Faster Character Creation for Rolemaster Standard System

Copyright Chris Rebman © 2011

Edited by Aaron Smalley for The Guild Companion

"Rolemaster is a very flexible system, one which allows for a wide range of possible options. Each option makes it easy to tweak and modify a campaign to each player and Gamemaster's style and needs. Several of those options, though, take a lot of time to evaluate and apply properly."

Rolemaster is a very flexible system, one which allows for a wide range of possible options. Each option makes it easy to tweak and modify a campaign to each player and Gamemaster's style and needs. Several of those options, though, take a lot of time to evaluate and apply properly. Character creation, in particular often takes longer than any other aspect of the game.

And no wonder! To create a new character, a player might have to dip into six or more books. The character's race and profession must be chosen, each evaluated against the player's desires and how each part contributes to his goal. Depending on which version of Rolemaster you are playing, there are up to three books with viable race descriptions. There are even more choices for professions scattered through the various books.

If the GM allows Talents and Flaws, each of these must be weighed and measured. Then there are a large number of skills and categories available. The incredible number of choices is one of the aspects of Rolemaster that slows down character creation for new players. What to do?

Before you begin

First, as GM, you have to evaluate your players. In particular, you need to know how much experience they have with the system. Anyone who has played Rolemaster a lot can speed through creation quickly. They have read all of the books, created more than one character and know where to find any piece of information they need. If they haven't played much - or at all - then the plethora of choices will be overwhelming and the process will take longer.

Second, consider their age. Younger players might grow bored more easily. This is after all, the era of instant gratification. If they've played other systems before Rolemaster, they may be used to being able to handle different processes faster, and resist the slower, more detailed approach. Older players might have more patience. These aren't absolutes. Knowing how your group is likely to think, though, will help you know where to trim the rules.

Groups with younger, less experienced players will need more time to create their first characters, and will need a few more judicious house rules to help speed them along. If you decide that something needs to be done, there are a variety of tips that can help.

Keep it simple

Don't roll dice if you don't have to. Every die roll adds to the time needed to accomplish something. When generating stats, for example, always use the default 660 points. This prevents player's asking for re-rolls, and allows the GM the first opportunity to maintain balance in the party.

On the other hand, spending points can be a long process as well. One method to replace the stat generation process would be to go with nothing but dice rolls. RM2 does it this way. You roll d% twenty times, in two columns of ten. The first is your temporary stat, and the second is checked against a chart to determine the final potential stat. This can be done quickly, and since the rules allow you to replace any score with a 90 if its a prerequisite, no one will get absolutely terrible characters. Either option could save time.

Don't roll for Potential stats until you need them. For most players, this can wait until second level, when you roll for stat gains. If you allow training packages, then only roll potentials for the stats that may increase. This is a minor time saver, but every place that you can save time adds up.

Only use the core rulebook for character creation. The background option rules are sufficient for most beginning players, and have the advantage in that they are quick to use. Players can get a character built faster, and learn about Talents and Flaws long before digging into one of the talent books. The default races and professions cover most of the primary character archetypes. Later, after gaining experience with the system, other professions can be brought in from other books.

Allow players to spend their hobby ranks more or less as they wish (keeping in mind the limit on how many ranks a skill can be developed at a time. In most cases, the skills listed under a culture's "hobby skills" are listed in alphabetical order, without reference to which category they belong in. This requires more look up time. As GM, you can prevent players from going wild with their hobby ranks, and players can pick the skills they think are most important.

A matter of training

Training packages require a lengthier discussion. First, let's look at what training packages are.

The top of most training packages is a list of items that might be appropriate for the character type they represent. These items are items acquired during the character's training. But you have to roll to earn each one. Every time you do roll high enough, the odds are halved for each further item. All of those dice rolls and division take time to accomplish. If you are trying to save time, it is better just to assign the items you think are appropriate.

The second half of the package lists the skill ranks rewarded as a result of the training involved, how long it took to get the training, and which stats may have increased through the course of the training.

Training packages, however, are more than just a grab bag of skills and items.
1) Training packages exist to help fill out a character's background.
2) They help shortcut the creation process.
3) They discount the cost of basic skills.

