Friday, March 25, 2016

Initial Thoughts on LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 (Part 1 of 2)

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.


  1. Part 1...

    While I didn't particularly care for the LotFP ruleset before (it seems to be nothing more than a poorly written retread of selected portions of AD&D), I think these changes make me actively dislike it. There's just too much wrong with these changes to go into detail about. A few things jump out at me, though.

    The removal of spell levels is interesting, but I don't think it's too compelling. It will require a near-complete rewrite of almost every spell. Bringing interesting spells across from another product could be quite laborious, if even possible. Anything that is not explicitly dice-per-level or area-of-effect-per-level will be hit-and-miss.

    And how do you work in the casting of truly epic magic? Instead of "Holy shit he can cast an earthquake!", you just get "Oh look, he can shake the ground a little harder than I can". Gaining level as a spell caster isn't just about being able to channel more power. It's about knowing more, and thus knowing how to do different things. It's about delving deeper into the secrets of the universe. Yes, the increase in power is there, too, as you gain levels. But it's also about being able to do more, and more complicated, stuff.

    Think of it like learning math. In first grade, all you can do is add and subtract. Very useful if you're counting money. But you're kind of limited in what you can do. As you progress you don't just learn how to add and subtract bigger numbers. You start to learn completely new concepts, like algebra and geometry. You don't progress from 2+2=4 to 20+20=40. You learn how to do angles, areas, substitutions, formulas, etc. Once you start tacking on calculus and even more advanced math, your capabilities are simply unachievable with first grade concepts. That's what the equivalent of gaining levels is for a mage. You don't just get a bigger hammer, you get a bigger toolbox, with way cooler tools.

    Not being able to memorize a spell multiple times? Dumb. The solution to increasing the variety of spells being used in play is to provide more useful spells. The selection available to mages is pathetic. Most of them are extremely special-purpose, and no one would memorize them unless they had a specific use in mind.

    Risk of miscast spells is an interesting addition. The possibility of being able to cast beyond your abilities at risk of failure is a good idea, so long as the consequences are commensurate with the risk. Taking a minor risk, like one extra d4 of Magic Missiles, shouldn't result in eternal damnation or complete loss of your character.

  2. Part 2

    The new saving throws? Do not want. While partial success is an interesting concept, this is a horrible implementation. You now have to succeed twice to make a save? Sorry, but even on 6d6, the odds of rolling two sixes is pretty crappy. And that's only applicable if you have an ability score that's higher than 98.148% of the population. A normal person gets to roll 4d6, and has to get *two* sixes? And your saving throw never changes as you gain level? Bad, bad, bad. A much better implementation would be to simply allow you reroll all fails. If you succeed with the first roll, that's a total save. Fail the first and succeed with the second, that's a partial save. Fail both, and that's total fail.

    Class changes.... meh. You've just pigeon-holed everyone into one of three bland flavors. What's the point of having a class-based system, unless you have a variety of classes? You give people just three classes, and each of those classes is hyper-specialized. Fighters fight stuff, mages cast spells, and specialists do the skill checks. Doing something outside that narrow focus is either completely impossible, or fatally nerfed. *yawn*

    If you don't want classes, then ditch the whole thing, and go with a GURPS style point-based system. But then you've completely lost the old school D&D-based feel.

    Some of the proposed changes are common-sense stuff that most people already house-ruled. (Read magic, surviving into negative hit points, etc.)

    The new hit points thing is bogus. Hit points were never about purely physical resistance to damage. That's absurd. There's more to hit points than just how healthy you are. It's an abstraction of concepts such as toughness, luck, skill, and just plain grit and determination.

    The new weapon damage thing is bogus. AD&D perhaps went too far with weapon diversity. The current LotFP rules provides a utilitarian abstraction of weapon damage and armor. It's very user-friendly. The new proposal seems.... clunky.

    Anyway, like I said, this ruleset wasn't all that great to start with. This just makes it even worse.

    1. I certainly don't agree that the current LotFP ruleset is quite that bad, and I do like some of the proposed new rules more than you do, but...well, you certainly raise some very good points, too.

