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Rolemaster: Taking a Stab

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

We’ve had two sessions playtesting the new Rolemaster so far. Each session has, quite deliberately, focused on the combat system. That’s not to say that the adventure is merely a vehicle for testing rules, because it isn’t… but that we’ve given the combat rules a pretty cool test drive. This article summarises what we’ve found out.

The new Rolemaster deserves these three words: Fast, Dangerous and Fun.

FAST

Firstly, once you get your head around the concepts that drive the combat rules, it plays pretty quickly. We were totally surprised by this.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Rolemaster is a detailed system which is modelling fantasy combat with a lot of options. It’s no abstract engine which hand-waves the details. That said, Rolemaster is relatively quick… quicker than D&D 4e, GURPS and Pathfinder.

Why is it quick? Easy: you are making a single dice roll on a table, looking it up and applying the result; if you Crit, you make a second roll. That’s actually less fiddly than the usual D&D-esque “roll to hit, roll to wound”. It’s consequently pretty slick and fast to administer.

DANGEROUS

Rolemaster combat is deadly. We’ve noticed (at low-level play) that you either get steadily chipped away at, incurring an increase in penalties to your actions from the low-level pain… or you take a Crit and really get hammered!

The players have been enjoying the fights much more than they did playing, for example, D&D 4e. The reasons are mixed but include the fact that, if you get lucky, you can smash a foe with a single Critical Hit… and get to hear the amusing epitaph that the Crit table generates. This adds laughter and detail to what, in other games, is often just a simple bit of extra maths. Rolemaster Crits add flavour… and danger!

Risky fights are more pleasurable than easy fights. One of the criticisms levelled at so many fantasy games at my table is the fact that, with modern cinematic effects, the foes really aren’t so much of a challenge. Rolemaster combat, being dangerous no matter what the foe is, ups the stakes… and thus ups the joy.

Three Ghouls against four Heroes is not much of a fight in many games. For our group of Level 1 heroes this was a major battle. Getting one character seriously injured and another hurt enough to have to seriously consider withdrawing is actually more fun than some might think.

Following their victory last session the players have decided to leave further investigation of the tomb they had discovered for a month or so… because, in Rolemaster, it takes time to heal your now three-fingered weapon hand, or your broken ribs. 

FUN

Rolemaster has injected a great deal of fun back into the fight scene. As a GM who finds it hard to juggle all the details of a combat scene, I appreciate the help that the system gives me.

From asking the players to declare their intentions BEFORE they roll Initiative, through structuring their actions through the 10-second round, to the imaginative and amusing Crit results… the system provides me with plenty of hooks for describing the action.

In fact, most of the time, the players are either describing their actions in loads more detail than they used to with other games… or I am reading them a tasty description from the Crit tables.

Pace, danger and description all boost the fun for our group. Rolemaster gives you this… once you let it. That’s so much better than when we were playing D&D.

CAVEATS

It would be remiss of me not to place some caveats on my comments because, like any game, Rolemaster is not for everyone.

If you like cinematic action with high-magical powers and amazing feats then, frankly, Rolemaster is not for you. This is a more grounded system, modelling a form of “fantasy realism” (if such things can exist). Being able to regularly hit with a weapon is a pretty neat skill, you know.

If you don’t like detailed rules and don’t care what the difference between a Spear and a Short Sword is then, really, Rolemaster isn’t for you either. This system makes using a Dagger a very different experience to being able to reach the foe with a Spear at 13’ and, consequently, not be at much risk from them.

If you don’t care if wearing a Breastplate and no arm or leg armour makes a difference then, again, you don’t need to use Rolemaster. It’s great wearing Plate armour… unless the enemy strikes a Crit to your arm where you have no protection. Rolemaster has this covered, but only if you want it. If it’s easier to just call it “Armour Class” then that’s fine, as far as it goes.

If you aren’t bothered about the tactics of combat then, again, Rolemaster is probably not worth the effort. This system encourages Spear users to rank up behind another friend and poke the bladed tip from over their shoulder. It’s a game which rewards covering your buddies with your large shield, not just yourself. Rolemaster provides encouragement for spell-casters to deliver non-flashy but highly useful stunning spells to their foes.

