Assassins as PCs.

Image result for d&d assassin players handbook 1ed artwork

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:

  1. Assassination. With a successful backstab attack the Assassin can use the Assassination table to determine if their is a kill strike.
  2. Language. Assassins can learn other alignment tongues. (recently discussed HERE.)
  3. Disguise.

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?

Novel Weapons in Shadow World & Rolemaster

The Katar…is that a lizard man motif?

Every now and then I stumble upon another blog or reference to odd or unusual real life weapons. Some seem very impractical, but they still fuel the imagination. (Beside, impracticality is of little importance in a fantasy setting!)

Rolemaster has some “fantasy weapons” that are really Shadow World specific available HERE, and I’ve posted a couple of blogs about some alternate and odd weapons:

Helmet in the shape of a conch shell
Conch Helmet

I’ve also had the opportunity to see some fantastic collections of armor and weapons at the Army Museum in Paris, and the Higgins Armory Museum that was relocated to the Met in New York.

Since I had already written about the Urumi, I was delighted to stumble across THIS BLOG‘s post on eastern blades. Of particular interest, besides the Urumi, is this:

Assamese Dao

Like the Adya Katti, the Assamese Dao lacks a guard and gets broader towards the tip, but there the resemblances end. This is a straight sword rather than the curved one, and though it seems somewhat simple, the unusual shape of the blade adds enough character.

In my Priest-King module, I have a similar weapon that is basically a battle machete. These weapons were designed to be used by the Kinn Rangers to hunt Quarnaks–thus the lack of a hilt that is necessary against other bladed weapons. the Assamese Dao provides a good model for that weapon.

The blog post describes several other cool looking weapons that would add flavor to a fantasy setting. Do you have any unique or strange weapons in your game?

Spell Law Deconstruction: Building Spell Lists to 50th lvl.

Image result for spell law

Now that I’m posting up some more spell lists–Mentalism primarily, I’m tracking comments and feedback on the forums and here at RMBlog. The number one issue I see is the desire for spell list reductionism, maybe build 10 spells per “list” and allow for creative scalability similar to or identical to HARP.

That is a compelling thought, but after writing a ton of spell lists I wanted to put my own thoughts in order.

  1. Distillation. Rebuilding classic RM spell lists typically requires some trimming. Many spells within a list are redundant: not just the spells that progress as I, II, III etc, but different named spells that do similar things. Distilling the essence of a list can really reduce the total number of spells which makes a scalable spell system very appealing!
  2. Spell scope. I’m not a fan of kitchen sink style spell lists, but do see a fundamental difference between the realms. Essence should be very tightly focused around a key aspect, Channeling should allow for much more variability based on the particular god and I see Mentalism lists following a shared mental mechanism. Using these basic rules provides different ways to build lists in different realms.
  3. Compatibility. A major motivation to maintain the 1-50th spell lists is basic compatibility with RM and Shadow World.
  4. Built in scalability. Many of my lists are built around 3-6 spells, that progress from I-V and maybe include a mass effect. If each spell repeats every 5 levels that takes up a chunk of the list, but also gives a repetitive appearance that seem suitable for scaling. However, the spell versions don’t just scale progressively, but change in target size, AoE, Range and other aspects that provide “more bang for the buck”. General scaling assumes increased power point cost/expansion of range, area, damage etc. So from an efficiency standpoint, higher versions of the spells in BASiL provide a better impact/PP than just linear scaling. “Spell II” isn’t just 2x better than “Spell I”, it can be 3x better or have expanded efficacy or powers as well.
  5. Opportunity and tactical cost. By having built in scaling, players can use higher or lower level spells based on the target, PP consumption and risk/reward calculations. Of course, that’s also one argument for Scaling spells, but the PP usage will be much different per #4 above.
  6. Level assignment. One of the more difficult aspects of designing a spell list is deciding what level to make a spell. Part of me wants to calculate an estimated “power cost”, while other times I’m thinking of utility and game balance. For instance, the big three: Charm, Fly and Invisibility can be very unbalancing to the game, but perhaps shouldn’t be based on “power needed” or some other arbitrary assessment. Some lists just can’t be distilled into 10 spells with scaling options. Some spells need to be higher level to reflect their real power and also make them unavailable to lower level players.
  7. Vertical versus horizontal acquisition. RM (and probably RMU) is build around horizontal model of spell acquisition. Generally players will know more spell lists than overall spell levels. For instance, a 5th lvl caster may have access to 5-10 lists but can only effectively cast to 5th level without risk of failure. In BASiL, it’s the opposite. I use a levelless system so players generally know a few spell lists to higher level. That gives them more powerful, niche abilities. It’s just the way I like my game to run–hard specialization versus the generalization of RAW.
  8. Keystone spells. I still like cool spells that can be found at 10th, 20th and certainly 50th level. I try to add something unique or interesting at these levels for players to look forward too, or to give the list a “bump”!

