Sunday, April 5, 2015

Class Statistics

Designer's Notes

This blog post is a fitting occasion to express some general thoughts about Into the Dark (my house rules for old-school D&D). 

On the one hand, the OSR community needs another set of house rules with roughly the same urgency that the People's Republic of China needs another vacant housing project. There are already a glut of rulesets out there with nary a smidgen of difference or uniqueness to justify their sad, pathetic, lonely existence. (Ahem.)

On the other hand, since I returned to gaming about 5 or so years ago, I have been diligently searching for an old school game which fits the needs of my campaigns, but have not yet found one that I can use out of the box for either Twilight Empire (Gothic fantasy) or Britannia (Dark Ages Britain). To a certain extent this is inevitable; even DM's who use published rulesets, such as OD&D or B/X D&D (my personal favorites), end up tweaking things here and there to fit their particular preferences and campaign settings.

Why even use D&D if it doesn't fit the campaigns out-of-the-box? Like many in the OSR community, I appreciate the familiarity, ease-in-play, and flexibility of old-school D&D. I also appreciate being able to drop any number of well-written old-school D&D modules, adventure locations, monsters, spells, magic items, and so forth into my own campaign. So these are reasons for sticking with some flavor of old-school D&D. 

The main thing I want to add or change is to "tilt" D&D towards more accurately reflecting the society, culture, religion, magic, and legends of historical societies. Straight D&D does lend itself to historical fantasy gaming--consider, for example, the excellent Historical Reference series of books for AD&D 2nd edition, including Vikings, Celts, and Charlemagne's Paladins, among others. But, in general, the various editions of D&D don't do a very good job of representing the traditional cultures and societies whose beliefs and practices inspired much of the source material for D&D. 

Some examples: 

1. Player characters in D&D are generally differentiated by adventuring class and fantasy race, but not so much by family, social class (noble, serf, yeoman, burger), or society (town, country, nomad, hunter-gatherer).
2. Depictions of fantasy races, especially dwarves and halflings, are based more on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien than on traditional beliefs about fairies. 
3. D&D's Vancian/fire-and-forget magic system does not have much of a precedent in traditional stories of magic and miracles.
4. The cleric class does not accurately reflect medieval Christian clergymen, either canons regular or the military orders, much less non-Christian priests.
5. Interaction with spirits (summoning, binding, warding, banishing, exorcising, etc.) plays less of a role in D&D magic than in traditional stories about magic. 

This is not a criticism of D&D, because representing traditional cultures and societies was never what the game was trying to do. It does mean that D&D could use some tweaking before being used with a historical fantasy campaign setting.

An example of an old school D&D product which exemplifies the kind of tweaking I am talking about is the Oriental Adventures rulebook and series of modules for AD&D. The game is still recognizably D&D, but the added rules for family, honor, birth rank, and nonweapon proficiencies help infuse the culture and society of feudal Japan into the game's characters and adventures. There are plenty of problems with Oriental Adventures, of course--for example, the classes have been made too powerful in comparison with those from the AD&D Player's Handbook, and many of the new rules are overly fiddly and complex--but Oriental Adventures still effectively illustrates how to tilt D&D in the direction of historical fantasy, while still retaining the hallmarks of the game.

What follows is the first in a series of posts about classes in Into the Dark. The main changes I have made are (1) the introduction of spell points, (2) changes to the cleric class, and (3) the addition of class-based training packages. I will say a little bit about the reasons for each of these three changes.

Spell Points: While  not explicitly present in traditional stories about magic, but a spell points system seems to better capture the feel of such stories than a Vancian system. Traditional stories do not generally feature wizards who memorize or prepare a spell in anticipation of actually casting it later; in general, for spells which require lengthy preparation, the preparation is itself part of the ritual used to cast the spell. Also, spell points might with some justification be glossed as 'prana' (South and Central Asia) or 'qi' (East Asia)--or at least the fit here seems to be closer than that between Vancian magic and traditional European ritual magic.

In general, spells from traditional stories seem to fall into two kinds: (1) spells which can be recited and cast extemporaneously in a handful of seconds or minutes, mainly by reciting words, sometimes by using gestures (such as Tantric mudras); (2) spells which require lengthy rituals to perform, but which go into effect immediately at the end of the ritual. Into the Dark will include both kinds of spells: the former have a casting time of 1 round, the latter of 1 hour or more.

Clerics: Clerics in Into the Dark are not presumed to have military training, unless they have the Templar training package. As such, they have limited weapon and armor proficiency.

Training Packages: Training packages further differentiate character's role and abilities, without adding a lot of decision points or lengthy lists of powers (as with 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition D&D). Like backgrounds, training packages create several pieces of additional information about a character from a single decision point. Into the Dark's backgrounds and training packages are inspired by the background packages and training packages of the excellent Stars without Number.

This post only includes the Class Summary table and a brief description of the main class statistics. Future posts will have rules for the four classes and their training packages.

Class Statistics

Class Summary Table

Cleric (C)
1d6 per level
+1 per 2 levels
3 per level
club, dagger, mace, staff
Fighter (F)
1d8 per level
+1 per 1 level
Magic-User (M)
1d4 per level
+1 per 3 levels
3 per level
dagger, staff
Thief (T)
1d6 per level
+1 per 2 levels

Prime Requisite (PR)

A character must have a score of 9 or higher in his class’s prime requisite.

Hit Dice (HD)

A character gains one hit die per experience level. A character receives the maximum hit points for the first hit die. Each additional hit die is rolled once, at the beginning of each experience level, and added to the previously rolled hit dice to determine the character’s maximum hit points. Each hit die roll is modified by a character’s constitution bonus. A negative constitution bonus cannot reduce a hit die roll below 1.

Attack Bonus (AB)

A character’s attack bonus is added to both melee and ranged attack rolls.

Spell Points (SP)

Members of spell-casting classes gain a fixed amount of spell points per experience level.

A character’s maximum spell points score is equal to spell points per level times experience level. A character’s current spell points score begins at the maximum spell points score, and is then reduced as the character pays the spell point cost to cast spells. Casting a spell costs one spell point per level of the spell.

A character is unable to cast further spells when his current spell points score is reduced to 0. A character’s current spell points score may not be reduced below 0.

A character regains one-half of his maximum spell points score after 4 hours of sleep.

Armor Proficiency (AP)

A character’s class determines which kids of armor he is proficient with. If a character wears non-proficient armor, he suffers a -2 penalty to rolls involving physical actions (including attack rolls, constitution rolls, dexterity rolls, and strength rolls, but not including damage rolls).

A cleric or magic-user who wears non-proficient armor is unable to cast spells. Multi-classed clerics or magic-users are able to cast spells if using proficient armor.

Weapon Proficiency (WP)

A character receives a -2 penalty on attack rolls when attacking with a non-proficient weapon.