Recently I had a impromptu chat with Tim of the Samwise Seven RPG YouTube channel and the YouTube RPG Brigade on Facebook. There was no real setup and we just went off the cuff. The bad background sounds were my fault as I was clashing around in the kitchen. My first Google Hangout – so lesson learned.
We ended up chatting for a good 23 minutes about Rolemaster. A great, old, RPG from way back that we both enjoyed. You can find the video of the chat here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Bbj8N_ebgg.
One of the things we touched on was the ease of playing Rolemaster and how to make it more approachable for new players. That’s what the rest of this post will be about.
So the first thing to be aware of is how our backgrounds, while similar, are different. Tim comes from a background in the Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS), while my background comes from Rolemaster 2nd Edition (RM2). RMSS is the newer of the versions, but neither are renowned for ease of character generation or playability.
Tim asked me on how to make the game more approachable for new players and GMs. I gave some response in the video, but wanted to get into more detail. Hopefully this will assist anyone who wants to try the game, but are a little intimidated by the stigma of “Rulemonster”. The entire goal of this post is to make Rolemaster as simple to play, while maintaining what makes Rolemaster into the awesome game it is.
Something to be aware of is that Rolemaster is currently going through a rewrite to the ‘Unified System’. It’s been in beta for a couple of years now, so who knows how far out it is. From what I understand it could have some differences. As my experience is from the older systems, this will be purely from that perspective.
One last thing before we get to the meat of this is that I will be speaking about the stats and mechanics of the game, so a passing knowledge is likely needed to get the most out of this. Of course – feel free to read it without that – I’ll respond to any questions about the game if anyone has any, but I won’t go into heavy detail to keep the post short(ish….maybe).
The differences between the various versions are mostly subtle. The one major difference is with skill categories. This was a new concept that was added in RMSS and Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplay (RMFRP). Before RMSS, Rolemaster did not have skill categories at all. As it’s the most profound difference, we’ll start there.
Skill Categories / Similar Skills
Many fans of RMSS and RMFRP swear by the skill categories. They replaced the ‘Similar Skills’ rules that older versions had. What I suggest for both of these is to essentially ignore them. Categories worked on the concept that you could have a category of skills (Athletic – Gymnastics for example) that would add 2 points per rank and skills under it (Acrobatics for example) that would add 3 points per rank in the skill. The idea was that you could have good general knowledge due to association of skills that were in the same category.
RM2 used the simpler 5 points per rank in the skill, but it left a gap that if you were skilled in something that is very close in knowledge like swinging a broadsword vs. swinging a falchion that you would be clueless with the one you weren’t skilled with. RM2 used Similar Skills to get around this. The rule allowed you could use a certain % of your ranks in a “Similar Skill”. As an example Acrobatics and Contortions were similar with the idea that both promoted supple bodies.
So using this example, if you had 10 ranks (adding 50 to stats, etc…) in Acrobatics you could use 1/4 of your ranks (2.5, rounded to 2), so you could use Contortions as if it had 2 ranks, adding 10 to stats, etc…
End result is essentially the same. Gritty detail at the expense of making the game more difficult than it needs to be. RM2 sacrifices playability for this, while RMSS sacrifices character generation time for this.
Recommendation – Drop both systems. If a player wants to use a skill in lieu of another, let them with a simple negative. Something like -10, -30, etc, depending on how different the skills are. This cuts down on extensive character generation and avoids slowing play to calculate a new skill.
Another rule, that I never really followed in my Rolemaster games was the idea of Temporary Stats. The general idea was to create characters that were not fully developed and could increase stats (or decrease if unlucky), while the characters levels up. This was to show youthful characters growing into adults. Almost all stats were below their potential and used a temporary value that would increase until hitting the maximum.
Again, I am left in the position of wondering about the gains versus the playability. I understand the reasons with these rules, but it comes at the expense of causing a massive increase in book keeping everytime a character gains a level. As Tim put it in our chat “Yay! I levelled up!, Oh-no, I levelled up…”. It would require a recalculation of all stat bonuses on EVERY skill. Way to much for what it adds.
Recommendation – Calculate stats as usual, then calculate Potential Stats. From there on, just use the potential stats for everything. One thing I do like to do is to use the stat gain rules when an injury might cause a temp stat to drop. Recovering from an injury could be an interesting roleplaying point, and it doesn’t happen enough to annoy the play group as a whole.
