Saturday, December 31, 2016

LotFP and the Classic Trio - Possible House Rules for Classes

Let's say you wanted to play an OSR game that meets the following oddly specific and perhaps ill-fitting criteria:

  1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess provides most of the base rules.
  2. The only classes are the original three from OD&D (pre-Greyhawk), and all PCs are human, as Gary Gygax may have wanted.
  3. You don't want to completely abandon the unique rules alterations and innovations of LotFP (hence Criterion #1), but you also want to move away from the "weird fantasy" flavor of LotFP and back toward the flavor of TSR-era D&D to some extent. You want the game to play and feel less like The God That Crawls and more like White Plume Mountain or The Village of Hommlet. (Credit goes to Jason Thompson for making these awesome maps, and Matthew Schmeer at Rended Press for the links.)
  4. Keeping Criterion #3 in mind, you want to make the Cleric something of a conceptual halfway-point between the Fighter and the Magic-User as it originally was, maybe even something Paladin-esque. You want to make the Cleric play more like the old-fashioned D&D version and less like the "alternative Lawful Magic-User" of LotFP.
  5. You want to make straightforward combat slightly less of a bad idea than it tends to be in LotFP. But only slightly.

Well, here are some changes I would consider making in such a situation. I should preface this by saying these ideas are still pretty rough, and definitely untested on my part. Most glaringly, I haven't worked out the exact saving throw numbers yet.

Assume the rules are the same as in LotFP, with the following exceptions:

  • d10 HD (+4 HP after Level 9)
  • Continue to add CON bonus to HP after Level 9 (as Dwarf)
  • Five extra items before gaining first encumbrance point (as Dwarf)
  • Maybe better saving throws - If so, best of all classes overall (maybe as Dwarf)
  • Extra attacks against low-HD enemies, as in OD&D
  • d8 HD (+3 HP after Level 9)
  • Combat Options as Fighter
  • Turn Undead as a separate class ability instead of a spell, as in OD&D. Maybe have it work against demons, Lovecraftian horrors, summoned entities, and/or other "unholy" creatures as well.
  • Maybe better saving throws
  • Maybe reduce time needed to make holy water EDIT: Oh, and do this for protection scrolls, too. Those are a neat idea I don't think I've ever actually seen used at the table.
  • d6 HD (+2 HP after Level 9)
  • Maybe lower cost and/or time required for writing scrolls (or magical research activities in general)
  • Maybe better saving throws (but if so, still not as good as those of the other classes, with the possible exceptions of saves vs. devices or magic)
  • Unlikely but possible change: Can Exasperate as per the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land, as a Chaos-themed counterpart to the (Lawful) Cleric's Turn Undead ability. EDIT: I should probably mention that this is one of the few house rules here that I HAVE extensively playtested, and while I still haven't decided if it's balanced yet, I can confirm that it is fun and my players seem to love it. So maybe this isn't such an unlikely change after all.
  • Allow Magic-User spells to be cast even when they are not properly "prepared," when the Magic-User is out of appropriate spell slots for the day, when the Magic-User's hands are full, etc., but with some kind of major risk. Last Gasp has some great rules for this, as does the LotFP Playtest Document.
    Global Changes
    • All characters gain skill points as a Specialist. No separate Specialist class.
    • No Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling classes. If the players really want to play non-humans, you could use separate race and class rules, sort of like these or these.
    • The skill list is the same as it is HERE, except that Open Doors stays (per Rules As Written), and Sneak Attack and Luck are removed. Search is still omitted (in favor of player skill over dice rolls).
    The "logic" behind these changes
    It started with the Cleric. Since I wanted the Cleric to be more like a Fighter than it is in LotFP, but without further undermining the usefulness of the Fighter as a separate class to have available, I decided to try "toughening up" the Cleric in ways that didn't totally step on the Fighter's toes while also giving some new advantages to the Fighter to hopefully prevent the Cleric from simply becoming a Fighter But Better. The Elf and Dwarf classes served as guidelines here. For example, in LotFP the Elf is something of a hybrid between the Fighter and Magic-User, but the Fighter part is added not through the Fighter's increasing to-hit bonus (which remains unique to that class), but through other features like the Fighter's extra combat options and some extra HP (not as much HP as the Fighter gets, but more than the Magic-User does). Similarly, the Dwarf also gets the advanced combat options as a concession to its fighting prowess. I think it makes sense to try something similar with an "old-fashioned" Cleric class, so I gave the Cleric these combat options and increased their HD to a d8. I haven't decided about changing the Cleric's saving throws, but it might not hurt.

    Changing Turn Undead from a first level spell back into its own special ability, like in OD&D and such, was mostly done for flavor reasons. Since undead might not necessarily be plentiful and monsters might not be easily sorted into "types" like "undead" in a campaign that keeps even a little bit of the LotFP approach to monster design, I figure it might make sense to expand the scope of what can be "turned." Besides, I don't see why a Cleric's holy powers should necessarily give them an advantage against a zombie but not a demon. And is a shoggoth being repelled by an elder sign really all that different from a vampire being repelled by a cross?

