On Rolemaster, part two

Rolemaster is traditionally viewed as being something of a complicated system to learn, play and understand. To an extent that’s true, in that you do have to learn how to play it rather than just sit down and pick up the game as you go.

In truth though, it’s not that complex at all. Quite the opposite – once you know the core game mechanic (roll open-ended d100, add skill bonus, aim high and see what happens) that covers every situation in the game. There are pleasingly few exceptions to this so once you know that, you’re golden. More on this another time.

Last time we gave a quick overview of the game. This time around, we’re going to look at character generation.

With most role-playing games, generating a character is a precursor to actual play. It’s something you do before you get started, a necessary part of game prep and nothing more. Rolemaster however has much more in common with the Traveller RPG in that character generation is best viewed as  a game in itself where you live through the formative years of their life, taking them through adolescence and apprenticeship. Not only do you end up knowing their skills and abilities, but also where and why and how they are who they are. Dive in deep and you’ll not only know their skill bonuses, but the backstory behind each and every skill written on their character sheet. It’s heady stuff.

That’s not for everyone of course, and that’s ok. You can approach Rolemaster character generation as something to be done quickly without letting imaginative play get in the way. But honestly where’s the fun in that?

To clarify, I’m looking at Rolemaster character generation in my venerable and much loved copy of Character Law & Campaign Law, 1987 edition. Let’s get started and build a character.

Our example PC for today will be Heliana, a Half-Elf Ranger. Let’s see where this journey takes her.

First, we generate your character’s stats. In Rolemaster there are ten of these, split into two groups of five. The first group (Constitution, Agility, Self Discipline, Memory and Reasoning) are used to determine how many points your PC will have to spend on skills. The second group (Strength, Quickness, Presence, Empathy and Intuition) aren’t. All stats can give Skill Bonuses, and will be used in play.

We roll a d100 for each stat (rerolling a 20 or less) and allocate. As Heliana is a Ranger, her most important stats are Intuition and Constitution. If we want, we can put any dice roll in these and it immediately bumps up to a 90. Which is nice.

CO

AG

SD

ME

RE

ST

QU

PR

EM

IN

90

85

30

74

65

42

97

61

82

98

Heliana follows her intuition in most things. She’s quick, agile and is empathic, but is poorly disciplined. But that’s not her whole story. This is where she is now, but not who should could be. These are her Temporary (current) stats. Now we roll these against a table (in Rolemaster, there’s a Table For Everything) to find her Potential stats. Barring serious injury, magic or divine intervention, these represent the best that Heliana could be.

CO

AG

SD

ME

RE

ST

QU

PR

EM

IN

Temporary

90

85

30

74

65

42

97

61

82

98

Potential

100

85

49

74

95

59

97

76

82

98

Heliana could eventually be a little more disciplined, healthier, stronger and more charismatic. The big surprise is her reasoning. Perhaps her experiences will teach her to rely as much on her head as on her heart. Only time will tell!

Her current stats give her a total of 32 Development Points to spend on skills. Each skill has a cost, and skills cost a differing amount depending on your Profession. As you’d expect, Fighters learn Weapon Skills very easily, whereas Magicians have a much simpler time studying Spell Lists. The great thing about Rolemaster is there are no restrictions – if you want a Plate Mail armoured Magician wielding a Greatsword, go right ahead!

Points costs for skills are displayed in one of three ways. If it’s a single number, you can buy just one rank of that skill per level. If it’s two numbers (2/5, for example) you can buy up to two ranks (in this example, the first rank costs 2 points and the second costs 5, for a total of 7). If it’s a number and an asterisk (1/*) you can buy as many ranks as you want every level and they each cost that value.

As its core, Rolemaster has a set of Primary skills that cover the usual adventure-related activities (fighting, perception, picking locks, learning spells, etc). There’s also an optional Secondary skills list that adds everything from Acrobatics to Wood Carving. I highly recommend using the Secondary skills list as well, as it helps create much more interesting and varied characters.

For our Ranger, I envisage Heliana as the youngest child of minor landed gentry. Her early life was spent being encouraged to show decorum and attend coming out balls in uncomfortable dresses, but as the unruly youngest child she much preferred riding the wild woods and befriending the forest sprites. Imagine if Jane Austen wrote fantasy, and you’re there.

I allocate her points as follows

Soft Leather

XXXXXX

Long bow

XX

Rapier

X

Swimming

X

Riding

X

Stalk & Hide

X

Body Development

X

Dance

X

Foraging

X

Seduction

X

Each “X” is a +5 to that skill roll. Body Development is a special case as each “X” adds an additional die roll to her hit points. 

I have a Ranger with Dance, Seduction and Foraging. What’s not to love? She is comfortable in her riding leathers, learning the bow from a friendly tracker and the rapier from her elder brother. Heliana loves swimming, riding and foraging the woods for mushrooms and berries. She has been known to spend whole weekends alone in the forest, returning only when she thought she had reached the limits of her father’s patience. At least some of polite society has rubbed off on her, so perhaps there is still hope for this wayward child.

Heliana is now….. level 0! She is no longer an adolescent and is ready for her life to truly begin. We spend her Development Points again (in the same or any other skills) and round out her character.

And that is what we will do…. next time.

Till then!

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