As I mentioned a few weeks back, I've been drafted to run a D&D game for a group of new players. We're getting close to running our zero session, probably by the end of this week. I have two players interested in elves, and a third that apparently likes to play healing classes whenever he plays MMO's. I'll lay out all the options and see if that changes come game day, but for now I'm going to run with the assumption that this will be the makeup of the party.
If so, it throws a small hiccup into my plan of using Lamentations of the Flame Princess as my base.
In LotFP, only Fighters get an increase to their attack bonus as they level up. I actually think this is one of James Raggi's more inspired decisions. It clearly blocks off combat as a the sole specialty of the Fighter, which then encourages the group to work together. After all, you're going to need at least one character to get better at hitting things as the game progresses. Otherwise, your band of adventurers is going to have a very short career.
That said, as much as I admire Raggi's design choice, I'm not about to force a first-time player into a class they don't want. But one of the wonderful things about OSR games is the ability to mix and match them until you arrive at just the right combination.
So, my options:
However I do it, I'm still planning to use the LotFP encumbrance system, as well as swapping out the Specialist class for the Thief. I also plan to keep the D6-based skill check system.
Anyway, I'm rambling a bit here. The main thrust of this post is about a weird feature of Old-school D&D, and just how I'm planning to introduce it to a bunch of new players.
That's right. I'm talking about Vancian Magic.
I'll admit, I absolutely hated Vancian magic back in the day. I could never wrap my head around the "fire and forget" nature of the spells. How could a character spend hours studying a spell each day, only to forget it once it was cast?
It never made sense to me, and when I ran my games I used a house-ruled "mana" system instead. Granted, now that I've actually read some Jack Vance, my opinion on the matter has changed. And as in so many things, context is everything.
Part of the problem is that none of the more experienced guys in my old D&D group ever ran magic as anything other than a character's superpower. In every campaign, spells were widely known. You got access to spells automatically at new levels (no studying or finding a mentor), and there were mid-to-high level mages operating public shops in every jerkwater little village. Before every adventure, we could buy magic items, potions, and scrolls to our heart's content. I distinctly recall abandoning +1 Magic Swords when we found them on certain adventures, because they weren't even worth the effort of bringing them back to town to sell.
Compare that to this passage from Vance's The Dying Earth:
"At one time a thousand or more runes, spells, incantations, curses, and sorceries had been known. The reach of Grand Motholam—Ascolais, the Ide of Kauchique, Almery to the South, the Land of the Falling Wall to the East—swarmed with sorcerers of every description, of whom the chief was the Arch-Necromancer Phandaal. A hundred spells Phandaal personally had formulated—though rumor said that demons whispered at his ear when he wrought magic. Ponticella the Pious, then ruler of Grand Motholam, put Phandaal to torment, and after a terrible night, he killed Phandaal and outlawed sorcery throughout the land. The wizards of Grand Motholam fled like beetles under strong light; the lore was dispersed and forgotten, until now, at this dim time, with the sun dark, wilderness obscuring Ascolais, and the white city Kaiin half in ruins, only a few more than a hundred spells remained to the knowledge of man. Of these, Mazirian had access to seventy-three, and gradually, by stratagem and negotiation, was securing the others.
"Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort, forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipresent Sphere. This accomplished, Mazirian drank wine and retired to his couch."
In Vance's work, magic is mysterious, ancient, and virtually forgotten. Less than a tenth of the spells once known to humanity are left. Powerful wizards hoard them in hopes of getting one up on their rivals. Magic is the currency of power in this world, and great effort is spent to seek it out.
Furthermore, the spells themselves aren't passive. Mazirian has to force them into his brain. Once there, the syllables and symbols struggle to escape his consciousness. Casting a spell in these stories isn't so much a matter of reciting words as it is releasing a chaotic force, one the magician is just barely holding in check.
