Rolemaster: Introducing Arms Law

The post below is written by UbiquitousRat, a guest blogger for The Iron Tavern.

Arms Law was the third book released for the new Rolemaster public playtest, and it sits alongside Character Law and Spell Law at the core of the rules. Having had a little over 72 hours to have a look at it, here are some initial reactions.

What’s in Arms Law?

The top 10 cool features of Arms Law are:

  1. An integrated combat system designed to model round-by-round detailed action.
  2. Actual differences between different types of armour, and built in rules for mix-and-match pieces of armour.
  3. Flexibility in player choices, including the ability to mould your available actions into a 10-second round. You have up to 100% of activity, and can choose exactly how you use it.
  4. One roll to hit also delivers the damage; a second roll might be made for a “Crit”, to see what colourful additional effect your hero gains.
  5. 45 Attack Tables, each supporting a different weapon type to reflect its effectiveness.
  6. 7 additional Attack Tables for elemental attacks, such as Fire Bolt and Lightning Ball.
  7. 11 Critical Tables providing bone-crunching and exciting detail on what happens when you score a “Crit”.
  8. Ranged and Melee Fumble rules which give similar detail for the fails.
  9. Optional rules to streamline stuff you find too detailed for your group’s tastes.
  10. The trademark Rolemaster choice to split your skill with weapons between attacking and parrying.

Tables? Really?

Let’s deal with the issue of tables. Yes, Rolemaster uses tables.

In the oldest fantasy RPG, and most derivatives, to make an attack you do the following: roll to hit (using your skill), roll to wound (using various polyhedral dice), apply damage to the Hit Points of the target. At zero Hit Points your target falls unconscious and dies. Critical hits, those that get an exceptional result, simply do more damage.

In Rolemaster, using a simple table to make an attack you do the following: roll to hit, looking up your result in cross-reference to the armour type of the opponent. The result gives you the damage done, plus (sometimes) a Critical result. If you “Crit”, you make a second quick roll on the Critical Table to see what colourful and dangerous additional effect you achieve.

Here’s an example: Goriel swings his longsword at an Orc wearing chain armour. The player rolls d100 minus the Orc’s defensive bonus plus Goriel’s offensive bonus. The total is 139, which means that Goriel scores 12 Hits plus a B-type Slashing Critical. Rolling on the Crit table, a simple d100 roll, Goriel discovers that (on 85) he strikes the Orc’s head, cutting open its forehead and causing serious bleeding… which forces the Orc to shake his head to clear his eyes and lose 20% of his actions.

To my mind, this is way more interesting and engaging than, “I rolled a 17, I hit. I scored 7 points of damage”.

Weapons and Armour

In Rolemaster each weapon and your choice of armour actually makes a difference.

Lighter armour (or having no armour) makes you HARDER to hit, whilst heavier armour makes you EASIER to hit. However, no armour opens you up to massive damage, whilst heavy armour protects you. This is more logical than the traditional idea that your armour makes you harder to hit… and has no further effect.

Weapons affect armour and creatures in different ways too. A pointy spear is different from a slashy sword. Hammers crush whilst daggers stab or slash. Some weapons are more useful for penetrating different types of armour and killing certain kinds of creature. You find this out through trial and error.

The practical upshot? Rolemaster combat is more detailed but really about as fast as the traditional fantasy RPG, if not faster. It also delivers more exciting results and colourful descriptive details.

Player Choices

As with all of Rolemaster, the system encourages and rewards player choices. The Initiative system, which takes a 10-second round and asks you to decide how you will act in 10% chunks, gives players real flexibility in a fight. Don’t want to make an all-out 100% effort attack? No problem, make an 80% attack (with a -20 penalty on your hit roll) and use the remaining 20% to move, reload your bow, or whatever.

The only beef that I have, at least on a first reading of the rules, is that the default Initiative system presented is really very detailed. Of course, as with all things Rolemaster, there are two other optional systems available to make life simpler… so I’m probably going to use the simplest with my group.

Options, Options

That moves us to consider the Options. One of the biggest advantages of the Rolemaster system is that it comes ready-built with options for either more or less detail. Being someone who likes to play “old school”, I can easily strip out rules which seem too complex for my taste. The writers have provided me with optional alternatives too, which means that I don’t have to waste precious GM time working up a “house rule”. Frankly, that’s a big selling point for me.

And finally…

That’s Rolemaster ready to play. From here on out it’s time to get those heroes into some adventures and let you know how this system really works.

Over the next few articles we aim to talk you through how we’ve been adapting Rolemaster to our house-built setting, Heroic Mykenaea. We also want to share the ups and downs of the system playtest so that you can decide if it’s worth a look when the final product arrives next year.

Please feel free to comment on what you’ve read so far… and if you’ve got any questions, drop them in to the comments below.

Game on!


UbiquitousRat is a long-time roleplayer and gamesmaster who has a history with gaming going back to 1979. In 1994 he joined Games Workshop, spending 12 years in the gaming industry at the coal-face of tabletop wargaming. In 1998 he founded the Friday Night Roleplay group at his home in suburban Nottinghamshire, UK, and ever since has been the primary GM. The group was involved in the playtest of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition and Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay, as well as giving air to the development of 6d6 RPG. The core five players are all looking forward to the new Rolemaster and everyone is excited to be sharing the story in The Iron Tavern. Oh, and he’s also a high school teacher during the daytime.

One thought on “Rolemaster: Introducing Arms Law

  1. Pingback: Saturday Knight News - Halloween Edition - 27-OCT-2012 | Game Knight Reviews

Comments are closed.