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School of Hard Knocks : The Skill Companion

Reviewed by Tim Dugger, Copyright 2000

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion


A short while ago, Nicholas Caldwell, our esteemed editor-in-chief of The Guild Companion, sent me an email asking if I would be willing to do a review of School of Hard Knocks. I quickly said sure, thinking that writing a review would be relatively easy considering some of the other articles I have written in the past. I should have known better.

In writing a review, an author needs to do more than just look at the material and say if he likes it or not. He needs to actually read through the material and thoroughly evaluate it in order to inform his readers accurately and fully of what they are going to get if they purchase this material. His evaluation must be concise and clear enough for any reader while still providing enough information to allow the reader to make an informed decision.

Now that I have wasted a little time pontificating about how difficult writing a review is, I will get down to the business of writing this one. Just sit back and have a good read.

Section Reviews

School of Hard Knocks is a recent addition to the Rolemaster line of products produced by Iron Crown Enterprises. It weighs in at 168 pages, and is divided into 10 distinct sections. During the course of this review, I will give a general overview of each section, and then give my thoughts on the material as a whole.

Section 1.0

This section is the Introduction. It tells you what the book is about, as well as giving you tips about common notations. This short, single page section has two things that make reading the credits actually worthwhile.

The first is a paragraph on using this book with other Rolemaster books. It lets you know that this book does have problems, and that it does not fully go over material covered in other books, and that those books do supercede this book. This means that, for example, while divination is covered in this book, it is also covered in Mentalism Companion. The author suggests that since Mentalism Companion deals with divination much more extensively than he does, that you should continue to use those rules, if you have them.

Secondly, there is a small chart in this section. This chart gives each difficulty rating (Easy, Hard, Very Hard, etc…) a value rating from one to nine. It also shows the average modifier of a roll (for both static and moving maneuvers) broken down into different campaign styles (Mundane, Heroic, and Epic).

Personally, I find this gives a pretty good insight into how difficult to make challenges, depending upon the style of my game.

Section 2.0

Section 2.0 covers skill resolution. This is more than just how to read the static maneuver charts; it covers several methods of enhancing a character’s rolls.

  • Uncoordinated Efforts - This is where a group of individuals work together for a common goal without having a clear leader of some sort. This could be a group of adventurers trying to scale a wall or even a small band of spell casters attempting a ritual.
  • Coordinated Efforts - This is where you have a distinct leader for the group who is attempting a specific task. The leader can even assist the group members in their portions of the task, thus helping to boost the overall bonus for attempting the task.
  • Aided Maneuvers – This is where you have an individual attempting to accomplish a task, but receiving help from others. A good example of this is the General who relies on his staff for advice before attempting to decide on what tactics to use in an upcoming battle. Just remember that as the old adage says, "Too many cooks can spoil the broth".
  • Subsequent Maneuvers – This is where you have to accomplish one task before attempting the primary task. This section gives guidelines on how to accomplish this. A good example would be making a skill roll for Trap Lore before attempting to Disarm Traps.

Additionally, each of the above provides formulas and ways for resolving the above methods.

This section also discusses how to determine and apply a duration to the performing of a task, as well as using the variable stat bonus rules from the core books.

Section 3.0

This section covers some alternative methods for skill development. Specialization is the most important, as well as the most complex. Of course, you also have the opposite, Generalization.

Both methods are used to allow you customize your characters in interesting ways, and I think that they may add a lot of spice to a campaign if used correctly.

Section 4.0

I consider this one chapter worth almost the cost of the whole book. This chapter deals with natural healing, and how it is affected by various healing skills.

Not only does it give a general overview of how much time healing is reduced, but it also covers cauterization of bleeding wounds, and the secondary effects of that. All of the major injury types are covered in pretty good detail, describing how the various skills, such as First Aid, Second Aid, Surgery, etc… affect the time required to heal a wound.

There are even two small sections that cover poisons and diseases.

Section 5.0

This section covers Skill Categories, and minor changes that the author suggests for each category. Overall, I find these suggestions to be good ones. I particularly liked the guidelines for determining the fame of a character that practices the performing arts. This is sure to be a big hit with any player who has a Bard as a character.

This section also presents some general guidelines for things such as determining the time it takes to perform skills in each category.

As well, an option concerning exhaustion points is presented. This option basically says that for every 5 points expended, your normal maximum number of exhaustion points drops by 1 until you have fully rested. Thus, after expending a large amount of points, you can only recover four-fifths of them until sleeping. This helps to prevent non-spell using characters from abusing the skill system too much.

While this option is presented in one specific skill category, I think that it will work quite well in many other areas as well.

Section 6.0

Let’s get to the meat of the matter, so to speak. This is by far the largest section of the book, as it should be considering that it deals with the skills themselves.

