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Rolemaster Unified (Beta) — Character Law Review

Time to take a closer look at Character Law for RMU. To delve into some of the details to see what is actually here. I figure that I will take it one chapter at a time, as that seems like the easiest way to do this…

To see an overview I wrote of all three books, visit this link

1. – Introduction

First is the notice that there are 5 core books in the system, and what each one is.

Optional Rules — In this section it says that any optional rules will be broken out into boxed text. We shall see how well this is done here (I know that they dropped the ball on this in Arms Law, even though it has the same notice in its introduction).

Power Level — Seems to me, that this is something that should be in the GMs book (whenever that might be produced — and note that the 5 core books does NOT include a GM Law type book). What is interesting is that they claim that the standard level of power for Rolemaster is the next to lowest level, and yet, when I look at how biased this game is to overpowered magic user, I cannot help but to think that they are either wrong, or that their definitions are radically different from mine — that is, unless they are basing the power level solely on stats and on the capabilities of non-spell-users. In which case, to get that power level, you need to drop all magic from your game, or change it radically…

The Basics — This is essentially a bullet list of features about a character mashed together with a completely different list that describe some of the bits of the book that GMs would find useful in running a game.

There is also 2 other paragraphs in this section. In the first it described how any character can learn any skill in Rolemaster, even to non-spell-users learning spells. While this actually was a feature that made Rolemaster special and relatively unique way back when it first came out, it isn’t anymore as many games provide these features now.

The second paragraph tries to say that Rolemaster is actually a simple game with a lot of detail. While that was true of the original Rolemaster (RM2/RMC/RMX), I am not so sure if it still holds true. In my looking over the system, it does appear as if some thing have been simplified, but that others may have been made more complicated.

I know that in my personal opinion, a simple game does not (or at least should not) require 5 core books in order to play it.

2. – Characters

This chapter seems to be a basic overview of character generation.

However, tucked away in one paragraph is something that I find disturbing. There is one small comment in parenthesis (so it is italicized and drew my attention) that implies that a standard starting character should be 2nd level.

Now, this is one of the biggest things that I thought was wrong with earlier versions of Rolemaster, that first level characters were not really viable characters. That they had to start at some higher level before they could be considered to be able to stand on their own.

Now, I am not saying that a first level character should be superman, able to take on anything, he shouldn’t. However, a first level character should be able to survive a fight against a first level monster most of the time, and against a 2nd level monster with a bit of luck, and against a 3rd or 4th level monster with a good bit of luck.

The implication that a starting character should be higher than first level is an indicator that the designer think that the game is broken at low levels and don’t think it should be played at that level. In which case, why not just adjust the rules to make first level characters viable in the first place….

Now, since this comment was made in regards to starting money, somebody might try to argue that it wasn’t really implying that starting PCs should be 2nd level, except for the fact that the actual words are “standard starting PCs” and the example PCs at the back of the book are also 2nd level.

If they didn’t mean to imply this, then they could have simply contrasted the starting money of 2 different levels to show the point, and definitely not used the phrase “standard starting PCs” when referring to a 2nd level PC.

A mistake that many game designers make (and I have done this myself) is to write things as if their reader knows everything that they know, so it comes across as implying things that have not been stated explicitly, and it can confuse things in the long run. Experienced designers know of this tendency and work hard to avoid it by making sure to be very explicit whenever possible (to the point of sometimes repeating themselves).

Inexperienced designers (such as the majority of people who worked on this revision) often forget this and thus imply things that may not be true or that they may not have meant to imply simply because they are writing from their own biases, rather than trying to write explicitly and objectively.

3. – Background

This is an odd little chapter, it seems to be simply nothing more than a discussion about certain, non-system related aspects of the character. There is even a section called “Group Cohesion” which is more geared towards the GM than the player.

4. – Statistics

It is here that we learn what stats the character has and how to generate them.

There is even a note here explaining how the designers have upped the power level (i.e. introduced their own version of power creep into the system) of the game by increasing the bonuses for stats, and it explain how the current stat values compare to the stat values of the older versions of RM.

There are 2 methods of stat generation given, and stat potentials are determined at the same time (or first if doing the point buy method — which I find to be overly complex in itself).

There is a random stat gain table, and each level the player gets to roll 2 stats to be raised. The funny part here is that back in the introduction, several types of dice rolls are described. But not the types given on this table. This means that here is one of those instances where the authors are expecting players to aleady know how to determine these dice types and roll for them. To me, this is an assumption that the authors should not have made…

And lo and behold, there are a couple of options in this chapter and they are set aside in boxed text!

