So I rebooted my pen&paper career after almost 20 years with Rolemaster Classic 5.0 (RMC). (20 years ago I think I played 2.0, not sure what exactly that German translation was ...)

Martial Arts was never really a thing for my old groups, but one of my new players developed a weird, apparently unreasonable affection to it (without being a monk ...) Looking into it, it seems that even for a Warrior Monk, it seems difficult to become anywhere en par with a fighter, rogue or even any profession that has x/y for his first weapon class. While a Worrior Monk has 1/3 MA costs, these 4 DP need to be spend 4 times to increase Rk4 (anything below doesn't even deal E critical hits). And then there are Strikes and Sweeps&Throws ...

Sooo ... is there really a reason to use MA, except for as a challenge or because there is just no weapon available? Not saying that would not be realistic, but I wonder if I am overlooking anything.

I know there is a RMSS companion on martial arts, is it worth looking at without switching?

  • \$\begingroup\$ From the way I read it, you are interested in optimization or balance issues, right? Could you define what do you mean by "weak/weaker"? I.e., are you talking about DPS, overall capabilities (everything X does, Y can do as well or better, thus Y > X) or what? \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 3:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ No, my question is if an MA fighter can be in any way as powerful as a weapon fighter, or if it is just some "challenge" thingy. Sardathrion got into the right direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm asking because the question is close to getting closed as unclear/opinion-based, so you should probably try to clarify a little more the question itself. I'm not sure the voters reasons, but for me, what you meant by weak (or "powerful" in the comment) is unclear, which leads to a question that can be seen as opinion based. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not at all an opinion question. It is completely quantitative. "Is it possible to have an MA fighter, that has at least roughly the same chance against a usual RPG opponent as a fighter of the same level with a sword?" I made a quantitative point why it seems to me that that would not be the case. Sardathrion pointed out that while the max damage is maybe quite capped, the critical thresholds are lower, when the right attack is choosen, and that MAs have additional defense mechanism. A fight might take longer, but the MA will be more likely to not suffer a fatal attack in that time. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are also various optional rules that can make a MA ridiculously overpowered even. There is a High Stat Ability for Quickness that gives you an additional attack. There is the additional attack you get at -30 OB. There is the RMC I "Trained Regular Footsman" background option giving an additional Sweeps attack per round. All this while enjoying a DB that should easily be the highest in the group. A death of a thousand cuts to your opponent -- as it should be. ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


The tactic is to dodge and use light hits till stunned, then hammer with a powerful attack for massive damage.

  1. Using rank 1, you can easily get critical on armoured (sweeps & throws) and un-armoured (strikes) targets.
  2. Once one of the above yields a "stun" effect, you can hit the opponent with rank 2 or 3 attacks. Use rank 3 or 4 for "stunned and unable to parry".
  3. At higher levels, you can use weapons as part of your martial art attack -- I cannot remember the name of it. This opens up much more powerful attacks. This is where martial artists really shine. The extra critical inflicted here make all the difference.
  4. The skill "adrenal defence" is cheap and the most powerful way not to get hit. Thus the martial artist does not need to split his OB much to get a really good defence. Note that normally one cannot use adrenal defence with weapons but for the above special weapons, you can making it very powerful indeed.

However, a martial artist facing a swordsman of equal or better skill will get cut to pieces. That's life. ☺

A martial artist should always start with rank 1 attacks -- depending on what the opponent is wearing -- as that almost guarantees a B critical -- If memory serves right. Once the target is stunned, they can "risk" high rank attacks. If the martial artist clearly outclasses the opponent, then rank 2 (or maybe 3) are worth doing. Bottom line, the martial artist will never kill in one blow but as a string of attacks.

The split into four ranks is to model the difference between a lot of fast light attacks and a few powerful devastating ones as is seen in (say) boxing matches. All other weapons user must split their weapons skill score in OB/DB -- with a shield adding a flat bonus. The martial artist does not thanks to adrenal defence but can! Splitting rank 1 gives them the ability to have a massive DB and still do critical hits.

Note that martial artists are terribly weak at low level, good at medium level, and grotesquely powerful at high level. At level 10, you can easily get a base DB of +100 and a rank 1 attack score of +130. The equivalent is an weapon skill of +200 and a massive shield.

