Clarification Needed. When did Talents and Flaws become part of core RoleMaster?*

First, I did set a goal to not delve too deep into rule making for RMU or RM in the coming year. However, I do read the RM Forums and there is a ongoing discussion about additional Talents (and Flaws, though “surprisingly” those are obviously less discussed). And yes, for the purpose of this post “background options” are an interchangeable term with “talents/flaws”–to be referred as “T/F”.

There is something very proprietary about T/F–it’s a cumbersome bolt on to what I consider a pre-companion streamlined rule set. Many are one-off rules that reek of AD&D Class Abilities while others are just bonuses to reinforce a VERY specific idea of a profession/class. So what is the point of T/F’s? A few ideas:

  1. T/F’s add unique abilities to characters without the GM having to muster up the energy to do it themselves.
  2. T/F’s are meant to reinforce Professional Tropes.
  3. T/F’s are meant to power up Level 1 characters a bit.
  4. T/F’s are a bypass to increase ability outside of the normal skill acquisition/skill bonus/stat bonus/profession bonus system already established.
  5. T/F’s are used to bypass skill cost restrictions to give players abilities they could not otherwise afford in skill buy.
  6. T/F’s are used to min/max characters by bypassing Professional skill cost and balance issues.

Happy for anyone to add to that list, but as it stands it’s not pretty. Basically Talents are “cheat codes” pretending to be balanced with Flaws to give everyone the illusion of proper game design.

Am I too old school? Perhaps my origins in the original RM has biased me, but I’m reading forum posts and it sounds like many suggestions for Talents are just special Profession abilities similar to AD&D. Can someone adequately explain the need or justification for Talents using the same validations you use for other rule arguments?

*For purposes of disclosure, this blog is a side affect of Weller Special Reserve Bourbon.

11 Replies to “Clarification Needed. When did Talents and Flaws become part of core RoleMaster?*”

  1. If I remember correctly both HERO and GURPS were the first places that I recall them (maybe BRP had them). ICE did help publish HERO back then so it might have crept into RM.

    1. How does that fit in to your current work? Build a game foundation and ret-con with one -off exploits? Does that indict the game engine?

  2. I don’t happen to feel they’re justified. To me they are just hacks to get around flaws in the rules or avoid the heavy lifting of creating unique races and the like (as you identified in your points). There’re like ‘lite’ training packages (another device used to wallpaper over bad rules in my view). In some ways they might have grown from the various Random Option tables in RM2, but once they became things you purchase and are required by some aspects of the game they lost any appeal they might have had.

    Perhaps I’m old school as well, but if I’m working on a game engine and find I have to introduce things like this to make it work I’d be going back to the engine and giving it a serious look. And if it’s the actual game (engine + setting and genre mechanics) and I have to use these things I know something is seriously wrong.

    I view backgrounds differently, mostly because those are genre/setting specific things you can use to add the right flavor to the game engine while still being able to vary it depending on your needs. Backgrounds in my rules are enhancements to Cultures, and again are tailored by genre and setting (making them game parts as opposed to engine parts). They mostly boost non-combat skills, giving characters some appropriate depth without making the player spend tons of DPs and time bulking up a character. No Background will hack the rules, and you have to give up DPs to get them. And you can only buy them during character creation. Once that’s done, Background are off the table. I am, of course, a bit biased towards backgrounds and cultures. They let the GM backstop a character to a degree, making sure the character has things like Perception that beginning players often forget to buy. But one or two ranks are a different proposition than some of the talents and flaws, which can really break things.

  3. This is a discussion about the impact of the game mechanic talent/flaws.

    Concerning your post I mainly agree. However, I think the game mechanics of talents may be beneficial for certain groups. (I am not sure about flaws).

    Let me explain what I mean.

    *** Flaws
    Let’s start with flaws: I think this I am concept, that has little if any benefit.

    – if used to give the character flavour or background: my experience is that players that need flaws to give their character a background, tend to ignore them when role playing.
    – if used as counterweight for talents: as mentioned before, players tend to pick harmless flaws or “forget” about them (and there is no offence here; it is just in human nature that someone can’t see his/her own flaws). So pseudo-balancing is useless.

    *** Talents
    So let’s continue to talk about talents assuming there are no flaws.

    As I mentioned I do think that talents as game mechanic does have a benefit. Not for everyone and not for all groups, but for certain groups.

    When I talk about talents here, I mean talents that add unique abilities to characters or even players. I do not refer to bonuses, min/max, or anything else in this discussion.

    As I said they can add unique abilities. Talents can help with the group/party setups. With talents present that provide unique abilities, it is easier for characters and therefore ultimately for players to find their niche in the party.

    We can dive deeper into the topic of unique abilities for characters vs unique abilities for players. Let me explain what I mean by this distinction.

    ** When talking about unique abilities for characters I refer to very specific in-game skills fitting into the existing rule set of the game engine. In my opinion you need to take care when designing such abilities.

    I can think of two useful approaches:
    – designing an ability so specific that it is not usually achievable even with a high skill rank, and usable only in very specific situations (E.g. you can small a specific race)
    – granting an ability that is only achievable at higher levels. In such case it is very important not to break the balancing of the game. However in terms of group setup it is still useful. (If a character occupies a specific niche from the beginning onwards, it is very unlikely that another character develops into exact niche.)
    ** When talking about unique abilities for players I mean special game rules only that player can use. (E.g. 5 E gives the example of ignoring criticals, or luck).

    Having all that said, I am not a fan of talents and flaws myself.

