THE DIRECTED WEAPONS MASTER

By Joel Blair, Copyright © 1999

Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

 

Author's Note: The following brief segment was written and presented to the RM gaming society around the time when the Rolemaster Companion VII was released to the public. It does not take into consideration the new rules for learning skills (Everyman, Occupational, and Lifestyle) that were presented in the new RMSS. Neither does it address the fact that the Directed Weapons Master background option no longer carries any direct disadvantage in the new Talent Law. While it is true that this article is written from an RM2 perspective, it is still felt by the author that it is still worthwhile material for the new RMSS. With some tweaking (as is expected and encouraged), it may still provide useful options for improving the fare of the Fighter profession. It should also be noted that the abilities/charts presented in this segment are also very useful when given to the more intelligent/deadly creatures (Orcs, Trolls, intelligent Undead/Demons, and extra-planar races). With this in mind, please enjoy!


For those of you who may have read through the supplemental materials in ICE's Rolemaster Companions I–VII you will have undoubtedly found and been disappointed by the large amount of leeway now given to the spell-using classes. The semi-spell-users are encouraged to take an additional two to three base lists to add on to their "meager" stockpile of lists. With the introduction of the High Warrior Monk non-spell-user class, there is little reason to play any warrior-type class except for the thief. The High Warrior Monk has the ability to perfect the art of Adrenal Defense to a style most dream of, and the all-around awareness that she has with an OB of "x" allows her to defend against all incoming attacks and strike back at them in one round. Combine with this the various Adrenal Moves, Oriental Companion's Ki abilities that the many Monk classes have the advantage of learning, and the occasional magic item that she may acquire (GM forbid!), the rest of the fighting classes can only sit back in stupefaction. Yet I am not arguing that the High Warrior Monk class should be penalized (after all, look at their skill costs for non-combat resolution rolls—hey, Bruce Lee, don't get on that horse, you'll only hurt yourself), or that they should be excluded altogether (they happen to be my favorite class), but that some of the respect should be given back to the original heroes of lore and yesteryear, the Fighters.

In order to do this the author proposes the following guidelines for "special tricks" that the Fighter (and other non-spell-users if the GM wishes) might pick up and learn as part of the learning process. First, there is the approach of giving special attacks for proficiency with a weapon dependent upon the number of skill ranks possessed by the character. Following is a chart which summarizes some of the possible "abilities" which might be picked up along the way (if you don't like these, you know how to change them to meet your world's standards). The abilities listed in this table may seem to some readers to be very similar to the spell list "Weapon Mastery"; for better explanation of the abilities listed, one should look into this spell list, which is found in the Spell-User's Companion. However, I feel that to limit this list and the abilities in it to the domain of those Fighters lucky enough to find someone willing to teach them, and then only usable as long as they have power points, would be too strict.

As for game balance, it has been found after ten years of play-testing these abilities that they still keep the game within a comfortable system of control. The GM should keep in mind the following: (1) The average player will not be able to afford these abilities since they are skill-based and not based on one's OB. (2) In order to obtain even the simplest of the bonuses listed, one must have spent two ranks' worth of development in training per level up to and including twentieth level (another reason why "Lord-level" Fighters should be feared). (3) For the player (and the NPC) to get their hands on the more powerful abilities, they would need to be 50th level or possess the background option Directed Weapons Master, both of which are (in most cases) extremely rare and dangerous.

This system helps to explain the following questions: (1) Why should a character continue developing weapon skills? (2) What is the true difference between 30 ranks and 50 ranks? (3) What is the use of being a Directed Weapons Master at such a high penalty?

Which brings one to an area from the Rolemaster Companion (I) which is in need of some "fleshing out," the background option known as Directed Weapons Master. For those of us who played MERP, or the earlier versions of Rolemaster, the special background charts "Skill at Arms" and "Skill at Magic" where a godsend. No longer would players who hoped to have Fighters with massive strength need to worry about crushing their comrades when attempting to apply First Aid, and for the spell-users, all that can be said of taking a roll on the "Skill at Magic" chart is "Mmm, mmm, mmm." These two charts have made being a character in a world of Rolemaster rules fun instead of a quest for who can get the most toys. Yet there is one special skill from these charts that I feel needs a little more depth added to it, more respect, and more appreciation—the Directed Weapons Master.

