HARP-Rolemaster Hybrids

Copyright Jonathan Dale © 2004

Edited by Mario M. Butter for The Guild Companion

"Magic is the topic on which HARP and Rolemaster differ the most."

Both Rolemaster and HARP are complete games, but they share so many core concepts that one can regard each of them as a set of modular optional rules for the other. These modules include Character Creation, Skills, Maneuver Resolution, Combat, and Magic. This article discusses how these modules can be swapped from one game into the other, and the ramifications of making those changes. Throughout, when I refer to Rolemaster, I mean the Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS) or Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying (RMFRP), although the results would be similar for RM2.

Character creation and skills

The HARP character creation system is simplified compared to Rolemaster.
Fewer skills, less complicated training packages, races and cultures described with fewer game mechanics; those craving simplicity will likely prefer HARP while those craving detail may prefer Rolemaster.

If the skill system, races, and professions from HARP are used, it is trivial to use HARP's character creation system in a game which is otherwise Rolemaster. Additional races, cultures, and professions can easily be created if necessary to transfer Rolemaster concepts into HARP terms.

A HARP race is defined, in terms of game mechanics, by a set of stat bonuses totaling between +9 and +11 (except humans, who gain +8 but with the additional freedom to distribute the bonus however they wish), Endurance (aka Body Development) and Power Point progressions, Resistance Roll bonuses, and three talents. Most of these correspond closely with their Rolemaster equivalents.

A HARP culture is defined in even simpler terms, as exactly 20 skill ranks in specified skills, plus language ranks in a native language and in common.

HARP professions are defined by four to seven favored categories (which should always include the General category) and exactly 20 skill ranks distributed between them (15 for the non-adventuring professions), plus a special ability (a set of spells in the case of spellcasters) and possibly a talent or two.

As a quick example, Orcs are not included in HARP. The Greater Orc race could be described as follows:

  • Strength: +4 (as RM)
  • Constitution: +4 (as RM)
  • Agility: +0 (as RM)
  • Quickness: +0 (as RM)
  • Self-Discipline: -2 (as RM)
  • Reasoning: -2 (average of RM's Reasoning and Memory)
  • Insight: -2 (as RM's Intuition)
  • Presence: -2 (average of RM's Presence and Empathy)
  • Endurance Progression: 0*7*3*2*1 (as RM Body Development)
  • Power Point Progression: 0*5*3*2*2 (as RM Essence and Mentalism PP progression; note that in RM, Channeling PP progression does not vary for most races so it may be best to ignore it when converting)
  • RR Stamina: +10 (since RM gives them bonuses against Disease and Poison)
  • RR Will: +0 (as RM's Mentalism RR bonus)
  • RR Magic: +0 (as RM's RR bonus for all three realms)
Plus the talents Reduced Sleep Requirement and Dark Vision (Greater).
For the third racial talent, we might invent a talent Natural Immunity (Greater) to cover their resistance to extreme, even magical, heat and cold, granting +30 DB and RR against these types of attacks. (The GM might also choose to raise some of the stat bonuses to bring them into line with other HARP races, but that is left as an individual choice.)
Similarly, we could create an Orcish culture, granting the following skills:
  • Ambush 1
  • Armor Skills 2
  • Climbing 1
  • Endurance 3
  • Jumping 1
  • Lore (Local Region) 1
  • Perception 1
  • Riding 1
  • Stalking and Hiding 2
  • Swimming 1
  • Weapon (melee) 3
  • Weapon (another melee) 1
  • Weapon (missile) 2
  • Orcish language (S8/W3)
  • Common (S5/W2)
Conversely, one could use the character generation system of Rolemaster in a game which is otherwise HARP. The main restriction is that one should use the skill list from the same game as the character generation system; otherwise there would be too few Development Points (in HARP with the Rolemaster skill list) or too many (in Rolemaster with the HARP skill list).

The main sticking point will be using HARP character generation with Rolemaster spells, or vice versa. See below for more on this topic.