      I'm not much of a fan of the new saving throw system, and I like your method of doing partial and complete successes better (although I'd also be fine with just ditching partial successes completely). I'm fine with separating saving throws from leveling up if the odds of success begin at a pretty decent rate, but the odds are too stacked against the player in the playtest rules as written.

      As for the argument for keeping spell levels, I really like you math-based simile, and I think that it totally makes sense in normal D&D, which is supposed to be empowering to the players (although exactly HOW empowering depends very much on the edition of the rules you are using, the setting, the preferences of the players and DM, etc.), but in LotFP, the characters are kind of supposed to be...not losers, maybe, but not so close to being superheroes, either. My LotFP campaign is kind of weird in that it's so high-level. An arguable weakness of the LotFP rules is that they sort of fall apart at higher levels, but I can sort of see why they do: LotFP is meant primarily for low-level play. The Playtest Document's no-spell-levels system adds more variety to the spell list at low levels at the expense of the stuff that makes high-level magic unique and special, which makes absolute sense when you're trying to move your rules even further away from high-level play. If that's not appealing, then the LotFP ruleset probably isn't for you. I admit, sometimes I wonder if it's for me. I might be better off running LotFP adventures with a different ruleset, which is what a lot of people seem to do.

    2. (Continuing from above...)

      I agree that using spells from other systems in LotFP would probably be a pain. I do think that the Playtest Rules could hurt the system's ability to be backwards-compatible. I also think the ban on memorizing multiple castings of the same spell is kind of lame, but it doesn't bother me too much. I do think the current LotFP spell list is pretty hit-and-miss. Some spells seem a lot less useful than others (hello, Strange Waters II).

      I definitely agree that the new simplification of weapon damage sucks. I'm fine with non-variable weapon damage in OD&D, but the current rules for weapons in LotFP are pretty good, so I don't see the point in fixing something that isn't broken.

      I'm not sure what you mean in your discussion about hit points. I don't see how the playtest rules contradict the idea that "Hit points were never about purely physical resistance to damage." Perhaps I overlooked something.

      I kind of agree with you about the simplification of player classes, and I kind of don't. It's nice to have more than three classes, and to have more than one of them be able to use magic. So in that sense, the limitations of the Fighter, Specialist, and Magic-User are a bit disappointing. On the other hand, one of the main things that the LotFP ruleset is almost universally praised for is that it's classes are very narrowly focused, so if you're not a fan of that approach, then once again, the LotFP ruleset is possibly not meant for you. Then again, I find myself CONSTANTLY tinkering with the class system in LotFP, so obviously I'm not satisfied with the narrowly-focused, niche-protected classes, either, so I agree with you there. But the thing is, you and I seem to be in the minority on that issue, and besides, new classes can be houseruled easily enough if you like other stuff about the rules.

      I'm pretty torn on this one, obviously.

      Still, my point is that the class system in the Playtest Document, while maybe not palatable to you or I, is the logical evolution of the ruleset based on what customers (and the designer) seem to like.

      Maybe the classes have been cut down so much and made into such universal archetypes as a reaction against the ridiculously specific and specialist classes in AD&D and Wizards of the Coast-era D&D. Why be a fighter or a magic-user when you can be a paladin, or a ranger, or a dwarven defender, or a spellsword, or a blackguard, or a duelist, or a warlord, or a warlock, or a frenzied berserker, probably get the point. The more "generic," classic classes get shafted and made redundant by all of the hyper-specialized and arguably overpowered newer classes. Being a Fighter is supposed to allow one to roleplay pretty much whatever kind of fighter you want, from a noble knight to a berserk barbarian. But why play a Fighter who is a berserker who goes into (mechanically unsupported) frenzies when you can just play the Frenzied Berserker class? That kind of thing seems to annoy a lot of people. Frankly, it annoys me. I'd rather just have the Fighter and other generic classes be removed from the game if you're going to have a bunch of Fighter-but-better classes and stuff like that.

