What’s in your mind?

Meet the Cerebrix. It’s actually not larger than four inches or so, but that probably feels like a lot when it’s fully grown and nesting inside your brain case.

dustmite

Who would let this thing inside their skull? Why, a Magic-User, of course! You just have to spice up the offer with some arcane secrets and watch them debate who’s most worthy.

Touching on my post about Specialists from earlier this week, I present the Secrets of the Cerebrix.

Advertisements

What is a Specialist?

I’ve played a couple of specialized Magic-Users while playing AD&D and 3rd edition D&D. I liked the concept in a way, but at the same time it always felt a bit like min-maxing; the benefits of a specialist in the regular D&D rules were always far greater than the drawbacks.

What I find strange is that this should be some sort of sub-class. Specialized magic-users are defined by one thing; the kind of magic they use. This option, however, is completely open to a “normal” magic-user. Want to be an illusionist? Learn a lot of illusion spells and use them as your preferred weapon of choice. To my mind, that makes you an illusionist.

I do like the general idea that a magic-user would choose to specialize in a type of spells, though. A mixture of circumstances, personality and availability should probably influence the spell repertoire of all magic-users, and some would naturally choose a more narrow path. They research new spells within their chosen field and attract apprentices with the same focus, and gradually an entire school, cult or college might be founded.

I use specialized mages in my game, but I do it in this way; they have access to unique spells (as in distinct from those in the regular rulebook) but that access is not restricted by rules but by circumstance. Sometimes a special pact or action is required to harness their type of magic. Sometimes, casting the spells themselves leaves a mark on the caster which will over time set them apart from others. Most times, it is simply a matter of finding someone to teach you the specific magic, which might require membership in a specific order or living by some kind of code.

  • The dreaded Necromancer is nothing more (or less) than a mage who seeks knowledge of the undead and learns spells which let him create and control them, but among these twisted souls knowledge of some powerful and forbidden rituals are passed.
  • The Viper Mages of Al’Kulia fuel their unique spells with the venom they must constantly saturate their blood with, and the marks this leaves on their body strikes fear into all inhabitants of the Khalifate of Imrah.
  • The Fire Walkers live ascetic lives and strive for bodily perfection in order to master the difficult somatic components of their unique brand of spells which harness fire and heat.
  • The Order of the Seven Secrets is a society of mages who share a few unique spells used for scrying, but which most importantly teaches a special ritual which opens a portal to a sealed fortress in the Astral to which only order members have access.

I’ve prepared one special example where the drawbacks are very much tangible – the heretics who learn the spells from the Liber Heresiac, either to protect themselves from the prosecutions of the Trinity Church or because they resent the church for some other reason. Casting these spells will mark you as a target for the church, but the spells themselves are potent weapons to use against those of the faith.

You can take a look at the Liber Heresiac here or find it in the Library.

Guild of Mages

Continuing with my musings on Class Guilds, I turn my attention to magic users. To me, a mage’s guild is a gentleman’s club of sorts, where wizards and their ilk can meet on somewhat neutral grounds despite being in fierce competition otherwise – a place where disputes between individuals who wield enormous power might be defused before they spill into the general community and hurt all wizards or start witch hunts.

Another issue arises with the introduction of the “Aesoterium”, a store for buying magical items that is open not only to guild members but (at increased rates) even to non-members. I know there are a lot of opinions about whether magical items should be for sale at all, and if so how and where. I strongly believe so, as long as the game gives the ability to formally create them in some way which has a measured cost.

For scrolls, potions and similar items there is an easily discernible cost – the money invested by the mage on creating the item, the resources that were spent making it and a premium for the time and risk required simply to learn how to perform this feat. I see no reason why wizards would not supplement their income and fund their experiments by brewing potions and making scrolls and selling these – and so, in my campaign world, they do.

I don’t usually allow sales of items that are not one-use, however. These items should have a more unique feel, to my mind. Of course they are both bought and sold; everything is, as everything has a price. It’s just that I think this is more about having them commissioned or private deals away from prying eyes. Also, my permanent magic items commonly have severe drawbacks or involve some sort of rather dark magic, which means they often need to be sold covertly.

My rules for the Mage’s Guild can be downloaded here, or in the Library. To clarify, a laboratory or library is used in LotFP to create potions or scrolls during downtime.

Class Guilds

I’ve been taking a look at different organizations in my campaign world recently – it all started when my players asked me for a bank or other solution for storing excess money. I’m not a big fan of this, and I’d rather see them spend their money, but I also believe in taking your players’ wishes seriously so I made some outlines for a punishingly expensive way of storing excessive wealth…

Working out the quick details about the bank, my rogue player asked me “well, what if I wanted to keep my money with the thieves’ guild?”. Part of his back story was that he was an actual member of the local guild, but we hadn’t determined anything about it yet. It was a good idea, however, and I let him use his guild as a bank at a lower rate.

The whole thing got me thinking, and also reminiscing about old computer games and adventures – where are the Fighter’s Guild and Mage’s Guild? I guess they fell by the wayside somewhere along with actually speaking of character class in-game, but I still love the concept. I started tinkering with the idea, and developed a few concepts for what these guilds might be and what benefits they might offer to members.

My first is a take on the Fighter’s Guild; the Condumbra, an association for mercenaries and sell-swords meant mostly to take contracts and ensure that contracts are honored in a realm where the rule of law is not always a given. It is also a primary source for armed hirelings for characters, and membership ensures that you can recruitthese more effectively.

