Inspiration and Sources for Against the Darkmaster

This is the first in a series closely modeled after Peter R’s read-throughs of such games as Zweihander (sorry for the missing umlaut, all) and HARP. I’ve recently adopted the playtest of Against the Darkmaster (abbreviated as VsD) for my tabletop home game, and I’m also running VsD via play-by-post for a few folks on the official VsD Discord server. I have a number of thoughts about the system—at least the system as it is portrayed in the QuickStart—and I’ve been sharing these with the designers and now you, the readers of this blog, if you care to receive them.

I feel that it’s appropriate to establish my relationship with VsD. My first rpg was Middle-Earth Role Playing. I believe I was twelve years old at the time, so the game must have been just published. Later, I discovered other games, notably Champions and West End Games’s Star Wars, but I never got into D&D until years later when 3e was released and a local group needed someone to DM for them. Last year, nostalgic, I began a MERP campaign. I quickly “evolved” it to RM2, then, dissatisfied with some of RM’s mechanics, I “devolved” it to Original D&D. Naturally, I was interested in what the designers of VsD had done with the game for which they likewise had fond feelings.

When I talk about games, I prefer to differentiate “emulationist” from “simulationist.” In my definitions, an emulationist game seeks to imitate a very specific intellectual property or (sub)genre. A simulationist game seeks to be “realistic.” Now, I understand that games that I consider simulationist—and this includes Rolemaster—often contain magic and the supernatural, but I argue that, even while exhibiting those unreal elements, such rules seek to mechanize the content according to the “laws” of actual physics as best as we can understand them. This is not to argue that these systems can’t (in my definition) be used to emulate specific genres and properties, but this is not the purpose for which they have been created, and, in such situations, for a certain play experience the GM must be relied on entirely. With emulationist designs, in contrast, the intended experience is built into the rules (though a GM always could mess this up).

I don’t believe VsD seeks to “compete” with any other d100 system. Instead, I think VsD hopes to rewrite MERP to emulate a very specific experience, and the milieu for this interaction is epic, “heartbreaker” high fantasy. In the introduction to the QuickStart, the designers cite novels, movies and music as their inspirations.

I am most familiar with the novels, though I have puzzled over a hierarchy that the designers seem to be suggesting: VsD “draws its main inspiration from the classic works of the masters of the genre, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Ursula K. Le Guin, passing through the two Terrys (Brooks and Goodkind) and their followers, Weis & Hickman, Jordan, and Williams.” This appears to rank Tolkien and Le Guin (though both are fantasists, to me they are qualitatively very different writers from each other) as the “masters.” The two “Terrys” appear to be grouped simply because of their names. Though I am told Brooks’s later books get better, his 1977 novel The Sword of Shannara is a very bad, almost note-for-note imitation of The Lord of the Rings. In contrast, Goodkind (I’m only familiar with Legend of the Seeker, a two-season television series based upon his work) crafts a truly unique secondary world. If Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan and Tad Williams are supposed to be followers of the Terrys (and not all of them together of Tolkien and Le Guin), then it’s puzzling that the Weis and Hickman and Williams publications predate Goodkind.

My confusion here almost certainly results from a simple error in phrasing. It’s no big deal (right now), and the point is understood. Possibly with the exception of Le Guin’s, all these works feature Iron Age Western and Northern lands of myth and magic in which a diverse group of usually-reluctant heroes band together on a long overland quest to defeat an Evil Dark Lord usually through the use of some legendary item. I don’t think it’s too much to say that there’s usually an even more specific element in these works: major characters around which an adventuring party soon forms begin their journey innocent and naive in a secluded pastoral community, usually in the West of the land. Into this intrudes an Evil Force that is seeking these very characters. During the course of the heroes’ quest, armies will be mobilized against the forces of the Evil One, and the principal characters either will be involved in the military campaign or in the final mission to find/destroy/use the relic of power that actually can defeat the Dark Lord.

That’s it. That should be the VsD experience, not just because the GM sets such a course but because the rules impel it. I will say right now that I’m not entirely convinced that VsD, at this point in the playtest, achieves specifically the form that I have described. In some aspects it greatly delivers. To preview some later articles for this series, it provides Encounter recommendations for overland travel that are highly evocative of this genre. It has rules for PCs to find Safe Havens (not in the QuickStart but detailed in the blog) that are likewise emulationist. It’s certain that the degree of correspondence should not be judged by the QuickStart alone: the texts and tables provide many evidences that the QuickStart is a living document and a fractal portion of all that the designers have written. But the developers have told me that (right now) mass combat is outside their designs. I understand. The final product is expected to be over 300 pages already, and, really, it won’t hurt to reserve some aspects for “support” purposes. But my point remains: in these sources there always is some space for a great big war.

