War Cry of the Flame Princess: Ability Scores and Character Levels

1474423181OSR games, particularly in the Weird OSR scene that Joseph Manola lined out so well here, predominantly focus on low power, low magic adventures in whichopponents are either normal guys or extremely deadly eldritch horrors. While it’s a style that I find very appealing, my greatest love is still Sword & Sorcery. Particularly Conan and Kane, but also Hyperborea, The Witcher, and of course Star Wars. The uselessness of Stormtroopers aside, at least when they are deliberately letting the heroes escape or fight against ewoks, they are all works in which the protagonists are at the very top of what humans can be, but not outright superhuman. And while they have to be cautious, they are always on the offense.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my favorite RPG system by a good margin, but it does retain the inherent squishiness of the D&D Basic rules. Which is by design, but I think not fitting so well for Sword & Sorcery. Starting at higher levels is an option, but I always find that unsatisfying and it also means that new wizard players start the game with a considerably wider range of spells from the outset. (Which might sound appealing to some, but my spellpoint conversion already increased the number of spells.)

An in my opinion neater solution is to roll 2d6+6 for ability scores and also let the players assign the six numbers as they see fit for their chosen character class. 2d6+6 considerably shifts the average up and makes 8 the lowest score possible. But since modifiers in B/X are relatively small and don’t increase linearly, the result is that characters will on average have a combined total of +4. A +2 here and two +1s there isn’t hugely imbalancing, but with the ability to assign the scores to abilities freely (and getting maximum hit points at first level) this allows players to make considerably sturdier characters than rolling 3d6 in order. A fist level fighter with 10 hp or a +4 to hit is entirely doable.

The other method I am using is to firmly stick to the paradigm that any NPC who isn’t an outstanding combatant is a level 0 character, and to use a bestiary of entirely custom made creatures. The high end for regular monsters tapers off around 10 HD and I am using relatively smal numbers of special abilities each. In the fiction of the world this makes even 4th level characters already members of the top tier of people who roam the world and who are able to confront gods, demons, giants, and dragons. Maybe not one of those 13 HD behemoths, but certainly one of the smaller 7 HD ones.

The Specialist class in the Old World

Probably the biggest oddity of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess system that makes it stand apart from any other versions of the Basic/Expert rules of D&D is the specialist class. It takes the position of the traditional thief class but attempts to be a lot more than this narrow character archetype. LotFP really only uses the rules of D&D but does not attempt to retain its style. In fact, it very much gets away from that to be a more generic system. (Which is part of what attracts me to it.)

The specialist is an attempt at greater versatility. You can easily make your specialist a thief, but you don’t have to. By focusing on other abilities you can also use the class to represent a range of characters who would not outright be considered combatants. Which I find very interesting as a possible character concept in a 16th or 17th century campaign that is more about being smart than fighting battles.

But in a setting like the Old World? This setting is very much Sword & Sorcery with a more hopeful outlook. And Sword & Sorcery is all about… well, swords and sorcery. What’s a noncombatant character to do in such a campaign?

One of the nice things about LotFP is that every character can pick up any weapon and put on any armor and use them. A specialist who is dressed in armor and has a spear or bow in hand fights just as well as any nonheroic warrior. Better actually, with a +1 bonus to attack rolls. And as the character gains more levels, hit points and saving throws keep improving, so even without the bonus to attack that fighters (and scouts) get, you’re still not completely useless in a fight. Quite far from that, actually. As a specialist you won’t be the big ass dragon slayer your fighter friends are, but you’re not limited to stand in a corner and wait until the fight is over. In the LotFP system, clerics, dwarves, nd halflings (which are not classes in the Old World) all fight only just that good as well.