    The holy water thing is just because I like the idea of weaponized holy water, and because I think the ability to produce holy water as adventuring gear is a cool thing that differentiates Clerics from other classes. But man, a whole week to make one dose of holy water? I doubt that a lot of players would bother to spend the time to make it.

    Since all classes can use all types of weapons and armor in LotFP (keeping in mind certain spell-casting and physical skill limitations), and since magic weapons and armor in LotFP are probably much more likely to be cursed or otherwise complicated to use and, shall we say, "situationally useful," Fighters can no longer count on the use of class-restricted magic items as an advantage or a feature which differentiates them from Clerics and Magic-Users. In LotFP, the major advantages of playing a Fighter are simply that you can hit things more easily/often, and that you can usually take more punishment (probably due to either taking more risks or just screwing up more) and survive. These aren't at all insignificant factors in selecting a class, and as far as advantages go, these ones are appealingly simple, but LotFP Fighters still strike me as a bit boring compared to their peers.

    Since demihumans are out, I figured I might as well spruce the Fighter up with some features cannibalized from the Dwarf. The extra carrying capacity makes it less of a burden for a Fighter to wear heavy armor or carry a variety of weapons than it would be for the other classes. It also gives the Fighter some extra non-combat utility as a pack mule. Like being a "healer" in a lot of other RPGs, being the person who carries the most stuff might not seem like a glorious job, but it's something the rest of the party should probably be very thankful for if they're not a bunch of assholes. This also gives the Fighter the ability to grab the most treasure and run if the other players are assholes and deserve to be abandoned to die. The d10 hit dice (and improved saving throws should I end up including them) make the Fighter the hardiest class, even after the Cleric has been boosted to d8 HD. The whole "continuing to add the Constitution bonus to HP after Level 9" thing cribbed from the Dwarf gives the Fighter something nice to look forward to at higher levels, assuming they're lucky enough to still have high CON at that point.

    The Fighter's "extra attacks against wussies" thing, like the Turn Undead ability, is just something fun and useful from TSR-era D&D that I wanted to include for that old-fashioned flavor as well as it's function as another thing to set the Fighter apart.

    I wanted to give the Magic-User a little love, too. The Exasperation thing is just meant to be something neat the Magic-User can do. If the Cleric can do something magical that isn't a "spell," then why can't the Magic-User? The ability to cast spells "improperly" is meant to make the Magic-User more versatile with Magic than the Cleric in a way similar to how the Fighter is more versatile in combat than the Cleric. It's also really flavorful and entertainingly unpredictable. The d6 HD (and again, improved saving throws should I decide to alter them) is something of a bone thrown to the Magic-User, since all the other kids were getting more HP. Plus, a Level 0 nobody gets d6 HP, as does a Level 1 Magic-User, and it just bugs me to have the Magic-User's hit dice change from a d6 to a d4. It's a personal preference. Finally, I think it might be fun to make it easier (or at least cheaper) to make scrolls as a sort of throw-back to the ease of scroll-making in Holmes Basic D&D.

    The "everybody is a Specialist" thing appeals to me for reasons I've already discussed to some extent. Even though I didn't want to include a Thief class here, I really like the skill system in LotFP, so why not repurpose it? I wouldn't mind writing more on this topic in the future, but for now, let's just call this an effort to make non-class-based skills and activities even across the board in the absence of a Thief or Specialist class.

    So, am I barking up the wrong tree, or does this actually seem enjoyable? I'd love to hear suggestions and opinions, so as usual, please feel free to drop me a line.

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    What Do YOU Think is Going On?

    Let's say your D&D/OSR campaign involves running a bunch of different modules written by a bunch of different people - for example, let's say you're like me and you tend to use a whole bunch of LotFP adventures in the same campaign. A lot of the setting elements presented to the players - deities and other religious or mythological forces, factions, magic items, political and social elements, locations, cultures, the state of the economy, the level of technology available, etc. - might seem random, unrelated, or even contradictory to your players. You might have a dungeon built by Cthulhu-worshipping ancient serpent people who ruled the world in prehistoric times in one adventure, then have satan-worshipping cultists who summon Biblical demons (or angel-worshipping cultists who summon Biblical angels, because that could be REALLY scary) in the next. Or you may have an adventure which suggests that elves come from inside the Hollow Earth, and then another adventure which provides evidence that they're aliens from another dimension.

    In this kind of situation, I bet there's a good chance that one or more of your players will ask stuff like "How does any of this make sense? How does this all fit together? Does any of this fit together? What kind of weird-ass setting is this? Is anything consistent around here? What the fuck is going on?"