I guess sticking with RM I wanted to improve on the originally 35+ year old Spell Law and incorporate spell ideas and powers introduced since then. But if I were to start over, I would take a hard look at a HARP scalable system. Or maybe just use HARP rules?

Many of you also build your own spell lists. Do you have build guidelines, mechanistic philosophies or other design criteria that help you in the process?

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.

ROLEMASTER PROFESSION REVIEW: TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT THE BARD.

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?

  1. A “Jack of All Trades” role for the group.
  2. Knowledge/Lore.
  3. Language Skills.
  4. Social Skills.
  5. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Language Skills. Language should be important but can often be a plot obstruction. However there are Channeling and Mentalism spells that allow for communication.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

So where might that fit into Rolemaster? I’m going to revert to an earlier blog format I’ve used previously: ROLEMASTER PROFESSION REVIEW: TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT THE SHAMAN. In this blog, we’ll be looking at a few variations of Bards that could work in Shadow World.

Bard Loremaster.

A Loremaster advising a young ruler.

Bard Type: Diplomat, Mentor, Tutor, Advisor, Historian

Prominent Skills/Training: Lore, Social Skills, Language, Etiquette, History, Diplomacy, Debate, Philosophy, Influence, Perception, Memory.

Spell Lists: Base Loremaster Lists “Living Lore”, “Lost Lore”, “Word Lore”, “Lore Mastery”; Base Bard “Controlling Songs”; Essence Lists “Spirit Mastery”, “Detecting Ways”, “Essence Perception”,

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!

Bard Cleric of Kieron.

Bard Type: Leader, Fellowship, Goodwill

Prominent Skills/Training: Song, Dance, Instruments, Oration, Acting, Social, Mediation,

Spell Lists: Base Bard Lists “Inspiring Songs”, “Sound Control”, “Entertaining Ways”, “Controlling Songs”, Kieron Base List.

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.

Legacy Bard.

Bard Type: Secretive, Warrior, Purposeful, Hidden Knowledge

Prominent Skills: Combat, Stalk & Hide, Perception, Lore, Languages, Survival.

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.

Travelling Bard.

Bard Type: Jack of All Trades, Tinkerer, Minstrel, Troubador, Adventurer

Prominent Skills: Perception, Disarm Traps, Survival, Trickery, Animal Handling, Ambush, Music, Song, Social, Influence, Crafts, Gadgetry, Item Lore, Thieving Skills

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!!!

Three Tales of Ranger Magic.

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.

Natures Lore. This spell list consolidates “Divination” style spells for the Ranger or similar class. Spells are entirely informational or predictive.

Natures Defenses. This spell is purely self-reliant, with all spells about personal survival and protection vs. disease, poison, tainted food and water or extremes of temperature or elements.

I think these are CORE spells for any “Nature” style character. However, if I wanted to add some more specific powers that seem Ranger specific:

Natures Movements. This is a cleaned up and focused “movement list” for a Ranger. It covers different terrains: water, ground, air (not just a forest ranger from Tolkien!)

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!

RMU Combat and My House Rules

So this time I am really wide open to suggestions!

What I have done in the past and certainly want to keep is the 2 second combat round. I use this in RMC and it works perfectly.

I have eliminated all notion of flurry of blows. Every attack is discrete. Short combat rounds have a few knock on effects.

