From my experience non-magical classes in Rolemaster, i.e. combat-focused warriors and the like, do the majority of their advancement in the first couple of levels - say 1 to 6. After that the combat stats will most likely have reached the threshold where investing more development points only very marginally increases attack stats, and even that increase is very tiny in relation to the stats the character already has. Example: raising your sword skill from 90 to 94 is just not a very big deal.

Magical classes on the other hand start very weak. In my opinion for the first couple of levels the actual power of casters--in terms of usefulness--only increases slightly. And while they get more 'mana', often they lack the useful spells. But once you reach the more interesting spells in your lists (5-10 or higher) things start getting interesting. And in my experience the 'power' of these characters will then quickly go through the roof, as they unlock very powerful spells and have the mana to cast them freely. Example: unlocking spells like fireball is a hell of a game changer.

I feel this is problematic when magical and non-magical characters are playing in the same group: often I find that for the first 5 levels or so the casters basically have to be carried by the rest of the group, only to be jump-started as soon as the first powerful spells roll in (often level 5-8), after which they totally steal the show.

What can I do to balance the get-powerful-quickly fighter classes against the takes-some-time-to-take-off caster classes?

We use RM2 in the german version which came out in the 90ies through Laurin and then Queen Games. From what I read on wiki this seems to be almost the same as RMC.


3 Answers 3


Rules mods and diversification

I ran a very long Rolemaster high-level campaign, characters started at level 10 and some reached the mid 20s, technically it's still going, so I understand the perils of powerful casters! I've also run several low level MERP/RM games as well.

I made a lot of rules changes, mostly from the excellent Rolemaster Companion 2 and like many other fantasy systems Rolemaster also has the fighters linear, wizards quadratic issue, these rules actually ended up in a massive compendium that became known as "The Folder" but anyway...

Rolemaster/MERP wizards can be insanely powerful, however they are even more like glass cannons than in other systems due to the power of Rolemaster criticals; a few stuns and they are truly boned and the fighter can beat them to a pulp.

Low Level Wizards

Low level Wizards are potent, they just need to be smart; I've mentioned it before in another post but there are some really, really nice low level spells that are just level 1, quite a few are instantaneous and some don't even require power points.

That said, magi should be encouraged to do the following in low level games.

  • Spend background points on a spell multiplier or added, power points are life.
  • Have a bow or ranged weapon as backup - so they aren't kicking their heels once their PP run out.
  • Pick their spell lists very carefully, yes fireball is great; but if you're not getting it until level 8 what's the point of having the list at level 1? Sleep and Presence are just two great low level spells.
  • Put a few points into some other useful skill; just a rank or two so they're more than a walking book.
  • Spell mastery. As mentioned by @Sardathrion, you can use this to modify low level spells; turn your projected light spell into a pattern, your shield spell into a temporary static shimmering wall; I ran these all by ear and gave extra ESF penalties to the spell when they failed.

High Level Warriors

  • Resistance, resistance, resistance. Warriors need spell resist items. Really. And metal armour. And helmets. Anything to give them bonuses to save and a more favourable table to work out their save penalty from.
  • Weapon progression. I changed the ranked weapon progression bonus depending on a classes arms law bonus; so:
    +3: 5/4/3/2/1
    +2: 5/3/1
    +1/+0: 5/2/1/0.5
    This was to ensure at higher level warriors can laugh at bladeturn and other defenses
  • Stunned maneuver. Skill from RMC2, allows the ability to shake off stuns. Should be a required skill for any RM warrior.
  • Improbable Skill uses. Mages I found generally have very few skills because they're sinking every skill point they can into more spell lists - this means non-spell users can amass a lot of skills. The higher level skills can become insanely good. Can you say almost quasi-magical? I thought you could. Jump skills for running on air, stealth skills for becoming like shadows. Spells as semi-magical abilities is one way, skills as semi-magical abilities is the other way to approach it. The limits for this I kept to generally low-level spells (1-5) but it meant that the warriors could do some funky tricks if they were clever and never needed spells.
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 about skills. We found out that using RMC2 mega skill list means that skill points are gold dust. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16, 2014 at 10:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm interesting. There might be quite a difference to the RM2 we are using. Mostly our mages have insanely better secondary skills because of the attribute bonuses. Where fighters put their high stats in STR/CON/DEX which is good for fighting and not much else casters are almost obligated to put high stats on INT/ING/MAN/MEM (don't remember all the names) -- and these are mostly used for secondaries AND they will give you a lot more development points per level. \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Oct 16, 2014 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, something else I changed :) I totalled up DPs for all stats and divided by two so that casters didn't get an unfair bias for DPs; I did ponder giving just a flat total for DPs for every level but never did. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Oct 16, 2014 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to emphasize the skill option. I once played a warrior monk (no magic) with lots of skill points. The second companion ( and some others ) have a lot of skills, including adrenal moves. This replicates a lot of magical effects, it ended up being almost like in Easterns - jump & attack, move, attack behind me, full OB while blind, etc. Don't underestimate skills. There are even some to resist magic ( optional ), so at that point, mages beware! \$\endgroup\$
    – bytepusher
    Apr 29, 2019 at 22:56

