Cut one's coat according to one's cloth

The idea for this blog post was started from a series of posts on The Rolemaster Blog around the semi-spell user professions in Rolemaster (RM). They were a sort of lament over the Ranger and the Bard not having spells that buff combat level in comparison to some of the other semi-spell users in the system and particularly in the RMu version. I commented a couple of times, but then it felt like I was about to launch into a blog post that wasn’t really connected to the spell lists but more about how I play these characters as a player and a GM. As a result, I thought I would move my thoughts here into a more MERP-like blog.

Unlike its big clumpy brother, MERP provides less Profession options.

I know, its a bit ironic that I’m talking about professions when I’m also exploring playing without Profession classes and levels. However, this is talking about history of how things have been played and how the mechanics of the game have influenced this.

You get two Arms law based professions (Warrior and Scout), two pure magic users (Animist and Mage) and two semi-magic users (Ranger and Bard). At the start it is worth mentioning that MERP and RM magic in the Rules As Written (RAW) format is not very Middle Earth friendly. It is a common complaint of most players and GMs who love Middle Earth and wanted to journey through it. Just as importantly, to be fair to the old guard at ICE, the RAW were always meant to be a starting point and then tinkered with. However, this creates a problem of portability of characters between games run by different GMs. In this reboot phase, I have been hampered by players wanting to play old, much-loved PCs with spell lists I wouldn’t have granted purely because of the way it changes the tone of the game. However, I’d rather play and we all enjoy it than get over picky about a fixed idea of how things should be done.

Aside from the questions of magic in Middle Earth, the issue of I need my Bard/Ranger to be more combat ready in some format got me thinking this. If your game needs your semi-spell user to be more powerful in combat, are your adventures the ones for the party? Over on the RM blog, Hurin, pointed out that most of his adventures are combat heavy. Which kind of makes me think of a Roman gladiator contest. We all sit round the edge like gods and watch the mighty heroes fight their way across the arena. Occasionally, we may throw some dice to determine their fate.

A ranger walks the wilds of a mountain

In my MERP games, there is still a lot of combat (probably more than I would like but the mechanics and story tropes kind of push it in that direction). However, there is also a lot of wilderness exploring and for us a Ranger is a vital part of any party and gains an awful lot of experience points (ie development) through tracking, avoiding ambushes, scouting, foraging either with or without spells. Similarly, the Bard acts as the Urban version. Rewarded properly, both professions make good progress through the levels.

In terms of level development, my observation of MERP that focuses on experience points (XP) weighted to combat encounters is that warriors rapidly increment levels early with a lag for the semi-spell users. Animists played as healers are the next to develop because suddenly they start to use lots of healing spells. Bringing up the rear are Mages who struggle to employ effective spells in combat (unless they game the system).

A party of adventurers of different Professions

When warriors and scouts reach level 5 the rate of development switches as the combat specialists have exhausted the range of new foes and the enhanced bonus. Animist healers continue to power forward as even though the fighters are better they still take some damage and random Criticals. The mages really begin to pick up the pace as well as the spells on the lists become more useable in combat. Semi-spell users continue at a steady pace because unlike the warriors they haven’t used up all the bonus multipliers on Criticals and Kills.

In contrast, if you move the XP generating events away from a combat focus. All professions benefit. First the Pure and semi-spell users can use those “odd” spells to complete an adventure. Second, events that rely on skills other than combat are promoted in character development. To go back to an earlier post; the party can fight their way in or they could use some form of deception of stealth. To my mind a nudge to players habits of you get a reward for doing it this way (apart from walking away alive) reap benefits in the long term for the game and the choice of Professions used in your game.

As a GM this means the planning of your adventures and campaigns needs to hold elements that reflect the different skill sets of each Profession. In an ideal party I’ sure you would like one of each 6 Profession. However, this never has happened to me….well OK a few times but only because these were one-off massive games with about 12+ players and that made the law of averages work. Generally, the party is too small or players prefer to play a certain type of Profession.

Should your party have a Ranger then find reasons for them to employ the odd Limbwalking spell and look after the party in the wild in a way that doesn’t involve tackling an irate boar or a pack of hungry wolves. A Bard, then give them chance to gather information from the locals or to use their smooth talking or Songs spell lists to get through a section. Make the Mage use their low level spells to overcome obstacles or use Arcane knowledge to interpret clues. Most importantly reward them for it!

Which brings me full circle to Rangers and Middle Earth. In our games because much of the adventuring happens in the wilderness Rangers generally develop faster than Bards. Which is a failure of our games because none of us, as GMs, have favoured the type of environment that favours a Bard of any persuasion (Entertainer, Loremaster or Diplomat).