Movement

Obviously in 2 seconds you can move 20% of what you could move in a 10 second round or now 40% of what you would move in an RMU round. I have never like the notion of the detailed 1AP count down in RMU but I think this is because my 2 second rounds provide almost exactly the same granularity but with out flurry of blows you don’t have to start an attack 5 seconds before you even see your target.

Shorter rounds make things naturally more tactical as it is entirely possible to get peppered by bullets/arrows/spears if you try and cross an open space without covering fire.

Spell Casting

RMC doesn’t have the fast and penalty free casting of RMU but 2 second rounds comes close to emulating that. If your mage is being charged down then because movement is 20% as fast they have more time to prep and cast. So I kept the requirement for 2 rnds prep, cast on the 3rd round despite the rounds being shorter, so 3 x 2 second rounds not 30 seconds.

This has produced some fun situations where one member of a charging party chose to accelerate faster to get to a spell caster that was prepping a spell hoping to get there before the spell was cast. The fact that the players’ plan was kind of dependent on the entire party arriving simultaneously went completely out the window. 

Spell Effects

I do not adjust the spell effects to take into account the shorter round. This does change things. Spells that last hours, minutes or seconds are potentially more powerful especially ones that have a combat usefulness.

Spells that last for rounds/level or rounds/ 5 or 10 RR failure are possibly weaker. If you wanted to blind an opposing magician while you all charge then the charge will take more rounds making Sudden Light less useful in that situation.

On the other hand shorter rounds make ranged spells more powerful as it is harder to get out of range or you need to spend more rounds in range if you are trying to close distance.

I have been playing these rules under RM2/RMC for something like 7 years and this has never been a problem, but it does have an impact of spell selection sometimes.

The impact under RMU should be half that as it was under RM2/RMC as the spells are all set up for 5 second round and not 10 seconds. I don’t think this is going to be an issue.

Bleeding

I do have a house rule that bleeding 1 hit per round will stop on its own after 50 rounds of inactivity. the reason I have this is because I spent a few years when I only had one player and multiple times they were knocked unconscious and bleeding 1hit/round. There was no chance of me being able to justify bringing in an unexpected NPC so they should have bled out. This happened just too often for my liking so once the character is unconscious, and therefore not moving, if there is no one around to save you or finish you off that 1 hit of bleeding will stop.

I mention all of that as bleeding is more dangerous with shorter rounds. I don’t want to halve the bleeding in all the criticals but there is another solution.

The first is the natural clotting I mentioned above and the second is staunching the flow.

Staunching the flow takes 1 hand to do and basically means the character is applying pressure to stem the flow of blood. No First Aid or medical skill roll is required. The character can choose on a round by round basis if they want to apply the pressure. The down side is that you cannot use that hand for anything else while staunching the flow of blood. So no shield or just shield by no attacks.

The effect of staunching the flow is to half the blood loss for that round. I tend to round down so staunching 5hits/round will result in bleeding 2/rnd.

This gives characters a way of mitigating the more dangerous effects bleeding in the 2 second rounds without having to make changes to every critical table. It also makes another tactical choice available for characters.

Action Points

I have never used an Action Point system. I am a big fan of the RMC percentage action system. I have just viewed AP as blocks of 25% activity.

If you eliminate the AP by AP tactical round then lots of the problems with the Action Point system disappear.

I know Hurin has suggested in the past adopting a D&D 5e approach to what can be done in a round but I don’t know much about what that entails now. The last time I played D&D it was in about 1993 and it was 2nd Ed. I think.

So what is the best solution to stay as compatible as possible to RMU but using a 2 second round?

Character Stories

This is not about what you think it is going to be about.

The experience rules in RMU and in HARP offer experience for minor and major personal goals (HARP) or Minor, Moderate and Major personal events (RMU).

So as a GM how do you know when your players’ characters has achieved a personal goal or event? Where is the break point between Moderate and Major events (other than on page 107 of the beta rules). Will you remember to account for these or in the case of minor events can you even count all of these?