I have had my say and completed my introduction, but still there are two more inspirations forming VsD. And, looking at them now, I’m realizing I might have had the wrong idea about VsD’s object of emulation. VsD is inspired by the “great fantasy movies” of the 70s, 80s and 90s. I’m not sure there were any “great” ones. They were all we had, so we made the most of them. If we still like them (and I do), it’s because they are a part of us now. The writers term some of these films “sword and sorcery”, and if this subgenre also is an inspiration, then some of the design choices seem at odds. Most likely the authors aren’t using these terms with the same specificity with which I understand them, so I’ll depart from this observation for now.

I’ll have to do the same for the final inspiration: metal music. Specifically, VsD combat is inspired by metal. I didn’t have any older siblings to introduce me to roleplaying or music. Roleplaying I managed to find all alone, but music didn’t mean anything to me until 1991 when the American Top 40 began playing tracks from U2’s Achtung Baby, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and R.E.M.’s Out of Time. I’m afraid I won’t be able to comment on how bands like Malmsteen, Dio and Black Sabbath inform VsD combat.

Well, that was more than anyone wanted! Next we’ll get into the rules themselves, and I’ll be keeping my mind on how well they emulate the fictions. First up, Character Creation, and I’ll probably have to tackle it in a few parts.

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and Complexity

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and ComplexitySo, you may have heard that in the past week or so that Paizo has just announced the playtest for the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with an aim to publish the new edition in 2019.

I admit I’m not that clued up on all the details but I have been reading what others have posted who seem to have rather more of an understanding on what is happening.

One of the changes would appear to be a lack of backwards compatibility between the second edition of Pathfinder and the original rules, which could prove to be a mistake. After all, lack of backwards compatibility between D&D 4 and 3.5 was probably one of the factors that led to Pathfinder’s success in the first place. Paizo got a lot of players from D&D 3.x who didn’t want to move to the 4th Edition.

In the decade since then, some of Paizo’s customers will have purchased perhaps thousands of dollars of official material from Paizo (given the various subscriptions) that may not be compatible with the second edition, never mind third party content. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to have that all written off. So this could cause the Pathfinder market to fragment.

However, that is not really why I am writing this post. One thing I have taken note of is that, according to more than a few comments, Pathfinder Second Edition seems to have quite a bit in common with D&D 5E, in terms of reduced complexity. So, perhaps the system is being simplified to regain market share. 5E may have taken some players from Pathfinder.

Now, after I admit I have no idea how many official rulebooks, the Pathfinder system was getting a bit bloated, and perhaps impossible to keep on top of. I have stated more than once that Pathfinder is at least as complex as Rolemaster. So, if Paizo is shifting towards a less complex format with the second edition, such as seen in 5E, that does not exactly bode well for complex systems such as RMU.

Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems and, if so, what does this hold for Rolemaster? Will it remain an extremely niche game system even after the release of RMU?

My Experiences in RPG Self-Publishing – Part 3

Five Stars

This is Part 3 of an article series on self-publishing in the RPG industry. Also see Part 1 and Part 2.

Do Reviews Help or Hinder?

Five Stars

The effects of reviews on sales can be hard to quantify, especially when there isn’t a lot of consistency in sales in the first place. When sales are all over the place, it’s effectively impossible to determine whether a review has benefited or harmed them.

I recently had a couple of supplements given two star ratings – no reviews, just ratings. Personally, as both a publisher and customer, I find just a rating like that useless. As a publisher, I don’t know what the purchaser found wrong with the supplements, so can’t improve it. Similarly, as a customer, it really doesn’t help me decide whether or not to buy it. Maybe the rating had nothing to do with the product in question – I have actually seen that happen in reviews, so it could easily happen with ratings too. Maybe the purchaser simply didn’t like the colour! I have also had a two star written review, but that lacked enough detail to be really helpful to anyone as well.

