Vocations and Skills in Against the Darkmaster

Now, in this ongoing series exploring the QuickStart rules for Against the Darkmaster (VsD), we cover Vocations and Skills.

The QS is but a portion of everything the designers have written for the game, and often the tables in the QS give some hint of what else is out there, since, I suspect, to avoid having to make all new tables specific to the playtest, the QS charts have been repurposed from master documents. The Vocation Development Points and Vocational Bonuses table contains listings for Warrior, Rogue, Strider, Wizard, Animist and Dabbler. These essentially are the six Professions from Middle-Earth Role Playing with a difference: recently the designers decided to axe the Strider from their game. Their reasons why are long and interesting, and I agree with them, but I won’t give them here. Also, though everything needed to play a Dabbler (MERP’s Bard) is on the table, the QS gives no deeper description of the Vocation, and it becomes uncertain what boundaries—if any—there are to a Dabbler’s access to Spell Lores (Spell Lists). And again we see an unstated assumption that gamers will playtest certain characters.

Moreover, as a reflection of the total game, in this case the Vocation options on the table are misleading for a reason besides the recent deletion of the Strider: I hear there are other Vocations in development, and one of them is something called the Champion. Anyway, this table, as expected, provides per-Level Development Points (DPs) to be spent on Skill Ranks. As the title of the table indicates, this chart also identifies one-time Vocation bonuses that players add to Skills at Level 1. The DPs specified are distributed at every Level. There are eight categories of Skills for which various Vocations receive DPs. Four of these categories—Combat, Adventuring, Roguery and Lore—neatly contain five Skills each.

Converting DPs into Ranks is fairly simple. It costs 1 DP to raise a Skill by 1 Rank (in its appropriate category). No one Skill can be raised by more than 2 Ranks by this method every Level. DPs may be transferred from one category to another with a cost of 2:1. While I’m on the topic of transferring DPs, an additional Magic Point (the table provides Vocational Magic Points per Level) can be purchased at a cost of 3:1 once per Level.

There are some observations about this table that should be of interest to Rolemaster gamers. Armor is a single Skill category and consists of a single Skill, Armor. The same is to be said for Body and (to a degree) Spell Lores. Basically the Armor Skill is used to erode any Armor penalties. The penalty for any Armor never can become positive from 0, so I imagine that those Vocations comfortable with lighter Armors will be looking at transferring these DPs at later levels. Only Wizards and Animists don’t receive DPs in this category. The Body Skill results in 5 HPs per Rank (added to a Kin’s starting HP and possibly bolstered by a character’s Fortitude Stat). But as one of the designers, ToM, recently shared with me in a comment last post, the Body Skill sometimes has applications outside of calculating HPs and, yes, if a character’s Body ever is reduced to 0, then that character dies instantly. Wizards and Animists (unlike the way in which they are treated in the rules for MERP) are not awarded any DPs in the Body category. After a first read, this concerned me. I asked the designers if they had not created a “tax” on magic-users because I couldn’t imagine any player being comfortable with not increasing HPs at every Level. The developers disagreed. They said that, in their play experiences, magic-users tended to be comfortable with their starting HPs. I have yet to see if magic-users will be similarly comfortable with this arrangement in my own games.

Spell Lores, technically its own Skill category, I’m discussing separately from the above, and the way Spell Lores are handled in VsD I think should have a similar application to the Cultures Skill, which is contained within the Lore category of Skills.

To begin with Spell Lores, these are developed in a manner that BriH has told me is how the BASiL spell system works. In VsD, DPs buy Ranks in particular Spell Lores. These lists follow MERP in going as high as ten (though, considering all I’ve been learning recently about the “full game,” I would not be surprised if in manuscript form they reach higher than this). For example, a character with 4 Ranks in a Spell Lore would be able to cast spells up to Level 4. At the same time, the total bonus resulting from Ranks and other considerations in the Spell Lore would be applied to the Spell Roll. Each Spell Lore is attributed to a variable Stat—sometimes a different Stat even within a specific “realm of magic.” For example, in the Wizard Lores, the Stat associated with Eldritch Fire is Wits, whereas with Detections it is Wisdom.

