Thoughts on mortality.

I’m not sure that’s a good title for this blog post, but I’m writing this “on the run” but look at that picture. To me, that could have been my roleplaying group back in the early 80’s. How about you? If that seems familiar it’s because A LOT of Rolemaster players are in their 40’s and 50’s now.

First, I should say it’s fantastic that we can enjoy the same game we have played for 30+ years or have rediscovered RPG’s later in life with friends and family. However, my second thought is that everyone I’m seeing on the RM Forums (out of commission right now), and the new Discord server are all around my age. Where are the new young Rolemaster players–like in that photo? We know that RPG market is growing

Before this starts off like a lot of our blog posts with critiques of ICE let me say this. I.C.E. is a “virtual company” with no real employees or hard assets. They are leveraging their existing IP and putting out a few new products through a mostly volunteer basis. I have no expectation that they ramp up into another serious production/print/gaming company.

The issue that I want to raise is about authorship. Who will be writing new products for I.C.E. in the future? My brother Matt developed the SW Players Guide, built the Nomikos Library resource, contributed to most of the ICE material published in the early 2000’s and was on the ground floor for RMU development, but he’s mostly moved on to other endeavors. It seems like Nicholas and perhaps one other person does the bulk of the writing for HARP. RMU is being shepherded by a small volunteer group of 2-3 people and Terry is the sole author for Shadow World. While I’m not a published ICE author, I do write quite a bit of content–but I’m 50. I can see myself writing stuff for another 10 years, but that’s not that long. RMU and Priest-King have both been in development for 10 years and that doesn’t seem that long ago. Terry is 60. He has a impressive publishing resume, but how long will he be inspired to write? Nicholas has a busy and demanding career; how much work can he realistically do?

Let’s tie the two together. I.C.E. was founded by young people in college, most in their early 20’s. The growth in RPG players is: overseas, youth and females. Does I.C.E. now need to recruit new, relevant writers to appeal to today’s player demographics? What happens in just the next decade as we all enter our 60’s and even 70’s? Will our writing be relevant or we just existing for the small core of die hards our own age? Who takes over after that? Does ICE sell it’s catalog to a young upstart company or established gaming entity?

25 Replies to “Thoughts on mortality.”

  1. Thank you for the article; it’s a great observation to make, and a relevant one. As seen on the ICERPG Discord channel, I’m not sure I’ve see anyone report that they are under 40. I suspect the 600+ strong group over on the Facebook “Rolemaster Group” is similarly aged.

    Maybe the plan is to splash the new RM release, and find a buyer to move it over when it’s at a relative high. I can’t stress enough how much I doubt that, but stranger things have happened. Honestly I suspect, as a virtual company, it’s a labor of love and it makes just enough extra $ to make it worth keeping. And perhaps that’s where another thing comes into play: pride.

    Of the properties that ICE was known for MERP is dead and gone, Rolemaster hasn’t seen a revision in 13+ years, and HARP is still publishing new, if unknown, products. A simple, but unscientific search on Reddit shows of the 1st 70 results, you get 5 non-musical entries for HARP, and about 70 each for Rolemaster and MERP. If some other company was interested in the properties (whatever assets ICE actually has), I’d suspect the discussions would be over RM, not HARP. Given the longstanding ties between the current leadership and the development of HARP, that’d be a tough pill to swallow.

    So the thing you convince yourself of (and the other parties) is to keep control. That you are doing the right thing for the products IP, even if it just amounts to drips and drabs to the existing player base. And lets be honest, all of the products are hobbled, RM and HARP. By old marketing ideas, old ways of doing things and old business models.

    Case in point: Take the fine Ptolus campaign kickstarter from Mr. Monte Cook. The core rule-book was last published in 2013, but due to innovative writing, a plethora of material (800+ pages) and a willingness to bow to the marketplace (an optional D20 ruleset), it is respected and admired in the various RPG communities. Thus when it’s time for a new version, they can reach out to draw on that goodwill, name recognition and some of the enormous D20 fanbase. As a result they raise $780,000 in a month, from 6000 backers.