5. – Race

Personally, I find this section to be on of the most highly ironic sections of the book. When I wrote a Rolemaster revision for Mjolnir, one of the complaints passed back to Mjolnir (along with the injunction that we were NOT to release that revision to the public) was that I had made Rolemaster too much like HARP.

HARP has “base hits points” (known as Endurance), and it has racial talents and it also have cultures — all bits from HARP which I had included in my Rolemaster revision and all which made it too much like HARP, and now all those bits are in this revision??

While I do applaud them for including those bits, I am not all that sure that they have everything balanced properly. For example, let’s compare the human to the orc.

The orc has a total of +6 and -12 in modifiers to his stats, the same base hits, he heals faster than humans, and lives twice as long, not to mention that the orc also has BOTH nightvision and darkvision, and yet both races receive 50 Bonus DP…

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the bonus DP are awards. Halflings, who have no special abilities other than some stat bonuses (+11 total and -14 total for stats) and save bonuses and a slightly longer lifespan than a human only gets 20 extra DP, while the Elf who has abilities, and bonuses, but negative in Save bonuses only gets 5 extra, but the orc who, from a stat and ability perspective, is clearly superior to a human regardless of the negative stat mods, gets the same number of extra DPs.

Personally, I think that the races should have been built and balanced along a baseline amount of points, with adjustments to the extra DP being based upon how far the race deviates from the baseline costs.

Average Heights…. If a Goblin is 3’6″ or taller is he considered Medium sized since that is the average height of a Halfling? Conversely, if a Halfling is only 3′ tall, is he considered Small like the Goblin is?

Oh, and some of the racial talents? They have different Tier levels (for example, the Immunity to Diseases has 2 Tiers, and the race description does not clarify which Tier Elves have). This happens in a few other cases as well…

6. – Cultures

Cultures basically describe the type of environment that the character grew up in. It also gives the character free ranks in some skills. As mentioned before, this is something else that can essentially be traced back to HARP, and which was “too much like HARP” for inclusion in Mjolnir’s unpublished revision of Rolemaster.

What I find hilarious is that they give the reader instructions on how to create your own cultures. Not only do they put some silly restrictions on it (such as being required to include certain skills at certain minimum skill rank levels, having one of those skills break the “no more than 2 ranks per level limit, and no weapon other than unarmed — which means growing up in a culture that routinely hunted for its food is essentially impossible), but the cultures that are given in the book are actually weaker than the ones you can make for yourself!!! The supplied cultures vary from 42 to 48 DPs, while the ones you make on your own are 50 DPs…

The only good thing here is that the rules for making cultures do explicitly tell you to use the costs for “No Profession” so you know that they all will come out the same way.

7. – Professions

There are 22 professions listed. One of the 22 professions is actually an optional profession which is only there for creating Cultures. There is another option profession that isn’t given in the master skill cost tables (2 separate tables for some reason).

Of those 22 professions, 15 are spell users of one type or another. Over 2 thirds are spell users. Of the remaining 7, 1 is the “No Profession” optional Profession, and 2 others are what appear to be non-adventuring professions (Scholar and Laborer) in all but a handful of types of games. So that leave 4 Arms based professions against 15 magically based professions. Wow…

The skill cost tables list 43 skills. Well, 43 individual skill costs per profession. There are actually a minimum of 79 different skills. Many of them are simply grouped together under a single skill name, like a second level category name if you will….

Additionally, some of the skill costs are odd to say the least, or down-right wrong if you want to be more accurate. The most blatant example is found in the Sorcerer (a Hybrid caster), where his costs for spells is better than the costs for ALL other Pure and Hybrid spell casters. Which also brings up the question of why the Hybrid spell casters (other than the Sorcerer) have the exact same costs as the Pure spell users (Pures only get access to 1 realm of magic, Hybrids get access to 2 realms of magic). Then there is Magician, who has a DP cost for his primary weapon group that is almost as good as the semi-spell users?!?!?

Somebody likes their magic-users…..

And the fact that all 4 of the main Arms Users have all Combat Training skills as Professional Skills means that the only difference between them are the costs. And given that the Paladin and the Monk have better weapon costs than even the thief means that the poor little thief definitely gets the short end of the stick. Especially when you consider that the Magent has identical weapon costs, and the Dabbler’s costs are not much more than that of the thief.

Again, Somebody likes their magic-users…..

