Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rolemaster Tales

One of the best things about Rolemaster is the stories that are made thanks to it's unpredictable, open-ended percentile system. Basically, if you roll a 96-100, you keep rolling, which can cause some insanely high attack scores if you're fortunate. Even if you score mid-range on your attack roll, you still might get to roll for a critical hit. Roll high enough, and you can stun, maim, or kill an opponent--generally in gruesome and descriptive fashion.

Basically, in Rolemaster, you can be a 1st-level stableboy with minimal training, be fighting with a pigsticker, facing an advanced-level dark knight, and you still know there's a chance. Not a big chance, mind, but a chance nonetheless. And every once in a great while, the stableboy wins. Not often, but enough to keep hope alive.

As a result, Rolemaster rarely suffers from the "laugh while taking a battleaxe to the gut" phenomenon that afflicts many games. Combat is an unpredictable thing, not something where you reasonably estimate you can get hit 8 times with a longsword before dying. Entering combat on your terms, and knowing when to avoid combat, becomes paramount. Fighting becomes something more than routine; it becomes an uncertain, harrowing prospect, where any battle could be your last. And that's how I like it.

Any Rolemaster player that played any iteration of the game for any amount of time will have some insane stories for you, stories where improbable twists of fate led to the defeat of much bigger and powerful bad guys. Of course, the downside to this is many players know what it's like to be cut down by a lucky, lone orc.

I've mentioned these elsewhere before, but here are two of my favorite examples from a Rolemaster campaign of a few years ago:

One of my favorite Rolemaster moments had to be when Stump the Dwarf Fighter in our party saved our ass from an Unnatural 66 encounter roll.

Our GM at the time was a total ass, and didn't particularly care for the way we were going. When we rolled a 66 on an encounter roll (which generally signifies something weird and unsettling happening in RM), it was perfect timing for him to drop some Elder Giant Demon on us.

I was playing a Sage, and was generally considered useless in combat at the time, though that soon changed...more on that in a moment.

So this 15' tall red-horned monstrosity is sitting in our way. Now, not one of us was over 7th level at the time. But you know what they say about Rolemaster combat....there's always a chance.

Was there ever!

Stump was belligerent. Very belligerent. Attack first, ask questions later. Usually, he has the chops to pull it off, but he knew that if he got close to this thing and whatever giant-ass sword and flaming whip it was holding, he was done for.

So after getting initiative, he announced he was throwing his battleaxe. Penalties and all that, but he kissed his percentile dice and sent them a'rollin'. He open-ended with like a 98, which meant he rolled again.

He open-ended again.

He open-ended again, barely.

He rolled a 78, which didn't open-end, but which put his total attack roll at well over 400.

Time for the critical hit roll--it was a 90-something.

Bottom line, the axe plants itself deep in the damned thing's forehead. It dissipates, banished from the mortal plane for 100 years.


My second Rolemaster story has to do with my Sage. Now, I was not much use in a fight--not a pure spell caster, crappy to hit with my crappy rapier. I did have a shortbow, which I had diligently been putting some (oh-so-expensive) ranks into. But whereas other people had Kill Numbers into the dozens, I had none. And here I am at 7th level!

Well, the city our party lived in was seized by this group of vampires. They mind-enslaved the town guards, and sent groups to attack us all at our places of residences. My house was a scholar's retreat, full of maps, treatises, manuscripts, scrolls, and everything else you'd expect.

They set the thing on fire. I arrived too late from my travels to do anything but watch it burn.

8 guards and our group's resident traitor, a cavalier, slowly advanced on me.

The roof, the roof, the roof was on fire.

All my books, my manuscripts, my writings, gone.

My scholar went bats***.

In-game, I had just discovered an herb that granted haste-like abilities when ingested properly. Addictive as hell.

I downed the stuff like candy, screamed, and took out my shortbow.

I literally could not miss that night. I killed 4 guards in 4 rounds. The 5th round, with the line-of-sight cleared, I took out the commanding cavalier, with a critical that sent him spinning backward 20 feet, his heart burst by a dead-on arrow.

My allies showed in time to finish off the rest. I think, by then, there were 1 or 2 alive, maybe one more on the ground.

You don't mess with a man's library.


Any of our Rolemaster players out there, past or present, please feel free to contribute your own events in the comments!


Ragnorakk said...

Oh man...
My 12th level ranger just returned from an unholy dangerous plane, where we'd slogged and fought and finally found a gate back home.
Then an orc open-ends and an arrow through the eye ends Nexor's life...
An orc! After hordes of demons... rough.

Car Games said...

nice post !!!
keeep it up...

Anonymous said...

Cool stories. I played Rolemaster once at a con and really enjoyed it. I have the RM Basic Set in addition to some HARP books and MERP. I like the system, but can't get anyone to play.

Tenkar said...


My group had fun with Space Master and MERP.

As the GM I can recall many high-fives but I fail with the details ;)

Eric Wilde said...

We were playing in a homeworld. The adventure was in a dormant volcano that had a small town of Shards living in it. Everything else in the crater was tropical jungle. There party was essentially the RM version of your four basic food groups, all around 8th or 9th level.

