Long Running Reviews

In my last post, here, I discussed serialising reviews. So in a ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ move I tried this for myself. Over on my own blog I have started a series of in depth looks at an existing game. My blog is all about Rolemaster and the new version of Rolemaster is approaching completion under the working title of Rolemaster Unified. Rolemaster Unified is generally referred to as RMU in Rolemaster circles.

The Rolemaster community is somewhat fragmented for a couple of reasons. The original version was MERP which morphed into 1st Edition and that evolved into 2nd Edition, generally referred to RM2. When the original publisher, ICE when bust the reborn company lost the rights to many bits of the game written by freelancers who had not been paid and that sort of messy stuff. So a new version of RM2 was released that was backwardly compatible and this was called Rolemaster Classic.

When RM2 was at its peak it turned into a sprawling system that had grown rather organically and with no clear structure. To resolve that a new version was released called Rolemaster Standard System or RMSS. When ICE got into trouble the rereleased version was called Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing or RMFRP.

So already you can see there are loads of different names for what are essentially two very similar but parallel versions of Rolemaster.

The latest incarnation of the ICE brand want to only support a single version of Rolemaster. This makes producing supplements and companions easier and brings their market together. This is what the Unified in RMU stands for.

The problem is that the RM2/RMC community want RMU to be more like RM2/RMC and the RMSS/RMFRP community want it to be more like RMSS/RMFRP.

The publishers have also taken the opportunity to make the rules much more streamlined and reduce the number of tables in the game.

Some of these streamlining changes come from another game in the ICE stable is HARP, High Adventure Role Playing. HARP is often referred to a ‘lite’ version of Rolemaster but that does it an injustice.

So although HARP is not new most Rolemaster Players have not played HARP as it could be seen as a retrograde step from Rolemaster to HARP and most HARP players do not play Rolemaster as they can already have all the best elements of Rolemaster build into HARP.

Now though HARP is of interest as some of the best bits of HARP appear to have found their way into RMU.

So that is the rational behind doing a detailed read through of HARP as a series in a blog aimed at Rolemaster readers.

There are a few things I have learned doing this. Firstly, it is really popular. I have written four posts so far and between them they have garnered 33 comments. If we extrapolate that forward the entire project could easily have well over a hundred comments or more. There is no way that a traditional review would get that level of feedback.

Secondly, the original inspiration for this was the TakeOnRules blog review of Stars Without Number but that series seems to have faltered and failed. They were publishing just one chapter a month. I think this is too slow. It didn’t seem to have any real momentum. I have been publishing two a week so far and also mixing in other posts as well. Some people really are not interested in either RMU or HARP so a few other posts help keep them interested. It really doesn’t take that long to read a chapter or two of a rule book. It is not the same as reading a 300 page rule book and then just getting a single 600 word review from it. As we are really looking at the quality of writing, the game mechanics and how these related to Rolemaster and RMU I am reading eight to twenty pages and getting a 1000 word article from it. As a blogger this is much more efficient! That sounds callous but we are people too with jobs and lives beyond the blog. In a typical year I publish half a million words of unique content on the blog. If I had the wit and wherewithal to write a novel I could have shelves full of books by now!

Next, if this process was for a new game then you, the reader, could read as much as you liked around the new game. I reckon a new game review would probably run to something like 10 to 15 articles given the  ratio of reading to articles. Some games have huge lists of skills, spells, monsters or vehicles. We do not need to detail them all but rather just explain how they are handled and the scope of the options available. If I published two or three articles a week then that review would be at the top of the list of latest posts for a month or more. That is great exposure for the game producers.

I cannot see a downside to this and so far my followers seem to be liking the series. So looking at Michael’s last review of Stellar Adventures at the beginning he said “Only on a second look I realized that Stellar Adventures is actually a game based on Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition, a roleplaying game inspired by the Fighting Fantasy game books of old.” If you don’t know Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition then Michael could just as easily have expanded on what that really means in practical terms. Stellar Adventures is 10 chapters of which the second and third are Hero Creation and Rules of the Game after the obligatory introduction. Seeing detailed reviews of those two chapters as standalone articles I think would be really valuable. On the other hand the chapters on equipment, robots, vehicles and starships could possibly be rolled into a single post. I think the game could have a really in depth review in two weeks, which considering that Michael really rated the game would be great for Stellar Adventures and Arion Games.

I also think, more than ever, that this bridges the gap between the reviewing a game you have only read and having to play every game. So yes the game has only been read but as reviewer you are demonstrating your depth of understanding and with community feedback and questions even more detail can be added if people want to know more.

I defy any publisher or writer to complain about the review being shallow if it runs to 15,000 words or more and two weeks of questions and answers!

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.

8 thoughts on “Long Running Reviews”

  1. RM1 wasn’t based on MERP. It was the other way around. MERP was a watering down of RM1 both for market friendliness, and for a separation of IP for the Tolkien license.