Since the QS is a “living document,” in one area the Skill Cultures is erroneously identified as Languages, and this suggested to me that the Cultures Skill should be handled similarly to Spell Lores. Also, here is the Cultures Skill description:

This skill represent the general knowledge that the character has of a specific culture. This skill can be also used to try to establish communication with another culture by using specific knowledge of that culture which includes spoken, written or signed language.

p. 26

Cognitive dissonance here results from two uses of the word “specific” for a Skill which appears to be generalizable. Even though such a discussion isn’t in the QS, we all can assume that (to continue with my favorite example) our Deep Dwarf understands his Dwarven language and everything but, perhaps, the most particular specifics of his Culture (in my own American culture we might not all understand the lore behind certain Christmas traditions). Now the Deep Dwarf encounters a Fey Halfling (that’s a startling combination of Kin and Culture!). The Deep Dwarf has 4 Ranks and +5 in Wits. The player rolls and succeeds with, let’s say, a 125 for her Dwarf to understand this puckish little creature’s chirps and whistles. What now? Are we to believe that the Dwarf simply understands the Fey Halfling? Can that make sense? And what’s to be done going forward? Does this Dwarf now permanently understand the Fey Halfling language? Should the player write this down on his sheet? What strange, good luck!

Instead I propose that (borrowing from MERP) some Kin and all Cultures should begin play with Ranks in specific Cultures. The player can develop these Skills and others through the expense of DPs. In a manner similar to how Spell Lores operate, Ranks in a Culture should give a measure both of how well the character speaks that Culture’s primary language and a bonus on any Skill attempts to understand/remember something specific about that Culture’s heritage. To hew close to the Spell Lores precedent, 10 Ranks should be absolute fluency in a language.

To get back to the Skills as written, every Skill, of course, is associated with a Stat, but some—if not all—can be associated with more than one. I know that this isn’t a problem unique to VsD, so at my table I prefer for my players to keep Stat bonuses out of their total Skill calculations. Instead we add them at the time the Skill is being used, and the Stat used is determined through how or with what application the Skill is being employed. In tactical combat, of course, this allows Swiftness, rather than the default Brawn, to be applied to small, fast weapons. The designers have said that the possibilities for this kind of play shall be made explicit in the full rules.

In the Skills section is a table with a short list of Secondary Skills. These are given without elaboration, and descriptions for these are highly desirable, particularly for such Skills as Battle Frenzy—how does that work?

Finally, the section on Vocations states that Vocations enjoy special abilities specific to the Vocations. Unless these are the one-time bonuses on Skills, though, these are not described in the QS.

I had more to say about Vocations and Skills than I thought I would! Next up: Backgrounds, Passions and Drive.

The Stats, Kin and Cultures of Against the Darkmaster

For this article, part of an ongoing series, we begin to examine Against the Darkmaster’s (VsD’s) Character Creation as detailed in its QuickStart rules.

VsD uses the six Stats associated with Middle-Earth Role Playing (six Stats, that is, as long as we ignore the always-fun Appearance) and most d20 systems. Honestly, I prefer this to the ten associated with Rolemaster. I recognize the RM impulse towards specificity, but, when gamers find themselves with the trouble of applying multiple Stats towards individual Skill bonuses, then you know you have more tools than you need. VsD’s Stats depart from Rolemaster in another way: they are not rolled (so it’s a “point-buy” system), and they are not percentages. Players are given bonuses totaling 50, to be divided among the six Stats VsD terms Brawn, Swiftness, Fortitude, Wits, Wisdom and Bearing. The points must be divided into increments of 5. No starting value may be lower than 0 or greater than 25.

I think getting right to the bonuses makes a lot of sense.* What is lost is the mini-game, the random rolls that can represent the fickle nature of genetic influence and predisposition. But player freedom to rearrange these rolls moderates this simulation, anyway, and many gamers (as suggested above) might prefer a point-buy system. Something else that is potentially lost is a GM tool: I haven’t known anyone to do this, but the percentile stats can function as a neat assessment of how likely a character is to succeed at a test using the raw attribute alone. The only true mechanical process perhaps problematically missing, now, is a convenient measure of when, actually, a character should die through loss of hit points. The QS places this at a standard -50 Fortitude, which I don’t feel recognizes the variation that should result from characters with more or less Fortitude.** Of course, the GM can adjust the point of death up or down this measure, depending on a character’s Fortitude score, so problem solved!

Another possible problem for the RM gamer who (for whatever reason) is running VsD and not RM are the absence of Stat potentials, but again this is a problem that can be solved through the players making rolls either on a pre-existing table or one of the GM’s own devising to see if a character might qualify for a Stat increase at character creation or later (which in this case would be a straight bonus, probably—unless the gamer was getting really creative!—in an increment of 5).

Next the player chooses his or her Kin, and this decision, unsurprisingly, might alter the value of some of the Stats and now might result in some of them dipping below 0 or breaking 25. I already have said, in previous correspondence, that my familiarity with Rolemaster ends with its second edition, but I see consonance between at least some of the ideas in the latest iteration of RM still in playtest and VsD. Nevertheless, I will confine the following observations to VsD alone.

