Friday, August 23, 2019

Some minor classes

This post provides a few examples of alternative classes, based on alternative concepts which are less "hero-like" and that can provide a fresh, new approach to the game.
They are especially good if you like to play a low-fantasy, gritty game.

I guess they can all serve also as a great starting point for some special characters to emerge, if they survive, through various adventures.

In the first example, the key concept is to play a group of low-skilled, nameless characters, forming a mob. The instructions about the class provided by Joseph Manola include options to see a few of them emerge as regular characters.
The thing I like a lot about this class is how the various "extras" most of the times act as a mob of nameless characters, without any special advantage for their number. But sometimes one of them will emerge, get a name, a few additional actions... and with that and through the death of the others, they might become a real character.

B/X Class: The Extras
by Joseph Manola
I was reading through issue three of Brave the Labyrinth (get it! It's free!) when I came across the Grimp character class. The idea behind the class is that, rather than playing one character, you play a whole group of tiny imps [...] Now, I really liked this idea, but it made me think: could the idea of one player playing a group of characters, all of whom collectively act as one character, be taken further? And then my eye fell upon my Pirates of the Carribean DVDs, and I came up with this:
B/X Class: The Extras
You aren't one person at all: instead, you are playing an indeterminate mob of nameless minor characters who follow the other PCs around. You might be a pirate crew, a band of Merry Men, a bunch of faceless stormtroopers, or anything else, but two facts remain constant: there are a lot of you (although exactly how many seems to vary from scene to scene) and, despite your numbers, collectively you only manage to achieve about as much as each of the main characters does individually. At best. 
Safety In Numbers: Apart from named characters (see below), The Extras always go around in a single big mob. If you use a battle grid or similar, assume that this mob of extras takes up an area 20' square whenever possible. (In a 5' wide tunnel, they'd form a single line 5' wide and 80' long.) They always move as a single mass, and can attack or be attacked by anything within 5' of the mob.
Inverse Ninja Rule: Even though there are so many of them, The Extras only get a single action per round: so a whole mob of Extras attacking a monster is resolved with a single attack roll, and so on. (The exception is Named Characters - see below.)
Many Hands Make Light Work: Whenever they're performing some kind of unskilled labour - e.g. standing watches, digging ditches, carrying treasure, rowing oars, etc - The Extras can accomplish the work of ten men. Even though there are more of them than that. Probably. Most of the time. 
Die All, Die Merrily: If The Extras are ever reduced to 0 HP, describe them all dying in some suitably tragi-comic fashion. The only survivors of this massacre will be the Named Characters. The person playing The Extras can immediately continue play as Sarge, who can be assumed to be a Fighter of one level lower than The Extras; the other Named Characters will be fighters of half the level of The Extras, rounded down, who will instantly become Sarge's henchmen (or someone else's, if this would take Sarge above their limit.) Each of these characters emerges from the general massacre with only (1d6x10)% of their maximum HP.

The Urchin by Goblin's Henchman, instead, is a young adventurer, a street kid that has learnt to survive. As such, it has different stats and skills than regular characters (some at their advantage, other less so...).
Again, by surviving long enough the Urchin becomes a real, adult character - in quite an elegant way, by changing the stats, little by little, from child to adult.
Again, the best feature of this class is that it brings to life a real character, but already with some history, with some background.

Class – Urchin
[...] This character class is a street kid that has learnt to survive. This class is blessed with intuition, insight and pluck.
You can’t be a kid forever, so at some stage the PC must dual class to their true calling (but hopefully picking up some grifter-like urchin skills on the way). 
Ability scores are linked to growing up
Urchins grow up. The mechanism for growing up is linked to their ability scores (i.e. stats). In Step (1) determine the stats the urchin will have when they grow up, and in Step (2), the stats they have now as the urchin.

Step (1) Roll up the adult ability scores in the normal manner e.g. 3D6 or 4D6 and drop the lowest etc.
Step (2) With the above rolls in hand, now work out the (child) urchin’s stats:
(a) STR, CON and WIZ – select and add the the highest two dice rolls. The Urchin is not fully developed physically and emotionally yet.
(b) DEX, INT and CHA add +D4 to each of the adult stats (but not exceeding 18). The urchin is small, limber and willing; their imagination/thoughts are flexible and free, they have great empathy.

