Diversity vs. Playability: Skills in Rolemaster

Today I’m looking at the ‘problem’ of skills in RM: consolidated skills (of which RMFRP is the paradigmatic version, and which appears to be a certainty in the new version, although with far less skills) or individual skills, each with their own development cost, as was the case in RM2. Let me nail my flag to the mast: I am rather more in favour of individual skill costs, primarily for the tremendous variety and granularity they offer. You simply can’t get that under the skill category system (although the RMFRP rules do allow a certain amount of tweaking, and my rather freewheeling interpretation of the talent rules enabled more).

Further to this is the issue of the dreaded skill bloat. It seems that many folks object – quite reasonably, I feel – to the tremendous explosion in increasingly fine-grained skills introduced by the RM2 companions (and carried over to RMFRP, although restrained and managed by the category system). I understand the objections: if you have, say, 300 skills and 50 professions, that’s a lot of trawling through tables in order to generate a character, and a lot of skills to study up on, in order to decide whether your Burglar is better off taking Defensive Manoeuvre, Feinting or Tumbling Attack, or just ignoring it all and retiring to a farm after buying ranks in Horticulture, Herding, Animal Handling, Animal Healing and Weather-watching.

I only wanted to play Rolemaster!

But, and here’s the thing, I love having that range of options – ridiculous though that may seem – simply because of the ways in which, as a GM, I can fine-tune races, cultures, professions and NPCs. I can understand how you might justify having a Prepare Herbs, Herb Lore and Using Prepared Herbs skill, or a Using/Removing Poison, Poison Perception and Poison Lore skill. I can imagine a rough-and-ready soldier who knows nothing of herbs, but has grown used to applying unguents to wounds. I can equally imagine a scholarly-type who has learned a bit about poison but has never handled it – or even considered using it! That argument makes sense to me, although there is, conceivably, a limit beyond which realism need go.

There are ways of managing skill bloat without consolidating or eliminating skills. The last RM2 campaign I ran I divided skills into Core, Professional and Extra-Professional skills. Everyone, regardless of profession, race or whatever had instant and permanent access to the Core skills. Then, each profession had 25 professional skills to which they had access. All skills outside that group of Core + Professional were restricted, requiring the expenditure of Character Points (which accumulated as the character reached Prime Levels, of which more on another occasion).

I’m including a link to a table showing an example of what I did in my attempts to manage skill bloat whilst maintaining breadth and diversity. This is the RM2 Hunter from the Arms Companion. I’ve not included the development point costs for copyright reasons, but the table is hopefully sufficient to demonstrate the idea. The listed skills show those available to the Hunter at level 1. They can’t consider new skills until reaching their next Prime Level (i.e. level 3). At each Prime Level, a character gains Character Points equivalent to 3 + the modifier derived from their Prime Statistic (the first appearing of their Prime Requisites, in this case Quickness), as if it were a Power Point stat, rounded down. (For example, if Bhorg the Hunter has a Qu stat of 95, he’d gain an extra 2 Character Points, giving him 5 in total. Bhorg could then spend his Character Points unlocking access to an Extra-Professional skill, or buying talents, or saving them for later).

I thought it a reasonably elegant solution, although like all my solutions, it generated a fair amount of work to get it up and running. I’d be interested in your thoughts on possible futures for this approach, any problems you locate and any possible fixes.

Sleeping with the enemy!

This week my challenge is to read up on OpenD6. The reason for this is that they have have a very simple approach to descriptive critical wounds, they have hit locations based upon the attack roll and features like ‘stunned’ and bleeding. At first glance their combat system seems a lot less fluid or more cumbersome than Rolemaster but on the other other hand the rule set is a lot more flexible in that it copes with spells, shotguns and superpowers all in the core rules.

Mini Six is a bare bones system based upon the Open D6 core system.

One of my intentions is to scavenge any interesting spell effects for my magic system. I, like BriH, intend to create a stand alone magic system. I would like mine to be compatible with all flavours of RM, from HARP to RMU. It has a working title right now of SPaM (Spells, Powers and Magic).

