Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Retrospective: Claw Law & Arms Law

Along with last week's retrospective, another product -- well, set of products -- I remember seeing relentlessly advertised in the pages of Dragon was Claw Law & Arms Law, one of several rulebooks that would, in time, join together to create the game system known as Rolemaster (as, as my friends and I called it "Rulemaster"). Back in 1982, though, (when the boxed set pictured here was released) products like Claw Law & Arms Law were initially sold as add-ons to other RPGs. Certainly, one could buy all the various Law books (such as Spell Law and Character Law) and combine them to play a wholly different game (or simply buy the boxed Rolemaster set that included them all), but there was no way I was going to do that. My friends and I were still deeply devoted to D&D and there was no way we were going to forsake it for another fantasy RPG. We'd house rule the heck out of D&D, of course, but, in our minds, that was somehow different and so it was that we decided to take the plunge and add Claw Law & Arms Law into our campaigns.

You must remember that 1982 was the tail end of the Golden Age. The fantastic realism that carried the day in the early part of the Silver Age was becoming an undeniable force in gaming culture, with lots of our older contemporaries dabbling in games they'd earlier told us were "for weirdos," like RuneQuest and Chivalry & Sorcery. Why? Partly because those other games had more "realistic" combat systems. That's where Claw Law & Arms Law came in: they were designed to make your RPG's combat system more realistic -- and deadly. That greatly appealed to us, as we'd already had solid experience with critical hit tables and, while their results were decidedly mixed, we nevertheless continued to see the appeal in making D&D's combats bloodier.

The big problem was that, for all their advertisements as add-ons to other games, they worked very poorly with AD&D. Like Rolemaster itself, Claw Law & Arms Law used percentiles for its combat system. To use it with Dungeons & Dragons, you weren't merely modifying the existing combat rules; you were completely replacing them. That caught us off-guard and probably ensured that we'd never adopt the rules on a permanent basis. To our way of thinking, it was perfectly fine to add or subtract to the existing combat rules, but to replace them entirely was a different thing altogether. At the same time, we wanted to see what all he fuss was about and so we decided to test out Claw Law & Arms Law.

The result not pretty, not because the new combat system was difficult to use; it wasn't. Indeed, despite our own mocking of Rolemaster by calling it Rulemaster, the game isn't particularly rule-heavy but it is chart-heavy. The new combat rules slowed down play, because we had to keep consulting charts. I am sure that this was because of our inexperience with the system. Indeed, I know it was, as I'll explain shortly. Charts catch a lot of undeserved flak in certain quarters, but my experience is that they're often better at presenting complex rules than are formulae, unless the formulae are very simple. Once one becomes familiar with which charts are needed and when, speed is increased considerably.

But the simple truth of the matter is that, for D&D, the addition of Claw Law & Arms Law just never felt right. We were far too accustomed to the existing combat rules (including weapons vs. AC modifiers, but not speed factors) to change midstream. The additional detail these add-ons provided simply didn't justify the cerebral rewiring necessary to make it all run smoothly. Yet, there was still something about these rules that we did like, which is why, when Middle Earth Roleplaying was released in 1984, we happily played it. MERP felt nothing like Tolkien's novels in my opinion, but the rules presentation was cleaner and more compact than in Rolemaster. We enjoyed playing the game as an alternative to D&D rather than as a replacement for it. That seemed to be the best way to use Rolemaster and its derivatives and we had a lot of fun doing so.

41 comments:

  1. I have posted many times on this blog and everyone knows I am a Silver Age fan who likes well-designed rule systems.

    And I hated this system.

    A rule system that totally shuts down gaming momentum because of 18-million charts is not a rule system worth playing. This is what killed combat in 3e (though I like the skill system in 3e).

    Plus this is rule system is a classic case of "overfitting". They have charts which are just aperiodic enough that no reasonable mathematical rule will fit to it. So you cannot wean off the charts without massive changes.

