Rolemaster Professions in MERP: What's Appropriate and What's Not
Copyright ©2000 Anthony Almeida
Edited for The Guild Companion by Joe Mandala
[Editor's Note: This series is the author's opinion of what should and should not be included as professions in MERP from Rolemaster (RM2). It is based on the assumption that PCs will be "good guys." It is also based on the solid idea that overt magic should be rare and subtle in Middle-earth campaigns. Please enjoy the series, and post comments or suggestions to the discussion board.]
It is possible that situations like these may have occurred in your MERP game, whether you were a player or a GM:
GM: Your scouting party arrives at Ard-galen. All is quiet. Suddenly, the sound of many thunders is heard from those same mountains, and the light of shooting fires erupts, spreading across the plains in a rain of fire and smoke. Trails of fire from the mountain peaks course brightly down towards the unsuspecting Noldorin host below. Morgoth has not been idle, for he is now visiting destruction upon his foes assembled here. Matters become worse, as great serpents can be seen coming afore the rivers of flame, followed by great horrors of darkness and flame and unnumbered Orcs.
Player (Haladin Chaotic Lord): Well…I could always use my spell "Create Chaos" to swallow up the nasties. That'd work, and I have just enough power points for it, too.
GM: I…don't think that'll work here. It would be just be as quickly put out by Morgoth, not to mention draw attention to your group. Besides, wouldn't such a thing be an evil and destructive use of power? There are a lot of allies down below who might be affected.
Player: Nah. I was able to get the demon armor on OK, so I figure I can use this spell without too much notice. Besides, isn't Morgoth too busy overseeing his little lava display?
GM: [head in hands] I'm just thinking that we ought to try a different profession for your character. Maybe a Rogue…?
GM: The Umbarean Dark Priest closes on your position, preceded by 5 of his guards. Seeing you alone and nearly spent, the priest sneers and orders the guards to subdue you for the next sacrifice.
Player (Dúnadan Mage): Whoa! Too many. I'm gonna throw a fireball at them. That'll make them think twice.
GM: You should keep in mind that you've been using tactics of this type quite a lot. You've managed to gain some corruption points already.
Player: I can handle it. [rolls] Yeah, an unmodified 99.
GM: [nose in Spell Law and rolling] Your fireball strikes the approaching guards, causing them to suffer terrible burns and incapacitating them in various ways. Seeing this the Dark Priest approaches. "Very impressive. You have a formidable talent, which would be of greater use in our ranks. We are from the same noble and powerful people, and I can help you achieve your true potential…if you join us." Roll percentile..
Player: [rolls] All right. A 96. Is that good?
GM: [shaking head] I'm sorry, but it was actually to see if your Mage would be lured by the temptation. Your character agrees to join the priests, and follows his new mentor. About that character idea you were considering…
If you've played both MERP and Rolemaster 2nd Edition (or RM2), you, like myself have found it apparently easy to combine the two, with Rolemaster used to 'enhance' your MERP game. All the new rules, spells and professions served to raise MERP's tenth level ceiling and allow it to give your character more variety. Suddenly, a Scout could be a Thief, a Rogue or a Burglar, while the Bard gained an entirely new realm of magic. Spell users became more diverse with every companion. Eventually, your world was chock full of High Warrior Monks, Elemental Warriors, Archmages, and many more. However, if you were like me, you soon saw that the Middle-earth that you gamed in was very unlike the Middle-earth you read about and reveled in, and you discovered that there would need to be limits to what was allowable. Over the next several issues, this series of articles will explore the professions of RM2, and, hopefully, give some helpful guidelines to choosing those that best suit the marvelous flavor of Middle-earth Role Playing.
To begin, some of the largest problems with many RM2 professions lie in the use of magic in the Rolemaster game. Don't mistake me; it's a great game for swords-and-sorcery (not unlike D&D), but the incorporation of the use of magic from Rolemaster must adapt to a game world in which magic and magic-users are often a rare (and often dangerous) breed. There isn't a local Mage in every town, not only because of this rarity but also because there is a natural distrust and fear of magic among most folk in Middle-earth. This goes for both the Free Peoples and the servant races of the Dark, who both have their own cause to fear it: the former because, to them, it is historically in the hands of the Dark, and the latter because it is often used to dominate and cause superstition among them.
As a GM, and as a player, one has to consider both the source and the effect of the powers that they wield. As for the source of power, if not blessed by the Ainur (and therefore watched carefully), there wouldn't too many other places to go; oftentimes, the only other source is the Dark. Consider the example of a player that wants to have a Warlock (from Rolemaster Companion II, or RMC2) for a character. He does not want a character that will serve the Dark, but does want a spell-user that can hold his own with low-level spells. In game-play, for his character to learn the way of a Warlock, he would have to locate one among the Dark (as this is a profession geared towards destruction) who is willing to part with his coveted spell lore. Such a mentor may be hesitant, unwilling to share the power he has gained, or strangely eager, if trying to recruit for the Dark. The character would spend his tutelage learning the art of harming others, subtly in the beginning but blatantly towards the end, and, by the time his learning is through, that individual would be much changed from the aspiring apprentice he once was.
This, of course, brings me to the subject of corruption. While guidelines are provided in 2nd Edition MERP, I've liked to adopt them more in reference to the intention of the spell-user. GM's should feel free to advise their spell-users against evil and frivolous use of power, with penalties for misuse, in the form of corruption points. Rolls against temptation should be used with impunity, so as to demonstrate that, in Middle-earth, unsanctioned power is not without its price…and doom.
Another problem stems from Rolemaster professions that have little way of incorporating into the game, simply because of the way they were designed. For example, the professions from the Oriental Companion are well-designed for role-playing in a Far Eastern setting, but, as Tolkien doesn't mention a land or a people to fit into such a setting (no, not even the Easterlings), there's just no place for them in Middle-earth (unless you happen to place them in the East, but there's too much controversy there, so I'll leave it be). Another example would be the professions from the Elemental Companion. These professions are based upon a setting where elemental magic and elementals are relatively common - where those same elementals are known to traipse through the land, in the keeping of their elemental masters. Again, these would not fall in line with the type of world that Middle-earth is. In fact, if elemental creatures are found in Middle-earth, they are often either spirits, not unlike the Nermir and Tavari of Lost Tales' fame, or the very elements torn from the natural order and constructed for the Dark's sake.
Now, is all that to say that you should just choose common professions of the realm of Arms? I don't believe so. If there were no presence of supernatural forces in Middle-earth (and your game), aside from the forces of Darkness, something special would be removed from the mythology of Middle-earth. No Anduril, no Mirror of Galadriel, and no Secret Fire, for starters. There are several good professions of many types that Rolemaster offers, which can be used. As a guideline, I will use a numbered rating system, from 0 to 5, with 0 indicating a common (and safe) profession and a 5 indicating a normally disallowed profession. Ratings of 1 to 4 would indicate increasing suggested restriction, with the following labels: uncommon, unlikely, rare, and very rare.
The key to the appropriateness of their use lies in adhering to the Balance of Things, so often alluded to in Tolkien's works, and it is this key that will guide the articles to come. As you read, however, please keep in mind what is important for your game, as well as the game-play that you enjoy. The people who put the system together in the first place have often hinted at my philosophy about the use of Rolemaster - take what you need and dump the rest - so examine my ramblings with your own discernment. After all, your Middle-earth game is only as good as the story you can tell. Tell it well.
The base professions of first and second edition RoleMaster
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on this article on the Middle-Earth Discussion Board.