Rolemaster: An Evening with Character Law

The post below is written by UbiquitousRat, a guest blogger for The Iron Tavern.

The public playtest of Rolemaster began a few short hours before our regular Friday Night Roleplay meeting. To be honest, I was holding out hope that this would be the case because I’d been bigging-up the start of our new campaign using these rules for months. The hour was here and this is an account of how things went down. This is slightly longer than usual, but we’ve got a lot to cover.

The Rolemaster Books

Two of the five core books for Rolemaster got released in the first wave: Spell Law and Character Law. The latter book is what we spent time using at our first session, although the guys did dip into Spell Law a tiny bit to choose Spell Lists. We’ll drop you another article on Spell Law just as soon as we’ve explored it in depth.

Character Law covers the core rules relating to creating and running a hero in Rolemaster. In addition to the material dedicated to a step-by-step walk-through of designing a hero, you also get chapters covering Equipment, Experience and Advancement, Maneuvers and Movement, and The Environment. Combat, for the curious, is found in Arms Law which (at the time of writing) is expected to release to playtest in a few days.

Character Law

Overall we were mightily impressed with Character Law. Bearing in mind that we received the rules a scant 2 hours before meeting, we managed to build four heroes (with four players involved) in around two hours. This included about 30 minutes of time spent by the players writing notes in answer to the background questions in Chapter 3 (of which more in a moment).

The book is nicely laid out over 77 pages, with two columns of text. Even without art it looks neat and is very accessible. As far as playtest documents go, it makes the usual “Word file turned .PDF” look laughably cheap.

There is a very nice introduction and overview of character creation to draw you in. In terms of style, this is a very clean read which is clear. The only problems we had with understanding it were due to players (and me) trying to speed-read sections; on a proper read the text seems very clear. The game comes over as simple to understand and play, but certainly not simplistic.

Making Heroes

We dived in the deep end. Certainly my players are nervous about whether they have made appropriate choices but, as GM, I’m going to allow some tweaking of the numbers after a session or two of actual play. Overall, however, everyone seemed happy with the rules and seemed to grasp the main concepts readily.

The nice thing about Rolemaster is that it begins character creation with a chapter entitled, “Background”. Here you are invited to think through a strong concept for your hero with a series of relatively easy-to-follow questions. The text explains the process of thought quite nicely, and my players set to reading and scribbling down thoughts for around 20-30 minutes. This was reportedly a positive experience, and really set them up for the next series of steps. For me, this was refreshing as most games tack the background thinking on at the end. Not so with Rolemaster: characterisation and story are front and centre.

Stats and Potentials

There are 10 Stats, exactly as veteran Rolemaster players will expect. Everything plays off of a d100 or d10-based roll. So far, we’ve not had to roll another die type. There is a choice of random or points-buy system for choosing your Stats.

We chose to points-buy and I am REALLY pleased that we did so. Rolemaster uses a really cool system whereby you choose the Potential value of each Stat – i.e. the best your hero will ever be in that ability – before you choose their current Temporary value. The players, although initially taken-aback, quickly reported that they liked this because it meant that they immediately envisioned the hero as he or she will ultimately be.

Essentially, Rolemaster sets the expectations of the players and draws them towards wanting to play their way to their potential. Actual starting values are relatively modest, meaning that you are a slightly-above-average hero to begin with. That being said, GMs have options to raise or lower the power level of their campaign by altering the starting points allowed.

As an aside, min-maxing seemed very much harder to achieve because the players realised that everything is important… and the first rule of Rolemaster, to my mind, is that you can choose anything but you are always making sacrifices of other stuff.


Rolemaster offers Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, Halflings, Humans, Orcs and Trolls as character races. It also gives the GM rules for designing their own races, which is a very simple process. Each race is balanced with the others through the one-time blessing of extra (never reduced) Development Points, used to buy Skills and Talents.

Each race modifies your Stat bonuses (not the Stat), Resistance Rolls (think: Saves), and other core details such as how many Concussion Hits (think: Hit Points) you begin with.

