Rolemaster “Unified” the “Next” version of Rolemaster? Not really..
Before reading my drivel if your not remotely familiar with Rolemaster, Monte Cook went from designing rolemaster materials to being the lead designer of D&D 3E, and much of what became 3e is extremely similar (skills etc) to what was ground breaking work in Rolemaster… Now many years later WotC re-hires Monte obviously to take a few steps back in order to keep going forward…
If you are familiar with Rolemaster you might be interested to know they are coming out with a “Unified” edition with current play tester signups, there is also a open sourced character generator program and most importantly a combat resolution app for the HARP system (which relies on books and books of nothing but charts and tables) all of this is due to come out within about 4 months…. The owner of the IP’s for ICE/HARP is John Seal, he and Nick Caldwell (The new IP licensee) did an interview here…
and they talked a LOT about the current state of the TTRPG industry and game design over 30 years… Here are a couple of excerpts
Interviewer: “The tabletop role-playing hobby has been through a lot changes over the years and it seems that its death-knell is always sounded when newer hobbies come along, such as collectible card games and online computer games. It still seems to be able to hold its own, though – what do you see happening to the hobby in the future? What changes, if any, do you think will have to be made to ensure its survival?”
John: “Well, having been to a recent con, the thing that worries me most is the demographic profile of the attendees. Sadly, just not enough young people. It’s a real risk and I'm not sure the tide can be turned. But we have a strong original fan base that will give us years to turn that tide, so we have a chance.”
(I found it very interesting that he, and arguably like WotC see the “original fan base” as being the potential saviors of the hobby, worse still that the greater grognard duty must be to bring in and guide the next generation of gamers, heh)
(*and the call went out, and across the nation the thunderous sound of beardy weirdo uncles struggling up the stairs of the basements of senior home owners drowned out the sounds of teamspeak and xbox live… “THERE! That awkward lookin kid, shove a d20 in his hand and tell him to roll init!” thus was the hobby saved…)
(back to the excerpts)
John: "I bought ICE to save it, but I haven't run it - others have. And I won’t ever make any money on it - I don't intend to - I want all the profits to be plowed back into the business."
(PS. I personally love this, the guy is in high finance and investments, and he buys ICE not to get money but just to keep it around…later in the interview, as a professional investor he goes through the real threats to the industry and why all TTRPGs are swimming in dangerous waters right now.)
My personal schlock…
After many previous editions, some that revolutionized the gaming industry others that were wildly unsuccessful, Rolemaster is doing essentially what Next is attempting to do… ICE is unifying all it’s previous editions, and edition warriors albeit a different and more traditional route.
I became familiar with Rolemaster when our kitchen table DM broke out the Rolemaster combat sheets and began using them for crit resolution basically adding a percentile roll with +5% for every one which you backed up your crit by… so a natural 80%+ roll and whatever it was is torn in half, skull caved in with brains gushing out eyes and nose, etc (a-typical rolemaster style) and most average rolls lead to massive damage (maybe death), possible permanent disabling injury (limb loss, stat loss etc) with lots of bleed damage (death within a few rounds if not treated) as more books came out making different weapon types and styles possible… we added them and soon our ninjas were knife edge palm striking crushable larynxes all over the place.
Like a lot of guys in those angst driven Doc Martins & trench coat wearing 90’s, I got drawn in by the Cyberpunk genre, besides the dice pool (“how many successes?”) labored Shadowrun, I bought the simple yet easily breakable game “Cyberpunk.”, later I found “Cybermaster” based on ye old crit sheets, and fell in love with not only the character generation system, but many parts of the combat system as well.
As I reviewed Next and these forums, I felt a loss for those old crit tables and decided to look into Rolemaster once more…
What I never liked about Rolemaster was the added “defensive maneuver” roll, and the fact that it wasn’t d20 just took away that nostalgic feel. Since I don’t like the way 3.5 combat went (and I’m playing PF) I started working on a game mechanic that would use your character’s last d20 attack roll as your current defense roll with a similar combat table maybe modified by a style category (like primal, tactical, harassing, evasive, huge monster, etc rather than weapon type) to better emulate hard fantasy combat (combat more like Spartacus, 300, Hit Girl from Kick Ass, etc.)
So I decided to look over Rolemaster again and low and behold a new rolemaster aka “Rolemaster Unified” (RMU) turns out to be just around the corner complete with current play testing signups (here ironcrown.com/rolemaster/rolemaster/ )
Comparing the way Next and Unified are being developed is interesting to me. It seems that Next is adding a LOT of new mechanics (skill die, advantage/disadvantage, etc. etc.) while trying to keep the same nostalgic flavor of the older editions, where as RMU seems to be being made solely with the intent of cleaning up minor errors and differences between editions but keeping the main works mostly unchanged, which I personally see as a superior way to design a new edition if the actual the goal is the uniting of all previous editions… I suspect the core motivations of the IP holders may be at least partially the cause of the very different design philosophies…