I was reading a fellow MERP game log today which made reference to several issues of the MERP rules. One continuous bug-bear for many players, especially those rooted in the D&D tradition, is the lack of an implicit acceptance that if your character runs they complete the manoeuvre. I guess some of this comes down to how realistic you want your mechanics to be. In a heroic fantasy environment the GM would encourage feats of prowess, these are heroes after all. However, if this is the case tear up the rule book, run without mechanics, ask the player what they want to do, tell them how it goes and then leave them to grin or fume over your choices made on how you feel on the day.
Rolemaster/MERP rules do have an interior logic and in a tactical environment, as we will see, generally hold together. In this section, we will deal with how the real world relates to the mechanics. In another, we will then move on to the MM table itself and some of its idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps before we start, we should look at how MERP covers distance covered at a walking pace. A quick check by anyone will give you an average figure of 3.1 miles per hour for walking for fit adults. As a figure, this gives you a walking distance of 48.8 ft per rnd. Not far from the MERP base walking distance of 50ft per round. I think we can forgive the rounding up to make life easier.
There is no requirement to make an MM roll to walk across ground unless it is specifically difficult. Particularly slippy conditions could reduce the distance covered in a round, as would walking a narrow beam.
All well and good then. Now, rather than move onto a run, which is a double pace, or a jog at 1 1/2 we will look at sprinting because this is the other extreme of tactical movement.
Here is my starting point Usain Bolt, World Record for 100m is 9.58 seconds in near perfect conditions, against opponents who will spur him on, with months of focussed training and wearing (in essence) nothing but a pair of spikes. Undeniably, a legendary feat by an extraordinary individual (for those not familiar with metric 100m is 325 feet, give or take a decimal point or two).
MERP rules (1st edition 6.4), say you have a 50ft base movement (assuming humanoid proportions) with the addition of the MM bonus (see below). This base distance can be achieved without a move manoeuvre roll in the 10sec round if the conditions are not adverse. Up to double this distance can be achieved with a run, but requires a MM roll. Which is where it goes all fuzzy as there is no indication of how difficult running in ideal conditions should be considered. In the example, the orc in rigid leather armour (with or without greaves and kit?) makes a light MM. So he travels on success (roll 66+) a grand distance of 110 feet. That is roughly one-third of the 100m distance a top athlete can sprint.
60ft Average individual +10MM in No Armour no AG bonus.
70ft Good individual + 20MM (+10AG)
85ft Exceptional + 45MM (+35AG)
Back to the real world. We are not all Usain Bolt. He is physically/genetically/mentally a freak of nature. He is an example of the extreme end of the normal distribution curve the top 2.5% of all 100m sprinters. In MERP the exceptional AG stat of 98+ (80ft base distance).
Let’s say they are all capable of covering 100m in around 10sec in the best conditions (a good sprinter will take 13-14 secs). To do this they will need to move at 4 x the standard walking rate (80 x4=320). This means that 4x is a flat-out sprint. Using this with our good sprinter (+10AG bonus) the distance covered 4x speed is 280ft in one round plus 45m in the next to finish the distance (making around 13-15 secs). With a person with an average agility (+0 AG bonus), they could cover 200 ft in 10 sec ( 1 rnd) and then the last 120ft finishing in a time of around 18-20 sec. This is for men, the women’s times are significantly slower and as GMs, it would need some thought about how to handle this. So far, so good this fits in terms of distance covered.
What does this mean in terms of MM rolls and difficulty level? First, we need to establish how often our sprinter will reach their average result. We want the player to roll around 50 each time. We would prefer our average Jo Bloggs adventurer to manage around 90% of the distance in the time (roll 50+ 10MM =60) giving us the 56-65 bracket as our target. So stripped for action, with the right conditions a sprinting average Joe hits 90% on an easy MM.
base MM Easy(56 -65) 1rnd 100m time
Average 50 10 90 (190ft) 17 sec
Good 60 20 100 (280ft) 12 sec
Exceptional 80 30 100 (320ft) 10 sec
To me, these look like reasonable times for sprinters of various abilities running on a track with light clothing and effective footwear.