The player’s chosen Kin provides, in addition to Stat alterations, starting figures for Hit Points, the Max Hit Points the Kin is allowed, bonus Magic Points (if any—and Magic Points are RM Power Points), bonuses to Toughness Save Rolls and Willpower Save Rolls, available Background Points and starting Wealth. These last two values will be discussed with some detail in later articles. The starting HP values based on Kin range from 20 (Halflings and some Elves) to 75 (Dark Troll). A Man starts with 30. RM gamers might recognize that VsD uses just two types of Save Rolls (known in RM as Resistance Rolls). In addition to these modifications, various Kin enjoy certain abilities and/or bonuses to specific Skills and/or Saves. No surprises here.

Paired with every character’s Kin is a Culture. Again the latest, nascent RM might come to mind. Though many Kin have Cultures recommended—such as the ever-classic Dwarf from a Deep culture—the player, in most cases and without GM interference—is free to select the character’s Culture. This Culture serves in three ways: it provides “free Ranks” in certain Skills much in the manner of MERP’s Adolescence Skill Table; it provides a menu of “starting gear” from which the player selects; and it potentially increases the character’s starting Wealth score (the greater detail of which I’m still saving for later). Any Ranks given for Spell Lores have to be spent in Lores (RM Lists) specific to the Culture. The only Cultures listed with Ranks in Spell Lores are Fey and Noble.

Although the QS contains a chart giving Stat modifications for fourteen Kins and Skill Ranks and Wealth and Outfit Tables for thirteen Cultures, it provides deeper explanatory text for merely five Kins and six Cultures. This indicates the fractal nature of the playtest and suggests either that gamers are expected to experiment, at this time, with only these options or that these choices are the most common or the most likely to appeal to players.

There are two more aspects regarding Kins that I’m tempted to ignore completely. In fact, in my games so far, I have ignored them. But to give a fair read-through of the VsD experience as it is intended, I’ll wrestle with them here. In the QS, the deeper descriptions of the five Kins contain guides for character Passions and Worldview. Both of these features are tied to mechanics to be discussed later, but, at this time, something can be said about their problematic natures. Here is the QS:

Each Culture description will also include some of the beliefs, opinions and prejudices commonly held by members of that Culture, as well as some suggestions on how they could influence a character’s Passions. Obviously, these guidelines are only general assumptions made to help players bring their characters to life, and are in no way prescriptive. Players are free to interpret their characters as they wish, either playing along with these concepts or creating an atypical member of their character’s Culture.

p. 14

Okay, so these are stereotypes or archetypes, and the gamer can play to these if she or he wishes or… not. I’m going to try not to dismiss these out of hand. I know that not all gamers are creative enough to come up with even a modicum of a character background, and something—anything—to work with can be of value. So let’s see what the first Culture, Deep, has to offer here:

A player wishing to underline their character’s Culture could write a Motivation about protecting their home or clan from the forces of the Darkmaster. Alternatively, they could link their Nature to a code of honor, or maybe to their character’s lust for gold and precious stones. Finally, they could write about their unlikely or unstable Allegiance with one of their companions from another Culture.

p. 15

I recognize two things here. First, the three specifics Motivation, Nature and Allegiance appear, which demonstrate how difficult it is to discretely and systematically present a rpg rules system which is, because of its nature, interconnected. These three aspects of character creation, tied to a mechanic, come up later in the QS and therefore later in this series. Second, it’s not clear why these descriptions are specific to a Deep Culture. These features might describe anyone, anywhere. This remains helpful for the player who is devoid of ideas… sort of. But so might the descriptions of any other Culture. In fact, I’m guessing that the descriptions of all of the Cultures might be interchangeable.

What might be more useful for the gamer short on imagination are tables providing one hundred possibilities for each of these three features. But perhaps something even larger is going on here.

VsD does not intend to have an official setting. I think this is fine, probably my preference. But it therefore becomes difficult, not knowing what any particular game world might look and feel like, to design mechanics dependent on setting. Much might be assumed about the generic high fantasy milieu, but, as I believe I have demonstrated here, such generalizations might apply to anything. It is preferable, perhaps, to direct these discussions towards individual GMs, even better, as is my first inclination, to provide random Motivation, Nature and Allegiance tables to inspire collaboration between the GM and his or her players.

Our characters aren’t done yet! We still have to develop Vocations and Backgrounds. We also have to return to Passions. But we’ll cover these next time.