    It’s all been hashed and rehashed before. Without knowing what the motivations of the company are, and why they even wanted to carry the ICE banner, it’s hard to know what, if anything, they’ve planned for the continuation of the IP. I’ve said it before, and I will again; all I do know is that unless they do something dramatic or drastically different, this new RM release will sink into the waves never to be seen again. You can’t do what you did 20+ years ago and survive in this new RPG world. And as BRIH points out so well, without new players, new ideas and new directions, it’s the same stale rehashed stuff over and over again, but being sold to a smaller and smaller community. I’ll keep buying it, but I too am in my early 50’s, and that’s a small (and getting smaller) base to sell to.

    Of course too, maybe we’re all fooling ourselves, and Rolemaster/MERP/HARP have simply lost in the marketplace of ideas. That it’s just our dreams from youth that make us pay any attention to the product at all. I don’t think that; but I would be dishonest if I said I didn’t wonder that sometimes.

  2. I am another 50+, I am 52 next week, RM fan.
    I talk to a lot of people about Rolemaster, outside of the usual circles. The overriding sentiment is that what Rolemaster attractive to the masses, in ICE’s heyday, was not the rules but the Tolkien license. Without middle earth, Rolemaster is just a rules-heavy version of D&D.
    I have always said that the success or failure of a game comes down to two factors, your goal that you are measuring against and marketing.
    If you want young people to play Rolemaster you need to take the game to where young people talk about and watch roleplaying games, and that is mostly Twitch.
    The same goes for attracting more female players, make the game look appealing to women. We need more female characters in the examples, that are portrayed positively, and more positive representations in the art.
    Rolemaster needs to adopt the roleplaying safety tools that are now commonplace in other mainstream games.
    Times have moved on since 1980, and the game has to make some concessions, not in the rules or play style but in marketing and target audience.

  3. There are definitely many challenges facing ICE. The playerbase is definitely graying (I approach the big Five-O this fall), and a more modern and agile marketing strategy is certainly needed. I too would like to see ICE put more of an emphasis on Rolemaster than HARP. There was a recent discussion of that on the forums, and I think the upshot was that they currently sell more HARP stuff than RM stuff. I do think that is partly a result of the fact that RM has not had a new edition since the 90s (RMClassic being essentially a revamp of RM2). I feel that the current ICE team is well intentioned and has some great ideas; but they are definitely more HARP/RMSS oriented than RM2 oriented. In the wider gaming community, though, HARP is virtually unknown, and RM2 certainly seems to be the better known edition (virtually all the old Middle Earth and Shadow World modules were done for RM2, not RMSS, with I think the sole exception of Curse of Kabis for Shadow World and a handful of later supplements for Middle Earth).

    So I would like to see ICE really rally around RMU, as an edition that can be reasonably compatible with those old modules, but also offer an updated and fully supported system, with a full set of tools for Virtual Table Tops. The strategy should be: ‘Rolemaster is Back!’

    I post a bit on the ENworld forums, and I run some RM games at conventions and such, and you get quite a few old RM players who clearly still love the game but just don’t know where to start. I think presenting a new edition is a start to getting them back and involved (though it is important to make the new edition as compatible as possible with older editions, so goodbye passives bonuses!) and getting some buzz going. Once you’ve got a bit of momentum, I think you want to ensure there are RMU character sheets on both Fantasy Grounds and Roll20. I think that is the key to bringing in the younger demographic.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. I agree with everything said so far. Early adopters of RM came in from the urge to add depth to AD&D, but for me I came to RM2 via MERP; and I came to MERP by seeing it in a game store. My interest continued by seeing mew product regularly appearing on the shelves, alongside adverts In gaming magazines and word of mouth.
    I’m not sure what ICE are currently doing to raise their product profile. The company website is a joke – and has been for some time, which is the real damning issue, they have SOME social media presence but that’s really just an echo chamber for people already aware of ICE; and to me the number of product reviews (on YouTube for example) is low or quite old.
    I did post up my concerns about ICE’s product pipeline bottleneck on the Rolemaster FB group… its glacial. Fir example the HARP Fanrasy revision came out in 2012 I think, 8 years later and we are still waiting for the revised monsters book. If someone comes to HARP, delays like this is not going to keep interest in the system alive.
    One bright note – since Colin got involved there seems to be a push to resolving the website availability issues, and I have found ICE engaging with its customers more. This is promising.
    Once these things are complete, I would suggest (1) refresh the website to give it a more modern look; (2) increase their presence on platforms such as twitch and YT and encourage their fans to do the same, (3) get their product delivery pipeline sorted, (4) use these products to engage with more mainstream RPG reviewers to increase their product and company exposure.

