As James Raggi mentioned HERE (among other places), members of the Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society who ordered books recently received a copy of the "Lamentations of the Flame Princess Playtest Document 0.1 February 2016" 8-page booklet. It contains some tentative (not set in stone) changes and updates to the LotFP rules that Mr. Raggi is considering for the game's next edition. People have been having some interesting discussions about the new mechanics on the LotFP Facebook page and Google+ page, and there's a video of the rules in action HERE, although I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. My estimation of the reactions so far is that they are mostly positive, with a few misgivings.
I have not yet played with these proposed rules, but since I have a copy of the Playtest Document I figured I might as well discuss my initial impressions from reading it. My opinions are certainly subject to change after I get some experience with these rules, so please feel free to take them with a proverbial grain of salt.
In this post, I will talk about the new rules related to ability scores, classes, skills, and some other topics. I will save my thoughts on the new rules about saving throws and magic for another post (HERE), so that this one does not get too long.
I generally love the new ability score rules. Charisma now determines saving throws against magic (instead of Intelligence), Constitution now determines a character's hit dice (ranging from d4 to d12!), Dexterity determines initiative, Intelligence affects skill points, Strength determines how many items a character can carry per encumbrance point (between 3 and 7, instead of always just 5 like in the current rules), and Wisdom determines saving throws against non-magical hazards. One of the most dramatic effects of this system is that hit points and saving throws now have little or nothing to do with a character's class, which is fine by me because it means that both high and low ability scores of any kind now matter for every class. Plus I think that the squishy wizard trope is a little overdone.
Another quick note about HP: when a character levels up, they re-roll all of their hit dice. If they get a higher maximum HP than what they had before, they keep it. If they roll equal or lower, they keep their old maximum. I'm torn on this new rule. It's nice to be able to "fix" any low rolls from previous levels, but it sucks that they don't get any new HP at all when leveling up if they don't roll higher. I would probably give players 1 HP if they roll too low, out of pity.
Classes are down to the Fighter, Specialist, and Magic-User. I've heard that the Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling will still be available in an appendix when the new edition eventually comes out, but the playtest document makes no mention of them. Considering that a Cure Wounds spell is used in a rules example at the end of the booklet, I'm guessing that by default the traditionally "Clerical" spells will be added to the Magic-User spell list.
I'm actually a big fan of the LotFP version of the Cleric class, since it's really more of an anti-magic, witch- and demon-smiting class than the traditional D&D grab-bag of spells and abilities. Not that I particularly dislike the D&D Cleric, but the LotFP version seems more focused and thematically consistent to me, and impinges on the domain of the Magic-User a lot less. Still, I think I get why Mr. Raggi wants to ditch the class by default, and you could presumably just play a Magic-User with healing spells and a religious backstory and achieve the same thing, so it's not that great of a loss. I guess my only complaint is that the reduction of classes to just the Fighter, Specialist, and Magic-User means that only one class in three has any kind of magical abilities, which bothers me for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.
Anyway, class mechanics: all classes advance at the same rate, experience-wise, which I love. At character creation, Fighters get to roll for HP twice and take the higher amount, while the other classes just roll once, as usual. Makes sense to me, since Fighters should be tougher on average, but some outliers should be allowed (again, wizards don't have to be squishy). Fighters still get improving to-hit bonuses as they level up (and presumably still have their usual combat options), Specialists still get 4 skill points to freely spend at character creation and 2 more each level, and Magic-Users still sin against man and nature. Niche protection is still enforced to a large extent.
Maybe too much, as far as attack bonuses are concerned. There are now 4 categories of attack bonuses: Melee, Ranged, Firearms, and Guard (more on that last one later). Fighters begin with a +2 in each category and increase by +1 per level, which is basically the same as before. Specialists and Magic-Users, on the other hand, not only never increase their attack bonuses past first level (as usual for LotFP), but they only start with a +1 bonus in Firearms and in one other, random category, making them even less versatile in combat than in the past. I don't see what this actually adds to the game. I would at least let players choose their one category besides Firearms, so they can have more of a hand in shaping their own characters if they wish. I don't think that a +1 across the board at first level was ever game-breaking, though.
As far as niche protection goes, I do think the new skill rules are generally a huge improvement, though. Everybody starts with some skill points (assuming their Intelligence score doesn't suck), but only the Specialist gets skill points beyond first level, and only the Specialist gets to choose how to spend some of their skill points instead of having them all spread randomly. It's slightly more complicated than this, but this is how it basically breaks down: not counting the extra skill points gained by the Specialist, a character with very low Intelligence gets no skill points, a character with low Intelligence gets 3 skill points, average Intelligence gets 5 skill points, high Intelligence gets 7 skill points, and very high gets 10 skill points.
