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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Freshman Year in the School of Hard Knocks

(been wanting to write about this book forever, we'll see how this goes)

If you are aware of Rolemaster, then you probably know that it is a very skill-heavy game. Characters are defined by class & race, sure, but from the start (and only ever moreso as Rolemaster evolved over the years) these details of the character had the most relevance in terms of what skills a character could acquire, how quickly, and at what cost.

In the early days skills were broken down into 5 categories. These categories were organizational only, taxonomic (i.e. they had no 'crunch' in the game). Here then are the first five and the number of skills each encompassed: Maneuvering in Armor (4), Weapon Skills (6), General Skills (7), Magical Skills (5), and Special Skills (6). For the reputation that RM has, it really started out with a pretty small set of rather mundane skills.Of interest, right there in the first edition of Character Law, is section 14.11 WEAPON SKILLS FOR SIMILAR WEAPONS in the OPTIONAL RULES part of the book.
It makes sense, right? That developing some skill in the use and application of the broadsword might also mean that, should a sword of another variety be used, the broadsword experience might be applicable to it...

Again - Makes sense, right? Well, the seeds of future bloat are there from the start. (The next optional rule applies the same principle to the riding of similar mounts...)

So - Character Law goes through a revision. I do not have a copy of this one handy,
but here is where the skills start to really take off. At this point ICE begins to publish Rolemaster Companion books. These books have new classes, new spell lists, and optional rules to try out for virtually every aspect of game play. And from the first, more skills are explained.

By the time the second Companion arrives there are now more 160 skills listed, divided into 16 categories. Rolemaster Companion II really broke the flood gates - presenting optional rules for similar skills (harkening back to the early optional rule dealing with similar weapons), rules for complementary skills (using two skills in conjunction to resolve an action), and very importantly section 7.0 COMPLETE SKILL DESCRIPTIONS. Now I could see how to apply the Administration skill, the Herding skill, and the Sense Reality Warp skill among (many, many, many, too many) others.

If I had a scanner, I would love to show you 11.3 SIMILAR SKILLS TABLE, which is divided into those skills in the same category, and those in different ones. A character might apply 1/8 of their skill bonus in "star-gazing" toward attempts at "time sense", 1/4 of their biochemistry skill to poison perception, 1/4 of their skating skill bonus to any dancing attempts... man it got thick.

Optional Rule 4.3 in the Rolemaster Companion 2 gives some methods to limit the quantity of skills available to the characters. So there is now an optional rule to reduce the potential headache. The section begins "While it may seem that the number of skills now available are perhaps too great to easily handle..." (!)

I will end this part here and resume later. This was the state of Rolemaster during its big heyday (i.e. when it still had the Tolkien license and produced many magnificent Middle-Earth supplements). That state lasted for some several years, and constantly more skills appeared, more applications of those skills, more ways to relate them to each-other, more, more, more, more!

The next big change in the game (RMSS - SS = Standard System) I'll get to later. It was another organizational change, which also served to remedy some of the intensely over-wrought similar skill trees and such.

And eventually, I promise I'll get to the magnum opus - the School of Hard Knocks itself. Lovely book.


E.G.Palmer said...

Yow! It looks like Rolemaster would melt my brain.

Akrasia said...

I quite liked Rolemaster in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Although not as much as its more streamlined little cousin MERP. Most of my best gaming 1984-88 was with MERP. I *loved* MERP! Ah, good times...)

The second RM Companion, though, essentially ruined the game. And the Companions that came later made everything worse.

(Yes, you could ignore all that rules bloat, but that required willpower...)

Ragnorakk said...

I did not have that willpower. I was absolutely overwhelmed by this game. I ran it for a while - episodic, low-level, trying out different options - but this was around the time of my high-school gamer-buddy group dissolution. The gang preferred CoC, and I preferred running that also.