Friday, July 29, 2016

Simple Bards for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Or Other Old School Fantasy Games)

The bard is an interesting character concept. On the one hand, it's got a definite style and flair of its own. On the other, there's a number of nagging issues that make it a poor fit for a game with classes centered around the Big Four (Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief).
  • Main draw is that it does a little bit of everything, which isn't quite as bad for the magic-user and fighter, but sucks for the thief - especially since "skill guy" is the specialist's shtick in LotFP. 
  • Magical Music as a class feature is either something you either love, or despise.
  • As I wrote once before, creating a class whose abilities are social in nature is weird in a game without strict social mechanics. 
So what can we do?  After some thinking, the first decision I made was to remove the idea of bard as a class entirely. Instead, we add another skill to the specialist's repertoire, making it another possibility to mix and match with rather than a separate class that has significant overlap with specialists anyway.
Inspire: through impassioned speeches, battle music, or a booming voice of command, you can affect the hearts and minds of those around you. On a success, you can add the number rolled as a modifier on a reaction roll. On a failure, you roll 3d6 instead of 2d6 and drop the highest die.

If used in battle, you can use your action to play music, orate, or command in order to aid your allies. The number rolled can be applied to one of the following, at your discretion: attack rolls, damage, armor class, saving throws, or morale checks. This will apply to all intelligent allies within earshot capable of understanding your message. If a roll of 6 would result in a failure, roll a second d6. If the second roll is also a 6, it forces all allied NPCs to make an immediate morale check. 

Alternatively, you can choose to try to demoralize your opponents instead, applying the number rolled as a negative modifier to your opponent's attack rolls, damage, armor class, saving throws, or morale checks. This will apply to all intelligent enemies within earshot capable of understanding the message. If a roll of 6 would result in a failure, roll a second d6. If the second roll is also a d6, your attempt has the opposite effect instead giving a +d3 attack bonus to any enemy that would have been affected.

Either effect consumes the character's whole action and remains in affect until the character's next action. If the character is attacked, silenced, or otherwise prevented from communicating with their intended audience, the effects cease immediately.
Not only does that make "bard" a potential variant of the specialist without adding an additional class, but with the lateral advancement rules, it could also be a nice way to work on a fighter character who is a warlord/commander type. More traditional bards can also attempt to either multi-class with a magic-user to gain spells, or make use of the arcana skill to represent their dabbling.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Zweihander Kickstarter Now Live!

I've written about Zweihander a couple times. It's a very cool WHFRPG retroclone that I've really enjoyed reading and tinkering with. Their kickstarter is now live. You should absolutely check it out.

What's Stealing all the Corpses From the Graveyard (a random table for Old School Fantasy Games)

  1. A furious widow swore her adulterous husband would never rest in peace. A botched curse keeps the dead awake. They aren't being stolen, they are wandering the countryside in search of some grave that will grant them sleep.
  2. A sentient swarm of tunneling black beetles has devoured the corpses, one by one, consuming bones and all. A recent bout of plague has given them plenty of fresh meat to feed upon... and they've developed a taste for it.
  3. An adventuring party has tracked down the burial place of a famous bandit who late in life decided to go straight. Rumor has it that the only clue to the whereabouts of his equally famous treasure was buried with him, but they aren't sure in which grave he was buried.
  4. The land is a meeting point between two dimensions. Any creature, man or animal, living or dead, that spends two consecutive nights in the graveyard wakes up Elsewhere. Until recently, graves were not left open long enough for anyone to notice.
  5. Kharus, the servant of death, has made a terrible mistake and crossed over someone whose time had not come. Unfortunately, he can't remember who it was.
  6. The bodies are being stolen and sold to masked men who are members of a secret society. The grave keeper takes their money, even believing they are part of some dark cult practicing vile necromancy. In actuality, they are a society of debutantes, aristocrats, and rich provocateurs. The stolen corpses are for a transgressive art display on the futility of reverence.
  7. The grave digger is syphilitic, the condition having gone to his brain. He's gone slowly mad, stealing the corpses and stripping them of their flesh. What's left of the remains are beneath his cellar, the bones splintered and tied together into morbid trophies and decorations. When he's alone at night he sings to them. Sometimes, they sing back.
  8. An unseelie fey is playing a trick on the local townsfolk. They steal one corpse each night and whisk it off and add it to their own, private, mock court. If caught, the fey will be haughty and indignant and play the whole thing off as a bit of mischief, but in reality it is deeply lonely. The fey has been exiled from the unseelie court. The stolen corpses are both an attempt to build a court of their own so they feel more at home, and to get someone from the village to notice them without actually having to make themselves known. It will return the corpses and stop disturbing the dead if the players manage to befriend it. 
  9. A kind, elderly man in the village is secretly an alchemist. He has been stealing the corpses and using them in research, creating tonics from the bones. He's searching for a cure for his daughter, who is overcome with a mysterious disease that resists both normal and magical cures. However, through experimentation he's worked out that the more fresh the remains, the more effective the potions. Unfortunately, the graveyard does not have the fresh corpses he needs. Yet.
  10. The graveyard has become a feeding ground for a troll that dwells in a nearby cave. Through some strange mutation or curse, it is in constant pain that is nearly crippling in sunlight. Unusually clever, for a troll, it has discovered that for whatever reason consuming bones helps to alleviate its pain. It won't hazard to bother the nearby village so long as there are corpses to consume, but when they run out...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Multi-Classing for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other Old School Fantasy Games

Continuing the last post's theme of giving more character options within the framework of LotFP specifically, today we'll be talking about multi-classing rules.

