Lamentations of the Flame Princess House Rules, Part 2 of 2

Jan2015_LeapofFaithSkills are a tricky business. They can be a valuable mechanic. But if the GM doesn’t call for a particular skill, then any players who advanced that skill gets fucked over. Case in point: architecture. I do not understand this skill. I’m supposed to ask for an architecture roll if players want to know the age of a wall relative to the rest of the building. Or if they think some bit of floor is unstable. But, if the players are clever enough to ask those questions, I prefer to give them the information outright, without a chance of failure. Which is fine, different GMing styles work for different folks. Except now the player who put a bunch of points into his architecture skill has wasted all those points.

The skill system and the GM need to be in agreement. But you can’t trash skills willy-nilly. There are 9 skills in the base Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. And a Specialist character gains 2 skill points at each level. If the number of available skills is reduced too much, then the Specialist will lack for options. Since there are a lot of skills in Rules-As-Written LotFP that I don’t use (4 out of the 9), I need a better solution than just dropping the skills I don’t like.  I’ve made an effort to rehabilitate some of the skills I don’t like, and to create some new ones which fit my play style better.

I should note that I’m also working on implementing a way for any character, not just specialists, to improve their skills. That’s why I’ve noted two of the skills below as “Specialist Only.” I’ll go into more detail with that system in a later post. (Spoiler: it’s mostly stolen from better GMs than me.)

Note also that skills listed with a parenthetical ability are modified by that ability’s modifier (if any). If two are listed, the skill is modified by whichever of the two are better.

-Mostly Unchanged Skills-
(You can probably skip this entirely)

Sneak Attack (SPECIALIST ONLY): Characters with no points in this skill have their damage multiplied by 1 when they attack from hiding, or while flanking an enemy. For each point a specialist puts into Sneak Attack, their multiplier is improved by one. (x2 for 1 point, x3 for 2 points, etc.)

Languages (Int): Whenever a new language is encountered, characters roll their language skill to determine if they already know it. The check is made at a -1 penalty if the language is monstrous or exotic, a -2 if the language is exotically monstrous, and -3 if the language is an ancient, dead tongue. Magical languages, or the languages of outsiders, cannot be known using this method. Players must record both the languages they do know, and the languages they do not know, on their character sheet.

Tinker: Tinker allows characters to manipulate mechanical devices. This includes opening mechanical locks, disarming traps, or activating unfamiliar machines. Locks or traps of particular difficulty may have a penalty to tinkering rolls made with them. Non-specialists who fail a tinkering roll may not attempt it again until they gain a level, or improve their tinkering skill. Specialists may make as many attempts as they wish, but after the first check, each subsequent check takes 1 hr. Characters using this skill must have a tinkering kit, which is an encumbering item.

-Rehabilitated Skills-

Stealth: Stealth is used to move silently through a corridor, to sidle up against a door and listen without alerting those inside, to hide a small item on your person, to pick-pocket a foe, or to ready a weapon without observers noticing. When used to move silently, characters should first describe a move roughly within their current line of sight. If they fail, the GM should roll a percentile die to determine how far along their path they were when they were noticed.

Athletics (Str/Dex): Not mere brazen acts of strength or dexterity, but skillful applications of such. Notably, climbing sheer surfaces without obvious handholds is covered by this skill. Characters (except specialists) must be unencumbered to make such a climb. On failure, roll d% to determine where in the climb the character was when they fell. Other applications of Athletics are: moving past a monster without provoking an opportunity attack, unusually challenging swimming conditions, balancing on a rope, and jumping more than 15 feet (up to 30 feet).

Bushcraft: When traveling through the wilderness, a Bushcraft roll is used to forage or hunt for food, as described on page 34 of the Rules and Magic book. A bushcraft check also allows characters to identify natural plants or animals. Additionally, when encountering a natural animal, a successful bushcraft check will allow the player to take the animal as a companion so long as the animal has 2 fewer hit dice than the player.