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  2. eheh James, sometimes looks like we moved with the same pace, even if I was some (many) years behind you (in Italy it was very hard to find RPG in the '80s). MERP was a great game for my playing group, and at that time we felt like all those charts and dicerolls where "the next step" from DnD easy rules. A couple of years ago I've buyed on ebay most of the old Rolemaster rulebooks. Oh, nostalgia :-)

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  3. I love Silver age of AD&D and the period's preoccupation with realism. One key difference between Gygax AD&D and WoTC D&D wss that Gygax was not trying to impose a universal mechanic over his game system. AD&D 1st is a hodge podge of different game mechanics utilizing different dice. This made the game more flexible when it came to modeling reality. WoTC replaced this with its Core Mechanic concept in the name of simplicity, but that trend has started well in Silver Age, I can distinctly recall the "Universal Outcome" tables for the period RPG Chill! (Basic version of Call of Cthulu), so the WoTC did not invent this trend. Just as there is a variety of narrative styles in storytelling, I think that there is nothign wrong with having a great diversity of game mechanics for different occasions under one roof. In keeping with this spirit. I replaced AD&D Non-Weapon proficiency mechanics with Rune Quest's skill system, keeping AD&D's conceptualization and usage of NWP's. I grouped NWPs in Traveler type tables, with each character clas having its own table that only members of that class have acces to. This made Fighter class a far more intersting to play, since now players can conceptualize, what kidn of warrior they want to play, which they can develop over levels, as with other character classes, thye development is not limited to improvements in game mechanics. I kept the DMG combat mechanics AND the infamous weapon versus armor class chart. That chart provides diversity and realism to the otherwise abstract combat system. The rest of the realism in my version of D&D comes from modifying the definition of "To Hit" Roll and from doing research and fleshing out the historic description, purpsoe,a dn effectiveneess of weapons listed in Players handbook. Thus, in typical D&D, a player with a spear sets the spear against a goblin, mounted on a charging wolf. Player rolls first because of a longer reach. In my version, is the player tells me s/he sets the spear against the chaging wolf-rider and is proficiant with this weapon, if s/he hits, Goblin is thrown off the mount, whether damage is taken or not. Goblin does not roll to hit. Next round goblin will try to get on his feet. Key modification here is that if longer weeapon scores a hit, the opponent with the shorter weapon does NOT get to close the distance and does not get to hit. If the opponent with the shorter weapon scores a hit, s/he then gets to close the distance and possibly inflict damage on the opponent with the longer weapon in the next round. This makes the tarditional AD&D combat mechanic plenty relistic and forced the players to do the mortal dance of melee.

    I never got into the Arms Law etc, first, I didn't have the money and second, all the tables turned me off to it.

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  4. I played Rolemaster a few times and under different game masters. Games where the GM really knew the tables were a whole lot of fun, but games where the GM didn't know them cold quickly bogged down and stagnated.

    I never really got into Role Master's magic system. You could cast spells more often, which I liked a lot more than AD&D's system, but it always felt you were more limited in what spells you had.

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  5. We were far too accustomed to the existing combat rules (including weapons vs. AC modifiers

    Odd you should say that, since until less than a year ago you totally misunderstood the weapon v. AC modifiers...

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  6. Arms Law was, at first, very appealing when others RPG had so "realistic" combat systems (Runequest, DragonQuest, Stormbringer...)

    But it could not just be "added" to D&D. It had to replace it, so, despite the interesting critical hits tables, we never really used it.

    Later came MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing game), which was basically a light version of Arms and Spells Laws set in Tolkien's world.

    We loved this game, and played it a lot.

    The combats were so vivids they were like short adventures.

    It was so funny when the proud elven warrior-prince PC managed to shot himself in the foot just while five angry orcs rushed at the party from a nearby wood...

    Anyway, the game itself, and particularly its magic system, had very little to do with the "real" Middle Earth...

    Besides, even a light version of Arms Law was still hardly manageable, with countless charts and mental arithmetic (D100: (87 + 139) x75% -15 +23 -54 +5 =???).