Keep a note of both the adult and child stats.
Stats on levelling & growing up & dual classing
Each time the urchin gains a level, the child stats move one unit nearer the adult stats (more adult like).
When ALL the urchin’s stats are the same as the adult stats [...], the child has fully matured as much as they ever will, and this class essentially ends. Thereafter the character must dual class to grow further.

Design notes:
- "The Extras" is a nice class to play every now and then for variety: it presents a mob of nameless characters strong in number but weak in skills and initiative
- Some of them emerge in play and gain a name and somehow build up to a real character
- It plays well with low-magic, gritty settings
- "The Urchin" is a different alternative: it could be played by a single player or even by all players as a build-up to the real characters
- It features a nice system where you level-up and gain some points in some stats while you lose points in other stats, until you reach the point where you become a "regular" character

Friday, August 9, 2019

Improve low level magic

In a previous post, Better spells at level one, I tried to present a few options to make Level 1 Magic Users slightly more powerful or versatile, to make them more usable at the start of the game.

The articles here provide a list of additional alternatives to improve versatility and effects which are especially useful to low level Magic Users.

The first article features a nice, interesting idea which makes the Magic User capable of investigating dungeon features by having at their disposal a spell of the appropriate king. Fire spells can be used to investigate fire or ice spells can be used for divination about the winter weather, and so on.
This would work very well as an addition to cantrips - reasonably as an additional cantrip in itself, called Spell Consultation.

Spell Consultation
by Buildings Are People
A fire spell might be consulted to learn whether a strange material is flammable. An ice spell might be consulted to learn how much longer winter will last. A bewitch spell might give advice about improving social status with the local elite. A knock spell might explain something about the workings of a door rather than merely opening it.
This consultation is not a simple siphoning of information from an ancient text the spellcaster has memorized. The spell manifests as an incorporeal, transparent personality visible only to the caster, who appears to be speaking to himself, in his own voice and in another, strange voice that he thinks fits the personality of the spell. He is not doing this for comfort, fun, or drama; it's a necessary result of the consultation. To avoid appearing even more insane and eccentric than casters usually appear, many prefer to find somewhere private when consulting a spell. Time constraints often prevent this, of course. [...]

The next article fits again very well within the list of other cantrips.
It takes a simple approach to various subjects (fixing things, finding, blessing, healing, etc.) and proposes a low-level yet very useful list of spells that your Magic User (or Cleric) can use at will.

I mentioned in my last post that even magic would be mundane in the "Real" world. I want players to have the option of delving into the mystic arts but would rather not just hand them really powerful or even incredibly interesting spells. It might seem strange to water down magic but these are really tricks. [...]
The trade wizard will do a quick fix for your boat but it will really require a true craftsman to truly repair your vessel. A village wisdom will give you healing herbs but bedrest will still be required. However, mundane magic is still useful and thus it is still practiced. Here are some spells that fit the bill. All spells will have a range of 30ft, require line of sight, and be cast as many times as desired unless stated otherwise. 
1d12 Mundane Magics:
1. Mend: Cause an object to repair itself. There is a level in 6 chance that this spell will work. On a failure, this spell cannot be cast on the same object again until the sun has risen again. Such repairs typically don't last because the spell only repairs as well as the caster could repair such an object and it fades with time. This fix will last for 1d4 days of use for this object if the caster is unknowledgeable about the kind of craft the object was constructed with. If the caster is knowledgeable, the fix will last 1d6 days of use.
2. Find: So long as you have a piece of something or someone, you can find them. To do this, you must spend an hour binding the piece to a compass, necklace, or other makeshift directional devices. After which point, the device will gently point in the approximate direction of the target.
3. Animate: Cause a small object no bigger than a peasant's chair to come to life for a Turn (10 minutes). There is a level in 8 chance that the object will naturally obey your spoken commands. If not this object will require convincing. Objects keep their tendency towards pliancy or rebellion even after this spell has worn off. They retain their personality if animated again. Thus, casters of this spell are known to carry around loyal objects that they can rely on.
1d12 Divine Mundanities:
1. Bless: You can create a vial of holy water with an hour's prayer, or give a level in 20 chance of the harvest being bountiful by walking around their fields with a censer or thurible or aspergillum until you have circled the fields three times (usable only once every harvest), or bless a weapon by anointing it with holy water, giving its user Advantage on a single attack of their choice within 24 hours.
2. Heal: You cause a creature you can touch to regain 1 HP and give them Advantage on their next save against a physical malady. This spell requires use of herbs that you have prepared. Each dose takes an hour to prepare and 1 sp in reagents. A target of this spell can only be effected once every 24 hours.
3. Ease: Remove a level of exhaustion from a creature and add it to yourself.

