Characteristics, Development Points and Skills

Copyright Lev Lafayette © 2007

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Is there really, as the game suggests, a difference of 20% in total between the strongest and the weakest?"

Modest Problems

"A High Man and a Halfling could both have 99 Strengths; even though the high man was 6' 7" and the Halfling 3' 4". However, due to the racial stat bonus modifications given in Table T-1.1, the High Man's Stat bonus due to Strength is +13... while the Halfling's total stat bonus is +1" (Rolemaster Standard Rules, p28).

Doesn't something seem intuitively wrong here? The High Man is almost twice the height of the Halfling and, minor modifications due to the girth of the short people notwithstanding, his weight will be approximately eight times that of the Halfling (cube of the ratio, see RMC I, 6.42). Yet the difference in stat bonuses is a mere +12. Given that Rolemaster uses a percentile system for resolution one could be forgiven in thinking that an eight times difference in mass would accord more than a 12% difference in resolution.

Consider further the distinction on basic stat bonuses (p28 in Rolemaster Standard, p16 in Rolemaster Fantasy) and compare this to the top 1% and bottom 1% of a population's distribution of Strength, Constitution, Memory, Reasoning, Agility etc. Is there really, as the game suggests, a difference of 20% in total between the strongest and the weakest? The most hardy and the most sickly? The eidetic and the most forgetful, the genius and the idiot? The most graceful and the klutz?

As a final example, compare differences in Development Points. In Rolemaster Classic, Elves were accorded a most appropriate -20 to their Self Discipline bonus, and a similar scale was applied in latter editions. This indicated the sort of person who would rather watch butterflies flit than study or train. It contrasted significantly with the neurotically driven (from an Elvish perspective anyhow) Common Men who had but three score and ten years to make names for themselves and had a Self Discipline bonus of +5. Yet because Development Points derived directly from Stats rather than their bonuses, both the distractible Elf and the highly focused Common Man received exactly the same Development Points from their Self Discipline scores.

This article is not merely a suggestion to utilize Stat Bonuses for Development points or to incorporate higher "racial" or basic stat bonuses, although both these suggestions are included. Rather, it is a new implementation of Rolemaster's Characteristic, Development and Skill system which builds on the core principles established by Rolemaster's authors more than twenty-five years ago.

Basic and Racial Characteristics

The earliest edition of Character Law (1982, p5, section 3.1) established quite clearly what a characteristic, or "stat," represented in the game. In its potential form it is the highest genetic capability of a character, whereas in the temporary form the environmentally developed aspect of the same. In order to provide a realistic model of characteristics (and Rolemaster has always prided itself on realism) that is still playable, the distribution of stats be in greater accord to real world models. From this perspective, modifiers of +25 to -25 (Rolemaster Classic) and +10 to -10 (Rolemaster Standard and Fantasy) are both quite inadequate.

One option would be to provide a thoroughly "reality-checked" table that compares the distribution of each characteristic against real-world benchmarks. This sort of realism (requiring ten different tables) does not accord well with making character generation a playable process. Instead, a "workable average" between the characteristics would seem to suggest a bell-curve from +50 to -50 seems most appropriate, and certainly with a percentile resolution system. The following represents a new table with these distributions in mind.

Basic Stat Bonus Table

Stat Basic Stat Bonus
100 +55
98-99 +50
96-97 +45
94-95 +40
92-93 +35
90-91 +30
85-89 +25
80-84 +20
75-79 +15
70-74 +10
60-69 +5
50-59 +0
40-49 +0
30-39 -5
26-30 -10
21-25 -15
16-20 -20
11-15 -25
09-10 -30
07-08 -35
05-06 -40
03-04 -45
01-02 -50

Likewise, the racial stat bonuses are changed accordingly.

