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|Designer(s)||Coleman Charlton, John Curtis, Pete Fenlon, Steve Marvin|
|Publisher(s)||Iron Crown Enterprises|
|Publication date||1980 (Arms Law)|
1982 (Character Law)
1984 (first complete edition)
1999 (fourth edition)
|System(s)||Rolemaster Standard System|
First edition (RM1): 1980–1982Edit
This edition includes the original versions of Arms Law, Claw Law, Spell Law, Character Law and Campaign Law. These were available initially as individual books, and later as combined volumes and in boxed sets.
Second edition (RM2): 1984–1994Edit
In 1984 an initial boxed set was brought out with expanded and revised rules that contained Spell Law, a combined Arms Law/Claw Law, Character Law, as well as the Vog Mur campaign setting module.
A new boxed set was released shortly thereafter all of the above as well as The Cloudlords of Tanara, a detailed setting and adventure supplement that introduced ICE's original Loremaster setting, which would later develop into the more sophisticated Shadow World.
Several additional books were published for the second edition, including Rolemaster Companions 1–7, three Creatures & Treasures books, Alchemy Companion, Oriental Companion, Elemental Spell Users' Companion, and Arms Companion.
Rolemaster Standard System: 1995Edit
In 1995 the game was revamped and re-released as Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS). The biggest changes were to character generation, particularly in the number of skills available and the method for calculating bonuses for skills. Skills were now grouped into Categories of similar skills and one could buy ranks separately in the category and the actual skill. The combat sequence was revised, and some of the details of spellcasting were changed. The method for learning spell lists was completely overhauled and most of the lists were adjusted and rebalanced.
Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying: 1999Edit
In 1999 the game underwent a slight restructuring when Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying (RMFRP) was released, but this was mostly a rearranging of material with very few changes to the rules themselves.
The older single-volume Spell Law was divided into three separate books, Of Essence, Of Channelling and Of Mentalism, each of which expands that realm of power with additional professions and spell lists.
Basic game mechanicsEdit
Rolemaster uses a percentile dice system and employs both classes (called "Professions" in Rolemaster) and levels to describe character capabilities and advancement.
Task resolution is done by rolling percentile dice, applying relevant modifiers, and looking the result up on the appropriate chart to determine the result. There are various charts to increase the realism of the results, but most of these are optional, and many rolls can be made on a relatively small number of tables.
For combat each character has an Offensive Bonus (OB), which takes into account one's natural physical adeptness, weapon skill, and other factors, and a Defensive Bonus (DB), which takes into account natural agility, the use of shields and "Adrenal Defense", the ability of martial artists to avoid blows seemingly without effort. In addition various modifiers for position, wounds, and other factors are present.
An attacking combatant rolls percentile dice, adds his or her OB to the total, adds modifiers, and subtracts the defender's DB. The total is then applied to a table for the attacker's weapon. The attack total is cross-indexed with the type of armor (if any) worn by the defender and the result will be a number of concussion hits dealt, which are then subtracted from the defender's running total. If sufficient hits are dealt, the defender may go unconscious, but death seldom results purely from concussion hit damage.
In addition to concussion hits, however, a critical hit can be dealt by the result on the weapon table. These are described by type (slash, crush, puncture, etc.) and by severity (generally A through E, with E being the most severe). Critical Hits (or simply "crits"), can inflict additional concussion hits, bleeding (subtracted from concussion hits at the start of each new round), broken bones, loss of limbs or extremities, internal organ damage and outright death. If a crit is inflicted, a second roll is made on the appropriate critical table.
Thus, unlike, for example, Dungeons & Dragons, Rolemaster describes wounds not only in the number of points of damage dealt (which are then subtracted from an abstract pool of 'Hit Points'), but with specific details of the injury inflicted. Death occurs, for both player characters and Gamemaster-controlled adversaries, primarily through this critical damage, and not through loss of hit points. In addition, specific injuries carry with them injury penalties, which inhibit further actions on the part of the wounded part, and loss of concussion hits (which represent overall health), can bring about similar penalties.
