Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some thoughts on Alignments

Some thoughts on Alignments, somehow as an expansion on the LotFP approach (a re-post from Gplus).
I apologize for the wall of text.

All humans are born Neutral: there is a certain degree of selfishness in a Neutral alignment, there is a natural amount of cowardice and common sense, a willingness to be somehow a part of the current order of things. Neutrality allows also a fair degree of sentiments and love, of empathy and piety even. Loving a partner or a family member is Neutral, and so is hating their guts. Most humans are Neutral, and so is the human society at large.

Law is mostly a philosophical stance: when humans are concerned with more than themselves, they tend to a Lawful alignment. Someone in the hierarchy of the church is reasonably Lawful, as much as someone part of a cult, or of a secret society (assuming they believe in those organizations). Lawful is anyone who strives for some sort of order or purpose larger than themselves, either in a solitary endeavor or as part of a group with a common intent. Someone rebelling against nobility not for their own gain, but for their fellow commoners, is Lawful. And Lawful are probably the officers or nobles that fight to crush the rebellion, and strive to maintain the current order. Low-ranking rebels and common soldiers, on both sides, are probably Neutral, though. Lawful is an alignment for some, not for most humans.
It is clear, then, that Lawful has no Good or Evil connotation: it is the belief in something larger, in a purpose, in some sort of order, that makes the Lawful alignment be so.

Chaos, on the other hand, is the mark of everything non-human on a human soul. Using sorcery is chaotic and living according to the most simple rules of nature is chaotic (especially when the rest of the society does not). Chaotic is by no mean Evil. Chaos instead is in touch with the mystic energy of sorcery that subverts the rational laws, Chaos is a manifestation of a force (nature) larger than the single human life. But where Law brings order and has a purpose (regardless of what it is), Chaos simply is. It is capricious, it is fundamentally alien for humans, although some humans may indeed be touched and marked by it.

There is an order in Alignments; one must strive with consistency to bring themselves from Neutral to Lawful. Therefore, lack of such commitment resolves in a default declaration of Neutrality. The Referee may insist that a Lawful character change to Neutral, if they fail to prove their commitment with enough effort. Sacrifice (and often self-sacrifice) is required to maintain a Lawful alignment.
But as much as Neutral overrides Lawful for lack of commitment, Chaotic may override both Neutral and Lawful. Technically speaking, the usage of any form of sorcery is Chaotic. A lot of Lawful organizations maintain their lawful orientation and purpose, but any of their members that make use of sorcery are Chaotic (Magic-Users, yes, but I would say this includes Clerics too).

Someone might argue that magic, when blessed by the church for example, in the form of the clerical spells, is not Chaotic.
This is up to the Referee or the group to decide: if the Referee and the group can demonstrate that the higher source of power for clerical spells is god, then Clerics may be Lawful instead of Chaotic. This has a powerful implication: god itself must be Lawful if its magic does not bring the taint of Chaos with it. But if so, why is the world such a mess, why does not Law prevail on every aspect of our lives? What is the limit of the power of god, then? And is Chaos, and its sorcery, an enemy of a Lawful god, or are these simply two different entities, or even two different faces of the same divinity?

If the Referee and the group decide instead that clerical spells receive their power from the same source as sorcery, then Clerics must be Chaotic. Magic-users, of course, are always Chaotic.
(If you use demi-humans, stick to the default: Elves are Chaotic, Dwarfs and Halflings may also be Lawful, or more likely Neutral.)
Fighters and Specialist are usually Neutral and may strive to be Lawful, but how can they obtain the taint of Chaos if they wish to be Chaotic? May a simple curse do it? A mutation?
So, Neutral is the default state for humans; Lawful is an alignment which can be obtained through proper actions and a higher goal, while Chaos is a mark, an alignment brought by the power of sorcery.

Good and Evil perhaps exist, perhaps not. In gaming terms, Good should be treated as Lawful, and Evil as Chaotic. But this association is made by the human mind only. In truth, Good and Evil exist in these terms: they are strictly a consequence of the character’s actions.
Anything that causes harm that cannot be undone, is Evil. The scope of this definition is to be argued by the Referee and the group; is eating meat enough to be defined evil? Or is murder the line not to cross? What about murder with the intent of defending oneself, or even to defend one or more other persons? And where Evil is the harm that cannot be undone, it is therefore an Alignment that may very well be placed upon a character as a consequence of their action, even if the player is unwilling.
Again, there is room for argument here, and for house-rules: once the Evil Alignment is obtained, is there room for atonement and change? Or is this mark for life? Also, may the Evil alignment be associated with another, such as Lawful-Evil (not hard to imagine), Neutral-Evil and Chaotic-Evil? I do believe so. How to treat it in game terms? To me, Evil is predominant and therefore the character should be treated as Chaotic. But if the character for example is Lawful-Evil, they should be able to enjoy the benefit of the Lawful Alignment as well.
Good, on the other hand, has the simplest definition: it fights Evil.
It does not fight Chaotic or Neutral, and if it does, it will cause harm that cannot be undone and therefore become Evil. But as long as it fights Evil, Good may be treated as Lawful Alignment.
It is clear also that without Evil, Good cannot exist. It would simply revert to Lawful or Neutral or Chaotic.

