Rolemaster is a great system and big in its day - but is now to be consigned to online pdfs, a small fan base (like me) and in particular never developed for a (very) long time.

Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) published Rolemaster. This is key to understanding RM's history. The urban myth was that ICE was sold and consumed within Harn worlds, Harnmaster (see note, this might be wrong).

The interest in RPGs in general has not diminished*, so why wasn't Rolemaster further expanded?

  • i.e. across the spectrum of RPG systems.
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I originally said, as asked, why is a very hard question to answer and invites to speculation. Asking about the publication history and when the product got stopped developing under which circumstances also would answer the why but cut out chances for people to speculate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    May 20 at 7:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish, a poorly phrased question doesn't make this query less adequate, nor should we close it preemptively because it might attract speculative answers — we can do so once it does. We aren't educating historians in training. \$\endgroup\$ May 20 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that "Why didn't more Rolemaster editions/content get published?" and "Why isn't Rolemaster as popular as D&D?" are both valid questions (or can at least be rephrased into valid questions), but they're very different questions with correspondingly different answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    May 20 at 21:37

1 Answer 1


Rolemaster is still actively developed and sold

TLDR: the original publisher went under due to financial troubles (caused by a variety of reasons, likely the nail in the coffin was debts to Tolkien Enterprises). They continued trying to push Rolemaster, but it wasn't enough. Then someone bought the rights and continued on with it, most recently releasing Rolemaster Unified, so it is still being developed.

History of Rolemaster

The history of Iron Crown enterprises is well documented on it's Wikipedia page.

From this, we can learn that Arms Law and other extensions like Spell Law that together would form Rolemaster were important to the inital formation of the company and during its first few years. After I.C.E. acquired the rights to publish the role playing game for J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in 1982, the Middle Earth Role Playing game outgrew Rolemaster in Economic importance for I.C.E., but that did not end the efforts behind Rolemaster and its sibling products like Spacemaster, which were actively supported with supplements into the late 90s.

Shannon Applecline in "A Brief History Of Game #9: ICE, Part Two: 1993-Present" gives a rather detailed account what led to the original I.C.E.'s bankruptcy in 2000, which meant the company could not continue to produce the line: a mix of royalty debts to Tolkien Enterprises, leading to loss of the Middle Earth license, debts from overprinting the Middle Earth Collectible Card Game, raising paper prices, folding of many of its distributors.

The article given gives a table that shows sales numbers of the Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplay, the last version the old I.C.E. released:

1999 2000
RFRP Rules 2,386 1,255
RFRP Arms Law 1,341 679
RFRP Creatures & Monsters 1,486 635

And assesses the economic feasibilty of these sales as:

(...) The sales numbers for Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying are pretty terrible for a set of original core book releases, probably 50%-75% what they should have been for a healthy company

These rights to I.C.E. assets were bought out of bankruptcy, and through various iterations led to Rolemaster being published under the Iron Crown Enterprises name again here, and the product line can be bought on DriveThruRPG.com with the core rules available as PDF, soft- or hardcover books.

To me it looks like that your premise is incorrect -- Rolemaster is still produced and further expanded, with a new version, Rolemaster Unified launched only recently. As to how popular it is, or how economically successful, I have no statistics.

Popularity of Rolemaster

Well -- actually I do have some statistics from this very site. Take them with caution, because of selection bias: the users of this site may not be representative for the larger roleplaying community. Still, we can look at the posts over the last year, most of them are tagged with a game system. From this I see the following distribution (may be off by one or two here or there, I did a fast manual survey):

Family Questions (Sum) Questions (Sum) %
D&D 1535 72,00 %
Pathfinder 346 16,23 %
WoD 97 4,55 %
Warhammer 15 0,70 %
l5r 11 0,52 %
GURPS 9 0,42 %
CoC 6 0,28 %
FATE 6 0,28 %
Urban Shadows 5 0,23 %
Traveller 3 0,14 %
Shadowrun 2 0,09 %
Other Systems 97 4,55 %

While a few of the systems in the "Other" bucket, also have 5 or more questions, Rolemaster is in the long tail where most are, with only 1 or 2 querstions to their name.

It is not that surprising that Rolemaster does not have a larger following -- outside of D&D/Pathfinder and to a much lesser extent, World of Darkness, this is pretty much the norm. Other systems of yore that were popular back then, like Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Shadowrun or GURPS, are likewise down in the fraction-of-a-percent doldrums.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A huge thanks, this is very informative. My grapevine is wrong or possibly out of date on several fronts, most notably on the Rolemaster Unified edition. I simply didn't know about this. Now I've found it at RPG Drivethru and here \$\endgroup\$
    – user81856
    May 20 at 21:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I bought it, its great :-) With due respect to my grapevine, the copyright date is 2022 and modification date is 12 March 2023 (2 months ago). Happy "maging" @GroodytheHobgoblin \$\endgroup\$
    – user81856
    May 21 at 0:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Role-playing Games Meta, or in Role-playing Games Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    May 22 at 3:22

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