Breadth or Depth? Skills in RPG Games

In fantasy RPGs like D&D or the various OSR clones, a character tends to grow in depth in their particular skills: Wizards learn more spells, warriors get better at striking foes dead, thieves* get better at thieving, and so on.

In D&D, there can be some growth in the breadth of skill.  When Fighters reach name level (usually Level 9), they can become Paladins, gaining some clerical skills.  Thieves* learn to cast spells from Magic User scrolls.  In S&W Complete, Rangers gain clerical and magical user spells.

Generally, I tend to describe the OSR games as games where your character skills grow in depth.  Games like Dungeon World, which uses the same classes as D&D, the character grows more in breadth than depth.  The Fighter can learn to intimidate someone using his Strength rather than his Charisma stat, for example.  There’s always an option to learn a skill from another class, such as the Ranger’s Volley skill or a thief* skill.    There is the option to increase offensive damage using the Merciless skill, but generally when you add to skills in DW, you increase in breadth.

So why am I mentioning this subject?  How your character develops can be important in the style of game your group wants to play.  For a zero-to-hero style of game, where you play a little every week and slowly build your character up, a depth oriented style might be more suitable.  For heroic level play or one-shots, a breadth based development might be more suitable.  You may not care in detail how well a character can pick pockets, but rather whether he or she is good at it.

 

If I had a group that could meet weekly, I would be more inclined to the depth oriented approach as we could observe the characters growing in their niche powers over time.  But, as I play so infrequently, I presently prefer to develop characters in terms of breadth.  The Fighter can fight better than the rest, the thief can do stealthy things better than the rest, and so on.  Maybe the fighter can learn to sneak if he takes off his heavy armor and learns from the thief.  Maybe the wizard learns some proficiency at arms.  Maybe the cleric learns some more worldly skills from the ranger and learns to identify all kinds of animal tracks.  Maybe the thief (under some oath not to steal from the righteous) learns some of the powers of a clerical order.

I’m trying to think of some poetic conclusion to this little essay, but I’m at a loss for words.  Experiment with your game.  See what you and the other players are looking for and go for it.

* I mention thieves over and over in this post, and I must say, I don’t like a thief class. But the thief class is the poster child for character “skills.”  It’s so cliche (and not in a bad way, mind you) that some OSR clones (such as LOFP) call the thief a “Specialist” rather than thief.  

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Creating OSR classes in BOP, part 2

I’m going to try my hand at creating classic D&D/OSR classes in BOP, once again.  I want to run a game at the local game store. I’d like to use BOP, but it would be more of a high fantasy setting using material from the OSR universe.  Therefore, I consider this practice for that activity. If I find it to be too awkward, I’ll probably run Pits & Perils or Swords and Wizardry Whitebox.

When it comes to particular skills, I’m going to use an extra die as an Advantage mechanic when that class attempts something it is good at.  That is, roll three dice, keep the highest two. If a situation puts a character at a disadvantage, roll three dice, keep the lowest two.

And as always, non-spellcasters can boost their physical rolls with Might.  I will do Fighter, Thief, Sorcerer (as magic-user), Ranger, and Demi-human race-as-class.

Fighter

Choose a class of weapon: swords, axes, pole arms, bows, etc. When fighting with that class of weapon, roll with advantage.

In Combat, for each point the fighter rolls over the target number, score an additional point of damage.

The fighter gets double the armor value for his armor and shields before needing to repair them.

Thief

When engaged in any task of subterfuge: sneaking, hiding, picking pockets, tinkering with locks and fine machinery, or ambushing someone from a hiding place,  the thief rolls with Advantage.

Sorcerer

As a Blood of Pangea Sorcerer.  Damage dealing spells cost 1 Might per point of damage. Healing spells cost 1 Might per point healed.

Cleric

No clerics.  If someone has the favor of a deity, make an ad hoc ruling.

Ranger

The ranger rolls with advantage when tracking or engaged in wilderness survival activities: foraging, hunting, sneaking, detecting predators, etc.  The Ranger rolls with Advantage when attacking with missile weapons.  The ranger can, for a cost of 1 might, ask a question of any wild animal and understand the answer.

Paladin

As cleric.  A fighter with the favor of a deity.

Dwarf

The dwarf rolls with advantage when discerning features of stonework: traps, slopes, hidden doors.  The dwarf rolls with advantage when resisting magical spells.  Choose either the Fighter’s damage ability or Armor ability.

The OSR games cap the the Dwarf’s ability to move high in levels to balance its special skills.  So I “balanced” the dwarf by making the player choose which Fighter ability to take.  If you have a better idea, please tell me.

Elf

A sorcerer with the Fighter’s skills.  The elf rolls with advantage when resisting sleep, paralysis, and disease.  Elves need only half the sleep other races need.  It costs twice the experience as other characters to increase the Elf’s might or acquire new skills.

Halfling

Halflings roll with advantage when sneaking, hiding, and picking pockets.  They roll with advantage when using missile weapons, and have the Fighter’s damage ability when using missile weapons.  Halflings roll with advantage when resisting magic.

Personally I’m find all this quite tedious.  I played a Halfling in an online forum game of Labyrinth Lord a couple of years back.  While all armor types were available to him,  I went lightly armored (leather) as I wanted him to be able to sneak.  There’s no explicit rules in that game for Halflings sneaking; the fiction informed those tasks when I attempted them.  Anyone who has read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings understands that halflings can move very quietly when they want to.