Currently, I have a game with a Dwarven Warrior (skills in locks, caving, dwarf lore and combat), a Hobbit scout (stealth, trickery, locks), and an animist/healer (whose player keeps thinking he is still playing a Ranger who is now sadly deceased). Previously, the adventure in the swamps used the skills of the Ranger to track and survive in the wild. OK so it backfired and he ran off into the wilderness in fear leaving his companion to find a way home alone but still the bulk of the XP didn’t come from the combat. Down the Hobbit Hole used a lot of the Scout’s stealth and I have deliberately constructed a campaign around the dwarf for his lore and caving. Although I’ve kept the NPC Dwarf linked to the party just in case of a fatality.

In summary, there is perhaps no need to rehabilitate the Ranger and the Bard. Rather, ensure as GM’s that adventures use their skills and abilities in a way that is rewarded with adventure success and XP for character development.

Towards a system without levels pt 4 (late age development)

In the previous post, I considered character development based on time principally as a believable method of non adventuring NPC development. Using the method I ran the process over a NPC (Bregol) to emulate his first 25 years and create a character that was similar to a level 13 NPC. In this post I will continue with development for the next 15 years.

Up to this point in time Bregol has developed rapidly due to his position in society despite the low risk nature of his life. As a GM I could have boosted some of his combat skills or his sailing has a direct development during his travelling period. However, those days are passing, he marries and takes up the duties of the town’s Arnaroquen (Lord) and running his family’s trading network so the time available to develop skills is reduced. It is also likely that desire to develop skills is lower as we get older unless we there is a particular need.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-151257
15-200257
20-250123
25-30
012
30-40

11
40-50

11
50

11
Number of ranks per year for 10+ ranks

Really at this point in time, Bregol has enough hours to deliberately develop four rank 1 skills, 2 rank 5 skills or 1 rank 10 skill each year. As such for the next 15 years very little changes. I increased the number of spells Bregol knows as something that might give him a competitive edge on his rivals. He gained an additional rank in weapon skills but would lack access to a higher level weapons expert to really develop those skills. His trading and diplomacy skills are his main interest so these are developed. Compared to a level development version Bregol really hasn’t developed beyond level 14.

Bregol at age 40

Bregol is a Lesser Dunedain lord and clearly he has many more years to develop. If we consider his development to be the equivalent of level 14, then this doesn’t really match the Lordly levels of Lord of Middle Earth vol II where he should possibly be closer to level 20. However, the increases in bonus are going to be small, maybe +8 in total so difference in power is small. Give another five to ten years and Bregol will have achieved a similar level so as a mechanic to age an NPC I think the model works well enough.

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
1-572
5-10144
10-15270
15-201800
203600
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.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-154102436
15-202102436
20-25151218
25-3001612
30-400036
40-500036
500036
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.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-15187.232
15-20367.232
20-257214.464
25-30
72126
30-40

2412
40-50

2412
50

2412
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.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-15371726
15-20171726
20-2514913
25-30
149
30-40

24
40-50

24
50

24
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.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
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.

Fauna of underground Middle Earth

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Gandalf[1]

The trouble with dungeons in Middle Earth is there is a limited number of monsters for you to meet as you wander through the hidden depths of Arda. In the most part, this is because Tolkien didn’t do monsters in the classical literature sense. His scary monsters were all the creatures of Morgoth and apart from those which had direct contact with his protagonists were left implied and unmentioned. All of which leaves a GM in Middle Earth with very little variety in the evil monster department underground. Orcs, the odd troll, giant spiders, and a variety of undead are your only option and quite frankly as a GM varying tactics to keep the players’ interest can become tricky. Even more so if you believe there should be a reason for a monster inhabiting that room or area of cavern. There are the Maia linked to the various elemental forms but if you are using the MERP/Rolemaster systems you might as well be thinking of assaulting a dragon and we know how well that turned out for Thorin and co.

So what is the answer for those surprises in the caverns? The Moria module which you would think would provide a decent treatise on cave dwellers, but actually most of the fauna described would still need access to the open upper levels to feed. Goblin Gate is even less forthcoming only adding the vampire bat to the list because the bat was associated with the goblin army in the Hobbit and I am guessing the brief reference to them in the Silmarillion.

Adventures in Middle Earth rarely focus on exploring underground and yet every quest covered by Tolkien had some form of underground journey. So perhaps there should be more of a consideration of the denizens of the deep.