  5. My own version of RM2 has been revised so heavily to customize it for my world it only has a passing resemblance to the original product. My gaming groups also tended to be composed of newcomers for the most part (on average out of a group of four to six, about 50% had never played an RPG before or only had passing knowledge of them…often from computer games). Working with those groups, I found RM2 was actually easier to explain than RMSS, and RMU fell somewhere between the two (although leaning more toward RMSS). I’ve also abandoned RMU (just for full disclosure) and am working on my own modern system. For that kind of gaming, RMU is actually LESS useful than RM2.
    I think it’s easy to forget that RM has its roots as a drop-in modular system for another game (D&D), and it never really outgrew those roots. That was at one time a strength, but now I think it’s more of a weakness than anything. RM in just about any incarnation doesn’t have a unified feel at all, but at the same time it’s not flexible enough to be used in some settings without major modifications (which have the possibility of breaking the system if they’re not done correctly). So it’s stuck in the middle…a drop-in that no longer really works that way but also without the unified feel something like WFRP or other systems have. No marketing push is really going to fix that.
    RM2 in its day was a great system, but how many of us honestly play RM2 without modifications? RMSS just seemed to add a new layer of complexity and rigidity to a system that didn’t need either, and RMU has promise but doesn’t seem to have the priority it might need. Bringing in younger writers who may or may not be relevant won’t really fix that, I don’t think.

  6. I do think RM has one thing going for it: the renaissance of D&D. 5e is selling a ton, and the game is arguably more popular than ever before, with a significant influx of new players. At the same time, 5e is pretty shallow in terms of character building and game mechanics. I think we are in a situation that was similar to the one we had in the 80s: the game is growing in popularity, but after playing for a while, people are also interested in deeper and more realistic systems. The original RM partly rode D&D’s coattails, and I think it could do so again. Get real — get Rolemaster!

    1. Certainly, there is a market for games that use different mechanics (adapted to the setting or because they create a “better” RPG experience). We can see this in the number of crowdfunding applications for games, in essence riding to coattails of the D&D revival.

  7. As several of us said and asked in the forums, but got no answers, we just don’t know the purpose of RMU, between attracting new gamers, thus taking into account the new RPG landscape and its members’ expectations, and keeping old gamers, thus not changing too much from earlier editions. Whilst both may not always oppose each other, some times they do, choices are to be made, but we don’t really know how to advise the team or advertise the product about the matter.
    For my part, I stopped participating in the RMU discussion, and stopped talking about RMU in my RPG circle for that simple reason. I have no idea what to expect from it.

    1. I had a sense that one purpose of RMU was building a foundation that had no problems with any IP issues, with supplements that couldn’t be republished, as was a problem with some previous versions.

  8. Thanks everyone for the thoughts and comments. I know we’ve discussed the future of RM and the player base quite a bit, and was hoping you all would comment on the other side of the coin: who will be writing ICE, RM or even SW material in the next 5-10 years? ICE doesn’t have in-house staff and I’m not clear how many free-lance writers are out there that have submitted material or have followed up to a final, editable product. Since 2010 how many authors have there been for new products? 2, maybe 3? Terry, Nicholas and Colin. I think those 3 people are in their 50’s and 60’s. How many RPG writers are out there in their 70’s or 80’s and writing salable, relevant material? On top of that, I think Terry does quite a bit of editing/layout work for all ICE products. So assuming ICE and RM continue to have a base of players, smaller or larger than now, who is writing material?