I have suggested before an idea for hybrid classes that worked reasonably well, but they still wound up in many ways being too inflexible for what I wanted them to do. They still make for a nice base upon which to build custom classes, but today we're doing something different.

Multi-Classing for LotFP

Creating a multi-classed character is relatively simple. Any two classes can mix, with the following exceptions
  • Classes with opposite alignment requirements (you can't as a character have multiple alignments)
  • Racial classes cannot mix with other racial classes (No multi-classed Halfling/Dwarfs)
  • Spell-casting classes cannot mix (no multi-classed magic-user/clerics, magic-user/elves, or cleric/elves)
After two classes are chosen, you can figure out the combined features as follows:
  • The character gets all of the class-features of both classes (advancing AB, combat options, skills, spell slots, or other special abilities).
  • The XP for each level is the combined total of both classes. (A Fighter/Magic-User would cost (2,000+2,250) 4,250xp to get to level 2.
  • The HD and Saving Throws are the worst of the two classes. Add up the first level saving throws and choose the set with the worst (read: highest total, as lower is better). If they are equal the player may choose which set they would prefer but may not switch at any time.

Multi-Classing After Character Creation.

Characters can optionally choose a second class after character creation, but the road is a difficult one. The character's advancement in their main class is frozen, but advancement continues using their current XP track until the other class has caught up. Each time they would have leveled up their primary class, they instead level up their secondary class and then drop back down to the bare minimum amount of XP required to be the current level in their current class.

A level 6 fighter has a minimum of 36,000xp and needs 64,000xp to get to level 7. They decide to multi-class into specialist. Each time they would hit 64,000xp, they gain 1 level of specialist and are dropped back down to 36,000xp until they are level 6 in both fighter and specialist, at which point they continue advancing as a normal multi-classed character.   

The character gains all the benefits of the secondary class as a normal multi-classed character as described above. HD are determined by the lesser class each level. If the primary class has the smaller HD (a Specialist who is now multi-classing into Fighter), they can re-roll their HP each level and take the new result if higher, but may not add additional dice until that class advances. If the HD of the secondary class is the lower, then they may roll the secondary classes's HD as they gain it, but will not increase their HP until the secondary class's roll is better than their primary.

Our level 6 fighter has a statistically low 30HP, normally rolling 1d8 per level. Each time they gain a level of specialist, they may roll their specialist's HD (1d6 per level), but won't increase their HP at all until the roll on the specialist's HD is greater than 30 (after Con mods).

Saves are determined in a similar fashion. If the primary class has worse saves than the secondary, then saves are simply frozen until the character continues advancing as normal. If the secondary class has worse saves, then the character's saves don't improve until the secondary class's saves are better than their current saves, at which point the new saves are recorded. 

Multi-classing a character is a big deal, mechanically and requires significant sacrifice. This is even more pronounced if the shift comes later in a character's career. Between multi-classing and lateral advancement, however, I now feel fairly confident that I can create more or less whatever I could want inside of the LotFP framework without having to push for a classless style system as is sort of popular at the moment.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why I don't Fudge Rolls

Echoing a post I made in a thread the other day, I figured it would be worth it to clean up and post here.

The initial question was a good one:
DMs, do you fudge dice rolls? Why or why not?

It can be very tempting to save players from themselves, but in the long run I think it hurts the overall dynamic of the game. I read once that a good GM should be a like a coach on a sports team. They are there to help advise, encourage, support, and cheer for the players as best they can, but it's still up to them to play the game.

OSR can be brutal in a lot of ways. One of the tropes people tend to attribute to OSR play in particular is the high lethality. For some people, the Fantasy Vietnam thing is actually part of the draw. Even when you're not intentionally aiming for that style, things happen. Old-school play has a lot of save-vs-terrible things moments. The level 1 "wandering encounters" table for B/x has a whole bunch of results that could easily TPK a group. Because OSR has so much randomness and so much of it can be absolute murder, it's very important that the players and the GM are on the same page. The GM should be seen as an impartial arbiter of these results, rather than the cause of them. You need the culture at the table to be "that's just what the dice said."

Once you start fudging dice and the players know that this is a precedent, the GM is now culpable for every result the dice show. At best, whenever something bad happens to a player's character, they know you could have prevented it. When a character dies, it's because you let them die. "But we fudged the roll last time!"

More insidious than this though can be the rolls they don't see at all. The villainous NPC making a difficult or important saving throw, or landing a critical blow in combat can be seen as you cheating to save your BBEG. A bad wandering encounter result or similar random-chart-result situation could simply be seen as you trying to screw the players. Even if you know you aren't trying to, and the players know you aren't trying to, it can still look terrible.