Also, I stated previously that Good should be treated as Lawful, and Evil as Chaotic, and that this association is made by the human mind only. This is true: if the game inserts for example the idea of sin - in religious terms - as what defines Chaos and Evil, and religion as Lawful and Good, another character may argue that Good can be found only in the freedom of Chaos, and that any form of Lawful order is an imposition, and therefore Evil.
I do believe characters should be treated as they believe that they should be treated. You may have a character who claims to be Good fighting another who also claims to be Good; they both are, since they fight Evil in the form of the other. And both would reasonably end up being Evil, for the damage they'll cause.
Also, if a character claims they believe in the Good freedom of Chaos, so they want to be Chaotic-Good, the Referee may test them. If the Referee finds them hesitant, or catches a glimpse of guilt, perhaps the roots of the original sin have found their way into this character's heart, and they should instead just be Neutral, or simply Chaotic if they use sorcery.

The witch about to be burned at the stake is Chaotic because she uses sorcery, most of the crowd is Neutral, even those perverted enough to enjoy such a show. The witch-hunter is probably Lawful, but as soon as he burns the first witch, he becomes Evil, or better yet, Lawful-Evil. The one who betrayed the witch, and did it for a compensation in gold, not for a higher purpose, is simply Evil - this had nothing to do with Lawful.
The party of adventurers walking into the village right now are of different Alignments: there is a Magic-User who is Chaotic, there is a Specialist who is clearly Neutral, there is a Fighter who is Lawful and fights so that no one is burned at the stake, ever. This Fighter is not Good - too many deads behind - but is actually Lawful-Evil, same as the witch-hunter; just following a different path.
There is also a Cleric, level one, first time at the table, who believes to be Good (technically, Lawful-Good). At sunset, the Cleric will probably be Lawful-Evil or dead.
The Cleric might remain Lawful-Good, yes, as long as the corpses on the square, at the end of the day, are only the ones of those who are Evil.

So, this was a personal take on the LotFP alignements system, but if you want to read some more about alignments, you can check this post of mine: Alignments.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Better spells at level one

First level spells are not always very powerful and often randomly determined. Having a lame spell or two forces the Magic User to be creative, but when this is paired with very low HP and just one or two spell slots to memorize them, it makes the Magic User not just quite vulnerable (which is fine) but sometimes nearly useless.
Many house-rules try to address this, by adding cantrips, additional effects, the possibility to cast more than the usual one or two spells before running out of prepared slots, or allowing to prepare more than one spell per slot, and so on.

In the first linked article, Parker adds additional effects or variants to every level one spell. These features sometimes allow delayed or special effects that make the Magic User a little more versatile in the first levels.

Spell Features
by ktrey parker
The intention is to provide a little more "Magic" to First Level Magic-Users, including up to six unusual choices for most of the standard starting spells. This should help insure that no two 1st Level Magic-Users are the same, even if they possess the same spells. It might also make the Class a little more flavorful and “exotic” for those that grouse at the limitations of low level Magic-Users or sour at the idea of Random Spell Selection when they receive perceived non-starters like the much maligned “Ventriloquism.” [...]
I imagine that it would work something like this: Once Spells are randomly determined (or selected, if you are feeling exceptionally generous) for a first level Magic-User the player may either choose or randomly roll on the Spell Features for their specific 1st level Spell (everyone receives Read Magic in most of my games).
Some Spell Features are obviously more useful than others, and no regard has been paid to imaginary beasts like game-balance, nor is there much in the way of mechanical consistency. This was intentional, as I find it keeps things weird and mystifying, just as magic should be. [...]

Courtney Campbell instead provides a short and useful list of cantrips (short is always useful, because it's fast to read and make choices with it!), like involuntary bodily reactions, small flames, chill, clean, etc... Cantrips are "level zero" but not necessarily weak: think of an involuntary bodily reaction when an adversary is a precarious position, or a small flame near a barrel of black powder.

