Be Prepared!

If there was a sliding scale from simulationist games to purely narrative games then I think Rolemaster, especially a fully loaded RM2 or RMSS game, would be very much on the simulation end of the scale. Games like FATE would be right up the other end.

My simplification approach has had the somewhat unintentional effect of shifting my brand of RM into the centre ground and I would describe it as on the simulation side of centre.

I think this is somewhat inevitable. If you are going to amalgamate a dozen skills into one meta skill then you have unavoidably lost some granularity or detail.

In my meandering gaming reading this week I have been reading some Gumshoe rules. In that I came across a new skill I had never considered before.

My position right now is that this is a step too far, even for me, but the more I think about it the more it starts to appeal.

Here is the skill definition. You will have to skim over the references to PDAs and laptop computers etc. and other skills as this is copied directly from the rules.


You expertly anticipate the needs of any mission by packing a kit efficiently arranged with necessary gear. Assuming you have immediate access to your kit, you can produce whatever object the team needs to overcome an obstacle. You make a simple test; if you succeed, you have the item you want. You needn’t do this in advance of the adventure, but can dig into your kit bag (provided you’re able to get to it) as the need arises.

Items of obvious utility to a paranormal investigation do not require a test. These include but are not limited to: note paper, writing implements, laptop computer, a PDA with wireless Internet access, mini USB drive, cell phone, various types of tape, common tools and hardware, light weapons, flashlights of various sizes, chem lights, batteries, magnifying glasses, thermometer, and a no-frills audio recording device.

The utility of traditional anti-supernatural accoutrements such as crucifixes, holy water, and silver bullets is a matter of great debate within the Ordo Veritatis. Whether you choose to include them in your basic kit reveals your attitude toward the supernatural. Is it purely the work of the Esoterrorists, or are there other unnatural forces out there? Decide for yourself, and pack wisely.

Other abilities imply the possession of basic gear suitable to their core tasks. Characters with Medic have their own first aid kits; Photographers come with cameras and accessories. If you have Shooting, you have a gun, and so on. Preparedness does not intrude into their territory. It covers general-purpose investigative equipment, plus oddball items that suddenly come in handy in the course of the story.

The sorts of items you can produce at a moment’s notice depend not on your rating or pool, but on narrative credibility. If the GM determines that your possession of an item would seem ludicrous or and/or out of genre, you don’t get to roll for it. You simply don’t have it. Any item which elicits a laugh from the group when suggested is probably out of bounds.

Inappropriate use of the Preparedness ability is like pornography. Your GM will know it when she sees it.

Instinctively I want to reject this but with a moment of reflection it occurred to me that to a great extent I tend to hand wave the buying of mundane supplies anyway. Half the time the characters are so rich that the buying of a few supplies is of no significance. The only input I would tend to make would be describing the sorts of foods or goods if I felt it added something to the cultural background and a bit of local colour.

I also do not use the encomberance rules. I do tend to ‘once over’ the character sheets and if I think they are overloaded I will apply a manoeuvre penalty and tell them it is because they are overloaded. The players will soon lop off some unneeded kit.

So does forcing players to maintain a meticulous equipment list add anything to the game? There are certainly times when it does. I have had an issue in the past were the players just maintained a communal treasure list until such time as they divie it up and people claim ownership of specific items. This seemed to work just fine, the advantage is that character sheets do not become worn out from constantly adding and rubbing out of items of equipment and loot. The issue we had was that one of the characters was pick pocketed and I just randomly picked who was carrying are particular gem stone. It happened that the victim of the robbery was the gem holder. The players then protested that someone else was carrying the loot and they certainly would never have taken precious stones into such a rough tavern. Well, tough, if they had taken any precautions like that they should have told me about them. I bet if I had robbed their tavern room they would have insisted that the gem was with them.

Going back to the Preparedness skill, that would remove a lot of dross from the character sheet and a lot of pointless equipment resource management. I would still want the players to keep a list of significant items, their arms and armour but things like balls of wax so they can take an impression of a key or balls of string for whipping up a quick trap could all be done away with.

