I'd already moved on to Rolemaster by the time AD&D 2nd edition came out, early converted by MERP – converted through sheer force of will really, my friend Ernie foisted it upon me, and we both being thorough Tolkien geeks...it was important to us. But I had read Arms Law, Spell Law, Character Law during their early printings (plastic bags, no glossy covers). I can't say that I could grok the system as a whole until very much later, not until MERP made me do it. It was not presented as a system at first, more as sub-systems (big ones) to tack on to your AD&D game. Very big ones – replacements really. I cannot help but think that Fenlon & Co. were designing a full system from the get-go.
Rolemaster is the only game that I know of that started off complex and has throughout the course of it's recent lifetime (through various iterations) sought to reduce its complexity to a more manageable level. It is to the point that the differences in organization do not form a pair of worse-organized to better-organized - they're both just as fiddly, just differently so...
1. The Resistance Roll Table – a matrix, comparing level of attack to level of resister. 1st level resistance provided 50% chance against 1st level attack. Smoothed out over 20 levels. This could be the only table ever used in a game – this table really is a very even-handed 'core mechanic'. Nothing unknown beforehand, mathematically – essentially the same concept as the magic resistance some creatures in AD&D had.
2. The division of character classes into three categories: Non Spell-User, Semi Spell-User and Pure Spell-User. This is not specifically accurate – there was a fourth category initially - the Hybrid Spell-User. This was essentially the same thing as a Pure Spell-User, the difference having to do with the categories of magic in the game. What I have retained from this, reinforced by my early playing of Tunnels and Trolls, was the division of character classes into no-magic, some-magic, all-magic.
3. Illusions. There was no disbelief a la AD&D. The caster of illusions manipulated the elements (even if that element were only 'light') and created effects that were real physical effects. Disbelieving illusions had always been a pet peeve of mine about AD&D. Broke the wall, as it were.
4. The Mentalism Companion is one of my favorite RPG books. It has some kinda bleh parts, (it's got 158 pages...) - but it has some very organized thoughts on some more outre fantasy role-playing accoutrements: time travel, 'the philosophies of illusion', natural languages, divination (of past, present, and future, each with their own treatment – jeez!), astrology, tarot, dreams...
Games I can't run? Rolemaster. As a referee, I, if not the players too, shied away from combat! It was too much to bear. In the end, character creation in Rolemaster is as far as I can go. It's kinda like Traveller that way – where character creation is itself a rewarding pastime. I even got to the point that I had 3 players create their characters in Rolemaster, and then I took their character sheets and converted them to my home-brew T&T for play! Gug!
Anyway, I'm sure I'll return to this later, one of those things. And it's given me an idea for a series of adventurous posts – Games I Can't Run!