With no mythical creatures to draw on GMs would naturally drawn on non-fantasy creatures which Middle Earth would happily accept. Bats, bears, and anything that basically has the prefix of Cave are trogloxenes: creatures which live periodically underground but rely on above ground for food. Obviously these encounters will be near entrances to deeper caves and are covered in the fauna sections of most of the MERP and Rolemaster material.

What we really need are troglobites – animals that live underground permanently in cave systems. Unfortunately, these are really small and pretty much not very aggressive which could lead to come interesting encounters.

As you enter widening passage a hochenwartii scuttles past. Idly you swat it from the wall to the floor where it curls up briefly before scuttling into the darkness.

Which is where Gandalf’s passing comment on the nameless things begins to provide an opening. Already we have giant spiders but what if there were other giant fauna below which live in a thriving ecosystem on which the nameless things would in term feed on and presumably surface into the the depths of Dwarven delvings. Thankfully, you can find a long list of these in Wikipedia and suddenly the risk of being crushed by a giant Phantom cavesnail as it blindly travels forward through a tunnel or even attempts consume the adventurers makes your random encounters far more interesting.

Below are some links that I’m using to create some challenging encounters in my underground campaign sections. I will build a bestiary companion on this blog as I go.

Flatworms

Mollusca

Velvet worms

Arachnida

Myriapoda

Millipedes and Centipedes

Sinocallipus deharvengi

Crustacea

Insecta

See Cave insects

Fish

Main article: Cavefish

Amphibians

Mammals

There are no known mammals that live exclusively in caves. Most bats sleep in caves during the day and hunt at night, but they are considered troglophiles or trogloxenes. However some fossorials which spend their whole lives underground might be considered subterranean fauna, although they are not true troglofauna as they do not live in caves.

Oh is this your room? Funny how my key worked in your lock…

I have a small solo adventure that I am working on, one day I may finish it as well. It really is a fantasy mix and a spy movie and it got me to thinking as I was laying out secrets and locks to reveal clues how I should handle this during play. Now normally, the time it takes to pick a lock or find a secret door hasn’t been an issue as either there is no one around or they are and depending on whim there is an encounter.

“While Talaras is working on the lock, you hear the sound of footsteps approaching up the corridor”

However, in the adventure the character is required to report in/be seen at various points in time. Also, I started to think about how long do you spend searching a room or picking a lock if you are aware that someone might be in the room next door and how the tension of not knowing and gambling your time against the success of finding an item is actually an important part of the story in the Spy genre.

“Heart pounding, Talaras blinked the sweat from his eyes. He had been struggling with the lock for a minute. Soon the patrol would be returning, dare he continue?”

So I started thinking about the time it would take on average to pick a lock. Thankfully, the internet is full of boasts on how fast different locks can be picked and also, more helpfully, the range of time. In MERP and Rolemaster picking locks is usually handled in a static manouvre roll with success being at 110 and then two partial success categories and one excellent category. In the partial success you roll again and in excellent you do it quicker. Now in roleplay situations this sort of falls down with me as players who make a partial success roll choose if to continue with essentially the same odds as last time even if they nearly had it. This leads to repetitive rolling or not bothering. Really as a GM I want the player to spend as long as they dare on the lock before declaring it unopenable or searching a room before deciding there is nothing to find. After all how long is a piece of string.

Over on the Rolemaster blog there was a post on turning all rolls into 100+ successes and giving percentage success from this. The general thought was that this was not that feasible with the mechanics but there was a suggestion of using the MM table instead. I thought I would explore that option alongside the SM table and compare the results.

Armed with my knowledge of lock pick times and what would be reasonable and what would be difficult I set out on a comparison. I ran into a slight problem with the scaling of the difficulty to a time and so standardised routine to +30 and scaled from there up. This way the difficulty level and time are the same for both. I then went with a roll of 50 plus a nominal skill level to be successful at picking the lock and this would be the base time taken. There is also an argument for the player being able to roll 20 and picking the lock, as this would be statistically relevant in terms of the majority of attempts should be successful if slightly longer. A summary of the results are in the table below. I have left the Excel spreadsheet on the ICE forums for those who want to look at the data.