[...] Cantrips - “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”
Wizards of any sort may do any of the following at any time:
- Touch someone to cause an involuntary bodily reaction at any time on a failed saving throw vs. paralyzation. (fart, bletch, blink, nod, yawn)
- Produce a small lighter sized flame
- Chill an object smaller than 1 cubic foot to 40 degrees. 
- Clean one man-sized creature or smaller, or one 10' x 10' x 10' cube or smaller. Cleaning the cube takes the magic one turn.
- Summon one diminutive vermin or insect
- Kill one tiny vermin or insect [...]

R.J. Thompson, then, provides a similar approach to cantrips, but in a sort of "free-form" manner, with some freedom for the player (and negotiation with the GM), but some other limitations (i.e. a minor cantrip might be used many times but only if the "parent spell" was not used yet, or a slightly more powerful cantrip may be used only once).

Simple Cantrip Rules For Swords & Wizardry and OD&D
by R.J. Thompson
Cantrip is an archaic word originally meant to define a trick performed by witchery. Later it was used to mean a malicious trick or a sham. In recent years (at least since the publication of the AD&D version of "Unearthed Arcana") it has come into usage in fantasy role playing to mean a bit of minor magic. This is typically in the form of 0 level spells in D&D and it's simulacra. [...]
How are we going to make this work? Well, this takes bargaining between the referee and the player. A mage can attempt to cause a minor magical effect based upon the effect of any spell currently memorized (or known spells not expended in the case of my sorcerer class.) For example, a mage with fireball written may want to light a pipe from his finger. A witch being bothered by a would be suitor may want to make him drowsy, heading off to bed, without expending the full effect of the spell and making him not off there and then. Likewise a sorceress with telekinesis may want to cause a bell that she can see ring, or wind chimes sound, without using the full effect of her spell. Minor effects like this might be allowed without question (possibly allowing a saving throw for the chap that is getting drowsy.) [...]

In another post I'd like also to review the inspiration of the Summon spell to grant level-one Magic Users (and maybe Clerics) access to higher powers, at a greater risk.
In a few words, I am considering to use something similar to the Summon spell, accessible at level one, to gain access to high-level spells but at a great risk. This might take the form of longer rituals, the use of sacrifices (both in terms of wealth, enchanted items, spell books and scrolls, etc.) and in general high risks, in exchange for casting once a powerful spell.

(This is just a very rough draft with no second thoughts about balance and in need of course of a more careful review)
For example, a Magic User could cast as if they were of a higher level, adding one level for each of the following:
- The sacrifice of an unwilling victim (at least an HD 1 humanoid creature)
- Taking hours for a ritual (random? chosen?)
- Sacrificing at least 1,000 sp or a loot of equivalent value
- Sacrificing an enchanted item (not cursed)

There should be some uncertainty, as in the Summon spell. Let's say the MU wants to cast Wall of Fire or Polymorph Self, which are 4th level spells, thus require the MU to be Level 7 or higher.
To do that, the MU should either have access to a spellbook with that spell (even if they cannot learn it), or perhaps they will try to cast it without the full necessary knowledge, at an additional risk.
For each "level of risk" (i.e. 1 for not knowing the spell, and 1 for each level of difference between the MU's level and necessary level), roll a d6.
Every result of 1 is a "bane".

For each aid (sacrifice, hours of ritual, 1,000 sp or enchanted item, etc.) roll a d6. Every result of 6 is a "boon". Spend boons to cancel banes, one to one. One boon, though, must be used to actually obtain the spell effect as intented.
Every bane not countered by a boon, will cause problems. Serious problems.
Maybe the Polymorph Self will last the maximum duration in turns, but the MU cannot end it before (thus losing the ability to cast other spells), or the duration might be in hours or even days (more "banes"), and again impossible to end before the time. Maybe the polymorph causes a serious weakness (Save vs Magic, success go down to half HP, failure go down to 1 HP), etc.
Wall of Fire with one or more "banes"? I can see that halway filling with fire, fast, out of control, and burning for hours, for days... Or maybe the MU hairs all burn out, and their hands become fiercely hot and damage every mundane item they get in touch with, for the next 1d6 hours or days...

This definitely requires more thoughts...

