RM Optional Rules: Skill Atrophy


While RM and it’s various iterations focus on obtaining and learning skills much less attention has been paid to the slow erosion of skills due to lack of use: “Skill Atrophy”. Many RM skills should require continuous practice to maintain that ability or sustain the peak level of performance. Taking a handful of ranks over a few levels and then ignoring the skill shouldn’t guarantee performance in perpetuity.  Skill atrophy also addresses several issues with the RM skill system:

  1. “Min/Max skill rank bonuses”. Many players will run a skill just up to the +5/+3 rank bonus inflection point. This gives them the most bang for the buck and when tied to stat bonuses can give them a solid bonus for most skill checks.
  2. Higher level skill bloat. Once most core skills are maxed out (skill rank +20), PC’s will turn to obtaining ancillary or non-core skills. While they may cost more DP’s, the +5 bonus gets them a better return than adding a + ½ to a fully developed skill. Thus higher level characters tend to homogenize into a jack of all trades.

Skill atrophy incrementally reduces skill ranks IF the character doesn’t take at least 1 new skill rank in that skill when they level up. So even high level characters with 20+ ranks in a skill and who gain very little in taking an additional rank will need to continue spending DP’s to maintain the skill.

Skills are assigned a skill atrophy percentage of 5%, 10%, 20%, or 25% that sets the amount of atrophy and the minimum threshold the skill can’t be reduced below. If, at level advancement, a current skill doesn’t gain a new rank than the skill atrophy modifier is applied. The result is always rounded down and the skill ranks can never be reduced below a level that the atrophy percentage is less than 1. So an atrophy mod of 5% means that the skill won’t reduce below 19 skill ranks while a 25% atrophy mod means the skill could slowly be reduced to 3. For example, a skill with 15 ranks and an atrophy level of 10% will lose 1 rank at each level advancement that the skill is not increased until 9th lvl, where it won’t atrophy any further.

Skill types and atrophy. In general learned knowledge (lore skills) have little or no atrophy while skills that require top physical performance or specialized training (athletics) will atrophy faster. While individual skills in categories may have differing atrophy rates, general suggestions are as follows:

Lore Skills: No atrophy or 5%.

Trade skills: 10%

Crafting: 10%

Social: No

Performance: 10%

Physical or athletic: 10% or 20%

Endurance: 20% or 25%

Combat skills: 10% or 20%

Mental skills: 20%

Magical Skills: 5% or 10%

Spells: No

Directed Spells: 10% or 20%

Special Skills: 5% or 10%

Option 1. Atrophy still applies but instead of requiring an additional skill rank, allow a character to expend 1 DP to “maintain” the skill IF they don’t take a new skill rank in that skill.

Using RM’s professions, skill atrophy reduces skill bloat at higher levels by requiring characters to continually invest in their critical skills. When using a “No Profession” system, this further enforces the need for characters to focus on core, “defining” skills that in effect creates professions without the need for arbitrary pre-defined classes.

7 Replies to “RM Optional Rules: Skill Atrophy”

  1. This is an interesting idea but I would suggest that if a skill had been used or a character explicitly or implicitly used then you should not make an atrophy check.

    Two examples of what I mean are: A barbarian that has been fighting monsters for three weeks solid and then levels up should not have his battle axe skill atrophy because he didn’t buy a new rank in it.

    A player whos character has the crafting skills needed to maintain and mend armour fulfills that role after every fight. Remember, criticals often break greaves and helmets. If it has been just accepted over years and levels that this character is carrying out the necessary repairs and doing the general maintenance to care for the parties armour I do not think that characters skills would atrophy.

    Anything that is used daily or at least frequently I think should be spared atrpohy.

    1. Yes, it seems like continual use of a skill would argue against skill atrophy; but that same argument could be make for skill advancement without DP expenditure. This goes to the nature of DP’s; do they represent past use and practice or are they “coinage” that are received and spent upon leveling up?
      The problem with allowing for atrophy exceptions from skill use is that it immediately creates a moral hazard for the players. They will argue the use of any skill they haven’t advanced to avoid the atrophy effect. (Litigating rules with players is one of my least desirable tasks GMing!)
      If you apply a low atrophy rate to a skill–let’s use 5%–the skill only is impacted at ranks of 20 or above. I think 20 ranks in a skill is probably “master” or “world-class” ability. Professional athletes have to maintain a single-minded focus and training tempo to at least maintain their skills or advance them incrementally. It’s not unreasonable to assume a small loss of skill at that level if the players chooses not advance the skill.
      It’s not for everyone but I appreciate the comment/discussion! For us it reinforces our “free market” approach (no professions). It reduces players skill portfolio and group skill homogeneity that seems to occur even with professions; it acts as a DP sink at higher level when there is less incentive to progress a maxed out skill with little bonus gain and it forces players to choose their skills more carefully knowing that they may be impacted by atrophy if they don’t maintain that “investment”.

      1. I can see where you are coming from. I don’t normally run games much beyond 15th level and I only have one player who tends to buy two ranks in few skills each level. He is also the biggest meta gamer in our group. His current character buys weapons, spell lists, perception and body development each level and nothing else unless I point out things that are essential to his operating.

        I think he would be the kind of player you are talking about who maxes out a skill and then moves on.

        My vision of ‘no profession’ is also level-less so there are no DPs to be spent. You can only develop the skills you have used or got training in. So I reached the same conclusion as you did.

      2. Have you considered using the stat gain rules for skills? The full skill bonus is the Potential but each level you could have a temp skill bonus of less if the skill has atrophied.

        If you have successfully used that skill during the current level then there is a chance that ‘it all comes back to you’ or at least some of it does?

  2. You could just start reducing the DP pool for higher levels (maybe by 5 on the levels where the xp needed jumps) with skill maintenance assumed to be where the points are going. Characters could then choose to let skills degrade, getting back development points previously spent to allocate on newer skills

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