    And of course, a "deadly" combat system is opposite to D&D philosophy, where the game purpose is to survive many encounters to gain experience and become stronger (which is impossible if you have even a 15% death ratio on every combat).

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  7. While some people I know liked it, I tended to refer to Arms Law, etc. as "Chartmaster." One of the things that put me off of it almost immediately was that the charts themselves were simply not rooted in anything like "realism" - detail, yes, realism, no. Over-engineered and too fiddly for fast play, in my not so humble opinion.

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  8. > A rule system that totally shuts down gaming momentum because of 18-million charts is not a rule system worth playing.

    Nope; in personal experience RM actually plays more quickly than AD&D "by the book" as I'd inconveniently posted on James's "A Modest Proposal" entry before this one went up. :)

    @James: If you're just reviewing these two, yes it is clearer that the publication history was initially as "bolt ons" given Arms Law predating Claw Law by two years.
    Gets a smile with that particular boxed set, too, in that they just chopped the cover in two to sell 'em bagged separately. :)

    Converting characters isn't quite so difficult but meshing RM combat within AD&D interactively certainly requires a bit more than a casual dalliance and it is, indeed, easier to go the whole hog. That in its own right wasn't so easy for many people to do until 2e in 1984/85 (C&T being a somewhat important volume...) and this lengthy hiatus no doubt left quite a large number of people "in the lurch" eating tables without much additional meat on them.
    (Will you be retrospecting The Iron Wind at a later date, out of interest?)

    p.s. 565 target to beat, unmodified, in combat. Helluva roll to "waste" on a thrown rock... :p

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  9. > detail, yes, realism, no. Over-engineered and too fiddly for fast play, in my not so humble opinion.

    A compromise between abstract "hit points" and more "realistic" aspects from the crit tables that could be reworked in textual detail to taste and context on the fly. Keeping tabs of hits, stuns, bleeding and penalties isn't /that/ hard on a sheet of paper. Honest...

    Excessive realism is also, of course, as popular as being on the receiving end of any 66E crit.

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  10. aside: I guess it goes without saying that wading into purely physical combat using RM tables (in isolation or conjunction) is undertaken with a greater degree of consideration than doing so under xD&D if one does not wish a maimed or killed character.
    This does, to a degree, make up for the unbalancing effect of magic & supernatural attacks in the latter - i.e. /knowing/ that max damage from those enemy attacks can't kill you in AD&D encourages metagaming and jumping in "heroically" whereas the risk from a "hold person" is far more serious... in RM, however, jumping in carelessly is more equally dangerous on both physical and non-physical levels.

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  11. I ran RM for abut a year, for people who were mostly RPG newbies*. The secret to running it smoothly was *photocopies*.

    Every player got a photocopy of the charts for their weapons, and I kept a stack of extras on-hand in case they got tricky on me and picked up an enemy's weapon. Ditto spell lists, spell attack charts, and the moving maneuver chart.

    These were people who had, by and large, rejected AD&D 1e/2e as 'too complicated'. They thought RM was much simpler and more straightforward.

    I think a lot of the bad odor around RM comes from reading the books (and their absurdly large charts), rather than actual play. In play, it was smooth and easy to use, and produced dramatic and semi-realistic results.

    To this day I still consider it the best game in its class, and all other systems I run, I measure against that ongoing RM game.

    * By which I mean, most of them were aware of RPGs but hadn't actually played any; two of them had played occasional AD&D games.

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  12. I played 'Chartmaster', as we lovingly called it, for about 12 or 13 years straight. We had occasional forays into D&D and AD&D; but, for the most part we stuck to Rolemaster. It did take some getting used to the charts; but, once you get them organized the way you like them things move very smoothly.

    What we did was photocopy the charts, put them in plastic sleeves, and then put the sleeves into three ring binders for each character. As GM, I would organize my charts based on the upcoming encounter(s). It took about 5 min extra prep each gaming session but streamlined the combat experience so that it was faster paced.

