Tag Archives: Rolemaster

Blast from the past?

Not long ago I stumbled upon this old post of Unified Rolemaster Playtest. Obviously I am interested in people opinions of Rolemaster as a house ruled version of Rolemaster is my system of choice.

My only gripe is that Rolemaster has a legacy poor reputation for complexity and bloat, but if you look at Pathfinder by comparison Rolemaster is rather slim. That reputation can be a barrier to introducing new players. All of that is by the by and not particularly relevant to this post anyway. What really struck me was Johnkzin’s comment about the wargamer’s challenge “if I need more than 1 sheet of paper (4 pages) for rules, for a war game, then that was too many“.

I was a little confused by the 1 sheet/4 pages limit, The paper I normally buy comes in 1 sheet/2 pages format but possibly I am buying old fashioned paper or wargame rules are printed in landscape/A5 so you are getting two small pages, sideways on each side or the paper.

Anyway, this year I have a lot of travelling to do so with a home brewed GM Emulator I thought I could do a bit of solo gaming to pass the time. To make things even better I created a 1 sheet/2 page version of Rolemaster to go with it.

There are a few caveats to go with this. Firstly, it is generally accepted in the Rolemaster community (or so it seems) for players to have printed/photocopied pages of all their spell lists as part of their character sheets. This is because characters can have so many spells that they have loads of options and the Spell Law book becomes a bottle neck at the gaming table. Give everyone their own spell lists and you remove that bottle neck. I have assumed the characters have their spell lists. Secondly, These rules are using a good healthy dose of the new RMU rules along with a pinch of the old MERP rules and a bit of 2nd Edition mixed in for good measure. Lastly, there are two notes that should have been included but as I wrote these for myself and I know how this works I didn’t write them down. These are, where you see ### you should insert an appropriate ‘simile’ so that swords slash and cut but maces strike and blow. The location 1-10 is the units die from the attack roll, so an roll of 78 on the d100 uses the ‘8’ and equals abdomen. I hope that makes sense, if not then comment with your questions and I will elaborate.

So with that out of the way, the following two PDF documents, cover a basic combat system with criticals, skill resolution, and spell casting.



If you don’t have any Rolemaster characters then you can basically get by by using a D&D or PF character just start them at 2nd level, every +/-1 on the D20 is a +/-5 on the D100 and give all characters 10 additional hit points. Oh and shields and Dex bonuses do not change your armour class, they get subtracted from the attackers attack roll. Finally, if you get a natural 20 then roll again and add the second roll to the first!

If you have never played Rolemaster and you have a few spare minutes then why not have a play around?

Are you sitting comfortably?

I think I mentioned this before but when my group get together and game it happens two or three times a year. We rent a house, the one we have used for the past few years happens to be called Rivendell which is quite fitting, and we game all weekend. While we game we each have a sofa or armchair, when I GM I have a small side table for books and dice and it is pretty relaxed.

It sounds cool and it is but it also makes a lot of choices for us. For a start using minis is a real problem. We are all so far apart that no one would be able to see any real tactical detail we are all too lazy to get up and have a look. So that means that battle maps are out as well.

The games I was looking at last year had features like a momentum dice and counters. Well without a table to put them on these are not going to work.

Michael was the first person I saw that showcased the index card role playing game in this post. Although I really liked the concept it was going to be a non-starter for us because we are too far apart for that sort of interplay.

We are no longer the Knights of the Dinner Table, we are more like sofa sorcerers.

Being a sofa sorcerer means that you end up more organised. The rulebook you need could be right on the far side of the room and sofas are harder to get out of than dining room chairs (that sounds lame but it is true!). So when I am plotting an adventure I copy and paste the rules for specific situations right into my notes. If there is a chance of drowning then I have the drowning rules to hand. Each character has all their spells and the spell descriptions copied and attached to their character sheet, or playbook is a better phrase. So now there is no bottleneck while all the spell casters need to check which spell to cast or whether they think it will work or not. My current party has 5 PCs and they are all spell casters to a lesser or greater extent.

I don’t have a GMs screen but I have created a simple PDF of just the rules or tables I need and I keep this on a 10″ tablet. It is only about 8 pages so flicking back and forth is quick and easy. So I have pretty much ‘organised the books out of the game’. I still have them because there is nothing to stop the PCs from going completely off piste if that is how they decide to go. I certainly do not railroad my players even if I have prepared an adventure.

Because we only play a few times a year our games gravitate more towards hack and slash. This is not my first choice but with months between sessions remembering subtle clues is simply not going to happen. Unless I arrange a mystery that is all wrapped up in a weekend of gaming clue based adventures are not likely to work. You can forget political plots completely.

Another reason for not needed a GMs screen is that none of us have the eyesight anymore to read the GMs notes upside down anyway.