Ag Co Me Re SD Em In Pr Qu St
Common Men 0 0 0 0 +10 0 0 0 0 +10
Mixed Men 0 +10 0 0 +10 0 0 +10 0 +10
High Men -10 +10 0 0 0 0 0 +20 -10 +20
Wood Elves +20 0 +10 0 -40 +10 0 +10 +10 0
Grey Elves +10 0 +10 0 -40 +10 0 +30 +30 0
High Elves +10 0 +10 0 -40 +10 0 +20 +20 0
Dwarves -10 +30 0 0 +10 -20 0 -20 -10 +10
Halflings +30 +30 0 0 -20 -10 0 -30 +10 -40
Common Orcs 0 +10 -20 -10 -20 -10 -20 -10 0 +10
Greater Orcs 0 +20 -10 -10 -10 -10 -10 -10 0 +10
Half- Orcs 0 +20 -10 -10 0 +0 -10 -10 0 +20

The initial reaction to these tables is, of course, quite predictable. It would radically alter the nature of a Rolemaster game, significantly punishing low stats (and how often do we really see PCs with low stats?) and significantly rewarding high stats (which is far more common). Indeed, it would be thoroughly unbalancing if these tables were introduced by themselves. However, this is not meant to be; these changes must be viewed in conjunction with skills (below).

Development Points

In Rolemaster Classic, Development Points were based on development stats with an average of 25 DPs for stats of 50, 35 for stats of 75 and up 50 for development stats of 100 across the board. In Rolemaster Standard and Fantasy, not the least due to the number of new skills made available, the quantity of development points is derived from the average of the development stats which normally means around 75 DPs for player characters.

Regardless of whether Rolemaster Standard/Fantasy or Rolemaster Classic is utilized, it is strongly recommended that Development Points are derived not from the raw stats themselves, but from the Stat Bonuses. The raw stats really only indicate the relative position of a character within their racial group. It is the stat bonuses that should have the direct influence in play. As the earlier example showed, there is no reason whatsoever that the distractible Elf should receive the same DPs as the driven Common Man just because they have the same SD within their racial group.

Furthermore, in a significant departure from the various editions of Rolemaster, the mental development stats have a much more significant influence on learning (Me, Re) than the physical development (Ag, Co) stats. Again, this is based on realism. Naturally high memory and reasoning abilities contribute significantly to learning, both for physical and mental skills---far more than one's Constitution or Agility.

Development Points = 50 + [(Me bonus *2) + (Re bonus *2) + (SD bonus) + (Co bonus/2) + (Ag bonus/2)

The average High Elf, for example, would have 35 DPs (= 50 + 20 + 0 -40 +0 + 5) per level, whereas the average Common Man would have 60 = (50 + 0 + 0 + 10 + 0 + 0).

If Rolemaster Classic is being used (not including the optional secondary skills), halve these results. The minimum number of DPs per level is 1; one cannot go backwards in experience.

Skills and Knowledge

All roleplaying skill systems that use a stat + skill + die roll for resolution place different weightings on the various components. Traditionally Rolemaster's stats have had slight influence, with a mere handful of skill ranks being sufficient to alleviate even significant penalties in characteristics. There would be those who, with good reason, would question whether a character with both 01 for Constitution and Strength but several ranks of experience and training in Distance Running would really have the ability to exceed that of a character with great natural ability but little training. If this were truly the case, it is highly improbable that the profession of coaches (the highly experienced but physically "past their prime") would develop.

The reality is that some skills are highly dependent on training and study and others are far more dependent on natural ability. Most knowledge skills fall on the former pole and most physical skills on the latter. No amount of raw Memory or Reasoning will help a character answer questions concerning the history of 16th Century Transylvania. Likewise, no amount of training will assist the wheelchair bound in leaping a chasm.

To reflect this difference, stat bonuses apply to skills in different ways. If an action is mainly dependent on raw ability, then the influence of the stat bonuses will be significant and the influence of training will be minimal (but still used of course for those who want an "extra edge"). If a skill is dependent on training and less so on raw ability, then this also reflected. The way to incorporate this is to vary the number of applicable stats and to vary the bonus for each skill rank.

