Thursday, April 7, 2016

Green Devil Face #5's "New Character Creation and Advancement Techniques"

The fifth issue of James Raggi's Green Devil Face includes an alternate character creation/advancement system that fits on two pages. I've never used it, and I don't think I've ever heard of anyone else using it either, although I have heard at least one person express interest in the idea.

Basically, all characters start with the same HP, attack bonus, special combat options (Parry, Press Attack, and Defensive Attack), and saving throws. At first level and every level thereafter, each character rolls randomly on a table determined by their class. They can choose to either roll a d10 twice (to get two different benefits) or a d12 once (presumably hoping to roll an 11 or 12 and get really good benefits, because otherwise they would only get one benefit instead of two). Benefits include things like extra hit points, better saving throws, attack bonus increases, skill points, spells, and more unusual things like better bonuses to the special combat options.

Let's get my criticisms out of the way: Personally, I don't see how a mere 1 in 6 chance of getting something awesome on a d12 is worthwhile when it means you have a 5 in 6 chance of screwing yourself out of one of your class perks for that level, but I guess I'm not much of a gambler. Honestly, the randomness of this advancement system is a turn off to me, which is probably why I haven't given much thought to it until now. If I ran a game with this material, I would probably just let my players pick two items off of their class table (excluding items 11 and 12) each level instead of making them roll, because I think it's a little too harsh to expect players to crawl and scrape for every bit of XP for five to ten sessions (the recommendation for low-level parties on page 26 of the free LotFP Referee's Book) and then risk rolling things they don't want on their class tables and hearing me say "Tough luck, deal with it." It feels like I would be unfairly taking control of their characters away from them, in a way. I'm not totally opposed to using random tables in certain aspects of character advancement (after all, I love the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land), but I don't like the idea of making all advancement random.

Also, this system does not say how many experience points are needed per level. Does it depend on class, or is it the same for everyone like the starting stats? I would probably use the XP requirements from the new Playtest Document (which I discussed HERE and HERE), but others might have different preferences.

But, there are also a lot of cool possibilities packed into these two pages.

I like the idea of being able to double down on certain class abilities at the expense of others. What's that, Mr. Fighter, you want to keep pumping your to-hit bonus up twice per level until it's impossible to miss anything, ever? Sure, go ahead, but that means your HP and saving throws aren't getting any better at all, and your greataxe still only does 1d10 damage per hit, so let's see how well that plan works out. While I do like it when all of the classes in the game are balanced against each other, I'm okay with players choosing sub-optimal builds within a class if they think doing so will be fun or interesting and they make the choice willingly and from an informed position. Is that a contradiction? I ought to think about that some more.

Also, you could probably make some absurd characters, like a Dwarf who picks "+5 Items to gain the first Enc. Point" every level until they could carry around several tons of items, even if their strength and constitution scores are below average. That would probably be too illogical for a fairly serious campaign, but if the DM and other players are willing to run with things on the silly side then I don't see any harm in it. Perhaps the randomness was included in the system by Mr. Raggi partly to reduce the likelihood of such silly characters from being created. To each their own, I guess.

A neat aspect of this system is that it includes a note suggesting the creation of new classes via custom-made tables. It includes a ranger class table as an example. The whole process of making a new class seems pretty streamlined when you can boil it down to ten entries on a table, some of which will probably be repeated. As someone who dabbles with character classes a lot, I can really appreciate that. Let's try it now.

  1. +d8 HP
  2. +d8 HP
  3. +1 All Saving Throws
  4. +1 Defensive Attack Armor Class
  5. +1 Parry Armor Class
  6. +1 Press Attack Armor Class
  7. +1 Attack Bonus
  8. +1 Attack Bonus
  9. +1 Spell Slot
  10. +1 Spell Slot
  11. Results 1, 3, 7, and 9
  12. Results 4, 5, 6, and 9
I don't know how good that table is, but making it sure was fast. Someone who understands the crunchy bits of D&D a lot better than I do could probably tinker with this slightly and get something workable in no time flat.

For those who want to keep the demihuman classes in LotFP while reskinning them to be human classes, coming up with new names for those classes can be tricky. Interesting, Green Devil Face #5 suggests that "Dwarf" can be replaced with "Barbarian," "Elf" can be replaced with "Dabbler," and "Halfling" can be replaced with "Sidekick." I don't know who would willing choose to be considered a Sidekick in the party, but Barbarian and Dabbler seem like good suggestions. When it comes to goofiness, I guess "Sidekick" isn't that far removed from "Halfling" (or "Bard," for that matter), and if there's one thing most players I've encountered seem to love to do in RPGs it's playing weird, quirky, or misfit characters, so maybe the term "Sidekick" has more appeal than I give it credit for.