I'm not sure if Shards were core RM monsters, from a supplement or if I made them up. This was 20 years ago and I just plain forgot that little detail. Anyway, they were the equivalent of a humanoid made of shards of glass, with mean ranged attacks and vicious slashing/piercing melee attacks. Although the ranged attacks were deadly, you did not want to get close to these folks.

The party's assault on the town was a failure and they retreated. However, shards are fast - very fast. So the chase out of the volcano crater was dotted with short skirmishes. The players had to break free and run as fast as they could between the skirmishes. Everyone was getting fatigued.

Finally we were down to the spell user and the thief climbing up a sheer cliff wall near the lip of the volcano. The cliff was overgrown with vines and trees so even the spell user could climb easily enough. The problem was, the shards had picked up the PCs' trail again and were just as fast climbing as on flat ground. The thief took off into the foliage to hide and let the spell user deal with stalling the bad guys. As the monsters closed in the spell user was bringing them down one by one and running out of power. The last shard closed in with the spell user just as the thief popped out of hiding (some Dimension Door-like item as I recall), leaped out at the shard and let gravity do the rest. I'm not sure now exactly what sort of unarmed attack was used; but, it was a double open-end on the attack roll.

What with the ballsy unarmed attack against a creature made of glass shards and the fantastic daring of tumbling down the jungle-covered cliff face, I didn't have the heart to ask the player to even roll for the crit. It just turned into a story at that point. The two of them went tumbling down the cliff. The thief was torn to shreds by the glass shards and vines; but, survived. A trail of splintered glass littered the cliff side and what remained of the creature crashed on the rocks below. The spell user climbed down and helped the bloody, broken thief climb out of the volcano to safety before the next pack of shards found them.

The thief (a kindhearted half-orc with only one tusk sticking out from his lower jaw) became the group's most beloved character after that.

greywulf said...

Rolemaster players have the best stories, I swear :D

Zzarchov said...

3rd level halfling with a boomerang. 5 open ended rolls later and 3 ogres (all three) fell over with crushed throats. Best rescue from the cooking pots ever. Saved the whole party.

Later the party died when we fell down an slick grassy slope and broke all our skulls open in a 3 inch stream and drowned after that terrible 20 foot slide.

Zachary The First said...

Oh, those are wonderful! Well done!

xemytica said...

This is just wonderful! Brings back so many memories... :)

Zachary The First said...

And let's not forget when you barely get someone, roll an "A" critical (the lowest crit possible), then roll like a 99 on it. What appeared to be a scratch actually hit their femoral artery.

Man, what good times!

Schuyler said...

The greatest thing ever asked at a Rolemaster session is "Are you wearing a helmet? No?" Promptly followed by the noble turned thief falling from a massive head wound.

You know I think this deadly consequence is something that other games seem to miss. In other RPs it is the status quo to charge heedlessly into battle taking whatever the enemies throw with a smile on your face.
I wish the party in our current game that remember that combat is quite deadly...

mmaranda said...

I know I'm a bit late to the party but...

Rolemaster sounds like it might be a great game for my group of players. Unfortunately our FLGS doesn't carry the game.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what is needed to get started with Rolemaster. Looking on Amazon there is a Rolemaster Classic, Rolemaster Fantasy, a number of Players Laws, and a few monster's guides.

Is there a book for the GM is there a difference between Classic and Fantasy?

Zachary The First said...

My personal recommendation would be to go with Rolemaster Express—you can get the pdf for about $5, and the print copy for $10. It’s a slimmed-down version of Rolemaster Classic (which is a cleaned-up version of Rolemaster 2nd edition).

If you like it, you can pick up the 3 books of Rolemaster Classic—Arms Law, Character Law, and Spell Law. If you want more, you can also gets Classic's Creatures & Treasures. With Express and Classic, remember to mix and match what rules you want—this was meant to be a modular system.

If you have any other questions before you dive in, drop me a line—I’ll be happy to answer. You can also check out Iron Crown's website, which gives some more information and has an online shop.

Anonymous said...

Best system to play Middle Earth. But keep an eye on magic users professions!

Dorty lightfinger said...

