Rolemaster -- Thoughts on Character Development

Copyright Jörg Jahnke © 2005

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"It is an extended abstract on how one could unify the character development rules"


This document is a collection of ideas on alternative methods for character creation in the Rolemaster[1] system. On ICE's Rolemaster forums[2] there have been a lot of discussions about a future version of Rolemaster and what such a version should/could look like.

There have also been some discussions about ways in Rolemaster to switch professions, especially after the introduction of HARP, which offers such an option. In this document I also integrate some ideas on how a profession switch could be incorporated into the Rolemaster system.

The ideas presented should not be seen as a rule proposal. Instead it is more an extended abstract on how one could unify the character development rules (including professional aspects, training packages, and special skills).

I have to admit that the changes outlined below have not been play-tested by me or the group I play in. But I would be glad to get some feedback from other people and to hear what they think about these changes. If you would like to tell me your thoughts about these rule changes, please write to

Using standardized skill costs

In the existing Rolemaster rules there is a wide variety of skill costs, ranging from 1/2 to 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 2/4 and on to costs like 30 and 40. Furthermore for some areas like armor and spell development there are additional skill costs like 1/1/1, 3/3/3 which allow up to three ranks per level to be developed. This is no problem in itself, but it could be done differently[3]. Let me start with the sepecifics, and I discuss pros and cons later:

I have tried to find a set of canonical DP costs that appear relatively often among the current professions' skill costs. This is intended to minimize the number of adjustments that must be made to the standard professions. As I have not done a complete analysis there is certainly room for improvement.

For all of the skills except armor, languages and spells I have selected the following skill costs to remain:

1/2, 1/3, 1/5, 2/5, 2/7, 3/8, 4/10, 5/12, 6/14, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40

For armor, languages and spells a character may develop up to three ranks per level and the possible costs are as follows:

1/1/1, 2/2/2, 3/3/3, 4/4/4, 5/5/5, 6/6/6, 7/7/7, 8/8, 10/10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40

All DP costs for a given profession that are not in the above set are "rounded" to the nearest canonical cost. In the following table are the DP costs for the Layman profession:

Category Layman (RMSS) Layman (new)
Armor·Heavy 4/4/4 4/4/4
Armor·Light 2/2/2 2/2/2
Armor·Medium 3/3/3 3/3/3
Artistic·Active 2/5 2/5
Artistic·Passive 2/5 2/5
Athletic·Brawn 3/6 3/8
Atheletic·Endurance 2/7 2/7
Athletic·Gymnastics 2/6 2/7
Awareness Perceptions 3/10 3/8
Awareness·Search 2/6 2/7
Awareness·Senses 2/6 2/7
Body Development 4/12 4/10
Combat Maneuvers 4/12 4/10
Communication 2/2/2 2/2/2
Crafts 4/10 4/10
Directed Spells 3/6 3/8
Influence 2/5 2/5
Lore·General 1/3 1/3
Lore·Magical 3 3/8
Lore·Obscure 3/7 3/8
Lore·Technical 2/6 2/5
Martial Arts·Striking 3 3/8
Martial Arts·Sweeps 3 3/8
Outdoor·Animal 2/5 2/5
Outdoor·Environmental 2/5 2/5
Power Awareness 4/7 4/10
Power Manipulations 8 8
Power Point Development 10 10
Science·Basic 2/5 2/5
Science·Specialized 8 8
Self Control 2/7 2/7
Special Attacks 5/11 5/12
Special Defenses 20 20
Spells Own Base Lists - -
Spells Own Closed 15 15
Spells Own Open 10 10/10
Subterfuge·Mechanics 3/6 3/8
Subterfuge·Attack 6/12 6/14
Subterfuge·Stealth 2/6 2/5
Tech/Trade·General 3/7 3/8
Tech/Trade·Professional 8 8
Tech/Trade·Vocational 5/12 5/12
Urban 2/5 2/5
Weapon·first 3/6 3/8
Weapon·second 3/6 3/8
Weapon·third 4 4/10
Weapon·fourth 5 5/12
Weapon·fifth 6 6/14
Weapon·sixth 7 7
Weapon·seventh 7 7
MA Combat Maneuvers 6 6/14

As you can see many of the skill costs are still the same and the remainder differ only slightly, usually for the second rank. But there is one point which I think is important to mention: There are some skills that suddenly can be developed with two ranks per level where before the change only one rank could be developed. In the Layman example these include "Spells Own Realm Open", some weapon skills and the martial arts skills. The question is whether we want to allow this to happen and how much this would impact character development. From this we come to the greatest downside with this change:

--If we assume that the current set of skill costs is "ideal" or at least balanced then with the above simplification we move from an optimal set of skill costs to a sub-optimal set.