Static Maneuver Tables
Another key part to Rolemaster is the Static Maneuver Table. This table is referenced when a skill is rolled to see what the result is. The Static table, in general, deals with skills that don’t require gross movement. They show the range of results that a character can get depending on the skill. Most of these tables have 8 or so results and have some interesting detail, but their use can bog down play and help to give Rolemaster the “Chartmaster” nick name.
It might be fun to read through them to get an idea how they function, but referencing them for every skill check can become tedious.
Recommendation – Use the tables only for extreme successes or failures, if at all. In general I count a fumble as a negative result, even though the table has two different results depending how far down you go. I prefer this method as it allows for quick results without a pause to look up something. I also come up with a funny result on a negative, but don’t read it from the book. Same with extreme results (150+), I come up with a cool action from a fantastic success. I’ll use the tables only when I’m too tired to come up with something, or need an inspiration.
Another table reference for skills needing gross movement. You would usually cross reference the difficulty of the skill attempt with the result of the skill combined with a roll. This would either give a number that shows the percentage of success or some verbiage on a failure. So, for example, a number of 50 could indicate that attempting to jump a pit means you managed half the distance, while a number of 110 would mean that not only did you clear the pit, but you jumped with an extra 10% needed.
These tables can also be used for completion of longer tasks with constant rolls adding together the result until it hits 100 or more.
Recommendation – Use a similar estimation as the static table recommendation. Instead of assigning a difficulty like “Medium”, “Routine”, or “Absurd”, etc… just estimate a negative or bonus to the skill, or a number that would be a success. In general if a roll with a bonus is 110 or higher I count it as a success. Negative is a fumble and over 150 is an ‘critical’ success.
These are used to show tiring during activity. They are supposed to be used in most strenuous activities, like combat. Again, there is little added when tracking these points in every action, but a big increase in book keeping for players and GMs alike.
Recommendation – Either ignore them totally, or only use them in extreme conditions such as fighting in snow conditions, running across the desert, etc…
As with most level based RPGs, XP is gained and when at a certain range, the character levels up. Rolemaster has an extensive series of things to track to gauge XP gained. Most of these tables deal with individual actions or results. You can gain XP for receiving crits for example. For succeeding in a skill or for defeating an opponent in combat.
Recommendation – As with most games, GMs tend to do as they wish here so I doubt this will be news to anyone. I’d suggest to base XP on accomplishments and goals. I wouldn’t suggest tracking individual rolls or results. Again – way too much book keeping for little gain.
Percentage Activity in a Round
This one is a purely RMSS and RMFRP rule. In general you break down a round into a percentage of activity. So for example swinging a sword is a minimum 60% activity, but can go up to 100% for a slight bonus. Everything you can do in a combat round has a percentage, so moving, reloading a bow, using a skill, etc… all have their own percentage you can use in a round. It’s somewhat easy once you get used to it, but it can be frustrating if there is a single person at the table who doesn’t ‘get it’.
Recommendation – Use RM2’s round break down instead if available, or another system that you are familiar with. Generally one major ‘activity’ is good per round, and possibly some secondary stuff like moving, drawing weapons, etc… The reloading percentages are the most useful part to these rules, and if anything, I would keep those.
Skill Categories / Similar Skills – Drop them in favor of a simple negative to the alternate skill.
Temporary Stats – Drop them and just use the potential stats for everything.
Static Maneuver and Move Maneuver Tables – Estimate their use with bonuses and negatives to the skill, count anything in the negatives as a fumble and anything over 110 as a success. Anything over 150 is an amazing success.
Exhaustion Points – Drop them in regular play, but use them if the environment causes serious exhaustion.
Experience Points – Ignore XP per action or result, and hand out XP on a gut feel. Reading the rules for XP can give a good estimation for how much to hand out in a session.
Percentage Activity in a Round – Use RM2’s round, D&D’s round, or any other game you are familiar with. I keep it to 1 major action, 1 minor action and free actions like shouting warnings, etc…
These are the basic house rules I use to keep things manageable. I’ve found over the years that it makes Rolemaster fly in both character creation/levelling and in play. My general rule is if it doesn’t add anything to the experience – toss it out. And if you are a Rolemaster fan – keep in mind that I’m not advocating these as official changes, but as things I do to make one of my favorite game systems approachable to new players or to those with an anti-RM bent.
What do you think about these suggestions?