So how do we approach that all-out sprint in different conditions, with adventurer’s clothing and in some cases weapons; also what to do when a player insists they can sprint with a full backpack? MERP rules have the encumbrance penalty for the additional kit beyond clothing, armour and immediate weapons. The example suggests light MM for the Orc in armour with his weapons at a run. Should the sprint be harder? After all, the sprinting requires a lot of balance and agility. However, if we look at medium MM instead of moving up a roll of 10 or 20, we jump a whole 40.
For me, the problem with the MM tables lies here because the jump from light to medium MM is large but thereafter it continues with the same sort of incremental progression (see the following page). To overcome this it is either a case of creating a new category or two or just apply a penalty on the light MM column (my favoured option).
Running and jogging are two interesting movement rates. Starting again in a real-world model; Mo Farah’s half marathon record of 13 miles in 59 minutes as an exceptional runner would cover 190 ft every round (2x pace). Looking back at our reference table we can see that the game mechanics give a slightly quicker movement with 200ft per rnd. However, we need to remember this is designed for a tactical environment over a short period of time. Also, we might need to balance out a loss of pace over time. Keep this in mind for later when we look at the MM tables.
Interestingly, I can’t find any reference to how fast a man can run in armour. Except for one study for plate armour with one 38-year-old subject who could travel 5.5ft per sec in plate armour and 8.8 feet per sec without at maximum aerobic effort (presumably running fast). So in plate armour, we could half the distance with a -50 penalty for heavy armour. Lighter armour types can then have penalties less than this. As well as armour, weapons will also affect the sprint; both weight and length are going to be contributing factors. Finally, the ground will affect the sprinting speed.
Interestingly, the armour study reported that exhaustion is a big factor in how much ground a man in plate armour can cover. Running in plate armour takes twice as much energy as running without. MERP rules cover this by adding in the constitution +5 rule for running (for plate we could halve this). An exceptional distance runner now can run for 40 rounds – that is 400 sec or about 6 mins – they would cover 6800 ft or 1.2 miles over this time. A mile would be covered in 5.5 minutes which is a lot slower than the World Record, but comparable with US Army recruiting studies that put the top 1% of recruits completing in a time of 6 and a half minutes. Balanced with MM rolls going up and down this is a feasible idea. But then what about other paces?
Longer distance runners might not be as fast, but the difference in pace is not that great and the Co +5 rule is used up long before. You could argue that these distances are really covered at a jog and so the time is doubled but that only gets the fittest and most agile up to 800 secs (13 min) and able to cover 2.6 miles again slower than the top athletes cover the distance for modern races (2.6 miles is roughly 4km which has only ever been run as a cross-country race with a winning times of around 11mins). So now we can see that the system is beginning to break down. Clearly, the rules covering running cannot be applied beyond the short tactical window (10 rounds).
Sprinting is a double rate activity, so would a sprinter last 20 rounds – 3 minutes? Given the effort put in by sprinters over 100m the answer is surely no. 400m races are over in 50-70 secs and elite athletes are unlikely to be engaging in any meaningful activity for a few minutes. 800m races are completed in 1 min 45 to 2 mins. No to be honest there is no way that the kind of pace we see in 100m sprinters can be sustained for more than 2rnds. Now we could try a fudge type factor and say the constitution is used up at 10 times the rate, or just be realistic and tell the player that running at this pace for more than the average elite athlete time means exhaustion.
This paradox of sprint vs run highlights where the MERP rules do start to come apart. Who would win a race Usain or Mo? After all, both are World Record holders and elite athletes. According to the rules, both should have an AG stat of 100+, but neither runs the same distance. Search the internet and you will find plenty of pundits who can give you the best distance to for both to race over but the clear opinion is that Usain is quicker of below 100m and Mo over 400m. Without a doubt, both are still quicker than the Joe Blogs, but would Usain have the Stamina to maintain a run (x2) for an hour? In fact, look at his comments on the race and he doubts he could run more than a mile and keep up.
Now it is at this point we could start to debate the relative merits of the character stat splits and discuss if a sprinter needs to use ST and a runner AG and a distance runner CO or a blend of these. In Rolemaster, the sprinting secondary skill certainly reflects this, and this is probably where we would want to go to develop a true racing type athlete versus the average adventurer trying to survive. In the next section, this and applying the MM table will be considered.