Monday, April 27, 2020

A walk through Harnmaster - Skills


This is a 24 page article.

In a nutshell skills are checked with a d100 rolled low. If you roll equal to or less than your skill level +/- modifiers then you succeeded. If you roll a 0 or 5 on the last die it is a critical result. Most resolution tables list four entries: Critical Failure, Failure, Success, and Critical Success.

Skill Base

What your skill level starts out at is based on your Skill Base. The Skill Base is an average of three attributes. This is one of the more fiddly bits of Harnmaster but like much of the other fiddly bits it is frontloaded when you create the character.

Once you calculate your skill base you add in a modifier for your sunsign.

For example the skill base for Stealth is an average of Agility, Hearing, and Will. So a character with an Agility of 12, Hearing of 15, and a Will of 9 will have a skill base of 12 (12+15+9 = 36 /3 = 12). If the character had the Hirin (Eagle), Tareal (Pentacle), or Tai (Lantern Bearer) sunsign they would get a +2 bonus for a SB of 14. Note that fractions are rounded to the nearest whole number. So a total of 35 would round to 12 (11.6667) but a total of 34 would round to 11 (11.3333).

Rob's Comment
I recommend using a printout made form a spreadsheet of triple values. A list of totals and their calculated skill base. Like the one I made for my campaign that your can download from here.

Using Skill Base

When you open a skill there is a opening mastery level modifiers under the Opening Mastery Level or OML column. So when the character starts out with stealth their initial skill level is SB x3. So using my example with a SB of 12 the character would have a Mastery Level (skill level or ML) of 36%.

When you go through character generation, the skills you get often have a higher OML. Using the Hunter Trapper from the previous post. We see the Hunter/Trapper opens stealth at SB x4 not SB x3. The above character with a SB of 12 would start out with a ML of 48%, 56% if the character had one of the three sunsigns that influences Stealth due to the SB of 14.

Note that any skill in all caps are default skills. 

The other role Skill Base plays is that it determines your max skill level (100 + SB), and higher SB makes improving skills easier.

Mastery Level (ML)

Harnmaster calls skill level, Mastery Level. Unfortunately they opt for a bit of jargon.

  • OML: Opening Mastery Level, The multiplier used to determine the initial Mastery Level when the character obtains a skill.
  • EML: Effective Mastery Level, Your mastery level plus or minus any modifiers. This is what you roll against.

Your minimum EML is always 5%, your maximum EML is always 95%

Skill Index (SI)

This is your Mastery Level divided by 10 (rounded down). This is used in several mechanics where you are able to do more with a higher SI. They don't give a spot for it on your character sheet as it is always the first number of your Mastery Level.


An optional rule to allow for more fine grained skills. Some skills you can have specialties and improve them separately. You can start taking specialties at ML 40+. The advantage is that you can improve a specialty twice as fast as the broad skill. An example is Musician and different instrument. Or Swords and the different sword types. I recommend using this rule. And for @TristramEvans the specialties for Lovecraft are specifically noted at the GM's discretion.

Skill Table

I showed you a slice of the skill table above. It is divided into Physical, Communication, Religion, Combat, and Craft & Lore. The Craft & Lore is the longest list.

Each skill has its Name, the Skill Base attributes, Sunsign modifiers, OML, and suggested specialities.

Skill Testing

Here the rules talk about how to have player test their character skills. A marginal success is rolling equal to or less than your Effective Mastery Level. Otherwise it is a marginal failure. Any roll ending in a 0 or 5 is a critical result.

Opposed Skill Checks

Harnmaster looks at relative success, Marginal Success versus Critical Failure for example. The higher success level wins with Critical Success being the highest. If both character roll the same success level then it is either a tie, or who ever rolls the lowest wins if a tie is not relevant. In practice using this is straight forward and fast with no math involved.

The Universal Penalty

Character get injured, or get tired, Harnmaster folds these conditions into the Universal Penalty.

The Universal Penalty that is a number from 0 to X. It applies in one of two ways.

You add the number to any save you have to roll with d6s versus one of your attributes
You multiply 5 and it reduces your EML that you roll against.

For example a Universal Penalty of 5 means that your skill levels are reduced by -25%, and your add +5 to any xd6 rolls versus your attributes.

The Universal Penalty is made up of the following.

Injury Penalty

Every injury that the character suffer is rated from 1 to 5. Adding together all your injuries gives you your character's injury penalty.

Fatigue Penalty

If your character exerted themselves strenuously for 5 minutes or more then they add one Fatigue level. Casting spells or using Psionics also adds Fatigue level.

Your Universal Penalty is the sum of your Injury Penalty and Fatigue Penalty.

Physical Penalty

For physical activities like combat, climbing, or stealth. You also have to add in your Encumbrance Penalty. This total is the Physical Penalty.

The Enumberance Penalty is calculated by adding up the weight of everything you are carrying and dividing it by the character's endurance. So if the character carrying 60 lbs and their endurance is 15 then their EP is 4.

Rob's Comment
Encumbrance is generally considered fiddly in most systems and this no different. However it easier than most as it is handled by dividing the weight carried by encumbrance. It fits with the gritty medieval theme of Harnmaster. Finally it why the high combat skills of characters with military skills is important. The high mastery levels represents in part the training they got with having gear on.

If you don't want to account for every item in encumbrance then just total up the weapons and armor/clothing worn and tack on 10 or 20 lbs for gear.

Skill Development

When a character gets a development roll you roll 1d100 + Skill Base. If it exceeds your Mastery Level then the ML goes up by one. Up by 2 if it is a specialty.