-New Skills-

Prayer (Wis): As a free action, players may beseech their god for aid with a specific task. The referee may adjudicate small bonuses or penalties for tasks in keeping or out of keeping with the player’s faith. Referees may also rule an auto failure if the task directly contravenes the player’s faith. On a successful check, the player may roll the die for that task twice, and take the better result. At the end of the session the character must make a sacrifice to their god. The value must be either 20% of their total treasure haul from this session. Or, the difference in the two die rolls they made, multiplied by 100sp. Whichever is more. If this sacrifice is not made, then during the next game, the player must roll all their dice twice, taking the lower result each time.

Appraisal: A successful appraisal allows characters to know the value of a given piece of treasure, and whether there is anyone who might pay extra for it. Appraisal will also identify fake treasures, such as copper coins painted gold.

Healing: Once after each combat, characters may spend 3 turns attempting to heal themselves or an ally. If the check is successful, the attempt restores 1d4 HP for each point by which the check succeed. (Ex. success chance is 1-in-6, a 1 is rolled, heal 1d4. Success chance is 4-in-6, a 2 is rolled, heal 3d4). Characters using this skill must carry a healing kit, which is an encumbering item.

Vanish: (SPECIALIST ONLY): A vanish check has two uses. First, a specialist may attempt to hide by blending in with their surroundings, using only shadows and foliage to remain hidden. If successful, they cannot be seen until they move, speak, or attack, at which point the effect ends. Second, a vanish check can be used to stealthily disengage from combat without being noticed. This check is made at a -1 penalty for each attack directed against the vanishing character during this round (whether they hit or not). If successful, the vanished specialist can choose to re enter the battle with a sneak attack on their next turn, or skulk away to safety.

-NOT Skills-
I know not including a search or listen skill is unusual, and even controversial, so I may as well address why I’m not using either of them.

The listen skill is already missing from the base LotFP game, but even ignoring that, it never made any sense to me. It’s usually used when a character is pressing their ear to a door to hear what’s going on inside. Failure baffles me. Common doors are hardly soundproof. It could be argued that the roll isn’t a test of hearing, but rather, a test to see whether the creatures inside the room are making any noise. But I find that unsatisfying. If there’s anything beyond the door, I’d prefer to tell players outright, rather than arbitrate it with dice.

The real challenge of listening at doors is doing it without alerting the people on the other side. It’s hard to press your head against a door without causing it to move audibly. That’s why I’ve replaced the listen check, with a stealth check. Not only does it make more logical sense, but failure creates a more interesting situation. The bad guys know something is outside their door, but they don’t know what.

My reasoning for dropping search is similar to my reason for dropping Architecture. I’ve run a lot of dungeons for a lot of players, and I don’t think any of them have yet found a single secret door which wasn’t somehow revealed to them in advance. So why in the world would I want to create a situation where the players have correctly identified an area with a secret door in it, and I’m forced to tell them there isn’t one? I want them to find at least some of my secret doors. There are cool things behind those doors that I want people to experience.

The same goes for traps. If players must roll a check when they’re looking for traps, then they might fail that check. Then the GM has created a situation where a player is killed by a trap immediately after being told that there is no trap. I’ve done this before and it feels wrong to me. I don’t like it.

In previous discussions on this subject, I’ve encountered a common objection: what’s to stop players from just checking everything? There are two good reasons that players won’t search everything they encounter. Both of which are both better than the bad reason of “they won’t check everything because the results would be unreliable anyway.”

  1. Players aren’t that diligent. Diligence is boring. A game where the primary challenge is diligence is a dull game that I don’t want to play. Players will search when they think there is something to find.
  1. Searching takes time. Searching a 10 x 10 segment of wall for a secret door takes 1 turn. Searching a larger area takes a commensurately longer amount of time. The number of encounter checks a group of players would earn by searching every single room would not be worth the damage inflicted on them by so many wandering monsters. There should always be wandering monsters.

