Tuesday, 20 February 2018

LotFP Hybrid Classes Expanded 2: Shamans and Sages

Go to part 1. We continue on the track started by Jackson Malloy's post about hybrid classes at Sword and Scoundrel. This is a separate post because it's a bit more out there than the first, and is hungrily eyeing a couple sacred cows.

Malloy's system starts with the axiom that Clerics and Magic-Users cannot be combined. This seems reasonable. After all, they are of opposite alignments, and have their own niches; traditionally, wizards have not been granted the ability to heal as a check to their power (as well as for thematic reasons).

But... what would happen if we broke those rules? Apparently, James Raggi's recent playtest of the next version of LotFP also combined Clerics and Magic-Users into one class, or at least gave Cleric spells to the Magic-User. What if we went further with the hybrid classes and included a Cleric-MU-hybrid - or even a tri-class-hybrid, a Cleric-MU-Specialist?

With our XP formula from part 1, it would take the Cleric-MU - let's call it a Shaman - 3,000 XP to reach second level, and the Cleric-MU-Specialist - let's call it a Sage - 3,700 XP. For spellcasting, they are half a Cleric, and half a Magic-User, but separately, so their caster level is halved, and they know spells as a caster of half their level. But when combining two casters, it makes more sense to combine the spell slots into one pool, so that they start with spell slots at lvl 1, but perhaps still have to divide their prepared spells between the two lists. For some reason, I'm attracted to the idea of forcing the Shaman to strike a balance between Cleric and Magic-User spells. (That might be just due to the Goblin Shaman class in Warhammer Online, who had a charge-up meter that empowered their their healing magic when they cast damage spells, and vice versa.)

The Shaman has a d6 hit die. But our Sage is clearly a scholarly type, so let's lower its hit die to d4 and limit their skill selection to non-movement skills. In return, we'll reduce its XP costs to 3,000, since the only thing it now has over the Shaman is knowing a bit more about secret doors and languages.


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shaman.jpgHit die: d6
Saves: as Cleric
Base XP: 3,000.

You have spell slots equal to a Magic-User of your level. You can cast both Magic-User and Cleric spells, and you are considered a caster of half your character level (minimum of 1). However, when you prepare spells, half of the spells for each level must be Cleric spells, and the other half Magic-User spells. If you have an odd number of spell slots for a given level, you can choose whether to prepare a Magic-User or Cleric spell in the last slot. For example, if you have three 1st-level spell slots, you can prepare one Cleric and two Magic-User spells of 1st level, or two and one.

You can not cast spells if you are more than Heavily encumbered. Like an Elf, you must have one hand free (or clutching a magical focus) to cast spells.


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Scholar_at_the_Lectern.jpgHit die: d4
Saves: as Magic-User
Base XP: 3,000.

You have spell slots equal to a Magic-User of your level. You can cast both magic-user and Cleric spells, and you are considered a caster of half your character level (minimum of 1).

You can not cast spells if you are more than Lightly encumbered. Like a Magic-User, you must have both hands free (or clutching a magical focus) to cast spells.

Additionally, you have two skill points at 1st level, and gain one more skill point each time you level up. These skill points cannot be used for movement-based skills (Climb, Sleight of Hand, Sneak Attack, Stealth, Tinker), but only mental ones (Architecture, Bushcraft, Languages, Search, and any other ones you may have in your game such as Medicine or Arcana).

Learning Spells

In LotFP, Magic-Users learn one random spell of a level of their choice on level-up, and can add spells from scrolls and spellbooks they find. They start with Read Magic and three random spells. Clerics learn all Cleric spells automatically. So, how do we reconcile this for our hybrids? Here is a fine opportunity to add some flavour and differentiate these classes. If you wanted to introduce new mechanics or subsystems, this would be an appropriate place, since it's not something that has to be referenced in every session.

For example, the Shaman might not use a spellbook, instead starting with two random spells from each spell list, learn one spell from each spell list on level-up (of a level of the player's choice), and be unable to transcribe spells. You could add a mechanic for the Shaman to influence the choice of spells learned, or a mini-game - as long as it's something that is quick to resolve since it is only engaging a single player!

The Sage should use a spellbook, of course. They could start with Read Magic, one random Magic-User spell (or Identify) and two random Cleric spells. They would learn one random spell on level up from a spell list and level of their choice, and in addition be able to transcribe Cleric spells (from scrolls) as well as Magic-User spells into their spellbook.

This results in two classes that have more versatility than either of the core casters, through being able to either learn or transcribe a greater number or spells, while casting them at a lower power, in addition to the increased XP costs.

