To cook or not to cook that is the question…

Why the 'Miracle on the Hudson' in the new movie Sully was no ...

…is it better to cook and fumble, than to not cook at all?

OK, so this has come up on two different discord servers in the past month. Rolling skills for what I call non-critical outcomes.

I want to take Heathrow Airport as an example.

Heathrow is quite busy with aircraft. It has approx. 480,000 takeoffs and landings each year.

Assuming perfect weather every day, and all the maneuvers are during the best lit hours of the day there would be no external penalties to the pilot’s flying skill.

Flying London to New York is probably Routine. We all know that the takeoff and landing are the more difficult bits. Let us call them +0 maneuvers.

What do you think a pilots skill bonus is? +50? I think that is reasonable.

So 1 in 20 take offs will be open ended down. That is 24,000 rolls that taking the OE-down roll + skill and an average second roll end up at about ~0 net roll.

What does that mean? A bumpy landing? A bit of a longer takeoff? I am not sure if there is an extra 5 or 10 seconds of runway at Heathrow for making a second roll, but I will let that slide.

What if that second roll wasn’t an average roll cancelled out by the skill? 1200 take offs and landings each year will be double open ended down. An average result of about -100

In RMC, a result of -100 as a Static Action says BLUNDER: You fail spectacularly. If possible, your static action has the opposite effect from what you intended.

If landing a plane is a MM then it depends on what you see the actual difficulty is. The result could be just 10% of the maneuver completed (Routine) to people taking actual damage (Light).

But what if it didn’t end there?

Of those 1200 double open ended down rolls, 60 are triple open ended rolls down with a result of -200.

Depending on your chosen version of RM passengers and crew could be taking E criticals at this point. about a quarter of E critical are fatal, which with an aircraft capacity of 300 on average; would give us about 90,000 dead people being body bagged out of planes each year.

But it doesn’t stop there… three of those 60 will, statistically, be quadruple open-ended downwards.

And that is just landing and taking off. What about taxiing the plane from the end of the runway to the terminal. This would be another roll to park the plane near the end of that movable corridor thing. Somewhere between 3 and 1200 planes would fail to stop at the glass walls of the terminal!

If you tried to emulate a busy airport using Rolemaster rules, Heathrow would be a smoking crater in the ground. As most planes traverse London and have to maneuver into holding patterns, London would no longer exist. It would have been wiped off the face of the earth years ago, along with every other airport and connected city on the planet.

This would not be a problem because there are so many cars on the road each day that we all died in fatal road accidents anyway.

So do you make a player make a cooking skill test to prepare the parties food?

I would say, that unless it was exceptional circumstances, characters that know how to cook, can cook.

The skill description actually describes things like removing poison or safely preparing edible herbs or dangerous foods.

If cooking was used as a skill test for just cooking something just about every burger joint would need a morgue.

Degrees of Difficulty

Most of us are familiar with this ladder.

Very Hard
Extremely Hard
Sheer Folly

I would suggest that we could scrap the entire top half. What is the point of asking a character to roll a routine skill test? Surely it is routine?

Very Hard
Extremely Hard
Sheer Folly

What do you lose by curtailing the table? A small amount of granularity, by the time the characters have even two ranks in a skill and a bit of stat bonus, they are making Routine to Light challenges anyway with an averagy roll. At least to Partial Success.

Beyond about 3rd level Routine to Light are nonsense.

What do you gain? Well part of the criticism of over complexity in RM is mitigated, you get less senseless rolling at the table, and… when you do ask for a roll it will instill a great sense of drama in your players. The dice come out when things get serious.

Assumed success, where the characters can do what they are trained to do, until it becomes a focus of the drama, also creates a less adversarial GMing style. It is a bit like trusting people to do what they say they can do, rather than micro-managing them.


If it really doesn’t matter, don’t make people roll. If you do, you should expect planes to fall out of the sky and a TPK the next time someone tries to reheat some camp rations.

7 Replies to “To cook or not to cook that is the question…”

  1. You are right that constantly rolling for takeoffs would produce massacre. The rules don’t really model routine actions all that well, despite the ‘routine’ difficulty category, because open ended dice are so swingy.

    I’m not entirely sure that characters with a couple skill ranks ‘and a bit of stat bonus’ can make even Light challenges at lower level. Two ranks gives just +10, and sometimes you will have no stat bonus because there are some skills that your character’s stats won’t be optimized for. A melee Bard will need St, Qu, Ag, some Con, and a good Empathy… which doesn’t leave much for Perception skills. This means your lesser secondary skills — the ones you don’t have many ranks in — often have very low bonuses, and you’ll struggle to do even Light tasks. That’s what I think those lower difficult levels are for.

    But still, that might be nitpicking, because your central point remains: open-ended dice are too swingy to accurately model failures on routine tasks. I’d still like the lesser difficulties to be there, but you shouldn’t need separate charts for them. That’s one thing RMU does well: you no longer have charts for each difficulty. Each difficulty is just a modifier. So in a way, I think, RMU is getting you partway there.