I know there are loads of alternative experience systems from count every PP used and hit taken to you level up when I tell you. I was recently very kindly given a copy of the 7th Sea Second Edition rules. 7th Sea is a game I really like but is worlds away from Rolemaster. There is almost no cross over between the two systems for example 7th Sea heroes can take out many thugs in a single turn but no attack is ever fatal. In RM if you faced six thugs at once on your own, whatever level you are you have to seriously consider the consequences of that one freak open ended attack and possible critical.

I said there is ‘almost’ no cross over. 7th Sea doesn’t have levels or experience points. Characters progress by being awarded skill increases or other bump ups in individual traits. What is interesting here though is the concept of Character Stories. So when you create your character you also create the start of a character story. Most of us already do this as part of our character back story. The difference here is that although there is a clear end goal, such as avenge your father’s death or clear your name, you only create the very first step or task to achieve that goal. So your story may be “Clear your name from a crime you didn’t commit” but step one is “find the name of your accuser”. So imagine this a just a title and a single bullet point below. During the role play you may well find the name of your accuser so then the next step is of course to find that man and question him. So now you have a second bullet point. The GM always has a clear idea of where each character is in their background stories, things that he or she can weave into the game session and from a RM point of view when Minor, Moderate and Major personal events have happened.

I think this is a really simple mechanism that brings together a method of making characters’ back stories really relevant the characters future, it helps the GM keep those stories straight and it dovetails nicely with the new experience rules.

I am never one to pass up a good idea when I see one! If you are interested in 7th Sea then there is a single volume core rulebook (just the sort of thing that RMU needs 🙂 ) on RPGnow for about $25.

Interview with Jonathan Dale RMU Dev

Today I have for you an interview with Jonathan Dale about the current state of RMU and I did my best to get the release date out of him but he was having none of it.

Peter: For those people who are not part of the RMU Beta test on the ICE Forum could you tell us how you came to join the RMU Dev Team?

JDale: The glib answer is that I posted too much in the playtest forums, and now here I am. That’s sort of true. ICE is currently made up of freelancers and people’s available time changes, and an open playtest is an exhausting process, especially at the beginning when the rules are still rough. Some of the team were not going to stay closely involved and that meant some new people had to be brought on board. Some of the team had told me they appreciated how, in my comments, I was looking at other people’s views, explaining my reasoning, and suggesting alternatives rather than just criticizing. I also had met with Matt Hanson at an RPG event at Jetpack Comics. Initially I was brought in to help Matt, and we did a sit-down session as well as conversing by email, but as his free time ran out, I ended up the lead on A&CL. I also did some work on Creature Law, mainly on the talents and updating the giant spreadsheet used to create the creatures, and Vlad is plugging away on updating the creatures themselves. Nicholas also brought in Graham Bott to do some work on Spell Law (which did not get changed very much) and Treasure Law (which got more changes, unsurprisingly since it had only been through one beta cycle).

Peter: It has always struck me that you come across as the voice of moderation, on the forums as least, especially when there are some very strongly held views. How much of Arms & Character Law would you say is ready to sign off and how much is still open to change given that most people are praying every day for the RMU Singularity?

JDale: A&CL is basically done. I could have signed off on it a while ago. It’s Creature Law that is taking time. That said, because of that delay, I’ve continued to make minor tweaks and adjustments to A&CL based on feedback, mostly improving wording for clarity. The current discussion of tactical movement is an extreme case of that, I actually have two versions of the manuscript, one each way.

Peter: The problem I have had with play testing was getting the players. I took me over a year to get my RM2 stalwarts to accept RMC. Going to RMU was rejected out of hand. I did find one new player but he comes and goes and we didn’t get to play much. You on the other hand seem to have several games on the go. Did you hit many problems at the game table with the new rules?

My player’s biggest complaint is that…

JDale: I still don’t get to play nearly as often as I’d like. I’ve been forced to fall back on playing a D&D game although the current plan is I will take over and launch another RMU game when that campaign ends later this year. In any case, I started my current (still-running) RMU game before joining the development team. I think my player’s biggest complaint is that I keep changing the rules on them as we go from update to update; I started that even before joining the dev team. We did run into many of the same issues others have mentioned on the forums, for example injury penalties were too high and too frequent (these have since been reduced), and damage was too low (this is being raised). We also converted our long-running (but not frequently meeting) RMSS game, in which I am a player not GM, and conversion is different from starting a new game. Some things go up, some things go down, there were some complaints about the latter but nobody complained about the reduced need for spell prep or their skills that went up. The biggest issue there was with the very different number of starting language ranks between the two editions, which we mostly dealt with by giving everyone 20 extra ranks.