    Ah, good times.

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  13. Every player got a photocopy of the charts..."

    When we played this in elementary school, photocopies were either non-existant or expensive. We still used mimeograph paper at school.

    Good fun with RM but it only lasted a a year or so. We moved on to RQII and then 'Bringer.

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  14. I think I had some item of theirs or another. Never used it in a game. Otherwise, this stuff wasn't even on my gaming radar.

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  15. I have played quite a bit of MERP/Rolemaster over the years (currently playing now, actually...) and I always remember smirking at those appendices about how to adapt the systems to fit other games. It never looked to me like it would ever work, though the one time I spiced up a game of Tunnels & Trolls with some RM critical tables it worked disturbingly well. My own experience with both systems probably helped me avoid a lot of mistakes, though.

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  16. Regarding MERP, I was "meh" about the rules, but I love the setting material and the maps. I still consider them among the "must keep" parts of my collection. Yes, there was too much (overt) magic in them for Tolkien, but that was easily stripped out for use in another game system.

    It makes me smile to remember the time the low-medium level party I was DMing tripped a dimensional gate and found themselves just outside a castle coming under siege. They had no idea where they were, so they asked a peasant hurrying by. The looks on the players' faces when he replied "Deeping Coomb, it is. And that be the Hornburg" was priceless. :)

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  17. I think I still have my original copy of Arms Law around the place somewhere. And yes, it was designed as to be an unofficial new damage system for D&D, but failed in that because people generally preferred their D&D to be as simple as possible. Which is much the same reason that I almost never saw the Weapon Mods vs AC used (unless you had the Judges Guild Ready Reference Cards).

    It was only quite a bit later that it formed the core of it's own RPG (which we always referred to it despairingly as Rollmaster), and the order or release of the products under this umbrella is important. Essentially everything was a supplement to your fantasy game, which you could take or leave at will, including the core ruleset.

    Still it did embody some interesting ideas, however clumsily, like giving new abilities (disguised as Spell Lists) at each level. And line "66" of each new critical/fumble chart was always amusing to read.

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  18. Odd you should say that, since until less than a year ago you totally misunderstood the weapon v. AC modifiers...

    I never said we used them correctly :)

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  19. You don't need hit locations or charts for a vivid and realistic combat system. If you make armor historically expensive in your world and encourage your warriors to assemble suits of combat armor, ONE PIECE AT A TIME, historically inaccurate, but portrayed in D&D illustrations, you MIGHT need a hit location table, to see if a critical hit as averted if blow fell of the chain-mailed or plate covered location. Other than that, fight ending critical hits are rare enough for DM to improvise - crunch of bone and the guy's leg collapses under him. Massive blow across the chest and the guy gets thrown against the wall, barely breathing deathly pale with a rivulet of blood running down the corner of his mouth, etc.

    The problem with most fantasy games competing against D&D is that by default they lack the fantasy storytelling infrastructure - Monsters, Spells, treasure description, plus a convenient adventuring framework - Dungeon adventure. It is this copyrighted D&D infrastructure that made Baldur's Gate type of game coherent and contextually rich, at which Troika's Arcanum failed, since it had to rely mostly on wolves and spiders for a typical monster, and they were forced to "invent" new magics and treasure not to infringe on Black Isle Studio's/TSR's turf. D&D has a workable and simple paradigm for fantasy adventuring, while C&S. Runequest and Tunnels and Trolls could not compete int he Monsters and Spells department, not did they offer enough of a paradigm to create an alternative to dungon exploration. If a game master was experienced and had ideas, he could write an advnture, but a brand new player just opening a box, was better off creating adventure worlds with D&D, than with Runequest or C&S or T&T since D&D had a lot more on designing yor own advnetures than did those other games. That is the reason, I think, that everyone ended up pretty much house ruling D&D.

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  20. Oh Rolemaster! The game where I managed to create a classless character and begin the game with two character sheet's worth of skills.

