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.


    1. I can't speak regarding LotFP in particular (alas, haven't played), but in general, I'm in favor of having most skills available to all classes (or even going classless).

      However, if classes are going to be used, it's important to consider WHAT a class is. Personally, I think a class in tabletop RPGs a means or flavor of problem-solving: fighters use training and brute force, rogues use cunning and duplicity, wizards use knowledge and preparation. (This doesn't really hold for systems where you have race-as-class, but honestly, race-as-class can go boil itself. I do certainly agree with the aspect of your above proposal that abolishes race-as-class.)

      So, given the above, I have a number of points of response:
      1) IF classes are used, I think keeping a class that uses cunning, stealth, and duplicity as its modus operandi is important. It doesn't have to use Specialist mechanics per se, but I think the archetype is to widespread and compelling to do away with.
      2) I'm honestly not sure what the cleric's unique approach to problems is, or even whether it has one. It kind of seems to be a mish-mash of fighterly brute force plus wizardly knowledge, which fits with your schema; but I think having it be just a bastardization of those two classes is a BAD thing, haha. I personally find the cleric to be the least compelling of the core four classes, and definitely lean toward either dropping the class entirely or overhauling it so it has its own special approach to problem-solving.
      3) I AM in favor of having some sort of universal skill system. If classes are kept, and one of those classes is the rogue/specialist/thief, that DOES mean either figuring out a set of rogue-specific class abilities, or at least giving them bonuses to roguish skills (the former being preferable).

      In short, if I were to pick a classic trio, it'd be fighter / rogue / magic-user. They are a diverse but common set of core approaches to problem-solving.

      Personally, I've done a fair amount of experimenting with classless systems, and have been generally pleased. It's all been homebrew stuff, though, as I feel like hacking class-based game systems into classless ones is a clumsy and inelegant process.

      Sorry for the ramble. I've been thinking about these issues for years, and still haven't decided on the best approach.

      1. No need to be sorry about "rambling" here. :)

        I think that the problem you mentioned of "What does a Cleric actually DO?" in comparison to the Fighter/Magic-User/Thief has been around as long as the Cleric has been around, which is to say as long as D&D itself has been an officially published product. Since this particular exercise in house rules is (in part) a deliberate throwback to the earliest period of D&D, I figure it's not a big deal in this particular case. But if you're talking about what makes the BEST OVERALL set of class-based house rules, rather than just what makes a good set of class rules within the parameters I set at the beginning of this post, then yeah, I can definitely see why many people would prefer to keep the Thief/Specialist and throw out the Cleric.

        Incidentally, the human classes in LotFP (and even the demihuman ones, to a lesser extent) are separated very thoroughly in terms of how they approach problem-solving and what their specialties are. They hardly overlap or "step on each others' toes" at all as far as class-based abilities are concerned. The art-free version of the rules are available for free online, if you're curious.

        I was also thinking it would be fairly simple to replace the Cleric in these house rules with another class while changing very little. Keep the d8 HD, combat options (maybe), and saving throws that are overall better than the Magic-User's and worse than the Fighter's, then just swap out the spellcasting/turning/holy water for some kind of different set of special powers/abilities. The class could be the Skinned Moon Daughter or the Doctor (both from The Undercroft #9) or a psionic sorcerer from "Carcosa" or a slightly-altered version of the Alice from "A Red and Pleasant Land" or whatever. You could even take away the "everybody gets skill points to spend" thing and turn the Cleric into the Specialist pretty much by swapping out Cleric powers for skill points. Just make sure the Fighter is better at fighting prowess/toughness and the Magic-User is better at spellcasting and magical research and such, so that those classes still have their own niches, and there you go.

        I'm fine with classless systems, and I'd like to try out such rules at some point, but I do find it interesting to see how different ideas can fit into the structure of classes, so I think about experimenting with these kinds of rules a lot. I can definitely appreciate both class systems and classless systems. I think one reason I write about classes a lot is because most OSR games seem to use them, so hopefully whatever I create will be easy to adapt to multiple systems if anyone wants to do so.

      2. Hey man, I was finally struck with the inspiration to put out a post on what makes a class a class. (Spoiler alert: I change my mind and decide that the Cleric is a good class, haha.)

        Anyway, if you've got the time & inclination, it would be cool to see what you think.

        (I'm surprised I found this post again!)

      3. Sure, I'd love to! Do you have a link handy?

      4. Oh, er, yes, here:

        (I guess I thought my name would link there, but I appear to have been mistaken. Oh well, I'm new here, haha.)

      5. Thanks. I shall read and comment soon. :)

    2. the Cleric and Magic User could easily be fused into a single class. i mean, all Cleric happens to be is a flavor of magic. well, a specific type of magic user that also fights.

      1. Oh yeah, you can definitely go that route. The LotFP Playtest Document does that, in fact. If you still want to have a class "in-between" the Fighter and Magic-User while excluding the Cleric, you could make the Thief/Specialist a separate class, or you could come up with something else. You could also just limit the classes to the Fighter and Magic-User and call it a day if you and your players are fine with that, although I bet a lot of people would prefer to have more than two class options available. I personally like having the Cleric class around under certain circumstances, so that's why I kept it here. I was sort of going for an OD&D-flavored thing, I guess.