    To get the last few yards, how about saying this:

    “If a character has sufficient skill bonus to succeed on a maneuver while rolling a 50, the GM can, at his/her discretion, allow the character to ‘take a 50′ on the roll, without having to roll the dice. GM’s are advised to use this only for non-combat/stressful situations, or ones that the character has performed so many times as to make them routine.’

    That way, the pilots who’ve taken off from Heathrow hundreds of times can just ‘take 50’ (this is modelled on the D&D rule, ‘take 10’). Unless there are unusual conditions (e.g. combat) that would make the takeoff abnormally hard, they will be able to take off without incident.

  2. My players like to roll dice–it seems to keep them engaged. However, I agree that if you model the d100, fail on “1” you are going to produce a abnormal failure rate for mundane activities. That said, a failure doesn’t have to be a “fail” but could just mean that something notable, unusual, funny or aberrant occurred during the activity. It becomes a cue for the GM to introduce an unexpected element rather than just a failure.

  3. How many times does a plane nearly crash but we don’t know?

    In 1926 and 1927, there were a total of 24 fatal commercial airline crashes, a further 16 in 1928, and 51 in 1929 (killing 61 people), which remains the worst year on record at an accident rate of about 1 for every 1,000,000 miles (1,600,000 km) flown.[citation needed] Based on the current numbers flying, this would equate to 7,000 fatal incidents per year.

  4. While I don’t disagree with your conclusion that you shouldn’t make people roll if you don’t need to, I think your examples don’t really show what you think. First off, as someone who has flow multiengine aircraft and been involved in the design of some flight deck systems, you are missing the impact of both the aircraft systems and the second pilot. I would say the aircraft safety systems and controls should add at least another +50 and the second pilot has the opportunity to take over if there are any problems(I won’t go into the coordinated effort rules from SoHK since I am not sure they are any good). I also think your 50 total skill is a bit low given the training and selection of pilots, but I can live with it.
    Additionally, from the NTSB statistics, accident rates per 100,000 departures range from ~0.4 for major airlines to ~6 for general aviation. That means between 2 and 29 “accidents” per year in your heathrow example depending on the mix of carrier/charter/private aircraft there.
    All that said, it just comes down to GM interpretation and explanation of the results. For landing an airplane, a “Failure” of a routine action might just require a perception roll to notice the problem and a subsequent roll to fix, while a blunder may mean you have to abort the landing and go around for another try. Only that quadruple open ended low might mean a fatal crash if no one notices the problem.
    I don’t make my players roll cooking every meal, but every one in a while I do. If they open end low, I am much more likely to let the cook or another character notice he is making an unpalatable mess and throwing it out than to try a TPK from poisoning. (If they choose to eat it anyway because they are running out of food on the other hand…)

  5. There are lies, damn lies and statistics.
    If I was playing a game, something like Micorsoft Flight Simulator RPG based upon a Rolemaster core, I could see a single leg of journey being many skill tests, taxiing from terminal to runway, take off, maneuvering to the flight path, then all that in reverse order to get the plane down again. It would be easy to multiply up the number of rolls needed and atomise the skills down to try and emulate every aspect of being part of the flight crew.
    Then the GM throws in an NPC pilot have a heart attack to just to make things exciting. As Hurin pointed out that the OE Down is a bit too swingy if you try to use a game, built for fun, to model reality.

    NETBAT is right, I have no experience of aircraft and flying, but then probably 99% of GMs don’t either. I chose it as an example of a situation where getting things badly wrong can have very visible consequences.

    I am not sure I agree with the ‘For landing an airplane, a “Failure” of a routine action might just require a perception roll to notice the problem and a subsequent roll to fix’, that to me sounds like a Partial Success, not a failed skill test. It could be that I am a little tougher with my interpretations. In my own games I have almost abandoned pass/fail tests in favour of percentage complete. There are situations where less than 100% causes really big problems, like the leaping the chasm classic example. For things that will eventually happen, such as picking a lock percentage action means that the lock will eventually succumb to the thieves probing but how long it takes is a matter of the skill of the thief.

  6. I would also add that there might be a game design assumption that most MMs are made under stress or “life or death” decisions that don’t translate well to reality. Personally I wouldn’t even consider long jumping over a endless pit that is 15′ across. Physically and statistically I could probably make it, but if I don’t I’m dead. My character though, would consider it a fairly easy maneuver and not think twice about it. Additionally any maneuvers within a combat setting are going to be harder: tunnel vision, fog of war, full-on adrenalin rush and tons of perceptual data can affect the simplest of moves.

  7. BRIH it all comes down to skill level/ability doesn’t it. 15′ for an unencumbered athlete who has trained to long jump is doable at least 9 times out of 10 and on the 1 they would know to abort most of the time. “My steps are wrong, I’m going to launch to late/early,” A school kid (novice) jumper doesn’t pick up on those subtle clues without experience. I can remember running into the sandpit or launching far too early. Like you and even after some experience I still wouldn’t launch myself out into the abyss. Players should probably approach tasks with the same rationale – If my character lacks competence (5 ranks) I should only try it in extreme situations and find a better option.

    Now cooking that’s just a matter of taste 🙂

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