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.

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8 thoughts on “Lamentations of the Flame Princess House Rules, Part 2 of 2”

  1. Regarding skills like architecture, I think a useful approach might be to let players get the most basic information any time they ask about something. But characters who have learned the skill can possibly even get additional information that usually wouldn’t be something “normal people” could notice. Same with a Listen skill. Normally listening to a door allows all characters to hear that there are a human womoan and an ogre talking, but a skilled character might actually be able to get some useful information regarding what they are talking about.

    This requires some adjusting from the GM. It means giving the players information or benefits that normaly would be unavailable to them. As GM playing the antagonists, you have to shot yourself into the foot by giving the players tips on how to get out of thight spots and to mess with the plans of their enemies.
    But the GMs job is not to defeat the PCs, but to make the adventure exciting. And if the players train their characters in things like architecture and listening, letting them do normally impossible or highly improbably things is going to be quite a lot of fun for them

    1. Again, I’m sure that some people find a use for architecture and listen, etc. etc. I’m sure that if I was playing at James Raggi’s table, the skills would make a lot more sense within the context of his GMing style.

      But I don’t have the patience to create layers of architectural information to be discovered by players. So for me it works better just to drop it entirely.

      I honestly think the listen skill is just dumb. Who ever heard of an “expert listener” before?

  2. I was all nodding along about the architecture skill, but had a brain-flash. If the PCs want to knock some piece of architecture over, what better skill than the architecture skill? As well as the skill of ‘having lots of blasting powder’ or the like, which is less of a skill and more of a paranoid trait. I know this isn’t what LotFP describes as the architecture skill, but it’s to my mind an acceptable use, especially as I don’t have lots of thoughts / plans about architecture.

    1. That’s absolutely an acceptable use of the architecture skill. But, again, I can count on my fingers the number of times my PCs have tried to knock down a building. So, for my purposes, it doesn’t have enough value to justify the architecture skill’s inclusion in my games.

  3. Thank you. Sometimes you come across something that really makes you think along a different thread than you would have, and this post has done exactly that for myself. Specifically your reasons behind tossing out Search and Listen. One nice side effect of this, is that both of those are normally hidden rolls (GM rolls them for you behind screen) which I am always looking to reduce/remove.

    So thank you for the inspiration. One question, do you only have searching cost time (ie wandering monster check) when the characters are doing a blanket search of an area, or also when performing an interactive search (in which they are asking specific questions and performing specific interactions with the area)?

    1. It’s funny you mention this, because I was just thinking about it earlier today. How best to track when a 10 minute turn has passed in game.

      With regards to your examples, I think it would depend on what the specific question was. If their question is “what is the pattern on the rug I’m standing on,” then no. It doesn’t take a turn. I can just say “It’s an intricately detailed and colorful pattern of many shapes.” If they say “I’d like to examine the rug to determine if the pattern corresponds to the way the torches were mounted on the wall in the dining hall,” then yes, that would take a turn. Or, at least, a hefty fraction of a turn that could be rounded-up with some other actions like walking / talking.

      My friend Brendan once made some time tracking sheets. I’ve been thinking about printing out some of those.

      1. Thanks for the reply.

        I have also traditionally had issues keeping track of time. As such, I have been thinking of moving the time keeping off the GM and more onto the players. This inspired by Rolemaster, in which the players make an avoidance roll instead of the GM making a wandering monster check. Also allows the Players to see how their actions (noise, light, speed, stealth) play into determining an encounter.

        Have not had a chance to try it out yet.

        1. I’ve been playing with John Bell for a few months, and he’s got an interesting system for delegating player responsibility.

          Essentially, there is a small stack of “jobs.” for the players. Things like mapper, note taker, loot recorder, etc. At the start of each session, in descending order of Charisma, the players must pick a job from the list.

          I like that every player has some stake in maintaining the integrity of the game. I think it’s a great way to manage play.

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