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Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

Imagine for a minute a player asks the perfectly reasonable question of “Can I remember what colour her eyes were?”

What I have always done in the past was ask for a skill check using the characters Memory stat bonus as the skill bonus.

When I moved from RM2 to RMC and the threshold for success went from 101+ to 111+ for most casual stat based tests success required an open ended roll. If that was reasonable 19 out of 20 trips to the shops for me would probably end in chaos and that could not be right. For me 1 in 10 trips to the shop ends up with me bringing home the right thing.

So I started thinking about these non-skill rolls. Not everything has a governing skill. Simple tests of memory, trying to catch a plate before it hits the floor or trying to lift a portcullis.

I have often thought that Stats in Rolemaster are largely irrelevant. Once you have rolled them you only ever use the Stat Bonus and never the stat. The exception is body development that uses 1/10th of the Con stat for base hits.

In eliminating the body development skill I have previously suggested using Con + 1/2 SD to find the Total Hits. That would give a starting character a typical 75 hits. That is more than the default starting hits under the RAW but that is not a bad thing. It gives starting characters a bit more longevity and is slightly more realistic than a starting character can take 18hits and a 10th level character can take 150hits. Why is the more experienced character so much more damage resistant?

I don’t use level so there will be no levelling up. I do use a RuneQuest style skill improvement. You roll higher than your current skill total and upon success you gain a skill rank.

I use a similar scheme for stat gains. During periods of rest & recovery you can roll against your stats. If you roll higher than your current stat then your stat increases by 1. You can only roll against stats that have been used. What that means in practice is if you used the Trickery skill you would put a small tick against the skill itself and against Pr and Qu. When it came to doing the tests for improvement then you could roll against those two stats and the one skill. This means that the skills you use tend to improve and the stats you are using tend to improve.

So going back to my simple memory test, to get a result of 111+ just to remember if your girlfriends eyes are Brown or Blue seems a bit of a tough call. That is a open ended roll for most people. If as a GM you wanted to put in a difficulty factor for recalling facts that character saw or heard weeks or months ago then the test becomes almost guaranteed failure pretty quickly.

What if we didn’t use the stat bonus but the actual stat? So Joe average has a memory of 50. What colour are his girlfriend’s eyes? Roll 111+  on 1d% OE +50. That pretty much gives a 60/40 chance of failure which in my experience seems pretty realistic, or is that just me?

So what about lifting a portcullis? Now with an average stat of 50 you, as GM, have scope to put a difficulty factor in there. Sheer Folly is a -50 so trying to lift a portcullis on your own would still require an open ended roll. That also seems realistic. If the character had the Athletic skill then by all means let him or her use it but you cannot make simple tests of strength dependent on such a skill. You cannot tell me that someone with a strength of 90 cannot lift something heavy without learning to play football first?

The final missing part of the puzzle is the racial differences. High Men are about the strongest commonly played race and they get a +10 strength bonus. Elves get a bonus to Memory. If you were to roll these Stat based tests as Stat + Racial Bonus then you would retain the flavour of the races.

Using this method what you get is more competent PCs, greater flexibility as a GM to challenge the characters and Stats gain greater importance beyond just a measure for finding the stat bonus.


7 thoughts on “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”

  1. Good. Got me thinking–how about assigning an “Innate Skill” to each stat. Nothing too complicated but with 10 stats that would cover a lot of game resolutions like you discussed that wouldn’t be subject to a skill progression.

    Strength for Feats of Strength.
    Quickness for Initiative (i already do this)
    Memory for Recall
    Reasoning for puzzles or mental challenges etc.

    OTOH, you could argue that there are skills that improve stat traits. Bodybuilding increases strength/feats of strength, there are mnemonic skills that improve memory and recall. Explosive drills improve speed and quickness. But in reality those skill progressions should also increase the corresponding stat. ie you can’t have a Strength of 15 and a Weightlifting skill of +150 can you?

  2. There are skills, I agree, but if you have an innately good memory, so 97 for example, why does the character have to spend DPs before they can remember anything?

    There is also going to be situations where two stats are applicable. To lift a tree trunk and then hold it for long enough to rescue of a fallen comrade could be argued requires a combination of strength and constitution. That may not be the best example but I hope you get what I mean.

    The skill/stat disparity doesn’t happen in my level-less game as using your weightlifting skill would trigger a Strength stat gain roll so the two are likely to improve side by side. You will also get times when you fail the skill improvement roll but make the stat gain roll so all that training build muscle but not your technique.

    1. I have to ponder this some more. Has me thinking about my Meta Skill “Athletics” which I’ve been using as a general skill for a broad range of maneuvers but it makes more sense to rely on stats. Plus that could eliminate some more skills! And I like the increase in emphasis on stats in general per my nature v nurture blog.

      1. Yes, as I hinted the nuture v nature topic was fairly close to this.

        I have no intention to get rid of my athletic skill. I think hand eye/coordination can be trained. I think core strength, which is a major factor in a great many athletic endeavours can be trained.

        What this gives you is a one rule for all situations that is compliant with the existing difficulty factors and racial traits for resolving challenges that are not governed by skills.

        I have largely cut my game free from development points, they are used at character creation time only and then never again. Meta skills give broad competency as you know and this fills in the cracks with numbers that are on a par with skills, that improve over time in line with the actual actions of the character and maintains the differences and flavour between the races.

  3. Regarding using just Stat Bonii<heh, I said bonii!) but having to OE most of the time to reach 101+/111+, I used to have PCs use the Light/Medium MM table; choosing a column for difficulty if easier/harder but using whatever numerical number given as a percentage chance of success.

    Like you, I always want a PC to be able to show how much more different they are vs another, and Stat Bonii were the way to do so for us.
    Your way works, too, without a table.

  4. This was always a problem early Dnd had.

    You could roll under the stat (or add stat and hit 101). That plus adding routine modifiers for such things could also handle it.

    Alternatively you could just let them remember it unless it’s a big deal.

    1. The problem with just letting them remember it is that it then either becomes completely arbitrary or all PCs have perfect recall.

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