One of my biggest complaints about LotFP was that only the Specialist really got to take advantage of the game's simple and fun skill system, and it was a little too unrealistic that no one had any extra skills at all besides the Specialist (shouldn't a Fighter have some experience with Stealth or Bushcraft as part of their training?), so the new rules address my complaints almost perfectly. My only real problem here, again, is that I think players should be able to choose how to spend these points if they want to (for a specific character concept or whatever) instead of being forced to roll randomly for their characters' areas of expertise.
Overall, it's nice that almost everyone gets a few skills while the Specialist still has good niche protection.
More new skill-related stuff: Sneak Attack is curiously absent from the list of skills. I wonder if it's supposed to be a class ability of the Specialist that advances independently of skill points now (which I would be fine with), or if it's been completely removed (which would suck), or what. Open Doors is also absent, but I didn't like that skill anyway, so I'm happy about that.
Four new skills have been added, bringing the total up to 12. There's Leadership for keeping retainers in line, Luck for re-rolling crappy results, Medicine for improving natural HP recovery, and Seamanship, which is the Bushcraft of the Sea. It's a good list. I like to think I predicted two of the new skills, in theory if not in execution.
Interestingly, Leadership and Medicine actually have built-in punishments if the rolls are failed, making it risky to even use them in the first place. Previously, the only skill that had a negative result if failed (rather than simply no result) was Climb, assuming I understand the current rules correctly. The Climb and Bushcraft skills have also been updated in the Playtest Document in a similar manner. Instead of vaguely saying that a failed Climb check results in a fall from a random height, the new rules state that a failed check calls for a saving throw; a partial success (more on the new saving throw system later) means a fall from halfway up, and a complete failure means a fall from the top. I appreciate this clarification. Also, the new rules explicitly note something that I think was implicit before, namely that the Climb skill should only be needed for climbing sheer surfaces without rope or other climbing tools, which I also appreciate.
As for Bushcraft, there are specifically new traveling rules that involve the skill. The gist is that the person in the party with the highest Bushcraft skill must make a skill check at the beginning of each day of travel. Failure means the DM gets to roll on a d10 chart of problems for the party. It seems quite fun and reasonable.
I could see some people arguing that Specialist skills should not penalize characters for their use, but I'm fine with these new rules. They seem to be based on common sense and are not unduly punitive. It's not like anyone needs to make a skill check to walk ten feet on flat ground without tripping or anything.
Besides saving throws and magic, there are a few other miscellaneous things that are different.
Reaction rolls can be influenced by the Leadership skill, and hirelings with a different religion than that of their boss now have penalties to their loyalty or morale. Cool.
Characters can theoretically survive until they drop to -4 HP, although whether or not they survive dropping below 0 HP and whether or not they remain conscious and whether or not they lose a point from their maximum HP all depend on a saving throw. Neat.
Characters can now hold an action in combat. Between this and the fact that Dexterity now affects initiative, I have to wonder if LotFP is ditching the group initiative option. That would make me sad, since LotFP made me fall in love with group initiative in the first place. Perhaps Dexterity should affect something else instead of (or in addition to) initiative. Or maybe in group initiative the party's initiative should be determined by whoever has the highest Dexterity or something. At any rate, if you want to use individual initiative, you should probably allow characters to hold an action, and the proposed rules for doing so are fine.
Characters can now Guard in combat. This replaces the Parry option from the current rules. It basically increases a character's AC temporarily by an amount equal to their level plus their Guard bonus. This can be done out of initiative order, but at a penalty (unless you're a Fighter). I like it.
Weapon damage has been greatly simplified to something similar to the damage rules of OD&D. All weapons do 1d8 damage, but armor counts double against minor and small weapons, and half against great weapons and polearms. I'm not a fan of this approach at all. I think the way weapons and damage worked previously in LotFP were simple enough while still allowing enough variety for equipment choices to be meaningful and flavorful. Also, adjusting AC based on weapons sounds annoying. This is probably my least-favorite change in the rules. I don't think it adds enough utility to make up for what it removes.
To summarize, what do I think so far? New ability score rules, new class rules, new skill rules, new dying rules, new reaction/morale rules, new traveling rules, new Guard and Holding an Action rules, and new "universal" rules = very good, with some minor caveats. New attack bonus rules, new weapon damage rules, and (possible) lack of the Sneak Attack skill = not good. A bit of a mixed bag so far, but more positive than negative.
In my next post, I'll finish up by talking about saving throws and magic.