Saturday, July 24, 2010

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Skill System

Up early before Ropecon Day II, and I thought I'd give my thoughts behind the "skill system" of LotFP: RPG.

I thought about the classic Thief. The past several years have seen a re-examination of the class, noting that its percentage-based skill list was different from pretty much any other subsystem of the game. Hell, the idea that they had skills that nobody else had caused a problem for some. And my own pet peeve was the fact that low-level thieves could climb well, and really that was it.

How to address these concerns?

d6 rolls are used for a lot of things in the game. Searching for secret doors, opening doors, initiative and surprise. Others have had the idea of using d6 for thief skills, so combining the "things characters can do" into the one basic mechanic made sense.

That thief skills are abilities unique to thieves was a topic that's come under examination. "If only the thief has an official skill to find traps, that means nobody else can try!" Well Labyrinth Lord gives everyone a 1 in 6 chance (did Moldvay Basic as well? Must check...) to find traps, thief or no, so why not extend that to all thief abilities? Everyone can do what the thief can do, just as attacking in combat is not something unique to fighters... but thieves will be better at it.

Some classes/races have special abilities. Dwarfs have all that stonework stuff going on. Halflings can hide. Elves find secret doors more often. Why not fold those into the same d6 "system" then and not have outlying resolution systems for those?

Last was the "thieves are good wall climbers at low-level, but can't do anything else reliably for some levels." What crap this is. Ever since 2e, I've loved the idea of customizing the thief abilities. It makes sense that different characters would concentrate on different areas. So that was in.

There were a couple other areas like Languages and Foraging that I wanted my own system for, and thought they should be folded into this "skill system."

Lastly, I thought a couple of the thief skills could be presented a little differently. "Open Locks" is an awfully specific label for fiddling with small mechanical objects, isn't it? "Hide in Shadows" and "Move Silently" seem to be very close to each other. Why are they separate skills? So I did some adjustments there.

Whenever I would play in someone else's campaign (a sadly rare event), I liked being a thief. But he wasn't a thief, he was a skilled Indiana Jones type explorer. A "gentleman adventurer" was how I'd phrase it, searching old ruins looking for gold and artifacts. But the idea of the backstabbing rogue that was part of a thieves' guild was so entrenched that it was difficult to find a party that wouldn't treat my character as a criminal. So the name change to Specialist was done to keep the options open as to the presentation of the class. Want to be the classic criminal type? Done! Want to be an exploring professional adventurer? Done!

I decided to allow this specialist class to improve any of the now-larger skill list, not just the traditional thiefly skills. Want a guy that can find secret doors and generally search for stuff REALLY REALLY well? Now you can. Want that cunning linguist that seems to understand every tongue on the planet? Now you can. Sure, it's going to be NPCs that will bump up some of these skills to high levels, but giving Referees tools to screw with the players is always fun, especially when the players have the same access to these tools that the Ref has. SCORE!

The result of this thought is what you see on the official character sheet. But it's not so complicated as all that. You don't need the fancy sheet to record your character details. because all of these skills start at 1 in 6 standard, you don't have to write all these skills down if you're using a scrap of blank paper or an index chard as a character sheet. It's only if you have a special racial ability, or if you're a specialist/thief with their skill bonuses, that you have to note it down.

And that's the same as it always has been.

I know the character sheet looks a bit busy for an old school style game, but with all the effort of putting material in the box to welcome new players, I thought having a character sheet that had everything on it to lessen the need to look at the rulebook during actual play might help any hypothetical newbies out.

So that's the story there. Taking ideas that have been kicking around the OSR, using my own gaming history and inspiration to personalize the ideas, and running with it.


  1. This all sounds good to me! Consistent with what I saw in the "beta" verions of the game that you put up on your blog. And as for the character sheet being "busy," I beg to differ. It looks like you have an elegant way to handle encumbrance, a part of the game that has never been anywhere NEAR the realm of elegant or simple. And compared to the Pathfinder character sheet I just tried to tackle for a game I was invited to play in, your sheet is a sight for sore eyes!

  2. This is pretty much exactly the same reasoning that led to the Expert class and the d6-based skill system in "Engines & Empires."

    I hereby call "great minds thinking alike." =P