The Fool of Druids & Bob Pepper’s Art

I enjoy a great deal of gaming culture from the late 1970s and early 80s. Two of those things are the card game Dragonmaster and Rolemaster. Both touch on nostalgia for me, but Rolemaster in particular is one of those games I enjoy going back to when I can. It has been a while.

I have been wanting to combine the art of Bob Pepper, the Dragonmaster cards in particular, with Rolemaster for a while. In my head the two worked well together. Pepper ranks high for me as a fantastical artist and you should check out his various book covers. It provides great inspiration.

I grabbed some ideas from an old campaign of mine (college days, many years ago) and started applying what I hoped were some of the things I learned about prep and situation. I also dropped in my favorite fantasy nemesis, The Glacier from M. Scott Rohan’s work. Think of it as chaos in ice form, though Rohan played with actual ice age ideas in his work, at least some of it.

Rod & Robbie expressed interest in play and we got down to prep and character creation. It was clear the years had not been kind to my memory, but that worked out alright. We have (re)learned how to play (its the first time for Robbie) and the experience has been a good one.


The Animist (druid) Rurit is or was a friend of the players and he sends a letter stating that he will soon be dead, inviting the character to his funeral. This is the opening background detail to pull the characters into the game. In addition to the behind the scenes conflict in the northern city of Orash. I gave the main NPCs a corresponding relation to one of the suits and cards from Dragonmaster.

I had this ambition about creating a board with the cards and NPCs and their relationships on it, but am not quite there yet. I did develop some basic ideas to guide the first parts of play.

  • The Glacier is corrupting the nobles of the city to more easily take over.
  • Leaders of the resistance must be removed.

To be honest I did have vague outlines of what was happening and when and maybe a few too many threads. This remains to be seen. There is a great deal of politics here, but also ideas of radicalism that have not quite shone up.

Brief Summary

We are through six sessions now. It all began with a funeral in the snow and ash, a mysterious elven onlooker (mourner), and making contact with Rurit’s widow, Welda. For the sake of keeping track, Rurit is (was) the Duke of Druids and Welda the Fool of Druids. Welda had the characters come to her home and from there, the investigation into Rurit’s death began. I want to note as well, that these druids are more Celtic lawgivers (not necessarily historical) than tree hugging environmentalists.

Our first combat came at the Poison Master’s home, where four thugs were trying to intimidate said Poison Master, Serrin. Argus (Rod – Ranger) and Duska (Robbie – Mentalist) blew through the thug at the door in session 1 and finished the fight in session 2. It should be noted that Rolemaster relies on combat for XP, so its important to have combat in your RM games. I’ll circle back to this later.

In the fight they capture Sarissa, a thug. Using Mentalism spells, Duska is able to retrieve some information from Sarissa, who is then locked away. This becomes something of a theme (obsession?) on Robbie/Duska’s part. Sarissa is naught but a thug, though a smart one who knows about how mercs work. But Duska spends some time with Sarissa in various sessions trying to get more information.

Information leads first to the docks, where the characters learn about how well liked Rurit was, even among the criminals, and how smuggling of poisons work. The dock boss works with the characters, provides information, and is of use as they piece things together.

This all leads to a trade post in the north, nearer the Glacier and its fiendish creatures. It is learned that the Golden Spear Horde and House Draknoir, lead by Yamile (Queen of Dragonlords). The characters try and learn more information, but their escape is harrowing, with Duska wounded.

Once back in Orash, the characters go to the old city and find the Golden Spear Horde exile Dyan (Fool of Nomads) who is being pursed by the same assassin who poisoned Rurit: Galza (Count of Warriors). In the ensuing fight, the character, with Dyan’s help, kill Galza and its summoned demon pet. The latter in quite spectacular fashion. Rurit is avenged.

Thoughts on Rolemaster

Once you get used to which rolls are Open Ended (re-roll if you roll very high for example) and closed (no re-roll), much of the system sorts itself out on the GM side. It is true the game depends on charts, for weapon damage and resisting magic mainly. The magic system does provide some tension, but requires only two rolls to determine what happens most of the time. On some rolls its 3-4 rolls.