But when does a specialist actually do shine in this setting? When is a specialist better than any other characters in the party? I spend a good amount of time thinking about characters from fiction with dynamics similar to what I have in mind who would make good examples for the specialist class. There weren’t a lot but the two main examples I found are Leia from Star Wars and Naomi Hunter from Metal Gear Solid. And no, it’s not a coincidence: Almost all specialist type characters from pulp-style fiction I could think of are women. That’s how competent female characters in the 30s worked and how it was retained by works that aimed to capture the style. Which is not really a bad thing for a single character. It’s only unfortunate when you end up with all the men as warriors and all the women as clever manipulators. Some sharing between the two is all I want to see. But I think it’s actually a very interesting and fun character archetype.

One thing that almost all these characters have in common is that they are smart and good at talking, which is generally their primary special power. OSR type games usually don’t address that. And I am mostly very much in agreement with that. When you have a group of people together verbally discussing and describing the actions of their characters, then it becomes necessary to rely on abstract game mechanics to represent combat actions, but it makes little sense to do the same thing when their characters are talking. You’re already talking so just say what your character is saying. However, the side effect of this approach is that it really comes down entirely to the players how a conversation with an NPC turns out with the players’ characters making no difference. Having some kind of Persuasion skill for the specialist class would be nice, but it should also be in a way that does not negate the need and purpose of talking with NPCs.

A potential solution to this mismatch of goals is the Angry GM’s advice to not let the players roll any dice when the result won’t make a difference. Say the players talk to a chief and make an offer of alliance which the chief likes. Why roll dice if the players can convince him, he already wants to agree! Or the players make an offer that goes completely against the goals of an NPC. Again,it would be nonsensical to have a player mae a dice roll with a chance of only 2% to succeed. Instead a die roll should be made in situations when the GM just doesn’t know what should happen. Say the players make an offer or demand that the NPC doesn’t really care for but also isn’t fundamentally opposed to. That’s a good situation to call for a roll. For regular characters, the odds to make such a roll is only 1 on a d6, which will mean mostly failures. 1 in 6 is really quite bad so it really makes sense to only have the players roll on these things when you think it probably won’t work but they might get lucky. But specialists have the unique feature of being able to improve the odds of any such skill by one every level and become really good at it.

One benefit of such an approach to specialist skills is that players don’t get to say “I make a Persuasion roll”. In any situation the players first have to talk with the NPCs and at the end the GM decides, based on how the conversation went, whether the NPC has been won over or refuses, or if he wants a player to make a roll for Persuasion.

This is also the same way I approach the Stealth skill. Any character can attempt to be sneaky and for as long as they don’t get close to any guards or stay out of sight this will usually work, no roll required. Sneaking up on a guard in a lit empty corridor while he’s looking in the character’s direction is impossible. But occasionally you might have a player who wants to sneak right up to a guard while there is no loud noises nearby and it would be a minor miracle to pull off. That’s when a role is made. For a fighter with only a 1 in 6 chance this is grasping at straws, but there are many situations where this has to be good enough. But a specialist with a chance of 5 in 6 this might actually be a decent chance to take even without great pressure.

However, I think for my own campaign I am going to remove the option to bring a skill to a chance of 6 in 6, which means that on a 6 a second d6 is rolled and only a second 6 means failure. That’s a chance of failure of only about 3%, which really is too close to being negligible for me. Getting people who are on the fence to come around 80% of the time is already really damn good. You don’t need to be able to impove it to 97%.

War Cry of the Flame Princess: The Scout

I retroactively added this post to the WCotFP series.

Earlier this year many people have been writing about the cleric class being an oddity unique to Dungeons & Dragons that doesn’t really fit in most other fantasy settings and seems rather inappropriate. Priests in other fictional worlds never really look and behave like that, and especially in the early edition a great amount of spells are taken from biblical miracles. There seems to be some move to not use the cleric class and instead represent priests and shamans through alternate spell lists for the magic-user class. I am fully behind that.

That leaves you with the now very well established scheme of warrior, mage, and rogue, which you’ll find almost everywhere in fantasy gaming. And I have to say, I also don’t like rogues.

Scoundrels on the other hand are a completely different story.

