Rolemaster Unified Character Law Cover

Meta Skills

Brian and I both share the same philosophy when it comes to skills, less is more. Meta skills are a way of having less skills that enable your characters do more.

More is less

The more skills you have in your game the less capable the characters are. If there are only 40 skills and a character can afford to buy 10 plus some body development, weapons and perception then they have 25% of all the skill bases covered.

If you have 100 skills in your game and they can afford to buy 10 skills then the character has only 10% of all the bases covered.

If you have 200 skills then 10 skills covers just 5% of skills.

As you up the total skill count one option is to increase the number of development points each character has. This was introduced with the firs set of secondary skills in Character Law. They added 45 secondary skills and recommended adding 25% more development points. So by the time you get to 200 skills you need to be giving the characters double development points just to stand still.

I can agree that if you have more skills you should give the characters more development points to compensate but this brings with it its own problems. If your character starts off with relatively few DPs because he or she has lowish temp stats (but decent potentials) then your fellow characters are going to be able to do more than you in more situations. This is already a  problem but now the effect has been quadrupled (it was doubled by doubling the demand on the limited DPs and then exacerbated by doubling the difference between a character with high stats and one with low stats). Your fellow characters have more opportunities to earn experience so they level up faster and get more DPs and so the problem gets worse. What you have is a vicious circle.

The other option is Meta Skills. Brian has a Survival skill but does not have Foraging or Region Lore or tracking. If you hae a full set of survival skills for a particular region then that includes where to find food, water, the lie of the land. You can also build a fire and probably tie knots covered by rope mastery.

RMU shows some of its strengths

This is where RMU shows some of its strengths. Firstly you get a fixed number of DPs per level, the default is 50 so having great stats or poor is no handicap but also it has the Vocational Skill.

Vocational is the ultimate meta skill

Vocational is the ultimate meta skill. If you take Vocation:Knight then you gain all the minor day to day skills that a knight would know from recognizing the devices and standard of other noble families to etiquette to handling hunting dogs and birds of prey. A character can have multiple Vocation skills so you could have Vocation:Squire and Vocation:Knight if your character came up through the ranks, so to speak. You can pretty much define your characters back story skills in terms of Vocational Skills. Vocation does not supersede any specific named skills, you cannot use Vocation:Knight in place of Riding:Horse by claiming that riding is a knightly pursuit.

This is how I think all skills should work. I don’t use the Survival skill but I do have Foraging and Tracking. Brian and I have identified the same problem arrived at the same answer but we started from different places. In my gaming group my players love the Tracking skill so it was not on the cards to remove it. It would have been missed too badly to take it away. On the other hand no one bought the survival skill, in those survival moments the players turned to foraging for food or tracking game (animals have to drink so follow the tracks and you will find water).

In both cases, Brian’s Shadow World campaign and my Forgotten Realms game we have both arrived at a total skill count of about 45 skills. The characters are going on similar adventures, facing similar challenges and coming to similar solutions I assume as people the world over are all the same. As long as the game and skill system gives the players the levers they want to pull the players are happy.

The reduced skill count actually makes the players happier as their characters are more capable and more of their ideas are successful ‘on the round’ as the characters are able to put the plans into action. It reduces the need for quite so many NPCs and so on.

As I get older I find I can retain the definition of 40-50 skills easily enough but on the other hand trying to remember 200 skills when about half of them ‘break the rules’ (things like the way that stunned maneuver works, or iai strike that have unique rules for just one skill). I am never going to retain that many skills and rules and I don’t think new players will either.

I kind of hope that RMU resists the urge to bolt on more and more skills a the system matures. There is no need to repeat the mistakes of the past when there are so many new ones we can all make!

16 thoughts on “Meta Skills”

  1. I’m curious as to what you think of Feats in D&D3.x – especially Pathfinder. Okay, they aren’t eaxctly skills, but there are oh so very many of them. Thousands at least, especially if you include third party stuff. Perhaps tens of thousands.

    1. I cannot say I have ever looked at the 3.x feats. I am on holiday right now in Switzerland. I will Google them and see.

      Are feats the sort of thing you would build a character concept around? The impression I have of them is that they are a bit like special abilities or unusual skills.

      If they are unusual skills then I would say the whole idea of Meta Skills is that you do not need thousands of specialist unique skills, the broader meta skill is only limited by the players imagination.

      Let me read up on them a bit first before I start spouting opinions.

      1. Here’s a list of some of the Feats available in the Pathfinder game:

        http://www.d20pfsrd.com/feats

        I think that may be most/all of those published by Paizo; there may be a lot of third party feats missing (I have, going by a brief glance at titles, hundreds of third party feats; a tiny fraction of what is available). Each feat is described.

