Balanced Profession Design based on Affinities

Copyright Peter Mork © 2012

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"Perhaps unsurprising to many players, the Swashbuckler, Bard, Magnet, and Rogue are the most powerful professions in the game."

Every Companion in RM2 included a plethora of new professions. This design decision introduced considerable overlap (e.g., the Bounty Hunter and Assassin were quite similar) and power imbalances (e.g., the Dervish and Warrior Mage were quite powerful). The designers of RMSS therefore attempted to reduce and balance the available professions, and they made considerable progress (there are roughly half as many professions in RMSS compared to RM2, including the various Companions).

As noted in Irregular Realms, however, considerable overlap still exists. In this article, I describe techniques for eliminating professions entirely by choosing skill costs directly. I begin by describing how to abstract skill costs into a manageable number of Affinities (groups of closely related skill categories). I then provide alternatives for assigning skill costs based on affinities. Next, I describe how to identify Everyman skills and level bonuses. Finally, I briefly discuss imbalances I observed with RMSS professions while developing this article.

Establishing Affinities

Developing a new RMSS profession primarily involves assigning skill costs to 49 different categories (not including spells). There are strong affinities among certain subsets of these categories. For example, professions with cheap Subterfuge • Stealth costs are extremely likely to have cheap Subterfuge • Attack costs as well.

To identify natural groupings, I conducted a correlation analysis of all of the existing categories using the professions in RMSS, including all of the companions (except Fire & Ice and Construct Companion). Based on this analysis, I identified the following affinities:

  • Armor (Armor • Heavy, Armor • Light and Armor • Medium)
  • Athletics (Athletic • Brawn, Athletic • Endurance and Body Development)
  • Awareness (Awareness • Perceptions, Awareness • Searching and Awareness • Senses)
  • Discipline (Athletic • Gymnastics, Self Control and Special Defenses)
  • Influence (Influence, Artistic • Active and Artistic • Passive)
  • Lore (Lore • General, Lore • Obscure and Lore • Technical)
  • Magic (Directed Spells, Power Awareness and Power Manipulation)
  • Martial Arts (Martial Arts • Striking, Martial Arts • Sweeps and Martial Arts Combat Maneuvers)
  • Outdoor (Outdoor • Animal and Outdoor • Environmental)
  • Science (Lore • Magical, Science/Analytic • Basic and Science/Analytic • Specialized)
  • Spells (Power Point Development and Spells)
  • Subterfuge (Subterfuge • Attack, Subterfuge • Mechanics and Subterfuge • Stealth)
  • Weapons (Combat Maneuvers and Weapons)

I left the following categories out of the analysis because their costs are static across all professions: Crafts, Resistance, Technical/Trade • General, Technical/Trade • Professional, and Technical/Trade • Vocational. Finally, the following categories exhibited odd (non-linear) correlations and will be treated in an ad hoc manner:

  • Communications (correlated with Lore and Science)
  • Special Attacks (correlated with Weapons and Martial Arts)
  • Urban (correlated with Awareness and Subterfuge)

This final category (Urban) is particularly troublesome. Not surprisingly, it is strongly correlated with the Subterfuge Affinity. Thieves and Rogues thrive in urban settings, but what about the outrider more at home in the wilderness? The correlation with the Awareness Affinity arises because of a strong correlation between Subterfuge and Awareness, so that correlation is spurious. Instead, Urban seems to be secondarily correlated with the Influence Affinity, which I will clarify in the next section.

Establishing Skill Costs

I then analyzed the existing skill costs and determined that there were at most roughly eight costs in each skill category. Because of correlations within an Affinity, there are really only thirteen Affinities for which costs need to be established. The following matrix indicates the costs for each skill category based on the relative importance of a given Affinity to a profession.

