Keeping Up Appearances – The Appearance Stat

A nice round 11 stats

Deconstructing Rolemaster a little, the stats system is not particularly outstanding. The whole stats system lacks conviction, there is one option to use just a single stat bonus with skills, another to use the average of two or three stats and the latest version with smaller stat bonuses that are added together. If you bring HARP into the frame then there are 8 stats, in Rolemaster there are 10 stats if you ignore the poor relation of Appearance that makes 11 stats.

Appearance is rolled like all the other stats but then modified by Presence. Take a look at this example from the RMC Character Law pg33

Example 2: Linthea is 6’1″ and 170 pounds. Tall and lithe, she stands out among humans. Her hair is a deep brown, and is quite pretty when down, but most often kept tied in a bun at the back of her head. Her green eyes have a slightly slitted pupil, and her pointed ears also show her elvish ancestry, though she has earlobes like a human. Lauren rolls a 38 for appearance, +10 for Linthea’s presence modification. A 48 is slightly below average, the GM explains that her half human appearance is found odd by the elves. Among humans Linthea is considered exotic and attractive, though she sees herself as plain. Her persona is quite friendly for an elf, but among humans she comes across as reserved, mysterious, and a trifle odd.

The bold text is added by me to highlight the pertinent point. No other stat is modified in this way. All the other stats are pretty much 1-100 for ‘normal’ people but not Appearance. Appearance works on a -24 to 125 scale.

Appearance gives no stat bonus and is not relevant to any skills


This is one of those “Rolemasterisms”. I have complained in the past about how the skill system is so inconsistent. To put it briefly some skills cancel out minuses such as armour skills, some are 101+ for success or failure, some are incremental, some give +5 per rank (then +2, +½ etc.), some give +1 for every rank. Most have stat bonuses, some have none, some use one pricing rule like weapons, and musical instruments and others use a different system (the 2/6 for two ranks). Some are disposable, like spell lists where once you have the list you discard the ranks (this is important if a caster stops learning a one list to start another) and so on. There are so many variations it is hard to keep track. Don’t get me started on the skills with special rules and the ones with almost magical powers like the adrenal moves, disarming, iai strike and stunned maneuver!

DB, DP & Hits

The stats situation is not as bad but it is in the same vein. Some stats give development points, some don’t, some stats are used only for stat bonuses but others like Constitution and Quickness have a massive impact, hits and DB in this case. Then you get powerpoints. You have a different stat depending on your realm, or the average if you are a hybrid.

If you have high stats at 1st level then if all things are equal then you will massivelyh out strip your companions in experience and levels as you get more DPs, so more skills, so you can do more and earn more experience.

At mid to higher level stats are irrelevent. You may have a total skill bonus of +150 or more but the difference between a character with an average stat of about 50 and an exceptional character with a 90 is just ±10 on that total.

All in all if you look at Rolemaster stats too closely you see just what a hodge podge they really are.

5 Replies to “Keeping Up Appearances – The Appearance Stat”

  1. Peter:

    Great post! There is probably another half dozen blog articles in this but just to focus on appearance. We’ve been using appearance and it’s a primary stat for social and performance skills so it can be a critical score for game play.

    I think the varying rule mechanisms are a function of modeling realism and not being driven by a consistent rules foundation. With that said, that’s probably also the reason why there is SO MANY alt & house rules. RM is modular and it’s easy to “repeal & replace” modular sections of the rules. Just a quick read through various RM Forums topics will show multiple rule solutions for almost every mechanism. Most of them vary in complexity, but they all basically work (excluding any arbitrary opinion of “game balance”). That’s pretty amazing and perhaps should be seen as a strength of the system? RM is a sort of the “DOS/PC” RPG: flexible, customizable and easy to program.

  2. I love that analogy of the DOS/PC RPG! That is exactly how it is.

    I don’t make people roll their appearance, they choose it. If they want to be handsome they can be, if they are a grizzled old veteran then that is fine too. I do still add the PR stat bonus to it. I think it is force of habit but some people are good looking and charasmatic and others not.

    I didn’t actually start out intending on writing about the appearance stat today, it just sort of happened.

    I think the lack of a consistent rule mechanism is one of the reasons for the negative perception of Rolemaster being overly complicated. Hurin (on the forum) said something that really struck me and that was that he wanted loads of detail when creating his characters but less detail and complexity when playing. One makes it feel like he is playing exactly the character he wanted to play the other slows down the game.

    There is a lot to be said for that even if there are different ways to achieve it.

    1. I really dislike the idea of having a lot of character info/stats and not using that info. It’s an example of playing the game ‘let’s make a character’ instead of ‘let’s use the character’. RP is supposed to be about the latter.

      I have run into far too many gamers who only want to take the former seriously. As soon as the gameplay doesn’t perfectly mirror their expectations they drop out and start making more characters for other systems. That is a far more serious problem, in my experience, versus rules lawyering and ‘roll playing’.

      I favor having a lot of stats detail but I also favor having everyone at the table play that role, not whatever is convenient at the moment.

      Appearance is problematic because there is a lot of variety in terms of what people find attractive. Brad Pitt, for instance, has been gushed over to the point of article claiming that his face has a bunch of perfect mathematical distances/shapes that are based in our evolutionary psychology. Um… I have never thought he’s much to look at. Pretty average. Frankly, I think Demi Moore is more attractive (Winona Ryder more so) and I’m gay, not bi.

      I think most women have a different type of guy versus what I like but research also shows that women have two ideal types: a ‘fun’ guy and a ‘serious’ guy. The first is for flings and the second is for marriage. They’re not just two people; the former is more masculine and the latter softer, more feminine. The hypothesis is that the femininity means greater stability for the household. (My sister married the ‘bad boy’ at 18 and found out the hard way why that’s not a good idea. Definitely lacking in stability and not lacking in aggression. And his face was long and narrow, fitting the high-testosterone model discussed in recent research along these lines.)

      Hetero guys also seem to have a particular taste in their Platonic male beauty ideal that doesn’t fit too well with what I like (look at all the brutish wrinkled/grizzled hyper-macho video game ‘heroic male leads’). One hetero guy objected to a character portrait I made because he said his lips were too pouty/large, which he thought looks bad in men (too effeminate).

      With fantasy it’s even worse because there are typically other species, not just other races (plus the two sexes, different ages with their particular tastes, different orientations, et cetera).

      One way to handle it is to have an average reaction score for seeing the person for each species, race, sex, and orientation. Then, any interactions involve charisma, voice quality, clothing/nudity, body language/movement, etc. But, here it’s complicated because, for example, effeminate movement and voice will be attractive to some and repellant to others. Some will like ‘somewhat effeminate’ but not ‘highly effeminate’. Then, there is naturally effeminate and artificially effeminate. Some will find fancy expensive clothing attractive while others would be more attracted to skimpy or nothing at all. It’s as complex because, as Kinsey said, even simple creatures are always unique individuals.

      One suggestion I have for an article like this is to include a mention of systems you think do things as close to ‘best-possible’. I have been trying to find a system other than D&D/Pathfinder and various Star Wars. I like some aspects of what I’ve seen of this system and also Harn’s but some things I don’t like. Not being a stats adept I would like a system that isn’t broken, as one review said Harn’s is.

      1. You certainly dug this one out the past!

        Your comment is displaying fine for me with the paragraph breaks. I wonder if it was just a browser issue?

  3. I had line breaks in my post but they were stripped out somehow. Please add some to make the post not seem poorly written. Thanks!

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