Yesterday, I dug out my physical rules for Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying (RMFRP). In so doing, I was struck by some pretty interesting thoughts and impressions. In my quest to inhabit and develop my fantasy Otherworld, as discussed in earlier posts and on the podcast, I found myself confronted with an unexpected desire to draw liberally from the Rolemaster resources. I find this curious.
What is Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying?
Perhaps it is best to begin with a quotation from the core rulebook itself:
“Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing is ICE’s complete set of rules for those who are looking for a realistic yet playable fantasy role playing system. It is also suitable for experienced gamers who want guidelines and material to inject into their own existing game systems and world systems. Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing contains complete rules for handling most of the situations that arise in fantasy role playing games.”Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying, Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE), 2003, page 5.
For those with an historical bent, Rolemaster originated in 1980 as an expansion for Dungeons & Dragons (and other RPGs). Arms Law came first, as an alternative combat system, and other books were added to the line forming a complete game by about 1983. I came into contact with it sometime in that initial period, but owned the 1984 boxed set.
We played this game through High School almost exclusively from 1985 until 1989. In my time away from the game, while at University and then in early career, Rolemaster went through further development. I missed the revamped and revised Rolemaster Standard System – although I do think I own one or two of the books – but really returned when Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying was released in 1999… just as I returned to gaming.
This book forms the basis for a whole range of game products which further expand on that core: examples include Arms Law for the expanded combat rules, and Spell Law (in three volumes) to give you the rather different Rolemaster magic rules. All the basics are in the that one core rulebook, however, and the rest really is extra detail. It is this initial rulebook that I delved last night.
The Unexpected Desire
I began, as Mr Baggins would say, at the beginning. I have read through the character creation rules only. It was enough to remind me of why I loved this game, why all of my strongest and most emotive memories are attached to Rolemaster, and what it is that I miss most from the games I have tried to run since.
Rolemaster, as I remember it, was firmly connected to my first interaction with Tolkien’s works. Although it is denied and brushed over in these latter days, my memory (whether or not correct) is that we played Rolemaster in Middle-earth. ICE produced modules and adventures set in Middle-earth and we played them. I own three or four, but most of them were the purview of my Game Master of the time, Gavin. The memory of Goriel Swiftfoot and the Balrog of Moria comes from this period in my hobby.
Here is the thing I realised: there is a quality to the Middle-earth of Rolemaster that is different to that of Tolkien. In the past, I have heard people complain about this but, for me, it was the Middle-earth I encountered as a kid. I realised that while I don’t want to return to Middle-earth as-is, I am seeking a World that is heavily coloured and influenced by the particular presentation of Middle-earth I encountered as a Player between 1985 and 1989. That is my Middle-earth. It has a different name, but Mykovnia is a personal expression of that experience.
Thus, while I have been pondering a much more primal and far less civilised World for play, the truth is that I need to absorb this realisation: there are, in fact, fallen civilisations in Mykovnia; those civilisations are in decline and also under challenge from a Dark Lord; and there is a need for heroes to arise to defeat that Darkness, lest all be lost. Mykovnia looks very different to Middle-earth in many ways… but it draws on the imagery of forests and mountains, of Elves and Dwarves, that permeated my mind in the 1980s.
Thus, just reading the first few sections of Rolemaster, I know that I need to take this exploration further. I need to inhabit that World again through the lens of this game, simply because this game was the lens through which I got a first glimpse of that World. Does that mean I will be playing Rolemaster? I don’t know… but not necessarily. For now, however, I need to lean into that discovery and see where it takes me. Isn’t it interesting how we end up following Roads that lead us to Adventure more than once in our lives?
“The Road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.”The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 1, J.R.R. Tolkien.