        1. Reading through them they read like the Companion 1 background options Skill at Arms and Skill with Magic.

          3.5 or PF is not a game I have ever played and I probably never will. Looking at the great long list it just felt like ‘bit twiddling’, none of them seemed to add very much. I certainly would not consider trying to emulate them in RM. I don’t know how intrinsic they were in 3.5/PF. If you could do without them I would be inclined to dump them.

          1. Feats are a pretty important part of the game, and new ones are forever being created. This is one reason why I say that Rolemaster just isn’t that complex these days, compared to Pathfinder.

            1. They look to me pretty much the same as RM background options or talents/flaws. Neither of which I am a big fan of.

              These are the sort of thing that the rules say that the GM should decide if each one is suitable for their setting and then snows the GM under in 1000s of options.

              1. Yes, I think a player who knows what they are doing can create an unbalanced, and overpowered, character, simply by using the official feats. Never mind the third party ones (some of which are intentionally overpowered; I have several feat supplements with “Horrifically Overpowered” in the name).

                1. That doesn’t surprise me at all. There is a point where the rules stop being about enabling the player to create the character they see in their minds eye and become rules or options for options sake.

                  They no longer add value to the game.

                  1. Pathfinder has been out for seven years and hasn’t had a revision. Which may be the longest for any game. Over that seven years, though, they’ve continually published major additions to the rules every year, plus many minor additions. It all adds up.

                    1. It seems to work for them. I think it helps a great deal that they pretty much inherited a great chunk of players who were disaffected by the latest D&D revision. If you have the audience and establish your company culture then your customers will buy into it or not. I guess each GM will play with the rules they own and cherry pick their purchases.

        2. I don’t think Paizo care about how many 1000s of feats there are. As long as customers continue to buy the books, they’ll keep making the same kind of stuff.

          I can understand what an attribute is in real life. It’s a natural ability. I can understand what a skill is. It’s something learned. A feat however, becomes an abstract ‘talent’, ‘trick’, or ‘unusual ability to do something specific’

          Most feats seem to fit a certain number of patterns.
          +2 to X
          +1 to X, Y, and Z
          Once per ___, X happens
          Do X up to twice per combat.
          If Y situation, then X happens
          Gain X ability

          It makes me appreciate Fate’s simplicity of Stunts, which are just blank template Feats. Where players and GMs make up their own special abilities.

          In this day and age, I agree with the idea that 20 to 40 skills can cover every learning benefit for ever type of common RPG game genre.

          1. I have thought about publishing some feats myself. Really stupid ones – think on the lines of shoelace tying. If I can come up with a bunch of silly ones, it would be something to release around April 1st.

  2. Well articulated Peter, agree completely. A few follow up thoughts.

    1. The more skills/more DP’s is a real example of inflationary pressures and decreases the game value of any one skill since compound skills are broken down into their components.
    2. I think more niche skills work better with modern settings (where there is both more knowledge and more specialization)
    3. The “one-off” skills with their own unique rules are a real problem IMO.
    4. I don’t like skills that emulate magical abilities: some of the adrenal moves, essence perception etc.
    5. Fewer skills also evokes the OSG feel of the original Rolemaster.

    1. I built my 3Deep game about 23 meta skills and the idea of their needing to be more skills in the modern environment was not a problem. I think Vocational is so open ended that is fills in all of the gaps whilst remaining a meta skill.

      1. I generally see vocational skills as only being used in background options/vocation (RM translation is adolescent and apprenticeship).

        Basically vocation skills can only be improved by “doing” not just learning or being taught. For instance Vocation: Sailor is pretty hard to learn/advance if you are not on a ship actually sailing. So for PC’s, unless they drop out of adventuring or there is substantial downtime between adventures they aren’t going to have a chance to improve on vocational skills. They are useful legacies of their pre-adventurer days.

        1. I am a fan of the Vocation skill. I agree that skills need to be used to be improved. I have a house ruled mechanic for exactly that. I am not so harsh as you though when you say the character would probably drop out of adventuring to improve their vocational skills.

          Yesterday I was at a Swiss riding stables. We were told which horses were ours and we went into the paddock with a head collar and lead ropes and had to grab our own horses, tether them and the tack them up. When it came to the tethering, our escort rider showed me a different quick release knot to the one we use in England. Having seen the new knot I will be using that in future. I could argue that I have improved my “Vocation:Idiot on a horse” skill in just a few seconds. It is part of that whole idea of ‘everyone you meet is a teacher’ philosophy.

          I do not see many characters picking up new vocation skill in play but I certainly do not hae a problem of improving them if they are operating in that arena.

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