Peter: I would like to ask about monsters. I know you are mainly working on A&CL but the foes we fight are an integral part of combat. When the Beta of Creature Law hit it was dramatically behind in its level of development in terms of presentation and it stirred up a hornets over the normalised creature stats. Is there a secret ‘new and improved’ creature law that the dev team are using that we haven’t had a chance to look at?

“…to a mere 286”

JDale: The core of Creature Law is in the talents and archetypes. The archetypes are basically a streamlined way of handling normal level progression, so the GM does not have to pick individual skills and stat gains when creating a creature. And the talents cover everything else. The archetypes have been slightly updated to take into account other changes but we did a lot of work to clarify the talents, remove redundancy, and make the costs more consistent. That reduced the number of talents and flaws to a mere 286. All of the talents now have full descriptions in the same style as those in A&CL. That required us to update the creature-building spreadsheet to take into account the changes. We also made changes to how movement rates were calculated, how hits are presented (e.g. larger creatures now have more hits rather than taking reduced damage), etc. So, the framework is definitely improved. And I have used it to create creatures for my campaign. But ultimately the books (it will be two volumes, not one) will also present more than 800 creatures that are ready to go; the creature stats all need to be updated based on those changes, and that’s what’s still in progress.

Peter: That is really good to hear, I was one of those people who moaned mightily about the normalised #hits for monsters.

So the thing I like the most about RMU is the skill system. RM2 skills by comparison are a nightmare of inconsistency with some skills giving different bonuses per rank depending on the skill, the costs had no continuity and even really important game mechanics being given buried in the skills descriptions; such as all flying manoeuvres being at -75 only  being mentioned in the Flying skill but not under the manoeuvring rules. RMU by comparison is really neat, skills give bonuses and expertise reduce penalties.

If you had to point to one thing in RMU that really stands out as an improvement or a problem solved what would it be?

JDale: That’s tough. I’m mostly coming from RMFRP, so the streamlined skill list and similar skills rules are a nice improvement from the skills and categories of the previous system. I can definitely see the improved organization and clarity being a big step from RM2, that’s why we switched to RMFRP in our group after all, and there was still room for improvement. The improvements to the attack tables are big in my opinion too. But as someone who enjoys worldbuilding, I was really excited to get tools for creating and customizing professions, races, cultures, and monsters. Those are super useful for me and I think will also be useful keeping everything working when the system expands with future Companion books.

Peter: OK, this will be a bit of a curved ball but I actually did a bit of research before asking to talk to you. So without looking in Creature Law, what OB would you give a starfish?

JDale:  Maybe I gotta keep clam about that. 🙂 I’m sure they’re awesome grapplers with a secondary acid critical… if you just sit there and wait for them.

The answer is 25T(3)gr ;25D(2)be (grapple and beak) but to my horror I discovered that the number encountered is 2d8(!) I play Rolemaster, I don’t own 2d8!

Peter: OK, one last question, and this one I know you cannot really answer, but you have seen more of the books in their present state, the working spreadsheets and so on. You have seen how they have been progressing over the past six months. If I had to press you, when do you think the singularity will happen, at least to the nearest month or season? Should I be putting RMU on my Christmas list?

JDale: Even after the singularity, there will be a round of proofreading, probably a round of fixes to the issues it reveals, and then art and layout. I have no idea how long that will take. I would love to have a copy in my hands this year, but no idea whether it will happen.

My thanks to Jonathan for spending the time to answer my questions and what I think was the coolest bit was that he signed off saying “I am off to go run our LARP for the weekend so thanks for the chat!” In my experience there are not many conversations you can drop the word LARP into and get away without some fairly long explanations. 🙂

Maybe I should make movies?

