Dungeon Crawler for Rolemaster – Part 2: basic design principles

My newest project is to run a dungeon crawler game for my Rolemaster group. The interesting part is to allow them to use their exisitng Rolemaster characters and to come up with a rule set that is compatible with our campaign.
So the first step is to think (I really like thinking) what the rules should be. Since a dungeon crawler is mainly about combat, the rule set should allow player to engage. On the other hand such a game will have more than one combat encounter.Hence fights need to be quick and swift. 

I took some time to think why the combats we currently play in our Rolemaster sessions take quite a while.  Additionally it happens that players do not fully engaged in the fight. Here are my thoughts

  • damage resolution is done by the DM 
  • calculating the attack value takes quite a while
  • looking stuff up in different tables
  • players are inactive for several rounds when preparing spells

If I can overcome these problems, the combat system may be quick enough to use it in a dungeon crawler. Moreover it may be more fun for the players as well.

Damage resolution is done by the DM.

Currently the damage resolution is done by the DM solely. This leads to situations where players roll their attack and wait for the DM to tell how many damage they dealt. I think it is better if players resolve the damage themselves. The main question here is: „Who resolves the damage“ and not how it is resolved. Frankly this topic is more about engaging players rather than speeding up the process. Handing over damage resolution to the players does not speed up things. The benefit is that the effort is distributed more evenly. Even more important it allows players to feel more responsible for the outcome.

I thought of introducing damage dice like in D&D 5th Ed. Don’t get me wrong. I think D&D 5th edition is a great system. However I don’t like that you can have a real great attack roll, and then do only minimum damage due to a bad damage roll. I think the damage should correlate with the attack roll. Even better, it is only one roll instead of two rolls which takes less time. So I am pretty sure I stick with one roll.

Calculating the attack value takes quite a while.

When rolling an attack in Rolemaster you end up adding dozens of bonuses. There is no way for us to do this quickly without a pocket calculator. I identified three main problems with our current method: 

  • we are adding up more than two numbers, 
  • we need to substract the defensive bonus, and 
  • we deal with quite high numbers. 

I think I can find a mechanism that avoids all of this problems.

Adding up more than two numbers. We will always have the one attack roll. If we want to stick with two numbers only, we have only one additional bonus to add. What I think about is to pre-calculate the offensive bonus for each weapon and let the players write it down. I may need to strip situational bonuses, but I think we can handle them with the „advantage/disadvantage“ mechanism from D&D 5th edition.

We need to substract the defensiv bonus. You know substracting is definitly harder to do than adding up. To avoid this I have the idea to construct a slide rule. (Personally I think this is an brilliant idea and an elegant way to solve this.) 

We deal with high numbers. I am a long time fan of Rolemaster’s D100 system. However, with this little project I started to reevaluate other dice systems. I own Abora which is – let’s say – a Rolemaster for RPG beginners and it uses a D10 system including the exploding die mechanic (aka high open ended rolls). The drawback is that it changes the chance for high open ended rolls. While in Rolemaster it is 5% in Abora with the D10 it is 10%. Another option is using multiple D6s – but the problem with this is that the probability of the results is different to a single D100. In a D100 every result has the same probability. While let’s say in a 3D6 roll, 10 and 11 have the highest probability, while 3 and 18 are very unlikly. So I think I will choose a D20 system. This seems to be reasonable. It will have the same chance for failure and high open ended rolls. It is relativly easy to convert and we dont need a pocket calculator anymore.

Looking stuff up in different tables.

When using the weapon tables this is really quite slow. First you need to find the right table (especially as DM, who needs to manage more than one monster). Then you need the correct attack value and cross-index the correct armor class. So my first idea is: maybe I can compress each table into one single column only. In such a way we can use one sheet for all the weapons. Moreover if I construct this slide rule, maybe we can use one for all the weapons.

Players are inactive for several rounds when preparing spells.

In an dungeon crawler everyone wants to engage the enemy. Sitting around waiting some rounds before your spell becomes effective can be really boring and frustrating. Therefore I want to allow magic users to cast spells each round. This seems to be the most challanging part. I really need to take care to balace spells. For sure I need some kind of penalty, but I have no clue how to do this yet. When casting a spell the main parameters are casting time and power points. When casting class I spells (casting time is one round) everything should stay the same, but class II spells and class III spells need to be modified.

In the next weeks I will start to define an actual rule set for the dungeon  crawler. I am happy if you join me in this quest.

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