HARP read through – Skills

There are lots of features of the HARP skills system that will seem similar. We have the rule of diminishing returns where the the first ten ranks give a +5 bonus, the next ten +2 then all ranks after that give +1. No ranks gives a -25 for unskilled tasks.

Characters are allowed to buy any number of ranks in a skill each level but are capped at the total number of ranks they can have. This cap is 3 x level +3. So if you bought three ranks during adolescence and three at each level you would always be at your maximum skill bonus.

The unlimited buying of ranks though does mean that if you are 5th level and suddenly decide to change weapon, having just found a holy hammer of smiting that makes your broadsword look a bit lame, they you could rapidly buy up to 21 ranks when you next levelled up (3 x 6 +3). On the other hand as a fighter you would probably have put your professional bonuses into your broadsword up until that point so although you had the same number of ranks you would still be slightly better with the sword than the hammer for a few more levels.

This dual mechanism means that characters can rapidly become competent but it will take several levels for a ‘new’ skill to really equal or exceed a long established skill.

Another subtle change, and one I like, is the skill difficulties. We still get difficulty labels we are used to but the bonus and penalties are more regular.

Mundane No roll is necessary.
Routine (+60) Anyone could complete a maneuver of this type, given time and a bit of luck.
Easy (+40) An apprentice can complete the maneuver with little difficulty.
Light (+20) Given enough time, an apprentice could complete the maneuver.
Medium (+0) The average difficulty inherent in any situation.
Hard (-20) This difficulty level requires a character with expertise to accomplish this maneuver.
Very Hard (-40) Even an expert needs time to successfully complete these types of maneuvers.
Ext. Hard (-60) Only an expert of unparalleled skill, or someone with incredible luck would be able to accomplish maneuvers of this difficulty.
Sheer Folly (-80) Maneuvers at this level teeter on the very edge of natural human capability.
Absurd (-100) These maneuvers are a step above the normal possibilities of most humans.

The progression is logical and doesn’t need a table to reference or look up of what the penalties are. I see this as another table that could be stripped out of RM and another tiny simplification.

Buying skills

This section starts with a boxout telling people to buy hitpoints (Endurance, perception, powerpoints, weapon skills and resistance. Yes, you can train your resistance against disease, poison and magic!

In total there are 63 named skills in nine categories. Those 63 skills are frequently broken down into subskills such as Ride->Ride Horse/Ride Camel and so on.

Every character has typically four or five categories that are favoured and all the skills in these categories cost 2DP and all non-favoured skills/categores cost 4DP.

At character creation characters get 100DPs to spend buying skills. Normally they will get a fixed 50DP per level.

One way that HARP tries to mitigate against skills bloat is by having a dual nature to most skills. This is the description of Appraisal.

Appraisal
So you’ve looted your dungeon, retrieved the sacred staff
and grabbed a few valuables along the way. So, what are they
worth? Appraisal is a character’s bonus for estimating the
value of objects or goods. The character may take this as a
general skill, or he may specialize in specific types of items
or objects, such as weapons, gemstones, metals, animals, etc.

If the character specializes, then a successful Maneuver Roll
will allow him to determine the value of the item to within
5% to 10% of its actual value. If taken as a generalized skill,
then a successful maneuver will allow the character to determine
the value to within 15% to 25% of its actual value.

Different items will have different values within different
cultures. This, along with the general fluctuations associated
with the buying and selling of items, is what causes this skill
to produce such nebulous results. Failure when using this
skill most often results in the character being unable to determine
a value or determining an incorrect value.
(General – Re/In – Percentage)

So you can see that skills may be atomised into more detailed sub skills, which will please RM2 GMs that like their myriad of detailed skills but also satisfies people like me that prefer fewer broaders skills.

Another nice feature of the HARP rules is that the book is easy to read. Take a look at this skill description for Endurance. Endurance is HARP’s answer to Body Development.

Endurance
“You know the worst thing about the dwarves? They never tire.
Sure you can outrun them, on the first day, or the second. If
you have a horse you can keep going for a few days more, but
they’ll just keep on coming, following your trail, never stopping.
And each time you rest, because you aren’t a dwarf, he
gets a bit closer. And he’ll get you.”

A character’s Endurance skill bonus is, simply put, his
Concussion Hits, a measure of how much damage he can take
before passing out. This skill’s total is comprised of the skill
rank bonus, the stat bonuses listed for this skill, and the Racial
Endurance Bonus listed on the Racial Characteristics Table.

