Monday, June 20, 2016

Rolemaster Unified Playtest: First Session

  Today was a brief (3 hour) playtest of the new Rolemaster Unified. The focus was on a quick, simple combat encounter with travel, etc.

Players and Characters:
All are 4th level, made as Legendary.
My Wife: Melinda Rosybranch, halfling (sylvan) Rogue
        Focused on stealth and ambush with locks and traps
        25 year veteran of RPGs, never played any Rolemaster before.
Oldest Son: Timorbatar 'Timor' Khalyn'Ku, human (nomad) fighter
        Horse archer focus with spear and dagger
        All the boys played 6 sessions of FMFRP with me 3 years ago. All are very familiar with all versions of D&D, HERO system, and many more.
Second Son: Shin, human (highlands) Cleric
        Broad mix of spells with good medicine and herbalism skills
Third Son: Ingmar, human (urban) Magent
        Built as a crossbow sniper and con man
Fourth Son: Fen Chang, human (highlands) Magician
        An eclectic scholar and good combat spell caster



Setup:
  They are in the frontier city of Norral and have loose ties to one of the city Syndics. They are asked to quietly investigate reports of missing farmers near the Mist River.

Play:
  I skipped random encounters to keep it simple, but did have them encounter a rabid wolf. The horse archer and crossbowman dealt with it quickly.

  At the village they interacted with the headman and learned that the first missing person was 3 weeks prior and that the attacks had accelerated until a person was found dead in the village proper just 4 days prior - that body had been dug up and stolen just the previous night!
  The party investigated and realized that the body had dug itself out of the grave. They tracked it for a while, but lost the trail in nearby bogs. The villagers said the only thing in that direction were the old burial mounds of a battle from more than a century before. The area was only a 90 minute walk away, but was shunned as haunted and the area was too boggy to be worth much.

  The party set out immediately and soon arrived. After a quiet and careful search they found a narrow passage, hidden among stones, dug into the side of one of the barrow mounds. Fen sent his owl familiar in, hopping along (the player had specified that his familiar was a burrowing owl, so that worked out nicely). The familiar reported 4 dead human bodies were inside. Some were moving around and eating bones. There was only the one tunnel in and out. The tunnel was so small even Melinda would have to crawl in and out.
  The party set up around the tunnel: Timor in front with shield and spear; Melinda above and behind with her short sword, ready to ambush; Fen to the left and back, Water Bolt being held; Ingmar right and back, crossbows ready; Shin behind Timor, prepared to assist. When all were in place Melinda cried out, mimicking a little girl,
  "Mommy! Mommy! Where are you, mommy?"

  Within moments the sound of something slithering along the tunnel was heard. As the first creature exited the tunnel Melinda Ambushed it as Timor struck from in front. Although well wounded, the creature still pushed its way out and up. The second round saw Melinda Ambush the second one as Ingmar struck it well with an arrow. Timor struck the first one again and Shine joined him, putting it down.
In the third round Melinda Ambushed the third one coming out but fumbled her attack as Timor engaged the second one. Ingmar fired his second crossbow, hitting the second monster well.  In the fourth round Timor and Shin fought the second and third one. Fen's Water Bolt slammed into the third monster and did enough criticals to put it out of the fight.
  In the fifth round Melinda missed, Ingmar was reloading, Fen was prepping another spell, and the Shin/Timor tag team put down the last monster.

The Foes:
  Three Minor Ghouls. They had treasure looted from various "meals" in a nest-like place in their lair.

Feedback from the Players:
Wife- "It will take some time getting used to all the various modifiers so that I know about high ground, flanking, prone targets, etc. well enough to take real advantage of them."
  "I do not think the racial bonuses compensate for the -1 size on my attacks. I think the small drops in skill bonuses and RR bonuses I would take for playing a human would be more than worth it to strike with a short sword and do short sword damage, not dagger damage."
Interesting- "I know, since it is how I started, that you can take someone who has never played anything, hand them an AD&D first edition character and dice, and they can play immediately and understand in an hour. My initial reaction is - this isn't true of RMU. As an experienced gamer I think it will take me 2-4 sessions to really 'get' RMU. That is absolutely OK, but something to consider."

Oldest Son: "First blush is that action points are great but the initiative system and its 'countdown' is clunky."
  "Situational combat bonuses add up quick so being familiar with them is very important."
  "The numbers on concussion hits, critical hits, and such seems to be about perfect."

Second Son: "Initiative was confusing at first, but I got it after an hour."
  "Combat overall was easy to get, the rolling and such was easy, I just have to learn all the situational bonuses and penalties."

Third Son: "Initiative was a little clumsy at first, but we were smoother after the halfway point."
  "The Magent seems to work fine in combat and the spells are more effective than I thought they might be."

Fourth Son: "Spellcasting was not as intuitive as I hoped, but that may just be inexperience."
  "The initiative system was clunky, but it needs to be streamlined."
  "The core strength of Rolemaster 'roll one die roll', is firmly in place, which is great."
  "The situational modifiers for combat are very critical."
  "Stats have a lot of weight and may be too important."

Feedback from the GM:
  -As the player noted, understanding and taking advantage of situational modifiers is life and death. The way Melinda got above and behind foes so they either let her flank them or let a fighter flank them was a Big Deal.
  -Those same modifiers made the players more engaged in combat; the ones that were not actively rolling dice paid attention to what was going on because shifts on the battlefield mattered a lot. I watched this drive roleplaying, so it was great. It is also different from a lot of other games where players not "at bat" will often zone out until their turn.
  -Action system? Top notch. It really helped the players understand what was possible in a combat round.
  -Initiative? While I grasp it, I might need to make some sort of tool to help me manage it so it is more smooth. Especially with a character with a +18 Quickness you might have one character 'done' before another declares! Without close management it can be chaotic.
  -The best feedback from the players is that they all want to play again soon.
  -The strangest thing of the night - no player was ever hit!
  -The fighter's player also compared combat to boxing: stay covered up with a strong parry and probe their defenses, wait for a chance to get a good hit (or lucky hit!) in, and when they are stunned, unload and clobber them.

Plan for Next Session:
  Roughly the same group (the cleric's player want to try a combat type and the fighter player might switch to a pure spellcaster) on a skill-heavy jaunt with a lot of traps, locks, etc.