Who is Unified Rolemaster (RMU) For?

This week Nicholas Caldwell published the October Director’s Briefing. I seriously recommend reading it if you are interested in any form of Rolemaster.

I think you should never be afraid of people who challenge your ideas or disagree with you. In business we say you will learn more from a single customer complaint than from 100 positive reviews. I love Rolemaster and think it is the best fantasy roleplaying game of all time (so far) and the second best rpg rules system across any genre. I have played a lot of games, as I am sure you all have. I also think Nicholas Caldwell is somewhat wrong in his conclusions of the right target audience for RMU.

It was me that asserted ICE needs RMU (http://www.ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?topic=16590.msg201402#msg201402) in the original discusion for all the reasons that he quite rightly outlines. You cannot expect the company to support so many incompatible systems. That I agree with. I think that RMU should be developed first and foremost to attract new players into the RM world.

Here is my reasoning.

As the briefing states trying to perform the balancing act between the wants of the two existing systems requires compromises. Trying to balance the needs of three groups, the RM2ers, the RMSS (that sounds sinister doesn’t it?) and completely new players is an even harder balancing act. You do not need to worry about us old hands. The truth is that all that is going to happen is from two factions you will get three factions, RM2, RMSS and RMU. In the same way that in the D&D world there are still people playing 1st Edition AD&D today when the current version is 5th Edition so you will still have your RM2 players playing RM2 after RMU is released. So trying to unify the audience into a single market will not work.

Secondly if you completely ignored the existing players and just made the best possible new Rolemaster then those people who are starved of new RM material will buy in. Some people jumped from RM2 to RMSS and some jumped from RM2 to RMC. A proportion of those will adopt RMU just because it is RM and it is NEW.

If you just make the best possible Rolemaster, then by extension, you will attract more new players. I defy anyone to argue that ‘the best possible Rolemaster’ will be in anyway inferior to ‘the best possible compromise between all old versions of Rolemaster’.

In the Director’s Briefing he says “Gamers who like very rules-lite systems or cannot abide detail are unlikely to play any edition of Rolemaster.” the flaw in this argument is that I am both 100% committed to Rolemaster (I am a volunteer editor for the Guild Companion, frequent contributor to the ICE forums and one of the few RM bloggers.) and I am one of those people who like very rules-lite systems. Maybe I am the exception that proves the rule or maybe the designers do not like rules-lite systems so assume that the players are like themselves? Who knows.

It is true that targeting the existing players is the easiest audience for ICE to reach but ‘easiest’ is both subjective and relative. How hard is any audience to reach these days? There are 550+ followers of the Shadow World facebook page. A single status update about the release of the new version could reach more people than habitually visit the ICE website (the busiest day ever on the ICE forum saw 276 people). A copy of the game sent to the top games websites for review can reach tens of thousands of roleplayers who have never even seen a RM rulebook. If the game is designed from the ground up for the ‘new to RM’ audience the barrier to entry will be extremely low. Building for the existing userbase is like taking an extremely short ladder into an orchard. Yes it works great while you are picking the low hanging fruit but once that is all gone you have a much harder job on your hands and your early decision is now a  hinderance.

I would send a press release to the top gaming websites asking for beta testers with the only qualification being that they have not played any version of RM in the last 10 years. That would give you a completely different kind of feedback to what we are seeing right now. It may bring lost players back into the RM world. It will definitely give free publicity to ICE and ICE’s products. I would be extremely tempted to create a closed forum just for these ‘new to the fold’ beta testers so they do not get shouted down ‘because they do not know how to play Rolemaster’.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I have never written a game or published a game. I admire everything that has been done so far. I am only writing this because I want RMU to be a raging success. There are something like 7million roleplayers out there and probably 6+million have never had the pleasure of experiencing Rolemaster. I just want the next Rolemaster to be the best possible Rolemaster.

I am a commercial animal at heart and I would love to know ICE’s marketing plans, the market research they did before starting work and how they intend to reach those 7million potential customers. Somehow I don’t think they will let me in on the secret(s) though for which I cannot blame them. I am in no way affiliated with ICE.

My final comment is this. I think I said in that ‘target audience’ thread that I will not be buying RMU. The truth is that, as I have written before, the beta test has made me reevaluate what I thought about all aspects of the different RM rules and options. As a consequence I have gone out and bought HARP. I would not have bought that if it wasn’t for the beta test. Another example is that I was against the game concept of Talents and Flaws but now I get them. RMU is not finished and it is foolish to say ‘I haven’t even seen the finished game but I am not going to like it whatever you do’. That is not what I meant or how I meant it. What I meant was that at that precise moment there were elements of the game that, for me, were what Nicholas refers to as deal breakers. That was then, RMU is the future.

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