RMC House Rules – Character Creation #4 – Cultural Background

Cultural Background is another element of RMU that I really like. The mechanism is really simple. There are a number of predefined backgrounds such as urban, nomad, coastal and sylvan, plus 4 others in RMU, and there is a mix of skills that are typical for people growing up in that culture. So you choose your culture and you get free skill ranks to assign into skill categories defined by your culture.

This has two immediate effects. Firstly it replaces at least in part the adolesence level for buying skills. you are just given a few ranks in some or all skill categories and regardless of the cost you just pick the skills that you want. The second effect is to force every character to have a good balance of background skills.

Avoiding Meta-Gaming?

I have a player in my face to face game that has only spent development points on weapons, magic, body development and perception and a couple of other skills that I insisted on. For hobby skills I give away 13 ranks that you can assign to secondary skills and he always tries to assign some or all of them to combat and magical skills. Compared to all the other characters he has the most hits, the biggest OB and the most magic. On the other hand he gets very upset when the challenges facing the party require tracking, lore or any of the other useful skills he eskewed in favour of big weapons.

I will confess that every now and again I take great pleasure in seperating him from he rest of the party by a wall, pit, door or whatever and give him a really simple challenge that everyone on one side of the door could easily do and he is completely perplexed by.

It is also no surprise that this player is the biggest meta gamer in the party who most of the time is using his own knowledge to decide his characters actions rather than what the chracter knows.

How Cultural Backgrounds Work

Anyway back to cultural backgrounds! Each background in my variation comprises 35 ranks spread over 13 different skill categories. The average skill costs for a single rank is about 2DP so that equates to about 50DP as an apprentice level although the single biggest block goes to languages which are traditionally cheaper.

The point of these character cultural background ranks for me is two fold. It is both faster and easier to just pick skills from a list than to try and spend exactly a fixed number of DPs. We have all been in a situation where you have to trade off one skill against another to make everything fit into your budget. Secondly it will make a Barbarian from the Frozen North significantly different from a Warrior from Chult and that difference has an impact on those characters which will last a long time into the characters careers.

Actually implementing this I have skewed everything to fit my world setting of the Forgotten Realms. If you are from Thay then you will have a significantly different skill set than if you are from Chult. On the other hand I have not really split it alone national lines. Both Waterdeep and Thay are magically very rich places and the citizens will both have a great amount of day to day experience of magic.

Cultural Background Skills Table




(Sword Coast)


(Frozen North)
Highland Nomad Rural






Athletic 1 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Awareness 1 2 3 2 2 1 2 1 1
Body Development 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Combat Maneuvers 1 1
Communcations 13 10 6 8 10 8 10 10 12
Crafts 5 6 4 5 5 7 5 6 7
Influence 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2
Lore 4 4 5 4 4 4 4 4 4
Martial Arts 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Outdoor 3 2 5 3 2 1
Scientific Analytic 1 1 1
Subterfuge 1 1 1 2
Technical/Trade 7 6 6 6 5 8 7 5 6

When assigning these ranks the same rule applies as with buying skills. You cannot buy ore than 2 ranks in a single skills unless the skill is listed as 1*, 2* etc., such as languages. This forces players with say 7 ranks in Technical/Trade skills to buy a range of skills.

You will notice that there are no weapon skills or armour skills in here. That means that all of your OB has to come from your 1st level development points.

Drow and Drow Culture

In my opinion the Drow are an almost perfect villain. As they are a race you can pitch them at almost any level and you can have as many or as few of them as you like whenever you like. I found their rolemaster stats in Companion I, page 45. The problems is though that the companion does not convey even one percent of the essence of drow that make them this perfect foe.

For starters lets take drow culture.

The best way to describe it would be the decadence of Rome under Caligula crossed with the fascism of the third reich. That is isn’t far from the mark. To start with the Drow worship a spider goddess called Lloth. This puts a female drow at the head of the family, known as the Matron or Matron Mother. Only the Matron Mother is allowed to have children and any others will be sacrificed to Lloth. It is perfectly acceptable and indeed normal for the Matron Mother to sacrifice the father of her own children to Lloth after mating, taking a different partner for each child. Although if she thinks the father is a good specimen or has some other value he may be allowed to live for a while longer.

A drow using one of the hand crossbows for which their race is well-known. (Image taken from the Dungeons & Dragons WikiAll of drow society is ruled by the matron mothers of the eight most powerful houses in council and the way to become one of those is by wiping out one of the houses above you in social ranking. If you try that and fail then it is almost certain death as the ruling eight close ranks. No one in power likes the idea of a powerul usurper trying to upset the status quo after all!

The worship of Lloth is everything to the drow. All drow females are enrolled into the church and the number of priestesses and high priestesses is a matter of pride to a house. The men are allowed to be warriors or magicians but are by far the lower class. Few live long enough to attain great power because should they be seen as a threat then the church will dispose of them. The drow maintain academies for warriors, magicians and the church and upon completion of their studies every drow is tested. Those that fail are sacrificed to Lloth although not killed, Lloth has other plans for them.

Below the matron mother’s children are the other drow not part of any recognised family. These could come from houses not wealthy enough to maintain an entire ‘noble’ household so family members are forced to work for other houses. This could be as housefld soldiers or other more refined rolls.

For drow that cannot be supported by their family or find employment in a more powerful house then to them goes the title of renegade. These are often mercenaries employed by houses as and when needed to bolster a families defences or even for an attack on another house or for  more subtle duties. to most though the very thought of the renegades is distasteful but renegades are not the bottom of society.

The drow economy runs on slaves, slave labour and limited trade with cultures that do not outwardly object to slavery. Slaves farm the mushroom groves, work the mines and build the aquaducts that bring in the water. Slaves carry messages across the city and carry out most of the other fetching and carrying for a household. The drow will happily force any intelligent race into servitude except surface dwelling elves whom they would rather kill on sight especially elvish children.

The drow carry forth an almost innate hatred for the surface dwelling races. This is taught to every drow from birth and reenforced at the academies. It was, to hear the drow telling of it, the surface races that robbed the drow of their right to inherit the surface world and forced them underground. Drow not infrequently mount surface raids by night to capture slaves although they prefer to take races that live below the surface such as orcs, goblins and bugbears. If on a raid they encounter surface elves they will do their upmost to leave no survivers. Anything that can survive living without the sun and can be beaten into submission is prime slave material in the drows’ eyes.

To human eyes what we are most likely to see are the remains of Drow fortresses left over from the last time the drow ruled parts of the surface. These are often magically raised or at least desiged and built with powerful magic in mind. They often include landing platforms for flying troops and whole levels or balconies that can only be reached by air and not from the ground or by non-flying or levitating troops. Each fortress is then connected to the underdark and to each other by passages that run underground, normally miles underground, so that each can be reenforced from other fortresses without the need to move on the surface.

Although most if not all of these fortresses are now abandoned or lost to the drow you can be assured that they are not forgotten and the loss will be avenged.

Next time I will tell you some more about drow weapons and equipment and their love of spider venom.