My players loved the choices available and really seemed to get a kick out of the Height and Weight chart. We also introduced the first Optional Rule from this chapter: Individual Stride, wherein the hero’s height affects how quickly they can move. Easy to implement and something my rules-wary players asked for. Amazed? I was.


Next you select a Culture, which is a sort of background package of free Skill ranks. There are loads of cool choices, including Reavers and the Underground culture, both of which we found to be very cool. Rules are also there for GMs to add their own Cultures, and this looks very simple to implement.

In short, the guys thought that this was a good no-brainer choice to round out their heroes. As GM I could see that this side-steps the need to encourage players to take a minimum of 1 Rank in Body Development, and other such bare minimum Skill levels, and adds flavour for the characters to boot.


Professions are not “classes” but it’s easy to start with that misconception. Professions are what your hero is funnelled towards being good at without constraining you like classes might. We chose to create a Fighter, a Ranger, a Mentalist (we LOVE that one!), and a Dabbler. There are 21 Professions to choose from.

Your character can train in any Skill, but your Profession makes some Skills easier to learn than others. Profession sets up the cost (paid for with Development Points) for your Skills. Each level you get new Development Points and can upgrade your Skills by purchasing Ranks. Each Skill Rank is worth a percentage bonus to your skill, starting with 5% increments. Professions also have nine “Professional Skills” to give you a small top-up bonus each time you buy a rank in each of them.

Buying Skills was the slowest part of the creation… and initially it confused my players. That is, until they read the text instead of just staring at the cost chart. Timing the process, it took about 30 minutes for each totally new Rolemaster player to complete spending their Development Points. What was great, however, was seeing them interact and advise each other.

Thinking about it, I don’t know many games where I have seen quite so much group discussion of which Skills or Talents might best fit another person’s concept. It was really cool to listen in on.


Talents are one-time bonuses and abilities that don’t fit the Skills list. Examples include bonuses such as Ambidextrous or Darkvision, and Flaws such as Mumbler or Blood Shy. These are simple to implement (bought with Development Points) and really colourful. There are just enough to make it tough to choose but not too many. My players just seemed to pick one and smile knowingly.


As a GM this rules set excites me. But then I was excited about it anyway.

My players’ reactions were mixed but overall positive. The guy who fears the grind of “roll-play” was nervous about the arithmetic in totalling up Skill Bonuses (which totals five numbers for each skill), but also admitted that he was tired after a long day at work. Nobody seemed to struggle with this, however, and the other three guys seemed to feel it was acceptable.

What did we like? We like Stat Potentials in this rules set (which I hated in previous Rolemaster editions) because it sets you up with a “target” vision of your hero. We like the choice of Races and Cultures because they are not rigidly paired to force stereotypes. We like the choice of 21 Professions, including Warrior Monks and Sorcerers because they are all pretty appealing.

Overall, we also like the ease with which we have started playing. Two and one half-hours of play time is not bad for a serious RPG character session, and we spent 2 hours doing the details. We have four very cool-looking and totally unique heroes, and we are ready to play.

The only fly in our ointment was that there is not yet an official Character Sheet, and it’d be useful if a decent one comes out soon.

If you fancy taking a look at the playtest rules for Rolemaster, they are free to download once you agree to the basic terms of the test. Check out the Iron Crown forums article, “Director’s Briefing – the Rolemaster Playtest”. Just please don’t be a jerk and file share… get your mates to grab their own copy too.

Game on!


UbiquitousRat is a long-time roleplayer and gamesmaster who has a history with gaming going back to 1979. In 1994 he joined Games Workshop, spending 12 years in the gaming industry at the coal-face of tabletop wargaming. In 1998 he founded the Friday Night Roleplay group at his home in suburban Nottinghamshire, UK, and ever since has been the primary GM. The group was involved in the playtest of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition and Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay, as well as giving air to the development of 6d6 RPG. The core five players are all looking forward to the new Rolemaster and everyone is excited to be sharing the story in The Iron Tavern. Oh, and he’s also a high school teacher during the daytime.