*This article is going to assume a shared knowledge concerning the major features of the Rolemaster game system.

**Elsewhere in the QuickStart, in a description of the “Body” Skill, the designers state, “If the Body value is reduced to 0, the character dies instantly.” This, to me, is evidence of how this work is a “living document.”

RPGaDay2018 Day 24: Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

There only can be one answer to this and it is of course Rolemaster. The great injustice is of course the name calling, chartmaster, rulemaster and so on. The total failure of the greater RPG community to differentiate between all the optional rules that are available and the actual rules one needs to play.

And lets face it, compared to Pathfinder Rolemaster is positively lightweight. 

Rolemaster always said it considered itself an ‘advanced’ system. You shouldn’t grab the Advanced books if you want something simple. I know I did but I was hooked on RM and then wanted something simple. It is just a testament to the adaptability of Rolemaster that actually I could carve out my simplified, rules light Rolemaster and have it work seamlessly with all the standard monster stats and the few RM native adventures I have.

Customisation does not have to mean complexity. The core RM structure is so robust that you can hack it any way you want and it remains recognisably Rolemaster.

What Rolemaster needs is for the community to honestly hold up Pathfinder or D&D (in any of its recent incarnations) in one hand and Rolemaster in the other give them a fair comparison. Drop the prejudices formed 40 years ago and look with fresh and more mature eyes.

Rolemaster is not FATE and it never will be. If you lean that way then RM is not for you but RM is, in my opinion, more robust than D&D 5e and more than capable of  being tailored to your style of play whatever that style of play is. What ever you want to do with it, there will be an option for it. Just pick the options that you need and no more.

Pick your targets

Today for some reason I was in procrastinating mood. Rather than doing what I should have been doing I ended up catching up on loads of really out of date forum topics that a really had very little interest in, which is why I hadn’t read them when they were fresh.

From my forum browsing a few bits stuck out. There was a comment by JDale about some of the people he had met at the weekend were fencers (at Pensic?  I have no idea what that is.)

I also came across Intothatdarkness talking about ballistic weapons and damage and critical locations.

So lots of things came together earlier when I had moved on to procrastinating by walking the dogs.

When I am fencing many of my fights are ‘first to 5 points’ as a competition format. My plan A is to press the attack and do three rapid ‘flurry of blows’ type attacks to my opponents wrist. The idea being that they will pull their wrist back and normally up out of the way exposing the underside of their wrist/ forearm. My next attack is to ‘beat’ their blade, I am left handed and most opponents are right handed so I snap my blade across them left to right to strike their blade. This knocks their blade off line and my blade bounces off theirs as I lunge forward to strike their chest or upper arm. My third attack is to feint to the knee before stepping in to strike the neck or head. If these are successful and I am three points up or at least in the lead in the bout I will then press the attack forcing the opponent back but not actually attack, I would rather have them pinned to the back of the fencing piste so they can only come forward. I can then stand off waiting for that attack and counter strike into their arm as they try and attack me.

The point of all that waffle is that the actual target for each attack is known to me before I take a single step forward. The idea of a random result that could be a foot or head or elbow doesn’t really come into it.

IntoThatDarkness has different critical tables for each location.

This seems like a really good way of doing things. I know that fencing is not combat. If I get hit I lose a point not a kidney. But I would counter that no skilled swordsman is going to go into an attack without a plan. Even if that plan is being revised every five seconds.

If the attack declaration phase started with pick your target area we can have very easy armour by the piece rules as you know where you are hitting and then location specific criticals, as Into has done it. Then the last piece of the jigsaw is just attack roll mods to make aiming for the head harder than hitting the body.

What we don’t need is some newfangled method of determining the hit location before rolling the critical or rolling the critical before the attack roll or reading the dice backwards or upside down which are the sorts of solutions we have seen so far. You just say I am going to aim for the head, if you hit you hit and if you miss you miss, end of.

That all sounds a bit too simple. Have I missed something?

Rolemaster Spell Law. 5 problematic spell lists.

I thought I would stir things up a bit and do a quick blog on what I consider the most problematic spell lists found in the early version of Spell Law. I’m going to refer back to Spell Law #1200 which is the punched up version of Spell Law from RM2. Now that I am fiddling with a 4th iteration of BASiL I had a chance to review my original notes and comments.

