[Rolemaster] The Problem of Skills

Scurrilous

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Validated User
#1
It often comes up that there are too many skills in Rolemaster Standard System and many are redundant. I actually like them, that's just me I suppose but I thought I'd start some discussion on whats and whys.

If we start with the various medical skills. Firstaid, Second Aid, Surgery, Use Prepared Herbs, Herbalism may seem excessive but they're really pretty distinct. Given the sanitation of most medieval settings I'll stay away from the surgeon:D

You can't just distinguish medical skill from firstaid with skill ranks. It's possible for someone to be an excellent paramedic without their being a great doctor or pharmacist and vise versa. Yes, making an all around medical professional is expensive, but a cleric does it better if you're trying to do it all anyhow.

Now, Tracking and Reading Tracks seems a little much to me usually but Rolemaster Standard System has generally used new skills to represent additional abilities as with Combat Maneuvers and Special Attacks.

I would put forward that tracking is enough to know you're following a band of orcs and good enough for most woodsmen. Reading tracks is a roll for extra information like the presence of mordor orcs amongst the urk hai and perhaps a couple of hobbits, and what they had for tea yesterday.

That's how I look at much of it. There's a small set of core skills and then there's a longer list of additional skills that add to them.
 

bottg

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#2
We never had a problem with the number of skills, and we always used all of the companions with RM2!

I did like it that there was a lot of granularity, although there were some skills that no-one ever bought (Biochemistry, advanced maths etc). Things like the medical skills and perception skills (as you mentioned) were always used with common sense. So any of the medical skills could be used to see that someone was poisoned, although it required diagnostics or poison lore to know which ones.

Because we were familiar with the skill list, and had photocopied the master cost tables, character creation was never a problem.
 

Jais

Tantric Wanker
#3
I don't like fiddly skill lists such as those. They become a problem when:

1) They devote obviously more detail to certain skills than others. Reference the 5 different "Healing" skills vs. how many combat skills? Do they have skills for thrusting, slashing, sidestepping and cleaving as well?

2) There's no connection between how often certain skills are used in play, and how narrow they are. A "Forgery" skill only really makes sense for me in a spy game, otherwise it should be folded under "Disguise/Deception".
 
#4
Back when I used to play Rolemaster four or five evenings a week and regularly pull all-nighters, I was fine with the skill system.

Now that I'm 20 years older, and my roleplaying time (for any game) is limited to the one evening a week when my group can all get babysitters and/or evening passes from their respective spouses, and since we all have to have our kids fed before we can get together and we all have to get up for work we can only usually play from 7:00 till 11:00... I'm less sure.

It seems that there are basically five levels of skill complexity that you can use in Rolemaster:

1) RM2 with primary skills only.
2) RM2 with primary and secondary skills (possibly including RMCI extra secondary skills).
3) RM2 with full RMCII skill list.
4) RM2 with full RMCII skill list and "similar skills" rules.
5) RMSS skills and categories.

We used to play at about level 3 (or occasionally 4 if I was prepared to do the work on my players' behalf) on that scale and we enjoyed it, although when RMSS came out and we switched to it, we moved up to level 5 on the complexity scale some of my players' eyes started to glaze over and character creation became a chore rather than something they enjoyed.

That kind of burned us out with Rolemaster, and we haven't played it since - although I'm trying to get my group (some old members, some new) interested in an RM2 game after our current D&D campaign has ended.

But I think the only way I'll be able to sell them on that is to cut back on the complexity, and that means dropping down to 1 or 2 on the scale. My vote in that case would be 1. If we're not going to have the "skills for everything" model, then we should just have the primary skills and leave the secondary stuff to role playing.

The big problem with the large skill list is that it stops defining what your character can do, and starts defining what they can't do.

For example, let's take cooking as an example.

In most games, it's kind of assumed that characters can cook their own meals while out on the trails. If a player wants their character to be a particularly good cook, well it's hardly going to break the game if they simply say that they are.

It seems that by introducing a "cooking" skill into the equation you benefit the players. A player can now buy a high rank in "cooking" to show that their character is a good cook.

However, what really happens is that the rest of the players - who haven't bought ranks in the skill - find that their characters can't cook.

