A new player joined this session: his character is Aelin, a Corsair smuggler who, having differences with her captain while hauling wine from Umbar to Minas Tirith, dropped overboard at the beginning of the game session with a lifted cask of that same wine to fence to Tiviel at The Merchant’s Scythe. At the door of The Scythe Aelin encountered two folks — a Hobbit and an Elf — dragging in an unconscious Dunadan with one leg absolutely gory with bloody bandages. The Wose Ranger was no longer with the party. This is because the Wose’s player had made his own character — an Umli Ranger named Siegmeyer — and this new character was inside the inn warming himself by the fire.
Downtime dragged a bit, partly because I was so “prepared” that I had forgotten how I had prepped. At last — but not before I had to make up a new name for my so-carefully-prepared herbalist NPC — I came across my index cards. After that, things progressed more efficiently, excepting the one occasion in which I neglected to consult them after the PCs had returned to the adventure site for more information (and sacks of loot they suddenly realized they had left there last session). In this instance I had to “go back” and revise the description of the room within which a Haradan survivor last session had bolted himself, the door now open. In the “new” description, I described a pedestal, some Haradraic scrawled on the wall (which Aelin was able to interpret, fluently, Herumor is the rightful Lord of Gondor, Heed the Dark Call) and a black snake — real or constructed — on top of that pedestal. The PCs assumed it was real — it was — and attacked it, utterly destroying it because I forgot to calculate its defensive bonus. I would not forget that for enemies later this session.
The PCs discovered that the areas where the tents and camp beds were, the same area in which they had forgotten the loot (surely in their haste to get their friend Daramir back to a soft bed in Pen-arduin), was fouled by something that not only had trampled and shredded and strewn everything about but had urinated and defecated on it, as well. Edmond the Hobbit almost wept to see all that aromatic Southron pipeweed ruined.
Finding nothing of value, the PCs explored the right hand passage, one obviously little used since it was oppressively draped with cobwebs inhabited by many tiny black spiders. It came to a Y-branch, the left-hand side of which terminated in a cave-in and a sinkhole descending about twenty feet to sluggishly moving water. Nope, the PCs decided, not going to mess around with that. So they went down the right-hand passage which terminated at an ancient wooden door without keyhole or handle, apparently barred from the other side. Perhaps we should come back with an axe, Ioreth suggested, his player also mentioning the time how, in another game, her character had burned down a door using flammable oil. During this session, Ioreth happened to be carrying two flasks of oil, but everyone decided to leave that door alone, for now. Besides, it seemed sort of spooky. The spiders didn’t weave webs down here. And an unnatural cold seemed to emanate from the cavern walls.
So the PCs tried the other main passage. At the end of this one they encountered a large room of four Orcs who were in the process of cooking up the dead bodies whom, conveniently, had been left elsewhere in the site by the PCs last session. They also had the forgotten loot. It was an exciting fight, as I’m happily realizing/remembering fights tend to be in MERP with its Critical Hit charts. Daramir was a hero as usual, and this time he remembered to use his Ring of Healing while he fought the Orcs: the ancient work of an Elvish wright flashed from his finger with bright, holy light in the shadows of the flickering flames. When the Umli Ranger Siegmeyer lost an eye to an unlucky hit from an Orc scimitar beneath his helm, Ioreth remembered his spells. The remaining two Orcs failed their Resistance Rolls versus Sleep. One died where he stood, becoming already the victim of massive Critical Hits. Daramir, without hesitation, dispatched the other snoozing enemy.
This time the party remembered to carry their loot back to Pen-arduin.
This time we chatted about some of the wonkiness in the combat system. We are comfortable with declaring actions before the round. We are fine with the order in which particular actions are resolved. We are fine with the simultaneity of congruent actions. But what we don’t understand is how it takes a full round (ten seconds) to reload a bow, two rounds (twenty seconds) for a crossbow. We also understand that, as with D&D out of which Rolemaster developed, “actions” within this ten-second round should be “abstracted,” that the attacker makes many attempts to hit her target, and the actual roll is a determination of if any of these attempts land. But this doesn’t “grok” with missile attacks, which clearly are one single attack. Even the understanding that a PC can load and shoot in a single round but with a penalty to his offensive bonus doesn’t quite satisfy. And I’m hesitant, for now, to house rule something different because of two benefits users of missile weapons enjoy. First, if they place themselves carefully, they should be relatively safe from combat while still being able to mete out damage. Second, a cursory examination of the critical hit charts for Puncture reveals that arrows are particularly deadly (also, our Hobbit crushed an Orc’s skull with his sling). In consideration of these observations, it seems fair that PCs should trade out these benefits for limitations to their missile attacks.
Here’s another thing about tactical combat: movement. Daramir quite naturally wanted to charge and attack one of the Orcs. Okay, I said, simple, what’s your Movement. Okay, you can get to him, but… Right, I see, you can only move ten feet and attack, and that’s not enough. Oh, you want to run and attack? Right, you can double your movement with a successful moving maneuver. So let’s do that, let’s say that, if you succeed at this, then you can get there and attack. Oh, but that kind of is a work-around for the rule. Well, whatever, roll. Okay, you accomplished forty percent of your action. Well, that means you got there… but you can’t attack this round. (And, yes, I know, another use of the maneuver tables is to roll under that percentage to achieve the action, but I had had enough.)
Daramir’s player also asked about arm and leg greaves. This is because finally the players began to heed my constant abjurations that this is a lethal game, that not having the necessary protection might result in an instant kill (as Edmond’s sling bullet to the head did to an Orc). But Daramir asked what might be the tactical difference of leather versus metal greaves. I didn’t know. I was sure that such a choice would be reflected in the critical hit charts. But, later, a glance at these did not answer this. I think I need to consult Arms Law & Claw Law for answers to both this and the charging into combat question.
With tactical advantages in mind, I also implemented a house rule that linked increased hp recovery to how much PCs spend on food and accommodations. Essentially, I’m thinking a bonus hp in healing for a normal meal, the same for average lodging, two bonus hp for a heavy meal and good lodging (though of course the players told me that someone who lost a lot of blood is not going to want to eat a heavy meal; okay, fine, better ingredients, then!). I also decided an absolutely perfect house rule is that the Hobbit in my party gets xp for every gold he spends on food, drink and pipeweed.