Obviously this is just  my opinion and I’m not suggesting that these lists have merit–I’m sure I could make a counter-argument on the utility of these spell lists as well. However, in the process of re-writing spell lists, I found spells and many lists that were marginal, needed quite a bit of re-jiggering or some just beyond salvaging. In fact, I found real issues with virtually EVERY spell list in Spell Law! What started as a rewrite of just a few problematic ones turned into BASiL–a full renovation of the spell lists. So while I can point out issues in every list, here are my top 5 problematic lists:

#5 Weather Ways. Channeling Open. Problem: Needs a complete re-write.

At first glance, this list would seem to have quite a bit of utility and be an automatic for Druids and Rangers. On closer inspection though, there just aren’t that many useful spells here–and there are only 16 spells to begin with! First off, the first quasi useful spell doesn’t occur until 7th level: Breeze Call. The 1st spell is about as bad as the famed “Boil Water”: “Living Gauge” allows the caster to know the EXACT TEMPERATURE of the surrounding atmosphere!!!! The next three spells are various predictions: rain, storm and weather. The problem of course, is that the GM will need to decide what the weather will be over the next 24 hours in order for these spells to have any real value. So it probably becomes a self-fulfilling function where the GM has to set the future weather to provide a spell result.  Plus, do you need to break down the difference in predicting rain, storms and weather via individual spells? Can’t you just have “Predict Weather”? So once you simplify the various prediction spells you are left with 7 spells: Fog Call, Precip Call, Wind Mastery, Clear Skies, Rain Call, Storm Call and Weather Mastery. 3 of those are 20th+ level so won’t be used in 80% of play. You can see my solution HERE. (needs a RM Forum user name).

#4 Way of the Voice & Far Voice. Astrologer Base. Problem: Redundancy, thematic confusion.

I always thought the Astrologer profession was very cool–certainly different than any other classic fantasy profession that I had encountered back then. Of course one problem is that it implies a specific setting or magic mechanic around “star power”, but that’s easy to ignore.  The Astrologer spell lists Way of the Voice and Far Voice are so similar in concept that they are just begging to either be consolidated or further differentiated. The most obvious issue is Mind Speech and Mind Voice. Mind Speech allows the caster to broadcast thoughts while Mind Voice allows the caster to mentally speak with a being. Mind Speech allows broadcasting to all within the radius and Mind Voice is only 1 target.  Mind Voice is 2nd level and Mind Speech is 7th lvl.  Mind Voice basically does the same thing as Mind Speech plus has the added ability of 2 way communication. Given it’s name, the list “Way of the Voice” should actually focus on “Voice” spells and yet there are only 4 spells that do: speech, suggestion, voice of command and word of command. The rest are all “mind” spells. “Far Voice” is almost all Mind Voice spells except for one outlier: 20th lvl “Lord Voice” that allows the caster’s voice to be heard up to 100’/lvl away. So I would move that spell to Way of the Voice, and port over the Mind Speech spells. Overall, there is at least one good spell list or two  distinct ones.

#3 Plant Mastery. Animist Base. Problem: WTF?

I don’t even know where to start with this spell list. Like Alchemist spells, this list doesn’t add a lot of utility in actual game play; it’s more suited for downtime or just reinforcing the profession’s premise. But then the actual spells are confusing or utterly useless. Let’s look at the 2nd lvl spell Speed Growth. It increases the speed of growth for 1 species of plant within radius by 10x. So it speeds up growth 10 days in a 1 day period. Then 2 lvls later the growth rate is 100x! That makes more sense, but under what conditions is this even useful? Herbs? Are GM’s populating healing herb seedlings for added realism? Then we have Plant Growth: the spell doubles the size of any 1 plant. It requires 1 day of growth…but…then states that the plant when fully mature will be double its normal size. So does this mean that it will eventually grow to twice it’s size, or it grows to be twice it’s size in a single day? So it’s speed growth AND size growth? Or, if the plant is already mature it doubles in size in 1 day? It’s very confusing and while cool to grow trees to 10x their normal size, if it takes a normal growth period then it loses quite a bit of in game efficacy.  Solution: complete rewrite!!!

#2 Spell Reins. Essence Closed. Problem: Poor mechanics.

