Archive for the ‘Rolemaster’ Category

For a long time, I’ve been trying to convince everyone I know just how good of a system Rolemaster is.  I’ve been preaching against all of it’s bad reputations.

Now I haven’t changed my mind.  But, in a way, I have.

Ok, when a combat starts, everyone rolls initiative, and then in order, each character gets to take actions.  To make an attack, you roll 1d100, add your Offensive bonus, subtract the targets defensive bonus, and other applicable modifiers and then cross reference that result with the targets armor type to find out how much damage you do, and whether or not you score a critical hit.  It sounds pretty complex.  But it works pretty smoothly, if everyone has even a little bit of experience with the system.

That has not changed, I still feel that it is not so complex as everyone says it is.

However, putting the system into use the past few eeks, I have modified my opinion a bit.  I still like the system, and would be happy to play it.  But to GM?  Not so much.  Let’s forget the arcane way (as in needlessly difficult) they stat up creatures, the way they code all of the game effects in the critical hit charts, and the way they make character creation take hours (the fastest I ever made a character was 30 minutes, and that’s with a spreadsheet).

Let’s focus on the game in play.  In order to achieve a certain level of smoothness, each player should have the proper table for each of their weapons.  If you like to use multiple weapons, you have to have multiple charts.  Then you need all of the proper critical hit charts available easily.  And that’s just so that each player has the information close at hand.  If each player has his ow copy of the rulebooks, this is less of a problem.  Each magic user needs his spell lists at hand, and then the static maneuver table and the moving maneuver table should be close at hand as well.  Magic users need the spell casting static maneuver table, too.

What ends up happening (and this will ease up with experience), is that everyone has a pile of papers next to them in addition to their character sheets, which could be four or more pages long (depending on spells available, status effects, and whether or not you use the long form skill sheets or the short).  When someone wants to do something, they then have to flip through this mound of paper to find the chart they need, remember what modifiers to apply (exhaustion, power point use, range, bleeding, penalties for moving…).

Now, I’m usually the GM as I have the rule books.  It’s always been that way.  And to a degree, I’m okay with it.  But when I’m running a game, and I look up to see the faces of my players and how much they are struggling just to do basic things – like swing a sword – I begin to wonder if I haven’t backed the wrong horse.

Of course, it’s worse for me as the GM.  I’m expected to know all of the rules (which I do), and create interesting, balanced encounters.  But instead of a proper monster stat block, you get a paragraph or two of description, with a long run-on sentence of codes that describe the creatures game stats.  Codes that require a novice to look up what those numbers are (instead of, say, listing the numbers with the monster’s description like so many other systems do).  If someone scores a critical, you get another run-on code block that tells you about stun and rounds of bleeding, instead of just saying “target bleeds this much per round, and can only parry.”

When it comes to GMing games, I have a lot of experience.  I have run several campaigns in GURPS, Rifts, d20, and several others.  But as a Rolemaster GM, I’m a rookie.  And that learning curve is terrible.

Moreover, it turns out I prefer cinematic action to gritty realism.  I’m more likely to fudge the dice if it makes for a better story.  Hard to modify the effects of a strike when the system tells you “you slash across his eyes and into his brain.”  Great and cinematic if it’s a player killing an orc, but when that orc scores that result on a player…

So, in the end, after all the money I’ve spent on the system, I’m thinking I’m going to have to change systems.  The collector in me wants to keep buying the set.  I have so many of the books now, and you never know when you’ll find a game that needs another player.  But my group was hesitant about playing the game in the first place.  They aren’t having a lot of fun (our Magic User spends most of each session unconscious), and if they aren’t having fun, the game falls apart.

The difference is, I now agree with them, at least in part.  On top of that, it is very difficult (for me at least) to GM the game.  Too many things to look up, too many things written in a way that seems deliberately obtuse.  And when a system gets to that point, I usually start looking for greener pastures.  The most successful games I’ve run were lighter-weight, dice pool systems.  In this case, I’m referring mostly to Silhouette core rules (Dream Pod 9’s system: Jovian Chronicles, Heavy Gear, etc.).  In light of the news about “Airship Pirates” coming soon, I’ve been looking at Victoriana 2nd edition.  Of course, my group is not fond of dice pool systems.  But maybe once the first battle occurs, they’ll see how much quicker and easier it plays compared to Rolemaster.

So if you read my old blog, and you remember how much I gushed about the system, please don’t point and laugh.  (Oh, okay.  You can.  A little.)  A lot of times you’ll read a set of rules, think they sound good, and then it all falls apart under actual use.  In fact, that’s kind of how I feel about the World of Darkness system.  So all the good things I said about Rolemaster in the past were from a position of inexperience.  Now that I’ve put it to use, I can see the other side of the coin; for the sanity of my players, I’m going to look for a new system.  Something easier to play, easier to use (and certainly easier to set up and GM).  Let me know in the comments what your favorite system is, and why.  Feel free to tell me a bit about how the mechanics work.

Just a warning, It’ll be a very hard sell to get me to pick up d20 again, regardless of its form.

So, discuss!


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A couple of weeks ago, we finally got to play Rolemaster (Standard System).  It went pretty well, with only the minor hitches that accompany the first game of any system.