What I can scavenge from OpenD6 will be added to spells I have scavenged from the 5e SRD spells. This continues the circular journey. RM was originally a set of house rules for D&D and now I am house ruling RM to add in the best of 5e.

The finished product eventually will be released under a badge of Open100 and be free for anyone to modify and extend. Take a look at this… In the ‘star’ box out (upper left) you can see how Might Six has taken and extended Mini Six…

Getting back to Magic…

SPaM will sit alongside my open monster companion. These two alone will be sufficient for any independent adventure writer to create standalone adventures for Rolemaster.

One of the points that BriH mentioned in his post http://www.rolemasterblog.com/spell-law-reconstruction-many-spells-many-powers-generic/ is that my ideas may be too freeform for a completely new GM and player group to have to construct entire spell lists right from day one.

The solution to that is also a solution to another problem. Many of the monsters need spell lists and innate spell abilities. One criticism of the monster rules in RMU was that you almost had to roll up every orc before you could play any combat. I don’t want to do that to my potential users. So the solution would be to create exemplar spell lists from my freeform pools of spells and the exemplars would be all the spell lists required by all the monsters in monster compendium.

So now you will get the flexibility of pools of spells and unique lists sat alongside exemplar lists.

I think that should address that weakness. Is it enough?

Thought Experiment Update

I huge thank you to everyone that sent me character sheets!

The brief was intentionally vague to give everyone creative freedom. Most people produced a non spell using rogue or thief which is what I has sort of expected. My Xan is exactly in that vein.

Things that really stood out were that I got three RMU characters. Seeing as RMU is still in play test and the experiment was for people who had house ruled character creation I had only expected one RMU character and that was Hurin’s who uses individual skill costs.

An interesting aside here but RMU is not yet published and the developers are pretty determined to stick with category skill costs. On the other hand there is already one ‘officially sanctioned’ optional rule in the form of Hurin’s individual skill costs published in the Guild Companion completely undoing the developers work. Only in Rolemaster eh?

The fact that RMU character creation is being house ruled while still in play test make one wonder about what is being tested? My personal intermittent play test is still RAW but with JDales new tables applied.

Back to Xan

I have distilled the character down to just a few really basic numbers. If you were reading a module or adventure and she was an incidental NPC then you may just get a one liner.

The ‘average’ Xan taking every sheet I received looked something like this.

#Hits 64, OB (shortsword) +59, DB +14, Perception +28
She typically has 18 additional skill including primary and secondary skills.

If you compare that to the off the peg NPCs in Character Law (RMC version) you get

#Hits 20, OB (shortsword) +30, DB +0, Perception +15.

The house ruled characters are far more functional than the off the peg NPC. In addition nearly every Xan has a secondary attack and either multiple attack or two weapon combo and many have given her a thrown dagger as well.

Interestingly, one came back with a single spell list.

I do want to look at the characters in more detail later but I thought I should really do something immediately as you all took the time to send them to me.

So the immediate take away is that all these Xans are more functional than RAW characters. I make my starting characters more functional as it is more fun to be capable than not. There is more fun in being able to survive more than one hit with a sword, all baring the critical, than not. These heroes are more heroic than RAW player characters.

The impression I have got so far is that house rules in general are making RM more survivable for starting characters than the rules a written.

More to follow…

Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

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Imagine for a minute a player asks the perfectly reasonable question of “Can I remember what colour her eyes were?”

What I have always done in the past was ask for a skill check using the characters Memory stat bonus as the skill bonus.

When I moved from RM2 to RMC and the threshold for success went from 101+ to 111+ for most casual stat based tests success required an open ended roll. If that was reasonable 19 out of 20 trips to the shops for me would probably end in chaos and that could not be right. For me 1 in 10 trips to the shop ends up with me bringing home the right thing.

So I started thinking about these non-skill rolls. Not everything has a governing skill. Simple tests of memory, trying to catch a plate before it hits the floor or trying to lift a portcullis.

