Thoughts on asymmetric combats in Rolemaster.

War Law (Rolemaster) [BOX SET]: Charlton, S. Coleman: 9781558060999: Books

Strangely, I started this blog post a month or so ago, and subsequently there has been several discussions re: War Law on the Forums or the Discord server.

Before I get started, I don’t think I have ever read War Law, but believe it allows bolt on rules for large combats by using a wargame style ruleset? (I used to play Squad Leader so I get turn based, hex movement, unit scale war gaming). So like many of posts and musings, the answer to many of my questions is probably somewhere in a Rolemaster Companion or War Law.

So my question is: Is there a simple, fast and effective way to run combats for larger numbers of combatants–especially situations that involve one or a few against many? Some people find Rolemaster combat slow and unwieldy and adding dozens of combatants can real bog things down.

I working on this because Chapter 4 of my “Legends of Shadow World” involves the players fighting HORDES of demons. On the plus side, this allows the characters to unleash and really utilize those 50th lvl, “mass” and “Lord” spells. On the down side, there is a bit of handwaving when it comes to tracking hundreds or thousands of foes on a large field of battle.

One thought I had was using the RMU size scaling system to have one attack role that represents dozens of same/similar attacks. Of course the total number of attacks should be limited by space limitations: front/flank/rear/up/down etc. OTOH, I don’t want combat to feel abstract, even if a 100′ wide fireball can essentially wipe out hundreds of densely packed foes.

I don’t want to reduce combat down to wargame rules–that feels right for armies, units and similar. For example, I’m thinking of situations where my group of 4-6 15th lvl players are confronting a zombie army of 100’s of undead, or swarms of giant wasps, or legions of orcs. The level disparity and skills of the players will generally mean each attack results in a kill or two, but a slow attrition rate can be boring. Even with the threat of open-ended rolls and criticals, my players never feel the sense of danger when confronting numbers of lower level creatures.

However, using a single “group” attack with a a larger OB that represents the likelihood of at least 1 of 12 attacks being successful AND scaling that damage results to represent the real threat can speed up these combats while still making them a challenge.

Anyone have any thoughts or played around with this? Has this already been addressed in a companion or zine?

4 Replies to “Thoughts on asymmetric combats in Rolemaster.”

  1. The problem with “Hero vs Horde” is the in reality the whole positional thing and the sheer weight of numbers of their attack. In a mass battle either they are going to bundle you to the ground or stand off in a martial arts way letting someone else engage before another attacks in an attempt to take the hero down. To top that off there is the whole exhaustion thing even if you have limited them to come at you one at a time. Essentially, the players have a space and the enemy attack as normal in that space with all the advantages and disadvantages until you run out of foe. The advantage is that you can use the individualised skirmish combat rules of Rolemaster. Bad news for the GM as lots of tracking to do and remembering to be brutal with maimed combatants not engaging.
    For me, nuke the units is the only option and for that it can be a simple percentage of the unit lost based on the total hits for an individual. In hand to hand you need to be embedded in a unit that can have your back which puts you back into wargaming mechanics.

  2. Yes, So the challenge is devising a new methodology that feels gritty and realistic, that preserves the uncertainties and deadliness of combat.

    For example, how could RM simplify the combat in Kill Bill, Uma vs the Crazy 88s?

  3. Yes, War Law has rules for that. It gets very crunchy, but can do pretty much all you want it to do IIRC. It has quite detailed rules for resolving area attacks against entire enemy units.

  4. For the many vs one, I tend to do it the way that swarms are handled in RMC. If you look at Gorcrows in C&T, you see two sets of attack numbers, one for the individual and one for a group.
    I use this approach with many mooks against a single hero.

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