More Musings on Professions: Are they Necessary in Rolemaster?

For a game system that was predicated on “no limitations” for player characters, I still find the need to cling to Professions curious. More importantly–beyond PC creation and occasionally leveling–do Professions serve any other purpose? Is a Professional label important for NPCs–the most generally the predominant characters in a game world?

Besides acting as a general trope label, NPC’s in ICE products still list out all skills, skill bonuses and spell lists. Unlike D&D, there are no intrinsic skills or abilities imparted to professions at various levels in Rolemaster. The Profession listed on an NPC stat might give a GM a “sense” of that character, but what really matters is the stat block itself. There is really no need to know a Profession for an NPC–only their stats and abilities. That’s the whole point of a skill based character system.

In Shadow World Terry pretty much throws away strict adherence to Professions; in my mind this an acknowledgement of the creative limitations such a system produces. Loremasters and Navigators are clearly a Profession, but due to RAW, are first assigned a standard RM Profession and then given extra base lists. The Steel Rain, Priests Arnak etc are all given extra lists on top of the Profession (whether it be Mentalism, Channeling or Essence) with NO REGARD to realm limitations.

As a GM do you build an NPC from the ground up? When creating a 22nd level NPC do you go through all 22 levels of character build using Profession skill costs??  I don’t, I just fill in stat blocks based on a general sense of power level and the narrative needs the NPC serves. Have you looked at any NPCs in MERP or Shadow World and analyzed whether the skill stats have any relation to Profession skill costs, ranks or bonuses?

My point being that “descriptors” are more useful to me than some arbitrary Profession assignment in an NPC stat block that serves no other purpose in the game mechanics. Unless PC’s know the NPC’s Profession and then make meta-gaming decisions based on that, they serve no purpose.

That means, in practice, that Professions only serve a purpose for a handful of people; the 2, 3 or even 5 players in your group. All those rules, all the arguments about skill costs and the nitpicking about whether Weather Watching should be 2/3 or 2/4 for a Animist seem complex for complexity sake.

I’m building a city in Shadow World: Nontataku.  Like any RPG city, this is an NPC intensive environment. Per RAW (RM2), I need to assign a Profession to shopkeepers, blacksmiths, porters, etc. Obviously giving them a RM Profession is absurd. Assigning a shopkeeper the Profession of “Figher, Thief or even Mage” is pointless. Some versions of RM do add non-adventure tropes as additional Professions (craftsmen, laborer and even “no-Profession”) but, for me, that is just another example of “Rule for Rules”.

For me, simple descriptors like “Shopkeeper” or “Loremaster” or “Merchant” work better than some arbitrary, and limited, Rolemaster profession.

11 Replies to “More Musings on Professions: Are they Necessary in Rolemaster?”

  1. In my RAW game I do in fact create my NPCs from level 0 to level 22 if that is what is needed including stat gains and so on. The reason is that I am using RCU to build and maintain my NPCs.

    In my house ruled version the question is moot as there are no professions or levels.

    You are not going to get any argument from me.

    An interesting point though is that if you did want to min/max a character, the profession as written in the rules and the profession as the other characters see it can go very out of sync. My spacemaster medic was rolled up as an Armsman because for the skills I wanted the Armsman had lower skill costs. I had a thief (profession) who leaned towards the ‘scout’ version rather than as a criminal and the other players assumed he was a ranger and in fact I was a better ranger than the ranger. I had even put a single rank in a spell list just for pot luck (the GM allowed stat bonus on spell list rolls) and I ended up with a handful of spell lists even if they were just to 5th level.

    1. Right, so if a character is going to get the character he/she wants anyway by gaming the ruleset, why not just give them a more flexible to begin with.

  2. I know you two feel strongly about this, but I do feel strongly too that professions are useful. I find them useful especially in two ways:

    –First and foremost, they are useful for PCs. Some of my players already find RM complicated enough, and they want guidance when making a character. Choosing ‘Rogue’ allows them to at least get a class concept and to have a range of skill costs that are going to work with rather than against them as they build that character. Some of my players don’t want to spend a lot of time building a character; they just want a ‘quick Rogue’. If I go with a no profession system, they have a hard time figuring out how to build their character: they don’t know what every individual skill does and they don’t know all the skills that might be useful. Taking a Rogue gives them a kind of standard template: they can see low skill costs in Stalk and Ambush, and recognize that these are the sorts of things their character is going to be good in, so they take a look at those skills more carefully than say spellcasting skills. The Rogue professions points their path for them.