Frankly, if you’re just happy with “roll to hit, roll to wound, subtract Hit Points” then, really, Rolemaster is too much for your needs.

SURPRISED?

We were pleasantly surprised. In truth, having wrestled a little with the paradigm-shifting first combat in session one, we found ourselves really enjoying session two.

Rolemaster seems to require an assumption-smashing change of mindset if you’ve played other fantasy RPGs.  This is quite painful in some ways because change is always difficult for players. However, once the shift is made, and the players get the new regime, Rolemaster fights really take off.  After just one fight we were far more comfy with the rules and had far fewer look-ups in the books.

I was surprised and, I can tell you, also relieved. My players were not entirely sure about those huge Combat Charts when they first saw them… but now we’re pretty much enjoying the easy detail that they deliver.

Game on!

Bio

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 

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Heroic Mykenaea: Making Rolemaster Fit

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

Heroic Mykenaea was conceived just ever so slightly before we decided to sign up to the new Rolemaster public playtest. Our group had been going through a bad patch, having abandoned Dungeons & Dragons 4e and drifted through a short campaign using GURPS. What was missing was a sense of commitment to a setting, something that would allow me as a GM to commit to writing and the players to commit to turning up regularly. With this need in mind, it was a series of short steps that led us to Rolemaster.

What is Heroic Mykenaea?

Heroic Mykenaea is a swords & sorcery genre fantasy campaign loosely based on the myths and stories of Mycenaean Greece (Achaea). It is a world mixing Greek myth, magick, Olympians, Chthonic Cults, heroic action, and swords & sorcery fantasy themes.

Mykenaea was born from the suggestion of a player that we use real-world maps upon which to base our own setting. At the time we were talking about a post-Apocalyptic world and the idea was quite novel. Unable to agree on a game system, however, we began to discuss other setting ideas.

Just as I was considering using the excellent new Hackmaster rules, and actually began to plan some NPCs using those rules, the news broke about a new edition of Rolemaster. After a consultation with the group it was agreed to sign up for the playtest. The first campaign maps were drawn from a Google Maps image pulled from the web, and you can view some of the cartography that developed from the idea on the wiki.

Adapting to Rolemaster

How do you adapt a setting to fit a game before you’ve seen the rules? Truth is, you can’t.

Mykenaea was designed making decisions based loosely upon the earlier editions of Rolemaster. We knew that the core of the game, whilst being re-designed, was also seeking to remain faithful to the 35-year or so history of the system.

We decided that, while the setting would be Greek-inspired, we would not allow history to limit our vision. Consulting a summary of pre-Classical history it was apparent that what is known about the “Heroic Age”, prior to the 5th Century BCE, is relatively limited to the stories of Homer and some sketchy archaeology. This was fertile ground for an alternate universe in which magick was mixed with the heroic mythology of Homer and others.

As GM, I made a series of decisions and then began to draft the background (available on the wiki) that I felt would get the players started. These decisions were:

  1. To set the adventure in the period just prior to the classic Heroic Age heroes, with the first major campaign event to be the destruction of Thera.
  2. To allow as wide a selection of magick as possible in the setting… but making it secretive and hidden.
  3. To use as many of the Rolemaster character Professions as possible.
  4. To emphasise an old-school and sandbox style over our usual story-driven approach.
  5. To commit to using as few House Rules as possible.

How have we adapted so far?

We meet once a fortnight on a Friday night. We’ve had two sessions since the release of Character Law a month ago. Session One, which formed the basis for “An Evening with Rolemaster”, was all about character generation. Session Two began our campaign.

Rolemaster is a generic fantasy RPG system so it fits to any setting quite readily and is designed to be flexible. Each decision made as GM has been recorded on our Rolemaster Player’s Guide for Mykenaea. It has been really simple to adapt.

We’ve left out only one Profession from the core rules: the Monk. This is because the Eastern-inspired martial arts stereotype is too much even for my warped vision of ancient Greece to handle. That being said, it has been fun to adapt some other staples to the setting.