For me at least, it's way better for it to be firmly established that the dice have the final say and that I'm not going to fudge things one way or another. I do this for the same reason I want a GM looking when I roll ability scores for a character. Sometimes crazy results occur, and I don't want someone going "yeah, I'm sure you totally rolled two 18s."

Up until now, I've spoken almost exclusively about OSR style games, but I think the same principle applies in more story-oriented games as well. You want the results to appear impartial.The counter is often something along the lines of "I don't want a single bad roll to derail the story," but fortunately story-based games make this even easier than OSR games do. If it's not something you're willing to risk the PCs failing don't ask them to make a roll. Narrative games are pretty great that way. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lateral Advancement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Other Old School Fantasy Games

One of the strengths of OSR games is how simple the advancement scheme tends to be. No worrying about builds or feats or whatever. You just gain your xp, roll your Hit Dice, and go. The B/x style class scheme tends to help this quite a bit. They are nice and broad, defining your character by your skill set rather than forcing specific fluff to make its way into your character. Your Fighter could be a wandering mercenary, an archer, a tribal barbarian, or a chivalrous knight depending on how you want to picture them.

The big four (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, and Thief) do an excellent job both of providing broad umbrellas to build characters under and providing some niche protection. As I've written before, though, there are certain character concepts that just don't fit comfortably under any of the above. How do you handle a Ranger who can actually fight? How would you build Conan under such a system? Or Elric?

This brings me to my idea for Lateral Advancement for LotFP. OSR already works with the understanding that not everyone advances at the same rate. More powerful classes already cost more XP to advance, and in AD&D multi-classing was literally just "take both classes, divide XP between them." The premise "choose to advance slower in exchange for more power" is baked in from the start. I think there was a kernel of something useful in there, and I've expanded it here.

Lateral Advancement

Any time a character would gain a level they can choose instead to purchase a lateral advancement, burning the XP they would have used to gain said level in exchange for one of the following non-standard benefits.
  • Increase an Ability Score: the character may increase any one ability score by 1 point if they can explain how their character improved it. No score can ever be improved in this fashion by more than 2 (read: a character who rolled 15 strength can only purchase two increases bringing it to 17), but may be purchased separately for each of the character's ability scores as desired. 
  • Increase a Skill: the character may add a single pip to any one skill if they can explain how they learned it. Obviously, this is useless for Specialists. 
  • Increase Attack Bonus: the character may increase their base attack bonus by 1. Obviously, this is useless for Fighters.
  • Improve a Save: the character may improve any one category of saving throw by 1. This may be purchased up to twice for any single save, but may be purchased separately for each save as desired. Obviously, less useful for demi-humans.
  • Learn a new class ability: In my home campaigns, I often design rituals and other special abilities that can be gained through play but not necessarily earned automatically as a class ability. If the Fighter got inducted into a berzerkergang cult, this would be his way to buy the ability.   
Characters who purchase a lateral advancement are immediately set back to the minimum amount of XP required to have reached their previous level.

 In LotFP, a Fighter gains level 4 at 8,000xp and 5 at 16,000xp. Upon gaining 16,000xp the Fighter could choose to take a lateral advancement and would then be back at 8,000xp again having burnt the remaining as the cost of advancement. 

I rather like the above as a setup. It allows characters to dip their toes into different fields without being in any danger of overshadowing anyone else's niche as well as giving the DM a way to let characters earn special abilities they want without just handing them out willy-nilly. You want your Fighter to be a Paladin? Do good deeds for the church  and in the course of it, I'll give you the ability to learn some paladiny abilities. Now I can do that without being unfair to the other fighter who is perfectly happy just smacking things with a sword. It's also perfect for when you have a character who just wants a skill to fit a concept (survival comes up a lot with fighters who want to be barbarians or rangers) without having to do some kind of multi-classing setup or hacking together an entirely new concept. Want to be a Witch-Hunting Specialist? Increase your Save vs. Magic a couple times to keep an edge on your prey.

If you're wondering why there's no "purchase magic" to go along with the options for skills and attack bonuses, it's because I'm already using Ten Foot Polemic's Arcana Skill.

Would you use it? Tell me what you think.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Side Project

Just a little note on here. If I didn't have enough irons in fires, I got involved in a bit of a side project. Troll Gods is an OSR fan 'zine designed to be a grab-bag of goodies for GMs and the curious, meant to either serve as inspiration or to be drag-and-dropped into games as you see fit. The thing is free, and it's open to anyone who wants to contribute.
This first issue features:
  • Trick Doors
  • A randomized side-quest full of tables
  • A Class for LotFP
  • A dungeon room with botanical puzzles
  • And bestiary entries with subplots of the ape, acquatic, and troll variety. 
The next issue already has some material submitted for it, which I'll dig into before too long. I have some material planned to add myself.

If you're into the OSR scene, give it a look. If you like what you see, toss us some feedback or share it around.