Mar 122014

I’ve been playing pen-and-paper roleplaying games for over thirty years. My first ever experience was TSR’s Star Frontiers, and then I moved on to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I played everything from 1st edition AD&D up to 4th edition. I was lucky in that my teenage gaming group was willing to play anything, and we did with a vengeance. We played AD&D, Top Secret, Chill, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Marvel Heroes, Villains and Vigilantes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gangbusters, Champions, Space Master, Gamma World, Stormbringer, and more. However, there is one game that really captured my fancy and still does to this day: Rolemaster.

Rolemater box set

The box set that started it all.

We had played AD&D for quite awhile when Rolemaster hit us like a bolt of lightning. My friend Mike had bought the Rolemaster boxed set published by Iron Crown Entertainment (ICE) and read it through and through. I can still remember the scene of him telling us that there was a better system out there as he pulled the books from his backpack. We were instantly interested in the combat system as we loved using critical tables in our other games as we felt they added something extra to the game. Being used to the quick character creation of other games, we actually spent the entire night creating our characters. It took us a bit to get used to the system, but we realized that the knock of the game as being too complex was nonsense. Basically, the entire system boiled down to rolling percentile dice and adding your skill and then subtracting any modifiers. The Arms Law book is simply broken down by specific weapons, but the system is the same for everything.

As we  played on Friday and Saturday nights (being broke and living in the boonies where going anywhere interesting required a drive of thirty plus miles), we tried our characters out the next night. As we travelled across a landscape, we came across some orcs. One of our members, Pat, cried out, “Orcs! That’s some easy xp!” as he ran up to engage them. We were used to AD&D where orcs were essentially patsies and were stunned when the first orc killed Pat outright with a single blow. After the fight, we decided to regroup and our GM, Mike, allowed Pat to reuse his character as a new addition so as to not force him to reroll another one. Later on in the evening, we came across a ruined throne room. Pat, always a magnet for trouble, sat on the throne and activated a trap where he was shot with two crossbow bolts. He laughed it off as there’s no way two crossbow bolts could kill him. To our dismay, he was bleeding from his wounds and we realized that not a single one of us had bought the first aid skill. We tried to tend to his wounds using unskilled rolls, but we failed miserably. We sat there and watched his character bleed to death. Normally Pat reacted with rage when one of his characters died, but he surprised us by laughing and saying that it was cool that he died that way as it was much more realistic than the other rpgs we had been playing.

That’s one of the reasons why I love Rolemaster: the realism. Being stabbed or shot could, and usually did, have severe consequences. We learned to be experts at first aid if we wanted to survive. Even better was that the realism didn’t overshadow the fantasy aspects of the game, not did it bog the game down. We made sure we had healers who cold reattach limbs if necessary, but the fact remained that any single blow could kill our character, no matter how mighty they were. This gave a definite edge to any encounter and we would plan scrupulously for any contingency.

Rolemater box set

My group left many a dead character on the island of Vog Mur.

However, the main reason why I love Rolemaster is its flexibility. You can create any character you want within the framework of the rules. My friends and I were always angry that in other games, we couldn’t be stealthy if we weren’t playing thieves.  We had all read Tolkien and highlighted that the elves that patrolled the borders of the Golden Wood were warriors that were stealthy. Why couldn’t we do the same? The class limitations in most other rpgs did not allow for such flexibility. But in Rolemaster we were free to create a warrior that was adept at stealth and incredibly observant. Sure, your skill costs varied by profession, but if you wanted the skills, they were available for purchase.

To that end, my group has played rogues that could shine in any royal court or have warriors that could rival a bard when playing a lute. I’ve played magicians that were neither frail or unskilled in combat. There are almost endless possibilities in what you can create if you’re willing to spend the development points for it. You may not be the best at that particular activity, but you’ll be able to try your hand at it.

To that end, Rolemaster has been my pen-and-paper rpg of choice for close to thirty years. I ran it in college, when I owned my own game shop, and I still run it to this day. In fact, I ran a solo game for a friend yesterday as his poor elven paladin is forced to mentor an ungrateful rogue that resents his authority. Good times, and there’s plenty more in the future. Here’s hoping you roll an open-ended success.

  2 Responses to “Why I Love Rolemaster”

  1. Yeah, the system, is rock solid. The fluidity of being able to work or re-work something to make “Your Campaign” plausible is simplicity at it’s best. You can make your own formula’s or charts and they just work. I am getting ready and preparing a 10-year campaign, with a core of Shadow World & Space Master with parallels to Lord of the Rings, Stargate, and Star Wars. With D&D it would just be lame and to much first hand work.

    • Sorry for the delay in replying as personal issues kept me away from updating the site for a few weeks. I agree with your comment on fluidity and creating your own unique campaign. The longest single campaign that I ran for Rolemaster was five years, but my group still plays in the same world and occasionally interacts with their old characters (or those characters’ children). Right now, my group has been enjoying a pulp campaign that I’ve been running for about five months so far. D&D is a good system, but it is limited and it constrains players into a set role that is hard to break.

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