You can take a look at the Fighter’s Guild PDF here, or find it in the Library.

The Oath of the Guild is “borrowed” word-for-word from the beautiful and simple hireling rules written by Telecanter on his blog, and the rules for hirelings are also heavily inspired by his system.

Class revision

During the past year, I’ve really begun to settle into the LotFP ruleset, and I’m feeling very comfortable with it. Both me and my players absolutely love the clean and simple D6 skill system; it simplifies and focuses things and shifts some of the focus away from abilities and bonuses.

I have, however, revised the classes slightly. These are really no major changes, but they incorporate the following broad strokes:

  • Saving Throws improve incrementally; this means they will be somewhat better at most levels beyond first as compared to the normal system, but I find the slight increase in survivability doesn’t unbalance things and it means most levels mean some sort of advancement for most classes.
  • Classes beyond the Specialist receive skill points; a more considerable change. I first implemented this mostly at the request of my players, but I’ve since come to really appreciate it. My new Lore skill, for example, comes in really handy in some of my house rules for experimenting with magical items and now there’s a way for other classes than a specialist to improve it by a point or two. Non-specialists get very few skill points, however, and they are forced to select where to place them based on a list of class skills, whereas the specialist still has access to each and every skill like before.
  • Dwarves and elves may trade in their skill points for increased attack bonus. This lets them improve slightly at combat as they level, although they will max out at +4 (elf) or +5 (dwarf) and then only at level 20.

You can find the details on the revision of each class in this document or in the Library.

New Skills

Adding some skills to the list in LotFP seems to be a popular choice, especially for broadening the scope of the Specialist class. I’ve made some changes myself; I’ve removed one skill, and replaced it with three new ones as well as a loose guideline for adding a secondary skill.

I’ve also made a class revision, which I will present in more detail later, and a part of this revision means that classes other than the specialist get a few skill points as the level (though they have to choose where to spend them based on a restricted class list, while the specialist is still able to increase all skills). These new skills are an attempt to both make specialists able to fill more roles, and to present a couple of skills that can be interesting for other classes.

 

First, the skill that had to go:

Open Doors is, to me, not a skill but a test of strength. You can apply strength bonus to the test, get help and use suitable tools, but I don’t agree with the fact that you can actually spend skill points to learn how to do this better; the task just feels too basic.

Now, for the three new ones:

Lore governs the characters knowledge of most learned subjects, and presents a way for me to introduce some background information into the game. It supplies a lot of flavor, but players can also use it in a number of mechanically relevant ways; it can be used to make rough “identifications” of magical items in the field, such as sipping a potion and testing a weapon. Nothing like an Identify spell, of course, but at least some basics.

Medicine lets a character perform some basic first aid in the field, as well as function as a physician to improve the recovery of fellow characters during downtime.

Riding is for those characters who want their horse (or steed) to be more than a mode of transportation; fighting on horseback, mainly, or riding something other than a horse.

Lastly, characters can take a secondary skill to encompass most anything they want. These are mostly for flavor, however, and must obey two simple rules; they cannot overlap with any of the existing skills, and they must have a narrower scope. Blacksmithing is an excellent secondary skill, “perception” is not.

I’ve created more in-depth rules for these skills, including a closer definition of how and when they are used as well as some lists with situational modifiers – you can find them in this PDF or in the Library.

Occam’s Greatsword

I have many good things to say about Lamentations of the Flame Princess (as I’m sure is evident from ny blog), but there is one very simple mechanism in particular for balancing out classes that I think is not only good but a stroke of genius. In LotFP, fighters are the only class to get an incremental bonus to hit as they level.

Why is this so smart? Well, it is the elegance that does it. Many systems have tried to fix the perceived problem that fighters are a boring class without an edge. The attempts do have some merit, but all solutions I’ve encountered are not to my taste or fit very poorly into the general OSR “feel”.

Let’s have a look at three common solutions, all of which have been used in other iterations of the D&D ruleset.

  • Feats and Powers are one way to make fighters more diverse; give them their own superpowers! Apart from making both combat and character generation more complicated and balancing even harder, these also limit all other characters. After all, if there are special powers to accomplish all kinds of tactics and moves, why should those without these powers be allowed to attempt these feats?
  • Weapon specialization is perhaps my least favorite solution, especially combined with a weapon list which favors certain weapons mechanics-wise. It only serves to make fighters even more clones of each other, and keep them as such through the levels.
  • Weapon and armor restrictions also feel very crude to me, and seem to be the wrong approach to the problem. These are tools; warriors should be experts in their use, not simply get some sort of union-brokered exclusivity.

In comparison, increasing the base To Hit score for fighters relative to other classes gives them a clear edge in combat, which improves over time as other classes gain other powers. It also meshes perfectly with OSR mechanics, where tactics, rulings and improvisation are important; no matter what, rolls to hit opponents are almost always going to be made in a fight. In addition, this rule will also work well with most other house rules and adjustments.

The balancing of the four basic classes is excellent in LotFP overall, mostly because they are kept so clean and simple. Admittedly, in my slight class revision (which I will post details on here, eventually), I have given dwarves and elves the option of gaining a couple of points of To Hit bonus, but this is limited to roughly +1 per 4 levels at the cost of the only skill points they get to develop other abilities and mainly meant to give these characters some slight flavor.