Good reviews – writes incredibly detailed ones – help both as a publisher and a purchaser, as they go deeply into what’s good and bad about a supplement. I think a review, good or bad, from a known and trusted reviewer has the biggest chance of helping or harming sales. For other reviews, in my opinion I don’t think one good or bad review will make a huge difference, but half a dozen reviews would provide enough information that it could affect people’s decisions (those 2/5 ratings and reviews I mentioned haven’t stopped people buying the supplements in question). My current opinion would be that individual reviews don’t sway most people either way, unless it’s from a well-respected reviewer or an extremely detailed review highlighting any good or bad points. However, bad reviews could make a difference if there isn’t much preview of a product available (on the OneBookShelf sites you can give potential purchasers a full-size preview of part, or all, of what they would be getting – I consider this useful). Having a decent amount of content in a full size preview allows potential customers to see for themselves what the content is like.

The best-selling medals on the OBS sites also help as a customer, as they show that many others wanted to buy a supplement, whatever its rating might be. The medals start at Copper and go through Silver, Electrum, Gold and Platinum. The better the medal, the more copies have been sold of that supplement. Supplements do have to sell for money – even 1 cent – for a sale to qualify, and each site calculates them individually, so, for example, having enough combined sales on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow to reach a sales medal level will not grant one – the sales all need to be on one site. DriveThruRPG generally sells more copies than RPGNow.

I currently have, at the time of writing, 4 Silver and 15 Copper best-sellers on DriveThruRPG and two of the Silvers are also Copper on RPGNow. There are also quite a few supplements within 1-5 sales of Copper and a couple of Coppers that are getting similarly close to Silver. Electrum is probably still quite a few months off for the closest of the Silvers.

What Return to Expect?

Question MarkDon’t expect a brilliant return from your work, although it is possible to build up a company that works and pays a decent return (Mongoose Publishing managed it for example). RPGs are still a very niche market, and this is reflected in the money paid out. For example, the standard rate of pay for freelancers in the RPG industry is one cent per word, although some do pay higher. Paizo, probably the second largest publisher after Wizards of the Coast, pays a lot more and the independent Raging Swan Press, thanks to their Patreon campaign, also pays much higher – currently a substantial 11 cents per word for the latter, which appears to be the highest in the industry by far.

Having dealt with writing freelancers in other niches and specialities, 1 cent is really very poor for writing that often requires specialist technical knowledge, but the truth is, the market often cannot support anything more. Rates such as Raging Swan and Paizo are more of the exception than the rule, and most pay much less, because it simply isn’t possible for publishers to make a decent return on their money for higher amounts – and that can be stretching the definition of decent. There also isn’t that much work available at those rates, and they tend to be for tried and tested freelancers, not newbies.

So, if you are writing for your own publications, the lesson to take from this is to expect that it could take a couple of years – or more – before you see a decent return on the time you invested. Your initial return per hour spent will most likely be less than you’d make at McDonalds. The advantage is with this sort of work is that it keep earning once published. Sometimes you may never see a decent return, directly at least, from a publication. Indirectly, it might bring in customers who later buy other products or who might buy a fair few at the same time (I have had a few 50+ sales).

Dollar Sign

Currently, I’m netting around $2,500 a year from the OneBookShelf sites; I don’t yet have anything published anywhere else but that’s in the works. For me, if I was to take that out, that’s easily a month’s fixed living expenses (my living expenses are a lot lower than those of many others). Which isn’t bad for a fun hobby (I do spend more time on this than I should, from a financial point of view anyway, because I enjoy it). Although supplements can take a while before they earn anything remotely close to a decent wage, the benefit is that, once written, they can keep earning money without further work. My income did decline a bit recently, having pretty steadily gone up, but that would appear to be due to the ranking algorithm change mentioned earlier in Sales & Marketing in Part 2 so I didn’t make as much money in the Cthulhu Mythos and Halloween sales this year as I did last. I do expect it to start going up again, as the average quality and price of each supplement published increases and as I get more supplements out there.

Due to the difficulty in making enough money to pay others in the RPG market, and the ease of entry, most small publishers (me included frankly, although I am working on it) don’t have a huge degree of professionalism, for areas outside the actual development and publishing of material – basically, areas outside those related to actually creating the text, or perhaps images. Better research and tracking, writing better copy on sites and improved marketing could all help boost sales. Should you lack skills in any area, consider teaming up with someone who has them, if they are interested. There are also some publishers – Fat Goblin Games is one example, with their ‘Imprints’ – who publish the work of other publishers through their own company, with the smaller publisher benefiting from the larger one’s customer base and expertise. What is expected from such a relationship by each party is no doubt variable.

