Saturday, January 30, 2016

Elves vs. Magic-Users in LotFP

Something that always bothered me about Lamentations of the Flame Princess was the implementation of the Elf class. It just seems like a better version of the Magic-User. The Elf gets better average HP, better Saving Throws, the advanced combat options of the Fighter, a mere 1 in 6 chance of being surprised, multiple points in the Search skill, the ability to cast one-handed, the ability to cast while up to heavily encumbered, and immunity to certain spells.

As a trade-off, it takes more XP for them to level up (but it's not that much, based on my admittedly very limited mathematical understanding), less starting spells (which is a disadvantage that I bet wouldn't usually matter for very long in most campaigns, although it might matter a lot for a one-shot), holy water burns them (but unless Cleric PCs make it, isn't holy water kind of rare, and not usually in the hands of enemies?) and a lot of Cleric spells don't benefit them or outright hurt them (this seems like the biggest disadvantage to me, but Magic-Users aren't entirely free from this problem either due to their alignment, which muddies the water on how much this is a uniquely Elven problem).

Oh, and the Elf has a silly picture in the rulebook, which is a hilarious and awesome piece of anti-Elf propaganda on James Raggi's part, but this is probably not a deterrent for anybody except people who already have a reason or desire to not play an Elf, or people who would play an Elf if they weren't so exceedingly shallow that a single picture is enough to put them off the idea completely. Heck, I'd play an Elf, although I'd try to play him less as a wise and beautiful child of nature and more as a creepy, violent alien that looks and acts just human enough to wind up in the uncanny valley.

Sure, there's a good chance that NPCs would want to burn Elves at the stake in a lot of campaigns, but that's true of Magic-Users, as well. Maybe this makes me a power-gaming munchkin asshole or something, but if I were a player in this game, which is known for being high in difficulty, I would always hesitate to choose the Magic-User over the Elf as my class.

You can take out the demihumans, but that drops the number of classes from seven to only four, and I'd rather give the players more options. There's nothing necessarily wrong with having less classes, but it's not my preference.

Now, if you don't allow demihumans in your campaign, this probably isn't an issue, but if you do (either as actual demihumans or as reskinned, human classes), then you may be tempted to rewrite the Elf class. I've succumbed to this temptation, but I'm also suffering from a weird combination of laziness and irrational over-worrying about upsetting the existing game balance, so I don't want to change too much. Can we make the Magic-User and Elf a bit more equal with minimal changes to the rules?

Well, I was reading the official LotFP forum when I stumbled upon a great post from David Rollins, writer of a really cool D&D/OSR blog called Searching for Magic. Here's the post from David:

"I think this issue could be solved by giving the elf the cleric spell progression from the deluxe edition. It slows their ability to cast the higher level spells and caps them at 7th level spells while still keeping them effective as spell casters. It's also believable for a race on the decline to lose the drive to achieve great things. It shows a real difference between the boundless ambition of man (the young race) verses the boredom of the elf (the dying race).

If you want to play a spell caster and have 3rd level spells at fifth level you'll play a wizard. If you want to play an elf or some kind of all-around useful character and you don't mind waiting until seventh level to cast 3rd level spells you'll still play an elf."

Well, I'm definitely taking that idea. The Elf can cast Magic-User spells, but their Spells per Day and maximum spell level per experience level can follow the Cleric table (from the Grindhouse edition, since I haven't read the Deluxe edition and I don't know if there's a difference in this case). This has two main effects: it means the Elf gains spells at a slower rate, and the Elf can never learn Level 8 or 9 spells. I'd let the Elf cast them from scrolls, wands, and staves, but not put them in their spell book or cast them from memory.

There's one more change I would suggest, which I haven't seen elsewhere. How about we disallow the Elf from crafting magic items? Elves could scribe spells into a spell book from a scroll or another spell book, but making potions, scrolls, wands, and staves could be the domain of the Magic-User.

Keeping everything else the same, I think that locking Elves out of item crafting, Level 8 and 9 spells, and the fastest spell progression creates interesting differences between Elves and Magic-Users: if you want to play an adventurer who dabbles in magic to a fairly useful degree while also training in a few other, miscellaneous skills, you can play an Elf. But if you want to get hardcore into the magic system and get the most out of it, and if you want to play an adventurer who lives and breathes wizardry, you can play a Magic-User. One's a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, while the other is highly specialized in one discipline. I think this still gels well with the conception of the Elf as a Fighter/Magic-User hybrid class, like in OD&D and Basic/Expert/what-have-you. And it also kind of makes it feel like the Elves as a people are losing their arcane power while those upstart humans are on the rise.

Whoops - that was a whole lot of preamble for such small rules changes. TL;DR Give the Elf the Cleric's spell progression with Magic-User spells and don't let Elves craft magic items. Keep the rest the same. See if it gives anybody pause before claiming Elven racial superiority.

Oh, and here's a shout-out to David Rollins for being so friendly and helpful as I get this blog going. Thanks again!

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