   SM method     MM method  
competenceskill bonushighest difficulaty locktime to pick (mins)time to pick (Routine (+30)time to pick medium (+0)highest difficulaty locktime to pick (mins)time to pick (Routine (+30)time to pick medium (+0)
Tyro-25Routine (+50)2E Hard800.25
Apprentice15Light104S Folly1000.22
Journeyman50E hard800.22Absurd350.21.1
Master75Absurd1400.21Absurd17.50.21
elite100Absurd70.11Absurd100.10.8

My assumptions were that locks were picked in best conditions; that the time would be the average time; and that absurd locks represented the peak of Dwarven and Elven technology without magic but these still would be short of the most secure locks. I also didn’t want to be playing a level 20 thief spending an hour picking a lock. As a result, the absurd time was set a 7 mins.

Comparing picking locks by SM and MM tables

At the routine level there was little difference in the times of the experts (Journeymen to Elite) with either method. However, at the Apprentice and Tyro levels MM tables allowed for rapid picking, whereas the SM table made it less likely.

A medium level lock (1 min is about the standard for an average modern lock) again the experts were comparable, although Journeymen had a similar time to Masters in the MM table. The unskilled levels could not pick the lock in the SM but were able to do so given 5 minutes on the MM table .

The maximum level of lock likely to be picked was very different for both methods. SM gave a range from a +50 Routine lock for a Tyro to Absurd for the Expert with a reasonable spread of difficulty versus skill level. In contrast with the MM table everyone could potentially pick a lock from Extremely Hard up given enough time.

It is worth noting the times taken for picking at maximum difficulty though. For unskilled these are the maximum times before a fail. Experts have a slightly different pattern. A Journey man is likely to pick an Exteremely hard lock in 80 mins using SM tables but a Sheer Folly lock in 100 mins using MM tables. At Absurd difficulty the SM method gives times for a Master is 140 mins which drops suddenly to 7 mins for an Expert. In contrast, using the MM method this is gradual moving from 17.5 minutes to 10 minutes.

Handling lockpicking

Which method you would prefer to use will depend entirely on how you wish to control your thieves in play. The SM table really does make it an only thieves environment with unskilled finding it difficult to open all but the most basic of locks. There is not difference between the Experts until you get to the most difficult locks. The MM table method gives a more graded response and does allow any player a reasonable chance of opening a lock, a thing that can be useful if you are in the habit of locking plot devices behind doors.

Looking at the difficulty levels as I have constructed them I can see now that most of my “secure” locks are going to start at medium and work up. Locks that even an unskilled person can pick in less than a minute represent the type found on a childs jewelry box and generally smashing the obstruction would work just as well, if a little more noisy.

When coming to pick a lock I can ask the player how long they intend to spend on the task and then after a roll tell them when they were successful or failed. Which would handle the resolution very quickly and neatly. Alternatively, I could reveal the elapsed time and through dialogue the player determines when to quit.

The dice roll can be handled either completely convertly so that the player’s involvement is only to tell the GM the skill bonus applied or they could do the basic roll and difficulty and penalties can be applied covertyly. The latter would give the player a sense of how successful they are being and might lead to gambling extra time because it might be nearly there.

For me I suspect that MM table method will work best for the solo adventure and certainly would quiten those of my players who tell me they opened a really simple lock using nothing but a paperclip. The only thing to do now is play test it to see if it unbalances the game. Now all the tables are ready I can also have a play with searching rooms and create some sensible times to search a room or look for traps from the obvious it is on the floor in front of you to the scrap of paper in the corner of a book.

Tumbleweed

It has been a bit like that on the blog.

By Rachel Saunders - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29438083

Yet, like the Tumbleweed, this blog has been in a bit of dormancy as the conditions have not been ideal for growth, well in terms of wordage, at least. But now is nearly the time of blooming. What has been happening is all in the background and is probably the result of too many ideas to fit into the time available for producing a completed product.

There has also been no RPG time either. While I worked on the next segments of the Mazalbanam Campaign, one of my fellow players was going to GM (well that didn’t happen). Now one part (a section of the lost city of Jöruvalla) has already been completed all bar format and proof read; a number of other sections will be appearing much more rapidly as I move towards a Summer break. So, it looks like I will be back in the hot seat and there will be some updates to the play session reports.

I’ve also been working on a solo adventure which has now morphed into planning for the keep at Cara Celairnen and some geopolitical work to build on the small paragraph included in the ICE material (this might be a little slower). Then there is still the house rules on no-level MERP to finish but that is lower down in the pecking order of need.

Skills and learning

As part of a move away from levels, I want to move my players towards adventuring for the adventure and not a “level up” mentality. That will mean a move away from the EP reward system, which my current players aren’t quite ready for yet. What they are ready for is a way to acquire secondary skills by study and I reckon that is a back door waiting to be opened. So the question now becomes how long does it take to really acquire new skills?