Maneuver resolution

HARP, like Rolemaster, has mechanics for handling maneuvers which simply succeed or fail (Static Maneuvers in RM, All-Or-Nothing Maneuvers in HARP), partial success (Moving Maneuvers in RM, Percentage Results in HARP), and Resistance Rolls. There are essentially no consequences of replacing the maneuver system of one game with that of the other, except that the lack of open-ended down rolls in HARP means that extremely skilled characters in HARP may fumble but will never otherwise fail; whereas they could fumble or fail with extremely low rolls in Rolemaster. HARP's system is simpler; Rolemaster's has more colorful results if one uses all the tables.

In HARP, Resistance Rolls are also handled with a form of maneuver roll.
If spellcasting rolls are made using the HARP method, resistance rolls against spells will also need to be made using HARP's method. (These could both be handled as per Rolemaster while still using the HARP method for other maneuvers, however.) The two systems have markedly different consequences. In Rolemaster, a higher level spellcaster will always cast spells that are harder to resist, and a higher level character will always be better at resisting than a low-level one. In HARP, the difficulty of resisting depends on how well the spell was cast, which means that the easiest spells to cast are harder to resist than harder spells cast by the same person. For example, a spell cast on a single individual will be harder to resist than the same spell cast by the same person but scaled up to affect the entire party. Also, HARP characters do not get better at resisting as they go up levels unless they develop the Resistance skills, and even these typically grant less advantage than levels do in Rolemaster.

Combat

Combat is another unit which stands very easily on its own. There is really no reason why the HARP combat system cannot be used in Rolemaster, or the Rolemaster combat system used in HARP. It is also reasonable to use a few components of one in the other; for example, one might use the Rolemaster Fumble tables in the HARP combat system.

The rules for Injury, Recovery, and Death are so similar that they can be exchanged between the two games, and need not correspond to the rest of the combat system. HARP's criticals are less specific, though, so some filling in the blanks will be needed using Rolemaster's injury system with HARP's combat.

Magic

Magic is the topic on which HARP and Rolemaster differ the most. Still, even here, the scaled-up spells of HARP are not so different from the high-level spells of Rolemaster. It will be easiest to use the character creation system and magic system of the same game, but even this is not necessary.

Using HARP magic with Rolemaster characters, one can simply allow spells to be purchased as spell lists are. You may wish to allow Rolemaster characters to buy more ranks than normally allowed (perhaps up to HARP's limit of 3 times the character's level, plus 3), since many HARP spells cannot be cast at all with only 3 ranks.

One can either use the Rolemaster rules for preparation rounds and overcasting (treating the total scaled-up PP cost as the spell level) to modify the spellcasting roll, as well as the number of ranks as an absolute maximum number of PP that can be put into the spell, or the HARP rules for casting time and the rank limit, although the HARP method will likely increase the relative power of your spellcasters. (Treat rounds as corresponding one-to-one, even though HARP rounds are shorter than Rolemaster rounds, since a round is based on the time required to make one attack.) The main difficulty here will be assigning spells to professions, especially for those professions which do not correspond to HARP professions. Use your judgment and look forward to the upcoming College of Magic!

Using Rolemaster magic with HARP characters, spell lists can be purchased instead of ranks in spell skills. I recommend that you use the Rolemaster rules for casting time and overcasting, or your mages will achieve very powerful effects at relatively low level. Also, I also suggest dropping the idea of Universal spells and replacing them with the Open and Closed spells of the caster's realm.

The mention of Realms brings us to another point - HARP has no Realms of magic. If you use Rolemaster spells, they are organized into realms which are balanced using a combination of spell capabilities, ability to wear armor, and requirements for casting (i.e. modifiers for use of hands and voice while casting). HARP magic should be used with the HARP armor restrictions and Rolemaster magic with the Realm-based Rolemaster restrictions on casting in armor. The Rolemaster modifiers for free hands and use of voice can be used with Rolemaster spells in HARP.

A few miscellaneous items remain. These include the differing mechanics of spell adders (both games), power point multipliers (RM) vs. power point adders (HARP), and also HARP's counterspells. HARP's spell adders are slightly more powerful than RM's (since you are limited to your number of ranks, not your level) but the difference is basically trivial. Power point multipliers (RM) are substantially more potent for high-power spellcasters than power point adders (HARP); use whichever you prefer. And counterspells can be used or not in either game, depending on how you would like magic to work.