I can see a real analogy to the Vocation skill from RMU. You do not need to detail the thousand and one individual, little used, lore skills that everyone in that job would have, one catch all skill that can be applied as and when does the trick.

Is Preparedness that different? Is it a step too far in the direction of Narrative rpgs?

13 Replies to “Be Prepared!”

    1. My first thought was that the skill, if used, would foil all sorts of traps or challenges such as dumping the characters in icy water until soaked through and then making lighting a fire an imperative. Suddenly whipping out a lens or mirror and focusing the waning day light to start the fire rather defeats the challenge. On the other hand if you put the same challenge into the context of the adventure, the setting and the individual characters then it becomes more of a role playing thing. The smart mage knows that if only he had the right sort of lens he could start a fire whereas the barbarian warrior is very prepared but has no idea about these things. If the characters do not talk then they could well still freeze to death, or worse still the barbarian produces the lens just after the sun goes down.

  1. I like this as a concept–and this type of subject should be included in any GM material for any game system. As a skill I’m not so sure. It works opposite of game utility: at lower levels and less skill those small items might make a huge difference in game play and at higher levels those small sundries are less important and/or the GM is already hand-waving at that point.
    However, as part of the “meta skill” theory I like the idea of including this into the vocation skill. Every vocation should have a “kit”: a soldier will have oil, cloth, stone, eating knife etc, a fisherman would have some fishing line, hooks, scaling knife. A scribe would have writing equipment.

    1. It does have a certain appeal and I think you may have hit the nail on the head by wrapping it up into Vocational. It almost sits right up there with cinematic healing, a way of reducing the burden of equipment resource handling.

  2. I’m all for streamlining things in a game, and the mundane inventory items are certainly candidate for this streamlining. At PC creation, I hand over the page from (RMC-I ?) of Accessories and Costs. I let the players choose whatever they want from the list, no worry of spending costs and I don’t subtract anything from their starting coin. These are just incidentals that they have accrued over the years and which they happen to bring with them when they set out.

    They do have to track if they’ve used an oil flask, trail rations, materials for fletching, pitons, arrows/bolts, etc. And going forward, they have to replenish those items. I haven’t done much with weight encumbrances because we’ve never really run into that. There was one session back in college where we raided a dragon’s horde and we had unlimited gold to take. The GM then had us chased down and we had to ditch some gold to run faster without exhausting ourselves, then we hit a rickety bridge and had to ditch even more gold. All told, we ended up with a “session-appropriate” amount of loot but how he went about awarding it to us was very clever.

    The Preparedness skill seems to be too easy to get out of inventory management. “I didn’t run out of arrows. I knew I needed 35 arrows, so I brought them.” The “I have a focusing lens because I knew I would fall into the water and my tinder would be wet.” Or even further, “I knew I would be near water so I prepared my tinder in a waterproof container.” It almost eliminates inventory entirely. One just has to roll high on the Preparedness skill and poof, the item is in the backpack. At some point, if it’s a particularly long journey, the GM has to say “How big is this backpack that you’re hauling around that you have prepared for every eventuality I’ve thrown at you?”

    I didn’t jump in just to complain, I have had some thought to go with it! 🙂 The GM can say “You all have backpacks that can hold 25 pounds of equipment.” Each time a player rolls the Preparedness skill, the GM determines how much the needed item weighs and that becomes part of the 25 pound backpack. The weight of items can be determined.

    A player gets dunked in water and wants to start a fire, he rolls Preparedness and succeeds. Yes, he has a focusing lens to start a fire. That lens becomes part of his permanent inventory and it weighs 1/2 pound. He now has 24.5 pounds of “stuff” that he prepared for this journey.

    The player wants to coat the hallway with lamp oil to slow the enemies then to set on fire? He rolls well on Preparedness, one flask weighs 1 pound, he coats the hallway with that flask of oil he had in his back pack. He no longer has that flask of oil though and now he’s down to 23.5 pounds of “prepared stuff.”

    When the party returns to town, they can keep the contents they’ve “used” on the trip, or they can announce they are “restocking their packs with up to 25 pounds of stuff.”