Our Cast:

Snok Ngo’Olek: Goblin Swashbuckler.  4’5″, and all of 70 pounds.  But he has a fighting attitude that reminds me of the saturday morning cartoons.  Remember when something small and full of sharp teeth would get ahold of Sylvester?  That’s right, nothing but a blur and the sound of a buzzsaw, until all that was left was Sylvester standing amid a pile of his own fur.    He believes that everyone else is the bigoted one, and that he’s just misunderstood.  “I’m not antagonistic, I just like to fight.” “I don’t steal things, people leave them to be taken.”  “I’m not a smart-ass, I’m just way ahead of them intellectually.”  Things like that.

Rundarr: Gnomish Mana Molder.  4’6″, 135 pounds.  By comparison to Snok, this guy is pretty pudgy, but he knows how to make things appear out of thin air, can muddle enemy minds, and likes to tinker with machines, and invent new ones.  He has the odd occasional magical flare-up that he doesn’t understand (I didn’t mean to burn that wolf to a crisp, i was just trying to distract it!).  He hasn’t been adventuring for very long, and is still pretty naive when it comes to surviving the adventure. He often gets caught up in the moment and forgets that he has spells, instead trying to use a weapon he has no training in to fight alongside the nimble swashbuckler.

The campaign:

After several abortive attempts to create a playable campaign, I finally threw my notes out of the window and just decided on a situation to throw my characters into.  I figured from there, I’ll let things develope.  As a result, we all had a lot more fun than usual. As things progress, I plan on introducing a lot of steampunk elements into the game (just because I think they are cool and fun).  Besides, this summer Abney Park’s Airship Pirates will be out, and I want to end up with something compatible.

The story:

I started by describing how our two intrepid adventurers were out in the wilds for whatever reason floated their little boats.  They were ambushed, sacks dropped over their heads, and kidnapped.  The adventure started after the hoods were removed, and they saw they had been penned up with a lot of other, scraggly looking people.  It didn’t take long for them to realise that they were taken by slavers and sold to a fighting arena.

Before they can make any escape plans, the pair of them are chosen for a fight, some gear is thrust into their hands, and they are pushed out into the pit.  Their opponent: an emaciated, hungry wolf.

DM Note: I chose the encounter because I knew it would be tough (according to RM rules), but not so tough that while dire, they shouldn’t have trouble overcoming it.  I also chose it so that I could teach them the rules for combat, which work a little different from other games.

The swashbuckler started trying for a flank attack on the wolf, while the mana molder tried fighting it with a quarterstaff (with no skill in it).  After a few exchanges, the mana molder is knocked out.  The wolf turns it’s attention to the swashbuckler, and the two of them take turns exchanging attacks.  Both are scoring hits on the other, but the wolf has more hit points to burn through, meaning unless the swashbuckler pulls something amazing out of his…er…rear, he is going to lose.  The table finally turned when the swashbuckler started scoring critical hits against the thing.  By this time, though, the gnome was back on his feet, throwing stones.  The ploy worked, and as it turned to deal with him again, he enveloped it with flame.

DM Note: I failed to notice that he didn’t have enough ranks to cast that spell, so I retroactively decided that he has occasional flares.  It should be interesting to see what happens with the next flare (Rolemaster is a D% system, and if you roll a natural 66 or 100, the GM can apply any unusual result he sees fit).

The wolf dispatched, the slavers came for them.  They tried to struggle, but until the gnome started using his “Jolts” spell (which stuns the target for a number of rounds)  things weren’t going well.  The Jolts spell came in very handy through the rest of the evening, as they stunned or killed as many slavers as it took to escape the slave pens and steal a wagon to make their escape.  Session #2 starts with them on the run.

And Now, Next Week:

Actually, this is going to happen in just a couple of hours from now.  In fact, the gang should start showing up soon.  The plan is for them to have a nice chase scene.  Them on a wagon loaded with weapons (from smugglers!) being pursued by the remaining slavers and the owners of the wagon.  I’ve planned such obstacles as a ravine jump, and steampunk air pirates.  At first, it looks like the pirates are coming to their aid, but in the end, what kind of story would that be?

I didn’t plan much to happen in last weeks session, because I knew with a group of new players, and me GMing the game for the first time ever, things would go slow.  This weeks plot has a lot more elements, and we’ll just see how far we get before we run out of time.

If you’ve never heard of Abney Park, go here for basic information: www.abneypark.com

Abney park is an Industrial punk band that went steampunk a few years back.  I like just about every song they sing, and since the steampunk stage, they tell some pretty interesting stories as well.  Furthermore, www.jango.com has some of their music (possibly other sites, I don’t know).

And, coming this summer, based on the stories they tell in their songs: http://airshippirates.abneypark.com/

It’s based on the rules for Victoriana 2nd Edition :  http://shop.cubicle7store.com/epages/es113347.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/es113347_shop/Categories/Victoriana  which is a dice pool system, and so will take a bit of work to convert to Rolemaster.  But I think it will be worth it.

Victoriana itself has been a very interesting, well researched and entertaining read.  I may just have to use their settings more often, if not their rules (I’ve sunk way too much into my Rolemaster set to just stop using it).

And for those of you who know nothing about Rolemaster:   http://www.ironcrown.com/, and    http://www.ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php  are good places to get info.  Also look here:   http://www.icewebring.com/what-is-rolemaster/

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