-Dwarfs and Elves-

By removing the Architecture and Search skills for my games, I’ve crippled the Dwarf and Elf classes, which use those skills as part of their level advancement. This can be solved either by awarding players skill points equivalent to their lost skill’s progression (So for dwarfs, two at level 1, and one more at levels 4, 7, and 10). Alternatively, the GM can select a skill to progress along the same advancement track. I would recommend appraisal for dwarfs, and healing or bushcraft for elves.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess House Rules, Part 1 of 2

Jan2015_FencerWhen I was a Pathfinder GM, tinkering with and  changing the game’s rules was a pastime of mine. It was the primary driving force behind most of my writing back then. There were some downsides to it. I annoyed my players, who had to adjust to my frequent rules changes. And, occasionally, I would make the game’s rules lopsided, by failing to take rule interactions into account.

Since switching to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I’ve had little to tinker with. I’ve done a fair amount of adding rules on top of the existing ones. But for the most part, LotFP’s rules do exactly what they should. They give me a framework to run the kinds of games I like to run, without getting in my way.

But no game system can ever be perfect for anyone but the GM who wrote it. After more than a year of running LotFP Rules-As-Written, I’d accumulated a small list of inadequacies I wanted to correct. So I’ve been experimenting with a few alterations that I’d like to share.

I’m going to break this post up into two parts. The changes to combat rules are here, and the changes to the skills system will come later.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

-Weapons, and use for the off-hand-

In RAW LotFP, there are four weapon types:

Minor: 1d4, -2 to hit v. unadjusted AC of 15 or better.
Small: 1d6
Medium: 1d8
Great: 1d10

Great weapons require two hands, while all other weapons use only 1 hand, aside from a handful of special cases (like the staff).  The only thing the player can do with the off hand is hold a shield. I’d like to keep this simplicity, but open up a few options for the player. My four weapon types are:

Minor: 1d4, -2 to hit v. unadjusted AC of 15 or better.
Small: 1d6
Medium: 1d8
Great: 1d12, -1 AC, Requires both hands.

If the player isn’t using a great weapon, they can use their off-hand in several ways:

Shield in off-hand: +1 AC v. melee attacks, +2 AC v. ranged attacks. (Unchanged from RAW)
Second weapon in off-hand: +1 AC v. melee attacks, +2 when fighting defensively or parrying, +0 v. great weapon and ranged attacks.
Free off-hand: +1 to hit, +1 to AC v. melee when parrying.
Both hands on Medium weapon: 1d10 damage instead of 1d8

I like giving players access to a 1d12 weapon; and I also like that great weapons come at a cost. I don’t think enough systems give players an advantage for focusing all their attention on a single handed weapon. I also like the idea of a player shifting between one and two hands with their medium weapon. Allowing them to swap between higher damage and higher hit chance.

I do think the benefit of having an off-hand weapon is too low, but I want to avoid making it too powerful. I want it to be an interesting option, not means to make characters “totally badass.”

-Grappling-

Grappling has historically been a big problem for D&D. And, while LotFP’s “Wrestling” rules are adequately simple, they aren’t perfect. But, as I’ve recently learned, Gygax published a rule in Strategic Review which is pretty close to perfect.

I’m sorry I can’t find the blog which turned me on to this rule (and had a great variation on it), but thanks to Courtney Campbell for pointing me to the rule’s source. After some tweaking, this is what I’m going to try:

When characters grapple, both sides roll their hit dice as a pool. (So a single level 10 fighter would roll 10d8, and 20 1-hit-die kobolds might roll 20d4). The defender must always be a single target, but multiple attackers can attempt to swarm the target. The side which rolls the higher sum number wins. The winner can choose to do one of the following:

  • Knock their opponent(s) prone and stun them for 1 round.
  • Knock their opponent(s) 10’ back and stun them for 1 round.
  • Pin their opponent. (Only one)

A pinned character can attempt to throw off their attacker(s) by rolling half their hit die pool each round. Attackers can opt either to deal 1d4 damage to a pinned character each round, or to move the pinned character up to half of the attacker’s movement speed. A single attacker may also use a small or minor weapon against a pinned character–but not if they’re part of a ‘swarm.’

Aside from simplifying grappling enough that I won’t need to look it up again, the major benefit of this rule is the way it empowers swarms of small creatures. Traditionally, a mid level fighter can stand in the middle of a dozen first level foes, and slay them at leisure. Using this rule, large groups will always be a serious threat, because of their ability to overwhelm a defender.

