Towards skills without levels part 3

If you have been reading this blog you will know that I am considering a move away from levels as part of the mechanics of the game. I feel that they encourage a hit first and solve problems later approach to roleplaying. Even when you do address this by awarding experience points (XP) for ideas or roleplaying, players tend to focus on levelling up as a measure of success.

In the first blog, I thought about the factors that influence this and some input from Peter R demonstrated that for adventuring PCs. In the second post, I considered the time for education to each level of knowledge. In this post, I will look at how this might affect NPC character development.

RanksHours per rank
Time taken to increase by one rank

Based on a modern education system, which is probably being very generous in some settings, the amount of time to study for each rank is a simple formula to apply. However, the access to education and study will be restricted by social class. I have divided social strata into serf, merchant, lord and royalty. For my basic work up I have considered merchant to include artisans/skilled craftsman, who in Middle Earth are likely to be as wealthy as an innkeeper or costermonger. The number of hours to have deliberate study is limited for lower levels of society because they would be required to complete daily tasks for survival which Lords and Royalty wouldn’t. Also this is based on a 6 day learning week which then gives wiggle room for sickness or other major events. Based on background it would be possible to decide on the ranks available for variations on a theme.

Hours per week available for study in age brackets

These hours of study can then be turned into the time taken to achieve one rank (level 1-5 only) by dividing the hours per rank by the available study time per week.




Weeks needed to achieve one basic rank based on social status and age

And from here a simple calculation based on a 52 week year to work out the number of basic skill ranks achievable in a year.




Basic skill ranks achievable in one year of deliberate study

A “serf” would now achieve 15 ranks or around 3 skills of an apprentice level before 15 years old and a further one by 20 years old. Spread these out and you have a reasonably well-rounded individual with a specialism. However, Merchants, Lords and Royalty are already going to have a range of skills that will be greater than 5 ranks before 20 years old. For this reason the next level of ranks calculation has been applied for ages above 20 where the NPC is likely to be more specialist in nature, focussing on a core set of skills.

10-15 (ranks 1-5)371726
15-20 (ranks 5-10)14913
Ranks per year combined table

A serf might add 5 ranks to a skill above the fifth rank between the ages of 15 and 20 years but this is in reality a fraction of a rank each year, so can be used at need. Merchants are able to develop four skills to rank 10 by 20 years old, giving them mastery in a group of skills connected to their trade. Lords and Royalty obviously have a wider range of skills that need to be developed as the ruling classes. In Middle Earth they are also likely to be Dunedain and longer lived, therefore being more able to study in later life.

As a mechanic this appears to provide a good method of creating NPCs with a realistic background without having to worry about their levels. Let’s face it, unless the PCs plan to kill every villager the level is irrelevant. I could imagine creating a bank of villagers with an interchangeable specialist skill set at various ages. There is one little hitch at the moment and that is spell casting. Spell lists could be learnt as a percentage chance or as individual spells (my preferred option), but casting and particularly resistance rolls in Rolemaster are very dependent on a level derived mechanic. I can see some work will need to be done on magic mechanics.

In Caras Celairnen there is a lord called Bregol according to the unpublished Lindon module but printed in other source material. He is quite a significant figure as the Arnaroquen and if I followed the level grading from Lords of Middle Earth Vol II (MERP ICE ) would be around level 20. In my setting Bregol is going to be a Lesser Dunedain of around 40 years of age. My aim is to maintain game balance so for this to work the “aged” model should be roughly similar to a level 20 version. I’m going to do this very quick and dirty on a MERP character build with a more permissive Rolemaster approach because the secondary skills are more important than the adventuring primary skills.

Bregol at 10 with adolescent ranks added as baseline

Bregol is a Merchant Lord and if the class/profession rule still applies then he is most likely a Bard but really this is irrelevant for everything but magic realm and lists. I more inclined to let the skills be developed according to the type of character than be restricted by a notional profession.

Bregol at 15

Bregol would have received considerable schooling by the age of 15, mastering basic weapon skills and athletic skills with a knowledge of diplomacy and some regional knowledge by 12 and developing his regional lore and sailing skills by travelling with his father’s sailing ships before 20 years old. An adventuring bard would gain roughly a rank for each skill per level so Bregol at 15 would be about level 5. If his father had been more warlike then Bregol would be proficient in different types of weapons and possibly would be developing ranks above 5 but a less broad sweep of other skills.

Bregol at 20

By 20 years old, Bregol has travelled extensively down to Gondor and on the Harad. He has learnt to speak several languages more fluently and more about the locations he has visited. Although he is not a sailor or a navigator he has learnt about these skills to a level of competency of most seaman apart from the key ship leaders.

Bregol at 25 years old

From 20 years old to 25 years Bregol begins to take on daily responsibilities and although it would be unfair to say he isn’t learning things about state-craft and running a business, the effect isn’t as great. I could use the study time to develop 9 ranks in a new skill, but I don’t think Bregol is that kind of person. He will be getting married and settling down soon and even as a Dunedain Lord his available hours of additional study will be reduced.

Conventional MERP character development taken to level 10 leaves Bregol at pretty much the same ranks for the skills of our 25 year-old learning over time. In the trial run it takes until level 12 to replicate the same character sheet and only if I go with a 2:1 point transfer for secondary skills. A Rolemaster development would be similar within the usual restrictions of development points based on stats and I would (if really exploring this) use a no profession for comparability.

In the next blog post I will look at how development of 10+ ranks and equivalent level 20 specialist development can be handled using study time. However, before the comments start flowing that PCs will develop slightly differently as I plan to use something like Peter Rs development mechanic for adventuring skills but offer the PC a chance of developing other skills in downtime using this method.

One thought on “Towards skills without levels part 3

  1. Pingback: Towards a system without levels pt 4 (late age development) – Rediscovering the joys of MERP

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