Combat requires following the procedures and we have not had a lot of movement in the battles yet. This makes combat rounds go a little easier, but there is room to increase the tactical appeal of the system using maneuvers and such. Small details, like one opponent having a long weapon, can make a difference. But even when referring to the text, the game does not get weighed down in trying to provide a result for actions. You get there pretty quick, despite the odd organization of the original RM Classic. The new cleaned up versions are better somewhat.

Experience – This is an interesting but I think effective system. It gives you little experience for anything other than killing other beings. It does provide minimal experience for using spells, but its there if you want it. The system encourages travel, especially in dangerous places. But if how your character improves tells you what the point of the game is, Rolemaster does that. The most important aspects are in a table, of course, but there are a few paragraphs about handing out experience for non-tactical aspects of play.

Thus far the experience has been good and working through the nuances of the system has been enlightening. I have a better vocabulary now than I did years ago, and this helps evaluating play. I suppose my conclusion thus far is: be inspired and don’t be afraid to try something that has a “reputation” for being difficult. I don’t find Rolemaster any more difficult than say, Marvel Super Heroes or Runeuqest.

6 responses to “The Fool of Druids & Bob Pepper’s Art”

  1. Sean, I really enjoyed reading this summary of play, and HUGE thanks for pointing me toward Bob Pepper – I spent a long time last night scrolling through pictures of Dragonmaster cards. Did you, Rod, and Robbie use Dragonmaster art as inspiration during character creation?

    The card game art I’d love to use as a jumping-off point for a game of The Pool or maybe Champions Now is Omen: A Reign of War.

    From the perspective of situation, have there been any notable moments where someone’s decision really shook things up? (I’m imagining all the Dragonmaster cards suddenly having to be rearranged in relation to each other because of what someone has just said.)

    • I think two moments come to mind. I mentioned Sarissa, the thug/assassin for hire. While the information that Sarissa possessed was minimal, the attention paid to the character forced the antagonists to try and silence her, which has lead to an uneasy… not alliance, not yet. But Sarissa is re-thinking her life choices because of that.

      The second is part of a thread dealing with the trip to the trade post. That went south (no pun intended) in some ways. It nearly ended Duska, it kicked over an ant hill. And the choice to go north had repercussions that the characters Argus and Duska have not had to deal with, yet.

      Because of that latter one, there has been some reshuffling of the Dragonmaster cards and their associated characters.

    • And no, the cards did not influence character creation, but that might be something I put in my pocked for when I run Against the Darkmaster. (A modern take on the system Rolemaster uses.)

  2. We didn’t know about the Dragonmaster cards, but I picked up on it when Sean referred to one of the NPCs as the “Fool of Nomads”. I’ve always wanted to do something with those cards (besides play Dragonmaster), so this is neat.

    One thing I have mentioned many times to many people is how satisfying the critical hit tables are. The last combat encounter we had proved this again (I impaled a demon! Well, my character did), but in addition to that we got to trot out the Unbalancing attack table in response to Robbie’s character bull-rushing an antagonist who was clearly outmatching my ranger in a fair fight. If you can bear with the “toolbox full of single-use gadgets” approach that Rolemaster takes to game design, finding just the right gadget for your immediate need feels really gratifying.

  3. I’ve generally found the late 70s and early 80s systems tagged as difficult or labor-intensive to be a lot easier when I try them now.

    But I’m not sure whether that’s really a feature of them being not as hard as we said back then, or a sign of better group understanding of the medium and acknowledgment of the learning curve. Bushido now strikes me as rather clean and wonderful, with only tiny messy bits that are easily fixed at the table or acknowledged as quirks. I think my copy of Rolemaster is the same as the one you’re using (“skunk-mohawk elf in thigh-high boots,” if that means anything), and at least in reading it today, I find myself saying, “sure, that’s easy enough, I could play it with a brief review.”

    I do recall a terrible experience, from 1987 or so, trying to cross a river using a thrown rope and a tree on the other side – 45 minutes to resolve it, real time – and I don’t know why we did that. Is it because the system indeed entails such effort, and nowadays we know how to process and apply it better due to perspectives about play? Or because we were mis-applying the system for a non-conflictual task and thus imposing unnecessary chances for failure in the first place?

    • I watched a mildly entertaining actual play last year as I was working on prep. I noted that they used the maneuver rolls more than I remember doing. So far I have used those rolls sparingly, mainly for the latter reason. There is no reason to test failure like that all of the time in this game we are playing.

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