This could be a great spell list, but as is, it’s poorly executed. There are 3 spells on this list: Spell Hold, Spell Bending and Reverse Spell. All are great concepts and mostly work, but there is some confusion as well. Spell Hold will delay a spell for X rounds and the target spell gets an RR. Simple enough? Then there is this odd “movement” rule built in that says that if the target caster moves more than 20′ (that’s pretty random) then the delayed spell will instead target a random person within 10′ of the target caster. This needlessly complicates the spell. Spell Bending is also more complicated than it needs to be. Basically the caster can deflect a Elemental spell from it’s target, modifying it by -10/10% failure. I’m assuming the target spell makes the RR and not the caster? It says the spell is deflected up to 10′ but I’m not sure why that’s important–the important mechanic is the penalty incurred  to the attack. It’s an instantaneous spell, but it’s not clear how a caster would react that quickly after SEEING a elemental attack cast. Would they have time? Would they need to be waiting/Opportunity action? I’m not sure I like the RR mechanic here. Why not treat it like Bladeturn or Deflection and just apply a fixed penalty that increases with the spell level? Finally we have Reverse Spells. The attack spell makes an RR or is reversed to it’s caster. That’s simple, but it’s still a instantaneous spell and would require the caster to anticipate or see the spell coming. I think all of these spells work better with a duration to avoid that reaction mechanic. One last thought it to merge these three spells into the Dispelling Ways list (which could be trimmed as well) to make a single cool “counter spell/magic” list.

#1 Spell Enhancement. Essence Closed. Problem: Too powerful and not necessary.

12 spells. Out of a possible 23. Not a lot of bang for your buck, so what do you actually get? An ill conceived list that breaks the whole spell mechanic. Basically there are only 3 spells on this list: Extension, which increases spell duration, Ranging which increases it’s range and the 50th lvl Permanent spell that’s completely insane since there is NO level limit on the spell that can be made permanent! Ignoring that bit of crazy, let’s look at the first two. The caster casts this spell first and then it affects another spell that is cast in the next 3 rounds (allowing for Class III casting times I’m assuming). It’s a spell that improves another spell. But how? Spell scaling via PP expenditure is much simpler and makes more sense. Let’s look at Firebolt. The 6th lvl has a range of 100′ and the next one at 11th lvl has a range of 300′. So 5 PP’s to get a +200′ increase. In Spell Enhancement, the Ranging +200 is a 15th lvl spell!!! Ouch! Not a lot of value in the Ranging spells, but how about the Extensions. x2 Duration in only a 3rd level spell! That is a crazy good deal for any spell 4th lvl or higher and only get’s better as the spell level increases. Why cast a 20th lvl spell twice in a row for 40 PP’s when you can cast Extension II and the spell for 23 PP’s and get the same duration. This is broken. Spell Law already establishes a clear linear progression of ranges and duration in it’s spells in almost every spell list. This breaks that concept, it’s unnecessary and isn’t even a good value in terms of the # of spells and the cost of using them. Solution: get rid of the list.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any lists that you find problematic? Has RMU solved many of the Spell Law problems? Is there a spell list you like or dislike? Let’s debate!!!

 

“what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”

I continued to be a big fan of RM/SM until 1989. I could see ways to do just about every gaming setting, and several non-gaming settings (Aliens, Dune, etc.) using those rules. But, something happened over the summer of 1989. I was at DragonCon, and a naval war gamer challenged me that if I need more than 1 sheet of paper (4 pages) for rules, for a war game, then that was too many. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t get away from the idea of minimalism.

Though, he was an extreme-minimalist. Minimalism isn’t “the least”. It’s “what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”.

The quote above comes from the Stargazer’s World site in a comment on Michael Wolf’s review of RMU. The comment was by a regular contributor called Johnkzin.

It is an interesting idea, what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less.

I have had that going around my head all week. They are talking about wargames and RPGs are not wargames. What that means to me is that to play the game at the table the monster stats are not part of that 4 page limit. Monsters and their stats are easily condensed down to what the GM needs at the table but the monster book is a resource and not ‘rules’.

I think spells and spell lists are part of the PC or NPC. You can give your players a copy of their own lists, I think that is pretty much common practice, and the same for NPCs. The rest of spell law is just reference material and not rules needed at the gaming table.

I also think that character creation is not needed at the table and does not need to count towards our 4 page limit.

That removes a lot of bulk.

So what do we need? Arms Law for one and skill resolution for a second. Base Spells and resistance rolls for third. One is relatively big and the other relatively small and spell casting is just a simple look up. So how low can we go?

The following two documents are a single page (2 sides) super condensed combat and skills resolution version of Rolemaster. This is really not intended to challenge Arms Law in any way and it is not meant to be historically accurate. You will also notice that it draws on bits of MERP, bits of RMU and everything in between.

What you get is a single attack table that is generic but below it are modifications for each weapon so to all intents and purposes each weapon is differentiated.

You get a hit location system using the units dice to give a 1-0 result.

The critical is then rolled for that location and the bonus damage, stun and bleeding scales with the critical severity. The GM also has to insert descriptive words like blow/strike/hit to vary things a little. Each critical does come in two parts for armoured and unarmoured so what looks like just 16 possible criticals is actually nearer to 100 possible outcomes.

