Character Stories

This is not about what you think it is going to be about.

The experience rules in RMU and in HARP offer experience for minor and major personal goals (HARP) or Minor, Moderate and Major personal events (RMU).

So as a GM how do you know when your players’ characters has achieved a personal goal or event? Where is the break point between Moderate and Major events (other than on page 107 of the beta rules). Will you remember to account for these or in the case of minor events can you even count all of these?

I know there are loads of alternative experience systems from count every PP used and hit taken to you level up when I tell you. I was recently very kindly given a copy of the 7th Sea Second Edition rules. 7th Sea is a game I really like but is worlds away from Rolemaster. There is almost no cross over between the two systems for example 7th Sea heroes can take out many thugs in a single turn but no attack is ever fatal. In RM if you faced six thugs at once on your own, whatever level you are you have to seriously consider the consequences of that one freak open ended attack and possible critical.

I said there is ‘almost’ no cross over. 7th Sea doesn’t have levels or experience points. Characters progress by being awarded skill increases or other bump ups in individual traits. What is interesting here though is the concept of Character Stories. So when you create your character you also create the start of a character story. Most of us already do this as part of our character back story. The difference here is that although there is a clear end goal, such as avenge your father’s death or clear your name, you only create the very first step or task to achieve that goal. So your story may be “Clear your name from a crime you didn’t commit” but step one is “find the name of your accuser”. So imagine this a just a title and a single bullet point below. During the role play you may well find the name of your accuser so then the next step is of course to find that man and question him. So now you have a second bullet point. The GM always has a clear idea of where each character is in their background stories, things that he or she can weave into the game session and from a RM point of view when Minor, Moderate and Major personal events have happened.

I think this is a really simple mechanism that brings together a method of making characters’ back stories really relevant the characters future, it helps the GM keep those stories straight and it dovetails nicely with the new experience rules.

I am never one to pass up a good idea when I see one! If you are interested in 7th Sea then there is a single volume core rulebook (just the sort of thing that RMU needs 🙂 ) on RPGnow for about $25.

15 Replies to “Character Stories”

  1. Hi,

    7c2e is definitely far from RM in its philosophy!

    Oddly, I think I swim (water metaphors since we’re in pirate territory) against current mainstream (ok I’ll stop) thinking about giving xps for hitting personal story plot points.

    I like the idea of personal story plot points. But when a character reaches them, it probably means that the GM has been paying more attention to that player, and when a character does not, it means that the GM has been ignoring that player.

    Rather than rewarding a player for good play, basing advancement on this kind of scheme might actually be penalizing some other player who did not advance for bad GMing! Maybe it’s the player whose character was sidelined who deserves the extra xp….

    There are many good reasons why one character’s plot advances and another does not, that have nothing to do with one player doing a better job than another, or even, to be fair, the GM unfairly neglecting some players to prefer others.

    So I prefer to separate character advancement from judgment about story or character. Not old school at all, that, or even new school.



    1. I like weaving characters back stories into ongoing plots. Particularly when the players do not really know where the story is going.

      1. Yeah, that’s always a great thing. Characters with background improve a game. Sometimes it goes the opposite way, with players backfilling character backgrounds based on game events.

        A nice feedback loop can happen when both player and GM do this sort of thing.

    2. The flip side of that is that you can as GM give every character their moment in the spotlight and make that specific part of the game session about them. It isn’t about exclusion but more about inclusion. That is the way I see it.

      1. Hi,

        That’s the flip side, and that’s a good thing… and once a GM is managing this, xp awards will be pretty even, allowing this kind of mechanic to be dispensed with, similar to obsoleting mechanics that feature xps gained in proportion to damage inflicted, skill checks made (correlated by difficulty and success level), critters killed, gold pieces liberated and wenches swived. Ok, I don’t remember seeing that last, but there’s gotta have been a game that did this, somewhere!

        When I grant or withhold xps for meeting personal milestones, I encourage players to guess correctly about how their character develops and will fit into the game. When I do the same for campaign milestones (mission success), I encourage them to board the railroad and be good passengers.

        Is this the dynamic I want?

        In another sense, isn’t this kind of success or failure a reward or punishment in its own right? Character success tends to come with satisfaction for the player and in-game benefits for the character. Failure has a way of leaving things less than neutral.

