Modified Level Bonuses

Copyright William Van Horn © Copyright Year (e.g. 2003)

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"It's even possible for a Fighter to learn a spell list or a Magician to become skilled with a sling by using level bonus points."

Modified Level Bonuses

Are you puzzled by the way level bonuses are allocated in Second Edition Rolemaster (RM2)? Does it make no sense to you that a fourth level character can get a +12 level bonus for a skill he or she just learned? If so, read on. This article proposes a new way of dealing with level bonuses that gives your players more control over where those bonuses go and how they're applied.

Under the standard RM2 rules, level bonuses are determined first by Profession and second by skill category. Some of those categories are rather arbitrary, and breaking bonuses by Profession doesn't allow for any sort of individual specialization on the part of characters. The system presented here was originally developed for my campaign setting in response to the fact that, under the old system, it wasn't possible for a Fighter to have a +3 per level bonus in Tactics, although a Scholar could. While this skill doesn't appear in the core RM2 rules any longer, the concern is still valid. It also wasn't possible to create a Thief who specialized in Bow, for example. That character would still have the stock +2 level bonus no matter what. This same issue applies to Perception: only the Seer gets a +3 bonus, while the Thief (who depends on this skill in the basic rules to find traps and other things) only gets a +1.

In order to give some control of bonuses back to the players, we came up with a level bonus system that put control firmly in their hands. Looking at the standard RM2 rules, it was determined that a pool of 30 points would adequately represent what was happening at each level gain. Each character got those 30 points starting at First Level and could allocate them to any Skill. After skills were selected, but prior to buying skill ranks, players distributed those points as they saw fit. The only restriction was that you couldn't put a bonus in a skill that didn't normally get a level bonus (Body Development, for example, or Ambush). Allowable bonuses range from +1 to +3, mimicking the original level bonus structure.

Players repeat this 30 point process each time they gain a level. The only restriction is that they cannot allocate any level bonus points to skills they gain during the level development process. This is done to represent the "focus" concept inherent in this level bonus system. It also prevents the "instant bonus" syndrome common with the existing RM2 rules. It makes little sense for a character to have a higher level bonus than she does a skill rank bonus for a new skill (perfectly possible if a player above first level takes one pick in a skill he or she has a +3/lvl bonus in). While this could possibly occur in some similar skills (comparing One-Handed Edge and One-Handed Krush, for example), it is difficult to see the same thing happening for skills that are not quite so similar (One-Handed Edge and Bow, for example ‚euro" they're both Arms skills, but Bow uses a different set of muscles and reflexes).

Obviously this "rule" should be considered optional, but it has been quite successful in campaigns where we've put it in play. Players felt more in control of their characters' development and destiny, and over time characters with the same Profession started to show different capabilities as the flexible level bonuses started to have more impact. One player even used the flexible level bonus to have his Fighter become a skilled Poet!

For those concerned with game balance, flexible level bonuses don't put anything out of balance. Even if a player chooses to put the maximum bonus (+3) into skills, that works out to ten skills that can have a +3. Keep in mind, also, that these are bonuses for individual skills and not groups or families of skills. For example, under the normal RM2 rules, Fighters get a +3 level bonus to ALL combat skills (melee and missile Offensive Bonuses). Under this system, a Fighter would have to use six picks to get the same benefit (one each for One-Handed Edge, One-Handed Crush, Two-Handed, Missile, Thrown Weapons, and Pole Arms). It also places all Professions on a level "bonus field." In RM2, a Fighter gets a total of 7 level bonus packages, while a Ranger gets 6 and no spellcaster gets a +3 in Base Spells. Under this system all characters start off equally in terms of level bonuses and can progress at the same rate.

In short, changing from a Profession-based level bonus system to a player-allocated points system creates a better gaming experience. Players feel more "in control" of their characters and over time each character becomes more and more unique as those level bonuses take effect. No Profession is slighted, and it's even possible for a Fighter to learn a spell list or a Magician to become skilled with a sling by using level bonus points.