Skill Development Rolls

Characters get Skill Development rolls for
  • Study/Practice, HM assume that throughout a month Character practice and study their skills. There is an optional to increase this if the character has high Will
  • Employment and Instruction, bonuses are given for job related skills and for being taught by somebody with a higher ML.
  • Stressful/Bonus Experience, the referee can award bonus development rolls after adventures that test the character's skills. The author encourage to give these out for failures as well as successes.
All of this part of a subsystem using Skill Maintenance Points. It sounds fiddly but it only one page and what it amounts to is that character get three development rolls a month, one roll for 40 hours of work, or 10 hours of instruction. There is an optional rule where you have to use SMPs to maintain skills you HAVEN'T used. But I never used that option.

Rob's Comment
I like this a lot. GURPS has some of this but Harnmaster's take is far cleaner and easier to use provided you don't use Skill Maintenance. I have a house rule that you double your gain if you roll a critical on your development roll. (2 for broad skills, 4 for specialties). I like that you automatically get 3 rolls a month which helps greatly with players feeling free to poke and muddle around. Otherwise they feel like they need to get into scrapes in order to advance all the time.

The Skills

Pages 8 to 19 are the descriptions of the skills and their mechanics. A lot of stuff in these pages so I will highlight a couple.


Jumping is an example of a skill using the Critical Failure to Critical Success scale. The numbers present the percentage of the character's height that they are able to jump.


Example of a description only skill.

Stealth is tested when a character attempts to move without being detected. It can only be applied in situations where an observer would not automatically see the sneaker. The attempt presumes reasonable cover and/or poor light. EML is modified for distance to the target, available cover, etc. Rolling any failure indicates detection, although with MF it may be reasonable to test Awareness of potential observers.

Languages and Scripts

The description for both are several paragraphs. When we get to treasure you will see that not only knowing a language matters but the script in which it written matters as well. Luckily since this focuses on Harn there isn't an overwhelming number of choices although the author does touches briefly on the rest of the world.

Craft/Lore Skills

Most of these skills can only opened after a period of training with a teacher following the instruction rules in skill development. In some way this section along with combat are the heart and soul of a Harn character. There is a fair amount of terse detail packed in here.

Combat Skills

Combat skills are easy to get, you can open them after just one combat with a relevant weapon. However after ML 70 you can only improve them through bonus development rolls gained in actual combat.


This skill can only be improved through bonus development rolls gained as a result of combat. This skill typically not roll but used to determine the order of initiative.

Value Enhancement
Product Quality

These three section give general mechanics for using the Craft/Lore skills focusing on items and good that you can make with these skills. It one page.

Attribute Testing

This section get into the different ways you can use your attributes. It is two pages and covers the basic in the usual detailed but terse Harn style.

Example Lifting

Normal, healthy characters can lift Strength × 10 pounds, at least briefly, with little or no difficulty. When attempting to lift heavier loads, the table (below) is consulted. The table assumes loads can be conveniently gripped with both hands/arms. Awkward loads are more difficult. Lifting tests are subject to Physical Penalty

It is possible to successfully lift a weight and then find it too heavy to hold. Once a load is lifted, an immediate Carrying Test is required.

Mental Conflict

I haven't used this section much. However in two pages it give a system to resolves things like psionic attacks, possession, ethereal conflicts, and control of a magical artifact. It simplified compared to Harn combat with a single table resolving attack and defense. While different things can happen the immediate result of mental conflict is gaining fatigue levels and perhaps passing out.

That it for skills, next is the big one COMBAT!
Previous post is Characters, Next Post is Combat Part 1

Follow Ups

Starting Wealth

Charles ask a question about starting wealth. On Character 17 there is this table

But there no mechanics associated with the table. Instead the section is a series of guidelines outlining things like Family Weath, Clothling & Possessions, Weapon & Armour, etc. 

The oversight here is that the original release of Harn had three things: the map, Harnview book, and the Harndex book. In Harnview there was a section called the Pre-game. It has some of the family and social class tables and information found in the first section of character but it also goes onto explain that the referee should run a mini-sessions to flesh out the character's background with the player. This was in the 1st edition of Harnmaster but the specifics was spread out among the product line in later editions and printings. 

The table above along with the income values for various occupations work with that idea. If the character was realtively successful in the Pre-game then a value from the Rich column would be warranted. If the character pre-game was neither good or bad, then use the Average column. If the pre-game didn't go so good then Poor column should be used. 

For a more specific method, Harnmaster 1st edition recommed 1d3 month of wages from the character's occupation plus some clothing, tools, weapons, etc based on their estrangment, social class, and occupation. 

For example in a recent Harn campaign I ran, two of the players were part of the Aleath City Guard. So they had quilt gambeson, spears, and daggers from their service. As well as some coins that the players used in part ot augment their equipment.

Previous post is Characters, Next post is Combat Part 1


Charles Saeger said...

Thanks! It's sometimes impossible to find things in the current version of HarnMaster. Character creation stuff jumps around, with things that you absolutely need being in Combat or elsewhere.

Robert Conley said...

Yeah I hear you. But hey! At least we have the option to use 30 year old material that is 95% compatible rules wise and 99% compatible setting wise.

Ruprecht said...

I've always thought the critical on a 0 or 5 was elegant and requires no math. I'm surprised it never caught on.
Also I'd be curious what that 1% incompatibility setting wise is? Or were you just being safe.

Unknown said...

One thing would be a change in the attributes arrangement, or the fact that resisting shock changed from the 1st edition :)