If you decide to use hybrid classes at your table, you may not want to include every one, what with so many redundant spellcasters. Decide based on the flavour you're going for. The Shaman and Sage step on some toes, so you might want to pick only one of them, depending on whether the written or spoken word is more improtant in your setting. Personally, I might only include the Ranger, Paladin, Sage and possibly Assassin for my current medieval setting. For a "Nordic barbarians" vibe, I'd go with the Ranger and Shaman instead. What do you think?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Simple jousting rules for 5e

   Attacks. Each jouster wields a shield (+2 AC if proficient) and a lance (1d12, use Strength for attack and damage rolls). On each pass, each jouster rolls an attack with their lance.
   Hits. If a jouster is hit, they must make a brace check (see below) with a DC equal to the damage taken. On a failed check, they are unhorsed and lose the joust.
   Brace check. A brace check is a Strength (Animal Handling) check.
   Initiative. Attacks happen simultaneously, and it is possible for two jousters to unhorse each other.
   Rules of the match. A jousting lance is destroyed when it hits. New lances are handed out and passes are repeated until one or both participants are unhorsed. Additionally, a limit may be set for lances broken; for example, the first jouster to break three lances (score three hits) wins if neither has been unhorsed.
   Passes. On each pass, a jouster may attack normally, or choose one of the following maneuvers:
  • Aggressive: +5 to attack, -5 to AC. 
  • Defensive: -5 to attack, +5 to AC.
  • Braced: -5 to attack, +5 to Animal Handling.
  • High in Saddle: +5 to attack, -5 to Animal Handling.
  • Eyes Fixed: +5 to attack. If you are hit, roll a d20. On a 1, you lose your left eye if you have it, and on a 2, you lose your right eye if you have it. On a 3-4, you gain a Horrible Scar, and on a 5-10 you gain a Minor Scar. (See the DMG p. 272 for the effects of these injuries.)

The same information in table format:
Maneuver Attack AC Animal Handling Special
Aggressive +5 -5 - -
Defensive -5 +5 - -
Braced -5 - +5 -
High in Saddle +5 - -5 -
Eyes Fixed +5 - - See above

King Henri II of France was mortally wounded by a splintered lance in the eye from the hand of Gabriel Montgomery, the captain of his own guard, in a jousting match in 1559.

Optional rules

Reading opponents. When a PC is jousting against an NPC opponent, if you wish, you may allow the PC to attempt to make a read. First decide the NPC's maneuver for the pass, and then allow the player to make a Wisdom (Insight) check contested by the opponent's Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. If the player wins the contest, they learn which maneuver the opponent has chosen, and can then choose their own maneuver based on this information.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

LotFP Hybrid Classes Expanded: Pseudo-Rangers, Paladins and Bards

So, you want to start DMing Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but your players are complaining about how the system is "lacking" because there are only four classes that aren’t race-as-class. They want more options, for whatever reason. Maybe they want to play a ranger. Normally I’d tell them that a ranger is just a specialist with a bow and Bushcraft skill, or perhaps a halfling. But maybe this hypothetical player wants their ranger to be fighty. Maybe you need some shiny bait to get them hooked on the OSR. Here’s how you can trick customization-obsessed players with the appearance of breadth, while using only existing mechanics and adding no special class features.

Jackson Malloy at Sword and Scoundrel has blogged about a houserule for hybrid classes in Lamentations of the Flame Princess here: https://swordandscoundrel.blogspot.com/2015/07/lotfp-multiclassinghybrids.html
The work here expands on those ideas, with some additions, modifications, and clarifications. If you don't already have the free rules for LotFP, grab them at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG or DMsGuild.

In short, under Malloy's system, you can combine any two of the four human classes into a hybrid class, with the exception that combining two spellcasting classes is not allowed. Picking Fighter gives you +2 attack bonus (non-increasing) and their combat options (Defensive Fighting, Press, Parry +4). Picking Specialist gives you half the amount of skill points, and you are locked to two skills you pick at the start. Picking Magic-User or Cleric gives you spellcasting as if you were a spellcaster of half your character level. Saving throws are as either one of the two classes (player chooses at the start).

While there have been some attempts to add Paladins and the like to B/X games, such as the holy character in the Basic Fantasy RPG Quasi-Class Supplement, I really like the simplicity of Malloy's system. It's the minimal mechanical change you can make to add classics like Paladins to LotFP (an extremely focused and precisely-crafted game). There's no Lay on Hands bolted-on here - a Paladin is literally a nerfed Fighter with divine spells, and a Bard (if that's what you decide to call it) is a skillmonkey with arcane spells.