If I had a game with Halflings, I’d know right off that I’d give advantage of some kind to a sneaky halfling, provided he’s not loaded up with clanking gear.  If he’s a bumbling, clumsy halfling, then I wouldn’t.  But, unless he was played as a heavy footed clumsy oaf, I’d run with it.

Now that I’ve tried this experiment, I don’t like the idea of using OSR classes for BOP.  It feels too restrictive.  Perhaps a class could encompass some talents as part of a narrative.  As far as explicit mechanical classes, I’d have simply Warriors, Sorcerers, and Rogues (a hybrid of the two), and as racial modifiers something special for each species I wanted to run, and be done with it.  I think it would be possible to blend that with the BOP character narrative. Consider my take on Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings:

Samwise is a halfling warrior, skilled gardener and cook.  He can carry extremely heavy burdens for a great distance.  He is resistant to curses and wields a mean short sword.

Fiction fills in the rest. I’m not sure if I’ll run BOP yet at the local game store but now that I’ve dumped my brain on here and sorted out some thoughts, I’m not entirely opposed to it.

Someone on the BOP Google+ forum suggested letting BOP narratives be longer, but only five talents can be pulled from it. 

In such a way, a custom character could be built.  This reminds me of World of Dungeons where you can create a custom character by selecting four talents from a list. If I wanted to skip the narrative and let the players build characters from some master list of talents, they can create their desired character type.

This blog post is getting a little long and, being a light-weight, my second beer is making me unnecessarily verbose.  So I will end this now.

 

 

Recreating OSR classes in Blood of Pangea

Before I begin….

Some terms for folks that are unfamiliar with OSR:

OSR – Old School Renaissance.  Home brewed and independently published games compatible with the classic Dungeons & Dragons, known as D&D.

Hit Dice – A number of dice rolled in D&D and OSR games to determine the number of hit points of a character.  Roll 5 dice for a 5HD character.

On with the show…

One thing I like about BOP is how you create your own character class by describing what the character is good at.  The only real mechanical distinction is between those who can use sorcery and those who cannot.  Those who don’t cast spells use their Might to boost dice rolls for any physical activity.

I’m going to try to replicate the original 3 classes of D&D with BOP’s rules, tweaking only what I have to to get there.  I’m not doing the thief as I see thieves as merely lightly armored Fighters with a bolted on rule set for sneaking, climbing and lock picking.  If you want a thief, travel light.

Fighter

Narrative: This character has exceptional training in the use of all kinds of arms and armor.

Mechanics: When attacking, for each point greater than the target number, the Fighter does an additional point of damage.

(Wow, that was easy)

Cleric

Narrative: The cleric uses the favor of his deity to repel undead monsters and to work miracles such as healing, defense, or giving aid to a friend.

Mechanics: The cleric is a special sorcerer that can attempt to repel or destroy undead creatures with the roll of the dice, and may spend Might to boost that roll. The cleric may heal wounds at 1 might per point healed.   If the cleric’s behavior is inconsistent with the philosophy of his deity, he may be punished by that deity.

Magic User

Narrative: A sorcerer.

Mechanics: Per the standard Blood of Pangea sorcery rules.  Damaging spells may be cast at a cost of 1 Might per point of damage inflicted.

The magic user was the easiest of them all.  The cleric was the toughest.  It is difficult to define the limits of a cleric’s magic.  It tends to be defensive or utility in nature, but higher level spells, such as “Holy Word” from “Dark Dungeons” (an OSR clone) will kill anyone up to 5HD, stun anyone up to 12HD, and deafen anyone 13HD or higher.   If he worships a war god, then surely he can strike his foes down with the power of his god?  Clerics can be fun for role playing in OSR games but I think they’re mechanically silly with their blunt weapons, as though nobody bleeds from taking an iron ball to the skull.

If I were to play with the BOP rules in an OSR setting, then I’d keep the Fighter and the Magic User and ditch the cleric.  The Magic User has damage dealing spells so could, in theory, blast undead creatures if he chose to do so. And the healing spell makes mechanical sense to me.  It is analogous to “Poor Baby” from Tunnels & Trolls.

I like the two character classes: Adventurer and Sorcerer.  The Jock and the Nerd.  Ken St Andre seemed to like it too when he created Tunnels & Trolls:  There’s the warrior, the wizard, and then a hybrid known as a rogue which can do a little of both.

While we’re making characters, let’s make a Tunnels and Trolls Rogue for BOP.

Narrative: The rogue has some skill at arms and magic, but is not very good at either.

Mechanics: The rogue can boost all physical activities with Might, and may cast spells, but at twice the Might cost as the Adventurer or the Sorcerer.  Spend 2 to get +1.  Spend 2 to get one basic spell effect.

In T&T, the warrior has the benefit of additional armor protection. We could replicate that here, if wanted to:  The warrior’s armor or shield can take an additional hit before needing repair.

And lastly when it comes to OSR spell effects, embellish the spells.  Do you fire a bolt of magic light at your enemy, like a classic magic missile?  Or does the target spontaneously break out in bursting pustules, like some curse of disease?   Either way the effect is 1 point of damage per point spent.  Either the light or the pustules might be more impressive, depending on the situation.   When you magically open a lock, does it just click?  Does an ethereal key appear that you stick in the lock?  Does a tiny fairy crawl inside and mess with the tumblers?