Example: Jorg, a human, with a Endurance bonus of +30
has 12 ranks in Endurance, a Self Discipline of 90 which
gives him a bonus of +8 and a Constitution of 90 which gives
him a bonus of +8. Jorg has a Concussion Hit total of 100
((10 ranks * 5 = 50) + (2 ranks * 2 = 4) + (Co bonus 8 + SD
bonus 8 = 16) + (30 Racial Endurance Bonus) = 100). This
means that Jorg can take 100 hits of damage prior to falling
unconscious.
(Physical – Co/SD – Special)

So you get the little vignette before the skill description, the description, an example and then a brief summary of the category, stat bonuses and skill resolution type. These little vignette scenes are scattered throughout the skills chapter, typically one or two brief ones per page to break up the list.

Training Packages

Training packages are not actually mentioned in the Skills chapter, they come in in chapter 7 ‘Talents & Other’ but I want to mention them here.

I am not a massive fan of Training packages. I generally lump them into the same bracket as skills bloat, profession bloat and talent bloat. On the other hand I have played in a game where they were done really well and I can see the benefit of them when done well.

HARP training packages give a 25% discount on buying the same bundle of skills individually.

HARP Fantasy gives the rules for creating TPs and seven examples. It also includes the fatal flaw with TPs that turns me off.

Players can also create their own TPs. When doing so, they should collaborate with the GM on creating a background story for the TP so that the GM may work it into the campaign world with as little trouble as possible. When a player creates a TP, the GM must always approve it before the character may actually purchase it. This also allows the character to be more involved in the campaign world.

So the flaw is that if you allow players to create their own TPs then the natural born min/maxers will create a character concept and then cram as much as possible into the training package for that concept. Hey presto! in a single action they are getting all their skills 25% cheaper than anyone else. If you are particularly clever you put all your most expensive skills into the TP to get the maximum saving. “Ah yes I am playing a fighter but when he was young he was apprenticed to an investigator at the mages guild and so I created a magical investigator TP with all these magical skills as he had to know about these to investigate magical crimes.”

When TPs are done well I agree that they can add flavour to a campaign. In the game I played, it was Sci Fi, we were the crew of a spaceship and we were offered a single TP for our station on the ship. We had no control over the contents, we bought it or not. For the GM it meant that they could up the competence of the first level characters and the medic had decent medical skills, the pilot really could fly and not kill everyone and so on. It meant that although I was the medic I could still choose any profession for the character.

So I am in favour of GM created TPs but not player created TPs. They should not be a vehicle for min/maxing a character but they should be a way of creating more rounded characters that can have the background lore or social skills relating to their lives and backgrounds without them having to compromise too much on the skills that make them adventuring heroes.

So at the end of the skills buying process HARP characters will probably have six ranks in all their core abilities. So fighters will have six ranks in a melee weapon and a missile weapon, six ranks in endurance, six in perception and so on. Typically a starting skills then in these core areas will be in the ball park of +45, +30 from skill, +12 to +16 or so from stats.

In total skill ranks they will have 20 ranks from their profession, 20 rnaks from their culture and they can afford 25 (all non favoured) to 50 (all favoured) with their DPs assuming they do not buy any talents. This means that a skills based character, such as a rogue can have a really solid base in many skills. On the other hand if you want to specialise you can still be really competent. A starting HARP character is definitely more competent than a starting Rolemaster character.

14 Replies to “HARP read through – Skills”

  1. I like the simplified maneuver difficulty progression; anything that helps me eliminate a chart without any serious loss of function is a plus to me.

    It is interesting to see that HARP allows characters to buy skills to train their resistances. Some of us have suggested this for RMU too, and I would love to see it, since RMU already has the skills in place to do it: say Poison Mastery for Poison; Mental Focus for Mentalism; Power Projection for Essence; and Channeling for Channeling.

    If we do that, we make a few relatively weak skills now quite good, and we also give Arms Users a route to at least have a chance at resisting spells (since spell users keep getting bonuses the more ranks they buy in their lists). I do worry that Arms users are falling a bit behind the spell users in RMU, so allowing people to train resistances would definitely help with that.

    Now look at that! Here I am again arguing that HARP did something good that could be added to RMU. Your HARP series has me going places I never intended to go. You’re rocking my world!

    I still find training packages entirely unnecessary in a game that lets any class buy any skill, but I do like the idea of offering players (especially new players) a ‘Standard
    Build’, or template for what skills an ordinary character of that class could buy. We even have a guide to that in the RMU templates in Creature Law. So I think just assembling a collection of ‘Standard Builds’ (just a listing which skills each class can buy with 60 DP) would be very helpful for players who don’t know a lot about the rules and just want to start playing with a competent character, without having to do a lot of research.