At the end of the chapter, they explain what the profession skills are and what the skill costs are. This whole section should have, in my opinion, been at the front of the chapter, where SOME of this information is given in condensed form. If it had been in the front, then there would have been no need to better explain it here.

8. – Talents

My God! Could there be an uglier chapter? I don’t think so…

First off, there is no master table listing all of the talents (and all of their different tiers) for quick reference. Instead you have to hunt through page after page, because the Talents aren all alphabetically given. They are divided into categories, and then you get all of the talents in that one category followed by the flaws for that category, and then they go to the next category, and so forth.

Nor are the talents fully explained either. It appears that is a huge instance of where the authors expected you know what they were thinking. There is a description of what the talent does, but no system information on it (in some cases, and not in a consistent manner either).

And then there are the Flaws… A power-gamer’s joy, as you get extra DP for taking the flaws. One thing that we found was often true back when I worked for Mjolnir was that many players would often take flaws and then conveniently forget about them during play. Even those who weren’t trying to game the system would occasionally do this, but power gamers? They would abuse the hell out of this!

I have no idea whether or not they are balanced in any fashion, but with everything else I have seen so far, I seriously doubt that they are…

Lots of ugly little excel tables in here…shudder…And with that thick thick border around them, it makes it difficult to actually isolate the text of the chapter and read the talent descriptions.

9. – Skills

As mentioned before, there are 79 distinctly described skills masquerading as 43 skills in this chapter. Of those 43 listed skills, only 6 are designated as never being specialized. The other 37 skills are skills that the player MUST specialize in. Are you kidding me? Rather than actually list the skills properly, or create RMSS-like skill groups for these supposedly related skills, they simply force you to specialize in them.

Talk about being Bass-Ackward…..

Another little gem — no more than level x 2 in skill ranks, except for linguistics and Lores. You can have as many ranks of those as you want (and can afford to purchase).

Indiana Jones, eat your heart out! 50 extra DPs for my race? I am going to be the worlds greatest expert in ancient/lost treasures ever — all at first level!!

Oh look! There is brake on spell users after all. They are limited to only 2 ranks per spell list per level. Looks like that means that they will be a helluva lot more versatile then as they spread their DPs across many different spell lists each level, instead of focusing on one or two.

Hmm… Directed Spells is a Combat Skill? And the Magician is the only Profession to get Combat Training as a Professional Skill. That gives him a bonus to ALL Combat skills, not just Directed spells. It also means that no other Pure or Hybrid spell users, who may have directed spells as part of their Base lists, such as the Illusionist and his Strikes spells, won’t receive this bonus. Additionally, while all other Combat skills have to specialize in a single weapon, Magicians can specialize in ALL elemental bolts at once (in prior editions, he had to learn each bolt separately). Yup, another power up for the Magician…

My opinion, it should be tucked into the Magical Expertise skill group. Though speaking of Magical Expertise (i.e. Transcend Armor , Spell Trickery, and Grace), 3 different skills, each for removing some of the penalties from different things. Power game much? Sheesh…

Again, like Talents, the organization for this chapter sucks, though it isn’t quite as bad as the Talents chapter since there is an ugly table every couple of lines.

What I don’t understand is the references throughout the skill chapter of skills that would be used in different genres (i.e. Combat Training for lasers, Driving/Piloting mechanized vehicles and aircraft, etc..).

These are obviously fantasy-genre based rules. If they were going to try an make it into a universal system, they failed badly since Arms Law does not contain anything for those other genre, and this book doesn’t contain any professions related to those other genre. Thus, all those mentions of other genre do is to break the mood that they are trying to set for this book.

Shield Skill — If you are going to include a skill, you should at least include a description of the basics on how it is used. You want to expand upon it in Arms Law, fine, but to simply list the skill and then refer you to another book? That is just wrong. And then when you go to that other book, find that there is only a single mention of that Shield skill, and that mention refers you to another part of Arms Law?

That is bad game design, pure and simple.

Just wanted to bring up another topic while I am at it. In all previous versions of Rolemaster, you would go through 2 distinct levels of development (Adolescent and Apprenticeship) before you were considered to be first level. This meant that a starting character could have a number of skill ranks equal to double what could be gained in a single level.

With this version of Rolemaster, that seems to have gone away. Even though a starting character has more Development Points overall, he is thusly forced to spread them out across a wider selection of skills, making a first level character more diverse than characters from older versions, but also only about half as skilled in his most important skills. Could this be the reason for the implied “standard starting PC level of 2” mentioned back in the front of the book???

