The core feature of RM


RM is famous, renowned, infamous for its charts, for its criticals, for its fumbles, but I don’t see these charts as the heart of the game. Charts? Yes. The central feature of Chartmaster absolutely must involve charts. But these are not the charts I’m looking for.

I’m probably wrong about this. RM has never been my RPG of choice. The real players have spoken! The game is still alive because of you, not me, and you know why you are here.

But RM crits themselves are a feature bolted onto a combat system that is largely D&D, with hit point damage and all, not even a substitute feature, for all that hit point damage is far less feared than side effects of criticals.

And really, are the critical tables as interesting as all that? Mostly, they all boil down to something like this (table results truncated):

01-20: I’ll get you next time Inspector Gadget! Next time…

21-40: You lose more hit points.

41-55: You lose more hit points and start to bleed. Arg! Blood, blood, everywhere! Does anyone have a Flowstopper? Why doesn’t someone have a Flowstopper?

56-65: You lose more hit points, bleed and suffer a minor setback for a round or two.

66: You are exterminated by a Dalek!

67-85: You are stunned for a few rounds, bleed, take damage and really hate life.  Don’t worry, at the rate you’re going it will be over soon.

86-98: They told you to wear a bicycle helmet. But did you listen? No? Well, next time you’ll listen. And by next time, we mean when you start rolling up your new character, which might as well be right now, because you can’t play this one any longer. Oh, you did listen? Fine. Then just take some minor side effects and damage. Damned helmets.

99-00: Great that you wore a bicycle helmet. But is it certified versus being pasted by an asteroid? Or pulped by Grond? No. No it’s not. No, a +3 helmet isn’t going to help either. Consumer Reports tested it. They roll that way. Speaking of rolling…

Don’t get me wrong. The critical and fumble charts do add character to the game. RM is among the first games to implement criticals, perhaps the first to really focus on these.

Other games out there just toss out hit point damage for crits and fumbles, but that’s admittedly kind of bland. Other games let the GM just pick a consequence, but that’s not quite the same as getting to slough off all responsibility for killing a PC by rolling on a chart. The Dalek wasn’t my idea. Don’t blame me! You were exterminated fair and square! Still other games feature a much smaller set of charts for criticals, wieldy and functional and that’s it.

When it comes to charts, RM wins. Even so, a player tends to use only a few attacks, and tends to generate similar results very often. Each edition of the game has a few sweet spots for weapons and armor, and players naturally gravitate toward these. That’s another conversation, about tactics and choices in rpgs. Maybe more than one conversation. Mostly, strange results happen to PCs, from the wider variety of Things that accost them. Regardless, because combat is so dangerous, and is avoided, these charts do not see life all that often. They do not shape a RM campaign.

The charts I noticed when I encountered RM in the 80s, the charts that dominate, the charts that most define RM for me, are the spell lists. Charts and charts and charts, filled with little spells.

I’ll talk about these more some other time.



6 Replies to “The core feature of RM”

  1. This should be interesting! 🙂

    Another descriptor Rolemaster often receives is “similationist.” I’ve been reading through a book called _Weapons Through the Ages_ and have been interested in how mail and lamellar, for instance, was little help against piercing weapons. It occurred to me that Rolemaster, through its _combat charts_ (not, in this case, with its critical charts) has tried to emulate this and other unique aspects of martial conflict. I’m wondering just how accurate the tables might be. And my recent reading has inspired me to look more closely at the charts and perhaps even try writing some of my own, based on my research.

    Oh. And a word about Rolemaster hit points: I’m usually not keen on tracking multiple damage types. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of bleeding and stun in Rolemaster, but I like the hit points. My characters often fall unconscious before anything similar or worse via a critical hit. And I guess the bleeding is also helpful to keep, in such instances, the tension up while the characters lie there ignorantly dying.

    1. Hi,

      Simulation: Many games, especially of the first few waves following D&D, seem to go for being better by being more realistic than D&D.