My Experiences in RPG Self-Publishing – Part 2


This is Part 2 of an article series on self publishing in the RPG industry. Also see Part 1 and Part 3.

Setting the Price

Dollar Sign

Price is a tricky one. There is a temptation – which I fell into – of undercutting the competition, but in the long run, this really doesn’t help anyone. OneBookShelf (OBS) tend to say don’t sell for under $1 (although $0.99 can help sales and makes little realistic difference). If the supplement includes artwork, especially artwork which you are unlikely to be able to reuse but costs money to buy, this can mean that a higher selling price is necessary.

OneBookShelf also allows for Pay What You Want supplements, where the purchaser chooses what price they think the supplement is worth. I prefer doing this to out and out free. Naturally, the price most choose is nothing, but some may come back and then pay more than you would have priced the supplement for. Plus, these customers may also be added to your mailing list, a potential future source of income.

Some publishers offer most, or all, of their material for free. Often, this is because they have a Patreon campaign that generates the money in another way.

Where to Actually Sell

Question MarkThe OneBookShelf network is by far the biggest player in the niche. There is also the Paizo store, the Open Gaming Store and Warehouse 23 from Steve Jackson Games. Amazon, through Kindle and CreateSpace, is another. There are also other more specialised sites such as Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, which sell material for tabletop software systems, which tend to require knowledge of how to create or adapt material to these. Such content can also be sold through OBS as well. OBS do offer a 5% exclusivity bonus, if you only sell on their sites, but many of the bigger players cover multiple markets, so it’s likely that there’s a definite advantage to doing so, if you can. There are other print on demand publishers, such as Lulu too.

A final option is a store on your own site. Although this will likely give the highest percentage – after all, you won’t need to pay a percentage to another store’s owner – it can also be the trickiest to do.

Sales & Marketing


OBS has tracking codes, which they call source codes. These can be used to track where a sale came from (if the person creating a link used them; the codes you see in a marketing source report are not solely the ones you create yourself, but all relevant ones), although these do get overwritten when another is clicked.

My highest sales numbers come from the various OBS internal codes combined, especially from the front page and also purchased (these, being listed as FrontPage and also_purchased, are very easy to spot); however, over the past year OBS changed the ranking algorithm so that it ranks by money made from a supplement, not number of supplements sold. This generally benefits the bigger publishers – who tend to create more expensive products; smaller publishers who make the occasional pricey supplement also benefit – and OBS, who make more money from larger sales, but it’s not so good for the smaller publisher who has lots of pocket-money priced items. This was notable in the past couple of OBS sales, when products were selling in numbers of about a tenth of what they did in similar sales last year, because they were no longer at the top of the sales listings.

My next major source of sales is through emails to my mailing list through the OBS email system. I send out emails when new products are released, and I give discounts on some new releases, to keep people interested in subscribing to the list, and link to other products and sales as well if they are appropriate. I used to always send an email out at the start of a sale as well, but just prior to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale OBS essentially asked publishers not to do this, as they had already notified customers (although this was stated before the customers were actually notified). Not that surprising, because it wasn’t unknown to get a lot of emails from many different publishers, but telling my customers and potential customers about site sales always generated product sales, and a generic one by OBS does not have the same effect.

The footers on the OBS sites can be used to promote similar items, and this is probably the next largest source of combined sales. Not every product has a footer, as yet, but I add footers with other relevant products when I see some that are related.


I also sell a few through my own site, although this doesn’t sell that many as yet; it probably pays for the domain name at best (the hosting is basically paid for elsewhere). The site needs more useful content in order to attract people who then might click through and purchase products.

The sales generated by social media are harder to quantify. I only know of one sale that came through social media, Facebook in its case, but that customer purchased about 50 products! Update: I have just started getting results from Pinterest after quite a few years of posting on the site. My pins have just started being reposted a lot (both my own supplements and reviews of other peoples) and this has resulted in an uptick in views and a number of definite sales.

Another area I have got a few sales from is ads in products themselves. I’ve added links to related products in the back of a few recent supplements, which can also fill up empty space! This has generated a few sales, but nothing significant as yet.

Probably the most important lesson to take from the source codes is to actually use them, every time you create a link.

Continued in Part 3

My Experiences in RPG Self-Publishing – Part 1

Polyhedral Dice

So, Brian asked me to write a post on some of my own experiences with self-publishing RPG supplements, which I’ve been doing for about three years, although my first and second supplements were five months apart! All but one week since the second supplement was published has had a new one released every week (although some were art packs, not written), and recently two have been published weekly. This post wound up being rather longer than I expected, so it’s been split into three parts.