A good example of this adaptation has been the inclusion of the Paladin, chosen by one of the players. Here the heroic idea for the character has influenced the setting: our Paladin, being the outcast eldest son of a king, is a true Scion of Zeus; he is blessed and favoured by the King of the Olympian Gods and destined for… something cool. The Paladin is simply referred to as the Scion, conjuring images relevant to the period instead of the classic mediaeval vision.

Magick in Greece?

Erm, yes. Like I said earlier, this is a fantastical vision of Greece.

It’s loads more fun to include magick (the spelling is deliberate) than to leave it out. Partly we wanted to playtest all the Rolemaster rules… but mostly, we love magickal heroes. Looking at the party created, we only have one non-spellcasting Profession: the lone Fighter. The others are the Ranger, Scion (Paladin), Dabbler and Mentalist.

As GM, I decided to limit all the Closed Spell Lists (see the Spell Law article for details on what that means) and allow only Base and Open Lists to be chosen. This allows me to introduce Closed Lists (which tend to be the most powerful spells) later in the campaign, and on a need-to-access basis. The players like this limitation… and have to justify their inclusion of powerful spells. One player has already got me to allow a lone Closed List as part of his hero’s background.

Races and Cultures

It’s worth mentioning the Races and the Cultures too.

I’ve dropped Halflings from the setting but included something called Pel-Dimini, which are a kind of Half-Elf. Rolemaster provides Elves and Dwarves, so I absorbed those rules to fit the Dimini and the Sesklo races respectively. The system provides me with the tools to create the Pel-Dimini so I’ll be adding them to the setting at the moment I first need them.

As for Cultures, these allowed me to have different Human groups. The native rural and urban Pelasgian Men are different from the cosmopolitan Achaean Men; the Minoans are seafarers and cosmopolitan too. Even the non-Human races can fit into their homelands using the appropriate Cultures… and I’ll be making a Greek-style Slave culture as soon as I need it too, using the rules in Rolemaster to facilitate it.

Verdict?

So far, so good. It’s been really easy to adapt the new Rolemaster to my setting. In fact, the new system has inspired some decisions too… like how magick works.

During the most recent session we decided to use some of the simplified gaming options, such as the Simple Rounds optional rule (which makes combat run quicker). What is great is that Rolemaster provides such options as part of the system. This has meant that, so far, we’ve only generated one House Rule… and even that might be something that the playtest renders obsolete if the suggestion reaches the designers.

All in all, it’s been the easiest setting build I’ve ever worked on. The players seem to be getting into it too… and I’m itching to run the next session.

Ghouls, anyone?

Bio

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.

Rolemaster: Introducing Arms Law

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

Arms Law was the third book released for the new Rolemaster public playtest, and it sits alongside Character Law and Spell Law at the core of the rules. Having had a little over 72 hours to have a look at it, here are some initial reactions.

What’s in Arms Law?

The top 10 cool features of Arms Law are:

  1. An integrated combat system designed to model round-by-round detailed action.
  2. Actual differences between different types of armour, and built in rules for mix-and-match pieces of armour.
  3. Flexibility in player choices, including the ability to mould your available actions into a 10-second round. You have up to 100% of activity, and can choose exactly how you use it.
  4. One roll to hit also delivers the damage; a second roll might be made for a “Crit”, to see what colourful additional effect your hero gains.
  5. 45 Attack Tables, each supporting a different weapon type to reflect its effectiveness.
  6. 7 additional Attack Tables for elemental attacks, such as Fire Bolt and Lightning Ball.
  7. 11 Critical Tables providing bone-crunching and exciting detail on what happens when you score a “Crit”.
  8. Ranged and Melee Fumble rules which give similar detail for the fails.
  9. Optional rules to streamline stuff you find too detailed for your group’s tastes.
  10. The trademark Rolemaster choice to split your skill with weapons between attacking and parrying.

Tables? Really?

Let’s deal with the issue of tables. Yes, Rolemaster uses tables.

In the oldest fantasy RPG, and most derivatives, to make an attack you do the following: roll to hit (using your skill), roll to wound (using various polyhedral dice), apply damage to the Hit Points of the target. At zero Hit Points your target falls unconscious and dies. Critical hits, those that get an exceptional result, simply do more damage.