In this context, D&D's default "fire and forget" magic system makes sense. And while I can see why alternative spell systems are popular (like Sorcerers from the 3.X and later editions), there's a kind of pulpy weirdness to the Vancian method I really like.
As for introducing it to the players, I'm probably going to kill two birds with one stone here, once again taking some inspiration from Vance. I'm thinking about giving the party a mid-level Mage as their patron/employer. He'll pay them on a freelance basis for recovering bits of magic for him. He's looking for anything at all: half-torn scrolls, pages from spell books, items he can research. In his quest to re-discover lost spells, he's spent decades tracking down minuscule scraps of them to re-assemble like a jigsaw puzzle.
This also gives the PCs a specific reason to go dungeon delving, as well as reinforcing the overall mystery and rarity of magic. Plus it allows any magic-using PCs to have easy access to a mentor/teacher when it comes time to learn new spells.
Sure, the set up has the potential to be a little railroad-y. But also I think it can give the PC's a little bit of forward momentum, provided I let the adventures themselves evolve organically.
Hmm... I just might have to roll up a paranoid, power-hungry Wizard NPC along with the rest of the campaign splat.
Back when I was still playing D&D regularly, I ran a mini-campaign for my brother and his friends based on Castlevania. It was a spur of the moment, on-the-fly thing, something to entertain us all for a weekend sleepover. I had no plan in place. All I really did was re-skin some stuff from the Ravenloft boxed sets, and run it with my usual, heavily house-ruled version of AD&D 2E.
Looking back, that weekend mini-campaign is still one of my all-time favorites. The off-the-cuff nature of the game, coupled with using someone else's established characters, gave it a kind of bootleg, punk-rock feel.
It also ended in a total party kill, which wasn't common for my AD&D groups at the time. The "Belmont" character ended up getting bitten by a vampire and turning on the other players, the thief ran off alone and got torn apart by zombies, and the cleric killed the Belmont just in time to be eaten by werewolves.
Needless to say, we had a blast.
What got me thinking about this campaign again is a recent request some friends made. They've never played a tabletop RPG before, and they've apparently been looking to find a D&D group without much success. As soon as they found out I used to DM, they conscripted me to the cause.
Not that they exactly had to twist my arm, mind you.
Anyway, having been out of the hobby for almost twenty years, I realized I had to do a little research. I tapped out of D&D around the same time I joined the Marines, back in 2001. The big switch to 3E was just coming to my old gaming group, and since I was going away I never bothered to buy the rulebooks or learn the system. Of course, 3E is coming up on its 19th anniversary, and Wizards of the Coast has churned out three more editions since then. Four, if you count Essentials.
I looked into all the various editions of D&D that have hit the market since I quit, including "kinda-D&D" games like Pathfinder and 13th Age. I was looking for a system that would be fairly light on rules and bookkeeping, easy for new players to pick up, and inexpensive. At the same time, I wanted something that definitely had that classic D&D feel. You know: the standard ability scores, the iconic character classes, d20 to attack, etc.
Long story short, I ended up settling on James Raggi's excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess. While the game has a (somewhat exaggerated) reputation for gore and extreme horror, at its core LotFP is exactly what I need:
Now, with everyone at the table being new, I don't plan on running any LotFP's published adventures. While I happen to like the "Weird Fantasy" aesthetic of the game, I want to break everyone in by running some vanilla D&D to start off. If everyone likes it, and everyone else is game, then maybe I'll start taking things off in some bizarre, horror-inspired directions.
Which brings me back to the subject at hand. While familiarizing myself with the rules earlier today, it occurred to me that LotFP would be the ideal system to rerun that Castlevania mini-campaign with.
For one thing, it's just stupidly lethal. Even by OSR/original D&D standards, LotFP is an unforgiving game. If the party doesn't work together (and work smart), their characters are going to die. And as anyone who's been knocked off the stairs by those motherf*cking medusa heads can tell you, "frequent player death" is a running feature of the Castlevania franchise.
