Rolemaster Skill Specialization Reconsidered

Copyright Nathaniel Tennant © 2017

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"Specialists in the real world ... usually focus on their chosen area of specialization, often to the exclusion of a wider awareness of related fields"

According to the rules presented in the RMFRP supplement 'School of Hard Knocks' [p. 9], it costs one skill rank of development to specialize a skill as an appropriate sub-skill. The bonus for the specialized skill is then calculated using double the number of skill ranks the character has in the original skill (or 50% extra ranks if a character cannot develop ranks in the relevant skill category).

No mention is made of how to further advance specialized skills; one can only assume that further development of the parent skill continues to increase any appropriate specializations at the rate of 2 ranks for each new rank added to that skill.

This seems a tad unrealistic - specialists in the real world don't tend to continue to study a broad curriculum in order to increase their knowledge base in their respective field of expertise, at least not in my experience. Instead, they usually focus on their chosen area of specialization, often to the exclusion of a wider awareness of related fields. This optional rule is an attempt to address this within the RM rules system.

Specialization can be chosen at any level of development, and still costs one skill rank of development, as per the original rules in SoHK. [Personally, I require the expenditure of two skill ranks, but that isn't necessary in order to use the following optional rules.]

From this point on, however, the parent skill and the specialization are treated as separate skills for development purposes, and need to be recorded as such on the character sheet. The initial number of skill ranks for the specialization is that of the current parent skill, plus one. Any future development of the parent skill will also add skill ranks to any specialized skills to maintain this difference, unless their skill rank is already in excess of this due to subsequent character advancement (for which, see below).

For example, Nanoc the Librarian has 10 ranks in the History skill. During a level advancement, he buys two more ranks, and chooses to specialize in History (Emer) and History (Second Age of Ire). Both these specializations start at 11 ranks, and his History skill remains at 10 ranks. Next level, he buys one rank in History (Emer), which is a broad specialization and thus now an Everyman skill (again, see below), which takes this skill to rank 13. Should he subsequently buy a rank in his unspecialized History skill, this would increase his History to 11 ranks, and his History (Second Age of Ire) to 12 ranks, but would have no effect on his History (Emer) skill, as that skill rank is already in excess of the parent skill plus one rank.

Instead, specializations are first assessed as to their scope, and then rated as either broad or narrow in their focus. For example, History (17th Century Europe) would be considered a broad specialization, whereas History (Thirty Years War) would be rated as a narrow area of specialization. The GM is the final arbitrator in such matters.

Broad specializations are considered Everyman skills, and thus increase two ranks for each skill rank purchased, unless the parent skill is a Restricted skill, in which case they are developed as a normal skill. Narrow specializations are considered Occupational skills, and thus increase by three ranks for each skill rank purchased, unless the parent skill is Restricted, in which case they are considered Everyman skills.

All combat skill specializations should be considered broad in scope, unless they are developed with a single specific weapon in mind. By 'single specific weapon', I mean exactly that - one specific example of one given weapon type, rather than any given weapon of that type. So, unless a character is developing a combat skill specialization relating exclusively to their own sword/mace/longbow/whatever, it should be classed as a broad specialization under these rules.

If the parent skill happens to be an Occupational or Everyman skill already, then any specializations under that skill should be considered Occupational skills, regardless of their scope.

Furthermore, each specialization of any given skill must be developed independently of any other specializations, even if they share the same parent skill. Optionally, however, the 'bonus' ranks may be assigned to other related specializations at the GM's discretion.

Thus, an increase in the narrow specialization 'History (Thirty Years War)' - normally +3 ranks, as narrow specializations are considered Occupational skills - could instead be assigned as +1 rank to History (17th Century Europe) and +2 ranks to History (Thirty Years War). At least one skill rank must be spent on the skill being developed, and no related specializations can be increased in this way by more skill ranks than are added to the skill on which the development points were actually spent.

If a broad specialization is instead increased by spending the requisite DP's, then 1 skill rank can be used to purchase a new related narrow specialization.

It is my hope that the above rules enhance the realism and playability of Rolemaster without adding too much complexity.

For the same DP cost, specializations can still be advanced at a 2 for 1 progression, only without necessarily increasing either the parent skill or other specializations under the same skill. These can still be advanced at the same time, at the cost of a few more DP's. Additionally, narrow-focused specializations are further incentivized, as these will increase even faster for the same number of development points.

GMs are encouraged to further reward positive use of specialized skills among their players by either adjusting the difficulty levels assigned to certain specific tasks (making them a step easier in cases where a specialty applies and/or a step harder for unspecialized skill usage), or by selectively applying a -15 penalty [equivalent to unskilled skill use] in certain cases where specialized knowledge is lacking (for example, using Automotive Mechanics sans specialization to fix a specific model of car with which the character is not familiar).

Conversely, if a player tries to build a combat monster by taking advantage of narrow-focused combat skills (..."weapon skills are now Occupational? Heck, yeah!"), all you have to do is conspire to take that character's weapon away…