10. – Equipment

Sigh… more ugly tables…

Unfortunately, there are no descriptions of the items on the tables, so I guess that the authors feel that everybody will automatically know what is what (some tables have short notes, but those are not a real substitute. This was actually a failing of previous versions of Rolemaster as well, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it hasn’t been improved upon.

Now the Herbs table, being a fan of prior versions of Rolemaster, I know that “AF” stands for Addition Factor, but unless I want to pull out my old books, I have no idea how it is used for these Herbs. Additionally, the description of the rarity column doesn’t match the entries of that column on the tables.

Question — if Treasure Law is supposed to have everything for creating items and handling commerce, then why even put equipment lists in Character Law, unless Treasure Law isn’t really a core book even though it is being claimed as being one (which makes its inclusion seem to be for simple purposes of selling more copies of it to people who don’t know any better).

Considering the referral to Arms Law for the Shield Skill, it surprising to find other things in this product which could be covered in other “core” products…

11. – Experience and Advancement

That “levels/names” table is only going to confuse new players. It is superfluous and has absolutely no bearing on playing the game or creating a character.

Well, well, well… It appears that the XP system for RMU is based upon the XP system that I created for HARP way back when… It has been expanded a bit, but it is essentially the child of my original XP rules. This would have been another of those “too much like HARP” things that Mjolnir heard complaints about from the owner of the IP regarding the revision that I wrote…. (of course, those complaints he received are from the “people” (and I use that term loosely) now running ICE).

12. – Maneuvers and Movement

Gone is the Maneuver Table!

Used to be there were 9 difficulty ratings, now there appears to be 12. Overkill much?

The Percentage Maneuver tables resembles the Percentage column of the Maneuver table from HARP (with some slight changes on the outer edges).

Dragging something reduces the load effect… huh? And adding wheels make it even easier? Oh my…. While I do admit that

Wow, all I can say is to have your calculator handy when trying to resolve skills and maneuvers. You are going to need it!!

In fact, while the core of the game is still Rolemaster, and thus simple, it is like the authors went out of their way to find as many modifiers as possible to use in some areas (such as where resolution was simplified), and in new methods, such as “Feats of Strength” (where you are required to figure out percentages and then work adjustments to that percentage, and all this just to determine how difficult the strength roll will be) they tried to make it as complicated as anything in earlier versions of Rolemaster.

Funny thing though, they never tell you exactly what is rolled for deciding a “Feat of Strength”. At least I didn’t spot it..

On page 63, you are given the Resistance Roll table. However, there is no text explaining what it is or how it is used.

Similar Skills — This is decent little idea. However, -10 for very similar skills? That seems a bit too much to me.

13. – The Environment

This section talks about things that can happen to characters.

It starts off talking about Resistance Rolls; giving the stats used for 6 different types of rolls — the actual RR table is in the previous chapter, but again, there is no actual reference to the the RR table or how it is used.

Next up, they talk about visibility, but where there is supposed to be a table for modifiers, there is the Similar Skill table (same as the previous chapter).

Next is some stuff about dropped objects and falling, then a section on temperature extremes and then on holding your breath and drowning.

Then comes a section on Poisons and then Diseases. If you have the RMSS Gamemaster Law, then you have these two sections as they have only been very slightly rewritten so that they are not identical to those sections from GM Law, but the content and the “results” are all basically the same.

Next up is Fear and Morale. Seems to me that the Fear section, at least, should have been up with the Resistance Rolls.

14. – The Appendix

And finally, there is the appendix. In the appendix they have included 2 sample characters. Both of whom are developed to 2nd level, reinforcing the comment from Chapter 2 where they said “standard starting PCs of 2nd level”. This is a phrase which is again repeated within this chapter during the example…

These two characters were obviously written by 2 different people as the language used to describe the process of each is very different, as is the formatting for both. The second character having bolded lines defining each basic step where the first character did not.

Seems to be a bit of sloppy editing from my viewpoint, having two completely different writing styles within the same chapter. Then again, part of the job of editor is to smooth out just such rough spots. Too bad the editor of this project didn’t care enough to do that…


Overall, this is still recognizably Rolemaster, though this product does go a long way to increasing the power of spell casters while simultaneously cutting the potential number of ranks that a first level character can have, making them less capable overall.

The only even halfway good thing here is that this is a beta, so there is still time for changes to correct all of the problems, though some of them may require that these “designers” scrap large portions and start over.

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