession Review” blogs I offer up more specific spell lists and remedies that I think would fix or focus a profession. With the Astrologer, I have some ideas but the verdict is still out. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Combine the Seer & Astrologer Profession. They both have a divination aspect and consolidating the base spells lists would tighten up the spell abilities.
  2. Tie the spell lists into some type of astrological mechanism. For instance, why not have some spell lists tied to the Sun that can only be used from Dawn to Dusk, others that can only be used at night under starlight and a list that can only be used when the Moon is full. (see next item).
  3. I haven’t reviewed the Moon Mage in a while, but Astrology includes the “Sun, Moon and Stars”. Why not roll the useful and usable MM spell lists into a fleshed out Astrologer. Moon Mage is a goofy name anyway.
  4. In conjunction with #2 & #3, an Astrologer could be an interesting Profession using Shadow World. With 2 prominent moons (Orhan and Charon) that are the home of the Gods, and other planets in the Solar System, there is a basis for building the Profession around orbital mechanics. I’ve already experimented with Essaence cycles and lunar orbits in Chapter 3. It might be cool to develop unique spell lists for different moons, planets and the sun that only work during portions of their orbit in relation to Kulthea.
  5. Currently, I use Astrologers as a subset of the Phaon clergy. They act as Priest-Astronomers and justified their use of Sun-Fire spells. I think using Astrologers as Priests of Phaon in Shadow World, or Priests of a “Sun God” in other settings makes sense.

So just a few thoughts on the Astrologer. Has anybody played one as a PC?


I have to say that I was surprised at the lack of love for the Mystic in Hurin’s and Peter’s recent posts. Why? Because Mystics ROCK!!! I’m not sure I ever played one, I started GMing almost exclusively early on, but I’ve always been intrigued by the profession. Like the Astrologer, Seer and Alchemist, I thought the Mystic was a new profession concept in the early 80’s that upended the “boring” D&D classes I was accustomed to.

So what is the Mystic? Unless Terry or another original ICE developer weights in, we’ll never know exactly what they had in mind 40 years ago–but to me it’s clear that the Mystic is a pure spell caster Assassin/Spy. I’m not sure Peter or Hurin are picking up on that–and if you only look at the spells it might be tougher to see the “Mystic DNA”. First, take a look at the skill costs:

  1. Ok armor DP costs. That’s typical for Mentalists in general, but it implies a more combat oriented profession.
  2. Stalk & Hide: 2. That’s the lowest skill cost for any pure caster, and implies the stealthy nature of the class.
  3. Perception: 2. Again, this is only beaten by the Seer and matches the Illusionist.
  4. Ambush: 4. That’s not low, but it’s by far the lowest for a pure caster. The Mystic ambushes!!

Just based on those skill costs alone, we already have the basis for a stealthy, perceptive character whose primary attack is ambushing.

Base Spells. So there is not much appreciation for the Mystic spell lists, but let’s take a closer look:

Confusing Ways. This is a fantastic spell list with some great utility. The first 5 spells: Distraction, Confusion, Blur Vision, Fear and Stumble are all combat effective and still fall into the character concept. Most of the other level spells are as useful, although the lack of spells lvl 16-19 could be easily corrected.

Hiding. Again, this is another solid list with some cool spells: 3rd lvl Shadow, 7th lvl Screen, 10th lvl Shadow Mystic and 13th lvl Flattening. The combination of Hiding and Confusing Ways spells with some combat effectiveness makes the Mystic and formidable character class!

Mystical Change. The “piece de resistanance” of the Mystics spell lists, this allows the caster to change their appearance or impersonate other creatures or persons.

For me, those three lists and the skill costs are a great character template. I would also argue that the Mystic’s low level spells are almost all useful–which isn’t necessarily the case for other pure spells users (I’m thinking of you “Mr. Boil Water”!).

I think the confusion with the Mystic is with the other 3 spells: Liquid, Solid and Gas Alteration. Those spells seem off-brand, or perhaps another mentalist type given how core the skill costs and the other lists feel.

