If we’re soapboxing, I’ll jump on one of mine: First Level shouldn’t suck! The whole premise behind first level should be giving a player a character who’s gone through her formative years and experiences and is ready to set out on her own, not some abstraction of early adolescence who can’t survive being stung by a bee, let alone a minor encounter with a wild dog. The old joke about D&D magic users having to hide behind fighters until they were about fifth level has a sad basis in fact, and Rolemaster (in my opinion) seems intent on turning first level into a collection of those magic users.
Start at the Beginning
Take stat generation. In RM2 you were guaranteed two stats of 90 (your prime requisites). No longer. And if you’re using the default stat rolling system, you’re more likely than you used to be to create a character that isn’t really playable (and I don’t buy the ‘average stat’ argument created by using random number generators…what matters is what new players rolling the dice experience). The only way I’ve found to have a viable character is to use the supposedly optional stat purchase system. And if you don’t like stat purchase systems, you’re more or less sunk.
If it’s Broke…
I’ve lost track of the number of posts I’ve seen on the RM Forums from GMs and players who start at fifth level (or higher) for their games. To me that speaks more to a defect in the basic system than anything else. If that many people have found first level as provided by the rules essentially unplayable, there’s a problem. Suggesting that groups default to developing to fifth level (for example) doesn’t fix the problem…it just papers over it. And for new players the prospect of having to do that much development before starting play is daunting, made worse by the fact that their character could be killed in her first fight by a critical strike.
You Should Fix it
How do you fix this? RMU seems designed for a purchase system (in fact earlier drafts made that distinction clear, but it’s less so now), but if you don’t care for purchase systems for stats (I don’t, and I’ve found them to be difficult for new players as well) you can always haul out an old stand-by from d100 systems in the 1980s and 1990s – the roll modification table. I developed one for a project that works quite well, and it makes sure a PC will start with at least average stats across the board. That gives them a fighting chance. It also avoids a situation I saw in one of my RMU playtest sessions where a player had a character with NO stat above 50 (yes…that’s not a misprint). Her highest potential? A 71.
It’s what you know
Skills are a different matter, and can be approached from a number of directions. While some opt for increasing DPs, I prefer to beef up cultures and background options. This cuts down on rolling and purchase mechanics and lets a character enter play with a better balance of skills (including some that may be important to the setting but might not normally be chosen by players). Strong backgrounds leave players with more DPs to spend on skills they feel they need to round out their character concept.
First level should be viable. It should be the starting point of most games…at least those involving new players so they don’t spend hours creating an inflated character. Any time fist level isn’t viable there’s a problem.