Some other details and oddities that I like: Most classes have a chance to get at least one or two skill points per level. Ditto with increases to their attack bonus. Different classes still advance differently in their saving throws, but even if the system is used as written the player gets to determine which saving throw category increases, except when all of them do. Different classes also get different hit dice, as usual. There are no suggestions that any benefit be capped, although I imagine one could theoretically survive long enough to max out all of one's saving throws. No distinction is made between Magic-User and Cleric spells, so if the DM wants to use an alternate magic system it would be easy to plug in.

How well does this system work? Would it still work if you took out some or all of the randomness? How easy is it to make new classes that are decently balanced? Could a variation of this system be used for quick and easy multiclassing? If anyone has any answers or suggestions, I would love to hear them.

And now, I think I've written a blog post about this system with a higher word count than the system itself. Go figure.



  1. So, I really like this alternate concept. I'm a big fan of players being able to customize their characters. I love classless/point-based systems like GURPS (and a couple older ones, too). This a bit of a half-step between rigid class systems, and completely free-form systems. It adds some flexibility without the complexity/overhead.

    I do agree that having your bonus determined randomly is not the most fun way to do it. Character progression shouldn't be random. (Unless it's a core feature of your class, like the Alice, but even that is mostly for "extras", and not core abilities.) If you want your character to be the best thief, then continually rolling +HP and +ToHit bonuses would suck. (Or a fighter that never rolls a +HP bonus...) If it were my campaign, I'd let the players pick. If you think that players will abuse it by always picking the same option, then require them to keep track of their choices and not repeat the same choice two levels in a row.

    Special bonuses could be handled pretty easily. Just make multiple tables, each with a different "cost". Table 1 costs 1 point each, Table 2 costs 2 points each, and Table 3 costs 3 points each. Every level up gets you three points. Pick whatever you want, so long as it only costs three points total. If you were generous, you could allow players to keep some unspent points, and then use them at the next level up. Only spend two points this level, but then spend four next level. Useful if you want more of the expensive bonuses. Three tables should be easy enough for pretty much everyone to use.

    Depending on how fancy you wanted to get, you could make multiple table sets. One set for "General Adventure Skills", and then one for each specific class. Especially useful if you have lots of choices. At each level, characters can pick from their own class table, or from the general adventurer table. Or you can make it one pick from each table. You could have the same bonus cost different amounts for different classes. A +ToHit bonus could be one point for fighter types, but two points for others. Spell slots could be one point each for mages, but two points each for hybrids.

    You could also solve potential abuses of picking some items multiple times by having a special table of items that can only be picked once each. Or a table from which characters can only pick once, period.

    Multiclass characters would be best achieved by creating unique tables for each class. Make a hybrid table that combines some of the options from each, and adjust the point costs as needed. Then add some special hybrid-only bonuses. For example, a Fighter/Mage hybrid could have the special ability that whatever weapon they use could hit opponents that are only affected by magic weapons. A Mage/Thief hybrid could have the special ability to disarm magic trap spells, like Explosive Runes. Etc...

    (Now that I think about it, this could be a good way to implement a simple class system in GURPS for players that didn't want to wade through the GURPS rule book. Packages are already common for things like races and careers. Shouldn't be too difficult to make tables for leveling.)

    The more I think about it, the more I like it. If this is something you're wanting to explore further, and you'd like help or more input, let me know. Could be a lot of fun coming up with the various classes and bonus lists.

    Extra: Something like this could easily be used to do away with character levels, too. Don't award "XP" at the end of adventures. Award character points that can be used to buy cheap things, or saved up to buy more expensive stuff. For example: award one point for boring sessions that mostly involve administrative tasks or when not much happens, and three or four points on the really adventure-packed sessions. Works best if you have options for more expensive bonuses/abilities. But that may be taking things a bit too far, and you might be best off just playing a different rule set.

    1. Oh man, if you like this, you'll love the classless system for LotFP presented in The Undercroft #4. It's a point-buy thing. I'll have to show that to you soon. You're XP idea is actually pretty similar to an optional XP system that is also presented in Green Devil Face #5.
      I really like your ideas here. You know that Myth GURPS book I showed you? It has pre-packaged class options similar to what you suggested, so players can play characters based on those in the video games without having to start from scratch with the character creation system. There are some OSR blogs doing similar things with GURPS games based on D&D.
      I have pages and pages of alternate class systems I've been tinkering with in my notebook, if you're interested. It's a minor obsession, really.

  2. The no class\level systems are my favorite. They really let players get creative and invested in their characters. They can be difficult, though, if you don't have a good character concept. The XP system i described if the way most point based systems work. Champions called it karma instead of experience. You could spend it on more powers, or keep it and spend it on altering dice rolls during play.