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.

5 thoughts on “War Cry of the Flame Princess: Ability Scores and Character Levels”

  1. An intriguing post. I’ve often contemplated the possibility of having players roll 2d6+6 for ability scores, but I’ve never pulled the trigger on that and done it. You’ve got me thinking about that again.

    I also dig your idea of 0-level of all non-outstanding-combatant NPCs. Am I right in assuming you’re including NPCs that appear in the usual monster lists like “bandits” and such? Lots of food for thought here.

    1. My rule of thumb is that if an NPC is not worth to give a name it also doesn’t get any levels. And even the named ones only get levels if their combat skill is meant to be well above the unnamed masses.

      This assumes a campaign in which NPCs don’t usually attack immediately and react to PCs based on their own goals and what the players are doing.

  2. How the heck did I not already have a link to your blog listed on my blogroll? What an oversight! I just fixed that.

    Anyway, this is a blog post after my own heart. I can totally get behind a campaign of LotFP that keeps the doom metal flavor while adding a bit more action or making characters slightly more fragile. There’s a lot of fiction out there that feels very reminiscent of LotFP, except that the power level seems higher. It could be interesting to try and emulate more action-packed dark fantasy/horror stuff in the system.

    1. That’s the beauty of B/X and OD&D. It can cover a really broad range of campaign styles, depending entirely on what the GM decides to throw at the players.

      Conan really sets the gold standard for Sword & Sorcery and I there are much more fight scenes against powerful alien monsters and sorcerers than hordes of human soldiers or swarms of little critters. There’s also lots of sneaking around and exploring of alien ruins, which puts it very much in the same neighborhood as LotFP. In Howard’s stories (as in Wagner’s) you don’t have beefy dudes in bearskin diapers screaming or glaring on a mountain of corpses. That’s the domain of trashy 70s and 80s copies.

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