  4. I’ve never been a fan of training packages in any game system, not just AD&D. T/F I have seen in GURPS and Vampire, but in those systems, it’s an integral part of the game. They add good flavor to the game and add to the uniqueness the of the PC. PC creation is also very different than that of RM as is levelling up. I think Vampire did particularly well with the Merits and Flaws system. In fact, I named one of my vampires Fleritson Maws because one of the players got tongue tied when trying to say “Merits and Flaws.” (He is a Ventrue from Amsterdam, in case you were wondering. 🙂 )

    In RM, I don’t like training packages at all. The purpose of training packages is to give a PC a group of skills, with perhaps more ranks than DP would allow for that level, than if the player tried to buy them individually.

    A) that is free DP to a PC who shouldn’t have them and is an unfair boost when another player may not be interested in the training package for his PC… thereby ‘forcing’ the other player to take a training package just to have a few extra DP to stay on par with the first player

    B) the package is needed because the DPs are too low and the PC wouldn’t be “as good” at his profession without it and there is therefore an issue with how DP are derived

    C) if “B” is the case, then the profession is flawed, the DP system is flawed, or training packages are almost mandatory making them not really optional, but kinda-sorta necessary

    What we did, and what I still do, is allow a player to have a Hobby, the concept coming from RM2 as a background option. Rather than award additional ranks in a Secondary Skill as written, we allow the player to choose two DP cost digits to be cut in half to reflect extra time training or a hobby the PC studied at an early age. I’m specific to state ‘digits’ in the description.

    Tightrope Walking 2/4
    The player can make the cost 1/4 or 2/2 and choose to cut another skill cost digit in half or use both hobbies for Tightrope Walking and make the skill 1/2.

    Most players only purchased up to the first 10 ranks at 5% per rank anyway. In the end, it usually ended up being less than the equivalent of just awarding 10 free ranks. With the hobby system, players still needed to buy the ranks with their DP.

    By allowing the players to choose the hobby skills, they added something really unique to the PC such as Use/Remove Poison for a fighter or an affordable Rank 1 Martial Arts for a mage (ranks 2-4 were still at standard cost) , or mage who could at least be decent with a melee weapon.

    It offered an opportunity for a professional to buy a skill he wouldn’t normally try to purchase due to cost restrictions or DP limitations. It never threw out the balance of the game as the skill that was picked up wasn’t game-changing. A player probably wouldn’t choose to make a 1/2 skill down to 1/1. Saving 1 DP per level doesn’t really help the PC, but changing a 2/4 skill to 2/2 sort of saves some DP. At this point, it is now assumed that player will buy two ranks per level in order to take advantage of the lower cost for a 2nd rank. On one hand, the player is saving 2 DP, but he needs to spend 4 DP every time… else it was a wasted hobby pick. And honestly, how often do your players use Tightrope Walking? LOL

  5. I have never used talents or flaw in RM. I even think that the RoCoI background options were an example of power creep.

    The way that Talents & Flaws are used in HARP for race definitions I think is really good and a really neat mechanic. I guess there is a difference between these genetic/racial/blood talents and the professional talents that can be bought and improved upon during play.

    1. Talents/Merits/Flaws/perks due to a race, that’s great. I’m all for something like that. It makes the race something to consider when designing the PC a player would like to use. A lot of game systems use this method. Some races are inherently more nimble, or better swimmers, or more resistant to magic, or more magically attuned.

  6. Hmmm, I’ve been pondering on skills and the concept of talents(feats) and flaws has been on the back burner of the piece. I’m with most of you about the inclusion in RM – I don’t think it has a place. On the other hand, they sort of exist in the race abilities and sats as Peter mentioned.
    I can see a Feat or heroic talent being included if you want to turn your RM game into an out and out Fantasy Hero version of the game (Stormbringer always springs to mind). Christian’s idea about a unique ability in balance (a very Hero/Gurps thing) works well here. But I can’t see it as a bolt onto a profession. Thinking outside of the adventuring classes/professions, would anyone seriously consider a carpenter with a talent for exceptional woodworking but the flaw that he erm drinks a lot? Surely, he has carpentry skills and his character is just chosen to be played that way by the player. All of which still leaves me puzzling the age-old conundrum of when is a skill a skill.

    1. I think you can use the idea of Talents and Flaws as more of a background piece to races. Build them using T/F, but don’t call them that. And on the whole I really dislike the idea you can improve them like skills or stats. I’ve got them in the current draft of my modern stuff just to harmonize with RMU, but only ONE can be gained during play and it’s a very special case (one I developed that isn’t in RMU) requiring the GM and player to work together to add it in.

  7. What is the point of talents and flaws? Well the post omitted one thing from its list: They’re fun. I started RMSS during high school, and everyone thought their characters’ talents were awesome.
    They gave us ideas for backgrounds. Our group would never have the hilarious story of the PC who got mauled by a wild boar if we didn’t have the Animal Bane flaw. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  8. I’m fine with them being in the game, at least for racial talents/flaws.

    One case where I think they are great is for ambidexterity. This used to be an issue for us because the Rogue player always wanted his/her character to be ambidextrous, but of course only a small percentage of the population is ambidextrous, so just rolling randomly to see was always an issue: the player would rarely get to play an ambidextrous character. So now in RMU we have a Talent: Ambidextrous, for 10 DP, and that gives us a reasonable cost and solves the issue.

    I do feel some of the talents and flaws are somewhat imbalanced, so I will have to go through the list to see which ones I allow and which I don’t.

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