Thought Experiment on Growing Rolemaster.

Is it possible?

There have been thousands of works devoted to the future of Rolemaster, Shadow World and other ICE properties here on this blog, on the RM Forums and around the web. Like everyone else, I have my own opinions. Some are based on my emotions and hopes for a game that I’ve enjoyed, but other opinions are founded in my own business experiences–which are not unsubstantial.

A recent discussion here on the blog included a link reference to HERE which was a useful summary of some issues–although I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions presented or inferred it’s definitely worth the read.

At the risk of simplifying things I would offer the following concepts in no particular order or relationship:

  1. The RMU ruleset might provide a boost to the ICE catalog, even if by fond curiosity of older gamers.
  2. Shadow World is the default setting for Rolemaster and probably HARP, even if that hasn’t been fully embraced or executed.
  3. “Companions” sell, even if they bloated the system and contributed to the negativity it created on the brand. “Chart Master”, “Rules Master” or RoleMathster” are common conceptions.
  4. MERP was simplified, but solid, version of Rolemaster. However, it’s use was due to the draw of the Middle Earth setting. MERP was a gateway drug to Rolemaster.
  5. It’s believed that rule books and similar supplements sell better because they can be bought by the whole gaming group, whereas modules are usually only bought by the GM. (not sure I agree with this, but the economics seem to support this theory).
  6. When game rules become stale, or mature, they can be re-invented with a new rule set to re-brand and re-sell to the same audience. D&D did this how many times?
  7. I’m thinking RMU is not a bad idea from a general business standpoint, but maybe it’s taking too long? Would it have been better to license the Rolemaster rules to another published with more in house talent?
  8. Does PoD, self-publishing and distributed business models allow for small gaming companies to be nimble and quick?
  9. How does any small gaming company, lacking in-house talent, generate quality artwork, trade dress, floor plans and maps?
  10. How can any company build a setting to support their rule-set, effectively, while competing with larger companies, their ecosystems and settings built over DECADES.

So, recently, I watched DUNE (should have been a Spacemaster variant setting). Yes, I’ve read the books and saw the 1984 movie and was spectacularly unimpressed. But watching this last week, it struck me, although this is obvious, that there are already amazing works of world building, that might work with the RM/Spacemaster/RMU ruleset.

You are probably thinking, hey Brian, this is not that insightful. Agreed. But let’s be honest, Rolemaster’s popularity got a huge boost form the Middle Earth IP. As great as Shadow World is…it’s not known by most people or in the collective popular zeitgeist. So there is a company that is monetizing pop culture–Modiphius. From the looks of it, they have Dune, Fallout, Star Trek, Conan, Mutant Chronicles among others! It’s a 2d20 system, but I’m a dinosaur (and probably a luddite), so I encourage all your thoughts on this.

This got me thinking, based on the various #1-#10 items above. Is the best path forward for ICE to license semi-popular properties to adapt that setting for Rolemaster. Why would this make sense?

  1. The world building is started or evolved enough to save development work.
  2. Basic mapping and geography is established.
  3. The setting has a fan base. They can be cross marketed into a RPG.
  4. The setting REINFORCES the ruleset’s strength.
  5. The author would contribute to the process.
  6. Each setting would have a setting “rulebook” that would adapt RM/U to that particular world. (this sells more products one way, and introduces players back to RM the other). It’s a virtuous loop!

My idea is to find popular (but not too popular!) fictional settings to license for the RM/RMU ecosystem. Why would any author agree to using a 40 year old game system?

  1. It’s undergoing a revision.
  2. The specific setting would have a source book to adapt the setting to RM/U. (like MERP did for ME)
  3. Many authors are US. They are out age, and know or have used RM in the past.

I have a number of settings that might work. Of course, licensing an IP is a commitment, but kickstarter or crowd sourcing strategies could allow for a responsive product publishing schedule–especially if the original author was on board.

6 Replies to “Thought Experiment on Growing Rolemaster.”

  1. I would like to hop on to the setting notion.

    “Sandy Peterson’s Cthulhu for X” has seen ports to some major systems (5E, CypherSystem, The-Dark-Eye) why not to RMU/SW ?

    “Hârn” is also a setting that is keep alive but on the backburner. Back in the day i remember doing some adventuring in Hârn using RM2 rules.

    “Allan Quartermain and SHE” by Henry Rider Haggard would surely attract fans for colonial/mystery/discovery adventures similar to Indiana Jones and Conan.

    “Dark Matter” and or “Kill Joys” would be nice backdrops for science-fiction.

    my 2 cents.

  2. I think the challenge you’re going to see with some settings is RMU isn’t flexible enough once you leave fantasy. It takes fairly serious retuning to get it to work (I’ve done this a number of times), and even then there are challenges. The guts of RMU are far too grounded in fantasy assumptions. I was working on a modern setting version, but eventually abandoned that and went my own way design-wise…RMU just didn’t make the grade of that kind of gaming. I think you’d need to go after a fantasy setting (if Brian Daly was still around the Cormonde books would be a great choice in my view) for this to work well.

    I’ve got some of the Modipheus stuff, and it tends to be somewhat convoluted from a rules standpoint. Haven’t played it yet, but if a Conan game is expected to have a high (or somewhat high) mortality rate their character generation system is far too involved. R Talsorian has done something similar with the Witcher (although that was likely some sort of deal to allow for Cyberpunk 2077), but their core system is much more adaptable.

    With Harn…it’s a static setting by design. They don’t seem to release anything dealing with events after the setting’s baseline date. The setting does have rules, but they also seemed to design it to allow use with any rules set…not just theirs. So it’s kind of an oddball in the RPG ecosystem.

  3. Another point … System Entry.

    MERP was a good simplified entry point into the RM eco-system. You could mix and match MERP vs RM supplements most of the time and once you outgrew MERP use RM wholesale.

    HARP is not that kind as was MERP to RM (at least not for me).

    German RM community has such an entry-system/world called Aborea ( with the setting/adventure books come along as dual stated. Aborea itself uses d10, a HARP-like character and spell system and you can get mostly away by dividing RM mods by 10 for quicky conversion. Still it is YAFW and not the Middle Earth most of us have become to love so much.

    As for flexibilty in non-fantasy environments, i think that Level and Profession (eg Class) based systems generally have problems outside the fantasy genre. Yet with RM having such a skill focus we have seen in SpaceMaster what the RM ruleset could do, and this can also be extended into the pulp/adventuring genres.

    As for The Expanse, The Witcher and Altered Carbon, i would have liked them to not to be done in the systems as they have been published.

    1. I agree about The Witcher. Haven’t seen the others, though….

      As for SpaceMaster working…I don’t know that it really did. It was a decent system, provided you stayed in its ecosystem, but it suffered from the same issues RM did/does.

      On the whole level and profession systems can do very well outside fantasy, but they have to be flexible. Where they tend to break is the idea that “once you pick a profession you’re in it forever,” which is a foundation element it seems for RM/SM. Systems that allow for profession change, or use the concept of profession in a loose sense, tend to do pretty well in non-magic settings. Too many of them get cluttered with the idea of archetypes, though.

  4. The main reason the spin-off RPG market works so well for Morpidus, Fria Ligan and others is that they work off a very easy to learn (generally) and quick to play system. In part, this was why MERP worked so well (along with some serious marketing).

    Having read the beta of RMu I’m not convinced that this can be said of our beloved system update/reboot. Well not unless Nicholas and Co have done some serious streamlining of the rules text or created a simplified quick start version.

    Perhaps the question we should really ask is how D&D incarnations and the campaign settings grabbed their potential players attention (aside the popularity of the system)?

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