One of my most memorable encouters was during an end of term 24hr roleplay session when I had a 6th level tall-fellow halfling burgler called Dorty Lightfinger.
Dorty and his mates, a nightblade and a psychotic fighter, had been found in possession of the high-cleric's most treasured property (we were framed I swear!) and were deported by the authorities to a small colony on a recently dicovered barren continent.
The continent had limited metal resources and we'd been striped of all possessions. A bunch of city boys we boldly set forth into the unexplored interior (o.k. we were run out of town) with no armour and only the most basic weapons.The nightblade and fighter were armed only with a dagger and wooden training sword we'd pilfered and I proudly carried a brand new bow and arrows I'd crafted from scratch (basically a bendy stick with twine which fired pointy sticks) which counted as a -10 bow with -5 arrows.
It was 5am and we'd been playing for 17 hours when the GM rolled for a random encounter. And open-ended. Normally he would have re-rolled for something more sensible but being silly o'clock he saw the chance to slaughter some or all of the party, finish the session and get some sleep.
The encounter was a small cute looking bunny. Dinner we thought and I fired my bow, missing wildly. Dinner is what the KILLER RABBIT also thought leaping at our fighter and causing enough hit point damage in one blow to send him unconcious. It immediately leapt for the throat of the nightblade who only survived because the Gm roled 03 for it's critical. Shouting the fierce battle cry of 'Run away' the nightblade tried to escape and double-open ended his sprint manouver and disappeared over the horizon in a rapidly retreating cloud of dust. Which left my terrified halfling to face the rabid beast.
My normal tactic in a fight was to climb the nearest tree/building and shoot until I ran out of arrows but we were on a featureless heath with nothing to climb and no-where to run. Not having a 'Holy hand-granade of Antioch' either things looked grim.
As the beast was blindingly fast the GM said I'd have to make a bloody good quick draw roll to get a shot off before it tried to rip my throat out with it's big pointy teeth! I triple open-ended and the GM agreed that if I managed to hit with my attack roll I could add my ambush bonus to the crit. I rolled for the attack. Double open-end and 2 E crits! Except the wee beasty counted as super large so that was 2 crit rolls on the superlarge creature table and I only had a normal weapon. Not so good. The first crit I rolled was nothing special even with my 7 ambush ranks added just a few extra hits. The second crit roll. 90. Damn so close. But wait those ambush ranks make it 97... 'Your arrow goes straight into it's neck severing an artery and stunning the furry fecker before it drops down dead!' The only crit roll with a normal weapon which would have killed it!

And thus was born the legend of Dorty the bunny slayer! And with the fighter unconcious and the nightblade still running guess who got to rumage first through the creatures hoard of treasure?

Anonymous said...

My party, a level 13 Arms Master, a level 11 Force Mage and myself, a level 14 Paladin, somehow, SOMEHOW, managed to break some sort of dimensional door, through it came a tasty level 20 Sword Demon. He took both arms users down, both KO'd but not dead mercifully. The GM decided to kill the mage off with style and the Demon flew up before doing a dive on the helpless mage.

In panic, the Force Mage decided to cast a wall of stone to hide behind. Demon makes a flying manneurver, fails it, so he takes a C critical. GM rolls .... 66. Demon breaks his own neck. Mage didn't pick our pockets, he just woke us up.

A few weeks later the same party is inspecting the same ruins and meets a further Sword Demon and some sort of Alien (akin to the big alien in the second movie). We are truly smoked this time.

Fearing we'll be wiped out, I cast Holy Avenger on my paladin. A level 20 spell cast by a level 14 character with no preparation rounds .... 00, instantly gaining 100 OB and 30 DB (if memory serves right). What a moment.

Anonymous said...

Gods i miss Rolemaster. It was the first RPG i played and i absolutely love it but these days i can't find anyone to play it. I have to settle for D&D... grumblegrumblebrumble...

Varak Tanuk said...

The enormous cavern was dark except for the slightly glowing forms of at least three dragons at rest. We had reached this lair as we usually did using a combination of spells and skills to avoid the outer guards and alarums. We feared no creature—we were the original Rolemaster characters and I was the chief rules abuser and system designer. Our collection of artifacts and critical charts would even be able to deal with these Middle-earth Dragons.
The GM and co-designer of RM disagreed and thought that his lordly Dragons would prevail. He was wrong—he never was a numbers man, more of a color and flavor and story man. But I knew that even a Dragon would fall as quickly to a good critical roll, and I had loaded up with defensive resources to outlast the beasts in a critical rolling contest.
Things went our way and the Dragons fell to a surprise attack from a slightly above average barrage of critical rolls. We had 3 or 4 characters down, but none permanently. We rejoiced and when home happy. The GM grumbled and when home to prepare for the next session in 2 weeks.
We started the next session awaking from a good sleep, and we had all had the same dream—which was the action with the Dragons from the previous session. We complained and grumbled, but not much in that we knew the Dragons went down too easily.
The session proceeded as before, we reached the lair we opened up on the Dragons AND....
They started using the Large and Super-Large Critical tables that the GM had created in the last 2 weeks. Some of us barely escaped with our lives. We never again laughed at the powerful creatures of Middle-earth. We respected the genre's biggest and brightest as we and every player should.

samir said...

I was playing a halfling archer (had to stand on a box to use my long bow)and I had recently come across an alchemical substance called 'gunpowder' We were trapped in a castle surrounded by 13,000 orcs (the gm told us) and they were launching flaming tar balls at us. I found some resin and coated my arrows and advised the ref I wanted to do an arching shot over the trees and hit the tar ball as it was being lit. The ref told me that while I could see the catapult and the torch I would still need to break 300 to hit the tar ball. I rolled open ended with a final 303.
Finally one of the other players yelled at me. "Come on! the castle is a trap, let the orcs in!" (I was late to the game that night and no one told me the plan) I survived, but did not get the extra exp for all the orcs I lit up. fun times.
I am actually starting a rolemaster game using shadow world as the base.