A look at Wonder & Wickedness by Brendan S.

cover-black - blackYesterday, Brendan of Necropraxis published “Wonder and Wickedness.” And I did something which I’ve never done before: I read an entire RPG book front to back on the same day it was released. This puts me in the fairly unusual position of being able to share my thoughts while they’re still relevant.

Full disclosure: Brendan and I are buds. This post isn’t a ‘review,’ so much as it is an account of why I like this book.

Wonder & Wickedness details a surprisingly modular magic system. It could entirely replace the more common magic user’s system without any tinkering in most games. And if entirely replacing the MU’s spell system doesn’t interest you, it would be a simple matter to cherry pick the magic dueling system, maleficence rules, spell mishaps, magic items, or just the spells themselves. Any of these elements could be plopped down into any D&D game without trouble.

The basic idea that drives the new magic system is dropping spell levels entirely from the game. Instead, the book is filled with spells which can be cast by an MU of any level. Spells scale with the MU’s level, keeping them relevant even in higher levels of play.

The spells themselves are evocative and interesting. Brendan’s well-documented love of Necromancy is evident. His rehabilitation of that often-overlooked school of magic rivals Gavin Norman’s also excellent “Theorums and Thamaturgy.” Other spell schools have been entirely reinvented with a less-than-wholesome bent. The implied setting is one where Magic Users are shunned by decent folk. And for good reason.

The spells themselves are inventive. I’m rarely surprised by something truly new when reading a new spell. They’re either more evocative versions of currently existing spells, or they’re extremely situational to the point of near-uselessness, or they fill some obvious kind of gap (Low level fireball, high level fireball, etc.) There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and some of it certainly shows up in Wonder and Wickedness. But I was surprised by several spells which truly break the mold and offer something entirely new, useful, and not overpowered.

In particular, there are a number of spells in the Translocation school which I can’t believe aren’t commonplace in every D&D game. “Recall” and “Revisitation” seem so quintessentially perfect for basic D&D play. And in the Psychomancy school, “Fascinating Gaze” is just fucking perfect. On the one hand, it’s a fairly weak spell in most situations. But, if applied with some skill, it’s exactly the kind of spell that makes Conan afraid of magic users.

The book’s 84 spell mishaps are curious. In most cases, the effects are far more devastating than any of the actual spells. And, while most of them are certainly a detriment to the caster, they’re also a detriment to everyone around the caster. Plus, there are a number of spell mishaps which actually empower the caster into an even more terrifying and unwholesome force. It creates a sense that whether you’re the caster’s friend or foe, you probably don’t want to interrupt their casting once it starts.

The magic items have a good mix of risk and reward. They foster the idea that, even for PCs, magic is something to be treated with caution. But none (save the Crown of Extinction, wtf man) are outright cursed. I like that several are creatively finite. There’s nothing so crude as “this magic item has 10 charges,” but there are several options for items you can give players without worrying about their long-term effects on your campaign.

The Bridging Arrow is my new favorite thing. Hot damn I can’t wait to see what my players do with it.

I can’t talk about Wonder & Wickedness without mentioning that the book’s interior was illustrated by no less than Russ Nicholson. Who, among many other RPG publications, also made art for the original Fiend Folio.  And he didn’t slack off just because this is a small indie publication–his work is as beautiful here as it was in the FF. There are several full-page illustrations. The kind you can stare at for several minutes, picking up nuances of character expression and item detail.

I also want to give props to Brendan and Paolo Greco (Who did layout) for how easy W&W is to read on a Kindle. I’ve always hated reading on a computer screen, and since the majority of indie RPG publishing is done on PDF, I bought a Kindle earlier this year to help myself deal with that. But the majority of PDFs I’ve read seem to be optimized for print, or for larger screens than the basic Kindle has. The print in W&W is nice and big, and required no squinting–or worse–magnifying the page, and scrolling around on it.

Wonder & Wickedness is absolutely worth your time. You should go buy it now. Not just because it’s great, but because The Lost Pages shop is shutting down at the end of 2014 due to legal issues. It’s a god damned shame. Hopefully the issue can be resolved, but it doesn’t look like it will be resolved quickly. So buy all your PDFs while you can!