The thief class for D&D was a later addition that didn’t exist yet in the first release of the game but was added very soon after. And in hindsight this move made many people angry and was seen as a move in the wrong direction. But the effect that the introduction of the thief meant that fighters and mages no longer had any reason to try to deal with traps or scout ahead because now there was someone who was always much better at it then them is not my main problem with the archetype. The original thief class had a clear identity but soon people wanted the thief to be good at fighting as well which lead us to the current form of the rogue. And rogues don’t really know what they want to be. The thief aspect has largely vanished and instead we have a fast fighter with light armor, who does huge damage with special attacks, or could be an archer. That takes away almost everything the fighter had left except for heavy armor. In a campaign with knights that’s not necesaarily a problem, but when you play in a setting that doesn’t have heavy armor or huge weapons, what is left? This was one of the reasons that made me pick Lamentations of the Flame Princess as my current system of choice, as its specialist class is meant to be neither great at fighting, nor required to be a thief.

But still, I am not fully happy with that. For my Old World that is full of barbarian warriors and made for adventures mostly set in the wilderness, the specialist seems a bit too flimsy to represent a hardened adventurer and the fighter too simple to represent the more skilled and sneaky hunters. On Dragons Gonna Drag, Justin presented the idea of merging the fighter and specialist classes together. But I really like classes and am already down to only three of them, so my idea is to do something similar but opposite.


One of the greatest idea I’ve seen for the warrior, mage, rogue archetypes is in Star Wars Saga Edition which has the soldier, scout, scoundrel, and noble classes as a spectrum of different approaches to fighting character and skilled characters. Neither the scoundrel nor the noble are exactly thieves, and the scout is something different than just a fighter/thief. And so I decided to come up with some kind of scout class that represents a more sneaky kind of warrior than the fighter.

One idea I’e seen a while back is that the halfling class would make a pretty good base for a Basic ranger. And while looking around for some more ideas I discovered that this is pretty much exactly what Adventurer Conqueror King did with the explorer class. It’s pretty much the B/X halfling with a different name. That’s also what I ended up doing.

Level Hit Points Attack Bushcraft Stealth
1st 6 +1 3 in 6 2 in 6
2nd +1d6 +1 3 in 6 2 in 6
3rd +1d6 +2 3 in 6 2 in 6
4th +1d6 +2 4 in 6 3 in 6
5th +1d6 +3 4 in 6 3 in 6
6th +1d6 +3 4 in 6 3 in 6
7th +1d6 +4 5 in 6 4 in 6
8th +1d6 +4 5 in 6 4 in 6
9th +1d6 +5 5 in 6 4 in 6
10th+ +2/level +5 6 in 6 5 in 6

Creating a scout class for LotFP turned out to be pretty quick and painless. The basic frame is once again the halfling class with the addition of an attack bonus half that of the fighter (other classes im LotFP always remain at +1) and the saving throws taken from the dwarf class (which covers a wider range of levels) and reduced by 2. Since it’s a scout class, the Bushcraft skill of the halfling is retained, but it also gains the Stealth skill with a chance of 1 lower than Bushcraft and not the flat 5 in 6 chance in wilderness environments that halflings have. A scout also can make a sneak attack for double damage with no option to increase like a specialist does.

And there you pretty much have it. I am considering giving also a 2 in 6 chance for Search and Climb, as it would fit the theme, but right now I am somewhat uncertain whether that might be a bit too much. Compared to the fighter the higher saves should even out with the lower hit points, which leaves all the skills compensated only by the reduced bonus to attack. But overall I am very happy with the class and it really took only about an hour to make, including research.

Why have I not been informed: New LotFP edition in work

I just now spotted an article on the playtest document for the new edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess that has been send out to some GMs back in february. I also noticed just a few days back that the new Referee Guide is still in work, which will include new unique monsters for the game. I assume it will be released alongside the new rulebook.

I don’t have the playtest rules myself, but looking at this summary from Dragons Gonna Drag (another new OSR website, like what you did so far Justin) I already spotted some things that I found interesting.

Intelligence determines skill points at first level. After that only specialists keep getting more points. I’ve been thinking about ways to give fighters and witches limited access to skill in my campaign these last couple of days. This is certainly one way to make it work.