For another, LotFP has a baked-in grimdark feel. Maybe it's not as present in the core rules as in the adventure modules. But little things like the class descriptions and the slightly tweaked spells convey an overall sense of doom and darkness. If you wanted to run something that felt as violent and gritty as the recent Netflix series, this would do a better job of it than any of the other D&D retro-clones.
The other thing is that being as rules-light as it is, any tweaks and house rules would be easy to incorporate. LotFP, like any other OSR game, is built with the idea that it's easier to add something you need than it is to cut out something you don't.
Taking the mental experiment a little further, I decided to generate a sample character based on Trevor Belmont. For fun, I also wrote up some altered splat text for the Fighter class, to reflect the 1400's Transylvanian setting:
Most Wallachians live and die beneath Dracula's yoke, hollow, terrified souls too broken to look evil in the eye, much less stand against it. Better to die an ignoble death in obscurity, than to risk bringing that evil upon themselves. Fighters are different. Fighters are those who have seen the evil that Dracula's forces have brought to the land, and have vowed either to put it to the sword or to die trying.
Some fighters learned their bloody skills serving in armies or mercenary bands. Others learned through necessity, desperately protecting their homes from Dracula's nightmarish hordes. Then there are those who simply dedicated their lives to learning the ways of the warrior, sworn to hunt evil wherever they find it, as if it were some sort of divine calling.
Whatever their background, fighters are natural survivors. The rigors they've endured have toughened their bodies, so all first level fighters begin the game with a minimum of 8 hit points (roll 1d8 and add Constitution bonus, ignore any result lower than 8). Fighters start with an attack bonus of +2 at first level, and are the only class to gain an additional attack bonuses as they level up.
Fighter / Level 5 / Lawful
Hit Points: 42 (d8 Hit Dice) Melee Attack Bonus: +6 Ranged Attack Bonus: +8
Base Armor Class: 16 (Leather Armor 14, +DEX bonus)
Press Attack: +2 to hit, -4 to AC
Defensive Fighting: +2 to AC, -4 to Hit
Parry: +4 to AC
Charisma 7 ( -1 to Retainer Recruitment, Loyalty)
Constitution 16 ( +2 to Hit Points, Daily Travel Distance)
Dexterity 16 ( +2 to Armor Class, Ranged Attack Bonus, Initiative)
Intelligence 13 ( +1 to Saves vs Magic Effects, Languages)
Strength 11 ( +0 to Melee Attack Bonus, Open Doors)
Wisdom 13 ( +1 to Saves vs Non-magical Effects)
Architecture 1 in 6
Bushcraft 1 in 6
Climbing 1 in 6
Languages 2 in 6 (Base 1 in 6, plus INT bonus)
Open Doors 1 in 6
Search 1 in 6
Sleight of Hand 1 in 6
Sneak Attack damage x1
Stealth 1 in 6
Tinkering 1 in 6
Saving Throws: Paralyze Poison Breath Weapon Magical Device Magic
Base: 12 10 13 11 14
With bonuses: 11 9 12 10 13
Vampire Killer (Whip, +2)
The Vampire Killer is the Ancestral Weapon of the Belmont family. When used against humans or other natural creatures, the Vampire Killer is a standard whip, as described in the equipment section of the LotFP Rules & Magic book: It is capable of making melee attacks on enemies up to 10' away, but has no effect on creatures with an unadjusted Armor Class of 14 or greater. On a successful attack roll, it does 1d3 damage (no magical bonus).
When used against evil or supernatural creatures, however, the Vampire Killer takes on special properties. All successful attack rolls hit, regardless of unadjusted Armor Class. Damage is rolled as Great Weapon (1d10), with an additional +2 magical bonus.
OPTIONAL RULE (Lightweight Weapon): Some weapons don't require muscle. They require finesse. As such, fighters have the option of applying either their strength bonus OR their dexterity bonus when using a whip.
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