Looking for a spiritual home.

Excepting this past year, I have spent the last 25 years pretty much just playing the same game system, Rolemaster and its sci fi cousin Spacemaster.

I have just recently started to look at different systems looking for something that gives me the same thrill as Rolemaster but also something fresh and exciting (Michael knows all about excitement!). The funny thing is that as soon as I discovered Eclipse Phase I also learned that 2nd Edition is in development. I have just spent much of last week reading the players guide to 7th Sea and learned today that there is a 2nd Edition of that as well.

Both of those systems shine because of the setting and if I can get a group together I would love to run them.

Right now I am in that “I don’t know what I want but I will recognise it when I see it.” phase. Some systems are a complete turn off, FATE is definitely not for me, that much I do know. One look at the sheer volume of books behind pathfinder and my blood runs cold.

I do spend a lot of time creating games. Each game I build tries to explore different possible ways of doing things. The basic anatomy of a plot is force the characters up a tree, throw stones at them, get them down again, repeat in the next adventure.

The basic anatomy of a game system is create a character, enable them to do stuff, reward them for doing stuff.

With such simple specifications it is no wonder that there are so many ways going through those simple steps.

Rolemaster has been criticised for having character creation take the best part of an entire game session but Rolemaster players see it as lovingly crafting their characters. It is funny that for a game that is so deadly the character creation takes so long. It reminds me of playing Traveller back in the 80s when you could take all afternoon to create a character only to have him or her die during the creation process.

There is an obvious trade off, the more detailed the character the longer the process is going to take to create them.

My regular players are more hack and slash than story tellers so for me the combat system has to be good. 7th Sea really stood out in this respect. I would love to get my hands on a pdf of the new rules to see if it is even better. The only thing lacking in 7th Sea so far, to my tastes, are the humour and detail of the Rolemaster criticals. I guess I cannot have everything!

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

3 thoughts on “Looking for a spiritual home.”

  1. For me, leaving RM/SM was to look for something lighter. At first that was trying to use MERP and Cyberspace as general replacements, but I eventually went on to even lighter games. I had hoped HARP would be as light as MERP, but it’s not really. Still, though, it’s still sort of “RM lite”. And I expect SHARP (sci-fi harp) is like SM-lite.

    Have you looked into those?

    or any of the plethora of WEG d6 based games (and mini-d6 and tiny-d6)?

    Are you looking for light, or concise (the turn-off from pathfinder’s number of books could be either)? Generic, or genre-specific?

    Lately I’ve been buying up the Free League games, which are about to include a fantasy version (KS just ended). Mutant Year Zero, Mutant Year Zero: Genlab Alpha, Coriolis, and Tales from The Loop.

    I’ve also been looking at the PIP System (generic dice pool game, where the target number is always 4), and Tiny-d6 (TinyFrontiers, TinyDungeons; also a dice pool game with a fixed target number, and has multiple genres, but each book is specific to the genre).

    Last: I think D&D 5e is a really really good base system. There’s some sci-fi counterparts coming out, so there’s that :-}

    Or if you want to go REALLY old school, there’s Swords&Wizardry and WhiteStar (S&W applied to space opera). Basically … basic D&D (elf is a class) revived. I’m not as much of a fan of “elf is a class”, but I do love looking back at the light-weight and “think out the specifics yourself instead of having a rule for every little thing” nature of basic D&D.

  2. Fifteen years ago I moved house and in that move I lost my Spacemaster books. We were playing RM set in the Forgotten Realms so they were not being used. When I started to get a hankering for some sci-fi I realised the books were gone so I bought HARP and HARP SF to fill that gap as a Christmas present to myself (because I deserve more presents!).

    Incidientally, I had grown disenchanted with the crunchiness of RM when played RAW many years previously and I had removed proably about 90% of the crunch by evaluating the things that were getting in the way of the role playing and house ruling to swap in and out different mechanics. My version of Rolemaster san spells and monsters comes in at no more than 60 pages including character creation, skills and combat.

    Even as RAW Rolemaster is a lot lighter than many systems past and present.

    This is always the system changers dilemma, my house ruled system fits me like a glove because it was tailored to exactly my needs.

    One doesn’t want to eat exactly the same choclolate cake every day though, just because you once said choclolate cake was your favourite. Right now I want to try something different.

    As I said in the post, I don’t actually know what I want. I do know what I don’t like.

    Things I don’t like are games based around hit points and combat being about eroding hit points. My experience of that has been that a character with a sword cannot beat the greater challenges of the game. You need powerful magic items or magic. Grinding away with a sword doing 1d8 against a dragon with 400hp is neither fun or viable.

    I like detailed skill systems when I could play two different fighters and one is obviously a centurion and the other clearly a celtic warrior. I like being able to shape the character and change the focus.