    –I also find professions useful for NPCs. I do not stat out all my NPCs or build them from level 1. I often just shorthand them as ‘Magician’ or ‘Fighter’. This saves me a lot of time; I really don’t have the time to build out every tangential NPC as if it were a PC, with all skills and stats done. What I will often do is have to make a ruling on whether a character has certain skills: e.g. the NPC gets stunned and I have to figure out if he can get rid of it. If the character is a Magician, he likely won’t be able to use Stunned Maneuver/Fortitude, but if the character is a Fighter, I would give him the chance, and I can quickly calculate a reasonable bonus based on the character class. So again, Professions are useful for my NPCs as well.

    I agree that professions should be made to match their class descriptions and player expectations quite carefully. Peter’s example of the Spacemaster Armsman having better costs in some respects than a healer is a good one, and one I think the designers of RMU need to consider carefully. When the professions’ mechanics get out of sync with the class descriptions and skill costs, then you really are just going to confuse your players. When a Ranger’s class description says he is the master of wilderness and outdoors skills, but he is worse than a Sorcerer in Beast Lore, then you’ve got a problem– a big problem IMHO, because my players at least are going to be choosing Ranger specifically to be good at things like Beast Lore. If they find that a Sorcerer is better than a Ranger at Beast Lore and an Armsman is better than a healer at healing skills, they are going to think that the game is broken. And I’m going to agree with them.

  3. And just to expand on my last point: in a No Profession system, I am assuming that all characters would have the same cost for spell acquisition, and that all characters would also have the same cost for Blades (though of course spells and Blades themselves might have different costs). If that is the case, then a character built as a Fighter in that system is going to be worse at Fighting skills than a character built in a Profession system. Because a character built according to the Fighter Profession is going to have lower costs in Blades (and higher costs in spells). Professions are just optimizations of the No Profession class. If you don’t have the optimizations, you have characters that are worse at doing the things the players will want them to do– and we all know that Rolemaster already makes simple tasks and skills harder than other systems do, especially at low levels.

    In the course of the many discussions we had on the ICE forums about individual skill costs, I remember talking to one of the developers (I think it was Nicholas), and trying to make this point. He responded by saying that RM was not going back to individual skill costs and the old professions because they were just optimizations — he seemed to think that the old professions were essentially exploits, or niche optimizations made to be exploited by players. But my point was that ALL PROFRESSIONS ARE OPTIMIZATIONS. That is what a profession is. A fighter is an optimization in favour of weapon skills and body development; a Magician is an optimization in favour of spellcasting and magical skills. It is not cheating to want a character who is better than average at fighting, nor is it cheating to want a character that is better at spellcasting. It is just a different way of creating a class concept.

    The great benefit of all those old RM2 classes was that it was a class concept that was ‘ready to wear’. Players who didn’t want to spend hours reading descriptions of skills that they would probably never use could just pick up ‘Warrior Monk’ or ‘Paladin’ and be halfway towards realizing their class concept. And that great variety of professions added almost endless replayability to the game.

    1. I personally thought we had done this to death, but what the heck, here we go!

      I think the way to resolve your ready to wear characters is to start new characters off with pregens. You can build a rogue, a ranger, a fighter or whatever under no pro just as easily as you can under professions. It is probably slightly easier in that there are just so many spell casters in RM2 that just choosing the ‘right’ profession or even just comparing the professions is a task in its own right.

      A choice of one of a dozen pregens serves a double purpose. Firstly you get up and running really quickly. Pick your characters and start playing. Secondly it serves to show the players how the characters were built. The no pro fighter will be better at combat and will have those combat supporting skills. The no pro mage will have the magic and the magic supporting skills. And so on. When they come to create their own characters they will have an idea of the sorts of skills they want their character to have and how the system works.

      Regarding the profession as an optimisation even the no pro is an optimisation. It is just a question of what you are optimising for. If you use the RM2 no profession you get one set of skill costs. If you use the SpaceMaster no pro you get a different configuration that includes the costs for all the skills in RM2 RoCoII.

      I would strongly suggest that the no pro needs to be tweaked by each GM to fit the culture or world the game is set in. If the world is magic rich then all characters probably should have lower magic costs. The opposite is also true. I would go so far as to say that a GM could have a different no pro profile for major cultures in their game world. I know that goes against the one size fits all principle of the no profession but I think it would remove some people’s objections. Why would a Roman have the same costs, and whatever that is supposed to represent in the real world, as a Mongol warrior?