Time after time I've had players roll up this skill and begin to get a gleam in their eyes when I tell them that from now on, for every two skill ranks that they buy in their main weapon category, they will receive a third one for free. The gleam disappears when they are told that the rest of their weapon skill costs go up by 50%; I have had PC mages pass out on me right then and there. It seems like an unfair situation to them, and as a GM (please do not tell them I said this), I have to agree. In light of the paltry benefits gained from this background option if it were played entirely as it is presented, there would be few players who survived gaining it. The ability to adapt and survive through using many forms of tools is the ultimate ability of any organism (Elves, Dwarves, and Humans). This form of specialization, which basically denies the character a chance to have an "available out" with another weapon that they can use, also doesn't make much sense in the Rolemaster system of diminishing returns used to govern the bonus gained from skill ranks once their number increases past 30. What is the point in being able to develop one's skill quickly and with more depth than what others can develop if in the end those ranks only count for half a point of knowledge being gained? A Fighter with a mighty twenty levels of training and no strength modifier has an offensive bonus of +145 (including level bonus), while a young pup warrior with only five levels to his name and a Strength mod of +60 will have an OB of up to +125!

What's this? Do I hear the old fencing masters, martial artists, and strategists of war turning over in their graves? Even those who ascribe to not being number-crunchers and rules-lawyers will surely see the imbalance herein. Is RM a system that ascribes victory to be entirely a matter of brute strength and luck? Recall the likes of Musashi the Kensai ("Sword-Saint"), Julius Caesar, Sun-tzu, and the great Hannibal, and you will find those who showed that skill is more profound and surer than might—to say nothing of the various heroes who exist within the works of fantasy literature. These figures were specialists in their respective areas, warriors and seekers of peace in their time, yet their specialization did not cost them, it enlivened them.

How does this apply to the special skill known as Directed Weapons Master? It shows how powerful the "background option" should be, not crippling or detracting. The path of a Directed Weapons Master is one of a lifelong walk. It is not a goal that will ever be achieved except in the hopes of the practitioner, for there is always more to learn, always the concept of "I" to give up. Ultimately, the goal of a character who has this background option should be to become one with his weapon of choice. It is his companion, his soul-mate. It never judges or lets one down, and it is as strong as the character himself. To learn the use of another weapon would be like cheating on a beloved mate; it would never satisfy the character for long, and in the end, he would come back to his one true love. The Directed Weapons Master would practice feverishly, obsessively, to be at total harmony with the weapon. No longer a tool, in time it would become an extension of the self, until all who knew the character would come to think of them in terms of their weapon. Even unto old age would this occur, up to the point of death. What else has been present all those years with the character, what else knows his moods and manners, what else understands death the way the character does? The quest for perfection for such a character never ends—the road goes ever on.

In light of such, I feel that a few things need to be changed concerning this ability. Foremost is the +50% development cost applied to other weapon categories. This should be kept. For some GM's it should extend to include the areas of Brawling, Lancing, and the martial arts, if these areas do not match the weapon category picked by the player. When attempting to learn to use any other weapon outside the character's weapon of choice, the character should be at a severe loss for comprehension and thus this previous penalty should be enforced. In some cases, the GM may wish to give a mental or psychological penalty to the character, depending on that character's background and mindset. From here, almost any number of benefits can be awarded to the character, as allowable by the GM. Following is a list of options that have been found handy.

While it is not stressed that any one of these options may be the answer that is needed, it is stressed that the background option known as Directed Weapons Master is capable of enlivening and enriching the campaign or scenario for both GM's and players alike. From here on out it is up to GM's and players to work together on how it will be handled in the world they both play in, a world that should be enjoyed.

Table 1: Directed Weapons Master Abilities

Section A: Melee

Skill Ranks

Skill Bonus

Abilities

40

85

"A" and "B" criticals delivered by the attack become "C" criticals.