So are there any advantages to this laid back gaming style?

Firstly, you can game for many hours more when you are comfortable than sat on a hard dining room chair. People seem to take less breaks and we can go on for 15 to 18 hours on continuously being in character baring food breaks. The most likely cause for the session to end is when the dwarf starts snoring and even that could be in character.

When you give your players space I have noticed that the characters develop mannerism. The players start to create mannerisms, gestures and all sorts of non-verbal elements to their characters. I used to work in an office where I was the only man, my colleagues would chair dance when certain songs came on the radio. My players have started to act out their characters especially discussions within the party because they have the space to do so.

Another quirk of this style of play is that with the diminished amount of books needed we have been known to relocate outside to a garden table. You cannot see the tablet in this photo but the little pile at the end of the table is the sum total of all my campaign notes and rulebooks for the weekend.
In contrast, these are the rulebooks for a single afternoon session for a friend that GMs me occasionally.

So what is the point of this post?

I think the point is that where we each come from informs our choices and opinions. I felt I was quite down on some aspects of the games I looked at and aspects that I didn’t much like were the use of counters or visual aids like the momentum dice. You can see from this why it would not work for my hardcore laid back Rolemaster players.

It also colours my desire for rules light games. I can make just about anything rules light. Rolemaster has a reputation for being rules heavy but looking at my GM setup and you can see that it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I can run an ultralight game with all necessary rules on one piece of paper, although I do need to use both sides. That, though, is a post for another day.

Mobs and Brutes

Two games I have looked at recently have had a very similar concept. 7th Sea uses Brutes as the low level treat. Up to six brutes can be treated as a single entity as regards attacks and if you hit a gang of brutes then the damage spills over to the next. In effect you could kill or incapacitate many brutes with a single attack.

Conan uses a similar mechanic for Mobs. Minor foes can be bound together into a mob and when you attack the mob damage also cascades from one member to another enabling you to take out many mob members in a single attack.

Both of these games are very much in the pulp literature or cinematic genre. Imagine the hero dropping into a guard room. She flicks a switch, killing the lights. What follows is a few muffled thumps, grunts and groans. The lights come back on and the guards are sprawled across the floor. Our hero glances at herself in the mirror, dabs at a point of her makeup and strides off further into the villain’s lair.

In Conan these low level, no real threat, encounters are used “to build Momentum for use later in the adventure.” to quote Pit of Kutallu.

On the other hand, if these encounters are no real threat then why bother running them? If the adventure requires a typical 5 or six points of momentum for survive the big fight over the monster’s pit then why not just give the party the 5 or 6 points of momentum? If the encounter is no threat then is this not dice rolling for the sake of dice rolling? The one sided inconsequential combat is something that is taking place instead of role playing or the excitement of the adventure?

If the brutes and mobs are being used for flavour and cinematic effect then do they even need stats? Rather than creating a gang of brutes just to have them knocked down why not either have them as a ‘power’ of the actual villain, almost like a D&D monster may have a Bite, claw, claw attack pattern so the villain comes with these semi-autonomous appendages that can rush at the PCs and cause a distraction or whatever. If the fight needs to happen for narrative reasons, such as to raise an alarm or to cross a Rubicon; do the players fight or flee? Do they kill or not? Then at that point it makes sense to have the fight. If the fight is purely to use up bullets or arrows or build up momentum then why slow the game down to combat time just to do some resource management?

I am not criticising the concept. I am genuinely interested. I love the idea of 7th Sea and would play it at the drop of a hat if I had a GM or would run it if I had the players. I even suggested to my Rolemaster players the idea of two tier critical tables. I would strip out the instant death criticals and replace them with knockouts or other incapacitating injuries that the minor monsters do to them. An incapacitated PC left behind adds to the story and necessitates a rescue. A dead PC holds everything up while we go through character creation and then finding a coherent way of getting the new character into the party. That is all hassle. The players would still know that the main bosses were still firing on all cylinders and just as dangerous as they were. My players bulked at the idea. It felt like cheating. I suggested the same thing to the wider Rolemaster community and they thought that without the threat of death then the combat would have no meaning.

You can see that I am somewhere in the middle ground on this. I know many GMs would rather fix a dice roll to keep players alive or games that have the concept of Fate points that allow the character to get out of jail free or dodge the bullet. Is it better to kind of know that the GM isn’t going to kill you as long as no one says it out loud? It is OK to know you would have died but you had to use your Fate point to save yourself? But it is not OK to know the game is fixed in your favour? That you are supposed to win? Surely that is the whole point of being the hero? Is it that playing with a stacked deck is not heroic?

Maybe the point of the brutes and mobs is that the players do not know when they rush the guards if they are facing a gang of brutes or a genuine lieutenant or a named villain, not until the first blow is struck?