But this reduction in the range of skill costs to a predefined set can also offer some advantages and new possibilities:

--Simplification of the existing system by reducing the possible skill costs (probably a marginal improvement). This may help spreadsheet developers.

--The current ruling for Occupational, Everyman and Restricted skills could be replaced by shifting up and down in the list of skill costs. For example, an Everyman skill could, instead of providing double the number of ranks, lead to a DP cost shift on the above scale by perhaps 2 decrements. So a skill cost of 3/9 would be reduced to 2/5. Likewise an Occupational skill could shift the costs by 3 units to the left and a Restricted skill could shift the cost by 2 units to the right.

Especially for Occupational and Everyman skills this would help to avoid unusually high and possibly unbalancing skill bonuses for some "primary" skills (e.g., the Directed Weapon Master talent enables a Fighter to develop up to 6 ranks per level with a corresponding high OB).

As an aside: In the first edition of the RMSS rules Occupational, Everyman and Restricted skills were handled differently: Skills marked as such had their normal skill costs replaced by other costs, e.g., an Everyman skill always had a fixed DP cost of 2/4. This was replaced by the current rule, which is to multiply the number of ranks gained by a fixed amount. This might indicate that the authors originally did not plan to have skills be developed at a faster rate but wanted to modify their DP costs with these classifications. (Editor's note: This approach may make spreadsheet development more difficult.)

Deriving all professions from the Layman

Similar to the preceding example where Everyman/Occupational/Restricted skills were handled by shifting the DP costs of the affected skills, one could derive all professions from the Layman's skill costs by specifying the units each skill category has to be shifted on the DP cost scale.

Let me give an example. In the table below three new columns have been added. The first one, "Animist," gives the normal DP cost for the Rolemaster Animist profession. The next one, "Animist (diff)" contains the number of units that the Layman's DP costs have to be shifted on the DP cost scale to reach the Animist's skill costs. For example, for the Armor-Heavy category the Animist's skill costs are 6 units higher than those of the Layman, resulting in a cost of 12 instead of 4/4/4. (This value is does not specify the difference in actual DP cost.)

Category Layman (RMSS) Layman (new) Animist Animist (diff) Animist (new)
Armor·Heavy 4/4/4 4/4/4 11 6 12
Armor·Light 2/2/2 2/2/2 2/2/2 0 2/2/2
Armor·Medium 3/3/3 3/3/3 10 6 10/10
Artistic·Active 2/5 2/5 2/5 0 2/5
Artistic·Passive 2/5 2/5 2/5 0 2/5
Atheletic·Brawn 3/6 3/8 4 1 4/10
Athletic·Endurance 2/7 2/7 3 1 3/8
Athletic·Gymnastics 2/6 2/7 3 1 3/8
Awareness Perceptions 3/10 3/8 6 3 6/14
Awareness·Search 2/6 2/7 1/5 -2 1/5
Awareness·Senses 2/6 2/7 3/7 1 3/8
Body Development 4/12 4/10 8 4 8
Combat Maneuvers 4/12 4/10 10 6 10
Communication 2/2/2 2/2/2 2/2/2 0 2/2/2
Crafts 4/10 4/10 4/10 0 4/10
Directed Spells 3/6 3/8 3 0 3/8
Influence 2/5 2/5 2/6 1 2/7
Lore·General 1/3 1/3 1/3 0 1/3
Lore·Magical 3 3/8 2/5 -2 2/5

An Animist becomes — from the perspective of DP costs — a Layman with severe disadvantages in the Armor Group (except for Armor·Light), represented by the DP cost shift of +6, slightly higher costs in the Athletic Group, represented by a DP cost shift of +1, lower costs in the Lore·Magical Category, represented by the -2 DP cost shift, etc.

