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RMU Beta 2 – Initial Impressions

Well, it was announced, finally, that these would be released this month, and against all odds and to my immense surprise, the PDF actually were released this month. Color me gob-smacked!

Anyways, this is a ton of material to shift through and review, and that is going to take a lot of time, especially as I have many other things going on. Therefore, I thought that I would just give you my initial impressions and observations. A more in-depth analysis will have to wait until a bit later. But my initial overview and comments are below, after the break…


Initial Thoughts

Let me start off by pointing out that this version of Rolemaster is going to be so different from the previous versions that if/when this becomes the core rules for Rolemaster (i.e. not a Beta anymore), that it will, without a single doubt, split the already divided fanbase, which is never good and in this case likely to be fatal in the long run.

Secondly, this is not the 1980’s or even the 1990’s anymore where a company who is not one of the top game producers (i.e. Wotc, Steve Jackson Games, Piazo, etc) can get away with producing a game with multiple core books. The economy just will not take it. This was proven to the original ICE back inthe 1990’s when they took the multiple-book Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS) and reworked it into Rolemaster Fantasy Role-Playing (RMFRP).

Because of this, I always advocated producing a single book system, and then expanding outwards from there (and as Rolemaster Express and the Express Additions – which fans still clamor for, but for which the current ICE stupidly refuses to reproduce, mostly because I did them, no matter what half-assed excuses they actually give – proved) allows for building a solid core, and then expanding that core out (in both terms of game material and customer base).

In fact, my own revision of Rolemaster would have been a single book (mostly RMC-ish in nature), which then had options in later books that allowed for expanding into an RMFRP-like skill system and thus would have and could have appealed to both RM2/RMC and RMSS/RMFRP fan-bases, rather than the current beta which will basically create a third fan base.

Another problem with a multiple book core, is that the current ICE has actually announced that they will, some day, create a single book “lite version” that would work as a lead in. This means that they have to then go back and look at cutting things out. It is always harder to remove than it is to add, especially if you want to maintain any sort of balance….

Formatting

Now, they did, at least, warn folks that they were not worried about formatting this time around, so you are definitely getting what was advertised – products that simply look like crap. Not only that, but the condition that it was released in actually shows that nobody bothered to even skim through the products before they were released.

That either shows a massive indifference to the product and fan base, or such major incompetence that whomever is in charge of this should not have been put in charge of holding a box of un-sharpened pencils.

In the Arms/Character Law PDF (192 pages), they at least put it in a 2 column format, and apparently did SOME formatting, though nowhere near enough, as I spotted a couple of spots where they had tables overlapping each other. One such instance was so bad that neither table was readable. You have other locations where tables reach out to the edge of the page, well outside standard print areas, which can cause issue (depending on your printer) if you try to print this out.

Spell Law (475 pages) went with a single column format, and also shows some signs of minor formatting. And somebody even went through the trouble of creating a Spell Index at the back. It usually takes longer to create such an index, than it does to go through and properly format the book. And I would like to point out that they did the spell index in 2 column format, even though the table of contents and the rest of the book is only single column.

Do you know how hard it is to create a two column format? Before you even add and of the manuscript, you go to the Master Pages for the file in InDesign, and then you click on a menu, select the proper option, and when the dialog box comes up, you change a 1 to a 2 and click okay. It is literally that simple. And then you basically (if using Windows, the keystrokes are different on a Mac) hit Control – D and then select the file to import, and then click on the the page where you want to put it.

Granted, cleaning up any formatting issues/errors after the import can be very time consuming and tedious, but it is not really difficult (especially if you created and used styles within your Word document prior to importing it — MOST of that sort of formatting carries across without problem).

Creature Law (898 pages) (Yay! Now playtesters FINALLY have something to fight against, besides other characters — it only took a little over 3 years since this revision was originally announced) is also a single column format. And what gets me here, is that you have all of the descriptions and flavor text up front. And then rules for creating and/or modifying creatures, and then all of the stat blocks. Welcome to page flipping heaven… And I won’t even go into how horrendously formatted those stat blocks are…

It is obvious that the flavor text was one file and the stat blocks a separate file, and while there was some formatting done to the first half of the book, It is obvious that nothing was done on the stat blocks. they are too ugly and disjointed to be allowed to live, and yet they were.

Just another sign that nobody even reviewed these before they were released.

Notes on the Rules

As mentioned above, I will not be going into detail on everything. I will just be mentioning a few things that stood out upon my first quick skim through things…..

Success Threshold — a friend of mine had recently pointed out to me that the current ICE was touting Rm as being 101+ for success, something that was NEVER true in previous versions. Well, apparently that has changed in this Beta (cannot remmeber off-hand if it had changed in the last beta or not, but there was so much else wrong with the last beta that it likely did not matter). There is another problem here, that of the Stat Bonuses.

Stat Bonuses — While I applaud the use of additive Bonuses, I would like to point out that they are LARGER than those from RMSS/FRP (on both ends of the scale actually). What this means, however, is that it is even EASIER than ever to succeed — higher stat bonuses with a lower threshold of success?

Cultures — Be a Reaver! That simple, not counting the Lore group at all, the Reavers get over 2 skill ranks speard across many many skills. Most of the other cultures only get about 2/3 of this, IF that, and those are all spread over half as many actual skills.

Knacks — What the hell? A “let’s give a bonus just because” rule?