Affinity Category Relative Importance
7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
Armor Armor • Light 1/1/1 2/2/2 2/2/2 2/2/2 4/4/4 6/6/6 8 9
Armor • Medium 2/2/2 3/3/3 4/4/4 4/4/4 6/6/6 7/7/7 9 10
Armor • Heavy 3/3/3 4/4/4 5/5/5 6/6/6 7/7/7 8/8/8 10 11
Athletics Athletic • Brawn 2/5 2/6 3/7 3/7 3/7 4/9 5 7
Athletic • Endurance 2/5 2/6 2/6 2/7 2/7 3/7 3/7 3/7
Body Development 2/5 4/10 4/12 5/12 6/14 10 12 15
Awareness Awareness • Perceptions 1/5 2/6 2/6 3/7 4/12 5/14 5/14 6
Awareness • Searching 1/5 1/5 2/6 2/6 2/6 2/6 3/7 3/7
Awareness • Senses 1/5 2/6 2/6 2/6 3/7 3/7 3/7 3/7
Discipline Athletic • Gymnastics 1/3 1/5 2/5 3/7 3/7 3/7 3/7 5
Self Control 1/3 2/4 2/6 2/7 2/7 3/7 6 6
Special Defenses 4/9 6 15 18 25 30 30 40
Influence Artistic • Active 1/2 1/4 2/4 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5
Artistic • Passive 1/3 2/4 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5
Influence 1/4 1/4 1/5 1/5 2/4 2/5 2/6 3/7
Lore Lore • General 1/2 1/2 1/2 1/3 1/3 1/3 1/3 1/3
Lore • Obscure 2/4 2/4 2/5 2/6 3/6 3/7 3/7 3/8
Lore • Technical 1/4 2/4 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/5 2/6 2/7
Magic Directed Spells 2/5 2/6 2/6 3 4 10 15 20
Power Awareness 1/3 1/4 2/5 2/5 2/7 3/7 5 7
Power Manipulation 3/9 3/9 4/10 4/10 6/12 6/12 6/12 15
Martial Arts Martial Arts • Striking 1/3 2/5 3/6 3/9 4/10 6 7 9
Martial Arts • Sweeps 1/3 2/5 3/6 3/9 4/10 6 7 9
Martial Arts Combat Maneuvers 3/8 4/9 5/12 6 8 12 15 18
Outdoor Outdoor • Animal 1/3 1/4 2/5 2/6 2/7 2/7 3/7 3
Outdoor • Environmental 1/3 2/4 2/5 2/6 2/6 2/7 2/7 3
Science Lore • Magical 1/4 1/4 2/5 2/5 3/6 4 5 6
Science/Analytic • Basic 1/3 1/4 1/5 2/5 2/6 3/6 3 3
Science/Analytic • Specialized 3/7 6/14 6/14 8 8 12 12 15
Spells Power Point Development 4 6 8 10 12 15 15 20
Spells • Own Base Lists 3/3/3 3/3/3 6/6/6 8/8 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Spells • Open Lists 4/4/4 4/4/4 8/8 10 12 12 18 25
# of Base Lists 10 6 6 2 0 0 0 0
Subterfuge Subterfuge • Attack 2/6 4/8 6/12 8 10 12 15 15
Subterfuge • Mechanics 1/3 2/5 2/7 4 6 6 7 8
Subterfuge • Stealth 1/3 1/4 2/6 2/7 3/8 3/8 5 6
Weapons Combat Maneuvers 3/9 4/10 5/12 5/12 6/14 10 14 18
Category 1 1/5 2/5 3/7 4/9 5 6 6 9
Category 2 2/5 3/8 4 5 7 7 7 20
Category 3 2/7 3/9 6 6 8 9 9 20
Category 4 2/7 4 6 7 8 9 9 20
Category 5 2/7 4 6 8 8 9 9 20
Category 6 5 6 9 9 15 20 20 20
Category 7 5 6 9 10 15 20 20 20
None Crafts 4/10
Technical/Trade • General 3/7
Technical/Trade • Professional 8
Technical/Trade • Vocational 5/12

Spell Lists

The relative importance of the Spells Affinity determines how many spell lists a profession can have. If the relative importance is 7, the profession gets the six base lists for a pure or hybrid profession plus four additional base lists drawn from the open and closed lists. If the relative importance is 6, the profession gets the six base lists for a pure or hybrid profession. If the relative importance is 5, the profession gets the six base lists for a semi profession, and if the relative importance is 4, the profession gets two base lists chosen from the open lists.

Unassigned Skill Categories

The skill costs for the remaining skill categories depend on the relative importance of other affinities. These ad hoc criteria try to preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the existing costs for various professions.