To stay close to the current Rolemaster DP costs one needs to specify a cost unit shift for each and every category of each and every profession. Only if we would accept deviating further from these costs does this model offer simplifications. In this case a Thief could be seen as a Layman with -2 costs in the Awareness category, +3 costs for all magical skills and -4 costs in the Subterfuge category.

So what do we gain from this? The key advantage is that it is easier to create custom professions. But with some further changes it could be used for more.

Using profession templates

In an older article on The Guild Companion about "Irregular Realms"<[4] Tim Dugger had some interesting ideas about how to use some profession templates to create new professions. He used the "realms" of Arms, Subterfuge, Discipline, Mundane, Essence, Channeling, Mentalism, and Arcane to create DP cost templates for realm combinations. These could be used to create new professions. In this model a Magician can be seen as a profession derived from the (pure) Essence template, a Rogue could be seen as a profession derived from the Arms + Subterfuge template, etc.

Tim Dugger's list of "realms" could be extended by an "Outdoor" realm as there are some professions like the Ranger, Outrider or Barbarian which are focused very much on Outdoor skills and would not readily fit into the other "realms."

Similarly, the Rolemaster Channeling Companion included a general Priest template (as well as two related templates) and provided a large list of Priest variants based on these templates.

In my opinion templates could be used to

--ease the classification of a profession for players new to Rolemaster and

--allow variant professions to be created from an existing template, which have the same skill costs but different professional bonuses, special (Everyman/Occupational/Restricted) skills and spell lists. With some guidelines on profession creation every GM could modify an existing template and easily create a new profession.

On the other hand one should perhaps not include all possible combinations with their skill costs in a beginner's edition of Rolemaster as the sheer number of combinations and their skill costs would be quite overwhelming. But a companion book which specializes on a specific "realm" (in the above sense) could offer dozens of new "professions" (in the old sense) but listing variants of the templates of its realm. Channeling Companion did just that and thereby offered a myriad of new character concepts.

Training Packages as Professions

If we extend this idea one step further, we can use Training Packages instead of professions. A profession in this sense is nothing more than a template plus a TP. For example, a Fighter would be a (pure) Arms template augmented by the Weapon Master TP[5]. There could (and probably should) still be TPs that are not used to define a profession. In the existing Rolemaster rules there is a similar distinction between Lifestyle TPs — which suggest a profession — and Vocational TPs, which do not suggest a profession.

Combining standardized skill-costs with profession TPs

I will now try to unify these ideas into a single model. This will result in an optional mechanism for changing professions or to blend existing professions to generate new ones.

Let's start with the above Layman profession based on standardized skill-costs. To become a Fighter the character selects a Fighter "Professional" TP. This TP shifts some of the DP costs of the Layman (e.g., -2 DP cost units for combat skills, +4 DP cost units for magical skills[6]), sets professional bonuses, special skills and spell lists. Additionally the character may select other non-Professional TPs, but these have no influence on DP costs.

Let's say a few levels later this character wants to change his profession and move from a Fighter profession towards a Thief. If the GM agrees, when the character next levels he gains the Thief Professional TP. But this does not mean that his DP costs become those of a normal Thief. Instead his DP costs slowly shift (by one cost unit per level) towards those of a Thief, beginning with the level where he selected the Thief TP. For example, if the Thief costs adjustments are awareness skills (-2 units), magical skills (+3 units) and subterfuge skills (-4), when the character first gains the Thief TP the costs will move -1 unit for awareness skills, -1 unit for magical skills, -1 unit for subterfuge skills and +1 unit for combat skills.

The same is true for the professional bonuses of the character: By increments or decrements of 5 these would also move towards those of a Thief. These changes would continue for the next several levels until all DP costs and professional bonuses are those of a Thief. In effect during this transition period the character is more a Rogue than a Fighter or Thief. I would also suggest that during this transition period no new profession change be allowed.

Immediately upon changing profession the character's special skills would also drift towards those of the new profession. In the above example the Fighter would have one Combat Maneuver that had been rated as Everyman for him. The cost of this Combat Maneuver would move by 1 unit per level towards normal. On the other hand the Lock Lore skill would slowly become easier to learn for the character as this skill is an Occupational skill for a Thief.