There’s also a Medicine skill, which is nice, as it indicates support to play without magic healing. Very Sword & Sorcery.

Strength affects how many items characters can carry. This is one shortcoming I’ve seen with the Encumbrance system of the current edition and something which I think the system by LS from Pencils and Papers did better.

What I find really interesting is that classes are reduced to fighter, specialist, and magic-user (the other classes are said to be put in an appendix). I did the very same thing for my campaign. There’s been some talk not long ago about clerics and how they are pretty much a unique thing of D&D and not really fitting for other settings that don’t want to be worlds defined by the D&D conventions. (B/X is a great system on its own, even divorced from its D&D legacy.)

All characters advance with the same amounts of XP, a topic that I’ve been discussing on a forum just today. And I am very much in favor of it. Making miniscule adjustments to XP required for the next level is pointless when level loss, replacement characters, and characters of newly joined players all have a much bigger impact on the different levels of characters.

Justin mentioned having the impression that group initiative is being ditched, which is something I wouldn’t approve of. But it’s trivially simple to do anyway, and it isn’t like Dexterity would become a useless stat if it no longer affects Initiative.

There’s a new saving throw mechanic that basically uses a d6 dice pool and counting successes. That’s something I really don’t see myself using if it makes it into the new edition. I think a d20 roll against a target number indicated by your class level is just fine and much less of a hassle. There’s also partial saves, which is more granularity than I want to bother with. This new system also doesn’t improve odds as the characters level up, which I think is a pretty important feature of B/X. I can see why Raggi wouldn’t want that in his home games, but it’s something that I would really not want to miss in mine.

There’s also big changes to how spells are prepared, but since I’m using a completely different magic system that doesn’t have anything to do with D&D magic anyway, this doesn’t affect me personally.

Overall, I think this all sounds very good. I almost certainly won’t use the rules straight out of the book, but I don’t think there are many OSR GMs who do that with any game that is around. I am very much looking forward to the new rulebook and referee guide.

A simple mechanic to assemble a posse

The Old World is a setting in which money and treasure plays only a minor role as there just isn’t a lot you could buy with it. In a campaign, even the best types of armor are trivially cheap while magical objects are valuable beyond measure and not something that can be bought or sold. And since most trade takes the form of barter, there aren’t really many coins around to begin with. It’s a world that runs on obligations, favors, and debts. It makes little sense to track the contents of the PC’s purses in such a campaign.

However, there is one aspect of playing a B/X style campaign that I very much like, but which falls through the gaps when you have no money, and this is the hiring of mercenaries. When numbers and tactics matter much more than individual armor class, hit points, and attack bonus, being able to bring a bunch of archers and spearmen to a fight makes a huge difference. And I am a big fan of the Combat is War approach to battles in RPGs. It’s not about showing your personal abilities, but about making the fight as unfairly tipped in your favor as possible. Any good battle is won before the fighting even starts. (Of course this would be boring, but players always have limitless potential to plan really badly, which then makes it all the more exciting when they suddenly have to improvise.)

Hiring such reinforcements doesn’t really work in a game where there is no money. But you can still always assemble a posse.


In anĀ Old World campaign, most adventures take place in villages or small towns where the PCs are staying in the home of the local chief to help reinforce his warriors for the protection of the community. These settlements are always very Wild West in character and all of them have numerous people who have weapons and know how to fight. If the players need additional manpower to drive bandits from the area or bring down a dangerous beast that has been seen nearby, there’s always a pool of potential helpers. The players might either ask the chief to give them some of his men as backup to protect the village, or they can make a call for volunteers in the great hall or the main square. Either way, the outcome is the same.

I am always a fan of making sub-systems as simple and easy to remember as possible and making them well integrated with the already existing rules. So this really isn’t anything particularly fancy or special beyond the initial idea.

To gather a posse, one character in the group rolls 2d6 and adds his Charisma modifier to the roll. Using the LotFP rules, I am also adding the character’s attack bonus to the roll, but for other systems you can add the character’s level for fighters and half the character’s level for any other class. This reflects that more people will be willing to go into combat behind a leader who knows what he’s doing when it comes to fighting.