  3. I am very familiar with the profusion of classes. This has been an issue all the way back to the original AD&D. There was a good variety of classes included in the original source rules. Then just about every additional book added more classes. A few adventure modules added more. Almost every other issue of Dragon magazine added another class... So, yeah, I get the profusion of classes thing.

    Simply having many class selections available isn't a bad thing. The additional classes all come with additional restrictions, quite a few of which added flavor to the class. (At least the well-written ones, anyway.) Restrictions on your actions, in return for additional powers. In practice, usually found quite a few of them to be way too specialized, or just stupid. What's the point of adding a whole new "class" for a single character in one module? They usually worked best as classes for NPCs.

    As to specialist classes vs. generalized classes, specialist classes aren't always the most desirable. Sure, you could be a paladin instead of a plain old fighter. But then you'd have to be Lawful Good, and dedicate yourself to a god as a holy warrior. And really, who wants to do that? You'd take all the fun out of adventuring if you couldn't loot the occasional tomb, rough up some uppity villagers, or swindle some local lord into paying you to do something you were already going to do or maybe already did! (Keeping secrets from the paladin, though, was always fun way of adding humor into the campaign.)

    Narrowing it all back down to three classes seems to be a gross overreaction, if that's why it's being done. And then to specifically tailor the classes down to the the point where a character is critically gimped when trying to do anything outside their pre-destined career path? You can fight, but you have no skills other than swinging your sword. Or you can cast magic, but when you pick up a weapon you'll probably just hurt yourself. Or you have an improbably large number of skills, but all you're good for is making those skill checks and nothing else.

    The counter to having too many classes is not the removal of all but the most basic. It's for a DM to screen classes prior to beginning a campaign, and then permit/deny them in advance based on the needs/flavor of the campaign. The rulebooks are source material, not mandatory canon that *must* be included in every session. Just because there's a table for it in a rulebook doesn't mean it must to be used in any particular game. Just like you stated that there were no PC elves in your current campaign, because they didn't fit in with your planned campaign story line. That's exactly how it's supposed to work. Tailor the rule set to your specific needs.

  4. As for the hit points comment, that was aimed at the change regarding character hit dice being based on Constitution. If your hit dice type are based on only your Con score, with no modifiers or allowance for class, that means that hit points are nothing more the statistical representation of your physical health and toughness. Where's the component of skill and experience making you harder to kill? A fighter has spent years learning how to fight. He *should* be harder to kill than an equivalent level mage who spends all his time reading books by candle light. The abstract representation of that is the different hit dice.

    The flat weapon damage rule is just plain dumb. A two-handed sword the same damage is a pocket knife? A war hammer does as much damage as a dagger? A thrown dagger and heavy crossbow? Heavy crossbow bolts rip people's limbs off! Even if you could justify it with some weird rationalization, it instills a cognitive dissonance in the player. You *know* that this tiny hunting knife can't be as deadly as that giant two-handed sword. Every time that your party's fighter rolls a d8 for his two handed sword while the mage is rolling the same damage for his dagger, the players will be thinking how ridiculous it is.

    And the whole idea of modifying the effectiveness of armor based on the weapon? That reminds me of the horrible 2nd edition tables of to-hit roll modifiers based on the specific weapon you're using against the armor type of the target. In order to utilize that during play, you need to make on-the-fly decisions as to *why* a target has a particular armor class. And how do you apply it to creatures that are not specifically wearing armor? Does that crab thing have a high AC because it's small and nimble, or because it's got thick armor plating? A small/nimble creature might be easier to hit with a small/nimble weapon, but something with thick armor might be easier to damage with a big/heavy weapon. If it has high AC because of its plating, then you may need to somehow double its AC value, which means you'd have to figure out how much of its AC is based on armor, and how much on its size/speed. This system would require a reworking of the basic fundamentals of how armor works. That breaks compatibility with just about every other published resource, including all of the old game material. And all for what benefit? Nothing that I can see...

    I don't know, maybe if I actually read through the proposed changes I'd see it a bit differently. All I have to go on is your summary of the proposals.