In answer to #1, a character's background should not be dependent on a mechanical rules construct. The character needs to fit the GM's world. As an indicator of background, training packages are unnecessary. Often, the name of the package suffices to 'tag' the character for play. In fact, if you reduce training packages use to tags that describe a character's past, then you can open up a world of options that only take moments to provide. Examples: the noble thief, the savage barbarian, the crafty sorcerer. Tags can serve the same background purpose as training packages without requiring a lot of time looking at each one, and adding the data to your sheets.

As far as #2 goes, training packages shortcut the design process by eating up Development Points. After buying a package or two, there are fewer points left to spend on other things.

They also (point #3) discount the cost of skills, allowing development points to go farther.

2 and 3 are counter-productive in terms of speeding up the process. If you allow training packages, you save time and get more skill ranks for the cost than you normally would, but at the same time, with fewer points left over afterwards, players often complain they don't have enough DP to do what they want. This often leads to the purchase of additional training packages, which only worsens the problem.

Increasing Development Points

The first solution is to give more Development Points to a first level character. True, this does mean that more points will take longer to spend, but it also allows the player to get the skills he thinks are necessary early on. This makes the decision process easier, and takes less time. Having more points available also means there is less of a need for a discount system, which means that player's will not need to review each package to see if it fits his concept or provides him with skills he wants.

One way to give more Development Points is to add up the development stats (Ag, Co, Me, Re, SD), and then instead of averaging them, divide by four or even three. This way, a character's DP total still remains dependent on the character's development stats, but more points can be awarded. Dividing by three may be too generous. You should not even consider dividing by two.

Another possibility, used in many campaigns is to assign fixed DP's at each level. Calculating DP among characters created by the default rules seems to provide a DP average of 70-74. Giving 75 points is an easy compromise. Yes, it will favor those characters who would have had lower development stats, and slightly restrict someone who spent the points for higher stats, but then at least no one can complain about being shorted points.

However, as PC's adventure, their temporary stats generally increase until they reach their potential limits. Thus, the number of DP's gained slowly increases until it tops out. You could simply increase the number of DP's given, either by granting a higher number to start, or slowly increasing the number given.

For example, you could grant 80 or 85 points at each level, or you could grant 75 at levels 1 through 3, 80 for levels 4 through 6, and so on. You (as GM) should decide when to increase the total, and when the increases should stop.

Training solutions

Another way to save time is on looking up the cost of training packages. Typically, you have to refer to a table in the book you found the package in, cross referencing the profession with the name of the package. You may not find every profession listed there. You can also refer to Iron Crown Enterprises' Official Training Package Cost List. This is recommended, as that document formalizes all of the costs according to the same formula, something that earlier books did not necessarily do. Whichever source you use, this takes time.

Instead, assign a basic DP cost to the training packages. The assignment should be based on whether or not the concept 'fits' the profession. For example, a fighter would find the Gladiator package a better fit than Guild Mage. A package that fits better will cost fewer points than one that is more general in application or intended for a profession far different from the current one.

One potential scheme:
A good fit = 15 points
General purpose = 20
Packages that don't fit = 25.

These numbers may not work well for you. They may seem to low. Feel free to adjust the numbers in any direction that works for you. You may also want to restrict access to totally inappropriate combinations. It would not do to have a Paladin gain the Assassin package, no matter the cost, for example.

The thing to keep in mind if you do this is that no two packages give out the same number of ranks. It is possible to unbalance the game if packages cost too little. This is one of the reasons why package costs are determined on a case by case basis. Having a default list of costs, though can save a bit of time, as well as encourage players to look for packages that fit their concept better.

Another limit to enforce is the one Lifestyle and one Vocational package rule. It is a guideline, and if the player has the points to spend, you can still allow them to buy more. However, the time a player needs to look for more packages is more time lost.

Optional Training Packages

Another approach might be to replace the training packages altogether. Perhaps by creating stock packages and using tags. What follows are four sample training packages that cover the bases for four different types of characters. Using these packages, you shouldn't charge players for them. Let them use their DP's to supplement the ranks these packages give them. These packages ensure that a PC has at least a few ranks in skills that are crucial for the concept.

In most cases, it should be obvious which package goes with which profession. Semi spell casters, however are a bit different. As they combine magic with arms, they should be allowed to choose either the magic-based package OR one of the others. It all depends on whether they want magic to be their focus, or stealth, or arms.