    1. This is sort of what I meant by the skill having a certain allure.

      Sealing your tinderbox with wax to make it water proof is probably simply a good idea and one that every seasoned adventurer who has spent a cold wet night without a fire does as a matter of course. Almost so commonly that the player should have no need to ever mention it to the GM.

      Lenses? So a lens to start a fire is no different to a lens used as a magnifier for reading ancient documents, a monocle or spectacle lens worn as a matter of course by the learned mage. As for arrows, some GMs are rigorous in rolling for the lost and broken arrows after every fight and to enforcing fletching skill rolls to make new ones. Other GMs are less rigorous. I break arrows quite frequently when training because I am shooting many arrows into single targets and trying to improve my accuracy. By default I want to get the arrows as close together as I possibly can and therefore I get a lot of arrows hitting other arrows. Every broken arrow goes into my bit box and I re-use fletchings, heads and nocks, just replacing the carbon fibre shafts. That saves me money. So are experienced archer PCs scavenging heads, fletchings and nocks from their arrows and when they spot suitable wood for shafts making replacement arrows on a sort of trickle feed basis? I would assume they are, other GMs are equally justified in saying that they are not unless they explicitly say you are doing it. In the latter case you rolled 300+ on your fletching skill you would be quite justified in expecting to get a +5 or better arrow for your efforts. My way tends to mean that the archers will not run out of arrows on an adventure unless they have been running from fights or shooting very long distances and retrieving arrows was not an option.

      I tend to ask for skill rolls in ‘mission critical’ situations. If you want to make a few new arrows during an evening I do not ask for a roll, it just works. I assume that if the arrow was a bit duff then the character would dismantle it and start over and this probably happens several times a week while travelling on the road.

      Preparedness would, as you say, almost eliminate equipment resource management but only for characters that have invested DPs in buying the skill. DPs are a far more restricted resource than backpack space. It would also require a long term investment in DPs to build the skill up to something even approaching reliable.

      For me the jury is still out about it. If anything I am tempted to roll this skill into the Vocation skill as BriH suggested and restrict the sorts of items prepared to the vocational items. So a Vocation:Squire doesn’t have to list all the kit cleaning and maintaining items individually but can produce such items on a successful roll. A Vocation:Ranger can pull the components of a snare or trap or even a mirror for long distance signalling. These sorts of things even an inexperienced ranger could have heard about from more experienced folk in the form of stories and anecdotes. As a keen newbie he or she had packed these items and many more bits and bobs to try and make themselves look prepared.

  3. I think I do agree with Brian, that this is the sort of skill that could be rolled into Vocation. To be honest, we haven’t even used the vocation skills in my current RMU playtest, as they seemed somewhat vaguely defined (and I don’t really like ‘DM may I’ sorts of rules). But explaining the skills the way you have gives me renewed interest in them, and hope that my players might take them.

    1. I am a big fan of Vocation. I think it tames the need for minor skills like rope use, set snare, fire building, weather watching and so on. One skill of Vocation:Ranger and you can do all those things.

      To my mind that is a greater contribution to defining a profession than whether a Ranger or a Cleric has a point more or less in Lore:Flauna or Lore:Religion. Regardless of whether a skill is 2/5 or 2/6 there will me one million and one things that the Ranger can do that the Cleric will suck at because of the character concept encompassing vocation.

      1. Yes, you certainly could make vocation more important in that sense. I still think the skill costs should match the class description though. And you probably don’t want to take the vocation thing too far or it might bleed over into primary skills. Pretty soon your Rangers will be asking for bonuses to their Survival skill rolls because they are Rangers.

        1. I agree that Vocation was never intended to replace or supersede the primary skills. If they want a bonus on survival for being a ranger than put a professional skill bonus on Survival. That is what they are there for. That works particularly well in the No Profession set up as you have complete freedom to put your 10 professional skill bonuses where ever you want them.

      2. I just noticed I invented a new life form, Flauna. That was the result of being undecided as to whether to pick flora or fauna lore as my example!

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