Note that the number could be somewhat off but should be in a good bulk part.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, that makes sense ... low thresholds for damage and better evasion ... and I guess you would only go for higher ranks later, when lower ranks start to saturate ... Using weapons as Katas seems to be an option from the combat companion in 5.0. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mcandril It has been a while but I thought weapon kata was in the main rule set… A MA should always start with rank 1 attacks -- depending on what the opponent is wearing -- as that almost guarantee you a B critical. Once the target is stunned, you can "risk" high rank attacks. If the MA clearly outclasses the opponent, then rank 2 (or maybe 3) are worth doing. A MA will never kill in one blow but as a string of attacks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, it seems I have a complete misconception there. I thought the rank just capped the maximum damage. In my current (RMC 5.0, ICE 6502) Arms Law, there are bars small/medium/large/huge in the MA strikes table, and degree 1/2/3/4 in the sweeps table, which I both translated to the MA ranks, because that was literally written there in Arms & Claw Law 2.0 (ICE 1100). So what is the difference between a Rk1 and a Rk2 attack, and why would I use Rk1 if I had the same skill value on Rk2? I thought Rk1 would just be capped at 105, dealing 2A against AC1 with a sweep, and Rk2 at 120, dealing 5B. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 9:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are we both taking about RMC, not RMSS? \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ In RMC 5.0, lower ranks need to be higher or equal. So you can have 5/5/3/1. Given that Warrior Monks pay 1/3 for MA, I would probably develop at least rk2 or 3 to the same extend and never use rk1. I might not always develop 2 ranks, but that does't matter so much because I don't have to divert OB to DB thanks to adrenal defense. My effectively used OB will still be at least as high as a fully trained fighter. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 15:00

Martial arts in Rolemaster are very expensive to develop, however they have a versatility that standard melee weapons and brawling do not. Strikes are very powerful against lightly armoured opponents, whilst sweeps are good against heavily armoured opponents.

@Sardathrion has already detailed a lot of the aspects of MA in RM however there are optional rules in First Edition RM that are very commonly used for Martial artists. These are in section 13.3.1 in Character Law (#1300) and in Arms Law in section 10.3 (#1100) for non-full RM games (games that use some of the RM rules) but often used for all RM games in my experience; I'm not sure where they are in Classic 5.0 I'm afraid.

  • Increased Swing Points : For every 5 a martial artist decreases their OB by they can increase their Initiative total by 10. Very useful for getting a first blow in.
  • Engaging Multiple foes : If the martial artist has at least 40 OB they can attack 2 or more foes within a 90 degree arc. If they have 60 OB+ this can be any arc. When doing this they subtract 20 from their OB for each foe engaged beyond the first (the example and text disagree). This means if Bob the Monk has 65 OB Bob can attack one foe with 65 OB or two foes with 45 OB. OB split for parry/defense must be the same across all foes.
  • Multiple attacks against the same foe : If the martial artist has at least 80 OB they can make 2 attacks against the same foe for a 30 OB penalty.
  • Weapon Kata - If the martial artist has at least 50 OB they can use a weapon kata. These boil down to a 20 OB penalty but an additional critical (a appropriate critical from the weapon of one level lower than the martial arts critical) is inflicted.

These special attacks can make Martial Artists very powerful and give them some justification for the very expensive costs of their weapon attacks.

The Martial Arts Companion (#5602) is very much focused on the RMSS system (Training packages) but adaptable to RM Classic; there are some new "Traditional" weapons tables in there, and a couple of fun critical tables as well as some professions and spell lists. However overall I don't think it's worth the trouble (or cheese) of using it unless you're going to have an entirely martial arts focused campaign as it'll start introducing things like Chi powers that will make standard fighters start feeling somewhat left out.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I had utterly forgotten the first three points. Been a while. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the additional input. I have only found the Katas in the Combat Companion by now, but AFAIK, such 2.0 rules can easily indroduced to 5.0. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcandril
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ While generally expensive, some - like the warrior monk - can develop MA quite cheaply. All four ranks. So the above strategy holds true - but for a specialist, it's not even necessary, those can afford to always attack on 4th level. Those criticals start to hurt! And automatic DB means you can always attack fully. Combine with speed to get two attacks and your opponent is no longer having fun, sword or no sword. \$\endgroup\$
    – bytepusher
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Warrior Monks are as you say very much a specialist, they will be all that a Kung Fu master can be, but their out of combat costs are very expensive (not taking into account the even more specialised High Warrior Monk from RMC1!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 10:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The High Warrior Monk has low costs for a lot of physical skills regarding movement, adrenals etc. While certainly restricted to physical activities for the most part, I found the costs for those so low that it was quite possible to invest a bit in some non-combat skills. Still a specialist, for sure, but use background options to bolster some of those and off you go. \$\endgroup\$
    – bytepusher
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 22:34

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