Discarding the Chaff

Copyright Ben Wolcott © 2004

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Why do we even need temporary values? I guess we don't."


In my last article ("Inverting Your Mage's Power Progression") I began with the mechanics and saved the philosophy for the end; this time the philosophy comes first. If you find that stuff boring just skip down to the numbers.

My plan to eliminate temporary (potential) values arose from thinking about the role of temporary values in Rolemaster. My train of thought went something like:

"Stat bonuses are important; the values themselves are unimportant (aside from CO effects like Undead life-draining, hits needed to die from shock, etc.). Why do we even need temporary values? ... Huh. I guess we don't."

It was a long path to enlightenment.


Temporary stats serve two basic purposes:

  1. They provide targets for statistic draining spells favored by Sorcerers and Evil Mentalists.
  2. They induce a character creation "economy."

Point 1 poses no significant problem for switching to a "statless" system; you just change the effect the spells have to match your new system. (Editor's Note: Perhaps a penalty of --1 for each d10 points drained.) Point 2, however, needs explaining.

If you take a look at the conversion from values to bonuses, you will see that the extreme bonuses cluster at either end of the scale. Two points of temporary statistic value go a whole lot farther at the 90+ range than they do in the 31--69 range. This forms a graph familiar to many long-time role-players: the bell curve.

Why is the stat bonus distribution curved rather than linear? (That is, why isn't it a +1 bonus per 5 points above 50 and --1 per 5 points below?) The answer, I believe, is to create scarcity, so that you'll have something to spend your character creation points on. (Those 660 points you had at the beginning of the game to spend on temporary stats.) A 100 temporary stat (for a +10 bonus) is nearly three times more expensive than purchasing a 75 (for a +1 bonus).

Idiosyncrasies of the Old System

First, everyone's favorite initial temporary stat was 85. I have seen lots of characters with +7--9 nearly across the board because of this magic number. In fact, the only time I have ever seen a player choose Layman was precipitated by the fact that, with no primary statistics, you could buy more 85s.

Number two, you have to go through two extraneous steps (character points and then temporary statistics) to get to the part you care about (stat bonuses). Furthermore you have to muck about with potential stats.

Was there, I wondered, a better way to simulate the value of extreme ability? By way of answering this question, I give you...

The New System

I decided to eliminate randomness from the character generation system altogether, replacing normal stat generation with the following:

  1. Each character receives a fixed number of Development Points per level, independent of statistic values. In my campaign that number is 100. If you choose a different number of DPs you will, of course, have to change a couple of things later on.
  2. Each character receives 20 points to allocate to stat bonuses.
  3. A bonus of at least +5 must be allocated to the character's prime stats.
  4. A player may reduce bonuses below zero to raise other bonuses. For example, while designing Firedaddy the Magician, Bob has allocated no points to St or Qu. He decides that he wants to be a little quicker, so he reduces St to --2, and increases Qu to +2.
  5. Players may increase their basic bonuses with Background Options at a cost of 1 BO per +1 basic stat bonus.
  6. Here's where my own artificial scarcity device comes into play: limits. Instead of having higher statistics cost more points (leading to time consuming computation and cost/benefit analysis), I imposed the following limits:
    1. No basic stat bonus may be purchased higher than +10 or lower than --10.
    2. You may have any number of statistics with basic bonuses of --5 through +5, but
    3. No two statistics may have the same value outside that range. In other words, you can only have one basic stat bonus of +10, one +9, one +8, one +7, and one +6. The same goes for their negative counterparts.
    4. Racial bonuses and Special bonuses ignore these limits. Only basic stat bonuses are restricted by a, b and c.

Character Development

One thing that I did like about the old system, however, was the ability to improve your statistics (via potential stats). I liked that idea and I wanted to keep it. So I added the rule that, for a cost of 20 DPs, you can improve one basic stat bonus by +1. Any time a Training Package or some other in-game effect would give you an extra stat gain roll, you can purchase a +1 bonus for 10 DPs. (Please keep in mind that these costs were derived assuming 100 DPs per level. You should change them as you see fit.)

The same limits outlined in 6a--6d above apply throughout a character's adventuring career. If, for example, Firedaddy has a +6 Em and a +5 Re, and he wants to increase his Re, he must either "buy past" the +6 slot to get to +7, or he must first raise his raise his Em in order to "make room" for his Re increase. Either way it's 40 DP or nothing.

Temporary Stat Requirements

For those times in the game when you a temporary statistic value actually matters, you can generate it by using

(stat bonus x 5) + 50

Be aware, though, that this is linear rather than bell curved, so you will get lower results than the standard rules on stats with a positive bonus, and higher results than under the standard rules with negative bonuses. The only place I foresee this making a real difference is when your character is in danger of dying due to shock.

Final Observations

The first thing to note is that with dedication, any character can "max out" at +10, +9, +8, +7, +6, +5, +5, +5, +5, +5; but it will take 900 Development Points to do so.

The second is that with stat-draining spells, it is technically possible to circumvent rules 6a--6d by temporarily draining the offending statistic so that you can buy up to all 10s. I have to say that this problem doesn't concern me too much because (a) to do so would be extremely expensive in terms of Development Points, and (b) I don't use stat-draining spells in my game. If the possibility bothers you, you can always keep track of "temporary" and "potential" basic stat bonuses.

Third, you will notice that this system generates much lower bonuses overall than the old way of doing things. That was intentional; I found it hard accept stats in the +4--6 range as "average" among adventurers. And furthermore, I prefer games that encourage you to balance a few strengths against a few weaknesses instead of having lots of strengths and a few "averages." If you like your game to have more skilled characters, just increase the number of starting points to +25, or +30, or even higher. You could also eliminate rules 6a--6d.

Lastly, you will probably want to keep the Development Points in this system on the high side, because with lower stat bonuses overall players will have to develop more skill ranks in order to achieve usable levels of ability. The reason I believe that this will not lead to more powerful than usual characters in the long run is that a sizeable amount of DPs will be sunk into a character's statistics over his career, given the diminishing returns on skills that the character might wish to specialize in.