Rolemaster Unified Q&A

We recently held a live Q&A as part of our involvement with UK Games Expo. The topic? Rolemaster Unified. For those of you who couldn’t make it, below is a transcript of what we discussed. For the sake of brevity and clarity, it is not verbatim.

The panel was led by me; Iron Crown Enterprises’ resident marketing troll Colin and featured Aaron, Jonathan, and Nick all of whom have been involved in the creation of RMU but are not exclusively responsible for it.

Colin: Did you each want to introduce yourselves a little bit? Specifically your background and your experience with RMU.

Aaron: I have been doing a little bit of freelance writing for Iron Crown for close to fifteen years now. I’m currently working on the Creature Law stuff for RMU and have been heavily involved as a play tester, having run the system with a number of different groups.

Jonathan: I’ve been in the playtesting since the beginning and then about halfway through I was asked to join the writing team and took over from Matt Hansen. Before that I did a little bit of writing for the Guild Companion but nothing big.

Nick: I’ve been affiliated with Iron Crown for a very long time. I got involved recently in going to Gen Con with ICE. I’ve been working in playtesting and mechanics testing. I’m assisting Aaron to some degree on the creatures book. And I’m currently page making various things.

Colin: What would you say makes RMU a better system than previous versions?

Jonathan: I think we’ve done a pretty good job of cutting out complexity where it was not adding to the game play while keeping a lot of the detail. For example, we got rid of the resistance roll table and the basic attack table which slowed things down. We’ve streamlined moving manoeuvres and made the treatment of armor more realistic and I think more playable. Armor is now always helpful which really wasn’t true in previous editions. And I think we did a good job in focussing the skill list down to a more playable number of skills.

Aaron: I think RMU adds some flexibility in some areas. Rolemaster has always been one of the most flexible RPGs out there in terms of what you can do with it and I think that some of the things we’ve done with the new version will help further that flexibility. As an example, in creature Law we’re actually setting it up now so that you can build creatures and monsters in a similar way to how characters are created and a little more balanced than they used to be. As an example, a dragon was sometimes a little over powered for a character of the same level in previous versions. Now the dragon is somewhat toned down but also, with the way that we’re creating the creatures it is now possible to drastically change the level of a dragon. Likewise, you can now have a player character that, if your GM chooses to do so, is a creature that was previously not easy to translate into a character.

Nick: From my point of view, I think it’s the details going into the new spell law rules. There are no longer any gaps in spell lists, and we have address the game balance towards weaponry. It’s also all a lot more balanced and intertwined. Everything just works well together across the different core books. From arms law to creature law and everything else, it is all just intertwined really well.

Colin: Why do you think RMU might appeal to someone who has never played Rolemaster before?

Jonathan: Aaron talked about the flexibility and I think Rolemaster in all editions has struck a great balance between having the archetypical professions or classes that make sure that everyone has a useful role in the party vs a freeform system that lets you decide how your characters develop. That’s still true in RMU but it’s a lot more playable and accessible. It’s easier to learn and easier to play so I think for people who are just getting introduced to Rolemaster they’ll find it’s actually a pretty straight forward system once you take the time to look at it and get past any preconceptions people may have had.

Aaron: One thing about Rolemaster is that there’s one basic mechanic for EVERYTHING. Percentile dice and add or subtract bonuses and penalties. A lot of game systems have different mechanics for different types of things whereas in Rolemaster the higher your role, the better the result. If your role is over 100, it’s usually indicative of a success and the higher it is the better the success. The same is true with low roles. It’s much more user friendly and it’s a much more elegant and simple system even though there are a lot of charts to it. It’s still a very easy system to learn. Building a character can be very complex but you’re customising that character a way that you can’t do in other games and, as I say, it’s actually a very elegant system in that respect.

Nick: Rolemaster has always been more emphasized towards roleplaying. All the mechanics are there in the instances in which you need them, and it depends a great deal on how the GM goes about introducing the rules to the group. Do you sit and go over the charts? No. You ask, what do you want your character to do? That’s something that I always emphasize about roleplaying and Rolemaster. It’s strong in the Roleplaying. I guess the old adage is “If you can’t talk yourself out of the combat then you’re doing something wrong because combat isn’t something that you really want to do”.

Colin: One question that we get a lot is ‘what’s new in RMU’. We’d be here all day if we tried to cover everything that was new, but what do you think are some of the biggest changes or best improvements from previous versions?

Jonathan: Nick mentioned the spell lists that don’t have any gaps. That’s great. There are a lot more playable races. There are rules that there have never been before for creating your own professions as well as for creating races and cultures. So that makes it much easier to customise.

Aaron: There’s also the way that the combat handles and really large creatures and really small creatures has been modified. That’s one move that I really like that Rolemaster has made. It used to be that fighting against a dragon you’d use the super large critical or the large critical type tables and that’s no longer an issue and that’s actually figured into the way that the calculations are made. So they’re the same criticals, they’re just modified to fit the larger creature on the fly.

Colin: Another question that I’ve heard a lot is ‘What bits of which previous versions made it into RMU’. Now, given that everything has been refined and improved so much since the start of this process, it may be difficult to say but are there areas that are closer to one system than another?