Why would anyone ever want to use this?

One of the best roleplaying sessions I ever played in took place on bicycles riding though country lanes. We used the stop watch function on digital watches (this was the early 80s) for dice and we knew our characters and the rules of D&D well enough to not need any books. That sort of game session is almost impossible with Rolemaster because of its table dependence. On the other hand if you had a dice roller app on your phone and just these two pdfs you could pretty much run an impromptu game session with nothing else.

I would go so far as to say that you could run an entire game session using this and most of your players would not notice the difference unless a particular favourite critical should have come up.

This is a bit too minimalist even for me but it was an interesting experiment.

Does anyone think they could do a 2 page character creation? I suspect I could, but then I have had a week’s head start.

Rolemaster deconstruction: questioning the undead.

The “Undead”–a popular creature class drawn from a wide range of cultures, legends and mythology. Rolemaster has Egyptian Mummies, European Vampires, and Ghosts combined with the established D&D creatures like Wraiths & Ghouls. But are all of these actual “Undead”? If not, what are Undead? Are they:

  1. Animated corpses? If they are just magically infused bodies/skeletons are they truly undead anymore than an enchanted sword?
  2. Re-Animated corpses via a “spirit” or “will”? Is the body/corpse/skeleton infused with a soul or spirit? Is that Undead or is that a imbedded intelligence?
  3. A non-corporeal entity via a “spirit” or “will”? Does a persons dis-embodied spirit define an Undead?
  4. A being created via a spell or magic ritual? Does a entity that becomes something else, post death or beyond death meet the definition of an Undead?
  5. A possessed corpse? Is a corpse possessed by another entity an “Undead”?
  6. Something else?

Certainly in it’s more simplistic form an Undead is merely a creature or entity that is functional “after death”. The problem with that all-encompassing definition is that it embraces a wide variety of  Undead tropes.

  1. Only be hit by silver weapons.
  2. Only be hit by Holy weapons.
  3. Only be hit by Magic weapons.
  4. Only be affected by “turning”
  5. Can or cannot be banished.
  6. Immune to stuns/bleeding etc
  7. Causes a stat or level “drain” of one sort or another.
  8. Affected by the “moon” (if only one) or sunlight.
  9. Susceptible to “Clerics”.

So what is the underlying mechanic or philosophy behind Undead? Are animated corpses “undead” or just magically infused meat puppets? How does one draw a spirit from beyond? How are Undead created? How are special Undead created? Why do typical Undead need to follow common western European tropes (Mummy, Vampire, Wolfman, Zombie?). If you were to create a world from scratch, would you just populate it with common fantasy Undead? Is there a better, more consistent way to create Undead? What is “draining”? How does it work? How do you recover lost stats or levels? What spells protect against Undead? What type of Undead Does a Clerics spell turning work against a animated corpse? Does the Clerics patron god allow for powers against Undead or that specific type of Undead? If you allow many types of Undead, should they require different spells to deal with them? Do the Undead fit into the setting, afterlife and “soul” mechanics of the world?

Once you take away the Judaeo-Christian concept of Undead/Possession and symbology (crosses, silver, holy water), I’m not it’s clear what the strict definition of an Undead might be.

What do you do?

 

Rolemaster Races & Monsters: Friends or Foes?

I’m curious and interested about exploring niches of Rolemaster and fantasy RPG’s in a novel way–subverting tropes, high level adventures, monsters as PC’s, eliminating the Profession system etc. In my last blog I discussed some one-off adventures I’m working on that consists of a party of “monsters” and both Peter and I have written blogs about certain creatures being classified as a Race or Monster. All of this touches upon whether various creatures or traditional monsters would make good PC’s–a subject I’m looking forward to exploring much like I’m doing with 50th lvl characters.

But these questions ignore the broader issue–why are certain races and creatures “Monsters” or adversaries to begin with? Should PC appropriate races be determined by a race’s intrinsic morality? Does RMU’s creature creation system open the door for any creature (assuming a base level of  intelligence) to be played as a PC? Assigning levels, special abilities and skills to creatures draws them into the Character Law system–why not open the door a bit wider for PCs–not just more traditional races, but “monsters” as well?