In Rolemaster, using a simple table to make an attack you do the following: roll to hit, looking up your result in cross-reference to the armour type of the opponent. The result gives you the damage done, plus (sometimes) a Critical result. If you “Crit”, you make a second quick roll on the Critical Table to see what colourful and dangerous additional effect you achieve.

Here’s an example: Goriel swings his longsword at an Orc wearing chain armour. The player rolls d100 minus the Orc’s defensive bonus plus Goriel’s offensive bonus. The total is 139, which means that Goriel scores 12 Hits plus a B-type Slashing Critical. Rolling on the Crit table, a simple d100 roll, Goriel discovers that (on 85) he strikes the Orc’s head, cutting open its forehead and causing serious bleeding… which forces the Orc to shake his head to clear his eyes and lose 20% of his actions.

To my mind, this is way more interesting and engaging than, “I rolled a 17, I hit. I scored 7 points of damage”.

Weapons and Armour

In Rolemaster each weapon and your choice of armour actually makes a difference.

Lighter armour (or having no armour) makes you HARDER to hit, whilst heavier armour makes you EASIER to hit. However, no armour opens you up to massive damage, whilst heavy armour protects you. This is more logical than the traditional idea that your armour makes you harder to hit… and has no further effect.

Weapons affect armour and creatures in different ways too. A pointy spear is different from a slashy sword. Hammers crush whilst daggers stab or slash. Some weapons are more useful for penetrating different types of armour and killing certain kinds of creature. You find this out through trial and error.

The practical upshot? Rolemaster combat is more detailed but really about as fast as the traditional fantasy RPG, if not faster. It also delivers more exciting results and colourful descriptive details.

Player Choices

As with all of Rolemaster, the system encourages and rewards player choices. The Initiative system, which takes a 10-second round and asks you to decide how you will act in 10% chunks, gives players real flexibility in a fight. Don’t want to make an all-out 100% effort attack? No problem, make an 80% attack (with a -20 penalty on your hit roll) and use the remaining 20% to move, reload your bow, or whatever.

The only beef that I have, at least on a first reading of the rules, is that the default Initiative system presented is really very detailed. Of course, as with all things Rolemaster, there are two other optional systems available to make life simpler… so I’m probably going to use the simplest with my group.

Options, Options

That moves us to consider the Options. One of the biggest advantages of the Rolemaster system is that it comes ready-built with options for either more or less detail. Being someone who likes to play “old school”, I can easily strip out rules which seem too complex for my taste. The writers have provided me with optional alternatives too, which means that I don’t have to waste precious GM time working up a “house rule”. Frankly, that’s a big selling point for me.

And finally…

That’s Rolemaster ready to play. From here on out it’s time to get those heroes into some adventures and let you know how this system really works.

Over the next few articles we aim to talk you through how we’ve been adapting Rolemaster to our house-built setting, Heroic Mykenaea. We also want to share the ups and downs of the system playtest so that you can decide if it’s worth a look when the final product arrives next year.

Please feel free to comment on what you’ve read so far… and if you’ve got any questions, drop them in to the comments below.

Game on!

Bio

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.

Review: Dungeonslayers

Dungeonslayers – So much for so…nothing.

Review by Guest Blogger Kelly Davis

While the dinosaur in the fantasy RPG room is going through yet another edition change, its former third party provider fills the void with an ever increasing pile of books, and yet others attempt to recapture the old school, GM focused days of yore – we the consumers are left with many, many options to satisfy our fantasy RPG cravings.   I don’t think we’ve had this many choices in quite some time.

While edition wars rage on, supplements fill the shelves and 70’s van art enjoys a renaissance – most of our lives haven’t changed. The economy still stinks, we have kids, demanding jobs, and houses under the curse of entropy itself.  Many of us simply don’t have the money to spend on another pile of books, or the time to invest in a game where fights take an hour or more to complete and you need to be an engineer to devise an encounter.

One German gamer apparently felt the same way, and unlike most of us, he did something about it. Christian Kennig made his own roleplaying game; his own FREE roleplaying game.  It’s on the web. It’s in PDF and printable, and most importantly, it’s under the Creative Commons. That means that not only can we play it, we can help contribute to its future.

