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Words from the Wise (Guys)

An Editorial Rant


To the 50th issue of The Guild Companion. The continued survival, and indeed, flourishing, of this ezine never ceases to amaze me. Our success is as always due to our readers, our contributors, and our dedicated staff, past and present. Many thanks to all of you for making it happen.

HARP versus Rolemaster versus d20 System

ICE finally released their long-awaited 2003 product schedule, revealing new products for Rolemaster, Spacemaster, and Shadow World. Perhaps the most unexpected is High Adventure Role Playing (HARP), ICE's new role-playing system, which targets the middle ground of complexity, realism, and playability between Rolemaster and d20. We have an extended preview of HARP by its designer in this very issue. It is neither a Rolemaster Lite nor an Advanced d20, but an independent system which has evolved from Rolemaster roots (both 2nd Edition and Standard System/FRP).

Even from just the preview, it is clear that HARP characters can be as three-dimensional and unique as any Rolemaster character, but the process of generating and advancing them is much simpler than either 2nd Edition or RMSS/FRP. It will be helpful rather than necessary to have a spreadsheet to create HARP characters. Moreover HARP has an easy mechanism for allowing characters to change profession, which was almost impossible to simulate in elegant mechanics in any version of Rolemaster, but is handled simply in d20.

As many of you know, I've been running an ongoing d20 System fantasy campaign for more than a year. The characters have advanced from 3rd level to 14th and 15th-level in that time. While the campaign has and remains fun, it is becoming increasingly difficult to challenge the PCs effectively. The nature of d20 System combat (at least in the fantasy genre) is an arms race of base attack bonus versus armor class. One of my PCs can attain (temporarily) an Armor Class of 52 through legal stacking of different bonuses, making that Paladin almost impossible to hit effectively. Granted anyone can hit with an unmodified 20 on the die roll, but even a critical hit simply results in a few more hit points. Now while having the heroes vanquish hordes of henchmen with relative impunity makes for exciting action sequences in a film, it's less fun to role-play, certainly from this GM's perspective. I like to push PCs right to the edge Rolemaster combat with its open-ended attack rolls and critical tables was perfect for ensuring that even the lowliest foe had a chance to do significant harm to even the most powerful character.

The disadvantage of Rolemaster combat was that page-flipping and consulting charts meant that combat took too long. A battle became the whole session rather than part of it, so combat only ever happened when it was central to the plot, which also limited the sorts of campaigns that I could run. My current military campaign would not have worked using Rolemaster. Just as my group wanted easier character creation, they also desired faster and more combat. Again, from the preview, it appears that HARP has the potential deadliness of Rolemaster combat with a lot fewer tables.

I anticipate that many d20 System fans and many lapsed Rolemaster gamers will find that HARP is the system for them. I'm looking forward to its final release.

Construct Companion

Also from ICE's new schedule, it appears that I'm responsible by virtue of the RMFRP version of Mentalism Companion and the upcoming Construct Companion for both of this year's Rolemaster releases. Rolemaster fans will be glad to hear that I've reached 32,000 of the desired 72,000 words for Construct Companion.

During one of my Rolemaster campaigns, I used constructs to garrison a castle, initially owned by an evil wizard. The castle and its constructs eventually became the property of the PCs (as I had intended), giving them a relatively secure base without the hassles of a living entourage and a normal fief to govern. This was deliberate as my plots needed them to retain significant freedom of movement a couple of retired PCs could stay at home and keep everything ticking over while the main heroes could get on with saving the kingdom. As the constructs were premade, I also sidestepped one of the holes in the Rolemaster system, namely the process of making artificial beings.

Certainly in 2nd Edition Rolemaster, there are a number of spell lists to make golems and constructs. However, while the spells are very specific and it is easy to determine how long it takes to animate a golem, it is impossible to calculate from the existing rules just how much it costs in hard cash. For instance, Wood Golems are stated to be less expensive than Steel Golems, but no help is given to determine how much either would cost.

This state of affairs is not one that I can nor will allow to continue. It is a problem, which needs to be fixed.

I've been toying, in conjunction with my playtesters, with two solutions to determining how much material is required (and by implication the cost) for a given construct or golem form. The first method uses the actual mass of an equivalent living creature to determine its volume, whereupon we switch density to the required material, and voila, we have the mass of material. When the mass of an equivalent living creature isn't known (just how heavy is a Dragon anyway?), the second method can be used. This approximates the target form by bounding its maximum volume using a cylinder, cuboid, or sphere. It can be, however, a very rough estimate, particularly for awkward forms such as birds, other winged animals, and ground-hugging reptiles (e.g. crocodiles).

I would be very interested to hear of your experiences with using Constructs and Golems in your campaigns. How have you used them? Have your PCs built their own artificial beings? What rules did you use and which did you discard? Post your comments on the Guild Companion discussion forums in the Rolemaster board.

Farewell (for now ...)

Time for me to write up some more nasty foes to challenge my PCs in the next segment of my campaign, while you enjoy this month's issue. We'll be back in May, but until then...

Keep gaming and have fun!
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion

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