However, Malloy’s system is not quite complete - glaringly, nothing is said about hit dice/hit points, or about spellcasting encumbrance limits. More on that later, but first, let’s map out the hybrids available. (From hereon, I’ll be abbreviating Fighter, Specialist, Cleric and Magic-User as FTR, SPE, CLE, and MU for my own sanity.) The five combinations are:
  • FTR-SPE (“Professional”: Ranger, Assassin or similar)
  • FTR-CLE (Paladin)
  • FTR-MU (Spellblade, or whatever other nonsense term for a gish)
  • CLE-SPE (Seeker)
  • SPE-MU (Bard, inevitably).

Now, instead of introducing a "player-facing" mix-and-match system, let’s pre-mix the options and write them out into complete classes or archetypes. Because we want to limit the complexity we present to players, and want them thinking about minmaxing the system as little as possible. So instead of letting the player choose the saving throw tracks, I will make the decision on which is appropriate for each archetype. For example, a Ranger is a FTR-SPE hybrid with Bushcraft and Stealth skills and saves as a Fighter. Assassin has Stealth and Sneak Attack and saves as a Specialist. If you want, you can add more: a FTR-SPE with Search and Tinkering could be a Tomb Raider (saves as a Specialist). In case you’re wondering what a Seeker is, it’s what I’m calling what is essentially a grave-robber in the service of a church, who goes out to recover religious relics.

(Protip: if you're reading on mobile and tables on Blogspot look awful, try the "reader mode" on your browser.)


Hit dice

For hit dice, I think the way to go is to split the difference and round up, so a hybrid of a d6 and d8 class would have a d8 hit die, and a MU combined with anything else would have a d6. Thus, though both are half-casters, the Paladin has more hit points than the Spellblade, which is what I would expect to see.


Then there is the matter of experience. XP required to level up in Malloy’s system is equal to the higher of the two classes, plus 50%. For example, CLE-FTR: 2,000 x 1.5 = 3,000. FTR-MU: 2,250 x 1.5 = 3,375.

However, let’s examine what a Spellblade (FTR-MU hybrid) gets over the Elf (who requires only 3,000 XP). Elves cast practically as a MU of their level. Spellblades cast at only half their level. Since I’m giving them a d6 hit die, they don’t win over the Elf in hit points or saves either. Plus, Elves have other special characteristics. Though I think it’s fine for the Elf to be as good as it is, I still think we should aim for the best possible balance when adding these new options, so the Spellblade should not cost more experience to level than the Elf - in fact, it should cost less.

On the other end of the scale, the hybrid class should certainly cost more XP than either of its constituent classes. And I believe it should also cost more XP than the Fighter, even in the case of the CLE-SPE, just because. So, we have a range of XP to aim for with our base XP (experience required for level 2, which is what all subsequent levels are calculated from) formula: more than 2,000, but less than 3,000. This is the equation I came up with for the XP required for level 2:

Hybrid class base XP = (Class 1 base XP + Class 2 base XP) * 2/3

To keep the tables clean, I rounded the results to the nearest 100.
This results in the following XP requirements for level 2:
Cleric/SpecialistFighter/SpecialistFighter/Cleric, Specialist/Magic-UserFighter/Magic-User

A nice spread, in my opinion.

Side note: In case you're wondering, the formula in B/X for calculating the experience required to gain level X is: Base XP * 2^(X-2), for X>1.

Casting spells

The maximum encumbrance levels for spellcasting in LotFP goes like this: light - heavy - any. (MU - Elf - Cleric)

For our new classes, let’s say heavily encumbered is the default limit, and having FTR or CLE shifts it one level up, and MU one level down. The result: Paladins (FTR-CLE) and Seekers (CLE-SPE) can cast at any encumbrance, Spellblades (FTR-MU) at heavy, and Bards (SPE-MU) at light. The only strange result here is the Seeker, who usually wouldn’t be wearing armor, since they need to be unencumbered to use their movement skills. But for the Paladin, Spellblade and Bard, I think this conforms to expectations.

Cleric hybrids can prepare any spell, as normal. Magic-User hybrids learn Read Magic at 2nd level, when they gain spell slots. As for learning and researching spells, here's where you can add unique mechanics to make the flavour of world you want. Perhaps Bards don't write spells down, but record them in their head, and research spells by listening to songs and stories. Perhaps Spellblades don't write their spells into books, but etch them onto their weapons and armour.


On a minor note, I think locking FTR-SPE hybrids to two skills is right, and helps protect the Specialist’s niche a bit. But for the Seeker and Bard, I would probably allow them to allocate the points as they want to represent their more scholarly disposition. What would you even lock Bards into if you had to pick two skills? Languages and Sleight of Hand?

Final List

Here are the final classes in a dense format that should give you all the information to make a full class table for any that you like. Let me know if like these and if you want me to lay out a PDF with the full class tables. For more interesting ideas from Sword and Scoundrel, check out Lateral Advancement.

