Saturday, May 22, 2010

RPG Excavations: Rolemaster 2nd edition (Part 2)

I think one reason I’m enjoying figuring out Rolemaster is that I’ve always been addicted to tinkering with games. However, I’ve noticed with my deconstructions of both AD&D 1E and Rolemaster was that I started thinking I’d create some sort of homebrew that took elements from these systems, but I ended up adopting more and more of the system until I felt comfortable with the entire ruleset and felt like didn’t really need to create a house ruled version. It may be wrong to go into a game thinking, “how can I change this?” or, in my case, “how can I make this simpler?” Yet I’m relatively certain that I wouldn’t have as intensive an understanding of these games if I hadn’t approached them with my game designer’s hat on.

So I’ve been reading Spell Law, and I’m very impressed once again. The spell system is pretty simple, and the spells are just brief writeups with a few notes such as range or duration. They remind me of OD&D’s spell write ups. Spell Law is also the easiest system to port into another game. Using Arms Law in D&D would require the wholesale replacement of the combat system and alterations to the monsters (already too much work), but, I feel like, Spell Law could be adopted without disrupting the other systems of the game. Spell Law is something to consider if you want a more holistic magic system that has a rationale for its various parts. One aspect of Spell Law that is rather well thought out is the fact that psionics, known as Mentalism in Spell Law, is incorporated from the start as a distinct sphere of power. It is a part of the system rather than being an entirely new system that was awkwardly bolted onto D&D. Psionics haven’t really worked very well in D&D, in my opinion, until the most recent addition of the game (largely because all of the various powers now use essentially the same exception based design elements).

I can see why people looking for more detailed rules have often preferred Rolemaster to D&D, but I’m also very aware that this system is also quite a lot to take on. Rolemaster also seems to have been a fairly influential system as there are elements to the system that clearly influenced later games. For example, you can see D&D 3E as a descendent of Rolemaster. They are both Class and Level systems, for example, that also use extensive skill systems.

I’ve been reading various posts about Rolemaster and the one complaint people often have about the system is that it take quite a while to resolve combat. We’ve been playing D&D 4E, and the combats can be rather long sometimes. As a result, I’m becoming increasingly aware that two hour combats are not the thing that keeps me coming back to the table each week. Combat can be intense and fun on its own, but if it’s eating up all of the time you have at the table then I’m less certain about its usefulness. So I’m torn about Rolemaster in regards to this issue. On one hand I admire quite a bit about the Rolemaster system, but I’m unsure if it wouldn’t be too much to take on as a system. I could be wrong though—other folks claim if you stick to mainly just the core system then combat moves along fairly quickly.

I’m looking at maybe using the combat charts from Rolemaster Express, which I recently downloaded, to begin with. I figure if you started with the more simplified charts it might not bog things down too much, and you could move onto the full on Arm Law system eventually if you felt like you wanted the additional detail.

If anybody has some advice on this it would be great.


  1. Combats can be incredibly quick also given that a good critical roll can take someone out immediately.

  2. Fair enough.

    I'm wondering if the rules bloat of Rolemaster's later editions is partly responsible for people talking about combats taking so long. One guy commented that a single round could take up to 30 minutes.

  3. RM2 (now re-released by ICE as 'Rolemaster Classic') is definitely faster than the version of Rolemaster that was published during the 1990s (called variously 'Rolemaster Standard System' [RMSS] or 'Rolemaster Fantasy Role-playing [RMFRP]).

    Even so, when I was a GM I would use the MERP combat charts (printed on the MERP combat screen), while the players used the 'full' RM2 charts for their PCs (since they only needed the charts appropriate for their weapons). It made GMing a lot easier.

    I believe that the combat charts included in RMX are pretty much the same as the MERP ones. They are 'broader' and less detailed than the full RM2 charts, but fully compatible with them.

  4. Yes. I was looking at my copy of MERP today and the charts on RMX are almost the same. That's a great idea there to use those for the NPCs and monsters. Fumbling through all of Arms Law's charts might get frustrating.

  5. As an aside, did anybody ever convert that large mass of charts and mechanics into a program? You'd lose some flavor, but it'd definitely make combat go by faster.

  6. Restless: I'd ask over at the I.C.E. forums. If anybody has done it, it'll be one of those guys.

    They've also got some automated spreadsheets that make character creation quicker (although I'm just going by word of mouth on that as I haven't used any such programs).

  7. Mentalism is not Psionics. Spacemaster has the psionics rules. The main diff though seems to be that mentalism is magic while psionics is strictly not magic.

    You should have a gander at HARP, which is rolemaster simplified and restructured similar to d20. In that there's stats, classes, skills, talents aka feats, "prestige" classes, and individual spell selection rather than spell lists.

  8. I've been thinking that bolting Spell Law into DnD could work nicely. Mentalism as psionics works, IMO. Just because there's psionics in Spacemaster doesn't mean Mentalism is not psionics. It's up to the campaign designer.

    Have you successfully brewed up a way to use Spell Law with DnD? I'm looking to do it with v3.5 and would like to minimize my work by using your notes - if possible.

  9. I will always have a soft spot for RM, even if I do feel that it's warts often prevent me from enjoying it fully.

    Has anyone EVER made a conversion doc for using Spell Law with D&D? I'm running ACKS now (great B/X simulacrum) and looking for a good psionics system. I'd use Mentalism, except despite claims to the contrary, Spell Law doesn't just slot into D&D.

    I've googled looking for help but nothing yet. Any ideas?