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.