Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Hacking LOTFP Classes Part 5: Design Ideals

This is the fifth part in an article series examining the LOTFP classes in order to design new ones. Part 4 is here.

Now that I have associated each class with a base ability and examined the different subsystems that make up gameplay in abstract, I could begin to delve into the nitty-gritty of examining and designing new classes. However, before I do so I would like to talk a bit about the different ideals I'd like to keep in mind when designing classes for LOTFP. This is to ensure that that any modifications to existing classes or the creation of new classes very much fit in with the spirit of the game.

Ideal 1: A clear separation between classes: 

One thing I love about the classes in Lamentations of the Flame Princess and which I feel really sets the game apart from most other retro-clones, is that each of the four classes is clearly separated and good at what they do. Only the fighters attack bonus goes up in level, only the specialist has access to skills, only the magic-user can cast magic user type spells, and only the cleric can cast cleric type spells. This makes the game interesting where you know your character has a niche; it's going to excel at something that the other characters will never improve in or be able to do as they level up, and yet each class isn't specialized to the point that it sits on the sidelines in more general situations. I find it makes the game more engaging as it allows time for that character to shine and you don't have as much overlap between classes. This clear separation between classes is the first and foremost ideal I’d like to redesign the LOTFP classes with in mind.

Ideal 2: Each ability score is important: 

Ability scores often form the bedrock of the character. All other scores are derived from these scores. These scores are supposed to numerically represent the range of all human ability for the character. However, I find in a lot of D&D editions and clones very often these ability scores are not treated equally in terms of what is derived from them. Some, like strength, have the attack bonus and damage bonus derived from them. While other scores, like charisma, have very little derived from them. This tends to create a lopsided system where some base ability scores have a lot of things derived from them, and are important, while others are relatively unimportant.

LOTFP, to it’s credit, tries to rectify this by having each ability score feed into two other scores. While this is nice in design I find it fails in practice a bit where for some of the scores, like Open Door, are used very little and of lesser importance to others like base attack bonus. To this end the second design ideal I’d like to follow when redesigning the LOTFP classes is that each ability score should feel important. Having a high strength may help you in combat, but having a low charisma is definitely going to hurt you in other areas of the game. Each ability score should feel meaningful.

Ideal 3: Classes should not be special. They should be normal people. 

This is somewhat self-explanatory. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is set in the 17th century and the player characters are assumed to be random nobodies who are just trying to make their way in the world instead of important or heroic people. Like most other systems in the OSR movement, classes in LOTFP don’t have any crazy super powers. Even Magic-Users and Clerics are assumed to be humans who are simply dabbling in forces that they don’t completely understand, rather than having an inborn special talent or power. Characters aren't heroes by default, they can have moments of heroism, but heroism is generally is a risky affair.

Ideal 4: Class abilities shouldn't have too much randomness. 

This ties in with the above ideal and  is something that I think is often overlooked.  LOTFP doesn't have much randomness to it compared to some other OSR games. It lacks critical hits, critical hit tables, crazy spell charts and other stuff like this. Player actions tend to work the same every time they are used. Some people will try to add in things like critical hit charts, but overall I’m against it.

This is because LOTFP has a bit of a survival horror tone to it and emphasis is put on strategizing through planning. The more random something is, the harder it is to plan and be strategic about it. Chess is an incredibly strategic game with a lot of depth because you know that each different chess piece moves exactly the same way each time. You can think ahead and plan out moves. If you had to roll a dice to determine how a chess piece would move it, or how far it would move, chess would be a very different game.

Combat is deadly in LOTFP and overall the game rewards those who plan. The more deadly and unforgiving a game is, I think the more players should feel like they are wholly in control of their actions and that their actions are predictable allowing them to plan effectively. If a group spends a half an hour planning a battle only to die because the shapeless horror rolled lucky and got a bunch of critical hits, it becomes frustrating. However if a group spends half an hour planning a battle only to die because the shapeless horror proved to be way more powerful than they thought and they didn't run away mid battle, or their plan was too complicated and didn't work, while the result is technically the same, the situation is less frustrating as you feel like you can learn from your mistakes and plan better next time with what you now know, as you can predict future outcomes based upon bast experiences. While randomness can be used to cause the game to take an interesting turn, random charts are a good example of this, it can also make it very hard to plan and be strategic as it makes predicting what is going to happen very hard.

Ideal 5: The setting and atmosphere of the game isn't baked into the rules

This is one of the things I find people tend to notice the first when either reading the LOTFP adventures and then the rules or vice versa; that the atmosphere of weird horror and implied 17th century setting isn't baked into the rules that much. While the setting is mentioned in the rulebook, and there are some rules specific to the period, like firearms, much of the classes and core game rules are setting neutral.

While some may think this to be a missed opportunity, where you could really drive home the themes of the game by making the Fighter a Monster Hunter with an ability or two relating to fighting monsters, I feel like this ultimately is a disservice to the players. One of the reasons I like the LOTFP classes is because they are so neutral and unsuggestive. One player's fighter may be an veteran soldier who has fought in a bunch of campaigns, while another may be a farmer whose family was slaughtered and who has taken up the sword. By having the classes neutral in this manner it allows for greater player freedom in imagining exactly what their character is like. Each class has core abilities that matter, but these abilities aren't meant to emulate a certain type of fictional character. That’s the player's job.

Continued in Part 6: Redesigning the Cleric Class 

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