Part 1: How I Started Self-Publishing, How to Know What Will Succeed and Art & Layout

Part 2: Setting the Price, Where to Actually Sell and Sales & Marketing

Part 3: Do Reviews Help or Hinder? and What Return to Expect?

Polyhedral Dice

How I Started Self-Publishing

I discovered the OneBookShelf sites (the OBS network consists of many different sites; perhaps the most important for RPG supplement writers are DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, and perhaps Dungeon Masters Guild and Storytellers Vault) some years back whilst looking for material for a phpBB forum based game called Advanced Dungeons & Rabbits. Some years later, as I mentioned elsewhere, I looked at things being published and thought “I could do that.”

At the date of writing this, I have published 136 of my own (written) supplements, totalling 403,857 words. One of these has been published in a Pathfinder edition as well, adding another 4,294 words (I plan to convert some others to Pathfinder and probably other systems too). I have also published 3 outsourced supplements, totalling 13,574 words, and adapted two of those to system neutral versions from Pathfinder, another 10,520 words. With Brian and Peter here I have also published 4 supplements, totalling 2,639 words, as part of the 50 in 50 adventures that are being released at the rate of one per week. I also have a few bundles and art-related items on sale, the latter either images created for my own projects or experiments done whilst creating images to use.

How to Know What Will Succeed

Question MarkIt’s difficult knowing what will be successful in creative matters. Consider that big companies get this wrong all the time. Think of Hollywood box office flops with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars or, on the other hand, books by unknown authors that the publisher only prints a couple of thousand copies of to start with, because that’s how big they think the market is (think J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise).

A starting point would be to do what you like, or want, or need for your own game, as odds are there will be at least a few people with a similar opinion. Looking through my portfolio, you will notice quite a lot of supplements connected to books, books being my own particular area of interest. If something does seem to be working, try to produce more of the same, or similar.

Writing for popular systems such as Pathfinder and D&D 5E specifically also increases the potential market but it often also increases the potential competition, and there is some third party competition out there that produces material of a higher quality than the big companies. There are a lot of systems that can be written for under the Open Game License, and there’s nothing to stop you creating your own (as long as it is your own). Pathfinder and 5E might have the biggest potential markets but, if you don’t enjoy writing for those, don’t do it. Not many people get rich in this market which makes enjoyment very important.

Art & Layout

Great Race of Yith
Publisher’s Choice Quality Stockart © Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games (

Art and layout can be a big problem for the small publisher, due to the expense of software and material.

Regarding layout, there are options for those with a limited budget. Scribus is free desktop publishing software and Microsoft Word is another option; however, I recently purchased the entire Adobe CS6 package – including InDesign – for under £20 from a seller on eBay. According to them – and they’d sold a lot of this and other software – it’s legal in the EU to resell second hand software from scrapped computers. Given that you couldn’t link it to your Adobe account, I’d say technically legal but Adobe really doesn’t like the fact that it is (the seller doesn’t currently have it for sale). Another alternative is that you can also always partner up with someone else who has skills or software you lack.

Nicer looking supplements can sell better, and do tend to look more professional, but remember that the supplements being well written, with few errors in the text, is the most important starting point. Good looking rubbish is still rubbish. Such can still be damaged by poor layout or appearance of course – the most likely cause of this is from poor font choices; remember, people need to be able to read the finished product. Odd fonts can work for headings but don’t have an entire supplement in some weird font. I have seen supplements which were a pain to read because the publisher had used a difficult font throughout. If you have good material, you don’t want to hide it behind a poor font, but picking good fonts is a skill in itself and professionally made fonts are not cheap to buy either. Stick to the standard included fonts at first. Generally, I use 12 point Verdana for the text (font size is important as well) having read a suggestion to use that in the past. Boring fonts like Times New Roman are still good choices for readability.

Artwork for supplements, as Peter and I have discussed in the past, can be a problem. Some things, especially such as bestiaries, really need images for all the monsters and that, even using stock, can quickly become expensive. The lowest typical stock prices for such are a couple of dollars or so each. A bestiary of 50 monsters could be the best part of $100 just for the pictures and easily more.