      I am looking at this from a place that is probably further down the path than Brian. In removing levels as well as professions I have diminished the importance of skill costs. They are used to build the starting character but from that point on the skills the character is using and the training they receive indicate the skills that will improve over time and the stats that will improve from stat gain rolls. So in my world a single DP different in Beast Lore is a one off expense. It does not come back to haunt the character level after level. It is out in the field when the ranger type is reading the tracks that the Beast Lore skill will improve through usage whereas the Sorcerer is less likely to be improving that skill unless they are actively seeking training in the skill or explicitly using the skill frequently.

      I am not advocating level-less gaming for everyone.

      It is hard for people brought up on RM2 professions to give them up. If you think of all the Pounds/Dollars that you spent on companions and just say “Well, you’ll never use them again.’ is a hard sell.

      Level-less is easier to accept in many ways. I know that lots of gaming groups have a sort of measured progression of leveling up one every few sessions or whenever the GM tells them to. It seems that experience is more arbitrary amongst experienced GMs that the rules suggest. If leveling up is that arbitrary then scrapping the entire concept of levels is not a huge leap. It wasn’t for me but they I wrote the rules to fit my vision so it is always going to work for me.

      1. “I personally thought we had done this to death, but what the heck, here we go!”

        Sorry Peter, I knew when I wrote it…this topic is clickbait for our regular commentators.

  4. From reading the various comments on this and other posts on the subject, I get the impression that professions are useful for new RM players who are migrating from other systems, especially D&D based, because it provides a familiar background. Once they are used to it, the professions become less important.

    Of course, it does help if a profession has the expected benefits and drawbacks as pointed out.

    1. That is true. We also have to remember that Rolemaster is just AD&D version 1.1. It was not built and released as a standalone game but as an add on set of house rules. For that to work it had to have all the familiar knobs and buttons like levels, hit points, character classes, magic users that didn’t wear armour and clerics casting cure light wounds.

      If RM had never had professions I am pretty sure other bloggers and forum posts would be suggesting them as a major improvement. The grass is always greener on the other side after all.

  5. From Peter: ‘Why would a Roman have the same costs, and whatever that is supposed to represent in the real world, as a Mongol warrior?’

    We actually did have some discussion on the ICE forums about representing culture through skill cost discounts rather than through culture ranks. So for example you might just say the Mongol gets a one-shift reduction in skill costs for riding and bows, while a Roman gets it for Fortitude and Leadership. It definitely would be an interesting way of representing culture.

    1. I personally think it would a perfectly valid way of reflecting cultures. To my mind that makes more sense than having a “Centurion” profession and a “Mongolian Horde Dude” profession.

  6. PROFESSIONS. Character generation is the #1 issue in Rolemaster and has been pointed out, professions can act as templates for new players. But that’s all it really does. While profession based skill costs point the player in a desirable direction they still need to weigh the cost/benefit of the various skills, understand what those skills are and then expend the development points. Unless the player has no reference point to RPGs, common class tropes or any concept of a character profile, I’m not sure I find that a compelling argument for Professions.
    OTOH, my use of Vocations solves both issues better: recognizable tropes AND easier/quicker character generation. I also use “Professions”, but they are combined with a designated package of skills, benefits, background, friends etc. So new players have the benefit of tropes, but aren’t intimidated by the complications of skill selection. At 2nd level they will be more familiar with game play and in a better position to then make skill selection.
    SKILL COSTS: Having a single cost for all skills doesn’t create uniformity. Instead there is an emphasis on the impact of stat bonuses, skill rank bonuses and unlimited rank progression.
    CULTURES: As I mentioned in past blogs, it would make more sense to assign skill costs based on its source (cultural, organizational, etc) but I think it’s too unwieldy and pushes the rule set into world building issues. I boost cultural skill package quite a bit–I feel those represent the most formative years of learning and cultural specialization guarantees certain core competencies at an early age. ie A Mongol youth is going to be very proficient in horse riding by their teens.

    The benefit of my system is that you can easily add new “Professions” that differentiate even between standard ones. A Mongol Fighter vs a Roman Fighter. But rather than build a new profession with small differences in skill costs (that the player doesn’t even have to choose–which makes no sense btw) you just build a pre-gen skill package. The Mongol Fighter will have skills in riding, scimitar, bow, survival etc, while a Roman Fighter would have combat maneuvers, armor, shield, spear etc.

    These solutions maintain the basic benefits of professions, simplifies character creation and opens up further flexibility for character growth and direction. Oh, and it’s quick.

    In my opinion, 15 minute character generation in Rolemaster would overcome one of the most cited problems people have with the system.

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