On Sunday I found myself with an hour and a half to kill but also tied to the house so I decided to watch Conan The Barbarian on Netflix. My first impression of the first five minutes was that they had the the depiction of the Pictish warriors/savages down perfectly. At that point things looked promising.

Pictish Warriors from the movie…

Pictish Warriors, they all seem to share a sort of brutal Native American vibe.

After that my opinion changed somewhat. To be honest I think this is a pretty dreadful movie and I read this evening that it cost $90M to make and grossed $21M, making a net loss of $69M. I am guessing most of that went on the CGI which was certainly plentiful and was mostly used in place of any real plot and dialogue. I admit that you don’t engage with Conan for his witty repartee.

So even when watching the movie it was plainly obvious that this was a dreadful film and no amount of topless slave girls and serving wenches was going to save it. Surely this was obvious to the creators at the time?

What the film tried to depict was what we would consider an entire adventure, not a full campaign but certainly more than just a collection of encounters. There was a definite character motivation, revenging Conan’s father’s death, that ran through the film but the fact that Conan was plainly not doing anything to further that revenge until a huge clue lands in his lap says that if this were a game and not a movie then the film represents a character goal inserted into a greater campaign.

We do get a few encounters along the way. Conan and crew attack a slave caravan. Their plan involves starting an avalanche of rocks down on to the slavers caravan and then charging in and killing the remaining slavers. Being Hollywood all those rocks only hit slavers, no innocent slaves were hurt. You try that in one of my games and there being 20 or so slaves for every slaver there is a very good chance that you will be scraping Slave jam off the road.

Another encounter has some bad guys row up to Conan’s ship and attack them. Conan’s crew then defeat them and stand around on deck cheering. No one thought to wonder where the attackers had come from. Maybe if Conan had asked a few more questions he would have exacted his revenge a few years earlier?

So was there anything good about this movie?

Yes, right near the end the hero and NPC thief (for want of a better phrase) do battle with a submarine beasty. We never really see it, just a mass of kraken-like tentacles. The fight is a bit so-so and the CGI a bit mediocre but the set for the scene, and the beast itself was really evocative of the Cthulhu style dark gods of the Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria (Howard and HP Lovecraft were close friends).

So what I think distinguished the best from the worst in this movie what that all the early encounters were disconnected and there was no visible plot thread to bring them together. Leading up to the water beasty scene we got to see Conan recruiting his thief NPC, breaking into the BBEG’s fortress and then encountering the beast and its ‘keeper’. We were suddenly into a story that was progressing from challenge to challenge and had a continuity.

I suspect that writing a good movie is slightly harder than writing a plot for a gaming campaign or at least a enough plot for a few gaming sessions but if we put the player in the seat of the viewer, unless there is a reason and a feeling of progress then games would be just a procession of meaningless encounters. We are almost back to wandering monsters, that is how the first half of the movie felt.

So how could the movie been made better? Well you could have lost the first half of the film and started with the recruiting the party to attack the fortress. Conan could have explained the entire plot up to that point in about 5 seconds “Fifteen years ago this man killed my father, I will have my revenge! Who is with me?” <kick over tavern table and shake sword>

We could then have launched into the one bit of the movie they made well. After the kraken scene they tried a bit too hard to be Indiana Jones and the movie slumps back into the mire.

For GMs, if you have ever watched his movie, or any like it, the lesson must be to draw a compelling world for your players. Not for the characters, but the players. If they are not invested in it then the best plot in the world will become just a linear series of hack and slash encounters. I think this is same idea that Brian has been pushing for for RMU. It has to have that compelling world, Shadow World, to get people to invest their heart and soul into wanting to bring the game, world and story alive for their players.

I know there is an argument that not everyone wants to play in Shadow World but casting RMU as the Shadow World rules does not exclude anyone. I don’t adventure in Grayhawk but I reuse old style D&D modules. Most people do not adventure in Faerun but they will happily use 5e stuff. GMs tinker with bought materials, they reuse and they extend them. They always have and they always will. I have put RM characters, adventuring in the Dales through Traveller adventures. I just replaced spaceships with wagons. After all a good adventure is a good adventure regardless of any fancy dressing up but for my players the clothes I put on that adventure helped bring their little corner of the Forgotten Realms to life.