ClassCombatSkill pointsSpellsSavesBase XP
Ranger+2 AB, all combat optionsBushcraft 2 and +1 at even levels, Stealth 2 and +1 at odd levels-As Fighter2,300
Assassin+2 AB, all combat optionsStealth 2 and +1 at even levels, Sneak Attack 2 and +1 at odd levels-As Specialist2,300
Tomb Raider+2 AB, all combat optionsSearch 2 and +1 at even levels, Tinker 2 and +1 at odd levels-As Specialist2,300
Paladin+2 AB, all combat options-As a Cleric of half your level, any encumbranceAs Fighter2,500
Seeker-2 skill points at start, +1 at each levelAs a Cleric of half your level, max. heavy encumbranceAs Cleric2,200
Bard-2 skill points at start, +1 at each levelAs M-U of half your level, max. light encumbranceAs Specialist2,500
Spellblade+2 AB, all combat options-As M-U of half your level, max. heavy encumbranceAs Magic-User2,800

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Alternative initiative systems: 'Split-side' and 'guerrilla' initiative

If you want to read the new rules rather than me rambling about a unified theory of initiative, skip on to the end.

The variables of an initiative system

The most common division made between initiative systems is in the granularity: individual initiative versus side initiative.

In individual initiative (the default in 5th edition D&D), the initiative order is written down, with each character acting on their own initiative count. Sometimes in battles with several types of monster, the monster types are grouped to act on the same count, but the key part is that each PC gets their own count, and their individual traits (Dexterity score, feats) affect that count. The benefit is that players get to feel the rewards of investing in those aspects of their character. The drawback of individual initiative is the need to constantly consult the initiative track, and the process of writing it down takes long enough to take us out of the exciting "combat is happening" moment.

In side initiative, the players and monsters make a contested roll to see which faction gets the first turn. This is then repeated (either in the same order, or re-rolling at the top of each round). Players are free to choose in which order they want to act during their side's turn. The benefit of side initiative is that it's fast, simple, and there is no need to write anything down, so it doesn't take us out of the moment. The drawback is more apparent in systems where action economy is important; if all the monsters focus-firing a single PC can down them in a single turn, fights can become even more swingy than they already are, with the first turn deciding it all. 

But this "side/individual axis" is only one variable of initiative systems. As an example of another variable, you could disregard rolling entirely, instead using the characters' passive initiative modifiers to determine their order (the 5e DMG presents this variant as "initiative score). This speeds things up, but only slightly, as the initiative order still needs to be written down. It also makes it rather static for the players, who end up acting in the same order relative to each other every time. It probably depends on your players whether they would be bummed out by that, or enjoy using it to discover trademark strategies.

This presents a second axis along which to customize initiative systems: the contested/passive axis. You can even introduce a hybrid of the two, in which only one side rolls, using the other side's passive score as a target number, but I see no particular benefits in this and only mention it as a curio.

Setting-specific initiative

To recap, the default 5e initiative system is a "individual + contested" initiative, in which everyone rolls, contested by everyone else, and the DMG presents an "individual + passive" variant. Many old-school games such as Moldvay Basic use a "side + contested" system as the default. But to really add flavour to our initiative system, we can create a "side + passive" system, and make the deciding factor something other than Dexterity score.

Veins of the Earth has "Lamps are Initiative", which has only the people with the brightest lights roll initiative - but if you decide that those with the brightest lights always go first, no rolling, you've got something interesting going. To give another example, consider what I'm calling "guerrilla initiative". Under this system, instead of rolling initiative, the side with the smaller numbers always has initiative. The players storm the lair of a solitary dragon? The dragon reacts first. The lair has a dozen kobolds in it? The players go first. The rule communicates something about the world: it really emphasizes the stealth in small numbers and the overhead of organizing as a larger group. You can come up with an infinite number of ways to decide which group has initiative in each setting.

Putting that aside, the system that I feel like combines the most strengths with the fewest drawbacks is something that, strangely, I haven't seen in any books. I call it split-side initiative.

Presenting split-side initiative

Like Moldvay and 5e, this is a contested roll, but it sits between side initiative and individual initiative.

The DM rolls a single initiative check for the monsters's side. The players then all roll initiative individually, using the monsters' roll as a target number. Players who roll equal or greater than the monsters' number are in group A. Those who do not are in group B. The turn order for a round then goes: the players in A, the monsters, the players in B. The player side is "split" in two. Each group of players acts as they would in side initiative.

This system is very simple, almost as simple as the old side initiative. But it also allows player characters to differentiate (rewarding high Dexterity scores), and reduces the impact of the "everyone focus-firing down a single character" problem. It's equally usable in old-school games, and games like 5e with a variety of feats and class features that interact with initiative rolls.

What do you think? Do let me know if this variant has been included in any books. It must have, seeing as there's no such thing as an original idea, right?