And the more skills there are, the more things there are that characters can't do. Unless the characters are given enough development points to be able to buy half the skills in the game, characters end up being far too limited compared to realistic people since there were far too many everyday skills that they simply couldn't afford to buy.

So these days I think that skills should only be used for critically important adventuring things. Not only does that mean fewer skills (and therefore simple character creation) it also means that characters will have fewer unrealistic gaps in their skill set. Most of the everyday tasks we take for granted can be taken for granted in-game too without people who have spent development points on them feeling as if their points are wasted and without people who didn't have enough development points feeling useless because they can't do seemingly trivial things.

That's how I look at much of it. There's a small set of core skills and then there's a longer list of additional skills that add to them.
I agree with this. And I'd say that it's best to stick to the core skills (and forget the unnecessary complexity of skills/categories at the same time).
 

Marius B

Euro-Trash
Validated User
#5
I view many of the skills as specialties and usually ignore the -15 untrained penalty for using a skill untrained if it isn't something fairly exotic and the character has at least one rank in the category in question.

I kinda like the overlap between skills myself.
 

Scurrilous

Registered User
Validated User
#6
Yeah, personally I prefer that the option is there over the option not being there. That's the problem with all this talk of "tiered" versions of the game.

Really I think RMSS is pretty much perfect as is, well minus the magic ritual and spell mastery skills. Those would be gone in my revised edition. I'd also try to make it a little easier to ignore skills or categories if you want, but training packages wouldn't be compatible with doing so, sorry it's just too hard to do.
 

Gary N. Mengle

Antithesis of Weal
#7
I used to play Rolemaster four or five evenings a week...
!

It seems that there are basically five levels of skill complexity that you can use in Rolemaster:

1) RM2 with primary skills only.
2) RM2 with primary and secondary skills (possibly including RMCI extra secondary skills).
3) RM2 with full RMCII skill list.
4) RM2 with full RMCII skill list and "similar skills" rules.
5) RMSS skills and categories.
If these are supposed to be in ascending order of complexity, I'll disagree with the last two; the RM2 smilar skills rules were nightmarish. The RMSS Category/Skill scheme was primarily designed to alleviate that.

For the record, we also used to play at level 3, until we moved to RMSS.

If we start with the various medical skills. Firstaid, Second Aid, Surgery, Use Prepared Herbs, Herbalism may seem excessive but they're really pretty distinct. Given the sanitation of most medieval settings I'll stay away from the surgeon:D

You can't just distinguish medical skill from firstaid with skill ranks. It's possible for someone to be an excellent paramedic without their being a great doctor or pharmacist and vise versa. Yes, making an all around medical professional is expensive, but a cleric does it better if you're trying to do it all anyhow.
You can unquestionably rationalize the breakdown of skills in this way, but I prefer to think of it as a matter of training; if you're trained as an herbalist, that training is going to naturally cover everything subsumed into the barious Herb-related skills. At that point, does it really make sense to break that training into each of the various kinds of maneuvers that one can attempt within that field? Because that's what the RMSS skill scheme, and the RM2+RMCII skill list assumes.

There's also the issue of development points. The system was originally designed with the RM1/2 core skills in mind, and the number of development points granted reflected that. Start adding skills to the list, and the number of development point given per level starts to become inadequate.

And this is the killer with the RMSS skill system: RMSS about doubles the number of DPs granted per level over RM2, but the number of skills to spend those points on is increased about tenfold. Which in my experience leads either to characters being stupendously incompetent at almost everything everything, or to a lot of skills being ignored for practical purposes. If there was room for overlap in the skill descriptions (as, say, Burning Wheel allows for in its similarly-sized skill list) it might be different, but the RMSS skills are generally very narrow.

Yes, it'd be easy to tweak the number of DPs granted up or down, but if the number isn't just right it will create issues that will be compounded as characters gain levels.

To reiterate a point I've made before, if I had to choose RMSS or RM2, straight out of the book, I'd choose RMSS, because (among other reasons) it handles the variety of skills/maneuvers more efficiently and completely than RM2+RMCII does. And I do not believe the RM2 primary skill list alone is adequate, based on the kinds of rolls I personally would be calling for at the table. But at the same time, I think the RMSS skill list is bloated past the point of desirability.