Category Criteria Cost
Communications Science 6+ OR Influence 6+ 1/1/1
Science 4+ OR Influence 4+ 2/2/2
Science 2+ OR Influence 2+ 3/3/3
Otherwise 4/4/4
Special Attacks Average of Martial Arts and Weapons
6.5+ 2/5
6 2/7
5.5 2/8
5 3/9
4.5 4/10
4 5
3.5 6
3 8
2.5 10
2 12
1.5 14
1 15
0.5 16
0 18
Urban Subterfuge 5+ AND Influence 3+ 1/3
Subterfuge 3+ AND Influence 2+ 2/5
Subterfuge 1+ AND Influence 1+ 3/7
Otherwise 4

Building a Profession

I also tracked, for each existing profession, the relative importance of each Affinity. For example, a Fighter has the following affinities:

  • Armor = 7
  • Athletics = 7
  • Awareness = 5
  • Discipline = 4
  • Influence = 0
  • Lore = 1
  • Magic = 0
  • Martial Arts = 5
  • Outdoor = 6
  • Science = 1
  • Spells = 0
  • Subterfuge = 5
  • Weapons = 7
  • Communications = 4/4/4
  • Special Attacks = 2/7
  • Urban = 4

From these affinities, one can determine all of the skill category costs for the Fighter. Note that there will be some small variations (e.g., a Fighter actually has a cost of 2/2/2 for Armor • Heavy). Averaging across all existing professions, the default importance for an Affinity is 3. This observation leads to a simple mechanism for building a profession.

The Simple Approach

Each profession has 39 points to be assigned across the affinities. Once these are assigned, the costs for Communications, Special Attacks and Urban are determined.

The Complex Approach

Unfortunately, the simple approach does not account for the relative importance of the various affinities to most PCs. A more complex, weighted approach is therefore called for. Each profession has 100 points to be assigned to affinities, but certain affinities cost more than others.

Weight Affinities
5 Martial Arts, Spells, Weapons
2 Athletics, Discipline, Magic, Science, Subterfuge
1 Armor, Awareness, Influence, Lore, Outdoor

Moreover, access to spells is an attractive aspect of any profession. A profession with access to hybrid base lists must spend ten points for that benefit (i.e., hybrid spell users have only 90 points for Affinities). A profession with access to pure base lists (e.g., the Magician) must spend five points for that benefit. A profession with access to semi base lists spends nothing, and a profession with access to no base lists (open/closed only) gains five points for that limitation.

Customization

In some cases, the skill costs within an Affinity may need to be tweaked. For example, many Channeling users have cheaper Armor • Light costs, at the expense of increased costs in Armor • Medium and Armor • Heavy. To support this sort of customizations, a profession can choose to decrease the cost of up to two skill categories by increasing the costs of an equal number of skill categories within the same Affinity. For example, the Fighter might decrease the cost of Athletic • Gymnastics from 3/7 to 2/5 by increasing Special Defenses from 18 to 25.

Examples

The revised Fighter might have the following affinities (with the cost in square brackets):

  • Armor = 7 [7]
  • Athletics = 6 [12]
  • Awareness = 4 [4]
  • Discipline = 4 [8]
    • Athletic • Gymnastics shifted up one importance to 5
    • Special Defenses shifted down one importance to 3
  • Influence = 0 [0]
  • Lore = 1 [1]
  • Magic = 0 [0]
  • Martial Arts = 5 [25]
  • Outdoor = 6 [6]
  • Science = 1 [2]
  • Spells = 0 [0]
  • Subterfuge = 5 [10]
  • Weapons = 7 [35]
  • Non-spell-user [-5]
  • Total [100]
    • Communications = 4/4/4
    • Special Attacks = 2/7
    • Urban = 4

My wife really likes playing characters that can see everything and learn everything. Her profession (the Skulk) has the following Affinities:

  • Armor = 2 [2]
  • Athletics = 2 [4]
  • Awareness = 7 [7]
  • Discipline = 1 [2]
  • Influence = 4 [4]
  • Lore = 6 [6]
  • Magic = 4 [8]
  • Martial Arts = 3 [15]
  • Outdoor = 3 [3]
  • Science = 2 [4]
  • Spells = 5 [25]
  • Subterfuge = 5 [10]
  • Weapons = 2 [10]
  • Access to semi spell-user [0]
  • Total [100]
    • Communications = 2/2/2
    • Special Attacks = 10
    • Urban = 1/3

Remaining Details

The preceding discussion ignored the question of how to identify Everyman skills and Category bonuses for a profession. A character's Everyman skills are determined by a) the character's realm and b) the character's aptitude. Players are largely free to choose level bonuses.