Friday, October 19, 2018

Summon spell

The Summon spell (LotFP) is simply great. It's a powerful, dangerous tool potentially available for any level-1 Magic User. It's bound to cause confusion and disaster, or save the day when everything seems to be lost. It might unleash a powerful entity that will serve the Magic User character (or at least, cause enough distraction or destruction to allow the Magic User and their companions to escape, or go unnoticed, or steal the treasure, or do whatever they were here to do...), or it might summon a pitiful creature. It might even end the world.
Yes, it is available to level-1 characters, and as Ramanan puts it: "Who thought letting first level characters cast this spell was a good idea?" James, of course, did.
The spell actually tells us also something about the world of LotFP: this is a world where a powerful entity might be evoked by a careless and clueless Magic User or cultist, and escape their control. So for any nightmarish creature that you encounter, the answer to the question:
"Where the fu** does this come from?"
is probably: "A Summon spell gone wrong."

The only thing about the spell is that it's quite long (several pages) and it involves a complex procedure to generate the summoned entity and verify if it's under control, etc.
So, if you are online, use the Summon online tool by Ramanan.

by Ramanan Sivaranjan
For use in the summoning of demon and hell spawn in the role playing game Lamentations of the Flame Princess. You can use this page to go through the motions of casting the first level Magic-User's spell Summon, as outlined on page 142 of the Rules and Magic book of the role-playing game Lamentations of the Flame Princess. [...]

There is also an excel version of the tool mentioned, but I didn't find it.
If anyone has a link to share, for the excel, please do (convenient if you have no connectivity).

In my attempt to work on a new magic system, which has all spells potentially available at level one, I did a rewriting of the Summon spell, as in the image below.
It loses a lot of the most weird combinations but makes the process much faster. The spell should be usable even without the rest of the draft of the magic system; just consider that a caster has a number of "levels" to spend on the spell which are equal to their actual level. And in the spell itself, everything is done by "spending" levels.
In other words, a level 2 Magic User could spend 2 levels, in this spell, for example to select the following effects:
- 1 level for an HD 3 demon,
- 1 level to get a +1 to the domination roll.
A level 3 Magic user could spend all 3 levels to evoke up to an HD 5 demon.
(in the draft, not presented here, here are an additional 2 pages to summon more powerful demons)

While as I said the spell loses some of its charm (and its potential to destroy the planet), it provides a nice, two pages and fast procedure to replace the more complex original Summon.
(and it gives a simple and nice overview of the "spend-levels" magic system)

In a similar way (but way before I did, in 2012), Mike Evans also wrote a shorter, faster version of the Summon spell. Go to the linked page and you will also find a version of this spell in PDF to download.

The Summoning Spell From Lamentations of the Flame Princess Vornheim Style
By Mike Evans
[...] One of my favorite parts LotFP is (and I’ve seen much praise for this) the Summon spell.  It is an interesting, dark, and unique take on what has normally been a “poof here is a griffon, eagle, blink dog, etc fighting for you” kind of spell.
The one criticism of it is that it weighs in at 6 pages (or 10 pages if you count the special summoned beings).  That is a hefty thing to sift through when you’re trying to keep the action on the game table.
I’ve seen people ask for or about a more simplified version of it out there.  Zak threw out a comment about doing in in the same vein as Vornheim.  I pondered this for a bit and was thinking of doing a die drop chart (since I love those things so fucking much), but in the end I thought, for this particular situation, it would become too convoluted…  However I did decide to still use one aspect of the die drop chart.  Roll a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and a d20 and consult the table and you now have you Summons.
I tried to keep this extremely simple, but still offer a wide variety of “what the fuck is that?!” type creatures and abilities.  Obviously the spell itself is inspired and hacked from LotFP.  Many of the powers are listed in the book itself, some are just my own grab from any old D&D style OSR book or my own idea. [...]

Curious about yet another take on the Summon spell? What if a caster at 9th level, with enough sacrifice and money and power could control in part of the spell, to determine the sort of creature to evoke?

Advanced Summon Spell for LotFP
by Justin Stewart
Arguably, one of the most popular and beloved aspects of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic book is the Summon spell. I mean, come on, you've got to love a first-level spell that lets you summon a randomized monster, often vastly overpowered, that can either eat you, serve you, or straight up end the world if you screw up badly enough.
However, sometimes you want to summon something a little more specific. Sometimes, you don't just want any demon, but specifically Headsosoth the Headsucking Monstrosity from Mars. Sometimes you want to summon a demon that can possess a pet bird and use its body to spy on the local mayor, as was the case in our game last Saturday.
Here's my house rule for handling that situation.
"Advanced Summon" is not technically a separate spell. When a Magic-User reaches a high enough experience level to cast ninth-level spells, the Magic-User can choose to memorize Summon as a ninth-level spell instead of a first-level spell. This version of the spell is considered Advanced Summon. [...]