    1. That’s the stark reality that you have put your finger on Brian, and it highlights why in my humble opinion Rolemaster needs to embrace RMU: without a new edition to bring in new players and writers, the game will wither if not die out completely.

      The new edition needs to be compatible enough with older editions that it still feels like Rolemaster, to attract a critical mass of old players. But it also needs to embrace all the new movements such as the Virtual Table Tops, where a lot of newer players play their games.

      Happily, RMU already has a leg up on older editions because you won’t have to lurk on Ebay just to find the core rulebooks, and there will be a website where you can go for rulings and the community. RM has also embraced virtual tools for a while, with the Combat Minion and Electronic Roleplaying Assistant, and from what I understand, RMClassic is already pretty well supported on Fantasy Grounds. We need more support for Roll20 though (namely, a good Character Sheet), especially RMU support.

      In terms of content, I think one pretty easy way to expand it quickly for RMU is to provide stats for material published for earlier editions (just as Goodman Games has very successfully done for 5e DnD with Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread, etc.). Most earlier adventures have a Master Military Chart and Master NPC Chart that can be converted pretty quickly to RMU.

      This stark reality is one of the reasons I’m going all-in on RMU. Because I really think that without it, RM is just going to fade away.

    2. This I think touches on areas aside from the rules…namely ICE’s ability to engage with new authors and the openness of SW to new authors. I don’t use SW and never really have (aside from having to revise a product I did for RM2 to accommodate it as a setting), so I don’t know how open they are to having new authors put their spin on it. If RMU is going to be solidly tied to SW (which I think it needs to be, for good or bad), that’s something that will come into play very quickly.

      My experience as an author with ICE in its various incarnations was mixed, but I do know if they want to build a good product reputation they’ll need to put out more in the way of authors’ guidelines and likely be open to some form of OGL as well. It’s hard to say what direction they’re taking here as the entire company seems to be practicing extreme social distancing, but that question always hung in the air even when the boards were up and running.

      1. In theory, ICE keeps putting out calls for new authors. In practice, their product turnaround for other authors is, shall we say, a little sluggish,

          1. I’m guessing, from the monthly updates, that some have, but I haven’t seen any published outside the Guild Adventurer.

  9. I’m not sure if I have even seen any 20ish year old comment on writing for RM. Does D&D and PF have a bunch of young writers? I’m not sure if it is an issue for RM alone. Other older companies seem to have the issue as well: S Jackson, Hero,… . I don’t know if new faces could make it through what might be considered a fairly rigid “old guard”. Who would listen to newer voices? D&D 5e has attracted many new and former players. Will they spread out to other old-guard games? Cyberpunk seems to have attracted a new audience, but they have a fairly anticipated video game.

    1. Ken: interesting. I wonder if anyone has a sense for the ages of other system’s writers. Hard to imagine that in 10 years all the RPG authors will be in their 60’s and 70’s!

      1. I’ve been around writers for other systems on Discord, and their average age is probably a lot lower than Rolemaster’s. People in their 20s and 30s are putting out material.

          1. I think the closest we’ve got to that is Peter converting adventures to other systems. One problem is a lot of writers write for D&D 5E, and they publish on the DMs Guild. Once you publish there, you can’t publish anywhere else. Which is why I mostly don’t publish on DMs Guild unless writing something very IP intensive.

          2. Hi Brian. Have you heard anything from Peter lately? It’s not like him to be so absent from the blog for so long. Hope he is ok.

            1. I am here, alive and well.
              I was just going through one of those phases where I couldn’t think of anything genuinely interesting to write.

              Having said that I do have an article to write today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *