An update on Rolemaster Character Design

I have been creating some rangers and monks this weekend following on from last week’s post on non-random spell list acquisition. Character Design is a very personal thing. Some players like to have a few skills to as high a score as possible whereas others like a nice wide skill base but accept that they may fail more often. I am in the second camp and I build characters with many skills.

When it comes to semi spell users there is another issue to consider. Do you lean towards your magical aspect or the physical? I think the strength in the semi spell users really lies in their magic use when combined with their non-dependence on magic. What I mean is that if you can fight all day and all night just using sword, armour and shield, you get through doors using your skills with a lock pick and tools, and track your foe back to their favourite haunt just through tracking and observation then you are an effective member of the team. If on top of that you can heal wounds, always find the fastest path and slip by even the most observant guards then that is over and above what a meer mortal can do. My rangers almost never run out of power points because they are just using their magic to accent their existing skills.

Another question is when to start learning magic. I like to leave it for the first four or five levels. Get a good solid skills base in place, learn to use your armour and sword. Learning magic is expensive but once you have 10 ranks in a skill you are in the realms of diminishing returns so it makes sense to spend less on those skills and divert those saved points to your spell lists. Probably the to most useful spell lists for a fledgling ranger are not the ranger base lists at all. I think they are concussion ways and detection mastery. The simple act of being able to heal your own hits and keep on fighting or even restore some hits to the parties primary fighter can make all the difference. Detection mastery is excellent for scanning a room or hoard and looking for magical items, If you cannot carry it all then you may as well take the best. You can also use it to sweep for a hidden magic user if you know what realm you are looking for,

So results of my testing were that it really depends on how many points you want to put into spell lists. That may sound stupidly obvious but it isn’t. Under the pure rules as I call them (5% per rank and no stat bonuses) you can only find 12DP per level then you will learn spell lists faster than a character using non-random learning. If you can muster 20DP then it makes very little difference. The pure rules character generally learns a list a level sooner than the non-random counterpart but a couple of unlucky rolls can wipe that out. It is not reliable. Statistically you will learn lists faster under the pure rules but in my testing I only created six characters (three monks and three rangers) and worked them up to 10th level buying the skills I really would have wanted. The character with the least magic did have rigid leather armour, spear and a decent ambush skill and decent subterfuge skills. The most magically able version just had soft leather armour, no ambush skill and could not pick locks or detect traps.

It all comes down to choice and the type of character you want to play. It even depends to some extent to the initial stat and potential stat rolls. I used the same stat rolls for all six characters and the character started with 33DP and went up to 40 by 7th level and then down to 39 where it stayed through to 10th. Your DPs are variable but the cost of buying that magic 5 ranks a level is fixed at 20DP. Poorer stats can make a huge difference to the other skills you can buy. This was doubly true for the monk characters. Rangers have a lot of useful skills that cost just a single DP and you can round out a character with a handful of those skills. The monks have very few one point skills which limit them significantly.

I am not sure what my conclusion is. I would have said that if you are in a skills heavy game then pure spell list acquisition will give you more magic in the long run but if the GM is looking for characters to be proficient at magic then non-random will only give you that if you are prepared to spend at least 20DP a level and every level to get those spell lists. I am not convinced this is a good thing and would rather not tie my players hands that way but each GM is their own boss.

8 Replies to “An update on Rolemaster Character Design”

  1. I love how you ended your post. I’ve gone through the same thought process and transformation in a lot of my posts. I have a goal in mind, but as I am typing out my post, the thoughts rearrange themselves and I’m not really sure what my conclusion is.

    I’m also too “fluid” when it comes to character creation, but later on in RM gaming, I tended to make PCs with a theme or archetype in mind. I would put the stats where they would benefit the PC most regardless of DP totals. I would purchase the skills that my PC needed to fulfill the archetype I had in mind. One of the most fun to make/play PCs I had was a Professional. I made him with a blacksmith archetype in mind (just like the picture that is included in the Companion). It was easy to come up with a back story for him and for him leaving town to go adventuring. He wasn’t spectacular in combat, but could hold his own and needed to make judicial use of parrying vs. full attack. I bought lots of skills that wouldn’t normally (in my gaming experience with my group) have been purchased; Metal Lore, Smithing, Armour/Weapon evals, Appraisal, Mathematics, etc. All skills that a Blacksmith of the time should probably have.

    1. Anyway, I digress. For the semi-spell users, I’ve always always always viewed them as ummmm… how to say this: “non-spell users who could use spells.” For those PCs, magic was always a secondary option, even an “emergency” fall back for when things were really bad. Maybe I would throw in something that would help pro-actively like the Detection Ways or Nature’s Ways.

      Sometimes, I would take a pure-non-spell user and drop 20 DP one time for the 5% chance to learn a spell list. It would only be level 1-5, but it would be something that no one would expect. A Cavalier casting a Fireball??? WHAT?!?!?!

      1. The Monk is in my opinion the semi spell user with the greatest potential. It really depends on the availabliltiy of Rune Paper in the campaign but with Rune Mastery the Monk can extend their operational range significantly by making best use of the lower level non combative spells as runes so even when they run short of power points they do not necessary out of magic.

        Rangers and Bards sacrifice magical oomph for better weapons and armour skills. but I personally do not feel that the trade off is worth the price.

    2. I know what my conclusion is now. It just took a bit more thought!

      This particular optional rule makes spell lists easier and faster to learn for all spell users when you take it beyond the lower levels of play. It is touch and go which is best in a low level campaign but when I took the sample characters beyond 10th the non-random won out every time.

  2. When it came to spell users, they would get a little screwed over, I think. The skills they need high marks in aren’t the skills that give them DPs, so they were starting off two steps behind other PC types. But, my mind set was always “Magic is their reason for existing, load up the magic stuff”…

  3. I played a thief (a non spell user class) who learned 5 or six channeling lists over his career. These were open channeling lists 1-5th level. The detection mastery spells were brilliant to use to sweep areas for the enemy (detect life) and for sorting loot. concussion ways was just plain and simply brilliant to have. Barrier Law gives you command of the battle field and a hugg boost to your defence. For a thief light ways and sound ways are brilliant, sound wall is particularly good. The chracter just spent 12DP a level on learning the list and let it ride until I was lucky with the dice.

    Semi spell users on the other hand are only paying 4* to learn their lists and 12DP gives 15% and 20DP gives 25%. IF you leave off learning magic until you are about 5th level you have a half decent OB, you are trained in your armour and such like, you can start to shift points into magic to give a whole new aspect to the character.

  4. Concussion Ways is probably the “Go To List” I would want any PC to have. I like Nature’s Ways. Barrier Ways is very helpful.

    Having that extra something to draw upon in dire times, or something to give you just the slightest edge even for a few rounds is a fantastic surprise for a non-spell user to have. We did have a couple of players in my early years who spent the 20DP for a shot at a spell list and over the leveling up process, they were able to get their lists. It was an incredible boon in gameplay, particularly when the GM forgot the PC had spell lists to use.

    Hilarity ensued.

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