 

Perhaps the residue of Gygaxian Naturalism reinforces our views that monsters reside outside the natural world and setting. Without a childhood, ecosystem, culture and hopes and dreams these monsters lack the foundations of “Personhood”–they are merely there to be obstacle to the players. But what if that weren’t the case? Perhaps your game world would be like the cantina setting in ANH or TFA–filled with an endless variety of races, creatures and monsters anthropomorphized for the purposes of a working game narrative. Perhaps “monsters” aren’t inherently evil, but motivated by the same self-interest and beliefs that direct us all.

 

Rolemaster Unification: One Size Rule fits ALL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rolemaster Profession Review: taking another look at the Shaman.

The original Rolemaster probably ignored a few key class tropes in their original work. Paladins comes to mind of course, but in my mind one of the most important is the  Shaman!

If Clerics/Priests are defined as members of an organized religion, than perhaps we can define a Shaman as a leader of a decentralized or non-organized religion.  Maybe the society or group worships a local god, or a real god under an avatistic identity, but the belief system lacks the more coherent structure and trappings of an organized religious institution. If you are gaming in a “classic” fantasy setting, you’ll probably have, or encounter a variety of primitive societies: Orcs, Goblins, barbaric tribes etc.  These groups will most definitely have  a version of a “Cleric”, but different than the type found in Rolemaster that casts Absolutions and Channels.

A Shaman can make a great foe or adversary for the PC’s. They can have a interesting mixture of spells that give them offensive and defensive capabilities, and they could even be designed as a Hybrid caster to allow them access to Essence or Mentalism. This can keep the players on their toes if they are expecting the Shaman to use the “same old” Cleric Base lists!

The Shaman’s spell lists should be defined by the particulars of the culture. A Orc Shaman should have different spell lists than the Shaman of a barbaric jungle people. The Rolemaster Companion offered up “totems” and “animal spirit” lists for the Shaman, but I find that too culturally defining while creating clunky spell mechanics. What’s probably required is to create a number of different Shaman types whose spells reflect the needs and belief system of the culture.

Here are a few ideas or templates from Shaman that I’ve used in my SW campaign:

Kuriis Truthsayers act as tribal guides, healers and priests and stay loosely united through their ability to communicate with one another over long distances.These people worship “Shral”, which is a hybrid of Shaal and Ulya Sheck (the ostensible Empress of the region).

Profession: Using RM I would classify them as either Pure with some flexibility on lists or Hybrid using Channeling & Mentalism.

Base Lists:

  • Simple Imbed. The Truthsayers wears many charms and fetishes and will make them for the community when needed. These charms are usually necklaces and bracelets made from colorful and iridescent shells.
  • “Water Law”. As followers of Shaal/Neela, Truthsayers have access to Water elemental list(s). I use Command Water from my BASiL lists.
  • “Divinations”. I use Visions from BASiL: Channeling.
  • “Far Voice”: The Truthsayers have the Astrologer base list that they use to communicate with one another.
  • Natures Defenses: From BASiL: Channeling.

Vakshs Rune Priestesses. The Vakshs are cannabilistic Eritera living in the Jungles of Chaal-Chu. They have powerful Priestesses that use Rune Magic: magical tattoos embedded all over their bodies.

Profession. Use Cleric/Priest or Hybrid Channeling/Essence

Base Lists: All of the Priestesses magic is derived from permanent tattoos inscribed into their skin. They have a mixture of Evil Cleric and Evil Mentalism plus access to the Demonic Gate & Mastery spells plus some contingent powers in their Runes:

  • Skin Runes. The Rune Priests are covered in potent
    tattooes that provide “contingent” protection, Daily X
    and regular spells casting. The particular rune will glow
    red when activated.
    Constant: Fear 1st lvl to 20’.
    Contingent (activate automatically): Stun Relief III; Deflect I; Bladeturn I
    Daily V: Question; Mind Speech; Light Eruption; Vision

Shaman Warrior. These Shaman can be used in primitive martial tribes/cultures: Lugroki, Goblins, Barbarians etc. They have competent spell-casting ability but are also combat effective.

Profession: Semi. Use Ranger skill costs.

Base Spell Lists: If the culture follows the Unlife or Dark Gods, they’ll have some aspected list or Demon Gate/Mastery. Other ideas:

Those are just 3 ideas for creating more interesting “Shamans” in your game world. Of course, our house rules allow much more flexibility in character creation and mixing spell lists, but GM’s shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match lists to make the Shaman fit the culture. Channelers especially should have some variety as their Gods can and should provide the spell ability!

For more primitive cultures that lack formal educational systems, Shaman may be the only significant spellcasters in those societies–they should have a mixture of lists that provide best for their people and reflect the environment and belief systems.  Shaman with a creative mix of capabilities can be great opponents for you group–or interesting PC’s!!