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  21. >Odd you should say that, since until less than a year ago you totally misunderstood the weapon v. AC modifiers...
    I never said we used them correctly :)<

    Hmmm...seeing as I haven't used them since around 1983, I'm now wondering if I was using them right back then. How wrong could you use them? Just pluses or minuses right?

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  22. As others have already mentioned, when I played RM is grad school with my neighbors, every character had a photocopy of the weapon chart necessary, or had a copy of Arms Law with pages marked for the weapon(s) in use.

    The combat system in Arms Law still seems to "get it right" in terms of armor's ability to protect you from damage, but not necessarily the chance to hit. If you are wearing a bulky set of plate, then you have a greater chance of being hit, but a smaller chance of doing great damage.

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  23. "The combat system in Arms Law still seems to "get it right" in terms of armor's ability to protect you from damage, but not necessarily the chance to hit."

    As well, because it splits damage into 'concussion' damage that represents bruising and fatigue, and 'critical' damage that can kill you, and then further breaks criticals into different severities... you get really neat outcomes from various weapon/armor combos.

    For instance, check out the rapier or poiniard table, and find the column for chainmail. And on any weapon's table, look at how much concussion damage a guy in plate is taking from you (answer: a huge amount).

    Armorless people are way harder to hit, which is completely reasonable, but when they do get hit it's often fatal.

    It's the core of what I like about RM: there's so much *meat* in those charts, places where some real thought has gone into their design. In actual play, that clever design fades into the background, and what you get is a lot of action that just *makes sense*.

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  24. Unarmored opponents may have been way harder to hit in a duel, but in massed medieval combat, people were locked into formations, had no room to meneuver, and medieval battlefield mass slaughter didn't differ much from battle slaughter in the 20th century with the carpets of dead and dying littering the battlefield. As that guy said in Fallout, War never changes...

    With regards to "non-lethal" concussive damage, I seen at lest two accounts from 1200s to 1400s where a front line plate armored knight was beaten to death from a second rank (massed front rank opponents pinned the knight with their swords), getting beat on the head with the shaft of the spear or a polearm. Helmet was never broken or penbetrated, but it probably dented and the knights went down hair, blood and gore running dorn from eye sockets and breating holes. Not quite chovalrous. Which may, perhaps explain, why the knights would run down and slaughter unarmerd peasants on battlefield whenever they could. I am not saying that all RPGs have to be absolutely accurate, but a could campaign CAN guive a good historical flavor in addition to experience points, and also that notion of "non lethal concussive damage" got me going.

    As an aside. Historical knights held their own and other lives in total contempt. Contempt and disregard for safety were marks of a courageous warrior. When two-handed sword fencing became popular in medieval Germany, it was chic among knights to duel with two handed combat swords in their underwear. i.e. unprotected so as to show off their courage and to show what kind of damage they can do to their opponent with that "first cut". Considr with that lack of healing spells available to them in our world.

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  25. I'm not sure that there is any historical evidence that fighters thought that foregoing armour would make it significantly easier to dodge or avoid blows. I have come across accounts of fighters foregoing armour for comfort and convenience, just as people today forego safety gear for similar reasons, but not for mobility.

    The idea that armour protects you from being damaged, not hit also depends on a very literal sense of the concept of "hit." If you define hit as in "hit hard enough to cause measurable damage" then armour can indeed be said to reduce the chances of being hit. Either way, all RPG combat systems are abstractions. In most systems, the fundamental effect of armour is to increase survivability of the wearer, whether they implement it as a reduction in the odds of being hit, or use a more complicated system of multiple die rolls, conditional damage, and tables. One is more of a black box system that condenses and averages multiple factors into a single die roll, while the other is more of a "show your work" approach. Neither is inherently more realistic, and both can be used to produce the same net outcomes.