Almost all die rolls in Rolemaster are 'open-ended', meaning that if a result is high enough (or low enough), one rolls again and add (or subtract) the new roll to the original result - and this can happen multiple times, so in theory, there is no upper limit to how well (or poorly) one can roll. This means that a halfling does have a chance, albeit slight, to put down a troll with one well-placed (and lucky) dagger strike.
However, the fact that one's opponents also fight using these same rules can make Rolemaster a very deadly game for both PCs and NPCs; a lucky shot may let an inexperienced fighter slay a war-hardened veteran.
Fans of the system maintain that this adds a great deal of realism not present in many other fantasy games, and reflects the true deadliness of a well-placed strike from a weapon, even a small one such as a dagger. Death from natural weapons (such as a fist or an animal's teeth and claws) can happen but is very rare against armored combatants. Unarmored characters may very well suffer serious wounds when mauled by animals, but again this allows for more credible confrontations than in other fantasy games, where the threat posed by an "unfantastic" beast such as a wolf, grizzly bear, or tiger is considered minimal.
Because Rolemaster's approach to combat favors a warrior that is properly armed and armored, a character that is poorly equipped (as is typically the case with newly generated characters) is decidedly vulnerable. Such characters can have a tough time prevailing against even fairly mundane opponents. This can prove frustrating for new players, and has given rise to hyperbolic tales of housecats cutting down promising young heroes in their prime.
Rolemaster is sometimes derisively called 'Chartmaster' or 'Rulemonster' for depending upon numerous tables and charts for character generation and resolving game actions, and for its perceived vast array of rules covering every possible situation. Supporters of the game argue that many of these rules and charts are entirely optional.
Character creation and developmentEdit
Rolemaster is a skill-based system in which very few absolute restrictions on skill selection are employed. All character abilities (fighting, stealth, spell use, etc.) are ultimately handled through the skill system. A character's profession represents not a rigid set of abilities available to the character, but rather a set of natural proficiencies in numerous areas. These proficiencies are reflected in the cost to purchase the skills themselves.
Rolemaster characters have ten attributes, called "stats", which represent their natural abilities in such areas as physical strength, memory, self-discipline, agility. Both random and points-based methods for determining stat totals exist, but the final result will be a number on a percentile scale (1-100), which is then used to determine the character's skill bonus at actions which employ that stat. A self-governing system is in place also such that each skill closer to 100 is more costly than the last. Moving a skill from 50 to 51 is almost trivial; from 98 to 99 nigh impossible.
In character creation, and as characters advance in levels, Development Points are assigned, and can be used to purchase skills. In RMSS and RFRP, they can also be spent on Training Packages, which represent a specific bundle of skills, equipment and contacts gained through training. These are optional, and can be ignored if the player prefers to design his or her character entirely from the ground up.
Skills are purchased in Ranks; the more ranks a character has in a skill, the more able he is at actions covered by that skill. The number of ranks is multiplied by a set number dependent on the total number of ranks the character has, then added to the bonus for the relevant stats. The final number is the character's skill bonus, which is the number actually added to the dice when actions are attempted.
In the August 1984 edition of Dragon (Issue #88), Arlen Walker asked if the hefty $48 price tag for the second edition boxed set was worth the money, and provided a long and in-depth examination of the box's contents. Walker liked the different ways that characters could gain experience points, such as travel, having religious experiences such as visions, and for coming up with a brilliant idea — although he thought this one would probably lead to arguments over which player had originally voiced the germ of the idea. But he didn't like the idea that characters get experience points for dying. He thought the magic system was "more complicated than in other games, but not unplayably so." Walker had quibbles over the combat system, which seemed to generalize rather than individualize weapons; and he felt the book on animal encounters had very little information about the actual animals. Walker concluded, "Is the Rolemaster system worth the $48, then? The answer is a resounding 'maybe.' If you want a freer, more open game than you are currently playing, I’d say it is probably worth it. Even with the inconsistencies noted it still allows more freedom of choice than almost any other game. Although the physical size of the game is rather imposing, the actual mechanics run rather smoothly and simply."
Walker also reviewed the separately published books Campaign Law, Spell Law, Claw Law and Arms Law.
- Spell Law Walker was impressed with the variety of spells detailed in Spell Law, numbering over two thousand. He found that the "spell-casting system is somewhat more complicated than in other games, but not unplayably so."