    I don’t like classes or professions. I tend to see these as limiting a players choices not giving them options. I think as a teenager looking at all the Conan novels in the bookshop and seeing Conan the ‘this’ and Conan the ‘that’ made me want the unlimited adventure that only RPGs can provide.

    My favourite three systems over my RPG life have been Traveller, Champions and Rolemaster.

    If there were a spectrum of game systems with Simulations that valued realism over all else at one end and at the other were completely narrative systems then I would definitely be on the simulationist side of centre. Too far down the simulationist road and the fun gets lost for me.

    I have played in games where once you had your turn in the combat round people considered going and putting the kettle on or taking a cigarette break because they would be back in plenty of time before the combat round was over. That is not for me.

    You list a lot of systems. Some I have looked at and WhiteStar is not for me. I started out playing with the blue covered Basic D&D and we moved on because of the limitations. Going back fills a nostalgic 5 minutes but I do not think I would enjoy an entire campaign.

    Regarding generic verses genre specific, I kind of want both. I like the idea of a core system that is fun to play but I also want a be swept off my feet by the setting. That is the appeal of Ecplise Phase and 7th Sea. The settings are really engagine. What I am trying to do with my Devil’s Staircase project is build a really flexible and engaging rule set that can be applied to any genre.

    I will work through your suggestions, they are much appreciated and see if one or more is what I am looking for.

  3. For the Fria Ligan/Free League games (Mutant Year Zero, Mutant Year Zero: Genlab Alpha, Coriolis, and Tales from The Loop), someone had a good basic summary of the core system on a thread at En World. Before I paste that in:

    1) Mutant Year Zero (MYZ) is a Gamma World like Post Apocalypse game.
    2) MYZ: Genlab Alpha is an expansion for MYZ that focuses on uplifted animals at a particular lab, but you can expand from there. There’s also an upcoming expansion that focuses on robots/androids: MYZ Mechatron. Both expansions are stand-alone (can be played without the core MYZ).
    3) Coriolis is a dark space opera sort of game.
    4) Tales from the Loop is … I’ve seen it compared to “Stranger Things” adapted to an RPG. Kids near a particle accelerator lab near Las Vegas, contemporary-ish in time setting.
    5) The upcoming “Forbidden Lands” is their retro-fantasy RPG. Unlike the other “Zero Year Engine” games, it will not only use d6’s but also “D8s, D10s and D12s as well, for powerful artifacts and magic items.”

    Free Quickstart rules for several of their games can be had on DTRPG.

    (copy and paste)

    Both Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis, and Tales from the Loop use a more-or-less common system for task resolution, where you roll a number of d6 equal to a stat + a skill (both maxing at 5 for humans). Each 6 is a success. All three systems have the option to re-roll non-successes at a cost, though what that cost is varies from game to game: in MYZ it’s the risk of hurting yourself and/or your gear, in Coriolis it’s giving the GM a Darkness point they can later use to insert all sorts of badness into the game, and in Tales it’s either a luck point or taking a Condition (essentially a persistent -1 die to all rolls until you get an opportunity to remove it).

    All three games use the same four basic stats (not sure about the English translations, but they are essentially Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Empathy (combining aspects of Wisdom and Charisma)), and a fairly short skill list (MYZ has 12 common skills plus one for each class, and Coriolis has 16 skills). You also have Talents, either giving you new abilities or letting you use old ones in new ways. Beyond that, the games vary quite a bit from one another.


    It might vary a bit between games, but here’s how it works in MYZ:

    1. Initiative = d6+Dex. Can’t remember if we rerolled each round or not, but I don’t think we did.
    2. Attack roll is a skill check, usually either Strength + Fight or Dexterity + Shoot. Most weapons give 1-3 dice as a bonus.
    3. Opponent can defend as an action, rolling a similar check which removes successes from the attacker.
    4. On a success, deal the weapon’s base damage. Additional successes can either increase damage or do extra stuff (knock prone, deal damage as stress instead, etc.). If the opponent is wearing armor, they roll dice equal to the armor’s rating and reduces damage by that much.

    Now here’s an area where I know the systems differ. In MYZ, all trauma directly affects one of your stats: damage reduces Strength, stress reduces Dexterity, confusion reduces Intelligence, and doubt reduces Empathy. This causes a death spiral, since taking damage means your Strength gets reduced which then means you’ll be worse at fighting. Coriolis, OTOH, has hit points separate from stats. Not sure about Tales – I don’t think you’re supposed to fight per se in that game, but there are a number of Conditions that can reflect damage.

    Here’s the conversation over at En World:


    Not sure if that’s exactly going to fit your tastes or not, but there it is :-}

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