My most expensive (in terms of its selling price) supplement has eight pieces of stock art in it, plus the page backgrounds, the latter being much easier to reuse (I have all of Lord Zsezse Works’ templates). These eight pieces cost over $20, and that’s only because they were bought at reduced prices – they would cost just shy of $80 to buy at full price at the moment, and these are stock images, not custom. Custom images can cost a lot more. $40-$50 each is not unreasonable for a single monster or similar.

Assorted Images

There are ways of creating cheaper artwork, by doing it yourself. I’ve used photos, either my own or others that are legal to use, and tweaked them using filters so that they look more like illustrations. I’ve also created some images from scratch, using such as Photoshop, Blender (free) and GIMP (free). These ways may not always look as good as those done by professionals (unless you have skills that way yourself) but they do save money – although generally not time.

Continued in Part 2

Melos, A contribution to Aioskoru

Quite a while ago now I produced half a dozen blog posts in support of Ken Wickham’s Aioskoru world setting. Things than kind of went off the boil a bit and I didn’t do much more beyond describe NPCs, three settlements and some adventures based around a ship full of orcs.

So recently Ken emailed me and said that he had bundled up a lot of his Aioskoru material from his blog and posted it on RPGnow. He had kept the format simple so that it was easy for him to update but he was putting it our there. He has had over 200 downloads of the material he has produced which hopefully means that the setting may get more supporters and continue to grow and develop.

I am always willing to lend a hand so I bundled up my old blog posts, re-edited them to turn them into a coherent supplement and submitted them to RPGnow. They have only been up for a few days but they have already had about 50 downloads. You can download them yourself for free at the link below. (click the cover image)

Melos, A contribution to Aioskoru


The ship on the cover refers to the sloop full of orcs in the featured adventure material.

If you want to download it and you like anything in it then let me know whar you think!

Is RMU missing an opportunity to fix the rules system?

Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

I have been doing a bit of homebrew rules writing this week and I have taken bits and bobs of other games and mashed them all together to get a set of rules that did a particular job. It isn’t rolemaster so doesn’t belong here but bits of rolemaster ended up in what I was doing.

Now if you take bits of different games you get different mechanics and different ways of doing the same thing. In rolemaster particularly RM2 if you look at how skills work you you get different ways of doing things in the same game!

Lets take buying skill ranks.

Some skills you can buy as many ranks as you like each level eg Armour, languages and spell lists.

Normally you can buy one or two ranks but occaisionally some professions can buy more etc Healers and First Aid.

Some skills have ranks that always give a +5 bonus eg Armour.

Most skills have deminishing returns eg +5, +2 +½.

Some skills each rank is only worth +1 eg Ambush and Stunned Maneuover

Some skills have multiple options so Stunned Maneuver could be +1/rank but could be +5, +2 +½.

Some skills can only cancel out penalties but not give a bonus such as Armour and Transcend Armour

Some skills cancel out penalties but can give a bonus on top such as Spacial Location Awareness.

Some skills have the same function or role as other skills but at different costs and use different stats such as tumble defence and adrenal defence, Iai Strike and adrenal quickdraw, spacial location awareness and blind fighting.

Going back to the costs some weapons and musical instruments use the same mechanic of the first you learn is the cheapest, the second the next cheapest and the more you learn the more expensive they get. Languages on the other hand all cost the same regardless of how many you learn. Martial arts has yet another mechanic for its costing with the prices remaining constant but prerequisites on what you can buy.

Some skills come with special rules attached such as iai strike that can have you throwing your own weapon away on a bad roll. Subduing is another

Is all of that really necessary? I can understand that some skills are moving maneuvers and some are static maneuvers and different rules apply but RM2 has reputedly 200 skills all told and apparently 200 rules for how to apply each one. I kid you not! You would have thought that sprinting would be a MM skill to be applied as a bonus to MM rolls when sprinting. Wrong! MM rolls normally give a result that can go over 100% to show greater that expected progress of faster completion times. It would make sense for sprinting to be a bonus and help get those over 100% results but instead sprinting has its own special table that limits the gains you can get.

Now that is only a tiny snapshot of the problems in RM2.

I don’t know RMSS/RMFRP but I do know the real sticking point for players of either RM2/RMC and RMSS/RMFRP is the skills system. RMSS has categories that you have to do something with before you can buy a specialism but it has everyman skills that operate a buy one get a dozen free or something. On top of that you then get training packages that I think give bulk discounts and talents that give bonuses or cancel penalties. I am possibly being unfair to RMSS but as you all know I love minimalism so it was never going to be the system for me. There is nothing wrong with it if it appeals to you.

