Rolemaster Deconstruction: Is it a Skill or an Ability?

As part of our Rolemaster deconstruction I’ve followed two processes: consolidating small “skills” into larger meta-skills and changed traditional skills into inherent abilities. (Perception and Body Development being the two foremost).

Obviously, one of Rolemasters differentials with D&D was shifting almost all abilities into trainable skills. The contrast was clear: D&D imparted abilities through racial mechanics, classes and levels and was on one end of a game  spectrum while RM’s skill focus sat at the other end. The problem (in my mind) of course is that under RM’s approach, EVERYTHING became a trainable skill. Skills became parsed further and further into niche secondary skills, skill bloat became rampant and a more complicated similar skill mechanic was necessary to manage the interrelationship between overlapping skills. Lost in all of the Rolemaster Companions, RMSS and RM bolt-on’s was questioning the very premise of “what is a skill?”

There were a few early exceptions: DB and RR’s. Those kept to their D&D roots and RM never allowed a trainable skill to offset poison, disease or the realms of magic. Adrenal Defense was a skill, but had lots of restrictions and has now been mostly nerfed  in RMU.

As discussed in my various blogs, I’ve reverted some core skills into inherent abilities using stats or other approaches. Just a few examples:

  1. Body Development. I’ve mostly embraced Peter’s approach and set HP’s by race and constitution. However, we also add +1 HP/# of skill ranks in Endurance.
  2. Perception. I’ve moved the skill into a 12th stat. This measures the characters PHYSICAL perceptual abilities: eye sight, sense of smell, alertness, hearing etc. This also is easier to use with a racial modifier.
  3. Feats of Strength/Lifting. Purely based on strength.
  4. Maneuvering in Armor. It’s been discussed in previous blogs and now is being talked about at the Forums, but I just don’t see maneuvering in armor as primarily a trainable skill. Instead I see it as a “handicap” (like adding weight to a race horse). Plus, making MnA a trainable skill, armor becomes a video game like level ability: players progress up in armor type as the gain in levels. As I have argued before, thats akin to players proggressing up in weaponry: start with a dagger and eventually getting to a 2hand sword at 10th lvl.

There are arguments for aspects of a established skill as a being trainable. For me, it’s weighted the other way: if the argument is less than 50/50 for it being trainable I want to work it into an inherent or stat based ability. I know many people want to stick to the core of RM and it’s skill system; but think outside the box…what RM skill should really be an ability?

2 Replies to “Rolemaster Deconstruction: Is it a Skill or an Ability?”

  1. I wouldn’t say it is entirely fair to say that Adrenal Defense has been ‘mostly discarded’ in RMU. It just works the same now as the other Adrenal Defense skills: concentrate for one round before you get the DB benefit. One could question how useful this will be — one of my players currently plays a Warrior Monk and she’s not really into sitting back in the first round of the battle just to be useful in rounds 2+, for example. But the skill is still in the game: it just works the same as other adrenals now.

    Other than that, I agree with most of the rest of your post.

  2. I don’t really agree regarding Maneuver in Armor. If someone wears AT 20 (for example) on a regular basis, they will become more comfortable with it and adjust their movements to account for the ‘handicap’ of its weight. It makes no sense to me for someone who just puts on full plate to have the same movement penalties as someone who’s been training (and fighting) in it for years…yet that’s more or less what happens if MuA is an ability and the characters have identical stats. Having it as a trainable skill gives you a reasonably simple mechanic for dealing with this.
    There’s always a limit to how much armor bulk can be offset by training or ability, of course. That’s one reason most special operations units don’t use much body armor – it hinders them to what they consider an unacceptable level and that encumbrance isn’t offset by the protection it offers.
    I never used the Feat-type skills at all, honestly. Those made more sense as stat-based ability rolls. I also think much of the skill bloat of RM2 took place because of the nature of the Companions and the failure of many to understand that they were all OPTIONAL and not part of the core rules. When ICE started publishing just about any set of optional rules that came through the door in official-looking rulebooks it confused things to the point that RMSS was likely seen as the only solution.

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