Personally, I would jettison the 3 alteration spells and maybe drop a weapon skill down to 4 and make a few small tweaks to some other skills. I’ve never been a proponent of a mandatory 6 base lists: a profession needs just the right amount of base lists, and often it feels like some base lists are just there to meet that arbitrary requirement.

A slight bump to combat abilities and those three lists makes for a great Assassin archetype. The Mystic is a great profession and one that deserves more respect!!!

Rolemaster Profession Review: What’s up with the Druid?

Image result for elfstones of shannara druid
The Druid Allanon

I was busy writing a Spell Law related blog but we are powering along discussing professions so here we go with Druids!

First off, Peter covered all the bases with his overview of Druid spells in his last POST. I was going to go over the various RMC spells he discussed, but I’m sure I did it back in the day when working on BASiL and it sounds like he hit the nail on the head. For the most part, the first few RM Companions seemed like an attempt to power up various RM professions: Animists into Druids, Warrior Monks became High Warrior Monks, Mages became Archmages, semi spellusers expanded to include Beastmasters, Paladins and Warrior Mages etc.

Per recent blogs here on on the RM Forums, I think it’s clear that the real differentiation between professions is: the general classification of Non, Full or Semi; and the “base” lists of each class. There has been lots of debate and parsing of profession skill costs but in reality it doesn’t much matter after 6-8th level. By then, most core skills have peaked out their contribution bonus and stats, magic and professional level bonuses carry the weight. So let’s take each of these in turn:

General Classification of a Druid. One argument someone could make for a more martial animist is just to make the Druid a semi-spell user. That way you avoid the seeming duplication of the Animist-Druid dynamic and bestow better combat abilities on the Druid. By doing so you don’t have lean so heavily on overpowered/unbalanced combat spell lists to bridge the gap. Of course, this might depend on your vision of a Druid (we’ll get to that), and it steers very close to the Beastmaster and Ranger but it’s clear that much of the RM communities loves lots of Professions, no matter how similar they might be.

Base Lists of the Druid. Looking at the lists from the companions it’s hard to justify playing a regular animist! Peter has pointed out some problems with the Druid spells, and Hurin will be suggesting his own versions but for me the problem is not the lack of offensive/combat spells for the Animist–it’s that most Animist spells basically suck in general.

So what might a Druid look like? Perhaps the most well known fictional Druid from early RPG is Allanon from the Elf-Stones of Shannara. Allanon was a Druid more in the line of Gandalf, with wizardly power, understanding of Old Magic (technology) and Lore. If you compare Allanon to our western mythology, “Druid” is more of a title and not a class trope. Allanon is basically a Loremaster with lost knowledge and power.

Another concept for a Druid is a spellcaster that specializes in natural magic–this could also include elemental magic. So really there is no reason why a RM Magician can’t be called, or be part of organization, that calls themselves “Druids”. Magician spells of Wind and Water contain plenty of spells to affect weather or the natural world around them. From the outside, this could seem very “Druidic”. I see no issues with a Druid that is an Essence user.

A third way to look at the Druid is it’s professional realm designation. Druids are Channelers. By definition that implies that Druids powers come from or are granted by a God or pantheon. A Druid isn’t going to be granted offensive spells and combat acumen by a god that is a pacifist. If your vision of a Druid is a “combat nature priest” then their God should reflect that. Do you really need to parse out skill costs for all of these slightly different “Nature Channelers”: Clerics (of a nature god), Animist, Druid, Beastmaster, Ranger, Shaman and maybe even a Witch?

I take a diametric view of this situation–each profession isn’t a different set of skill costs and base lists; as Channelers, each represents a servant/priest of a specific God or type of God:

Cleric/Priest (nature aspected God). A general priest with a mixture of general Cleric lists and Animist/outdoor lists.

Animist: A Priest of a very nature oriented god or a local god. Spells focused on Flora And Fauna.

Druid: A Priest of a Elemental God or temperamental god of nature. Spells of Wind, Air, Weather and perhaps Earth.

Beastmaster: A Priest of a Animal God or Totem style god. Animal Control and Bonding.

Ranger: A “Holy Warrior” type of a nature god, or an outdoors man that has loyalty to a nature god. Survival and Weather spells.