DCC RPG: Fast Zombies

Art by welovethedark on Flickr, used under Creative Commons



Zombies have been on my mind a lot recently. I started listening the We’re Alive audio drama a couple of weeks ago and have been catching up on all of the episodes so far. In this drama there are several types of zombies – ones that can move extremely fast, behemoth sized zombies, jumpers, climbers and smart zombies. I’ve found myself intrigued by fast zombies before and other systems do have fast zombies. With that as my spark I wrote up a fast zombie creature and the framework of a ritual to go along with it. After all these things have to be created somehow!


The Ritual

Lost to the passage of time in an ancient necromancer’s laboratory is the rite of ritualized magic to create powerful undead. Within these dusty tomes are rituals thought by many of the art to be impossible. Combining the dark arts of wizardly and clerical necromancy the tome details a three-day ritual by both to create this breed of fast zombie. The ritual frees the animated zombie of the chains of rigor mortis while retaining its mindless obedience and its ability to sustain devastating amounts of damage before its destruction.

Wizards and dark clerics who study these long lost tomes over time will decipher the ritual and learn the tools, words and movements to complete the ritual. While the majority of the ritual needs to occur near a cemetery or suitable burial ground, the final portion of the ritual must occur under the phase of a new moon at the burial ground. Several of the required components are not trivial to obtain, further complicating successful completion of this ritual. Components can vary depending on slight variations of the ritual and what is available. Several ounces of quicksilver or mercury are always required for the ritual.

Upon successful completion of the ritual the casters are able to animate fast zombies.

The Zombie

Zombie, Fast: Init +2; Atk bite +3 melee (1d6+1);AC 12; HD 3d6; MV 40’; Act 1d20; SP un-dead, on critical hit also gains additional attack; SV Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +2; AL C

Fast Zombies are terrifying opponents and frequently catch unsuspecting adventurers unaware. Bearing remarkable resemblance to the more typical zombie, the fast zombies have remarkable speed that often takes their opponents by surprise. Few can out distance a fast zombie who will pursue untiringly after threats. The fast zombie does this while retaining the toughness of slow moving zombie.

High Level Characters, Low Level Adventure

My local group recently finished up Council of Thieves. I did not run the campaign, the other GM in my group has been running it. This past week we started in on Serpent’s Skull. That sounds typical of a lot of Pathfinder groups I am sure. Finish one Adventure Path and then move to the next. The difference in this case is that our GM let us bring our characters from Council of Thieves to the Serpent’s Skull campaign. 10th level characters tackling a 1st level adventure.

My local GM has a habit of trying unusual things with his games. Our first game with him many years ago had the 1st level PCs finding a 150,000gp treasure hoard. Back in the 3.5 days he used to give us a feat every level. This time it is letting us carry over high level characters to a lower level adventure.

He has been planning this transition for several months, he mentioned it even towards the beginning of Council of Thieves. As the previous Adventure Path wrapped up he mentioned again that he was going to give us the option of carrying our characters over. Of the four of us, three chose to continue with their character. The three that chose to continue with their characters include a bard, rogue and inquisitor. The fourth had an urban ranger and did not feel he would fit in, so re-rolled an oracle. The fourth is entering the campaign at 1st level.

I have a lot of faith in our GM to pull things off like this. We have a good group, we trust each other and so far our GM’s experiments have typically been successful. The other advantage he had going for him was the premise of the initial module of the AP involving a PC losing nearly all of their gear. He had a built-in way to separate us from all of our magical gear. Prior to the session he advised all of us to redo our character sheets without any of our gear except for one item of our choosing.

The GM had a hook to blend the APs together by taking an object we found amidst the Council of Thieves and needing to take it to the Mwangi Expanse to destroy it.

With the adventure underway the group found ourselves on an island minus a lot of our gear. Immediately we faced our first combat encounter with some crab-like scorpion things. The creatures obviously had their hit points boosted as it was taking several hits to kill them. They were still easy to hit, so the AC was the same. They were able to cause poison damage and that DC was left alone, though a combination of poor rolls still left 10th level characters feeling the effects of the poison.

Afterwards the GM confirmed with me my suspicions. All he had done to the creatures to ratchet them up a little was increase their hit points. The lack of gear really reduced the power of the characters and a few bad rolls still made the creatures somewhat of a threat.

