One of my least-favorite elements of Rolemaster is the whole idea of “Profession = lifeway.” While this concept may have some merit when it comes to settings with magic (and I’m not convinced that it really does), it breaks down when you leave the realm of fantasy and start dealing with more modern, magic-free settings. No Profession is also inadequate here, because it’s a “lifeway” of sorts and typically has to be enhanced with a ton of background options or training packages (which to me are little more than Professions on the cheap) unless you want all characters to look more or less the same.
Profession = Access
I’ve always considered Profession to be access to training, and have rambled (sometimes at length) about this on the ICE Forums. A mage goes to a tutor or training center, gaining Power Points and the ability to learn spells cheaply (you have spell books, can read them, and so on). A Thief would have had a mentor or enough free time to learn by trial and error (again, access to training or the time to learn on your own). A mage could learn some thief skills, but “on the side” with training and tools harder to procure (hence higher DP costs). Likewise, the thief could learn magic, but access to spells and training to master PPs would be difficult. Plus, the thief would likely have poor PPs because of the real ‘lifeway’ part of the character generation process: assigning stats. That’s when real ‘lifeway’ stuff takes place as far as I’m concerned.
Professions Outside Fantasy
The access to training model becomes even more obvious when you take the Rolemaster system out of fantasy and shift it to more modern settings without magic. Training packages, in my experience at least, are too cumbersome and artificial to model the many changes in a modern career path. Likewise fixed Professions are too rigid and inflexible to show how a character can evolve in a non-magical setting. Fixed, unchangeable Professions and Training Packages, in my view, work best in settings with fairly rigid social frameworks and limited mobility between classes and modes of work. They simply don’t work when a character can change her entire mode of existence by changing jobs or “heading West” and becoming a different person entirely. And, again, “No Profession” is inadequate when it comes to representing how people learn and grow.
Time to Learn…
How many GMs actually make characters spend the amount of game time theoretically required (3-4 years in most cases) to learn a vocational Package? The skills given with those Packages are also inadequate when it comes to representing the ‘mini-Profession’ modeled (especially in the case of Lifestyle Packages). And the handful of ‘modern’ Professions introduced in RMSS’s Black Ops are in my opinion almost useless. Once again you have the “Layman (Modern)” wandering around as a generic Profession and the disclaimer that “most non-adventuring NPCs will have the Layman profession” with no explanation as to why this is.
A Way Forward?
Making Professions flexible without Profession changes is easy. Rolemaster already has a mechanism: the assignable skill cost model used in all editions for Combat skills. All a GM needs to do is expand that model to any skill Category with more than four sub-skills. It’s really quite simple, and allows a player to in effect customize a basic Profession without throwing off game balance or adding a ton of additional rules. GMs can also use the model to create culture-specific versions of Professions if they wish. I’m in the process of testing this idea, and so far have found no real glitches with the concept. It also accommodates new skills as they’re added to Categories, something individual skill costs always had issues with and (in my view) Category costs slight to a degree.