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Ways to keep your level-up experience interesting and to give your fighter a new taste.
Alternate Fighter For, like, D&D and stuff like that by ZAK SABBATH
OSR: Class: Fighters by Skerples
New OSR class: The Swordslave by Michael Quinn

What I like the most is that these could be inserted in a regular OSR game without the need to change anything else. You could have different players playing different fighter characters by using a different level-up system/alternative class.
Zak provides probably the most complete level-up system (and one that provides variety for all your players - no two fighters will be the same), Skerples has some very interesting backgrounds to add to your fighter, Michael Quinn has a slightly overpowered class to present (balanced with these two simple lines: "Saving throws and attack progression as Fighter / Level progression as Magic User").

More in details, for each of the links above:

Alternate Fighter For, like, D&D and stuff like that
This is pretty much a new fighter from the ground up.
It's based most explicitly on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy RPG fighter [...]
-differentiates PCs mechanically a little more
-suggests a slightly more D&Dish, pile-of-goblin-skulls and less Cthulhu-esque-monster-of-the-week background than LOTFP, and
-makes levelling up a little more fun than it usually is. [...]
When you level up as a fighter in LOTFP 3 things happen: more hit points, attack bonus goes up, saves might get better. So in this...
WARRIOR (Fighter Variant) start with your normal 0 level hit points and saves. Write those down.
At first level, and each time you level up, you get your hit points as usual, but instead of the attack bonus and saves improving on a schedule, you roll twice on this table. Do what it says--there are also indicators of what to do if you re-roll that same result over again in places where that's hard to figure out... [...]

OSR: Class: Fighters
by Skerples
Rolling up a Wizard in the GLOG system is fun and exciting, and I've tried to make Knights interesting too. Now it's time for Fighters. [...]
I think you can judge a system by its fighters. Every OSR blogger under the sun has a new and interesting system for spells, shamans, zombie-tamers, trained dogs, and half-goat-half-werewolf-half-angels, but you can tell if someone really cares by how they build their "chump with a sword" class. The GLOG one is pretty good. [...]
Who Are You?
When I retire, I'm going to put my sword on my shoulder and start walking away from the war, and I'm going to keep on walking until I meet a man who says, "Hey, what's that thing on your shoulder?" Then I'm going to stop, stab him, and take his house. [...]

You didn’t choose it. It chose you.
You found it enveloped in the old growth of an ancient tree. Or your father took it out of a plain wood chest and gave it to you the day you left home. Or maybe that’s just what you told them after you stripped it off some wandering vagrant after you killed him over a few mouthfuls of wine.
Regardless, whatever your life was before is over. You belong to this sword as much as it belongs to you. [...]
Swordslaves are vagabond warriors who possess a mystic blade with a mind of its own.
Class Abilities
Saving throws and attack progression as Fighter
Level progression as Magic User [...]

Possible ways to make an interesting OSR fighter class variant/level-up system (perhaps just making a list for myself):
- Weapons and Armor Restrictions are usually not a fighter thing: consider trading different abilities or bonuses with the introduction of some restrictions
- Additional Attacks are a classic; let's make them interesting... and so Parry or other defensive options
- To-hit roll, Damage roll Bonuses are also a classic; let's tune them
- Increase the XP req. in exchange for more powerful options, or reduce it for smaller, more frequent level-up alternatives (I prefer to reduce it in exchange for a less powerful progression)
- I am a big fan of random level-up options; they reduce decision-paralysis issues (common with players, especially if level-up is rare and it becomes a big deal), they embrace the OSR spirit for random and they make for interesting combinations

Below are some screenshots of my fighter variants in Crying Blades, the Crying Hack, and the Black Dogs zine (that page is from issue #5):

Sunday, October 14, 2018

All the OSR blogs in one place

All the OSR blogs in one place

Ramanan Sivaranjan

That’s all the OSR blogs people have collected so far, and now you can read them all aggregated together and it’s wonderful. [...]

The Black Dogs zine

This fanzine is the main project keeping me busy at the moment.
You can see more in the appropriate page here:

These are a few images of issue #1, available as PayWhatYouWant, here:

A few pictures of the entire collection, so far, up to number 6:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The blog; a new home

I'm not sure how long this will last.
But with the news of G+ shutting down, I want to be able to have a place where to post stuff which isn't necessarily another social network. So let's try with a blog. Probably it will be more about posting links to other pages than about original content, but let's see.
Somehow, I hope that a blog instead of a social network will compensate the lack of a constant stream of posts (and bullshit) with a sort of better quality. Especially for me as a reader.
The end of Gplus might not be so bad after all.