    (RM1 began in 1980 and was completed in 1982ish (though I don’t recall campaign law being out until 84ish), MERP came out in 84 … which may have been related to the cleanup and revision of RM1, but RM absolutely predates MERP)

    I always wished they had released a generic (no setting) version of the MERP rules, and made Cyberspace more in line with that (CS was a LOT like MERP, but not exactly … just enough differences to make you scratch your head). And then done genre books for sci-fi.

    HARP is definitely influenced by that “light/watered-down RM” idea… but it’s not really the same thing as MERP/CS… enough so that HARP/SHARP is not a system I actually play… but MERP/CS is still in my top 5 RPG systems of all time.

    1. Sorry, yes you are right about the RM1/MERP.

      I think there is a lot of good in HARP and if I was keeping score I would not be surprised if my own shopping list of wants in a system didn’t come out as HARP being a better overall system than full Rolemaster. The deciding factor being that I played RM for decades so the game runs very smoothly for me as I don’t need to refer to rules.

      What do you think of the idea of actually spending more time reviewing each game? Taking the Stellar Adventures as an example based upon that first review would you read follow up posts examining the actual mechanics and user experience?

      1. I also think HARP/SHARP is better than RM, but mainly for my own bias of “lighter is usually better”. That probably also feeds into my “MERP/CS is better than HARP/SHARP” feelings. I’m not completely anti-HARP though, I like the talents. I like that it’s one unified skill list that pretty much applies across both genres. I like that spells scale, instead of having to learn a new, more powerful, version to get a better effect (D&D 5e does the same thing; and, the way spells were done in MERP and Spell Law, you half way get that effect as well, in that you learn a block of related spells within a range of levels … sorta the same, but not exactly the same). And I like talents.

        I wish the DP system was more like MERP/CS:
        fixed DP per level. Allocated per skill group, as determined by your class. You can transfer DP to other skill groups at a cost (2 DP from one skill group can transfer to most other skill groups as 1 DP).

        This actually made it almost trivial to create new classes (there was some trickiness in that the combat skill group actually consumes more of your per-level DP allocation), or hybrid classes (average the DP two classes give per group). And you could essentially house-rule multi-classing the same way that D&D 3e and 5e do it: each time you level up, you pick your class (or, to be a little more rigorous, when you finish leveling up for level N, you pick your class for level N+1, and have to role play your transition from your level N class to your level N+1 class … or else you have to stick to your level N class if you didn’t role play it enough). (those were houserules I created in 1990ish).

        HARP’s DP allocation to skill groups only applies to 1st level, it does RM style “number of DP depends on your stats” (which I hate), and your skill groups then just become preferred skills (making it harder to do the class design idea that works for MERP/CS). I’m sort of agnostic about “multiclassing via talent/feat” … I prefer the houserule I created in 1990 over paying a talent/feat :-} . … but I do otherwise love the talent/feat system in HARP/SHARP.

        I also like the race skill levels and culture/environment/background skill levels the way they’re done in both HARP/SHARP and MERP/CS … if I recall correctly (I haven’t looked since the 1980s), RM didn’t do it the same way, but more of a “do 1st level twice, within your class.” Or something like that. Less flavor in what I recall of the RM system.

        Those things I mentioned about MERP/CS? They continue to influence my ideas about proper game design for class/level systems to this day… even though I haven’t played MERP/CS since the early 1990s.

  2. In the current HARP rules DPs are fixed at 50 per level, not dependent on Stats, although that is still an option.

    It goes without saying that you would prefer your own house rules as otherwise the house rule would not exist. It is a bit like saying your lost keys are always in the last place you look!

    1. Interesting news about HARP (50 set DP per level).

      Re: houserules always being preferred … you might be surprised. I’ve written so many variant rules for things, many completely workable, but sometimes they just change the flavor and feel of the game in a way that wasn’t, in the end, desired. Or slowed down the game too much. Or after doing the final analysis, it turned out a newly published optional rule turned out to accomplish the same thing, better.

  3. Working on long-running reviews is hard. I’ve been trying to both write session reports for Tomb of Annihilation, migrate my blog, and keep up on the SWN “Let’s read” posts.

    Needless to say, all are an impossibility.

    1. Thank you for commenting, I didn’t realise that you read this blog 🙂

      I think that you did with SWN was inspired. I think the weakest point was the time lapse between posts didn’t build any momentum but then if you are time starved then that would explain it.

      They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and i mean it as a real compliment to you that I have used the structure that you created on my own blog and it is proving really popular. The only change I made was that I am banging the posts out faster. This is partly as I have a terrible habit of carrying a lot of information around on in my memory, not written down and ot structured. So by storming through things I can retain more details of the system.

      A monthly hiatus between posts would take up more of my time as I would have to constantly fact check myself.

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