      So you get Chivalry and Sorcery, which is every bit as unrealistic as D&D, but which simulates an idealized feudal middle ages per 1970s historiography by way of SCA. Oh, with a lot of Tolkien loaded on, and a bunch of historical-not-historical kinds of magick, made more realistick by appending a K, which alwaysk worksk fork mek.

      RM comes from a later era than C&S, by my way of looking at things, and it seems that the reality it is simulating is… D&D! From spell lists, to classes, to weapons, to armor types, RM is a more “realistic” D&D, by which they mean grittier and more dangerous, rather than a simulation of anything real. We do get nods to our reality in RM, but we also get that in D&D. Over time, we also get laden with increasing (to me, excruciating and mind-numbing) detail about the importance and inner workings of things like Essence, Channeling and Mentalism, essentially a bunch of gamers delving into how D&D *really* works.

      Simulating weapons: I plan a separate post about this. But in a nutshell, D&D’s rule of thumb is that bigger weapons are more dangerous and do more damage. RM mostly accepts that idea (because it’s D&D+) and runs with it. But bigger isn’t always better, either in RL or even in D&D. RM diverges from D&D when it comes to armor, promoting a different kind of verisimilitude but not necessarily realism: Real armor really does prevent hits by reducing places worth aiming for.

      Hit points: They are certainly convenient. But there are other ways to do things. Ironclaw (Squaring the Circle) is particularly elegant. RM fans will particularly enjoy that not only can a character be killed in a single strike, a character can be *Overkilled*. Ironclaw has other system issues, but there’s a lot here for RM fans to appreciate… but first must get over that it’s designed by and for furries. No critical charts, though.

      Getting rid of HP in RM seems especially worthwhile. On a hit, why not just refer to a beloved crit chart, one of whose nasty side effects is simply to roll subsequent hits on an even nastier crit chart? Then you don’t track damage, as much as injuries and status… until the character is exterminated by a Dalek.



  2. I am no fan of hit points but on the other hand I cannot think of a better way of tracking bleeding, which I do like. I am sure there are more accurate ways but for ease of use hit points really do a decent job.

    Spell lists are a funny thing. A great many Rolemaster players really hanker after HARPs scalable spells.

    The list themselves are so very D&D that they are most definitely a whole bucket of missed opportunities. I have addressed that via actively encouraging my PCs to research their own spells and I give NPCs new spells all the time. Just because you know Fire Law 1-10 doesn’t mean you will not get caught out by an NPC using an unknown burning arrow spell or being able to make his sword lick with flames.

    Brian completely rewrote the lists to make them fit his setting.

    They may well be Rolemasters best feature but they are far from universally appreciated.

    1. Hi,

      I’ll definitely want to talk more about spell lists. 🙂

      I don’t know that they are RM’s best feature, but I think they are its central feature. That definitely gets its own post.

      There’s a lot not to appreciate about the implementation of spell lists in RM. They are bulky, clunky and carry a lot of baggage. I think they also carry a lot of weight, in terms of what makes RM work (and not work), and this aspect of spell lists might be least appreciated.

      In some ways, RM spell lists are a giant step backward from D&D: HARP’s scalable spells? D&D had em first. Many D&D spells scale. Who needs 50 different Fireball spells when you can have Fireball 1d6/level?

      Interestingly, this is a place where the conversation about spell lists and hp intersect. If I don’t have hp, then I don’t need to have my spell lists scale for damage. So many spells have to scale just to keep up!

      BTW, do you remember the game Fantasy Wargaming? It came out around the same time as RM, but in Britain. I don’t think either influenced the other, but both were influenced by what had come before. It was infamous for bad ideas, though also had some wonderful and groundbreaking ideas. It did have hp, iirc, but it also wanted you to track injuries to particular locations, because the magic system needed different spells to deal with different kind of injuries. Any of this sound familiar? (FW was far more elegant than RM in this regard, but far less playable in this and in pretty much every other regard.)



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