The Art of Fighting: Ki-Abilities and Martial Arts Styles

Copyright Johs. Sondrup © 2011

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Martial Artists are without any doubt some of the best fighters in the world and they can do amazing things, so why haven't they conquered the world?"

Editor's Note

The following is the first in a series of 13 articles that enhance the combat rules for Rolemaster (RM2). It is our intention to publish another article in this series every month for the next year. This month's short article discusses the limitations of martial arts in large-scale combats and the historical use of steel in weapons and armor. Next month's article will introduce a new set of weapon categories and a host of new weapons!


The rules presented in these articles are not meant to represent reality! In other words, I'm perfectly aware that my knowledge of Martial Arts, Vis, Kuji-In, etc. is less than complete. So if you feel I've slighted your favorite Martial Art: Sorry, but these rules were written for a game set in a fantasy world and as such really don't have to reflect reality.

All skills are drawn from the Rolemaster (RM2) system, but I have found great inspiration in the Martial Arts Companion for RMSS and some of the systems presented here are inspired by that book.

Other sources of inspiration include Wikipedia, which I have referenced frequently while writing, and the ARMA (the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts) website, which has a great deal of information about European weapons and fighting methods.

I also need to thank Mark D Carlson from the ICE forum, who has read these articles and offered numerous suggestions and helped me clean up a few things. However, the greatest thanks go to Marc Rosen (a.k.a. Lord Miller) without whose infinite patience and clever advise, this manuscript would simply never have been finished. No thanks can suffice for what he did.

Gender note

Usually, I use the male gender when referring to characters and their opponents because it is convenient and most historical fighters were male. However fighters can be of any gender. When somebody picks up a weapon, anyone confronting that person should see an opponent and a warrior. Warriors who fail to do so tend to end up dead at a young age.

East versus West

By necessity or choice the human race is a race with an incredible aptitude for fighting, and combat systems have been developed pretty much all over the world. Martial arts weren't just an eastern invention. The Martial Arts evolved everywhere and though the Asian types of Martial Arts survived while other forms died out, almost every culture in history had traditions of highly effective and sophisticated fighting arts that were passed down.

Though these skills eventually altered or became extinct due to changes in military technology and social conditions, these methods and teachings did exist. We can find evidence of this in books, archeological finds, sculptures and paintings. Sometimes they were well documented at the time in numerous volumes, while other are only hinted at in ancient texts.

Weaknesses of Martial Arts

Martial Artists are without any doubt some of the best fighters in the world and they can do amazing things, so why haven't they conquered the world? The answer to this question is straightforward: Martial Arts (especially those that rely on Adrenal Defense) have several weaknesses.

First, no matter what the style is, it takes time and resources to train Martial Artists and at lower levels a Martial Artist is not a match for an equivalent level armored fighter, armed with a shield and weapon. Normally you can train an armored fighter faster than an unarmored martial artist simply because you can rely on the armor and shield for protection. This also means that you can field more fighters and more easily replace losses.

Second, Adrenal Defense cannot be used in formation, as it requires room to maneuver. Moreover, Adrenal Defense is somewhat ineffective against missile weapons, especially in a large battle, where arrows are fired in volleys and it is very hard to see incoming attacks.

These two factors make Adrenal Defense rather useless in large scale combats against soldiers that fight in formation; especially if those soldiers have the discipline to stay in the formation, where they are protected by each other's shields and weapons.

The important thing to remember is that while Martial Artists are great individual fighters, they are not great soldiers. They are deadly in small fights, but in large scale combats they will fall prey to armored soldiers fighting in formations.

Materials in Weapons and Armor

Character and Campaign Law states that iron is the material most typically used in the construction of weapons and armor, but that is not historically accurate except for a relatively short period of time. By the 1st century BC, the Chinese had discovered how to forge highly durable steel, meaning that almost any weapon would be made of low steel. Some hundred years later the process of forging and folding the steel to improve its quality was developed, making available good quality weapons of high steel. (Developing techniques for making larger steel plates to use in armor took somewhat longer.)

This observation means that any campaign in a typical fantasy world, where warriors can be equipped with plate armor, will have had a long period of time where steel weapons went from being rare to becoming commonplace. Thus, throughout these articles, it is assumed that the typical weapon material is low steel. As a result, the material bonuses used in RM2 need slight modifications, unless the GM is comfortable with just about everybody having +5 to attacks.

Bonuses due to Material
Bonus for non-tools Example material Base Cost Modifier Note
-55 Stone 0.1x -15 to -30 for crushing tools
-35 Wood 0.1x -20 to -40 for crushing tools
-25 Bone 0.1x Hardened ordinary bone
-15 Bronze 0.25x Copper/tin alloy
-5 Iron 0.5x Normal iron
0 Low Steel 1x Typical steel
+5 High Steel 5x Quality steel
+10 White Alloy 20x Titanium alloy
+15 Black Alloy 100x Meteoric alloy
0 Enchanted Iron 10x Magic iron
+5 Enchanted Low Steel 40x Magic low steel
+10 Enchanted High Steel 100x Magic high steel
+15 Mithril Alloy 200x Magic true-silver alloy
+20 Laen 1000x Magic true-glass/crystal alloy
+25 Malanga* 3000x Magic true-gold alloy
+30 Eog 5000x Magic true-steel

* Malanga is the "gold" version of Mithril. It is used in weapons and armor, where ordinary gold is useless due to the softness of the material. Weapons made of Malanga use the Mithril column when resolving criticals against large and super large creatures.

For materials not presented here, simply deduct five from the normal material bonus.