So where does RMU come into this?

RMU has the opportunity to really sort out the mess of different mechanics for skills. Do skills cancel out penalties, the new Combat Expertise works that way but will any future flying skill or Spacial Location Awareness skill work that way? What will happen if you get an EO downward roll on a quickdraw/iai strike roll? Can you get a downward roll or will it be a fumble roll?

I am really looking forward to the final draft rules. I want to apply my classless levelless house rules to RMU and as such I really want them to sort out a long lasting structure that will prevent the balls up that was the RM2 skill system.

That turned into more of a rant than I intended. It was not supposed to be that way and RMC (derived from RM2) is my weapon of choice. The more I looked the more inconsistencies I found and the more of my own post-it notes I found in my old paper RM2 rule books.

I have only seen the Beta II rules and that does appear to be falling into the different rules for different skills trap with the Control Lycanthropy skill having its own rules as do Piloting, Jumping and Adrenal Focus. There are also different Knowledge tiers for lore skills that do not apply to more physical skills. I repeat though, these are Beta rules and not the final rules. I hope you can see the reason for my concern. if you start off setting a bad example it is very hard to fix it later.

Haunted House Time

In the next session I want to send my party to a haunted house. This is a really good opportunity to put into practice my resolution of piling on more atmospheric description (see last weeks post)

What I was hoping is that I could ask the readers here for more tips and your experiences of running a haunted house session. I am planning on the final showdown to be a zombies attacking from the grounds, breaking in through the doors, windows etc and slowly forcing the party up the stairs to the top of the house.

The lure to get them to the house will be to a meeting where they can learn something really important about one of the characters estrnged family.

Between the party arriving and the grand finale I want a skills based challenge for the party.So far I am thinking of having the house is a very poor state of repair so I can collapse the floor under someone (using moving maneuver skills), locked draws in a desk (subterfuge skills), Some kind of vault in the cellar (some kind of Lore based challenge maybe with runes that need interpretation).

I want to use the weather a lot with the wind ripping shutters open and banging them around, blowing curtains around etc. and flashes of lightning lighting up the scene in monochrome (probably revealing a zombie arching right over one of the party before the attack starts!)

Do you have any good advice? Is there anything you think I should avoid?

The party are all 3rd level but I feel they are punching above their weight (some good spell aquisition rolls have given them a rich set of spell lists along with the fact that ever character is a semi, hybrid or pure spell caster).

Engaging the senses

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I have been through the adventure notes today adding post-it notes to scenes and locations with little added comments about sounds, smells and little visual ‘clips’ such as dust swirling in a vortex as a door slams shut.

These serve no purpose at all except to remind me to be more descriptive, not great long tracts of prose to be read out just little details to drop into the scene. I am hoping to bring scenes to life a little more, to make the sessions are little more atmospheric and engage more of the characters senses through the players’ imagination.

I am not sure why I have this love affair with post-it notes, I think it could be the immediacy they lend to editing. They are also great for moving anot NPC or monster around a location.

I read a post the other day about turning off your electronic devices while you are playing so you can focus on the game. I think that although I love having PDF rulebooks and my PDF GMs quick reference if I had to choose between post-its and and my tablet I would choose the sticky notes every time.

The motivation for the senses notes is two fold. Firstly I think it will make for a better game experience. Secondly I have an ulterior motive. I need to do to things in the next session. I want to try and make my players characters bond more. This may require more role play and less killing things so engaging the players in the world may help. I also want to ‘teach one of my players a lesson’. That sounds harsh but the way he has built his character is to pile all his DPs into weapons, body development, Spells and perception. The only other skills he has are things I gave away free or skills I pretty much insisted he buy. That is OK if you want to play a completely uneducated oaf but on the contrary, he keeps insisting that his character would know this or that because of his background.

In the next session I am going to make the challenges more skills based. Normally he is the überman of the party, the highest OB, the most spells, he sees danger coming and is normally the last man standing. I want to put him in a difficult situation where his sword is not going to help him.

Indirectly my sensory notes will feed into the slight change of tack. I don’t want to make him feel victimised, more like I want to demonstrate the value of being a more rounded character.

I also know now what I am going to do with the party. I think a haunted house is in order. I cannot remember ever doing a haunted house scene with these players and I have been GMing them on and off since 1985. I thing it must be a bit over due.