I have often thought that Stats in Rolemaster are largely irrelevant. Once you have rolled them you only ever use the Stat Bonus and never the stat. The exception is body development that uses 1/10th of the Con stat for base hits.

In eliminating the body development skill I have previously suggested using Con + 1/2 SD to find the Total Hits. That would give a starting character a typical 75 hits. That is more than the default starting hits under the RAW but that is not a bad thing. It gives starting characters a bit more longevity and is slightly more realistic than a starting character can take 18hits and a 10th level character can take 150hits. Why is the more experienced character so much more damage resistant?

I don’t use level so there will be no levelling up. I do use a RuneQuest style skill improvement. You roll higher than your current skill total and upon success you gain a skill rank.

I use a similar scheme for stat gains. During periods of rest & recovery you can roll against your stats. If you roll higher than your current stat then your stat increases by 1. You can only roll against stats that have been used. What that means in practice is if you used the Trickery skill you would put a small tick against the skill itself and against Pr and Qu. When it came to doing the tests for improvement then you could roll against those two stats and the one skill. This means that the skills you use tend to improve and the stats you are using tend to improve.

So going back to my simple memory test, to get a result of 111+ just to remember if your girlfriends eyes are Brown or Blue seems a bit of a tough call. That is a open ended roll for most people. If as a GM you wanted to put in a difficulty factor for recalling facts that character saw or heard weeks or months ago then the test becomes almost guaranteed failure pretty quickly.

What if we didn’t use the stat bonus but the actual stat? So Joe average has a memory of 50. What colour are his girlfriend’s eyes? Roll 111+  on 1d% OE +50. That pretty much gives a 60/40 chance of failure which in my experience seems pretty realistic, or is that just me?

So what about lifting a portcullis? Now with an average stat of 50 you, as GM, have scope to put a difficulty factor in there. Sheer Folly is a -50 so trying to lift a portcullis on your own would still require an open ended roll. That also seems realistic. If the character had the Athletic skill then by all means let him or her use it but you cannot make simple tests of strength dependent on such a skill. You cannot tell me that someone with a strength of 90 cannot lift something heavy without learning to play football first?

The final missing part of the puzzle is the racial differences. High Men are about the strongest commonly played race and they get a +10 strength bonus. Elves get a bonus to Memory. If you were to roll these Stat based tests as Stat + Racial Bonus then you would retain the flavour of the races.

Using this method what you get is more competent PCs, greater flexibility as a GM to challenge the characters and Stats gain greater importance beyond just a measure for finding the stat bonus.

 

RMC House Rules – My Experience System #3 Spell Lists

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There are really three parts to this, improving the spell lists you know, learning entirely new lists and improving your power points. I will take each in turn.

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Improving the Spell Lists you know

This is the easiest bit. If you cast a spell off a list in a meaningful situation (not just rattling off a few spells at the end of the day just to tick the box) then you can mark the list as used. When you are in a situation where you can study, reflect and improve then you can roll to improve the spell list. For every rank you have it counts as 5. Roll a D100 OE and if you roll over the current total you gain a rank. So if you know Fire Law to Rank 5 (5th Level) you would need to roll 26+ to learn the 6th level spell. Progress through ranks 1-10 is pretty quick but then slows down. Once you get to rank 19 you need an open ended to improve.

Learning entirely new Spell Lists

You need to study to learn new lists. I use the same rules as are given for researching new spells for studying new lists. Essence lists require books and a teacher, mentalism require meditation and channelling, prayer. Hybrid lists need to meet all the requirements. If there is no first level spell then the time required would be to research the first available spell and at that point yu would have the number of ranks required to cast that spell.

Improving your Power Points

This is based upon improving your Power Point Development Skill. If power points are used in earnest (just as with casting spells that count for experience above) then when you get a chance to rest and improve then you can roll to improve your PPD skill.