Of course, everyone is likely to have a different idea of which skills are most important. Feel free, as always, to tweak the samples to make them better fit your idea of the game.

Sample Base Packages

In each of these samples, where possible, the package also grants +1 rank in the proper skill category.

Warriors
Skill Ranks
Body Development 2
Weapon skills 2 ranks each in 2 different skills
Maneuvering in Armor 2 ranks, player's choice
First Aid 2
Stunned Maneuvering 2

Rogues
Skill Ranks
Alertness 2
Observation 2
Stalk 2
Hide 2
Weapon skills 2, in one weapon of player's choice
Maneuvering in Armor 2

Magic Users
Skill Ranks
Power Point Development 2
Attunement 2
Spell Mastery 2 ranks each, in 2 different skills
Directed Spells 2 ranks each, in 2 different skills

Martial Artists
Skill Ranks
Body Development 2
Martial Arts Skills 2 ranks each, in 2 different skills
Stunned Maneuvering 2
Special Attacks or Defenses 2 ranks each in 2 different non-restricted skills

Notice that each of these packages gives out a total of 12 ranks not counting category ranks. If you modify these packages, just be sure that every package gives out the same total number of skill ranks. If, for example, you feel that every player should have first aid, then be sure to go back to the warriors package and add another skill (perhaps a third weapon).

Central Casting

The fastest possible option, if you do not want to modify how characters are created at all would be to pre-generate several first level characters and have the players choose from among those at the first session. Be sure to include at least one or more fighter types and thiefly types. A good rule of thumb is to have twice as many pre-made characters as you expect to have at the game table. Try to cover all of the bases.

This does require more work on the GM's part, adding to his already considerable pre-game work load. But it allows the GM to completely control balance, and saves the players from having to touch character creation at all until they've learned how the system works.

Be sure that your stable of characters includes a pure spell user, as well as a semi and a hybrid caster as well. Don't forget the realm of arms. If you have the time or inclination, you could also design a pure caster from each realm or even one of each hybrid realm as well. But in keeping with the idea of keeping things simple, don't worry about arcane casters, or elemental casters for the first game. Save those for later, after everyone has become comfortable with the game.

This method allows you to showcase some of the different kinds of abilities available to players, and hint at options they'll have to choose from when the time comes. Let them keep the characters at least until they reach second level. Leveling a character will teach them most of the character creation process without requiring every step to be followed. Later, if they decide they want to build a character of their own, they'll be more prepared. They'll have practical experience and will know a bit more about which skills they need to focus on. Plus, you'll delay a lot of the evaluation of training packages, professions, talents, and so forth for a time when experience will help things move more smoothly.

A matter of record

Rolemaster benefits from the use of a good spreadsheet. A lot of players feel that if a spreadsheet is required to manage a character, the game is too complex for them. There is not much that can be done about players like that. However, while Rolemaster benefits from its use, a spreadsheet is by no means absolutely necessary.

The product "Rolemaster Character Records" for Rolemaster Standard System contains character sheets that already have all of the race-specific information filled in, as well as skill category sheets with the necessary profession information ready to go. If you can't find this book, then print out blanks ahead of time, and fill that information in yourself. Being able to hand a player a sheet that does not require a lot of mindless copying of data will save you time. The totals will still need to be added up, but that's not hard.

On the other hand, there are several advantages to using a good spreadsheet: It can automatically fill in skill costs and racial bonuses. It can automatically add all of the information where it needs to be, generating totals for your skills as needed. When you level the character up, any changes made can be automatically applied everywhere they need to be applied.

There are several different spreadsheets available, from those on Iron Crown's website to any number of fan-based websites. You will need a spreadsheet program to read and modify them. If you don't already have one - most Windows users have Microsoft Office, many Linux users have OpenOffice - there are several free choices out there to pick from. OpenOffice will read and write almost any file format you might run across, and it doesn't cost a dime!

If you can't find a spreadsheet that you completely like, and you are willing to learn how, you can always design your own.

A few final words

There are a lot of tips and tricks to try here. However, do not think that you need to use them all - or even most of them. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you and your players. It takes experience to learn where and how to balance things fairly.

The most important thing to remember: It's all about having fun, and teaching a new game to your friends. If one or more of these tips makes the process less enjoyable, ignore it! Hopefully, you've found a few things here that you like and will speed things up for you and your friends.