First Level – My Take

What does a first level character look like?
I’ve talked a fair amount about both modern gaming and first level characters, so I figured I’d write up an example of what a first level character looks like in my developing rules. Creating one of these characters takes a few steps, and I’ll try to provide some “time hacks” so you can get an idea of how long it takes. It’s a bit long, but this isn’t something you distill into 150 characters.

1) Develop a Character Concept. For me, the most important part of character creation is sitting down with a player and figuring out what kind of character they want to play. I explain the basics of the setting, and they talk about what they see their character doing or being in that setting. Then I come back with the Professions and we work to find the best fit for their concept. This takes as much time as needed, but new players normally need more time than experienced ones.
2) Roll Stats. In order to correct the persistent problem with rolling stats in RMU, I’ve created a roll modification table. It’s used for both Temp and Pot stats. Using this table, no player will start with a stat under 26. I also allow players to place their rolls in any stats they wish. Any roll below 90 is modified in some way (Temps stop being modified at 51). This takes about 5 minutes or so, depending on the player.
3) Pick a Culture. I’ve beefed up Cultures quite a bit in my games, since it’s representing the first 18 or so years of a character’s life. Normally the player ties the Culture to her character concept. Most of the skills are pre-selected, but there’s also room for some player choice (languages and lore-type skills are most common). Characters come out of a Culture with about 18 skills and 35 Ranks spread through them. This can take 10 minutes or more, depending on the culture and how much detailing the player wants to do.
4) Go to Work or School. I do a great deal of modern setting gaming, and either workforce experience or college plays a role in most people’s lives before they settle into their first career. Characters come out of this with a solid base of skills (either academic or trade), which also reduces the DP burden later on. I’ve got profiles build for Liberal Arts, Science/Engineering, and Workforce, all using the same number of skill ranks. This template gives characters 5-6 Skills and 30 Ranks between them (with the main focus getting 11). This also takes between 10-15 minutes, since all the player’s doing is assigning skills to the pre-determined skill ranks.
5) Pick a Background. This may seem out of order until you understand that my Background Options tend to cover a wide span of time, possibly including time spent after college in a particular occupation. These cost DPs, but give characters more skill ranks and possibly some other benefits. Backgrounds cost from 20-50 DPs and distribute a number of Skills and Ranks. Backgrounds are quick; no more than five minutes here on average.
6) Buy Talents and Flaws. This is an optional step in many of my games, but it takes ten minutes or more (again depending on the players). I’ve reworked many of the Talents and Flaws to fit non-magic settings, but I’ve also found they’re not strictly necessary in those settings.
7) Develop First Level. In all my games, each Profession has an associated First Level training profile. It’s called various things depending on the setting, but it insures each character starts with the necessary basic skills while leaving some DPs available for player choice and customization. It also cuts down on the amount of time needed to develop to first level, since on average at least half the DPs are already ‘spent.’ Below is the First Level scheme for Direct Action, the Assassin Profession in my modern setting:
Body Development: 2 ranks
Combat (Handguns): 3 ranks OR 2 ranks Handguns, 1 rank Rifle OR only 1 rank if not main weapon (must choose between firearms and melee for primary weapon)
Combat (Unarmed): 2 ranks
Combat (Melee): 1 rank (or 3 ranks if main weapon)
Perception: 2 ranks
Stalk/Hide: 1 rank
Combat Expertise (Subdual): 2 ranks
Combat (Sub-machine Guns): 1 rank
Ambush/Sniping: 2 ranks
Medical (First Aid): 1 rank
Surveillance (Physical): 1 rank
10 DPs for electives (skills chosen by the player – this can be increased by unspent DPs left from earlier parts of the process or those gained from Flaws)
8) Generate Luck and Street Smarts. This takes under 5 minutes. I use these in the same way many use Fate Points. Street Smarts are gained each level. Luck never refills. Also, players don’t roll for Luck Points – the GM does. That way they never really know when their luck runs out.
9) Setting-Based Step. This is reserved for any unique requirement of a setting. For example, espionage games require a player to pick a cover occupation for her character. This can take 10 minutes.


So that’s how I go about first level.

10 Replies to “First Level – My Take”

  1. There are two aspects I particularly like about your process.

    I like the onion skin approach so the player, particularly new players, can see the characters skills building over time. I think that is superior to the HARP method of a single development ‘level with 100DPs rather than the normal 50DP per level.

    Although you use more layers than I like I do like that each layer is clearly liked to an obvious life stage where the player can imagine what the character was doing to learn those skills.

  2. Yeah, to do modern stuff properly (at least in my view) I need to use as many layers as I do. I’ve tried trimming it down, but found it just didn’t work in terms of starting characters where they should be and leaving players with enough skills AND DPs to have a useful (and survivable) first level character.

    I’m experimenting with the idea of staring (or beginning) Professions as well for a couple of settings.

    1. I can see that makes sense.

      Is it you that allows change of profession? I know this has come up on the forums more than once.

      1. Yes, that’s me. I’m convinced you HAVE to allow this in modern games (or just about any non-magic setting for that matter), and it’s easy enough to control (at least in my experience) in fantasy as well.

        1. It was never an issue for us that went down the ‘no prof’ route but I do agree that it is essential. I have had PCs change their life direction many times in the past and the Conan series of books would not have been the same if it had gone Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Barbarian II, Conan the Barbarian III.

  3. We too just allow players to assign their rolls to any stat they want. My players are used to DnD and would probably revolt it I only allowed the limited number of switches (is it two?) in the current RMU rules.

    1. Yeah, it’s two changes. Two changes don’t help if your rolls suck, though. That was one thing I did like about RM2 – you were guaranteed two sats that were decent if you had bad rolls (the old ‘raise your PRs to 90’ rule).

      1. True, it ensured you were not entirely gimped.

        Oh, I forgot one other thing I’ve started doing recently. Once players all roll for stat bonuses (we just roll bonuses directly, and eliminate the needless middle man of the percentile stats themselves), then I add up all the bonuses for each character. Some might have more than others: say someone had a net bonus of +30, while another had 15. Everyone except the high roller gets extra bonus development points for each point their total is below 30.

        1. I think one of the coolest things about RM is its ability to flex around rule changes without breaking. …”and eliminate the needless middle man of the percentile stats themselves”… I went completely the other way and made the d100 stat even more important and pull their weight.

          1. Yes, I think that flexibility lets you go either way, which is great.

            I very much like what you’ve done with the d100 stats. If I were making Rolemaster all over again, I would probably do exactly what you’ve done, and just have the percentile stat as the stat bonus for the skill. This would eliminate a lot of the frustration players have at low levels because the stat bonus pales in comparison to the skill bonus, and at low levels the skill bonus is low and the threshold for success is high. Having a 63 agility and thus being able to add a 63 agility bonus to your climbing attempt makes simple basic maneuvers like climbing a low hill appropriately easy, whereas having only a +4 bonus stat bonus and a +10 skill bonus makes it much less likely to succeed if the threshold of success is 101. So I very much like that idea.

            That would involve such a major change for us though that it is easier for us to just do away with the percentile stats altogether and just use the bonuses. Note too that we use the simpler equation of (stat – 50)/3 for the stat bonus, so it is easy for us to derive a percentile stat from the stat bonus on those rare occasions we need to do it. You just multiply the bonus by 3 and add 50 to get the percentile stat. A +4 stat bonus = 62 percentile stat.

            You can’t quite do that with the current RMU stats because they have that irregular stat bonus curve and you need a chart to be able to derive the stat from the bonus or the bonus from the stat. That’s another reason I’ve been trying to convince the dev team to just go with (stat – 50)/3 for the stat bonus.

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