On Skill Deconstruction: Rolemaster
Rolemaster, for those who like to take a skill system overboard. (This article is about the generic Standard System rules RMSS, not the setting specific skills which are more limited)
This is the core of rolemaster. You have a 'bonus' to each skill that you add to a 1d100 open ended die roll. The final total you get determines your degree of success. You need over 100 for a total success. Though you start achieveing partial successes at 70%.
Note that this is different from the Hackmaster style 'roll-under' system, because here it is an advantage to roll high.
Of note is that Rolemaster allows you to increase all skills in a category at once. It limits skill increase by restricting what you can spend per level based on your class. It is rather inventive and coherent, if not a little crunchy.
So, how do they work? Well, much like D&D, it is a unified system, meaning any action, from attack to running to attempting to open locks uses the same open ended resolution system. Since we're focusing on the 'skill system' here, I'm only going to talk about 'static maneuvers' which are what Rolemaster calls their skills.
First, the Gamemaster always assigns a modifier from +30 to -70. Since 100 is the minimum needed for a total success, we can equate that to a basic success DC of 20.
This means for every roll you are adding a modifier from -6 to +14 to the roll. Or conversely setting the DC from 14 to 34. Sounds pretty similar to the D20 system, no?
So in what ways is this different then the Dungeons and Dragons system?
There is little guidance in the rulebook about when to use skills, and the indicators certainly point towards using the skills for all activities.
Don't believe me?
"Blackfire has strained his shoulder after trying to shave his back. . ."
"Solrac has managed to injure himself reaching for the toilet paper. . . "
"Snidepucker the rogue dies after eating a poisoned bagel. . ."
So, it's complicated, requires constant book reference, has the same universal mechanic for everything, and wants you to roll skills for everything.
This seems like a list of things I hate. Why would I be ok with running this system, whereas I find the D20 system dull? (And, no it isn't because I have some twisted compulsive love of tables).
It's because the system takes specific factors, resolves them abstractly, and returns a degree of success, making for interesting play.
Player skill is taken into account by trying to stack specific factors, limited by the length of time in a round. The complexity of skills encourages you to hand wave them if not in a time crucial system. The fact that these specific factors are resolved into an abstract result consisting of degrees of success allows it to be applied to play in an entertaining manner, setting up more entertaining systems.
TL; DR? Because it works as a boon to our creativity!
Why? Let's look first at something I deem a useful skill, and then something useless like knowledge skills and why they both work for me in Rolemaster. . .
Results table for Camouflage, Disarming Traps, Disguise, Counterfeiting, Forgery, Hiding Items, Picking Locks, Setting Traps, Trap Building, Using/Removing Poison. . .
Some selected results:
-26 and down: You are convinced that you must be simply a character in some macabre game. The worst possible result occurs. You may not try again. This only happens in stories, doesn't it? Perhaps you should get a day job.
91-110 Partial Success: You believe you have finished, and sign off on your work as complete, but d5 rounds later, you realize you have forgotten one key element. If it is possible to return to your work with your tools you may make the necessary adjustment for normal operation with a roll modified by +10. If not, your attempt will fail. At least you know what went wrong.
And now for one I don't like as a skill, but which Rolemaster empowers me to make interesting.
This is a result table for Culture Lore, Fauna Lore, Flora Lore, heraldry, History, Philosophy, Religion Lore, and Religion.
-26 or lower: Disaster! If researching a topic, you have accidentally damaged or destroyed your study materials with the beverage you upended on them. Those materials that can be salved require a full day of careful tending, or they will be useless. Regardless, they will offer a permanent -10 modification to future skill rolls which utilize them even if they are saved from destruction. If you are attempting to remember a topic, you find your mind a blank. Due to your mental block on the subject, you will suffer a -30 (non-cumulative) modification to all attempts to recall this subject until you achieve an Absolute Success on this table.
76-90 Partial Success: You uncover/remember some of the details of the subject. . . but no specific ones. Another hour of analysis might reveal more information, but for now, you have only the barest sketch of the topic as relates to your current search.
Now there are things about the Rolemaster system I don't like - advancement is tied to levels, so you can't improve in skills without gaining levels. However, allowing increases in both categories and specific skills, abstract results allowing partial success and encouraging player skill are all things that the D20 skill system lacks.