    One problem with modeling realism is that we don't actually know what the statistical effect of wearing certain armour or using a certain weapon has on the range of outcomes: we simply don't have a lot of real world data on people wearing period armour and trying to kill each other with period weapons in real life-or-death situations to quantify the difference between wearing chain versus plate or using a sword versus mace. The sheer variety of weapons and armour in use at any given time in the middle ages suggests that the people of the day didn't really know what worked best either; one can imagine that, if the Internet existed in the 15th Century, knights would engage in mace vs. warhammer flame wars where they extolled the virtues of their chosen weapon and pointed out the intellectual inadequacies of those who foolishly favoured the other.

    Even those who seriously study medieval and renaissance combat can only make educated guesses about the exact effectiveness of various weapons and armours; game designers by and large have even less factual information to go on. We can compare the verisimilitude of two systems, but making comparisons based on realism is mostly pointless.

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  26. MERP was, hands down, my favourite RPG during the late 1980s. I played it almost constantly from grade 10 until I left high-school. I loved the system and loved the campaign modules.

    Pete Fenlon's colour regional maps for MERP were works of art!

    Ah, good times. I'd play it again, if I could find anyone interested...

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  27. W2,
    German knights forewent armor only in single combat duels among each other. Whil there is no adequate statistical evidence to quantitatively show the effectiveness of armor, what makes D&D historically inaccurate is the greatvariety of weapons and armor in PH. Historically, each period and place was dominated by a few weapon and armor types. Those reigned supreme and were used by leaders until that technology becmae common place and new weapons and armor were found for the king and the knight. During dark ages it was shield and chain mail. Chain mail saved your life if your torso took a blow from the sword. Before sword was perfected in early middle ages, Great Axe predominatedd the Anglo-Saxon battlefield to be replaced by the sword, weapon of the knight agaisnt a poorly armed brigand and the peasant. Sword was faster and more effective than a great axe. In the British campaigns agaisnt the French in 100 years war, British men at arms were armed with a short-handed lance, which was capable of poenetrating breast plate, when swung by a rofessional man at arms, who spent their adolescendce and adult lives swinging melee weapons. Which means that an untrained person would would not be able to defeat plate given the same weapons as the professionals. Later on, other weapons were develped to let the mases defeat the plate - pole axe, where the long pole served as force multiplier and substituted for muscle and skill. Between wars, medieval knights jousetd and engaged in paramilitary competition, so they were abreats of the developments in the field. So, I say you can recreate historic accuracy without knowing the stats. It would make the game boring, of ocurse, since there will be vewry few weapon and armor combination, one would dominate the game, and everyone would know what the winning combination would be. Historically, it was the price that defeated the common soldier's efforts to get a good suit of plate and a warhorse, peviously, it was swordblades, that were expensive. Of course, part of what makes D&D fun is the tremendous amount of choice that players have, and historically, people have a lot choice, and in the middle ages economic and social choices ere a lot fewer. One can ever say that Medieval German knights had no choice but to fight in their peers in their underwear. What say willing suspension of disbelief? They never said in PH that a DM should flesh out a few weapons and armor combinations available to the layers and make other very rare and unavailable. Players tend to use the equipment lists in PH as their shopping list. Gygax's error.

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  28. Brooze:

    Sorry, didn't mean to imply that RM Concussion damage was non-lethal. It was plenty lethal, in a horrifying grindy kind of way; there's only so many hits to the head, helmet or no, that you can take before you keel over.

    And in particular, because RM keyed all combat outcomes on a weapon type vs. armor type matrix, the 'right' weapon to use against a heavily armored person was often a mace or other blunt instrument. Your rapier wasn't going to be effective, and this was reflected in the damage outcomes in the rapier table vs. plate armor (as was the 'lucky/skilled hit' that penetrated a gap in the armor to deliver a deadly critical anyway). Your mace, on the other hand, was going to hurt that guy, with a fair chance of at least a minor crush critical on most swings.

    But flipping it around, your rapier or edged weapon had a good shot at an instant kill on someone in no armor at all, while the mace was much more likely to deliver only crippling damage.