- Arms Law He had quibbles about Arms Law — combat was very fast and lethal due to the high amount of damage inflicted by a single blow, and he believed that new players used to other role-playing systems should be made aware of this. Walker also questioned why a character could not parry with a two-handed weapon, although he realized it was probably "a concession to speed of play."
- Claw Law Walker criticized the lack of descriptions of the animals covered in Claw Law, saying, "The animal descriptions have little if anything to do with animals. Calling them descriptions, in fact, is probably overstating the case dramatically... We are told nothing else about the animal, including what it looks like, where it can be found, and how it will behave if found." Walker went on to question why "Historical Weapons" were found in this book, which was supposed to be about damage from animals and monsters, rather than in Arms Law. He also criticized the lack of variety these weapons represented, since to calculate damage and other combat-related numbers for these exotic weapons, referees were simply referred to equivalent weapons in Arms Law. "For example, if you wish to have your character use a Katana, you use the same chart as if he were using a broadsword. The cover blurbs (for Arms Law) say, 'Because a mace is not an arrow or a scimitar...' yet this section says a broadsword is both a long sword and a sabre (as well as a Katana) and a dart is a dagger, because they use the same tables."
- Campaign Law Unlike the first three books, Walker had high praise for Campaign Law, saying, "Whether you’re looking for a new system to run or not,Campaign Law is definitely worth the $10 price of admission. The information and guidelines this book will give you on fleshing out and filling in a consistent campaign world are almost invaluable. All I can say is that if this book had been available when I first began running campaigns, it would have saved me at least a year of development time."
Eleven years later in the September 1995 edition of Dragon (Issue 221), Rick Swan reviewed the updated 144-page Arms Law book that had been released in conjunction with the revised Rolemaster Standard System edition. Swan still found the complexity of the Rolemaster system astounding, saying, "With its tidal wave of numbers, formulas, and tables, the Rolemaster game always struck me as the kind of fantasy RPG that calculus professors play on their day off." Swan found Arms Law to be "mainly a book of tables — more than 100 pages worth." He gave the book an average rating of 4 out of 6, and recommended it only for the mathematically inclined: "If you read computer manuals for fun, if you get misty-eyed thinking about your high school algebra class, if you wonder why your friends complain about something as trivial as filling out tax forms, then Rolemaster ought to be right up your alley. Arms Law is as good a place as any to begin your investigation."
A year later, in the July 1996 edition of Dragon (Issue 231), Swan reviewed the new supplement Arcane Companion that had been published in conjunction with the revision of the magic system in the Rolemaster Standard System edition. Swan reiterated that the Rolemaster system was a mathematician's delight: "Saturated with charts and numbers, it's for players who buy pocket calculators by the crate... If you're the kind of guy who needs his fingers to do arithmetic, this ain't your kind of game." Despite this, Swan found Arcane Companion to be "not only comprehensible, but entertaining, thanks to the designers’ efforts to infuse the facts and figures with vivid imagery." Swan concluded that because this supplement was so solidly linked to the Rolemaster system, it could not be ported to another game system, but "experienced players should welcome this ambitious expansion with open arms. And if you’re among those who’ve dismissed Rolemaster as not worth the effort, sneak a peek at Arcane Companion; it might tempt you to reconsider."
In a 1996 reader poll conducted by Arcane magazine to determine the 50 best roleplaying systems, Rolemaster was ranked 15th. Arcane editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Often used as an archetypal example of a complex roleplaying system, Rolemaster is a fairly numbers-heavy game that also relies on the use of a lot of tables. Most notable are its notorious 'critical hit' charts, which are subdivided by damage type and describe various horrific wounds in graphic detail. If you're looking for a highly detailed and fairly complex system, Rolemaster has a great deal to recommend it. The rules are fairly well organised and very flexible, easily adaptable to a wide variety of situations. On the other hand, if you're not one for tables and calculations, it's probably not going to ring your bell."
- Walker, Arlen (August 1984). "ICE can stand the heat: A long look at Iron Crown's Rolemaster series". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (88): 64–68.
- Swan, Rick (September 1992). "Roleplaying Reviews". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (221): 68.
- Swan, Rick (September 1992). "Roleplaying Reviews". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (185): 68.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.