Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2009

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the 128th issue of The Guild Companion.

Diabolical Magic for Something Wicked

Last month, I reported on the successful completion of the "Masters of the Abyss" chapter of the upcoming Something Wicked sourcebook for HARP. From the original College of Magics submitted manuscript, the Mystic profession and the type of magic known as Sorcery were removed. The Mystic appeared in an edited form in Codex; Sorcery was merely hinted at in the published version of College of Magics as "the invocation of the evil and dark powers of the universe, and the bargaining with those terrible beings for information and magical abilities".

Such a diabolical form of magic is an obvious inclusion for Something Wicked and so, in between a week's holiday, ongoing work with the Apprentices of the Guild, and handling some issues on behalf of the New World Order, I have been revising the original Sorcery chapter from the College of Magics manuscript. The rules (as originally written) made assumptions about the powers of demons that were superseded by what was actually published in Monsters: a Field Guide. Indeed some of the demons shared only a name between prepublication version and final version. And of course there were those twenty-two demons that I had just completed for the previous chapter who also needed to be catered for. There were sections of text that I was very happy with and some sections that needed significant rules rewrites. So I rolled up the sleeves, tweaked where tweaking was required, and rewrote where rewriting was needed. The chapter is now complete in revised format and already with the alpha playtesters.

For everyone else, here is a very short teaser of what Sorcery is all about and how it works in the game.

A sorcerer is a magical practitioner who invokes the "truenames" of Demons, i.e. creates specific sigils that open magical channels to specific demons. A sorcerer's expertise is measured in the number and variety of distinct truenames he or she has learned. Invoking the truename requires a Sorcery skill maneuver and the expenditure of Power Points - difficulty and power requirements are in proportion to the Demon Type and the nature of the link required. The GM then determines the reaction of the Demon to being contacted by a pesky mortal. The sorcerer and the demon negotiate an infernal contract where the sorcerer will promise to perform some service for the Demon in return for information or magical power. Sorcerers can choose whether to strike an honest bargain or to attempt to trick the Demon with some judicious duping. Should negotiations fall apart, both sorcerer and demon can strive in a sorcerous contest of wills to dominate the other and compel subservience for a time. Through the foul art of sorcery, which can indeed involve "blood and souls" as payment, sorcerers can acquire secret knowledge, have spells cast on their behalf, receive the ability to cast spells once or more often, and even physically summon demons to do their bidding. I would say that it is all good, clean fun, except it is all evil fun instead.

For those keeping score, I now have one full chapter of Something Wicked still to write, and a general sweep to make through to do various odds and ends such as extra spells, rituals and so forth. Definitely getting there.

The Guild Adventurer #4

No, I have not forgotten about the fourth issue of The Guild Adventurer. I've been waiting on some remaining adventures turning up and some scenarios that are already with me are missing bits and pieces. So there will be some more nagging of people, and they know who they are. Then there will be a period of hard editing and choices about how to split the scenarios between Issue 4 and the future Issue 5, so that there is a good balance of themes and types.

We will not be doing a ransom for TGA #4. It will go straight from editing into layout and illustration and thence to publication.

The State of Rolemaster and Everything Else

There have been a number of threads recently on the ICE forums and on RPG.NET about the state of Rolemaster and what is to happen with it in the future. An interesting mini-consensus is that the multiplicity of Rolemaster versions is confusing for fans and potential customers alike.

As a frequent visitor to various forums including ICE's, as the first point of contact for article submissions to the Guild Companion magazine, and from essential careful monitoring of sales of our own commercial products, it is clear to me that Rolemaster's active and buying fan base has substantially declined. Prior to the bankruptcy, Old ICE was selling between two and five thousand units in print of Rolemaster Standard System and FRP supplements. Weaker than many of its competitors of the time and definitely less than at the peak of its powers, though these are numbers that a decade later would be considered fantastic for a small games company. Unfortunately the evidence available to me in terms of forum activity, article submission rates (consider the size of this month's issue), and our own sales all point to a continuing and ongoing decline in the product lines.

Some of this can be blamed on the global recession, some can be blamed on the overall contraction of the hobby, and some of it is strategic failures, in particular the trap of start-stop publishing of lines that Mjolnir (aka New ICE) has fallen into.

The last Rolemaster FRP supplement in print was published by Mjolnir in 2004. Since then, that line had a few small-scale pdfs and the last of those was published in August 2007. The last book for Spacemaster: Privateers was published by Mjolnir in 2003, and the DataNets came to an abrupt halt in July 2007. HARP had an initial splurge of print products but its last printed product was HARP Characters in 2006, though HARPer's Bazaars pdfs have continued and there were two HARP adventure modules (in pdf) this year. Cyradon had its core sourcebook in HARP format and one follow-up pdf; it's taken to this year for a pdf adventure to appear to support it. HARP SciFi has been trapped in its limbo sans art for longer than I care to think about (nearly two years since I submitted the final beta). Rolemaster Classic had its only new supplement in print to date in 2008, although the stream of Express Additions pdfs have continued.

You can see the pattern - a line is supported, gets some traction with the fans, and then focus shifts to something else and the previous game line is left looking abandoned and unloved. The key problem with only being able to focus on one line at a time is that gamers like to support games by buying new products and they like games that have a regular stream of new supporting products. When the supply of new products dries up, then it is all too easy for many of those gamers to be tempted away by something else new and shiny, and once tempted away, they are very hard to persuade to return.

My assessment is that Rolemaster (in all its versions) and every other line for that matter has suffered savage shrinkage in its fan base.

Mjolnir would undoubtedly say that they lack the personnel to do everything at once, and that is a fair amount of truth in that. However there are obvious things that even a small company can do - like collecting those various quarterly pdfs into additional printed annuals for gamers who prefer print to electronic files. Unlike pdfs, printed products can go into distribution and remind lapsed fans who don't frequent the forums that the company and the games are still alive. Or producing a Rolemaster version of Cyradon that has stats for both RM Classic and RMFRP, thus giving all Rolemaster fans a reason to buy the product. And multi-statting those new adventure modules is another obvious thing to do as soon as possible. They are after all pdfs, so the extra pages for additional system material is not going to annoy diehard fans of one particular rpg line or line version - they will only print what they need for themselves. Given that we routinely do this in Guild Adventurer issues and Xa-ar supports both versions of Rolemaster, failure to do so is simply losing sales and should be avoided.

If Rolemaster is to survive at all, fans of both major versions (RM2/Classic and RMSS/FRP) need to unite. For now, they need products that both fragments of the fan base can buy into and enjoy. Later the fans will need to compromise on which components of each version go into any future edition, but that is later, and there is yet time to find solutions to satisfy everyone.

Anyway, that's my editorial rant on the state of Rolemaster.

Farewell for now ...

Enjoy the rest of this month's issue and we'll be back in November with issue 129, but until then ...

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