        Lastly, the RM community seems especially concerned about game mechanics that can create widening disparities among characters. At least when it comes to spellcasters. (Another conversation that: I find it odd that those who complain loudest about spellcaster dominance at high levels seem to have no problem with relative spellcaster impotence in the early game.) Why favor an xp mechanic more likely to do the same, that explicitly calls out “my character is doing better than yours?”



        1. I have always thought that the alledged trade off between spell casters being highly likely to die at low level being the justification for their extreme power at high level to be a bit of a fallacy. As a GM I want my players to be able to play any character and enjoy the game. If I end up with a entire party of spell casters then I will tailor the adventures to ones that will challenge those characters but not wipe them off the face of the earth.

          So if being a spell caster is technically no more dangerous than being a barbarian warrior where is the balance?

          I have solved this problem for myself but the problem is still built into not only RM but a great many fantasy rpgs.

          When I do play RMU it will be heavily house ruled and it will not include any form of EXP. The point of this post is for people who what to use the new rules as written and in that situation the stories from 7c2e work really well.

          1. I’ve played in games where XPs were divided evenly among players, and frankly I think that mechanic stinks. It punishes active players and rewards those who don’t bother to show up (either physically or playing-wise…the ones who just sit and eat all the snacks and hide in the back of the party).

            That said, the personal goals certainly don’t have to relate to the campaign at all, at least if the GM choses to use them that way. In my draft espionage rules I’d award personal goals XPs for recruiting agents, setting up drop locations, and establishing safe houses. Those are espionage activities, but there’s no guarantee they’d ever factor into an existing campaign. As far as I’m concerned in a game that doesn’t have mechanics for improving skills through use (see most of the old FGU games for solid examples of that) you need some way to deal with advancement. If you’re not using XPs through combat or something similar, tying it to mission accomplishment seems pretty fair to me. Gangbusters did that, with varying awards for each class based on their own unique needs and priorities. I tie mine to missions tailored for each specific genre, and there is interplay and interchange between them.

            I don’t have a horse in the race when it comes to the spell casting stuff. I tend to use RM for more modern settings where that particular balance doesn’t matter.

    3. Ken, I’m in the same boat as you (I’m allowed a water pun too). I don’t give out XP for a player meeting personal goals, their own plot lines, or ones they crafted for themselves. I also believe that it’s too subjective and not fair to other players who may not be as creatively inclined. A few of my players are brand new to gaming and don’t even have their own dice. They naturally have to rely on the rolls they make (and borrowed dice) and the skills on the character sheet to work their way through the game. They are already overloaded with trying to remember the rules and what skills to roll and where those skills are on the sheet. “Getting into character” and worrying about sub-plots is simply too much to ask.

      Conversely, I have my veteran players who create these colorful backstories and give me (the GM) lots of interesting fodder to sprinkle into the storyline to make it feel more rich, but I involve the other players in that storyline.

      Player Alpha wants to find the thief who stole his father’s dagger. Players Beta and Gamma are going along for the side quest when that dagger is spotted on a person in the local tavern. The entire party would (should) be able to benefit from the side adventure of re-acquiring that dagger.

      My brandy new player wouldn’t probably wouldn’t come up with that type of driving motivation for being out adventuring, but I’m not going to penalize him for not being creative enough. It’s like there’s this secret pool of hidden XP that only the really creative, crafty, clever players can access and new/less-creative players are stuck.

      The current annual campaign I am running has one player who was an Outrider with what is essentially a spy group. It was deemed by higher-ups that he was no longer and asset and needed to be tidied up. His motivation for adventuring is trying to track down those higher-ups to extract revenge. This gives me tons of material to use for against the party, not simply to use against that single player. The entire party will benefit (or suffer) for the player’s creativity. Shared creativity!

      1. I think to some extent well established games and groups can ignore this as we have all tinkered and refined the possible exp systems to find something that works for us. After all many of these groups have been playing together for decades. If this idea really appealed to you I would have expected it to have already occurred to you naturally before now.

        RMU on the other hand hopefully exists to bring in buckets of fresh blood into Rolemaster. For RMU personal events are a core rule and core exp income stream.

