Vocations and Skills in Against the Darkmaster

Now, in this ongoing series exploring the QuickStart rules for Against the Darkmaster (VsD), we cover Vocations and Skills.

The QS is but a portion of everything the designers have written for the game, and often the tables in the QS give some hint of what else is out there, since, I suspect, to avoid having to make all new tables specific to the playtest, the QS charts have been repurposed from master documents. The Vocation Development Points and Vocational Bonuses table contains listings for Warrior, Rogue, Strider, Wizard, Animist and Dabbler. These essentially are the six Professions from Middle-Earth Role Playing with a difference: recently the designers decided to axe the Strider from their game. Their reasons why are long and interesting, and I agree with them, but I won’t give them here. Also, though everything needed to play a Dabbler (MERP’s Bard) is on the table, the QS gives no deeper description of the Vocation, and it becomes uncertain what boundaries—if any—there are to a Dabbler’s access to Spell Lores (Spell Lists). And again we see an unstated assumption that gamers will playtest certain characters.

Moreover, as a reflection of the total game, in this case the Vocation options on the table are misleading for a reason besides the recent deletion of the Strider: I hear there are other Vocations in development, and one of them is something called the Champion. Anyway, this table, as expected, provides per-Level Development Points (DPs) to be spent on Skill Ranks. As the title of the table indicates, this chart also identifies one-time Vocation bonuses that players add to Skills at Level 1. The DPs specified are distributed at every Level. There are eight categories of Skills for which various Vocations receive DPs. Four of these categories—Combat, Adventuring, Roguery and Lore—neatly contain five Skills each.

Converting DPs into Ranks is fairly simple. It costs 1 DP to raise a Skill by 1 Rank (in its appropriate category). No one Skill can be raised by more than 2 Ranks by this method every Level. DPs may be transferred from one category to another with a cost of 2:1. While I’m on the topic of transferring DPs, an additional Magic Point (the table provides Vocational Magic Points per Level) can be purchased at a cost of 3:1 once per Level.

There are some observations about this table that should be of interest to Rolemaster gamers. Armor is a single Skill category and consists of a single Skill, Armor. The same is to be said for Body and (to a degree) Spell Lores. Basically the Armor Skill is used to erode any Armor penalties. The penalty for any Armor never can become positive from 0, so I imagine that those Vocations comfortable with lighter Armors will be looking at transferring these DPs at later levels. Only Wizards and Animists don’t receive DPs in this category. The Body Skill results in 5 HPs per Rank (added to a Kin’s starting HP and possibly bolstered by a character’s Fortitude Stat). But as one of the designers, ToM, recently shared with me in a comment last post, the Body Skill sometimes has applications outside of calculating HPs and, yes, if a character’s Body ever is reduced to 0, then that character dies instantly. Wizards and Animists (unlike the way in which they are treated in the rules for MERP) are not awarded any DPs in the Body category. After a first read, this concerned me. I asked the designers if they had not created a “tax” on magic-users because I couldn’t imagine any player being comfortable with not increasing HPs at every Level. The developers disagreed. They said that, in their play experiences, magic-users tended to be comfortable with their starting HPs. I have yet to see if magic-users will be similarly comfortable with this arrangement in my own games.

Spell Lores, technically its own Skill category, I’m discussing separately from the above, and the way Spell Lores are handled in VsD I think should have a similar application to the Cultures Skill, which is contained within the Lore category of Skills.

To begin with Spell Lores, these are developed in a manner that BriH has told me is how the BASiL spell system works. In VsD, DPs buy Ranks in particular Spell Lores. These lists follow MERP in going as high as ten (though, considering all I’ve been learning recently about the “full game,” I would not be surprised if in manuscript form they reach higher than this). For example, a character with 4 Ranks in a Spell Lore would be able to cast spells up to Level 4. At the same time, the total bonus resulting from Ranks and other considerations in the Spell Lore would be applied to the Spell Roll. Each Spell Lore is attributed to a variable Stat—sometimes a different Stat even within a specific “realm of magic.” For example, in the Wizard Lores, the Stat associated with Eldritch Fire is Wits, whereas with Detections it is Wisdom.

Since the QS is a “living document,” in one area the Skill Cultures is erroneously identified as Languages, and this suggested to me that the Cultures Skill should be handled similarly to Spell Lores. Also, here is the Cultures Skill description:

This skill represent the general knowledge that the character has of a specific culture. This skill can be also used to try to establish communication with another culture by using specific knowledge of that culture which includes spoken, written or signed language.

p. 26

Cognitive dissonance here results from two uses of the word “specific” for a Skill which appears to be generalizable. Even though such a discussion isn’t in the QS, we all can assume that (to continue with my favorite example) our Deep Dwarf understands his Dwarven language and everything but, perhaps, the most particular specifics of his Culture (in my own American culture we might not all understand the lore behind certain Christmas traditions). Now the Deep Dwarf encounters a Fey Halfling (that’s a startling combination of Kin and Culture!). The Deep Dwarf has 4 Ranks and +5 in Wits. The player rolls and succeeds with, let’s say, a 125 for her Dwarf to understand this puckish little creature’s chirps and whistles. What now? Are we to believe that the Dwarf simply understands the Fey Halfling? Can that make sense? And what’s to be done going forward? Does this Dwarf now permanently understand the Fey Halfling language? Should the player write this down on his sheet? What strange, good luck!

