Ag and Qu ReŰxamined

Copyright Nathaniel Tennant © 2017

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"If someone has quick reflexes and reactions, then they have the luxury of more time in which to be more precise or co÷ordinated."

Per the RMSS:

Agility - Manual dexterity and litheness are the prime components of this characteristic. Also referred to as: dexterity, deftness, manual skill, adroitness, maneuverability, stealth, dodging ability, litheness, etc.

Quickness - Essentially a measure of reflexes and conscious reaction time, this stat is often lumped with several others as dexterity. Also referred to as: dexterity, speed, reaction ability, readiness, dodging ability, litheness, etc.

From a game mechanics perspective, Qu can be considered fractionally more relevant [useful?], as it directly affects Initiative determination, base movement length, and a character's defensive bonus. The last of these makes some sense, in that we are told Qu represents reflexes and reaction time, but is also interesting in the light of both attributes being supposedly synonymous with 'dodging ability'. Personally, I suspect we're looking at a reflection of RM's early desire to be superior to D&D, as evidenced by the sly dig in the second quote, but that's by the by.

Regardless, the problem we are left with is still pretty much the same. RM carves reflexes out of DEX to make an extra attribute, yet still bundles fine motor skills in with gross motor skills to form a single attribute (namely, Ag). Thus, the brilliant Swiss watchmaker and the expert miniature-painter alike both receive an unnecessary and unrealistic advantage to their acrobatics and climbing abilities (etc.), not to mention the role the Agility statistic plays in calculating their weapon skills.

One solution would be to just add a new attribute, much like how the [later disregarded as adequately covered by the existing description of Qu] Eloquence stat was proposed in RMC3. Agility would then cover gross motor skills and co÷ordination, Dexterity fine motor skills and Quickness reaction time and reflexes, with an option on bringing back Eloquence as well to reflect mental agility.

This strikes me as inelegant, however. While this could probably be made to work - Appearance is already considered a secondary attribute, so why not others? - It falls outside the scope of this article.

At this point, I should probably explain how I came to be wrestling with this quandary in the first place. I had decided to attempt to generate the attributes for a simple domestic house-cat to serve as a wizard's familiar. I therefore dusted off my somewhat under-used copy of RMC6, remembering the stat bonuses chart covering every creature in C&T 1, 2 and 3, plus those added in the Rolemaster companions, in the back of that eldritch tome, and intending to convert them directly to RMSS.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered the suggested Ag mod for a 'Cat, small' was -15 (in old money; approximately -6 in RMSS), whereas the proposed Qu bonus was +20 (about +8). Anyone who has spent any time at all around 'cats, small' will share my incredulity at that point. However, willing to give RM the benefit of the doubt, I thumbed back to section 8.12 in search of some sort of rational explanation, whereupon I found the following:

Agility - A combination of balance and manual dexterity. Award quadrupeds a +5 to +10 bonus [+2 or +4], according to their balance. Lack of a thumb is a -25 [-10] modification, however this modifier is only -10 [-4] if the creature has manipulative claws/hands/paws.

Since I doubt anyone else has any interest in RM stats for Tiddles the cat, I will avoid arguing that the RM6 material is inconsistent with its own guidelines, but nonetheless this got me thinking, much as anybody still reading this is probably by now thinking 'where the heck is he going with this?'

Well, here's the rub: I started to consider the notion of considering gross motor skills [poise and balance, pretty much] as a further function of the Qu stat, rather than their canonical consideration as falling under the Agility attribute. The more I considered this, the more I liked it.

It sat well with the RM6 creature stat bonuses, where the Qu bonus is a direct correlation from the movement and attack speeds listed for creatures. It provided a clear separation between fine and gross motor skills by considering them part of two separate attributes without the need for excessive intervention such as by adding a whole new attribute. And, it can be said to make some reasonable sense - if someone has quick reflexes and reactions, then they have the luxury of more time in which to be more precise or co÷ordinated.

Best of all, it requires very little tweaking of the RMSS as published. All it requires is a GM to work through the skill categories (and skills if using the optional rule in section A-9.2 of RMSS), examining each incidence of an Ag stat bonus and deciding whether this ought to be considered an example of fine motor co÷ordination (e.g. Crafts, or Picking Locks), or gross motor co÷ordination (e.g. Athletic•Gymnastics, or Dancing). In the case of the former, no change need be effected. In cases of the latter, simply substitute the character's Qu bonus instead. It really is that straightforward.

On the odd occasion a maneuverer roll is required that isn't governed by an existing skill [in my experience a rare event, and I've been GM-ing Rolemaster since the 2nd Ed was brand-spanking new], simply make the same substitution - use (3x) Ag bonus for fine motor control and (3x) Qu bonus for gross motor co÷ordination.

Prime stats for a thief remain Ag/Qu. Those of the Dabbler are probably best left unchanged [Em/Ag], though GMs are welcome to substitute Qu in place of Ag, or else rule the profession is demanding enough to require three prime stats [as is the case with Hybrid spell-users]. Rogues would probably be better represented using St/Qu under this revision, but a GM could easily offer a choice of Ag or Qu as the second prime requisite, depending on the player's vision of their character. Where a Lifestyle training package [such as the Martial Artist] offers a stat gain roll for Ag, the GM should again decide if fine motor control (Ag) or gross motor control (Qu) is the more appropriate consideration.