I’m sure I have said this before but Rolemaster is often portrayed as a heavy weight game but this really isn’t true. I have been looking at the RMU Arms Law (Beta 1) again and then entire combat system rules comes in at 31 pages for the most sophisticated combat system I have ever come across. It is multi skilled, flexible handles dozens of weapons, improvised weapons, parrying and spells all in a coherent whole. That isn’t a bad thing to be honest and is no mean feat.
The RMU Arms Law is very much evolution over revolution. Where we used to have skills that were pass or fail, it worked or it didn’t now the emphasis is on skills reducing the penalties for more difficult actions. The most common situations for these would be blind fighting, using two weapons and quick draw or Iai strike. I quite like this design philosophy and the way it meshes in with haste and speed type spells works well.
What I like the most about the new Arms Law is the armour by the piece rules. This takes me right back to the good old MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) days. In that old system there were just 5 armours being none, soft leather, rigid leather, chain and plate. If you chose to wear a helm or greaves it did not change your armour type it simple reflected in the critical delivered. Every additional piece of armour came with some sort of penalty such as on perception rolls for helms and movement for leg greaves and so on. In RMU we have 10 armour types, still a big reduction on the ‘normal’ 20 types in RM2/RMSS. Those ten do not take into account the greaves and helms. Those accessories are reflected in criticals and movement, just like back in the day.
I am using the combat companion condensed combat system an that also uses the same 10 armour types but the armour by the piece rules were too cumbersome for my taste and I didn’t use them. The RMU way is definitely a step forward.
The majority of the content in the Arms Law is the attack tables for each weapon (or spell) and the critical tables. This is also where most of the work will be done with these books. All of these tables are completely reworked both out of necessity (moving from 20 armour types to 10) and because we now have new critical effects. The criticals now have a designation for when to roll a breakage for the impacted piece of armour or shield.
One of the best parts of the combat system I currently use is that swords do sword type criticals and crossbows do crossbow type criticals and so on. The standard combat systems just have a slash table for all slashing wounds, a puncture for puncture wounds and so on. RMU has gone for these more generic type tables that most people are more familiar with. I am not a fan and find they slow combat down because of the amount of page flipping involved, but that could just me.
All in all there is nothing not to like in this edition. You cannot please all the people all the time and I think most people could pick up this edition of Arms Law and start to integrate it into their existing world right now. Going the other way I feel I could still use my copy of the condensed combat with the rest of the RMU rules and the sky would not fall in.
Uncannily I since I decided to revisit these books the powers that be have announced that the Beta 2 books should be issued this month. As soon as I get my grubby paws on them I will start reading and will feedback my opinions.