The result of the roll is the number of level 0 NPCs who come forward as volunteers, or are ordered by their chief. If the posse is gathered to defend the community from an immenent attack, or to hunt down a particularly vicious criminal, the number might be doubled. However, the number should usually not exceed 10% of the total population of the community. (Any major NPC who has a personal interest in the PCs plan might also come along.)

The base Morale score for the posse is 7, modified by the Charisma modifier of the leading PC. If the warriors are fighting for the safety of their homes, Morale can be increased by +1 or +2. If the party leads the posse into seemingly suicidal situations or attempts a needlessly reckless plan, an apropriate penalty to Morale should apply.

The posse is gathered only for one specific task. Once the task has been acomplished or resulted in a failure, it will disband and the warriors return home. If at the end of the task the players want to continue to a new task, a new recruitment roll has to be made. (Obviously a higher result than the current number of warriors will not make the posse increase beyond its current size.)

Thinking about NPC levels in an Old World campaign

So here I am again, writing about RPGs. Even though I am creating the Old World as a fiction setting, I can’t shake the constant thought that it also would make for a really great campaign setting. And once more I am finding myself getting back to B/X, specifically LotFP. Yes, I know: Oh, the irony! Aside from the magic system (for which I have a complete replacement almost ready) I just really love the game in all its simplicity. Combat, character advancement, and monsters are just exactly the way I really want it.

With my experiences in fiction worldbuilding, my look on preparing a campaign setting for an RPG also changed a lot. In the past I used to attempt to emulate the structure of settings like Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Golarion, and for a long while really didn’t know what to make of things like Red Tide, Yoon-Suin, or the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. But having learned a lot about Sword & Sorcery worldbuilding in fiction, this very much changed and I am seeing what’s the deal with the later and how it fits my own purposes. Often less is more, and in this case it is much more less that is so much more. I am no longer interested in precise maps, borders, or population numbers for cities and countries. Making up new villages and dungeons as I go will be good enough.

But even when you have a setting that is defined by culture and environments and not by specific places and organizations, to have a campaign in which the players have real agency is that you know who the movers and shakers in the campaign area will be. And one topic that none of the many guides and introductions for running unscripted campaigns ever touch upon is the creation of NPCs. What class level should the major NPCs in the campaign have?


Now one very easy solution would be to not set a level for NPCs until the players run into them for a fight. But that causes a pretty major problem. The decision of the players to fight an NPC or not is based on whether they think they can win such a fight or not. Chosing to start a private war with a powerful local leader is as big a choice as players are going to make, and it can only be an informed and meaningful decision if the strength of the NPC is fixed before the decision is made. If you create stats for an NPC only once you know that the players are looking for a fight, their choice will have been meaningless. When you decide to make the NPC beatable or unbeatable for the party at its current strength, the players are completely without power to influence the survival and victory of their characters. Over the years there has been a lot of talking over what makes the differences between the videogames Morrowind and Oblivion (and now Skyrim as well), and one thing that really changed how the games play is the adjustment of enemies to the level of the player, or the lack of it. In Oblivion and Skyrim it has become irrelevant what places you chose to visit and what quests to try, because the difficulty will always be the same. When you discover an area that seems too dangerous for your character, you might choose to leave and go somewhere safer for now. When you then return a long time later, after lots of great adventures and getting many powerful new weapons, and it’s still just as hard as it was the last time, then it really feels like you didn’t make any progress at all and didn’t become more powerful in any way either. What’s the point of reaching higher levels and gaining better weapons and armor if it doesn’t make any difference? In Morrowind monsters and NPCs are always the same strength, regardless of how powerful your character is. While this does mean that you will occasionally have to admit defeat and retreat, it really makes a huge difference to the sense of accomplishment and progress, that is an important part of unscripted videogames and RPG campaigns alike. Losing is good, because it tells you that any victory you gain has been earned.

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