Shaman/Witch: like Hedge Wizards they may serve a local god or ancient elemental god. Grab bag of spell lists.

I see variations of Druids that are Essence users, semi-spell users and even just “re-badged” Rangers! If a GM is willing to be flexible with spell lists, it’s easy to create a Druid that meets your concept or setting.

Diversity vs. Playability: Skills in Rolemaster

Today I’m looking at the ‘problem’ of skills in RM: consolidated skills (of which RMFRP is the paradigmatic version, and which appears to be a certainty in the new version, although with far less skills) or individual skills, each with their own development cost, as was the case in RM2. Let me nail my flag to the mast: I am rather more in favour of individual skill costs, primarily for the tremendous variety and granularity they offer. You simply can’t get that under the skill category system (although the RMFRP rules do allow a certain amount of tweaking, and my rather freewheeling interpretation of the talent rules enabled more).

Further to this is the issue of the dreaded skill bloat. It seems that many folks object – quite reasonably, I feel – to the tremendous explosion in increasingly fine-grained skills introduced by the RM2 companions (and carried over to RMFRP, although restrained and managed by the category system). I understand the objections: if you have, say, 300 skills and 50 professions, that’s a lot of trawling through tables in order to generate a character, and a lot of skills to study up on, in order to decide whether your Burglar is better off taking Defensive Manoeuvre, Feinting or Tumbling Attack, or just ignoring it all and retiring to a farm after buying ranks in Horticulture, Herding, Animal Handling, Animal Healing and Weather-watching.

I only wanted to play Rolemaster!

But, and here’s the thing, I love having that range of options – ridiculous though that may seem – simply because of the ways in which, as a GM, I can fine-tune races, cultures, professions and NPCs. I can understand how you might justify having a Prepare Herbs, Herb Lore and Using Prepared Herbs skill, or a Using/Removing Poison, Poison Perception and Poison Lore skill. I can imagine a rough-and-ready soldier who knows nothing of herbs, but has grown used to applying unguents to wounds. I can equally imagine a scholarly-type who has learned a bit about poison but has never handled it – or even considered using it! That argument makes sense to me, although there is, conceivably, a limit beyond which realism need go.

There are ways of managing skill bloat without consolidating or eliminating skills. The last RM2 campaign I ran I divided skills into Core, Professional and Extra-Professional skills. Everyone, regardless of profession, race or whatever had instant and permanent access to the Core skills. Then, each profession had 25 professional skills to which they had access. All skills outside that group of Core + Professional were restricted, requiring the expenditure of Character Points (which accumulated as the character reached Prime Levels, of which more on another occasion).

I’m including a link to a table showing an example of what I did in my attempts to manage skill bloat whilst maintaining breadth and diversity. This is the RM2 Hunter from the Arms Companion. I’ve not included the development point costs for copyright reasons, but the table is hopefully sufficient to demonstrate the idea. The listed skills show those available to the Hunter at level 1. They can’t consider new skills until reaching their next Prime Level (i.e. level 3). At each Prime Level, a character gains Character Points equivalent to 3 + the modifier derived from their Prime Statistic (the first appearing of their Prime Requisites, in this case Quickness), as if it were a Power Point stat, rounded down. (For example, if Bhorg the Hunter has a Qu stat of 95, he’d gain an extra 2 Character Points, giving him 5 in total. Bhorg could then spend his Character Points unlocking access to an Extra-Professional skill, or buying talents, or saving them for later).

I thought it a reasonably elegant solution, although like all my solutions, it generated a fair amount of work to get it up and running. I’d be interested in your thoughts on possible futures for this approach, any problems you locate and any possible fixes.

Can Professionless provide all the detail of RM2?

I know that many people love the minute detail that the full spectrum of RM2 professions provided. The professions were basically a package of individual skill and base lists.

Keeping the base lists within professionless and level-less RM is easy.

The individual skill costs are completely compatible with level-less but I am open to ideas about how to create that flexibility with professionless gaming.

BriH has pitched the idea of getting rid of skill costs all together so that every skill costs 5DP (I could be wrong about who came up with that idea but that is not the point). I was thinking of playing with the idea of going to the other way.