Jonathan: Spell lists resemble RMFRP which is good because I think RMFRP really fixed a lot of problems from the initial system. Talents are somewhat more like RMFRP although they’ve changed a bit. On the other hand, the skill list is a lot more like the earlier system of Rolemaster. We’ve taken out the category system that Standard System added but maybe with a little more coherency than the original editions of Rolemaster developed over all its companions.

Aaron: I have to agree with that. There’s still a sort of a category system but it’s not done in the complicated way that it existed in RMSS or RMFRP. It’s more simplified and similar to what it was in the original versions of Rolemaster. With this system what we were really looking for is trying to combine the best bits of previous systems into a single thing. Like you were saying, the spell law stuff has been improved a lot because you don’t have gaps in the lists anymore. You have a lot more possibilities there.

Colin: That’s the end of the pre-submitted questions, so we’ll now move onto audience questions

Q1 “Our playtesting team had some serious issues with the initiative system. Have these been fixed?”

Jonathan: In an earlier version of RMU (I have to admit it’s a little difficult for me to keep track of what changed at what point) we had an initiative count that would step down and your actions and phases would be your initiative minus 20 or something like that, I can’t remember. We’ve simplified that so that currently whatever your initiative score is, people act in initiative order in the first phase and then they act in initiative order again for the second phase and so forth. Through the four phases if you’re playing by phases. And what that means is that unlike what was originally written in the playtest documents, you won’t have the situation where one character is potentially finished with all their actions before the next character gets to start. So that means there is always a chance for a character to respond to something that someone else is doing even if that means they’re responding afterwards. I think that’s the biggest change.

Aaron: It has definitely been simplified from the original version for the new system. Like Jonathan was saying, it has been smoothed quite a bit so there’s fewer issues. It definitely runs smoother now.

Q2 “I’ve got the old set of RM books and companions I – IV and the elemental companion and one of my favourite things is the enormous number of professions available when you get them all together. Is that still in and will RMU continue with companion like products?”

Colin: A quick look at the most recent RMU documents and there are 21 professions.

Jonathan: I will also say that you can create your own now, which is new. Nicholas has already spoken to me about having companions come out. I’ve started one already since I turned in my draft of Arms and Character law. And I’ve got some professions in there, so I definitely expect to see more of those.

Q 3 “How has the system been simplified in terms of character creation and development relative to previous editions?”

Jonathan: Compared to RMSS (which is the edition that I know best) taking out the purchase of skill categories is a big simplification. We don’t have the same kind of training package concept so that also takes out a step and pretty much everything is in development points, even talents. Rather than having a separate pool of background options vs developments points its one pool which simplifies it.

Aaron: That pretty much sums it up. It is definitely simplified over the RMSS/RMFRP rules. Like you said the skill categories are no longer part of the development process and everything comes out of a single pool of development points.

Nick: That single pool allows you to then write your own background for your character rather than it is dictated by a single die roll. That definitely simplified character creation.

Q4 “Because Rolemaster is so flexible and there’s so many optional rules, there’s no bedrock for people moving from one game to another and the experience of playing Rolemaster changes depending on who you play with. The question is, will RMU remedy this?”

Colin: I don’t think there’s an answer to this, but it is an interesting question. I don’t think it will because the core of what we’re doing with Rolemaster is creating a very flexible system that allows you to play a very personal game. But what do our panellists think? is Rolemaster losing something for not having had that solidity/rigidity that other rule systems have?

Jonathan: That’s quite interesting, we were sort of discussing that recently in relation to spell law. Spell law in RMSS has a lot of sections where it lays out “this is sort of how this works and the game master should decide X, Y and Z” and RMU spell law doesn’t do that. It says this is the rule, there is an optional rule but it’s in a box. It’s clearly marked as an optional rule so there is a default ruleset in a way that previous editions may not have had. You can’t assume that that’s what a given group is using, but there is a default set of rules. In principal your GM should be able to tell you that these are the optional rules that we have decided to use on top of that.

Nick: Just in terms of a simple count, the number of optional rules presented in RMU is far fewer than any previous version. In RMC and RMSS there was this “Where there’s an optional rule, your GM should decide on it” well it’s printed so almost everyone would just use them and there would be so many. Whereas the number of times that I’ve seen optional rules in RMU is far less and very specific.

Q5 “When is RMU coming out?”

Colin: We can’t put a date on it because there are too many moving parts but (ICE Director) Nicholas has said he is relatively confident about releasing in the first half of 2021. We’re still working on some of the text but that’s not holding us up as I’ve already started work on putting together a list of art requirements for all of them.

Q6 “Will there be special editions?”

(by this point ICE Director Nicholas had joined us)

Nicholas: It’s not on my most pressing list of things to do. It would also be very difficult for us to do using print on demand. And there’s a track record of these special editions not really going to plan. It’s definitely not on my top ten of list of things that I really want to get to the fans. I’m more interested in getting RMU out in a way that is playable and useable.

Q7 “Will RMU be available in hardcover?”

Colin: It will be available in both hardcover and softcover, but it will be after the pdf has been out for a while. This is so that we can catch the errata before anyone gets anything in print.