    Now, the obvious solution to this problem (assuming you see it as a problem, which you don't have to, especially if you're running either a purposefully goofy campaign or a purposefully gonzo/pulpy one) is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You could come up with the connections between the major setting elements of your campaign ahead of time and figure out a way to make them all "cohere," historically and/or metaphysically. (You could also do the same thing "after the fact," spending some private time between adventures making sense of the world you're building.) A related tactic is to change details of the adventures ahead of time so that they fit together in your setting in the way you prefer or in a way that you think makes sense. These are the approaches I lean towards in my current campaign, "Lamentations of the Fallen Lords." Another way to prevent the problem from happening is to be more selective about which adventures and other materials you use in the campaign, being careful to only use stuff that seems to make sense when combined into a greater whole at the table.

    But here's another way of dealing with the problem, which I've heard suggested here and there, and which I'd love to do more: When your players ask those kinds of questions, respond with "Well, what do YOU think is going on? Tell me what you think you've figured out so far. Give me your theories." And then, of course, listen to what they say, take notes, steal the best stuff (in terms of either being the coolest individual possibilities or just the ones that make everything cohere in the most satisfying or interesting matter), and pick some of their theories to be explicitly wrong, too, in part or in whole, just to keep the mysteries fresh and offer some future surprises. Give them the potential joy of discovery in the future as they unravel the facts and innuendo and find out what they were right and wrong about.

    Furthermore, this could be a fun way of engaging in collaborative world-building without making a big, complicated...thing out of it. Your players might not even realize this is what happened, at least not at first. Consider it surprise collaborative world-building.

    I might not be a scientist, but as a player I think there's nothing like coming up with a hypothesis and then proving it right. There's also nothing like thinking you've figured everything out and then being blindsided by something unexpected. Some of the best things about playing a game like D&D are the emotions you get: pride at solving a problem or mystery and being proven right, wonder at the strange things you discover exploring a magical world, relief (and more pride) at overcoming an obstacle that seemed insurmountable, fear when the DM shakes their head and starts rolling a bunch of dice, joy at the fact that somebody brought fresh cookies to tonight's game.

    P.S. No matter what solution you choose, if any, it's still up to the players to figure out the greater backstory of the setting through play, if they want to investigate it - I think there's usually no need to spill the beans and subject the players to some kind of potentially boring infodump just because somebody asked you out-of-character to explain stuff.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2016

    1d30 Uncommon Suicide Methods

    This post should probably be considered "Not Safe For Work" - especially the links.
    1. Stealthily drowning oneself in holy water during a church service, so as not to be discovered until at least the end of the sermon.
    2. Gorging oneself on the cremated ashes of one's entire extended family, going back untold generations.
    3. Building a huge, upside-down pyramid suspended on stilts, then standing beneath the pyramid's point and flipping a switch that causes the stilts to be removed and the pyramid to drop.
    4. Using a needle and tube to siphon out one's blood like gasoline stolen from a car's tank. One can drink the blood if one gets thirsty during the process.
    5. Jumping from a second-story balcony repeatedly.
    6. Surgically removing as many of one's own bones as possible, one at a time.
    7. Lying beneath a sturdy table, which is itself beneath a huge weight suspended from the ceiling, then placing a leg of the table in one's mouth and triggering the weight to drop onto the table.
    8. Beating oneself to death with a hammer, club, or other blunt object, starting at the feet and working one's way up the body as each area is pulverized.
    9. Swallowing a serrated sword, then tugging on it. Twisting if necessary.
    10. Standing in the middle of an oil-coated bridge over a deep chasm, shark infested waters, a vat of acid, etc., then lighting both ends of the bridge on fire.
    11. Balancing on top of a long metal pole during a lightning storm, preferably a storm that one created (or at least predicted) through science or magic.
    12. Lying down and simply refusing to get up for any reason, while moving as little as absolutely possible, for as long as it takes.
    13. Purposely infected oneself with a slow-acting but lethal disease and refusing treatment.
    14. Shooting oneself in the stomach repeatedly, patching up the wound each time in order to see how many shots it takes.
    15. Tying one end of a rope to a vehicle and the other end to one's neck, then sending the vehicle off at high speed, preferably over a cliff.
    16. Stuffing as much bread up one's nose as possible.
    17. Hammering a nail into one's own sternum or skull.
    18. Gathering everything that one is allergic to in one place and exposing oneself to all of it simultaneously.
    19. Building a pear of anguish that forcefully opens to its full extension instantaneously instead of gradually, then using it on oneself in a crowded area.
    20. Eating or inhaling the seeds of quick-growing vines, which take root in the body.
    21. Completely stop sleeping.
    22. Burn oneself alive at the coldest place in the world.
    23. Use a balloon to float high enough to suffocate or freeze.
    24. Boil oneself in a giant pot of soup, which other people are tricked into eating due to one's careful scheming beforehand.
    25. Orgasm to death.
    26. Seal oneself in the wall of a forgotten cellar to dehydrate or starve.
    27. Cut off one's own nose to spite one's face. Then keep cutting.
    28. Add one small but open wound to one's body each day, and take no precautions against infection.
    29. Repeatedly smash windowpanes and other glass objects with one's head. Tirelessly seek out as much glass as necessary.
    30. Cause a volcano to erupt as you straddle the vent.