Instead I propose that (borrowing from MERP) some Kin and all Cultures should begin play with Ranks in specific Cultures. The player can develop these Skills and others through the expense of DPs. In a manner similar to how Spell Lores operate, Ranks in a Culture should give a measure both of how well the character speaks that Culture’s primary language and a bonus on any Skill attempts to understand/remember something specific about that Culture’s heritage. To hew close to the Spell Lores precedent, 10 Ranks should be absolute fluency in a language.

To get back to the Skills as written, every Skill, of course, is associated with a Stat, but some—if not all—can be associated with more than one. I know that this isn’t a problem unique to VsD, so at my table I prefer for my players to keep Stat bonuses out of their total Skill calculations. Instead we add them at the time the Skill is being used, and the Stat used is determined through how or with what application the Skill is being employed. In tactical combat, of course, this allows Swiftness, rather than the default Brawn, to be applied to small, fast weapons. The designers have said that the possibilities for this kind of play shall be made explicit in the full rules.

In the Skills section is a table with a short list of Secondary Skills. These are given without elaboration, and descriptions for these are highly desirable, particularly for such Skills as Battle Frenzy—how does that work?

Finally, the section on Vocations states that Vocations enjoy special abilities specific to the Vocations. Unless these are the one-time bonuses on Skills, though, these are not described in the QS.

I had more to say about Vocations and Skills than I thought I would! Next up: Backgrounds, Passions and Drive.

Is it time to lose another table?

I had sort of made a bit of a commitment to not rules bashing so much this year. I want to concentrate on adventure creation, with an aim of assisting new players and GMs when RMu arrives, and highlighting really cool tweaks that could be learned from other games. That is where my Zwei series is coming from and HARP before that.

It was Hurin talking about 3d10-15 on the superior power level thread, over there, that made me think. Hurin finished one post with “and it gets rid of another chart” or words to that effect.

Now I was thinking about skills a lot in the last couple of weeks. Gabe’s VsD contributed a bit, Spectre has been proofing and editing my Wild West game and that contributed a bit and of course Hurin as contributed a bit.

The standard Absolute Maneuver chart looks like this.

But I cannot think of a single Absolute Maneuver. Perception rolls? Well you will hear it eventually if the thing is getting closer, or not if the sound has passed. If you are looking for something then you will find it eventually if you keep looking or not if you run out of time and give up.

Picking Locks? Well given enough time you will pick that lock it is more just case of can you pick it in the timeframe of the adventure, the approaching guards or before the fighter smacks the hinges in with a mace.

I did think that adrenal moves may be absolute but it makes so much sense that sometimes you may need more than 5 seconds to get in the zone or for things like balance or adrenal landing it could take more than 5 seconds to recover your equilibrium after the event.

The Percentage Maneuver table has the same pass mark and the Absolute but without the grade boundaries of success, partial and failure etc.

But this the real insight. The Percentage Maneuver table makes starting out characters MORE capable.

Think of it this way…. There is a locked door (lock quality Medium +0) at one end of the corridor, the PCs are trapped in front of it and approaching them from the other end are a bunch of Goblins.

The thief sets to work on the lock and has a skill of +17, he is afterall 1st level. He rolls a 50 the first round, total 67. Under the old rules the result is:

You fail the maneuver and must pay the consequences. Hopefully this wasn’t a life or death situation.

Actually it was life or death and the entire party dies. The End.

Under the Percentage Maneuver idea the result becomes 60% complete so the GM tells the player that a couple of tumblers fall into place, keep working. The Goblins arrive and the fighters start a desperate defence.

Round 2 the thief makes a second roll and any roll over a 24 will open the lock. The thief throws open the door and ushers some of the other characters out. The fighters fight on for another round and then in the third round, risking opportunity attacks, turn and flee.

That is a much more dramatic situation. Maybe a character died in the three rounds of combat, maybe they didn’t. Is the thief the hero for getting the door open?

Percentage Maneuvers just mean that everything takes longer if you are not very good at it but you will get there eventually.

If there is an Absolute success/failure skill test that I have not thought of it doesn’t make a difference the pass/fail threshold for Absolute and Percentage are identical 101+.

We do not need the Absolute Maneuver table. Also for most things we don’t need to use the Percentage one either at the actual gaming table. The result is your total roll rounded down to the nearest 10. It is only when you need to over achieve, results over 100%, or critically fail, that the actual roll is important.

I have started a thread on the forums about this table. I also think that the results over 130 should be more in line with Action Points so if you spent 4AP picking a lock but roll phenomenally then the result should leave you with some APs remaining. The table results of 110 or 120 etc do not translate well into APs.