Realm Skills

Each character has one or two realms drawn from the usual list: Arcane, Arms, Channeling, Essence, and Mentalism. If the character has access to any pure or hybrid base lists, the character's realm is based on those base lists. If the character has access to semi base lists, the character's realms are Arms and the relevant realm of magic. Finally, characters without access to base lists only use Arms. If a character has one realm, he has gains both skills listed below as Everyman. If he has two realms, he gains the first skill listed below for each realm as Everyman.

Realm Primary Skill Secondary Skill
Arcane Reality Awareness Magic Ritual
Arms One Combat maneuver One Combat maneuver
Channeling Religion Channeling
Essence Power Perception Spell Mastery
Mentalism Time Sense Meditation

For example, a character with Sorcerer base lists gains Religion and Power Perception as Everyman skills. A character with Wizard base lists gains Reality Awareness and Magic Ritual as Everyman skills.

Aptitudes

Each character can choose one aptitude. That aptitude determines 3 or 4 skills that will be treated as Everyman. The character can choose 1 or 2 additional skills to bring the total to 5, but Martial Arts, Spells, and Weapons cannot be chosen.

Aptitude Everyman Skills
Bellicose One Combat Maneuver Frenzy Situational Awareness: Combat Any Any
Combative Boxing Situational Awareness: Combat Subdual Wrestling Any
Contemplative Divination Meditation Time Sense Any Any
Creative Artifact Lore One Craft One Craft One Craft Any
Eldritch Magic Ritual Spell Lore Spell Mastery Any Any
Feral Animal Healing Animal Mastery Fauna Lore Riding Any
Influential Lie Perception Recruitment Seduction Sense Ambush Any
Martial Leadership Military Organization Siege Engineering Tactics Any
Mechanical Gimmickry Locate Hidden Lock Lore Operating Equipment Any
Medical Adrenal Stabilization First Aid Second Aid Using Prepared Herbs Any
Mystical Astronomy Divination Divination Lore Star-Gazing Any
Scholarly One Lore One Lore One Lore Mnemonics Any
Spiritual Channeling Religion Research Any Any
Tricky Acting Duping Feint Lie Perception Any
Wandering Direction Sense Region Lore Survival Weather Watching Any
Wild Flora Lore Foraging Herb Lore Poison Lore Any

Level Bonuses

A character's profession bonuses should total 50, subject to the following limitations:

  • A skill group or category cannot be assigned a bonus of +20 unless the corresponding Affinity has a relative importance of 7.
    • The Athletic group is based on the Athletic Affinity (despite Athletic • Gymnastics being in the Discipline Affinity).
    • The Lore group is based on the Lore Affinity.
  • Generally, only one group or category can have a bonus of +15 or more.
  • Two groups or categories can have bonuses of +15 if both of the corresponding Affinities have a relative importance of 7, however.
  • Unaffiliated categories (Communications, Crafts, Resistance, Technical/Trade, Urban, and Special Attacks) have a maximum bonus of +15.
  • Spells and Power Point Development have a maximum bonus of +5.

Observations

To determine the weights for the complex approach, I conducted a linear regression analysis based on the existing professions. I made two somewhat surprising discoveries.

First, some of the regression coefficients were negative. In other words, professions that prioritized Lore and Martial Arts effectively received more points than other professions. Thus, I did not use the regression coefficients directly, which would have weighted Magic, Science, and Weapons most heavily. Instead, I selected Weapons, Spells, and Martial Arts as those affinities most familiar to RMSS players. I then loosely weighted the remaining Affinities based on those with small regression coefficients (weight of 1) and large regression coefficients (weight of 2). If nothing else, the weights I chose make the point calculation easy to compute.

Second, the original professions are by no means balanced. Perhaps unsurprising to many players, the Swashbuckler, Bard, Magnet, and Rogue are the most powerful professions in the game (funny, my wife is drawn to the Bard, Magnet, and Rogue!). The Magician, Wizard, Arcanist, and Illusionist are particularly underpowered. This observation suggests that some professions derive all of their value not from skill costs, but from their specific spell lists. Others, such as the Mentalist and Lay Healer, cost about 100 points. In short, the ideas in this article will, in some cases, drastically alter the costs for existing professions.