Listed alphabetically, this section covers just about every skill in detail. Each skill listed includes additional parameters that are not presented in the core books. For example, you are given a distance multiplier for a number of skills. This lets you know what amount of movement is possible. Another such inclusion is the exhaustion point cost. If these are not included then they do not apply to that given skill, and in many cases indicate that the character can’t move appreciably during the performance of that skill.

Also included with the skill descriptions are examples of various difficulties for each skill. For example under the skill listing for Military Organization, the various difficulty examples list the number of people that the character using this skill could apply it against. Almost every skill gives the difficulty examples.

Another good point is that each skill lists examples or guidelines on what a specialty for a given skill might consist of.

Section 7.0

This section consists of Static Maneuver Tables for each of the various skill categories. If you own a copy of RMSR, then you already have a copy of these tables. While there may be some small corrections to these tables, for the most part they are identical to the ones I mentioned above. It is important to note that if you own the RMFRP, but not the RMSR, then you most likely do not have these tables.

Included at the end of this section is a blank table, so that you can obviously create your own tables in the future.

Section 8.0

Section 8.0 covers 18 new Training Packages that are presented. These include the following:

  • Athlete (V)
  • Cavalier (V)
  • Chamberlain (L)
  • Escort (V)
  • Farmer (L)
  • Gladiator (L)
  • Gossip (V)
  • Guide (V)
  • Guild Member (V)
  • Henchmen (V)
  • Innkeeper (V)
  • Librarian (V)
  • Mother (V)
  • Noble (L)
  • Panhandler (V)
  • Pirate (L)
  • Scribe (V)
  • Veterinarian (V)

Some of these Training Packages are very interesting, but I am left wondering at the purpose behind some of them. I am also concerned that some are considered Vocational in nature where I would have personally considered them to be Lifestyle packages. Mother is a good example of this. I know from personal experience that being a parent is a Lifestyle, and not a Vocation.

Some of the concepts behind the Training Packages are a little weak in my opinion as well, but you may find them perfect for your campaign.

Section 9.0

This book provides you with 4 new non spell-using professions:

  • Barbarian – an uncivilized, outdoor fighter
  • Outrider - a stealthy outdoorsman, often working with a military force
  • Sage – a seeker of knowledge, not the best fighter, but on a par with most semi-spell users.
  • Swashbuckler – a fighter with lots of style and flair. Maybe not the best fighter, but an extremely versatile one.

At first glance I was slightly dismayed at the addition of new professions, but upon looking closer, I did discover that these four professions do fill in niches that had been sorely neglected previously.

Among spell users you have a great proliferation of professions covering a wide range of specialties. Unfortunately this was not true for non spell-using professions; there you had only three or four to choose from and all but one of those were very specialized. This has now been corrected. You now have a wider variety to choose from on this front.

Section 10.0

The last section of the book covers a selection of optional rules for maintaining a balance of power with both non spell-using and spell-using characters.

In the core books, a set of magical risk factor rules are presented. These rules are based upon the hypothesis that there is a concentrated source of powerful evil that would want to take notice of spell casters. The author presents two new versions of this chart. The first is for good old mother nature taking exception to too much magic released in a given area and the other is in the case of the campaign setting having a much less defined source of evil, such as several groups who may even oppose each other in addition to spell casters.

Also presented are several new creatures that like magic users very much. In fact, they often feed off the magic spent by spell users, with detrimental effects to those spells.

Another item that the author notes is the fact that spell casters have an innate advantage to resisting spells due to their required higher scores in the stats used to resist spells. The author has a delightful solution to this inequality, namely the creation of a new skill category and a set of skills to be used to resist spells, poisons, and diseases. I find that the solution makes very good sense, and helps to offset the natural advantage spell casters have.

Finally, the author presents a fairly detailed description of the visible manifestations of spell casting for the different realms. He also offers some suggestions for how this would interact with Spell Trickery and some suggestions on how difficult it is to actually detect some of the more subdued spells.

In Conclusion

Time to wrap up this review and to give my overall opinion of this product, School of Hard Knocks.

The Pros

  • Much richer descriptions for many of the skills.
  • Several innovative ideas concerning Specialization.
  • New monsters to use against spell casters.
  • New rules for keeping the balance between spell users and non-spell users.
  • New Training Packages.
  • New Professions.

The Cons

  • Not every skill is covered in detail.
  • Additional bookkeeping required to implement many of the new rules.
  • Some of the Training Packages seem superfluous or at least inaccurate according to the theme of the package.

Overall, I would have to say that if you want to add more detail to your game, then this book is for you. The same goes if you want to play a non-spell user, or wish to bring back some balance to your campaign for non-spell users.

On a personal note, I would heartily encourage the acquisition of this book, as it can only add to your campaign.

Editor's Note

School of Hard Knocks is published by Iron Crown Enterprises. Their contact details are as follows:
Iron Crown Enterprises
P.O. Box 1605,
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Web: http://www.ironcrown.com

All trademarks and copyrights are acknowledged. Please post your comments on this review on the General Discussion Board.

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