Sunday, December 18, 2016

LotFP vs BX - alignment, saves, to-hits

So today I'm going to look at some more of the differences between between the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg and its key predecessors, the 1981 Basic/Expert version of D&D.

Alignment

LotFP uses the threefold Law/Neutrality/Chaos distinction first used in OD&D and kept in BX.  However, what those alignments mean to the characters and your game is quite different.  In BX, alignment is a shorthand for character behavior.  If someone is Lawful, they can be expected to act honorably, speak truthfully, and work for the best interests of the group.  Chaotics do not feel bound by such a code and do whatever advances their own interests.  Neutrals are somewhere in between the two.

In Lamentations, alignment is less behavioral and more cosmic in scope.  Lawfuls believe in a teleological arc to the universe; the arrow of time inevitably draws us all to some sort of ultimate state of affairs.  Figuring out your role in that totalizing destiny is the whole point of existence.  Chaotics hold that the universe as we experience it is nothing more than a temporary state emerging from the quantum foam, ebbing and flowing into and out of existence.  To emphasize some subset of arrangements of the energies of the cosmos as superior to others is to deny the infinite possibilities of life.  Neutrals are people without an adherence to either of these codes.  The text notes that everyone in the real world has been Neutral in alignment, as are nearly all NPCs.

None of these alignments come with a code of conduct.   All three alignments can include nice people and jerkwads.  But I can easily imagine many Lawfuls as religious zealous types and many Chaotics as nihilistic anarchists.  Especially with the following rule in place:  all clerics are Lawful, all magic-users and elves are Chaotic.  All other PCs can pick an alignment.

Another key alignment difference shows up in the spells section.  In BX a spell like Detect Evil does not simply detect anyone of Chaotic alignment.  Rather, it detects evil intentions.  The reverse is true in LotFP.  Basically "Evil" is the clerics' loaded term for Chaotic.  (MU's do not get any spells that address evil as a concept.)

One of the ramifications of this alignment system is that a Chaos cult with clerics seems non-feasible or at least paradoxical.  Is a devout belief that the world will end in chaos is actually a Lawful alignment trait?  Or am I just overthinking this?

That being said, I do like the implication that all clerics are crazy mofos and all magic-users are a totally different type of crazy mofo.

Saving Throws

Saving throws follow the patterns of old.  BX uses five saving throw categories: Death Ray or Poison, Magic Wands, Paralysis or Turn to Stone, Dragon Breath, and Rods/Staves/Spells.  LotFP tweaks them slightly, renaming the categories Poison, Magical Device, Paralyzation, Breath Weapon, and Magic.  All magical devices are merged into what used to be the wands category.  Which makes a helluva lot more sense to me.  Why would wands be mechanical different from rods or staves?  (Of course, you can't interrogate the logic of these charts too much without going bananas.)

Personally, I would have ditched the "Magical" and just labeled the category "Device," encompassing both the magical and the mechanical.  Caught in the cogs of a giant machine?  2d6 damage plus save versus device to avoid a mangled limb.  That sort of thing.  Not that you couldn't do it as is.

Also, I am slightly saddened by the disappearance of Save versus Death Ray.  Who doesn't like death rays?

LotFP also reorders to the saves to Paralyze, Poison, Breath, Device, Magic.  Taking a cue from AD&D, you are advised to read the chart left to right when your choice of save is ambiguous.  For example, a paralytic poison calls for a save versus Paralyze, because it is leftmost on the chart, before Poison, whereas a magical poison that turns you into a wedge of cheese would use the Poison column, since Poison comes before magic.

I was slightly surprised when I first read the LotFP rules that it didn't go with the Fortitude/Reflex/Will system of 3e and later editions.  That change always struck me as one of the more sensible later revisions to D&D.  But what is going on here clearly works.

To-Hits

LotFP uses an Ascending Armor Class system, where AC is your target number: roll d20, add your attack bonus and try to meet or beat the AC of the opponent.  Like the threefold save systems I mentioned in the last section, I thought this was a really good change to D&D.  But back when I ran 3e and 3.5 I struggled to get on board with AAC because the old system was too deeply hardwired into my brain.  But I am not so hidebound as to be blind to the simplicity of the change.

Past the decision to use AAC, LotFP breaks from a lot of the logic of a lot of editions of D&D in two important ways.  The first is that the base AAC for a normal unarmored character is 12, rather than 10.  This makes way more sense to me.  The base Attack Bonus for most 1st level PCs is +1, so a roll of 11+ scores a hit, i.e. normal starting PCs have a 50/50 chance of landing a blow.

The second, and far more important, way that to-hits differ in LotFP is that the power curve for fighting is super-flattened.  All character classes but Fighters gets a base Attack Bonus of +1 at first level and that's it, no further increase in fighting abilities.  Fighters (NOT including dwarves, elves, or halflings) get +2 at first level and are the only class that gain better to-hits, at +1 per level up to +10 at level 9.  Forget weapon proficiencies, forget specialization, forget multiple attacks.  None of that exists in LotFP.  THIS is the core class ability for Lamentations Fighters.

At first glance, it sounds harsh to rob all other classes of the ability to get better a fighting, but within the context of the overall LotFP approach to foes, it actually makes some sense.  Angry villagers remain a reasonable encounter for much longer, as do robed cultists waving daggers, or unarmored guardsmen.   Also, armor  is significantly more expensive (chain costs more than double, plate is 16 times more expensive and not at all affordable at first level) and there's no standard magical items such as plus-something armor or shields.  And there are no feats that cause AC creep.  Unlike the ever-mushrooming ACs of later editions, there's not really many reasons for the referee to have a character or monster with an AC of 20.

Left to my own. I never would have made a D&D variant with an approach like this.  But seeing it on paper, I'm kind of into it.

So that's enough for now.  Next time I visit this topic I'll tackle the character classes.