It’s called Dungeonslayers and while the title may put the game into a box, the rules system does anything but. Designed to be simple, quick to teach and learn, and customizable; the Dungeonslayers rulebook clocks in at 170 pages, and only 10 of these are rules.  The rest is character creation, equipment, talent and spell lists, a bestiary, treasure, game mastering tips, a sandbox campaign world and a trio of adventures.

The Basics

The game only uses one die: The 20 sided.  It’s used a little differently than you may have used that die before. You are looking to roll equal to or under a target number, usually determined by combining a primary and secondary ability score (plus or minus various modifiers).  A success is a success, but you are really shooting to get as close to your target number as possible. Why?  Well, in combat – your roll, the one you used to roll to hit? That’s also your damage.

What’s that, you say?  Let’s say you have a melee attack score of 14.  You want to attack that goblin.  You roll your d20 and get a 12.  You do a potential 12 points of damage to the goblin. He gets to roll a defense roll, using his defense stat as his target.  He has a defense of 7. He rolls a 2.  That reduces your 12 by 2, or 10 damage. Since he only has 8 HP, he goes down!

Remember the joy of rolling a 20 in D&D?  That’s a critical hit!  Not so in DS.  A 20 is a fumble. You drop your weapon, your skill check fails, sometimes other bad things can happen – like your shield breaks. (Yes, you can fumble defense rolls too.)  If there are fumbles, you know there are critical successes, too.  They are called ‘coups’ in DS and it’s whenever you roll a 1.  When you roll a coup, you get your target number as a result. Have a 14 melee attack score, it’s like you rolled a 14.

DS doesn’t require a battlemap, figures, tokens or things like that, but it also works well with them. Everything is in meters. Dungeon maps use 1 meter squares, movement is in meters, so it’s pretty straightforward. There are optional rules for sighting, multiple opponents, wielding two weapons and more. So if you crave that tactical detail, you can have it.

Characters

The character choices are deceivingly simple. You pick from one of three races: Dwarf, Elf or Human. Each race grants you certain perks. They follow the expected tropes familiar to fantasy gamers. Dwarves are tough, Elves are nimble, Humans are skilled. Your choice grants you a bonus to your abilities, too.  If you feel too pigeonholed by only three races, there are race creation rules in the back of the book.

After you select your race you choose your class. There are three classes to choose from: Fighter, Scout and Mage. If you select mage, you must select from Healer, Wizard or Sorcerer (Think white, gray and black magic).  “Where is the ranger?” “What, no paladin???” you might be asking. Hold on. I’ll get to that.  Think of your character as your swim lane for future specialization. Right now choose if you want to be ‘fighty’, ‘shooty/sneaky’, or um…’magicy’.  Your class grants you yet another bonus to ability and helps determine what talents you can select as you advance in level (We’ll get to talents in a moment).

You have 3 primary Attributes – Body, Mobility and Mind. These values will most likely never increase.  Each attribute has two related traits. These 6 traits should sound somewhat familiar to most gamers: Strength, Constitution, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence and Aura. These are the abilities that your race and class bonuses are assigned to, and you can increase through advancement.

There are also several derived stats called “Combat Values” that use cute little icons to help you identify them on your character sheet and in the bestiary. The calculations are explained both in the rulebook and on the character sheet and you may refer more to these than your attributes and traits while playing.   Things like Hit Points, Defense, Initiative, Movement rate, attack values and spell casting ability – some of which affected by the armor you wear.

In almost every action you perform in DS, you determine your target number by adding the values of an attribute and a trait, modified by conditional effects, equipment modifiers, and more.  So when you are choosing your race, class and assigning your abilities, you need to think about the typical actions you’ll be performing and adjust accordingly.

You also start with a talent (or 2 if you are human). These are somewhat like feats in some editions of D&D. There is a large list of talents, both combat and non-combat in nature, that grant bonuses to tasks. You can take some of these multiple times as you advance, increasing the bonuses.

