Rolemaster, Puppetmaster, Catan Master: Pete Fenlon

Rolemaster, Puppetmaster, Catan Master: Pete Fenlon

From drawing the world of Tolkien for Middle-earth Role Playing and designing Rolemaster to fostering the spread of Settlers of Catan, few people have had an impact on tabletop gaming as Peter Fenlon.

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The critical success/failure system in Rolemaster was legendary. Your character could be dispatched in one hit should the GM roll a high roll on the critical results table or you rolled abysmally on the critical failure table. As I recall there was a flat chance to crit succeed or crit fail, maybe that was in MERP. It was definitely a harsh and more complex system when compared to Dungeons and Dragons.

Rolemaster/MERP has the distinction of being the one and only game I ever ran with a complete party wipe! What a great system.

And thank you for the awesome, untold story of ICE and Peter Fenlon.

Oh my god! This is like a trip to my youth. I had every Rolemaster book I could get a hold of, I had all the Shadowworld books, Spacemaster and Cyberspace (even if Cyberpunk 2020 was the better system), I had some thousand Middle Earth CCG cards and so on. And now he's publishing Settlers of Catan.
If anybody likes board games he should definitely take a look at them. And if you don't like board games because they are either too complex or too simple, take a look at Catan too. It's definitely worth it.

Settlers of Catan is a pretty fun game, and a "gateway" into the more complex (but incredibly fun) other games. (like Eurogames or stuff by Fantasy Flight)

Man, I loved the Rolemaster system in college, even if my characters always did wind up dying in some bizarre fashion that prevented resurrection. Occasionally the gamemasters actually felt bad about it because I was a pretty good player - just had the most eat-shit luck sometimes. Actual conversation:

GM: "So the hellhound breathes a fireblast at you and...*roll*...uh...*open-ended roll again*...uh-oh..."
ME: "Should I just start rolling up a new character now?"
GM: "No, no, I mean, okay, you take a...*consults chart* Fire critical, but you're at full hits, there's almost no chance the critical will...*roll*...ummm..."
ME: *looks at die result* "98, huh? Lemme see, according to the fire critical table, that means I'm..."
GM: "...I am REALLY sorry."
ME: "...instantly burned to a pile of ash. Due to a fireball the size of my hand."

I got my revenge a few months later when the guy who had been that GM was playing a character in a campaign I was running. He had not seen Rolemaster Companion III yet and at one point uttered this line which is forever etched in my memory...

"A NETHER Critical? What's THAT? *pause* Why are you smiling like that?"

Haven't played it in something like fifteen years, but my RPG bookshelves still have the old 3-book set and Rolemaster Companions I-VII displayed in a prominent place of honor.

Ahhh, Settlers of Catan, the only game where the phrase "I have wood for sheep" has a legitemate gameplay meaning.

Pity it's not actually terribly good. The card game is better, more variety, more choices to make. San Juan is an even better building-stuff-card-game, and is also better than it's big brother Puerto Rico.

Awesome article!
(I'm a long-time fan of Rolemaster, and I have all the HARP books.)

It is a very nice article - I remember trying MERP back in the 80s and not finding it to my tastes, but it (and RM) sound pretty good in this description. Perhaps I'll scrounge around for some PDFs.

Also, as a W&M/UVA alumnus, it's fun to hear about those schools' close association with an important part of RPG history.

I really like this Article, Spell Law was my favourite book, but i have all of them, it's like a trip to the past :')


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