Equipment slots

I use the LotFP encumbrance system; I like it’s blend of doing away with math but retaining a bit of complexity as compared to the very bare-bones systems of “carry STR items”. For my current campaign, this strikes a good balance.

I have made one addition to it, though; the “item slots”. As some players start to outfit their characters with scrolls, potions, weird bombs, poison-covered undead ferrets or green slime jars, things can get a bit out of hand. It makes sense to track at least on a rudimentary level where all this stuff actually is, and how readily available it is.

SLOT SPACE ACCESS
Belt 4 Immediate
Back 1 1 rd
Pockets (cloak) 1 Immediate
Pack/satchel 10 D3 rds
Sack (in hands) 10 D3 rds

The back slot may hold an Oversized item. Such items must otherwise be held in the hands. All other Slots hold only Standard Items. Armor adds encumbrance as normal. Any worn items, including armor, is listed separately, and apart from armor they do not encumber the character. In addition to this, any character of course has two “hand slots”, but I find tracking this goes too far into fiddly territory for me. A character with a Great Weapon is assumed to old it over her shoulder, otherwise the hands are most often kept as free as possible to allow for easy movement and manipulation. I’ve changed the rules as we went along to include “stacking” of certain items; for example flasks such as potions, oil or holy water stack two in a slot, iron rations and torches stack three.

This imposes some interesting limits on the characters; they really can’t carry an unlimited amount of items around, especially oversized ones. Pretty soon they will be carrying around their loot in filled sacks, carrying chests between them and running into all sorts of fun.

Tracking this is pretty easy, the players use different methods (and I’m not too particular about it, as long as they keep track). Letters next to the relevant items (Be or Ba etc) works, as does making little sections in the equipment list.

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Top Ten Troll Questions, Pt II

I normally just read these things, but something with these questions got me thinking, and then gave me the urge to actually answer them. It’s a great collection of thoughts on what is the “core” of Old School D&D to me; this isn’t about whether it’s for you, but just how much of a fundamentalist you are… 

Here goes!

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

Currently, I play that way, but I do allow a saving throw to avoid that level loss. This one is hard, though… it’s severe. In many ways more severe than killing the character off, actually, so I might change this one around.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?

Definitely! LotFP uses D4, with a 4 causing lasting burn, but I usually go much further and use D6 damage with a save to avoid damage for one more round.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

Yes! Ish… fail the save and you’re out, and probably dead, but Slow Poison gives another save and Neutralize Poison saves you, provided they are used within 1 Turn. That’s for a lethal poison, of course – they can also paralyze, cause blindness, make you mad or what have you.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

No… that’s too harsh for me. They drop unconscious at between 0 and -2 HP, with no further danger. If they reach -3 or below, they will start to bleed 1 point per round, and even if brought above -3 they must roll a save to survive, and will suffer a loss of D3 points to a random attribute (the player him/herself makes up the injury/scar to explain the loss).

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a “memorize and forget system” (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

For a Magic User, yes, but I do allow for a “Weird Magic” spell retention system to keep cast spells in memory, based on a saving throw and nasty side effects if the roll is low. Clerics have spell slots, but choose which spell to cast with them at the point of casting.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc…) for damage?

Nope, I do the usual spread of D4-D10 for different sizes – pretty much exactly as in LotFP. I don’t have a strong preference either way though.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?

Nah… they will fare better on adventures and thus have a greater chance to get that gold, and thus that XP. That’s enough of a bonus. LotFP does give meaningful bonuses beyond an XP bonus for high attributes, though.

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

I use LotFP’s normal bonuses, since I enjoy the variation between characters. (13-15, +1; 16-17, +2; 18, +4). They affect game mechanics, but not in dramatic ways (Str affects To Hit, but not damage, for example).

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

I currently use the 5 “old classics”, but I will switch to the 3 Ref/Fort/Will saves as soon as possible; they are less Old School but make so much more sense. I will keep the LotFP way of having Int affect saves vs magic and Wis affect saves vs everything else, though, with the saves being class-based beyond that.

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

I do 1 spell at first level. In LotFP Turn Undead is a spell, though, so it evens things out a bit. No bonus spells, though; my bonus for clerics is that they choose which spell they want to cast upon casting.

Reactions and Interactions

My latest project, slowed down by summer vacation, has been to examine types of encounters and try to open up the interaction between me and the players with regards to the Reaction Roll, the setup of an encounter and the PC’s options, Parley is an option chosen rarely in D&D as far as I’ve found, and I think that’s regrettable.

One major concern for me is that the Reaction roll would somehow be rolled in secret and it would be for the players to determine if parley is an option. With most groups of players you end up with a situation where attacking instantly to have a chance to perhaps surprise your opponent, or at least not cede any tactical advantage, seems the most prudent choice.

Gustave_dore_crusades_mourzoufle_parleying_with_dandoloMy first step in this process was picking up the excellent On the Non-player Character by Courtney Campbell of Hack & Slash. It’s a very ambitious system for putting these sorts of interactions into a framework, and though I’ve wound up using only the basic bits of it myself I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point if you’re thinking about these kinds of things.

