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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Praise of Rolemaster

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!

1 comment:

Andreas Davour said...

Running the game isn't that bad, actually. What is bad is games that have involved character generation systems. They make it hard to build NPCs on the spot, and make it hard for you to be brutal enough that the players fear for their character.