I want to close on this note: I came up with the cover for Merciless Monsters before Brendan came up with the cover for Wonder & Wickedness. So nobody gets to call me a copycat when my book comes out. Seriously.

Managing a Hub Town: Buying Equipment after first level

Taken from a Ren Faire website.
Taken from a Ren Faire website.

The second thing players want to do in town is exchange their money for useful stuff. In most games I’ve played in & run, the same problem starts to crop up after the players have had a few successful adventures: what do they do with all their money? The classic solution of buying property property and building a citadel doesn’t appeal to many players. The game needs a money sink.

Based on my thinking, the money sinks in a hub town can essentially be broken down into 5 groups:

1. Equipment
2. Services
3. Nonspecific information / quests / hooks
4. People.
5. Property / Business

If you have any ideas which fall outside of these groups, let me know. I want to be as inclusive as possible here.

“Equipment,” which covers nearly all material goods, is obviously the broadest category. I’ve chosen to term it “Equipment,” instead of merely “goods,” because in this post I am only really concerned with what the players will find useful. Could they buy a dining room table and chairs in town if they wanted? Sure. But they probably won’t want to, because it’s a game about exploring dungeons and killing monsters. They’ll want to buy things which help them do that stuff better.

So what qualifies as useful? Obviously standard equipment like swords and armor is part of that list, but that stuff is cheap! Aside from plate mail, I’ve never played in a game where a player couldn’t purchase the standard equipment they needed with their starting money. So, obviously, this will not do as a money sink.

Players need easy access to equipment which costs a lot more than standard equipment. And it needs to be useful enough that they don’t feel like they’re being ripped off when they buy it. And both of those goals need to be achieved without resorting to any god damned magic item stores. *

I can think of two good ways to accomplish this. The first is to create items crafted with extraordinary materials or skill, that confer a small but significant benefit for a high price. For example, a 500sp length of rope which is just as light as normal rope, but is rated to 1000lb. Or a longsword made of extremely light materials, which thus does not require an encumbrance slot.

The second way would be to create fairly powerful items which have extremely limited usage. Like a 300sp smokebomb which, when used, allows the players to escape from combat without any chance of the monsters following them. A healing potion would also be a good example of this kind of thing.

I have an added advantage in Dungeon Moon, because it’s a post apocalypse. I’m allowed to make Standard Equipment much more scare. I’ve been thinking that standard equipment in Dungeon Moon is of extremely poor quality. If purchased at the normal prices, it has a -1 to its effectiveness, and breaks on a critical failure. For x10 price, you can get it with only a -1 penalty and no breaking chance. You’ll need to pay base price x100 to actually get a normal quality item.

*(I should mention that Courtney has one set of super cool solutions to this problem in his Numenhalla campaign, and a completely different set of even cooler solutions to it in his Perdition campaign. Unfortunately I don’t get to talk about those, I think. But I can be inspired by them!)

 

What’s the best way to manage a small hub town?

Roman Men working on constructionIn game terms, what do players want when they visit a town?

They want to exchange their loot for money, or they want to exchange their money for useful stuff.

These are not the only possibilities, but they are the prime functions of towns in my games.  I want to develop a good system for managing towns which will focus on these two points, and make both of them more interesting, without falling into the trap of burdening myself with an impossible amount of upkeep.

More specifically, I’m concerned with the town of Stockton in my Dungeon Moon campaign setting. Ostensibly, Dungeon Moon is the low-magic result of a high-magic apocalypse, where literally everything is scarce, and the areas outside of town are so dangerous that no one but the PCs dares to step outside at all. In practice, no game rules actually support that idea. So these posts will focus on addressing the specific needs of Stockton. However, I’m hoping to come up with something generally applicable enough that I can use it later without too much modification.

With that in mind, I’ll start by addressing the first function of a town: exchanging loot for gold.

When players succeed in getting their loot back to town, the total value of that loot is added to the town’s economy, and the town gains experience from it as a player would. The town uses the same experience track as the fighter, and “levels up” at every third level. So the town will reach level 2 when 4000sp has been recovered by the party, level 3 when 32,000sp has been recovered, level 4 at 256,000sp, etc. For reference, after 9 sessions of Dungeon Moon, this progression would make Stockton almost level 3, which is ’round about where the players are.