60

95

As above, but lesser criticals become "E" criticals.

80

105

Spell Shield: DWM may parry incoming spells as a "Sheer Folly" maneuver. This requires 90% activity and 15 exhaustion points (EhP) per round. The percentage value on the MM chart is the percentage of OB subtracted from the attack spell. On BAR, treat the DWM as always having a metal helm and armor.

100

115

Steel Wall: DWM may parry any attack from two directions (only) as a "Sheer Folly" maneuver (as Spell Shield above). This requires 100% activity and 30 EhP/rnd.

150

140

All of the DWM's attacks do "Holy" criticals (as 40 ranks).

200

165

As above, but criticals are "Slaying."

250

190

The Way: DWM may use the Mana Molding list to 25th level. For RMSS, this translates to using any spell effect up to 25th level. This is an "Absurd" maneuver requiring 10 EhP/rnd and 10% activity. The spell effect should only be used in conjunction with the weapon, and the GM should make sure the effect makes sense in this context.

Section B: Missile

Skill Ranks

Skill Bonus

Abilities

40

85

"A" and "B" criticals delivered by the attack become "C" criticals.

60

95

As above, but lesser criticals become "E" criticals.

80

105

Find Foe: DWM may shoot around corners as a "Sheer Folly" maneuver. This requires 20% activity (in addition to the act of firing) and 15 EhP/rnd. The percentage value on the MM chart is the OB available for the shot.

100

115

Eagle Shot: DWM may shoot banked shots (ricochets) off solid objects as an "Absurd" maneuver (as Find Foe above). This requires 25% additional activity and 15 EhP/rnd.

150

140

All of the DWM's attacks do "Holy" criticals (as 40 ranks).

200

165

As above, but criticals are "Slaying."

250

190

The Way: As in Section A.

Melee

A character may throw an extra attack per round for every 10 ranks of skill in a weapon (change to 30 ranks in RMSS). If a character chooses to throw more than one attack and split that attack into x number of attacks and x number of parries, he must declare the order at the beginning of the round. When performing multiple attacks the character may opt to parry up to half the number of attacks they are throwing that round. So at one or two attacks he can parry once (as per standard rules), with three or four attacks (Haste, Speed, etc.) he could parry twice (still per standard rules), five or six attacks yield three parries, etc. Ten skill ranks yield two attacks; 20, three; 30, four; and so on.

Table 2: Penalties for Taking More Than One Attack

Number
of
Attacks

Number of Opponents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

1

0

–20

–40

–60

–80

–100

–120

–140

–160

2

–30

–50

–70

–90

–110

–130

–150

–170

–190

3

–60

–80

–100

–120

–140

–160

–180

–200

–220

4

–90

–110

–130

–150

–170

–190

–210

–230

–250

5

–120

–140

–160

–180

–200

–220

–240

–260

–280

6

–150

–170

–190

–210

–230

–250

–270

–290

–310

7

–180

–200

–220

–240

–260

–280

–300

–320

–340

 

Example: Org has an OB of 290 (Org is quite the Raukamar his mother knew he would grow up to be!) and is fighting three opponents. Org wants to throw six attacks, so that he may attack each opponent twice; he wants to allocate +100 to parry. If Org has 60 ranks in his weapon skill, his net OB will be +120 (290 – 70 – 100). Therefore, Org will throw six attacks at +120 OB and parry up to three attacks with +100 DB. Fearsome demon!

Missile

The character that wishes to fire more than one arrow/round must make a successful Quick Draw (arrow) skill. This is a more specialized use of the Quick Draw skill and must be developed separately. A successful skill check is made upon a roll of +111. If successful, the character does not suffer a –30 penalty for drawing the next arrow. The skill check is modified by an additional –10 for each arrow past two that the character wishes to draw. A character must still have sufficient ranks to fire more than once per round, and a character can still fire a second arrow without this skill but at a –30. A fumble with this skill causes the character to lose all attacks for the round and earns a roll on the fumble chart.