    What's more, the type of critical delivered was also keyed to the weapon, so when you did finally get a decent critical with your broadsword on an armored opponent, it was probably a crush critical, not a slash critical. You literally bashed in his armor until it killed him.

    However, in almost every case, if what you were going to be doing was going toe-to-toe with someone in melee, heavier armor was always better for survivability. The tales of a lucky goblin instakilling a PC that RM was known for were mostly a goblin killing an unarmored or lightly armored PC. Heavy armor made it very difficult to kill someone outright because it made critical hits less likely, at the expense of more battering, crushing, and general fatigue.

    RM didn't really *support* the unarmored duelist archetype; it just tried to portray, as realistically as it could manage, how such a person might fare in a fight. He might dodge 3 out of 4 swings, but that fourth swing is going to lop off his arm; meanwhile, the heavy-armor guy got hit by all four swings, but is mostly just in a lot of pain as a result.

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  29. w2:

    "In most systems, the fundamental effect of armour is to increase survivability of the wearer, whether they implement it as a reduction in the odds of being hit, or use a more complicated system of multiple die rolls, conditional damage, and tables."

    I agree, but would add that the primary value I took from the Arms Law tables was the ability for players to tailor their weapon (or armor, though more rarely) choices to the type of opponent they were going to fight.

    Against the city watch of a wealthy city, you could be pretty sure you'd be up against guys in mail coats, possibly with breastplates. Against naked filthy cultists in a sewer temple, it's time to get out that broadsword and start hacking away.

    Things that add meaningful player decision points appeal to me, and systems that reward players for spending time thinking about them 'offline' also appeal to me.

    That said, I've run way more D&D in all its flavors than RM, so it's not like I'm some kind of RM evangelist. I just always take any opportunity to enthuse about its strong points, and the weapons vs. armor matrix concept is one of those strong points.

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  30. I've taken to using the Arms Law critical hits table in my Microlite74-ish game.

    You just divide the modifiers by five, and each column is "about a d6 worth of base damage"

    Seems to work OK.

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  31. I weaned of D&D onto Rolemaster after about 5 years, and played it for another 8 or 10 years after that, with various expeditions into other systems. Once you knew the charts it was very effective, and it had a really deadly flavour that AD&D lacked.

    I'm intrigued by the claim that MERP doesn't represent Middle Earth. As far as I know, until the movies came along it was the most meticulously researched and presented attempt at describing that world, and the definitive one for role-playing. As for the claim of too much magic - you won't find a wizard in MERP who can do anything like Gandalf in The Hobbit, and most of the magic was easily worked to look mundane - Boil Water at first level is hardly uber powerful, is it?

    MERP was also beautifully presented, and obviously highly respectful of the original novels. I found Iron Crown Enterprises work generally very high quality, it's just a shame it was too complex for most people to be bothered with...

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  32. Ahh, yes. The deadliness of combat and linearity of traditional D&D combat where charaters keep slugging each other until their 80 or so HP run out. That was what drove me away from D&D early on.

    The first time I ran into someone playing Rolemaster was in high school. After the usual lunchroom introduction "Do you play D&D", he said no with such seriousness, that I expected him to say "I play Chess.". He said Rolemaster instead. I asked him what it was and he said "Claw Law, Arms Law Spell Law, you know?". I can see the logic of Weapon versus Armor tables, and complexity is no issue to me. If I knew those rules when I re-opened DMG back in 2005 I may have included it in my rules mods.

    As an aside, Eward Oakeshott (I think his name is) was a British weapons historian who studied Sword extensively and came up with a sword blade classificastion. He has something that reads like an AC table, is based on archeological evidence and lists at least 8 categories of what in D&D is called a Longsword. One day I will go over his writings and integrate his sword classification into my house rules do away with short, long, broad and bastard swordblades in D&D, or maybe not. It's just funny, that Gygax was writing about Type I Demon, Type II etc, and Oakshott writes about Type I sword blade, TYpe II sword blade versus Type IV sword blade.