Leveling

Advancement comes very fast at lower levels, you get experience from defeating enemies, exploring rooms, achieving adventure related goals and even some for roleplaying. When you level, you get points to spend to raise your traits, your hit points and gain/improve talents. When you reach 10th level you may choose to change to a ‘hero class’. These classes represent some of the traditional themes we love so much in our fantasy gaming. There are 3 heroic classes for each base class. Fighters can become Berserkers, Paladins or Weapon Masters. Scouts: Assassins, Rangers and Rogues. Each type of mage (Healer, Wizard and Sorcerer) have three as well, like Druid, Elementalist and Blood Mage!  Picking a Hero class opens up some talents unavailable to any other classes and really helps you define your character’s role in the party.

Game Mastering

The game master has a lot of help in designing adventures for DS. First, there is a large bestiary filled with some of the traditional creatures encountered in any good fantasy game. There are guidelines for creating tougher, more seasoned version of monsters. Each monster has a “Foe Factor” to help you determine if your adventuring party is ready to fight them and if so, how many at once.

Treasure tables abound, making on-the-fly gaming much easier, as you can roll random loot after the encounter. The monster ‘stat block’ includes suggested treasure table choices as well.

The rulebook includes a brief introduction to the DS campaign world “Caera”. It’s a small but varied world filled with all the types of locations you’d expect. The game designers intentionally made it a small world, to encourage you to run a forest game one week, a city game the next, a desert adventure after that – and avoid explaining how your characters trekked thousands of miles to get there.  There are lots of interesting little ruins and enticing locations on the map, guaranteed to start the seeds of adventure.

There are also three adventures in the book as well. Each one designed to be played in one session. On the DS website, there are about a dozen more adventures, each one page in length. Most are simple dungeon crawls and they provide a night’s entertainment.  The maps and icons are common among these adventures so they are easy to pick up and run without ANY prep time on the GM’s part.

Licensed to Create

The creative commons license (which basically says make what you want for this game as long as you offer it for free) really inspires people to design more cool stuff for DS. It’s been around in Germany for a few years, so there is a lot of material in German waiting translation. Some of the materials are promoted on the DS website. There is a whole new spell system you can try out, for example. In Europe, people have taken the skeleton of the DS system and used it for other classic RPG genres including: Zombieslayers (modern zombie apocalypse), GammaSlayers (mutant future apocalypse), and DS-X (an X-Files/conspiracy/MIB type setting).  I can’t wait to see these translated into English! Play with this system a few times and you will want to create something with it too.

Summary

What can I say? I love this little game. I love that it’s one booklet, I love that it’s free, I love the open license, I love how quick it plays and what little time it takes to prepare for. There is absolutely no reason not to download this and let your gaming group know about it.  Will it replace all those other fantasy games out there that we’ve shelled out hundreds of dollars for? Maybe not, but I guarantee you that you will have as much fun (or more) playing it. It is a great ‘go to’ game for when your gaming group can’t all get together, or for when your GM needs a break, and it would make a great game to run at conventions. So what are you waiting for? Go to www.dungeonslayers.com today.

Bio

Kelly Davis has been playing roleplaying games for most of his 40 something years. Most of that time has been spent as a game master.  He works as a contract system analyst for General Motors and is happily married with two creative kids who he is hoping will take up his hobbies.  His favorite games include D&D (all editions), Gamma World, Savage Worlds and now Dungeonslayers!

Rolemaster: Introducing Spell Law

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

Having had roughly 36 hours to read and digest (at the time of writing) the new Rolemaster rules, this article presents an overview of what Spell Law is all about.

Spell Law was the second book released for the new Rolemaster public playtest, and it sits alongside Character Law and Arms Law at the core of the rules.

What’s in Spell Law?

The top 10 cool features of Spell Law are:

  1. 171 Spells Lists, or roughly 4, 275 spells
  2. Three Realms of Magic
  3. Base, Open, Closed and Evil spell lists, helping GMs to manage the power
  4. Loads of utility and informational spells, not just combat magic
  5. Options for GMs which magnify the roleplaying aspects of magic
  6. Possible spell failure, making magic risky but manageable by clever players
  7. Cool and simple magic enhancement items
  8. Magic Ritual rules to allow for larger magical endeavours
  9. Spells for 15 of the 21 Professions in Character Law
  10. The possibility for even a Fighter to learn a spell or two

Spell Lists

It was with genuine glee that I printed off and poured over the 171 Spell Lists in the book. A Spell List is a collection of related individual spells which are learned in progression from the easiest rotes towards the most powerful effects.