In this third post, Brendan (one of my favourite authors, and your too, I bet!) provides a couple of alternatives to the standard Vancian rules. Note that they allow the Magic User to retain the spell after casting (variant 1 - not always forgetting) or to be able to cast a spell that was not prepared (variant 2 - it actually overlaps a bit with variant 1, because you could cast, forget, but then try again).
Both systems (and also rule 3 which for some reason is included under variant 2, but I would count it as a third different house-rule) improve a caster's usefulness for the party by allowing either to cast more than usual, or more spells even if not prepared.

Two Vancian Magic Variants
by Brendan 
[...] Variant 1: Spell Retention
Prepare spells as normal, standard charts. However, when a spell is cast it is not automatically wiped from the magic-user’s mind. The magic-user gets a save vs. spells (penalized by spell level) to retain it. [...]
What’s the downside? If the magic-user rolls a 1 on the saving throw, that is considered a spell fumble and they lose the spell and must roll on a magical mishaps table (or suffer some other campaign-specific penalty). Fumbles can only occur when casting spells of the highest two or three levels that can be prepared. 
Variant 2: Improv Casting
Prepare spells reliably as per the traditional rules. Any unprepared spell that the magic-user is familiar with (i.e., has in their spell book) may be cast but requires an action and a successful save vs. spells (penalty equal to spell level as above). Failure and the action is wasted, fumble and bad stuff happens. Further, a fumble occurs on any die roll equal to or less than the spell level. Thus, casting an unprepared third level spell would fumble on a roll of 1, 2, or 3.
“I saw this one thing this one time and it kinda went like this…”
Any spell that the magic-user has witnessed may also be attempted (for example, if the magic-user has seen another magic-user cast fireball). This uses the same rules as casting unprepared spells, but the save penalty and fumble threat range are doubled.

Both of these variants increase the magic-user’s power or versatility, but also expose them to fumbles. 
This does probably make magic-users more powerful, so if that is a problem you should control spell acquisition carefully (for example, no free new spells on level up). If one was so inclined, one could use both variants together, as they cover different aspects of casting, but that would result in a larger divergence from the traditional game.

The question, about this third (and last link for this post) is: how can these rules be tuned to be equally effective for low level casters?
Because keeping them as they are, they grant more advantages to higher level casters, while the purpose of this is to grant more power to low level casters without breaking the game...

Design notes:
- Spells may provide information or divination related to their own nature (i.e. fire spells about flames, ice spells about cold weather or ice itself, knock spells can be used to investigate doors, lock spells to investigate locks or traps, etc.)
- The "Spell Consultation" option fits well with other cantrips, to improve low level Magic Users versatility
- Make mundane magic and simple divine blessings (aka cantrips) for various topics (fixing things, finding, blessing, healing, etc.)
- The key is to keep them simple, usable and versatile, without giving them too much power; they should be simple spells that provide some help to the characters rather than powerful ones that will solve the situation
- To grant more power to low level casters, another possible option is to allow a Saving Throw (or use another mechanic) to allow the caster to retain the spell after using it (not forgetting it every time)
- Another option is to allow to cast a spell which was not prepared (again with a Saving Throw or similar mechanic)
- The issue with Saving Throws is that they improve with the character's level, so this change is more beneficial to high level casters