While the specifics are up to the GM and the edition of Rolemaster being used, in general physical skills receive a bonus from one or two applicable stats, whereas mental skills receive from one or zero. On the other hand, many physical skills develop minimally from training, whereas mental skills develop significantly.

A quick analysis will show that, on average, total skill bonuses will be equivalent to existing editions of Rolemaster on an overall basis. Characters with high physical stats will have a particular advantage at low-levels and with youthful inexperience, but over time those characters who gain from high development points and emphasis on knowledge-heavy skills, will gain in higher levels and with the advent of age. Again, this is realistic.

Using the Skill Categories from Rolemaster Standard edition, the following serves as a guide.

Two Stats, Low Skills (Skill Category progression -10: 1 : 0.5 : 0 : 0; Skill Rank progression -15 : 2 : 1 : 0.5 : 0)

  • Athletic: Brawn (Strength *2)
  • Athletic: Endurance (Constitution * 2)
  • Athletic: Gymnastics (Agility * 2)
  • Awareness: Perception (Intuition *2)
  • Awareness: Senses (Self-Discipline *2)
  • Body Development (Constitution * 2)
  • Self Control (Self Discipline * 2)

One Stat, Average Training (Skill Category progression -15: 2 : 1 : 0.5 : 0; Skill Rank progression -20 : 3 : 2 : 1 : 0.5 )

  • Armor: Heavy (Strength)
  • Armor: Medium (Strength)
  • Armor: Light (Agility)
  • Artistic: Active (Empathy)
  • Artistic: Passive (Intuition)
  • Awareness: Searching (Reasoning)
  • Combat Maneuvers (Quickness)
  • Crafts (Agility)
  • Directed Spells (Agility)
  • Influence (Presence)
  • Martial Arts: Striking (Strength)
  • Martial Arts: Sweeps (Agility)
  • Outdoor: Animal (Empathy)
  • Outdoor: Environmental (Intuition)
  • Power Awareness (Intuition)
  • Power Manipulation (Presence)
  • Power Point Development (var.)
  • Science: Basic (Memory)
  • Science: Specialized (Reasoning)
  • Special Attacks (Agility)
  • Spell Lists (var)
  • Subterfuge: Attack (Self Discipline)
  • Subterfuge: Mechanics (Reasoning)
  • Subterfuge: Stealth (Agility)
  • Technical/Trade: General (Memory)
  • Technical/Trade: Professional (Reasoning)
  • Technical/Trade: Vocational (Intuition)
  • Urban (Presence)
  • Weapons: Melee (Strength)
  • Weapons: Missile (Agility)
  • Weapons: Artillery (Reasoning)

Zero Stats, High Skills (Skill Category progression -25: 3 : 2 : 1 : 0.5; Skill Rank progression -35 : 4 : 3 : 2 : 1 )

  • Lore: General
  • Lore: Magical
  • Lore: Obscure
  • Lore: Technical
  • Special Defenses
  • Languages

Other Stat Bonuses

If this system is used, the heightened value of the stat bonuses must be modifed for the DB derived from Quickness and the RR bonus for spells, poison and disease and the like. It is recommended that the rules from the earlier editions of Rolemaster be applied in this instance, whereby DB is derived from the Quickness bonus alone (rather than Quickness * 3); the RR bonuses for spells are likewise derived from Empathy, Intuition and Presence, rather than those stats *3; encumbrance penalty is modified by the Strength bonus; and finally, resistance against poison and disease and exhaustion points are derived from the character's Constitution bonus alone (e.g., Section 8.4 - 8.7 of Rolemaster Standard rules).

Conclusions

Characteristics in Rolemaster traditionally do not reflect the diversity of characteristic range within "racial groups" or among them and this has become more pronounced over various editions. Development points being based on raw stats rather than stat bonuses also damages claims to realism as does the equality between development characteristics. Variation on the relative emphasis of raw ability vis--vis training also requires incorporation. The optional rules in this article provide a realistic variation in stats within and among races, development points based on stat bonuses with an emphasis on the contribution played by Memory and Reasoning and varies the relative weighting of skills and stats.