If Rolemaster was a person, it would wear a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows and smoke a pipe. Unlike other rules systems which try to follow the latest fashions or have trendy new game mechanics to wow the laydies. Rolemaster is the solid reliable old duffer who drives a Jag and always, always looks cooler than you.[1. Yes, Rolemaster is David Niven.]
Even the though latest playtest documents are new and shiny, it just means that Rolemaster has bought a fresh set of elbow patches and a new pipe; it’s still the reliable, solid and downright awesome game we know and love.
Except it occurs to me that there’s an awful lot of people out there who have never played Rolemaster, and that’s just wrong. To help fix this we’re going to create a character from scratch, just to show you how it’s done and give a glimpse of this lovely system at work.
I should mention first of all that Rolemaster characters are not, generally speaking, created on a computing engine. Such new fangled technology is best reserved for calculating the ballistic trajectory of missiles and other such tasks vital to national security. Ok, you can use a spreadsheet if you insist, but the only right and proper way to generate a character is on good old paper.[2. This applies to all role-playing games in my opinion, but for Rolemaster, it’s essential. Accept no excuses!]
The reason for this is Rolemaster character generation is a journey where you are getting to know more about the character as you progress through the stages. If your GM allows it (and any GM worth his salt should), you can also expand upon the campaign setting too, which goes a long way toward fixing your character’s place in the game world. You just don’t get the same feeling of depth and immersion in character generation when looking at a screen and automating the process.
Enough talk. Let’s get to it.
The first step (as with any character generation) is to come up with a rough character concept and background. I quite fancy playing a Magician, but am happy to let the dice land where they fall. This is a first level character so he’s going to be very young and wet behind the ears. I’m thinking someone like Merlin from the first series of the UK TV show, possessing an innate raw talent for magic but little skill, and the potential to become someone remarkable. First level Rolemaster characters (especially spell-casters) are significantly weaker than their D&D counterparts, for reasons we’ll look into later.
The next thing to do is roll 30 d100 and….. wait. What? Thirty d100? That’s sixty dice, just for stats! You’re kidding grey, right? That’s more dice than a single round of combat in 4e![3. Almost]
I kid not. There are 10 stats, and for each you roll three d100 and drop the lowest result. The highest roll is your character’s Potential (maximum, barring magical or divine intervention) for that stat, and the remaining roll is their temp (current) value. The temp value can (and will) change during play, hence the name. The process is much quicker and a lot more fun than it sounds. Everyone likes rolling dice!
For our as yet unnamed hero I roll (temp first, potential after the slash):
Agility 47/81, Constitution 52/58, Empathy 43/67, Intuition 53/78,
Memory 63/81, Presence 76/77, Quickness 45/55, Reasoning 76/95,
Self Discipline 63/82, Strength 31/32
It’s as if the dice gods can read minds. Here we have a character who is physically weak and unathletic (Strength 31 and Agility 47) yet possessing a keen mind (Memory 63 and Reasoning 76) and something about him which, despite his slight build, makes folks notice him (Presence 76). I have the option of switching one pair of stats around and decide against it. With hindsight that was a silly mistake to make, but one which makes for a more interesting character, as we’ll see soon.
With the numbers in place, our hero is forming in my mind. I picture him as a slight figure with a twisted foot since birth which makes him walk with a pronounced limp. While he gets around walking just fine with the use of a stout branch to lean on, he has been unable to join in the sports, jobs and games with his peers making him aloof and content with his own thoughts.
Moving on, and we choose his Race and Culture. I’m happy making him a Human lad 17 years of age, with an Urban upbringing. I picture a remote town high on a cliff top overlooking a rough seascape, and the town of Westcliffe is born. It’s something similar to a medieval Cornish town which draws income (and adventure!) from the nearby tin mines, the fish market which serves surrounding villages, and the illicit activities of wreckers who draw ships to their doom on the cliffs and rocks below.
He gains a number of skills from his Urban upbringing, and most of them require further detail. This is a great strength of the system – two characters can come from the same Culture, and have very different skills and background knowledge due to the tailored selections. For this character I give him 5 ranks each for Speak and Read/Write Dolman (the local tongue), and think about his Lore, Vocation and Craft skills.
I want to say something both about his background, but also the things which set him toward the path of being a Magician. I decide his father comes from a long line of Brewers who provides ale for the local taverns, so give John (he has a name now. It’s John) one rank each in Craft:Brewing and Mechanical:Brewery as he’s helped his father use and maintain the equipment from an early age.
What took him on the path toward Magicianhood (is that a word?) is his friendship with an aged Dwarf who provided the copper hardware for the brewery and frequented its taproom regularly. He told John tales of the surrounding area (Lore:Western Arduin), its history (Lore:First Empire) and the different types of metal found within the hills (Lore:Metallurgy). Recognising in John a talent for knowledge, with his father’s permission gave john employment as his scribe and book-keeper (Craft:Scribing and Vocation:Scribe).