I wound up with a system which basically opens up the Reaction Roll to the players, making them participate and if they so want make that roll themselves. The Reaction Roll also further defines how much the characters can interact with an NPC or a monster before the encounter ends or dissolves into a fight; the guidelines are very basic, and the actions the party can take are broad and subject to some modification on the spot. Generally speaking, the characters can attempt one interaction for each point on the modified Reaction Roll, typically around 5-9 or so depending on the situation. Some of these will call for rolls, possibly further modifying Reaction, while others are automatic or have other interesting circumstances.

It does suit my GM’ing style perfectly though! We usually play along through an encounter naturally, and I sometimes stop and point out that the characters have used up an interaction, that the NPC’s seem to change their attitude or that a roll would be called for if the players press on. So far, I’m very happy with it.

Since I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, I’ll share a single-page handout I prepared based on my thoughts and the lists from On the Non-player Character. You can download it here or in the Library.

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.

Bleed them dry!

It feels like many OSR campaigns, especially in games where treasure equates XP, there is often a growing problem with the characters amassing a huge amount of wealth. We’ve run into this issue in my games a couple of times as well, and I’ve thought about it. I don’t think this is necessarily always a problem, although it can be, and I don’t think there is a universal solution, but I’ve put some new rules and tools in place to deal with it.

  • I’ve created a banking system in my world, which lets the characters stash wealth but which also charges 10% on both deposits and withdrawals. This means that those players who don’t want to invest their money in real-estate and really just don’t want the bother have an option, but it’s costly.
  • I use the simply awesome Carousing rules from Roles, Rules and Rolls. Usually, I fidget with things when I import them into my campaign, but these were just added straight off.
  • I’ve made one-use magic items available for the right price; they are, after all, entirely craftable by Magic-Users in LotFP and thus it stands to reason that they should be available on the market, but at rather inflated prices. This seems to be a very effective method. Most adventurers would rather have a couple of healing potions than a couple of thousand coins in the bank.
  • I don’t shy away from ridding the characters of their wealth through random events; bandit attacks, thieves in the night, what have you. It has to be about something other than GM Fiat, though; I don’t simply want to take away what they’ve rightfully gained because I want to.
  • I enforce costs of living strictly, and I try to emphasize what these mean. If you live in a common room and eat slop, you’re really slumming it and doing this with a pocket full of gold is both not very appropriate for many characters and possibly downright dangerous.

Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coins

When it comes to costs of living, I’ve prepared a chart which draws the basic prices from the LotFP rulebook but aggregates this per week and also establishes some basic risks and rewards for choosing different lifestyles. It is still a work in progress, but you can download it here or in the Library.

Guild of Thieves

This time, it’s the rouges’ turn!

Thief

The organization known in my Heartlands setting as “The Fingers” is nevertheless a rather generic take on a Thieves’ Guild which might give the rest of you some good ideas.

It’s tempting to make a guild like this into a supremely powerful criminal organization involved in all sorts of activities and also a power-player in local politics, but I’ve tried to steer clear of that; PC:s who elect to stay out of the guild should have a fighting chance at surviving as independents, or this kind of organization risks stifling the creativity of the players.

Mechanically, I’ve tried to give this guild the same focus as many thief players – money. The possibility to store your wealth (both stolen and dug out of dungeons) away from the prying eyes of the law should appeal to most rogues, and of course the organization will also both supply a service and make an income on dealing in stolen goods.

My rules for the Thieves’ Guild can be downloaded here, or in the Library.

Spell Gems

I’ve been toying with some thoughts about the “Vancian Magic” system of D&D; having come back to this grandmother of all games recently, I still love the simplicity of it, but it has its limitations and since I’m currently playing with lower-level groups many of them are rearing their ugly heads…

I did try to give some more options to the Magic-User through my Weird Magic system, and I like the risk and randomness this system adds to the mix. I did however also like some thoughts on G+ (by mr Greg Christopher) about spells as equipment and the various trade-offs between placing powers in gear as opposed to attaching them to certain characters.

I’ve come up with an option that I will start playing around with in my current campaign; it’s not terribly intrusive, and could be cleared out if it doesn’t work well enough, but I like the feel of it. Basically, it allows wizards the option to buy Spell Gems, items that let them cast their memorized spells without losing them from their memory. The price is hefty (about 1 000 sp/gp, depending on your standard, per spell level they are able to supply) and availability is still under the control of the GM. They cannot be crafted in the same way as scrolls and potions – they are craftable, but require investment in a Gem Cutting skill which means only specialists can do the work without significant loss of materials.

gem_ruby

An item like this serves as a complement to scrolls; it seems more powerful, but there is a deceptive difference – scrolls expand the repertoar of the wizard, since he/she can still use scrolls with unmemorized spells. These gems empower the wizard to cast more spells per day, but only from his selected setup of memorized formulae.

I took the chance to add a more traditional magic item in the form of an Elven Spell Gem as well, while I was at it – more or less same function, but rechargeable (and, of course, effectively priceless due to it).

This still needs some playtesting, but the document so far can be downloaded here and in the Library. I’ll get back to this after I’ve tried it out some more.

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.

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.