This means that starting characters get more power points quite quickly but it then levels off, just like learning spells. That really is the intention of the entire experience system. Everyone should improve quite rapidly in the skills, stats and spells they are really using. Once they are competent then that progress slows but it never stops. Unless you are a real one trick pony each time when experience would have been dished out you will probably improve in something, a little here a little there. Having characters pay for training brings real benefits at that time, not six months later when they finally level up.

Finally, this system works really well with the new RMU spell law. The diference is that every level in RMU has a spell associated with it. RMU kind of expects characters to be higher level when they start so having characters improve quickly fits in well with that expectation. In RMC, my preferred system the gaps in the spell lists does add a bit of extra excitement when a character gets a new spell as often the rank will improve but this does not bring any new abilities. It is rather swings and roundabouts as to which you prefer.

RMC House Rules – My Experience System #2 Stat Gains

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I have touched on this before in an earlier post (http://www.rolemasterblog.com/rmc-house-rules-character-creation-2-potentials-stat-gains/) where I said that the stats you are using are the ones you roll for.

What I want to do is break the connection between every time your skills improve you also do your stat gain rolls. This is one of the things that I feel sloows down the character maintenance in Rolemaster.

The problem is that went a stat changes a whole host of skills change with it. The problem is even slightly exacerbated by my use of the smoothed stat bonus. Where there were only 5 real break points where stat bonuses change (+5 through to +25) now there are dozens.

What I have found works quite nicely is to tie stat gains to periods of intense training/study and to periods of healing. This breaks the link between skills and stat gains but also makes paying for training in game directly result in tengible benefits for the characters. If you are paying to study with a tutor then you can roll your stat gains for the mental stats. If you are laid up with a broken leg then that also can give you time for reflection. Likewise characters may find a period of enforced rest brings with it long term benefits.

That is my basic logic. The mechanism is the same, roll d100 and roll higher than your temp stat to get a +1 to your temp. you are stil restricted to rolling for stats that you have actually applied to skills. It is just a case that they are now out of sync with the skill gain rolls.

The fact that stat bonuses are additive rather than averaged for skills makes the book keeping a bit quicker as well.

Next time I will cover Spell Lists.

RMC House Rules – Character Creation #7 Spell Lists

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There are two significant bit so to learning spell lists for my house rules.

Firstly I will be using pretty much the Spells as Skills rules. You only need to learn the 1st level spell to enable you to start progressing up the spell list. This means that for the most part you will only need to spend 5 -15 development points to get the full list at first level.

Beyond first level it will typically take a week of study from a suitable source to gain the first rank in a spell list. That is taken from the spell research rules. That would give you the first level spell and from there you need to use the list to progress in it. If we take a list like lofty movement then that has no 1st to 3rd level spells so it will require 4 weeks of study or 20DP as a first level character to learn.

The second part is the way that spell effects are based upon level. There are spells that have a duration based upon level and these are the easiest to adapt. Here you read ranks in the spell list as the level with that spell. This means that you may have a duration of 3 minutes with one spell and only 10 seconds with another but then if you rarely use the second spell you are likely to be less good at it!

The second reference to level are spells like Sleep V that effects 5 levels of target. For this I will use 2 ranks in Body Development equates to 1 old style level. So Sleep V now effects upto 10 ranks in body development.

That seems balanced to me. Of all the changes to make to Rolemaster these changes to Spell Law are the simplest but also have the greatest effect on balance and game play.

Spending just 5DP (out of 50 at 1st level) to get a spell list means that anyone wanting to play a Mage like character can easily afford possibly 5 or 6 lists and still have a range of other skills.

All the rules for learning portions of lists are now gone.

Everyone is always 1st level so resistance rolls will work the same. If you are casting a (Base) spell then the rank in the spell will be the attack level.

That all seems to work. I suspect that in play spell users will end up with more spells sooner but the self regulating nature of the experience system means that this will soon level off. As it is at the higher levels that Rolemaster seems to breakdown that point should be almost pushed back to the points where it doesn’t happen any more.

Interestingly This house ruled version should work brilliantly with the RMU spell law when the final version is released as every list in that has all slots filled. That would standardise the cost of all the lists and give beginning characters a nice range of spells.