    1. My intention in doing the chapter by chapter break down was to really examine the rules and mechanics.

      If I did a simple 1000 word review we would not have picked up on the more subtle differences and what is the value in a review of a game that is heading towards a decade old?

      Finally, the more indepth we look the more RMU I expect to see.

  2. For the modern stuff I’m working on I had the SF version of HARP recommended to me. I didn’t find much useful there in terms of my game concept, but I did see some of the things you’re talking about, Peter. Over the past few years I’ve done sort of a modified TP, but it comes in the background area. Cultures and pre-gaming “backgrounds” are fairly enhanced in my stuff, so players usually start with the basics covered (Perception, Body Development and so on) so they have an understanding of what skills are important but still have room (and points) to add their own touches. Franky, I feel this is the best way to go since it buries quite a bit of the stuff in the background but still gets it done and doesn’t add the bloat and potential gamesmanship of actual TPs and the like.

  3. Concerning the training packages this is easy to solve. Just get rid of the 25% discount. Training packages will still have a benefit for those that don’t want to dive deep in skill picking. However it will eliminate the benefit for power players.

    1. The thing about TPs was that they did not just include the obviously useful skills but also less useful ones that reflect the cultural background and ties behind the TP. So for example a TP for a particular philosophy of monk would include the martial arts skills and chi skills you would expect but then added history, religion and philosophy skills.

      Your power player would naturally take the martial arts skills and chi skills but would then probably skip the lore in favour of another weapon or more subterfuge skills.

      The 25% then compensates for the all or nothing nature of the TP. Without it it would always better not to take the TP as you get the same skills at the same price but the option to tweak the selection to suit your character.

      1. I think I need to disagree. Having a training package is extremely useful for new and inexperienced players. It just saves them time and decisions. Some players do see this as an advantage.

        1. You can do the same thing with robust background skills and a partial development cycle for characters (basic training if you will). Boosting culture and background skills also help new players flesh out their characters, while a TP doesn’t really in my experience have the same potential. I object most to TPs when they leave the realm of background and become things you can buy when you level up.

          1. Yes, I agree with this on all counts. I have never used TPs in my game. One of the things I have liked about HARP is the amount of skills that are given out both focused on the chosen professions areas of expertise and then across the board from their cultural background. There is just too much temptation to make a TP for everything and treat it as a discount sale for skills.

            I have heard a good case for TPs and that is when the characters are working their passage on a ship. At the end of the voyage the GM says they can have the following skills but when they level up they have to pay the TP price for the complete package. Take it or leave it.

            The absolute crus is TPs done extremely well are a good thing. TPs done badly are a bad thing. GMs will argue back and forth forever and hold us examples of both.

        2. Hurin has made the same point, having an off the shelf build of a well rounded fighter, knight, or anti-paladin speed up character creation and help teach new players what skills they should be looking at.

          They can also be used to differentiate someone trained as a Navy Seal from someone trained by the SAS.

          I can see both those roles and think they are good. I can also see that when you start working with more interesting combinations of training package and off the shelf profession then some combinations may be nearly impossible like Indiana Jones being an tomb raiding scholar. On the other hand some sort of explorer TP applied to a scholar could make the character more viable at first level.

    1. For all or nothing skills it is 101+ just like RM2.

      For percentage maneuvers it is graduated like RM but not with a dedicated table with all the different difficulties cross referenced with the roll result. The dice roll scale goes from -51 and down to 301+ and the the maneuver difficulty factor is a bonus or penalty on the roll.

      HARP also has a Near Miss which is roughly analogous with the Partial Success result in RM but with a less generous range on the dice roll.

    1. Now that is extremely close to what I am doing with the stat gains. When the stat has been used is the equivalent to when your characters have successfully resisted, I make them roll over the stat you make apply the gain on an open ended. To all intents and purposes we are applying the same mechanic.

  4. To me there are several advantages of TPs, the most obvious of which comes when the return on investment of DP to skill ranks becomes negative: you have enough skills at rank 20 that spending 2 DP to increase the bonus by 1 is almost a waste of DP.

    Sure, you can say all you want about your character, and in a way Training Packages fill the role of Prestige Classes in D&D, but not exactly.

    As others have mentioned, sometimes being overwhelmed with choice leaves a player anxious. Having a package with set skill ranks reduces some of that choice, and thus leaves an anxious player with fewer DP decisions to make.

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