Before we move onto John’s profession, I skip ahead to Talents as I want to add something fitting regarding John’s twisted foot as well as give him a unique feature which marks him for future greatness. Rolemaster uses Development Points which are spent on skills at each level. The number of points is dictated by your character’s Race (powerful Races are balanced by having fewer points to spend), and they can also be used to buy Talents. These equate roughly to Advantages or Feats in other game systems, and you can also take “negative” Talents as disadvantages which gain you points to use.
In john’s case I take Inept:Movement(Running) as a -5 penalty to his Running skill to gain 5 points, and spend 3 to give him Innate Power:Fluid Elements I. Once per day, John can whisper and the air will carry his words to one person within 100′. That’s subtle and entirely in my concept of Merlin-style magic use.
On to his Profession. John’s Dwarf mentor is more than the mere tinker and coppersmith he first appears, and he begun teaching him about the magic which is found in all things. That’s the “essence” of Essence spell-casting, and here is where I realize my mistake. Essence-based magic relies on the Empathy stat. It affect how many Power Points your character has to spend, as well as the casting skills themselves. The problem is that John isn’t particularly empathic. With an Empathy of 43 he incurs a -1 penalty! I consider scrapping the character entirely and starting again, but realize this is entirely in keeping with the character concept. John lacks the empathy required because of his solitary upbringing, but he’s still young. His Empathy potential isn’t great (67) as the effects of his formative years have left a profound mark on his character, but what he lacks in empathy he more than makes up for in raw talent. It’s quite likely that the penalty will disappear at second level when I roll for stat gains.
Time to pump up those skills!
He has 102 Development Points to spend so I buff up with Linguistic and Lore skills as well as increase his Body Development (hit points). He’ll never be the toughest hero around, but moving beer barrels has at least put some meat on his bones. I give him two ranks (ie, the first two spell levels) for three spell lists, and improve his magical and scribing skills.
He’s going to need something to defend himself when he’s all out of magic, so I give him a few ranks in using a Quarterstaff. He has some pretty hefty negatives due to his puny Strength and Agility, netting him a meagre total of +3, but it’s a start.
For his spell lists I take Wind Law, Light Law and Delving Ways. I quite like the idea of John having an affinity for air-based magic, and Delving Ways offers many spells dealing with research and uncovering knowledge – quite possibly the first spell list his Dwarf mentor taught him. I should mention that Rolemaster spells are organized into lists which steadily rise in power and scope. The lowest-level spells are extremely minor in effect but their capabilities at the highest levels can even be world-changing in scope. For example, John knows the first two spells from the Wind Law list: Breezes (creates a light breeze as long as the caster concentrates. Big whoop.) and Airwall (creates a churning wall of air that slows movement and imposes a penalty to attacks). The level 35 spell is Storm Call, which summons a 35 mile radius (if cast by a 35th level caster) storm with 60mph winds, heavy rain and lightning. Not too shabby.
To round out John I give him a second name – he’s now John Starling – and basic equipment of a sidebag containing bedroll, flint & steel, tinderbox, 3 days food, quill pens, ink and paper, brown trews and cream-coloured shirt, leather boots and hooded cape, dagger and gnarled oak walking staff.
Generating a character for Rolemaster takes about as long as it does building a 4e D&D character, but (imho) it’s a lot more fun. It feels like you’re piecing together the first chapter of your hero’s own fantasy novel.
Where your hero goes from there….. well, that’s a tale just waiting to be told.
17 year old Male Urban Human Magician-1
Agility 47/81, Constitution 52/58, Empathy 43/67, Intuition 53/78, Memory 63/81, Presence 76/77, Quickness 45/55, Reasoning 76/95, Self Discipline 63/82, Strength 31/32
Talents: Inept: Movement (Running) I, Innate Power: Fluid Elements I 1/day
Body Development: +17
Combat Training: Melee(Quarterstaff) +3
Craft: Brewing +8
Craft: Scribing +8
Linguistics: Read/Write Dolman +43
Linguistics: Speak Dolman +43
Lore: First Empire +26
Lore: Metallurgy +26
Lore: Western Ardiun +38
Magical Expertise +10
Magic Ritual +14
Mechanical: Brewery +8
Movement: Running -4
Power Development +10
Power Manipulation +11
Riding: Horse +12
Science: Mathematics +24
Social Awareness +8
Spell list: Delving Ways II +10
Spell list: Light Law II +10
Spell list: Wind Law II +10
Survival: Urban +12
Unarmed Combat: Strikes -1
Vocation: Scribe +25