Before beginning on deciding how long it takes to learn a skill it is worth reviewing what the skill ranks in MERP/Rolemaster represent. According to the rulebook, 5 ranks in any skill can be acquired during adolescent development, which suggests apprenticeship skill development but no higher. The Rolemaster blog uses chunks of 10 ranks to define relative levels or lore, vocation or skill.

Skill RanksLoreVocationGeneral Skills
1-10Secondary High schoolApprenticeBasic knowledge and abilities skill and simpler sub-skill.
11-20GraduateJourneymenBroad abilities of skill and sub-skills
21+PhD/Post GraduateMasterAdvanced skills and sub-abilities
50+Erudite MasterGuildmaster or similarSingular mastery of skill and inter-related disciplines

Another consideration here is the level of the character – yes I know the aim is to go levelless but bear with me here. Gaming wisdom would put the average soldier at between level 2-4 and the NCO’s at 5-6 rising up to level 10 for experienced heroic fighters. Beyond this, certainly in the Middle Earth, the characters are getting to be legendary. So if the average competent person is around level 4 in their chosen profession then they will have 8 ranks worth of experience, which is about right for the general population.

Armed with a framework of knowledge and understanding it is time to think about how long it will take to acquire these ranks. Gladwell proposed that very successful people take 10,000 hours to master a skill (possibly by misinterpreting another study on elite athletes which was actually looking for a genetic component). For Gladwell 10,000 hours equates to 20 hours a week practise for 10 years although he does seem to bundle those skills into a domain of learning so they are all focussed on one specialism. The original study, by Tucker and Collins, was really looking to see if deliberate practise was more important than genes and could not find a link either way. In fact, it seemed to suggest that a combination of talent and practise produced excellence.

So much for 10,000 hours but I think it still holds a nugget of truth, even if the time is wrong. If we say a level 20 character is a master then it should take 10 years of deliberate practise to achieve this. However, there are some other factors we should consider in this. It requires someone to support you with food and other necessities to allow you that time (achievable for a single skill on two hours a day). Elite athletes generally don’t have a full time career making demands on training time. Bill Gates wasn’t required to go out and collect the harvest or sow the crops. So only a small group of people in a fantasy setting will be able to achieve this rate of development. Thankfully, adventurers would be such a group with their generally above average aptitude (stats) and focussed learning or as I prefer to call it staying alive.

There is further support for this idea when we look at the modern education system. The primary phase of education, which is mostly general (although Maths and Primary language seem to now dominate) takes around 5 years (5-11). Secondary, still developing a wide set of skills, but beginning to specialise is another 5 years (11-16). Tertiary, a really odd phase of specialisation lasts 2-3 years here in the UK. Whereas the quaternary phase (graduate) is anywhere between 3-4 years. The final Quinary phase (post-graduate/PhD) can last from 3 -5 years depending on field of study or practise.

Taking education and as knowledge based skill basic maths skills which are generally above the level required for basic mercantile skills are achieved by the age of 11 (in fact in modern society well above), a total of about 5 years (bear in mind developmental factors will probably have slowed learning in children). The table below extrapolates taught time for courses in UK in 5 rank chunks (for reasons outlined below). The number of hours spent learning to this basic level would be around 43 hours with a teacher present. So with good instruction a basic level of skill can be mastered in just over two weeks at the 20 hours per week level. What the table also demonstrates is that higher levels of knowledge take increasingly longer to gain. Referring back to the table from the Rolemaster Blog, I would suggest that this should be for levels 1-5. A basic addition subtraction activity is unlikely to be tested by a roll. This would make ranks 5-10 take nearly twice as long. There is a nice mathematical progression forming, but it is also perhaps worth remembering that quaternary students spend as much time reviewing and rehearsing learning as they do being taught. So any player expecting to do a job in between might find a penalty for the learning time.


hours/ week number of
weeks
total
h/ year
total
years
total
h per
subject
hours
per
rank
Primary
1 36 36 6 216 43.2
Secondary 2 36 72 5 360 72
Tertiary 10 36 360 2720144
Quaternary 15 30 450 3 1350 270
Quinary 60 50 3000 3 9000 1800

Overall the thesis of ten years to achieve mastery in a field of study still stands with most specialists taking around 10 years to achieve an expert status after the age of 13-15. This even applies to sportsman with premiership footballers achieving first team debuts early but becoming regulars only at around 23. A similar pattern is seen in athletics although I can’t find a study to back this up.

The next part will consider how to balance vocations and individual skills so that the game remains playable without players power gaming every aspect.