Survival on this island is another component of the initial Serpent’s Skull adventure. Even this has its moments of challenge. The survival rolls are pretty easy, but there are only two characters, one of which is an NPC, that have decent ranks in survival. There are still several logistics of survival on the island to figure out that require us to think as players regardless of level. So even with high level characters this element of the AP still retains its fun. Granted our party’s make-up has some influence on this as we lack a wizard or cleric.

We are only one session in, but so far the experiment seems a success. By stripping us of our gear and boosting the hit points of the creatures we face, the element of fun is still there. It has been an interesting blend of Adventure Paths and I look forward to seeing how the rest of it plays out.

DCC RPG Limited Edition Cover

When Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG was released it was available in two different covers, the “normal” cover and a gold-foiled limited edition cover. I was a little behind getting into DCC RPG. I knew about the Beta but did not pay much attention to it as I was happy with my Pathfinder game. So I only ended up with the “normal” cover.

Recently there have been rumors and talks of a second limited edition cover for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. To make it even better it was going to include a few small fixes and an index the second printing of the game received. A black-and-white sketch was posted of the cover as well.

Yesterday the pre-order opened for the second limited edition book and a picture of the cover was released. It simply looks great! The art is done by Doug Kovacs who really has the “feel” of DCC RPG art down. He has another winner with this cover as well. The book is now available for pre-order from Goodman Games website.

DCC RPG Limited Edition Cover

OSR as a State of Mind

The post below is written by Shortymonster, a guest blogger for The Iron Tavern.

Every RPG could be an OSR game, it’s all a state of mind.

I want to start by saying that I do not consider myself to be a part of the Old School Renaissance (OSR)  movement; when I came into gaming it was with such systems as Vampire: the Masquerade, Cyberpunk 2020, and a mate’s home-brew system heavily inspired by Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. All these were quite crunchy systems, and as a new gamer, I liked that. It was comforting to know that if I wanted to try something out that there was a rule to cover it, or at least a guideline to give the GM a position to adjudicate from. As time moved on and I grew as a player, there was always a room in my heart for games like this. I’m still using CP2020 as a system for my next campaign, and although the World of darkness has fallen out of my favour, I still like Gothic horror games with a bit of crunch, such as Unhallowed Metropolis.

What has changed however is that I’m spending more and more of my time as a GM to the point that I spend more time running games than playing in them. Quite often these days I feel the need to ignore rules in favour of maintaining the flow of the story. Some may think this might not be in the spirit of fair play to my players, but I promise one thing, if I drop a rule for them, that same rule drop applies to all the NPCs too, and vice versa. Often I’m not dropping a rule because it doesn’t work, or because leaving it in gets in the way of me telling the story I want to tell, but because it gets in the way of the free flow of play. This is something that should be just as much of a concern to me as it is to my players, but they should never have to deal with, in fact it should happen so seamlessly that they shouldn’t even notice it.

This to me is the essence of the OSR; finding a set of rules that allows – nay, encourages – the GM to make on the spot decisions about character and NPC actions without having to check through countless chapters and tables to get the answer from the rules. This doesn’t mean the rules should be ignored unilaterally, just that they can be put aside when they become an inconvenience. Quite often, they wouldn’t exist in the first place to slow things down, as the game designer could trust the GM to make the right calling. So, why don’t fans of OSR just run any game they choose like that?

If I didn’t like the combat resolution system in CP2020 I would ditch the needlessly complicated rules and come up with something that allowed faster resolution of a fight but didn’t get in the way of my players performing the actions they think they should be able to. And you know what, I don’t like it, so I did change it. My way is way quicker, easier to explain, and opens up combat for the players to take a bit more of the initiative with what they would like their characters to do. This seems to be in line with a lock of hacks I’ve read about, people taking a setting they like, and retro-cloning the rules the fir an easier or more comfortable play style.

To be fair, a lot of the adventures I run don’t have much in common with what most people think of when you mention OSR. As an example, I don’t do dungeon crawls. I find them a bit boring and they only exist for me as a way of having a laugh at the expense of the preconceptions of the genre. I will be running Something Went Wrong for instance, but not because I like dungeon crawls; because I love the multi GM aspect and the fact that it makes fun of the genre in a pleasingly light-hearted way. For the very same reason, I’m a big fan of the Munchkin card game.