As you can see the standard No Profession  character doesn’t have any real strengths.

How about allowing the player to juggle a few points around? So let’s give each player 10 points they can move about to make some skills cheaper and others more expensive. If no skill could cost less than less that 1 point for the first rank and 2 points for the second and no skill can cost no more than 3/6. This stops players from ‘dumping’ points into a skill they have no intention of every buying.

I would love to have peoples opinions on this. If you like all the old professions would the option of tweaking the skill costs at level one appeal?

To make it fair when you are thinking about this you should bear in mind that all characters get 50DPs. You do not have to buy Body Development (that is free), there is only one armour skill that costs 2* and in total there are only about 45 skills not the 200 from all the companions. You need that to know just how far 10 points would go in tweaking those costs.

Do you think that will make PCs more varied and do you think it would help you build the character you would want to play? After all that is the whole point of having a detailed character creation process in the first place.

Rolemaster and multiclass characters

I am spending the day travelling today. I was up at the crack of dawn to get the train to London and right now I am sat in Caffè Nero at Heathrow terminal 5 waiting for my flight to Switzerland. Initially I thought I may end up missing my Friday article this week. One the Iron Crown forum there is a discussion going on about allowing a character to change professions.

Professions are so ‘loaded’ in Rolemaster that I knew this would turn into one of those rambling threads.

Changing or having multiple character classes is so integral to D&D that I am surprised that this question doesn’t come up more often. D&D, as I remember it, has  two options, you can start out with two or more classes and your experience is split evenly between each or you choose to change from one to another and once your new level catches up with your old one you can start to use features of both classes. For a game with many hundreds of classes the need to create new combinations us a little odd but who am I to criticise, there are millions of D&D players and they all seem happy enough to me.

Rolemaster professions are not character classes. A Rolemaster profession is intended to be an entire way of life and represents the characters entire world view, their education and sets their aptitudes for their entire life. The are not something that you can change at gheeta drop of a hat.

In my Rolemaster Classic (Rules as written) game  the party met and have been adventuring for just 22 days but they are already on the verge of achieving 5th level. In the forum thread the character wanting to change profession is just 4th level. That is a pretty short window in which to shift ones entire world view. Of course the character in the thread may have been adventuring for years, we don’t know.

So in Rolemaster there are few if any hard limits on what a character can learn to do. Fighters can cast spells if they invest the points into spell lists and makes can wear armour if they are prepared to take the rusks of spell failure. These soft caps were meant to remove the need for multi classing to changing profession.

The fact is  that a fighter with a spell list is not a mage. Going against the professional archetype will never be the same as adopting the new archetype and that is what the player wants to do in the forum thread.

HARP does allow multi classes and is balanced to take these into account so it is possible but the RMC/RM2/RMSS/RMFRP development point system of individual skill costs mean that multiple professions will always be over powered. It will much more viable in RMU as the professions are much more like HARP professions, remember that HARP is a much younger system than RM and has the benefit of a lot of hindsight in its design.

The other option is to use the No Profession. This is my preferred solution. You cannot have multiples or change things you don’t have. It gets rid of some much ‘baggage’ that this forum thread has reinforced my view that No Profession is the right way to go for Rolemaster. It is one of the best things about this modular system that No Profession was available as a built in option right from the beginning.

Rolemaster Professions – The Bard

The Bard is one of the nicest semi spell user professions in Rolemaster. It has a nice combination of magic, stealth, combat and social skills to make them really useful in all situations. Obviously there is no one profession that can do it all without any restrictions or everyone would choose it and no one would play anything else. The bard profession is not like that, it is nicely balanced whilst at the same time capable.

A fantasy role playing Bard
Really cool looking bard although I prefer my bards armed with axes.

The D&D bard is often quoted as the Leader Profession and the Rolemaster bard also fits into that niche quite nicely. In fact leaving all game mechanics and rules aside the cultural role of the bard means that doors open to them at all levels of society and their access to ‘behind closed doors’ information is unparalelled. In fantasy culture bards are the bearers of news as well as entertainers. They are welcome in lordly halls but get to eat with the servants and so on. As a leader the bard has the social skills to inspire and motivate groups and instill morale.