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  33. "Ahh, yes. The deadliness of combat and linearity of traditional D&D combat where charaters keep slugging each other until their 80 or so HP run out. That was what drove me away from D&D early on."

    80 hit points is an unrealistic number for almost any character to have, if played by the book. A 9th level AD&D fighter with 18 constitution will have about 86 hit points; one with average constitution will have 50. A B/X D&D fighter will have 41 hit points at 9th level; 68 with an 18 constitution (and only 1 in 216 characters would have such a score). There are above average rolls, of course, but 99% of 9th level fighters will have 56 or fewer rolled hit points.

    It is the low-level combats that tend to have a lot of back and forth rolling to hit, because characters and monsters alike tend to miss a lot, though when a hit is made, there is a good chance of it being a telling blow. Also, there are few special abilities or magic items to use at low levels and, I suspect, more than a few players are fairly short on imagination and can't or won't act outside of the options that the rules specifically suggest or illustrate. At higher levels, there are enough interesting magic items and spells to give even the most unimaginative player something to do other than spend round after round rolling to hit.

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  34. Oh Rolemaster! The game where I managed to create a classless character and begin the game with two character sheet's worth of skills.

    Ha!

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  35. How wrong could you use them? Just pluses or minuses right?

    Well, in my case, I misunderstood that the AC in question was the base AC rather than the modified one. So, a Thief with high Dex in leather armor might have a modified AC comparable to a Fighter in Chain, but the weapon bonus/penalty vs. the Thief is against leather's base AC, not against the lower, modified AC. That's where I went wrong all those years ago.

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  36. I've taken to using the Arms Law critical hits table in my Microlite74-ish game.

    For some reason, I find that absolutely awesome.

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  37. I'm intrigued by the claim that MERP doesn't represent Middle Earth.

    My issue was not with the presentation of the setting, which, by and large, was very good and quite true to the novels. My issue isn't even with the rules, for the most part (though the magic items often seemed un-Tolkienian to me). Rather, it was with the way MERP took the Fellowship and universalized it, allowing players to freely choose a mixed party of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and odd humans to go off adventuring together, as if that were a common sort of thing in the Third Age. Speaking for myself, it just felt off and not at all like the novels. We still had lots of fun with it, though.

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  38. I can understand that gripe, James, but it doesn't seem like a significant part of the rules and it is certainly true to most people's experience of Middle Earth (the Fellowship) and of role-playing in general (D&D). I think they'd have a hard time convincing most gamers to consider it as an issue, let alone go along with it.

    I don't remember the magic items, though I vaguely recollect it was mostly +10 swords and daily items, which are low-powered enough for my tastes. And didn't their description of the weapon that killed the ring-wraith match perfectly?

    Having played MERP extensively, for all its flaws, I can't imagine a game that better suits Middle Earth. I tried recreating it in D&D 3.5 and it was fun, but it didn't work quite the same way at all.

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  39. > Rather, it was with the way MERP took the Fellowship and universalized it, allowing players to freely choose a mixed party of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and odd humans to go off adventuring together, as if that were a common sort of thing in the Third Age.

    Not really: just in D&D. ;)

    > I don't remember the magic items, though I vaguely recollect it was mostly +10 swords and daily items, which are low-powered enough for my tastes.

    Both MERP & RM play well with low-level magical and non-"standard" items, IMO: a benefit of having been designed from scratch (even if originally intended for play with D&D, etc.) rather than derived from high-level battlefield wargaming powers in Chainmail -> D&D where the lesser items/magics were retrofitted after the arms race had already taken place.

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  40. w2,
    If playing by the book. What are the odds in D&D that a lucky arrow shot will kill a ninth level character with no previous damage? What are the real world histoical odds? That's why I prefer to make things interesting not with magic items, but with critical hits and the possibility that any arrow hit can potentially kill.

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  41. We used this system as a replacement for the basic then ad&d combat system for over 10 years. It was incredible, and agreed you couldn't memorize it but it made such a great impact in our game play.

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