Nature vs. Nurture. The emphasis between Stats or Professions.

I really can’t get off my soap box regarding adopting a “No Profession” system. One of the arguments I often hear for professions and profession assigned skill costs is that early character development locks in affinities that define the characters learning patterns for life.

For me, this is a perfect example of the Nature vs Nurture paradigm. “Nature” being defined as a characters stats and stat bonuses (natural aptitudes) and “Nurture” being defined as early influential training. Rolemaster assumes the primacy of “Nurture”: early choice of a Profession sets skill costs that influence the characters progression and development. However the rules themselves allow that paradigm to be easily broken. For instance a player can choose “Fighter” as a profession but spend all his developments points on thieving skills. At what point or level does continuous training of thieving skills outweigh the early choice of the Fighter profession? Should that character even call themselves a fighter?

I am firmly in the camp of “Nature”—that learning is driven more by innate, natural abilities, but that intensive, immersive training can eventual overcome natural talent. Even a weak, clumsy person can become a competent fighter with enough training and dedication. So if innate ability (Nature) is more important, it argues for the elimination of profession based skill costs and thus professions in general.

Ideally, the best solution might be skill costs set by stats or stat bonuses. I.e. a character with high physical stats would have lower costs for physical skills etc. While this makes intuitive sense it would be cumbersome in practical application. However, if you like the “Nurture” argument, RM and RMU rules are already poised to model this reality with just a few tweaks.

We achieved this via the following:

  1. First there needs to be an increase in the influence of stat bonuses. In RM2, stat bonuses are really only influential at the first few levels and then begin to diminish quickly as the skill rank bonus increases. We adopted the RMU stat bonuses and 3 stat per skill calculation to increase the benefit of stats.
  2. We set all skills costs to 5*. That doesn’t mean that skills cost the same for everyone: the increase in stat bonuses means that the real measure is the acquisition cost/skill bonus ratio.
  3. We adjusted the skill rank bonus progression to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5….up to 10 and then it drops 1/rank back down to 1 again. This accomplishes several things—it increases the importance and influence of stat bonuses (by lowering skill bonuses) and reduces the benefit of picking up a handful of ranks in a skill to “max out” the rank bonus vs. acquisition cost. Plus, in general, this progression better models a natural learning curve.
  4. We introduced unlimited rank development. This allows a character to singularly focus on a skill to overcome innate limitations. But this comes at a high opportunity cost—each additional rank taken costs an additional 1DP/rank (this resets each level) so focusing on one or a handful of skills will allow a player to truly excel but at the cost of other skill development.

For our gaming group the application of three elements allows for fast character creation, flexible characters and a more intuitive modeling of character development in the Nature v. Nurture framework.


  1. Cultural Skill packages (Nurture) to reflect early development and culturally appropriate knowledge.  This is non-stat influenced as it is skill transmission driven by society and culture.
  2. Vocational Skill Package (Nurture) to reflect young adult vocation, job or trade. This is non-stat influenced as it represents an early “career” decision, availability of vocations in a specific culture or the imperative of cultural norms (ie everyone must join the military).
  3. (Nature) Uniform skill costs, influential stat bonuses and unlimited rank development to give players maximum flexibility and cost/benefit decision making. This is stat dependent as detailed above.

For those that like Professions, this still allows the creation of creative, emulative or societal driven Cultural or Vocational training packages. Our Shadow World campaign has over 40 Cultural Packages and 50 Vocational Packages that can be combined to make thousands of interesting characters without the arbitrary dictums of Professional names or concepts.

Just my two cents—what’s yours?

9 Replies to “Nature vs. Nurture. The emphasis between Stats or Professions.”

  1. I am all for increasing the importance of stats. As you say stats and the stat bonuses are of little consequence after the first few levels.

    If I was to adopt your way of doing things I would suggest that you gave a fixed 50 DP per level and not have the DPs depend on stats.

    If stats and stat bonuses become more important but are also completely random and out of the characters control then one bad set of rolls can hamstring a character throughout their career. Fix DPs allow the player to put the dice rolls in the stats that best reflect their character concept rather than pushing players towards min/maxing the stats above the DP line.

    1. Yes, we use fixed DP’s–it’s been 50/lvl which at first seemed low but the Cultural and Vocation packages that make up 1st lvl generation are generous which also offsets the issue of weak 1st lvl characters.