So what makes the (Rolemaster) bard so good? The first element has to be their magic. The Bardic base spells fall into two camps, magic relating to songs and magic relating to knowledge. Their songs give them the equivelant of charms, sleep and fear type spells and as they progress in levels they can effect more targets and at greater ranges. Their knowledge based spells influence how they learn languages by doubling or more the rate that skills are learned for the same points cost. They can also magically assess mundane and magical items. The ability to learn skills more cheaply and to magically emulate ‘lore’ type skills gives the bard the option to devote more development points to other areas of character development.

Bards are not restricted to just their base lists though. They can also learn the 1st to 10th level open Mentalism lists. These include self healing, illusions, detections, invisibility type spells, a variety of defensive spells and even a bolt style attacking magic (shock bolt). The truely great thing about the realm of mentalism is that magic can be cast whilst wearing any armour all baring helmets.

So magically they are really good all rounders. The only thing they cannot really do is movement, no flying or teleporting. This great flexibility is tempered by the fact that spells are expensive to learn for bards so they have to pick what is important to them.

Skills-wise the bard the bard gets professional bonuses in just about everything except directed spells (spells such as shock bolt and lightening bolt) and body development (hitpoints). The bard only has one directed spell in their entire repetoire and that is only if they choose to learn the open list of Brilliance so this no real disadvantage.

The Bard’s primary skill costs are pretty generic with nothing too expensive but nothing being particularly cheap iether. The primary skills are things like weapons skills, spell lists, magical skills, climbing, swimming and so on. the core of what an adenturer would need to do. The Bard has about the most expensive magical skills of all the spell using professions but that is the balancing fact with having the best possible mix of spells and being able to use them in nearly full armour.

It is in the secondary skills that bards really start to shine! All of the social skills from acting and singing to public speaking and seduction are all coming in at just a single development point for the first rank and most secondary skills right across the board are only 2DPs for the first rank each level. Remember that higher level bards can use their magic to learn languages at upto five times the regular rate means that spending a single development point could get you two to five ranks in language.

All RPGs have some element of combat in them. The bard as an all rounder is never going to be a stand out warrior. They are somewhat restricted in that their first weapon skill is affordable but it all gets very expensive after that. If you are restricted to just a single weapon then that generally suggests spear, shortsword or hand axe as your weapons of choice. It really depends on the game and setting as to which one I would go for. In my opinion the spear is the best weapon in the game in terms of flexibility being similar to staff, club, polearms and the lance. It can also be thrown giving a ranged option. They are also a lowest common denminator weapon requiring very little metal manufacture so are widely available. If you are washed up on a beach you can find a big stick and use half your spear skill with it as a big club. If you are a swordsman you are unlikely to find one of them on he beach.

You cannot chop down a tree with a spear in a hurry. If your game is a bit more out in the wilderness then the hand axe comes into its own. It is a practical tool as well as a weapon. It can be thrown to give you a ranged attack and it is similar to short sword for when nothing but a sword will do. I you are in a hack and slash type game then you can learn it left and right handed and two weapon combo to give you two attacks a round. Bards can be pretty good at adrenal moves so combine Adr. Speed with a pair of axes and you are up to four attacks a round or two attacks with axe and shield.

The third option is the shortsword. Again it works well as a two weapon combo, it is throwable and of these weapons it is the most consealable. It is also similar to all the most common longer blades such as broad and long sword and smaller weapons such as daggers, dirks, sais and all the short axes.

All of these options give you a range of weapons you can turn your hand to in a pinch all using just the one weapon skill.

Armour-wise chain is the best option. You do not need much skill to get away with the lighter chain armours, the heavier ones give good protection and cost wise it is certainly affordable. I would probably get fully trained int he first fiew levels and then turn those development points over to more spell lists as soon as you are fully trained.

So there is the bard. They are the smooth talking all rounder and leader of men who can in theory at least do everything from hurling magical bolts, slay dragons and play the wise old sage, all in a single profession. That is not bad going.