  2. I could probably do an entire post on various XP systems and ideas…

    Anyhow, I think in this RMU suffers (as it does in many places) from poor examples. Background stories are certainly important, and setting character goals and plot points are also things good GMs should be doing all the time (which again harks back to my standing point that RM – no matter which version – demands a good GM). I the stuff I’m drafting, I provide some very specific examples of story goals (I call them mission goals since my focus is different) as well as examples of minor and major personal goals tailored to fit the genre of my rules. I tend to view the mission goals and personal goals as rather separate things, since one tends to focus on a specific adventure or part of an adventure while the other may have longer-term impacts.

    As far as linking background directly to XPs or an advancement scheme I can’t really say I’m a fan. I don’t dislike the concept, but I think it has rather limited utility.

    1. When you say “mission goals and personal goals as rather separate things” I agree. Mission goals would primarily be set by the GM whereas the personal goals would be inspired by the character. Using the Story mechanism even then the player does not know where that story will lead them. They know the objective and the first goal in the story but beyond that it is down to the GM to take them where ever the story leads.

  3. Fair enough re xps, and totally agreed: It’s a fallacy that the tradeoffs between spellcasters and non-spellcasters are a good idea. Better to have reasonably effective characters and unfrustrated players at all levels.

  4. Just a quick interjection (yes, quick. I tend to get on a roll when I’m writing)

    I don’t really see the low level spell casters as a hindrance or as being underpowered. If the spell caster is A) made up fairly decently – and I’m not talking min/maxing the living heck out of him – and B) he’s played intelligently, he holds his own very well.

    Case in point: The group of level 1’s I’m running, two players are completely new to gaming, I encouraged them to take non-spell users to get used to the system. Two are veteran players, but very new to RM. One of those players made a spell caster. He also has a level 5 spell caster in the annual campaign I’m running. He learned from the first PC creation and applied it to this level 1 PC.

    The spell list he chose has no level 1 spells. He can’t cast anything until level 2 but he has a bow and he’s pretty good with it. He’s been holding his own with the other PCs and has saved their hides a couple of times! The spell caster with no spells fits in very well with the Trader who can’t trade, the Dancer who can’t dance, and the assassin who can’t assassinate. (She rolled “Chivalrous” on the Skill at Arms Table. LOL!)

    In the level 5 group, the same player only has 1 spell list. It was his first time rolling up a PC and didn’t want to heed GM advice and went in with the D&D mindset. So the level 5 mage has one spell list, but he uses it very well and he does more damage than the fighters. Well, more accurately, his Wispling does more damage with x4 attacks on the Tiny table. Tiny crits are nasty! In three rounds, he’s pulled off 12 attacks.

    Comparing the two PCs the player actually said “I think my level 1 PC will kick my level 5’s butt” simply because he crafted it a little better.

    1. There is always a balancing act between generalisation and specific examples. Generally smoking is really bad for you but there are plenty of examples of smokers who have lived into their 80s, 90s and probably some made it into their 100s. In the game I am playing in right now my 1st level lay healer fell into the role of secondary fighter despite being one of the worst fighters in the group.

      Looking at the general level if an evil mentalist cast a spell at most 1st level parties and told them all to kill each other then barring lucky rolls the magicians would be the first to die probably in 90% of the cases. A first level spell caster probably has no offensive magic, little or no defensive magic and most combat skills are too expensive to buy. My lay healer is pretty rounded but I have and OB of 18 if I don’t use a shield, so DB of 0 or an OB of -2 with a shield. I am AT 1 as I could not afford to buy any armour skills. So no armour, no db and not much OB, My only spells are Heal 1-10 and Clotting I I think.

      I did play in an interesting game where we were all asked to roll up a healer. The entire party were healers and our mission was to take the cure for a plague to a quarantined city. The plague was caused by the evil plans of the bad guy and our escort soon died when we were ambushed on the road. I don’t think anyone had an OB of more than 10 but we were fearsome when we ganged up on people as we all had clubs and staffs and that sort of thing. If one of us managed to get a lucky strike then you were pretty well bound to end up stunned and then we would beat you to a pulp. That was an example of the GM tailoring the threat to the abilities of the characters so a party of all healers remained viable. As we levelled up we were awesome as you could not keep us down.

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