Magic users at low levels

Do you use the optional rule that allows a skill (spell mastery?) to modify spell effects? Dropping some of your hobby skill points and a couple of levels can get you quite good at level 1. Then you can modify spells to do interesting things: For example, summon a snake (level 1 spell) on some unsuspecting foe! Bonus points if said snake is poisonous. I tend to view this skill as similar to Ars Magica spontaneous magic but much less powerful. It allows spell casters to do something extra with their spells. A quick Google search got me to this spell master extra rules which you might find useful.

In addition, spell casters can attempt to cast spells above their level if they have the power points (with or without multipliers) and/or an adder? Sure, there is a risk but it's not really that bad.

Clearly, this buffs magic users at low levels and makes them even more powerful at high levels. Spell casters are still very limited by their power points: they are in short supply and ,once spent, take 24h and rest to regain them. Sure, you can boost them with multipliers/adders but those are not game changers.

Non-casters at high level

While an increase from 90 to 95 might not seem like a lot, it is quite significant. Remember that you can split your offensive bonus to add to your defensive bonus. Thus, those 5 points are five less points that any attack does. That can be the difference between a critical and just some hit points loss. A very valid tactic is to hit with a low attack until the target gets a "stun" effect from a critical (even A-level ones do those!), then pummel it with all your might. More skill means you can weather more hits.

Besides, weapons do not run out like power points do and non-spell casters can have several at +90... That's bad news, especially in addition to that +25 magic sword. And there's dual wield which gives you a +90 and +70 attacks/defence.

Additionally a lot of classes are mixed spell-casters. These have the benefits (and draw backs) of both but to a lesser extent.

None of that matters...

But fundamentally, none of this matters. It is up to you, as the GM, to give the player characters screen time and make them relevant to your game. Whether one plays Aragorn, Gandalf, or Sam should not matter. What matters is that there are challenges appropriate for all three.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Overcasting is nice, but brutal if you fumble the spell--all the more so for attacking spells. We had mages who spent 1-2 weeks in a coma and/or temporay burnt out because they tried to use some halfway decent attack spell on level 1 or 2. \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Oct 16, 2014 at 12:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin: Oh, there are lots of really useful attack spells at level one. For example, Lofty Bridge (Essence list) has jump(?) at level 1. So, you cast that on someone in a corridor: splat on the ceiling then splat on the floor. Provided that the RR is failed, that is two attacks in one round!!! With a successful spell mastery roll, that could even mean crashing down those stairs all the way down. Or jump someone over the side of the spire castle wall. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16, 2014 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey Sardathrion, you appear to be one of the few people on here with MERP experience so would you consider taking a look at my new question! Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2016 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SoldierofVol Sure thing but on mobile device right now so it will be later.... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2016 at 21:21

Haven't played regularly in 15 years, so my recollection of the rules may be rusty. As I remember it, there were some ambiguities in spellcasting. When we played, we interpreted those ambiguities to either aid or hinder casters, depending on how the GM wanted the game to run. We treated them as options to tweak between campaigns.

As I recall...

  • The cost of spells might vary. It could be a power point to cast or it could be the spell's level in power points.
  • If you're going with spell level = power points spent, we allowed you to cast any spell you knew, but it was prohibitively expensive. It got less prohibitive with a power point multiplier item of course.
  • If you're going with one point per spell level, we ruled that you couldn't cast spells until you hit that level.
  • I think there were options for how spell lists were learned. IIRC you had to roll a percentile to learn a new list, or you could just grab the next two items from a list. How many chance you had to learn and what your percentile was varied with race and class. I don't think it would be hard to tweak these variables, or even do away with them.
  • One last option, is to go with one of the slower progression options (roll to learn a list, only cast spells at your level or lower), but start the game at a level where mages aren't quite so fragile.

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