Rolemaster Did It Before It Was Cool

[My most read posts are about arms and armour in Tolkien. To keep your interest alive, I though I might write more about it, but since you have got enough of Tolkien, today it is just arms and armour!]

Everybody knows that: old Rolemaster is a dinosaur of a system. It is Chartmaster: it had one or more charts for everything, that were printed with plenty of typos, missing references and whatnot. It had too many options, it was unnecessarily cumbersome etc. Yeah, but was it a bad system? Far from it. In fact, it did pretty fine a couple of things that most games neglect to do, even today.

The most peculiar bit of Rolemaster is also the most opaque: the attack charts. Not the criticals, that everybody remembers  for the gory effects and the occasional joke, but the charts that give the damage inflicted by a given weapon. Here is one:


First, many weapons can offend in more than one way: a sword, for instance, can be either used to cut or to thrust. The two maneuvers inflict different sorts of wounds, of course. With the  notable exception of GURPS, no major system takes this fact into account. Recently, Runequest 6 incorporated at least a hint of it, by including both Bleeding and Impale among the special effects available to a character wielding a sword. Rolemaster already did so, and did it very well. If you take the attack chart for any cut and thrust weapon, you will find that they include both slashing criticals and puncture criticals: the game assume that the weapon will be used sometimes to cut and sometimes to thrust, even though the choice is random. 

Second, the attack charts are obviously written by somebody who is aware of the fundamental truth that (by and large) you cannot cut through armour, let alone mail or plate armour. To somebody wearing plates, most damage becomes blunt trauma. It took decades for GURPS to acknowledge this fact (today, you find it stated in an optional rule in Low Tech), and the unusually naturalistic combat systems of Riddle of Steel / Blade of the Iron Throne state it clearly. But Rolemaster knew that thirty years ago! Look at the damage results for cutting weapons, and pay attention to the columns 19 and 20, regarding heavy armour. You will see that the vast majority of criticals are K, that is, crushing criticals: a sword affects a heavily armoured target just like a club would. The occasional slashing or puncture critical can still be razionalized by seeing it as the result of a hit to an an unarmoured body part (the hit location is random anyway) or to a chink in the armour.

All in all, not bad for a system nobody wants to play anymore.


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