Each list has 20 levels of spells, one through 20, and then additional spells at levels 25, 30, 35, 40, and 50. In short, you can cast a spell at the level equal to your Skill Rank in the related Spell List. Doing the arithmetic, you will see that Spell Law contains around 4, 275 spells. But that’s not all.

Spell Lists are also classified based upon their ease of learning and power. Open Lists are the easiest to grasp, while Closed Lists (and also Evil Lists) are the toughest to learn. Each magical Profession also has their own customised Base Lists, which are of medium difficulty to learn.

Realms of Magic

Rolemaster presents magic through three distinct yet interconnected Realms of Magic. These are the Essence, Channelling and Mentalism realms.

Essence is the classic Mage magic, utilising the raw energies of life to create elemental and other cool effects. The elements of Cold, Earth, Fire, Light, Water and Wind are all at the mercy of the Essence worker.

Channelling is all about pulling down power from an external power, usually imagined as a deity or other supernatural entity. Of course, as with everything in Rolemaster, this is up to your own setting and GM’s call, but the spells are tangibly different in feel to those of the Essence Realm.

Mentalism is the magic of the internal self, projected into the world, the power of the mind and will. Mentalists (yup, I still love that name) are all about influence and shaping perceptions. In some ways these are the most limited spells in terms of range and scope, focused on individuals or small groups, but their power can be profound.

We also need to mention that there are Semi- and Hybrid- spellcasters. Semi-spellcasters, like the Paladin, Ranger or Bard, mix their own Base Spell Lists with skill at Arms. Hybrid-spellcasters, like the Sorcerer, mix two of the realms of magic (in this case Channelling and Essence to make lovely destruction magic).

An All-Round Magic System

There are a lot of aspects to Spell Law that I really enjoy. At the risk of skimming over the details, here’s a run-down.

Firstly, I like that magic is risky and yet manageable through clever play. You need to make a Spell Casting Roll each time you cast, but you can decide how long you want to spend wiggling your fingers and chanting. You can decide cast fast at higher risk, try to cast with either hands full or your mouth gagged, or even try to be subtle and sly so that others don’t notice. All of these options are handled by simple modifiers to a basic Spell Casting Roll. One d100 roll, pass or fail. Spell failure gives you a roll on a nasty table tuned to your realm of magic.

Secondly, I love the way that Rolemaster helps the GM to make magic more believable as a roleplaying issue. For example, spellcasters learn spell lists as they ascend in level. However, the GM is reminded that the spellcaster needs access to the spell list within the context of the setting in order to progress in their learning. Thus, as a GM, I am reminded that I can arrange for spell books to be stolen, lost or destroyed if I want to frustrate the linear development of magic for the heroes. This kind of detail is not onerous, is also optional, but is written right into the fairly “Old School” tone of the rules.

A third thing I enjoy is that there are cool rules for Magic Rituals too. These involve multiple casters working in concert. They also allow for slower-to-cast effect with altered parameters. One example would be casting the Level 4 “Concussion’s Way” spell, Heal III, for up to a x5 healing effect; this makes 15 Hits recovered into 75 Hits healed, all for the trade-off of visiting the local temple and getting the priests to perform the ritual over a few hours. This gives the GM all manner of roleplaying options, and the players have incentive to use local priests and temples even if they reach high levels.

Overall, I like that this is a system geared towards all-round spellcasting, not just combat casting. Anyone can learn a spell or two (if you allow it in your campaign) but magic reaches into all aspects of play, not just the combat scene.

Last Words

Spell Law excites me because it puts a lot of options back into roleplaying. Instead of simplistic generic effects conveniently labelled as “magic”, this book gives you a coherent magic system which feels magical.

Spell Law is available as a FREE download for the duration of the Rolemaster Public Playtest. Why not grab the .PDF and have a look for yourself?

Bio

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.

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.

Races

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.

Culture

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

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

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.

Overall?

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!

Bio

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.

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.

Bio

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.