That said, partly in response to these threads, I've started working on a hybrid house version of Rolemaster with RMC (RM2) as the core, but with a significant number of enhancements from RMSS added. I'm not sure how far I'll get with this, but I'm close to having a quasi-complete skill list which is the RMC primary skill list plus maybe 20 other skills, which I think covers everything necessary outside of what I'm willing to handwave away at the table (for example, the musical skills of Bards, or Streetwise for characters with Urban Poor backgrounds,) without being excessively granular. I would expect this list to change if I actually start working up professions, races and cultures for this scheme, (I'd use the Race/Culture initial development from RMSS,) but I would be willing to say that the final skill list would be more manageable than either the RMSS system or the RM2+RMCII skill list, probably without needing categories to address the inevitable overlap that does occur.

Here's another thing: the RM weapon categories don't make any sense. If you know how to use a sword, you know how to use a mace, period. Axes are a little trickier, and quarterstaves should be classed with things like spears and polearms rather than greataxes and greatswords.

Right now I don't have enough of a sense of how to lay this out to make changes, although one could eliminate the most egregious problems by simply combining 1H slashing and 1H crushing into one category, giving chain weapons like flails and morningstars their own category, and moving the quarterstaff to the polearms category. This would preserve the number of categories as they currently exist, and thus the current set of costs (by profession,) but it still doesn't address the obvious overlap between weapon skills in the same category.

Really I think RMSS is pretty much perfect as is, well minus the magic ritual and spell mastery skills. Those would be gone in my revised edition. I'd also try to make it a little easier to ignore skills or categories if you want, but training packages wouldn't be compatible with doing so, sorry it's just too hard to do.
We always just ignored Spell Mastery and Magic Ritual. They're both extremely under-developed given the level of detail in the system as a whole and easy enough to simply disregard.

As to training packages in my nascent house version, I'd like to keep them, but they'd need to be stringently costed, which RMSS never really did. Ideally, you'd get your Adolescence development from your Race/Culture, and your Apprenticeship development by taking a training package, and that would be it for generating 1st-level characters.
 
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Laminator_X

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Validated User
#8
The Group/Category/Skill breakdown is an awesome idea that they took ridiculously too far.

Examples:
Sailing, Ships Crewmember, Boat Pilot, and Marine Pilot are not only separate skills, they're in entirely different categories. For that matter, what does one use Sailing for if it is neither piloting or crewing a sailboat?

Fire Starting, Locate Shelter, Foraging, Hunting, and Survival are all separate skills. What is survival used for if not finding food & shelter?

There are lots more examples like these. When you combine this with the -15% penalty for unskilled use, and characters are very easily hamstrung unless they either spread their DP very thin, or the GM hand-waves a lot. While the latter works, it shouldn't be required.

The Group/Category/Skill concept is great, but the implementation is in dire need of heavy consolidation to eliminate redundancies/overlap and to streamline the generation process.
 

Scurrilous

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#9
I don't know, if you look at Sailing as the basic skill and the others as specialties it doesn't seem so bad. I just think it needed to be discussed clearly in those terms.

Really, moving around the unskilled penalties would help a lot too. If there was no penalty for lacking category ranks they'd be a lot more optional and much easier to just use skills if you like.

As far as the development points go, I think that's why they used training package discounts. Taking lots of training packages at first level seems to be the intended approach to character creation.
 

bottg

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Validated User
#10
As far as the development points go, I think that's why they used training package discounts. Taking lots of training packages at first level seems to be the intended approach to character creation.
This is what i tried to do with RM Rome. Because of the structured nature of Roman society, you are what you have been. So an ex-gladiator is defined by being a gladiator. So by taking the training package, that character acquires some definition. If that character starts at 3rd lvl and has 0 and 1st as gladiator, then moves to marine and then legionary, you start to give a summary of that characters pre-game life, and also give him the skills he would have needed to do those jobs.

I do like TP's to balance the skill lists out, as long as it is only 1 per level and the skills acquired there replace normal ranks, keeping the 2 ranks/lvl limit.
 
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