Each time a level is gained, only two things happen. First the referee should roll on a table of “town improvements.” They should roll a number of times equal to the town’s current level. Exactly what this table will include is yet to be determined, but it should be meaningful improvements to the town which will directly affect the second purpose of a town – exchanging money for useful stuff.

Examples of what might be on this table could include:

  • A trades person of a random type settles in town. The price of goods associated with their trade drops, and quality improves.
  • The town’s vendor saving throw is improved by 1.
  • A new type of service person arrives in town, such as a sage or herbalist, and they begin to ply their trade

The second thing which happens when a town levels up is that  a new batch of retainers become available. When a town levels up, it is not only a measure of how much wealth has been pumped into the town. It is also a measure of the player’s improving reputation as successful adventurers. As mentioned above, very few people on dungeon moon are willing to leave the towns. But if the players continue to succeed, more people will be willing to follow them.

At the start of play, Stockton has 1d4 – 1 people in it who are willing to hire on as retainers. Each time the town gains a level, 2d8 – [Deaths] people become willing to travel with the PCs. (Deaths include all PC and retainer deaths since the last time the town gained a level).

Another side effect of people being unwilling to leave the safety of Stockton is that there is no trade between it and other towns. The players may, if they choose, clear a path between Stockton and another town. Each time they do this, Stockton begins to trade with the new town, and the players may roll once on the town improvement table. So the players can improve the town in both active, and passive ways, without ever needing to do anything other than adventure.

The best part is that all of this should require very little upkeep from me. After the initial effort of finding / creating some tables to roll on, all I’ve got to do is record the total value of recovered treasure each session (which I do anyway), and make two rolls every 3-5 sessions when the town levels up.

I’m eager to hear some thoughts on this one. Is anyone aware of resources which could help me in this endeavor? Any input on how the above could be improved?

World of Bellumus

The Death of Brutus - Justice for CaesarOf late I have become completely preoccupied by the history of the Roman Republic and Empire In particular, the life of Julius Caesar. I’m in the middle of his Gallic Commentaries, decided to take a break to re-read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, thinking I might have a much greater appreciation for it now that I’m so familiar with the characters and events it describes. It also may help that I’m no longer in high school.

There is a soliloquy, when Marcus Antonius is left alone with Caesar’s body, which captured my imagination. It reads thus:

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate’ by his side come hot from Hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Obviously, Antony is speaking figuratively here, but there’s some god damned delightful images.

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Those most loyal to Caesar are transformed. Their fingers fall away and their arms sharpen like blades. Their feet become cloven, and their legs bent. They cannot stop running, and they lust for the blood of vengeance.

“Domestic fury and fierce civil strife Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;”
The land becomes a man-made hellscape of endless war.

“Blood and destruction shall be so in use, And dreadful objects so familiar,” 
No one is an innocent. Women, children, the infirm, none leave their house without a sword in hand. It is uncommon to go a week without needing–or choosing–to kill.

“That mothers shall but smile when they behold Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;”
Damn.

“And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate’ by his side come hot from Hell,”
Caesar’s spirit, given new physical form, walks the land aimlessly with Ate the Greek spirit of ruin dancing around him. He seems removed, as though he does not see, hear, or feel anything. If he desires to take a step, 100 men could not stop him. He would crash through a marble wall if he needed to.

The only time he seems to be aware of his environment at all is when someone is within reach of his sword or spear. Without hesitation he will will them, no matter the love he might have shown to them in life. He is no longer a man, but a force of nature.

“the dogs of war,”
Dogs, as large as horses, roam Italy. They are fierce beasts. They will attack any man they see, and have been known to slay entire cohorts.

Anyone within a 6 mile radius of these dogs becomes immediately aggressive and violent, lashing out at whoever they can until they pass from the dog’s presence.

“With carrion men, groaning for burial,”
The dead, though they lay unmoving, shriek and howl with still lips, cursing the living.

 

 

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