      Interestingly, even with unlimited rank development, players rarely choose to be “savants” (focusing on 1 or 2 skills to the exclusion of all else) because the meta skills give so much bang for the buck and are essential for making a competent character. For instance with 50 DPs it’s possible to take a max of 6 ranks per level (5+6+7+8+9+10=45) so a focused player could have 24 ranks in a skill by 5th lvl but would barely have any other skills beside the Cultural and Vocation. But if a player wanted to play a SwordMaster or Duelist this might be the right course. Is that unbalancing? The PC could have a 140 OB and 24 ranks offsets various combat maneuver penalties (reverse strike, protect, multiple opponent etc). Again, I haven’t seen players choose that route often since lots of other skills tempt them.

  2. I can see the logic of each rank initially giving a smaller bonus as you are really only learning the basics and then over time you have the skills and supporting knowledge to make bigger gain and eventually you get the diminishing returns.

    Doesn’t that make starting characters very difficult?

    I have never play tested your still progression but 5* seems a bit expensive.

    I am using the original skill cost but the RMU style rapid development so something that is 2/6 in the book is effectively 2/6* at character creation. In level-less rolemaster you are only buying skills the once so you can never be a 5th level SwordMaster or Duelist as you will never level up.

    1. Between the Cultural and Vocation packages the players starts with 40-50 skill ranks. The vocational packages give the most focused benefit; for instance Soldier: Footmen would get 4 ranks in Polearm which is a +10 (1+2+3+4) or the equivalent of 2 ranks in RM normally.

      I played around with various rank costs (4, 6 etc) plus assigning fixed to different categories (3* for general, 4* for combat, 5* for magic, 6* for special skills) but in the end settled on the 1 skill cost for everything (5*) and can always adjust the DP’s received per “level”. The added benefit is that it’s very easy to add or remove any skills that you want for a specific game setting or if you want to retain all the skills found in the various RM settings.

  3. I’ve never been a fan of RM’s “Profession = lifeway” model, but I also don’t care for the no profession idea. To me, Profession = access to training (either in terms of formal processes or the time to practice certain skills by trial and error). For example, in an espionage setting an Assassin will have a lower skill cost for firearms because the agency gives her priority for range time and ammunition to practice, while a sleuth type will be better at following people and the like because (again) the agency prioritizes that training. In non-magic settings I also allow profession changes (with limits and rules governing them, of course) to model the way people can (and do) retrain, change jobs, and generally evolve during their lives. I’ve always considered training packages ‘lite Professions’ and don’t really like to use them. I do use reworked background options, though, including beefed-up culture and education templates. I’ve always figured that if there was a ‘lifeway’ component to RM, it was when you assigned stats.

  4. Agreed which is why the even better model is skills and skill costs (knowledge) are controlled by and transferred via cultures, guilds, societies and organizations rather than Profession designation. This models comparative advantages of cultures and the strict control of knowledge through guild systems. So rather than have a fixed cost for 1 H-Edge for a Fighter it might be better to have variable costs depending on the source. For instance, the cost might be 2/5 if you were training at a famed combat academy in Eidolon but 3/6 if it were in a small city in Jaiman. Or Spell Acquisition would be cheaper at the “College of Magic” or from the Elves of Namar-tol than a small Magic Guild in the outlands of Emer. The different costs reflect better instructors, more advanced understanding the material, better teaching systems etc.

    In real life this would be comparable to choosing a college. It could be argued that you would learn more, quicker at a better school than a lesser one. This can be measured in training time, and mastery of the material which is distilled down to Skill Cost in RM. Many RPG games use variable skill costs based on the source and it certainly has appeal. From a module/setting standpoint it would be easy to set skill costs and max ranks attainable in each society This would add an additional hook for adventuring. (ie a player would travel to a secret enclave to learn higher level asssassin skills.)

    Anyway, appreciate the comment!

  5. One of the flaws in any profession/class system is that they are by definition a set of restrictions on what a character can achieve.

    To counter those restrictions d&d and HARP allow multi class or change of class/profession. For RM we only have a collection of house rules.

    I am in favour of the no profession option. My level-less rules allow characters to develop and grow organically.

    I haven’t used cultural ranks or training packages but I can see the appeal especially in a setting like shadow world.

    1. For me, part of the appeal of pre-set Adolescent(Cultural) and Apprenticeship(Vocation) was:
      1. Differentiation of cultures.
      2. Quick character generation.
      3. Ability to introduce new packages for any setting, genre or style.

      I still allow a player to forgo Vocation packages and just choose 10 total ranks.

      1. I would also comment that the Vocation packages include

        1. Starting money including pensions and property
        2. Allegiances, friendships or networks the players can tap into

        Combined: skills, wealth, networks almost writes itself in terms of backgrounds.

        for instance a cultural package of “Duranaki” is pretty specific given their isolationism. Add to that a Vocation of “Tinkerer” and you’ve got an interesting story to combine those two.

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