Profession Bonuses — In my last reviews, I noted how badly I had changing the size of the bonus given for a skill rank. It makes things overly complicated. I can understand the reasoning if not wanting a bonus to overshadow the actual skill rank bonus, but to do this (especially when “restrictions give minuses to total skill bonuses, not to individual ranks), you create a disconnect and extra book-keeping on what is already a system that has a bad reputation for excessive book-keeping.

Combat Skills — What this books could have used was a very good example of how these work. First off, there seem to be 8 specializations (including Energy Weapons and Firearms — two things NOT needed for a Fantasy Game), and each apparently has several sub-specializations. So how does it work?

Do you learn Melee Weapons: Blades as one skill and Melee Weapons: Chains is a separate skill using the same cost? This is what I presume from my PRIOR knowledge of how Rolemaster works, but for somebody unfamiliar with the system, they won’t have a flipping clue what is going on or how it works.

Directed spells – I am definitely not happy to see this still under Combat Skills. As I noted in my reviews of the last version of the beta, this is a power boost to those who case those bolt skills, especially those who throw elemental bolts like the magician, as he only has to learn one skill for 5 or 6 different attacks. And yet, an Illusionist (who has Strike spells and Hurling spells) would have to learn 2 separate skills. (At least casting a Bolt Spell and then making an attack with it are 2 separate rolls — though there seems to be some sort of oddity which allows many spells to be case without a roll at all).

It is obvious to me that the change of weapons from learning each separately to learning each in a group of related weapons was done to balance against the charge that all bolts in a single skill was too powerful. Only problem is that fire does not act like water, nor does it act like electricity, so putting all elemental bolts under a single group is still nothing more than a blatant power increase (munchkinizing) of the Magician.

Talents — Clearer than the last beta, but still very open to abuse and munchkinizing by those who will take heavy penalties (i.e. -50 to taste perception for +10 DPs) in meaningless things only to forget them later (always accidentally) should they EVER come up to begin with.

Attack Tables — I have two main issues with these….

The first is that they are now all the same. In older versions of RM, some types of attacks were more effective against the heavier Armor Type than they were the lighter ones. That is gone, completely. Now, they apparently used a single form to build them (punch in a few number and auto-generate… bam.. and so they all look nearly identical now).

The second problem is again one I pointed out in the first Beta. Not only do the Magician have to learn fewer skills for attacks in this version of RM, but the attack tables also do a LOT MORE damage than previous versions.

One of the other oddities is that the tables ALL now exceed 150. In prior versions of RM, 150 was the max, period. And it was options that allowed exceeding that point. Now, you can exceed that point easily (more so with higher skill bonuses from higher stats and bigger bonuses per EVERY rank due to professional bonuses).

Resistance Rolls — Well, this seems to be a complete load of bollocks! And I mean in the train wreck sense of things….

In the last beta version, they got rid of the modifiers based on the success of the casting roll (i.e. a bad casting could be easier to resist and an exceptional one), and they left in all of the defensive mods, meaning that it would be insanely easy to resist most spells, thus neutering most casters who did not have bolt spells.

This time, they seem to have overcompensated, greatly….

In the original RM, the basic target number to resist a spell was 50, if you had zero mods on either side and the caster and defender were the same level. This base was then modified for (caster level – defender level), with the modifier following a 5/2/1 progression (and then further modified by attack roll results or defender mods).

Whoever came up with the current rules obviously has no clue how that worked or was supposed to work, because they went from spells being too easy to resist to now being too hard to resist in some cases and too easy in other. How is this possible? Simple, they use DOUBLE the defender’s level minus the caster’s level as a modifier to the RR. So, if your caster is of a higher level, he will be very hard to resist. But if the caster is of a lower level, that makes him much easier to resist .

And the target number? Oh that is based on the spell casting roll, in fact it is the spell casting roll that you have to resist against.

Sorry, but I much prefer the original Resistance Roll System, it actually required less math on the fly than this (it still requires some simple addition/subtraction, but that was it, not addition/subtract/multiplication). To me this is just another case of needless over complication for the simple purpose of making it more complicated….

Spell Lists — These appear, at first glance, to be the same ones from the first Beta — filled with the same errors and problems as I noted in my review of the first beta.

Starting Level — One of Rolemaster’s biggest flaws, in ANY version, was that first level characters (unlike every single other game on the market) where simply not viable. This is actually something that a revision SHOULD have addressed and corrected, allowing for play from First level to infinity….

In the last beta, they implied that you should start at level two or higher, but never said it outright. Well, they fixed that here. In addition to basically making starting characters have higher bonuses with those Knacks, and with the higher stat bonuses, and the lowering of the success threshold, this beta comes right out and tells you that your character is not considered an adult until level 4, and that in most instances, you are still only an apprentice of sorts until you hit level 5.

Now, by 5th level you could easily have 8 or 10 ranks (the equivalent of a +8 or +10 in d20), before even adding in stats. So, essentially the authors tell you that anything lower than level 5 isn’t worth playing unless your campaign is specifically designed that way.

Wow… just…. Wow….

I don’t think they could come up with a better way of insulting their own game if they purposely tried.


Well, that is enough for this post of my initial impressions. I may actually just not bother with a more in-depth review (I have not decided yet), because quite frankly, I don’t see anything here that is worth the price of admission (which is VERY VERY BAD considering that the beta was free), or the time that I would lose in combing through this mess looking for something, anything, that might even be worthwhile…..

As always, your mileage may vary….