Base Spell Lists are a bit more difficult. My current view is that the old spell lists slowly drift from the costs of Own Realm Own Base List to Own Realm Other Base List and that at the same time the costs of the new Base Lists move from Own Realm Other Base List to Own Realm Own Base List. This would prevent a pure spell user of a given realm from simply switching his profession from time to time to get access to all Base Spell Lists of his realm. But perhaps this takes too long and might discourage players from having a non-spell user switch to a spell-using profession.

What would also be possible is to mix existing professions and thereby create new professions. In the above example I wrote that during the transition period from the Fighter to Thief the character would in effect be kind of a Rogue character. This is because his DP costs and costs for special skills are somewhere between those of a Fighter and a Thief during this period, just like it is the case for the current Rogue profession. What is more obvious than to allow mixing professions from the general profession templates and thereby create new professions? If a profession mixes the Arms template and the Subterfuge template does not yet exist it could be created by averaging the DP unit shifts of the base templates and also average the professional bonuses of the base template to get the costs and profession bonuses for a new Arms+Subterfuge profession, i.e., a Rogue.

Certainly it is not that easy. In the example of mixing Fighter (pure Arms template) and Thief (pure Subterfuge template) to get a Rogue (Arms+Subterfuge template) profession the DP unit shifts would be averaged to -1 unit for awareness skills, -1 unit for combat skills, -2 units for subterfuge skills and +3.5 for magical skills. For the latter cost shift one would have to decide whether to round this up to +4 or down to +3. The same problem appears when averaging the professional bonuses. The +0 in subterfuge skills for the Fighter and the +15 in subterfuge skills for the Thief could be averaged to +5 or +10 and at the same time one would have to guarantee that the sum of the professional bonuses is still +50 as it is for all existing professions[7].

This approach is the basis for creating a profession template. What needs to be done to complete the new profession is to assign special skills for the desired profession. Based on the general idea the GM has for the profession these need not even have to have anything in common with the base professions that the new profession is derived from. Small variations in the professional bonuses might also be made to match this general idea. Finally for spell-using professions a set of new Base Spell Lists needs to be assigned.

For a beginner this whole process of creating a profession from the Layman profession (or even a profession template) should be hidden from the player. Instead he would design a Fighter as presented in the Rolemaster rule book. The only difference would be that this Fighter profession has some slightly different DP costs and contains a remark that this profession has to select the Fighter Professional TP[8]. For an expert the system behind the professions could be explained (perhaps in a separate Companion book) so that he can make use of the rules if he likes to and perhaps allow profession switches or create new professions/templates that combine existing ones.


What we get with the last step is in my opinion a character development system that is not more complex than the existing system and at the same time offers interesting options to create new professions and also to modify the profession during the lifetime of a character. I believe that the rules for creating new professions or moving to a new profession should be optional rules. Though I don't think they are overly complicated I do think that they would alienate the beginner who is new to Rolemaster. But some players or GMs might after some time search for new possibilities in the system and might be glad to have such options.


Certainly not all of the ideas are from me alone. This document also lists some ideas others have expressed inside the Rolemaster forums or in articles on The Guild Companion[9]. I am just extending these ideas and add a few new ones to provide a plethora of new possibilities.


DP Development Point

GM Gamemaster

OB Offensive Bonus

TP Training Packages

RMSS Rolemaster Standard System

[1]Rolemaster and HARP © 2002--2004 by Aurigas Aldbaron LLC... All rights reserved. No reproductions without permission.


[3]The idea is based on a posting by Tim Dugger in the ICE Rolemaster forums.


[5]I have used the Weapon Master TP as an example of an existing template which suits a Fighter and is a Lifestyle TP. One could use other TPs or create new ones specifically for each profession.

[6]There is no need to shift only large groups of skills. This can also be broken down to single skill categories.

[7]Fire & Ice: The Elemental Companion contains the Elementalist profession whose profession bonuses sum to +40.

[8]Fire & Ice: The Elemental Companion already uses this system of selecting a profession TP for the Elementalist profession, which must specialize by choosing a Lifestyle TP for the element the character wants to concentrate on.