So, to fans of OSR games, and I know there’s a load of you out there, I would like to say that I love what you do, and the effort you go to just to keep your ideal play style and rule sets going – when I see free RPGs out there in an OSR style, I grab them up quick and love reading them and thinking about what I could do with them – I think I’ll just keep playing whatever game I choose, and keep the OSR feel going by how I run the game, and how my group plays it. And a big thank you to folks of a like mind out there, who keep on hacking things to fit the way want to play; you’re saving me a ton of work.


Shortymonster is new to this blogging lark, but if you have enjoyed what you’ve just read, head on over to his own site and take a look at his thoughts on a variety of subjects across the spectrum of role playing games.

Review: Crawl! Issue #4

Crawl! is a fanzine for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The fanzine is wrangled by the Reverand Dak and is only available in paper form. In the day and age of electronic distribution that last point might sound a little odd. But it is quite refreshing to stroll out to the mailbox after work and find the most recent issue there.

The typical issue of Crawl! includes additional options and rules for DCC RPG. These can range form tables that expand the current game, new spells, patrons, and similar content. The most recent issue of Crawl! deviates from that content line-up and presents a full adventure.

Issue #4 includes a 5th level adventure written by Yves “sheriffharry” Larochelle, a detailed village with NPCs, a forest, a new dragon, a dungeon, new magic items and more. The layout of this issue was done in a way that allows people that are not necessarily in the market for a new adventure to “steal” bits and pieces and use them separately from the adventure itself.

While I have not been able to play-test the adventure in this issue, it reads well and should be an enjoyable session or two of fun. As mentioned before there are several things in this issue I could easily drop into my existing campaign. From monsters to NPCs to populated dungeons the issue proves very useful to an judge running DCC RPG.

Scott Ackerman does much of the artwork in this issue. If you are a fan of DCC RPG you have probably been seeing more and more of his art pop up in some of the 3PP products. Scott really seems to catch the Appendix N feel of DCC RPG with his art depicting twisted creatures and scenes.

If you play the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, you should check Crawl! out if you have not already.

Pathfinder Beginner Box Transitions

Today Paizo released a free supplement to their Pathfinder Beginner Box product called Beginner Box Transitions. This PDF release is designed to help a player that entered the Pathfinder system through the Beginner Box to transition beyond 5th level and into the Core Rulebook.

Readers of The Iron Tavern know I have posted a fair number of articles around the Beginner Box. While I have played Pathfinder with my son in the past, the Beginner Box was the set that allowed me to hand him a set of books and he was able to read them himself and learn to play and GM his own games. Even many months later, my son still can be found reading his Beginner Box rule books, creating characters and designing encounters. I was certainly curious to see what this Beginner Box Transitions PDF was all about.

The artistic quality of the PDF is excellent as one has come to expect from Paizo products. The PDF does include an index at the end to help find certain rules quickly. I was disappointed to see that there was not a bookmarked table of contents. Those can be very handy when looking to jump to a certain section of a PDF. Not a major issue, but it would be nice to see a Bookmarked table of contents, maybe in a future update.

The PDF includes 9 chapters covering a myriad of topics from new rules to know when moving to the core rulebook, reading stat block entries from the core rules and bestiary, adventure conversions, leveling your character, and more.

The PDF handles all of this in a very clear and easy to follow manner. New rules are covered in small sub-sections, graphics are used to help dissect spell and monster stat blocks. They really strive to make the transition as easy as possible.

The PDF includes a conversion guide for Master of the Fallen Fortress. Using those steps a reader can get a good feel on how to convert many other modules in the Pathfinder Module line. The PDF includes a list and short summary of several eligible modules.

There is a lot of information in this free download from Paizo to make a person’s transition from the Beginner Box to the Core Rules as painless as possible. My post here is based on a quick read (it has only been out for a few hours), but it looks like an excellent free product to transition those Beginner Box players into the full set of rules. Well done Paizo!