(Mathnerding inbound, the exciting bits to be posted later.)
The random advancement classes by Zak have gotten quite popular in the last couple of months – Jeff and a couple of others have filled out the roster of standard classes, and added all sorts of racial prestige classes and whatnot there as well. Check it.
I thought I’d have a critical look of the originals and try to improve them a bit. Without further ado:
In general, when using a random advancement class, the following things are replaced by rolling on a table:
Linear save progression rates – Fighters and demihumans (with the exception of LotFP halfling) improve their saves every three levels, Specialists and Clerics every four levels, and Magic-users every five levels, as illustrated below.
Saves generally improve by +2 with increases in every category, with some exceptions – most of that deviation is at the higher levels anyway, and you’re probably going to die in some horrible cave before hitting name level so making notes of the advancements of double-digit levels is mostly academic. Not going to bother with that, the focus should be in low-level play.
Anyway, this means that for a class to stay in the expected track, they probably need to get two save advances for each bracket.
Class niche abilities – Fighters have their +1 to attacks every level, Thieves have their thief ability charts, Specialists have skill points, Clerics and Magic-users (and Elves) have spell slots. Zak didn’t do demihumans, and Dwarves/Halflings pretty much just have better saves (and some neat extras like darkvision or extra stat modifiers or level-dependent skill ranks in LotFP) right out of the gate anyway. Because of that, let’s focus on the human classes.
So. Zak’s Fighter variant…
- assumes LotFP as the base system
- starts out with the normal 0-level hit points and saves.
- rolls twice on the d100 table at first level and every time they level up instead of referencing the level charts on schedule
- get an extra class hit die every level, like usual.
There is an immediate issue with the 0-level base – LotFP array for the saves there is:
Paralyse 16, Poison 16, Breath 16, Device 15, Magic 18
and the 1st-level standard saves are:
Paralyse 14, Poison 12, Breath 15, Device 13, Magic 16
…meaning that the required rolls for for equivalency would be, at first level (assuming the LotFP “all PC’s get +1 to hit, Fighters get one extra”):
- 1x +1 to hit (30% chance, entries 01-30)
- 1x +2 to saves vs. Poison (2% chance, entries 60-61)
- 2x +1 to all saves (20% chance each, entries 31-50)
…which simply cannot be done with just two rolls (as a sidenote: the Breath save would be 1 step better with those rolls). Theoretically, the Warrior could have full equivalency at 3rd level, by rolling the “+1 to-hit” advance twice with the remaining rolls, but they’d be lagging behind a bit. Also, as a minor sidenote, the 0-level LotFP Fighter has d6 for hit points.
From there on, the only deviation from the norm is the 7th-level jump for breath saves, which is possible to get from a single result on the table (entries 58-59). Effectively, the Warrior needs really specific results (namely, the both of the 2%-chance +2 to Breath and to Poison) on the table to get the same outcome as a vanilla Fighter, and even then they catch up at the late levels of each bracket until double digits.
An easy fix for this would be to use the B/X “normal man” saves as a starting base, as it is conveniently:
Paralyse 16, Poison 14, Breath 17, Device 15, Magic 18
Which makes it one point worse for Breath, evening out the initial “+1 to all saves” disparity, and is two points better for Poison, removing the need to get a low-probability result to catch up (and to spend a roll on it). Also, I’m a bit adverse to the idea of the (allegedly) toughest motherfucker in the room being as likely to drop dead from a snakebite that the Specialist (and considerably more likely than the elf or the mage.)
Other possible alternative would be to use the same structure as the Thief is using (i.e. -1 to all saves of 1st level as base) but that would make the variant stronger than the regular vanilla flavour, which isn’t really desireable either.
The 20% (+2×2%) chance of increase seems to be close enough – statistically, the Fighter should get a 2-in-6 / ~33% chance to improve their saves by one to stay on track (2 increases out of 6 rolls, bracket being 3 levels). But you’d probably be using the tables to get the special funstuff, so weighing the results too heavily towards normal is a bit dull. Attack bonus progression is also sort of close to the statistical average of 50%, considering that it’s the perceived thing to be replaced by the special results. Also, “+1 to-hit” is a boring advance, and there should be less of that – it’s a waste on a regular Fighter at higher levels anyway.
Aside from the save progression, the special entries themselves need work. There are a bunch of specific combat manoeuvres that could be just adjudicated with Gambits (see 1, 2, 3) – admittedly, that concept wasn’t around when the class was written. Some special abilities are literally worse than default combat options in the assumed baseline (see Impetuous Immortal Leaping Strike, entry 91-92 – compare and contrast LotFP charge). The “+X to Y” advances (like intimidation, hit from horseback/in unarmed combat/etc.) don’t really mesh well into the way I play games, but that might just be a different strokes for different boats – type deal going on here. And I really don’t like giving characters permanent extra attacks, as it completely fucks up the action economy.
In general, the increase damage, increase critical threat range, increase critical damage multiplier, vorpal strikes, general weird stuff (like learning a spell) and the (noncombat) abilities that aren’t overtly situational are all good.
Conclusion for improvement:
- Use the B/X normal man saves instead of LotFP 0-level Fighter saves before rolling for advances
- Swap the save and attack bonus probabilities – 30% and then some to saves is spot on for expected progression, plain +1 to-hit is the more boring entry.
- Get rid of the sub-par special abilities (like leaping strike)
- Axe or tone down the distrupting special abilities (like extra attacks)
Like Fighters, Thieves roll twice at first level and when leveling up instead of referencing a class table for their saves and getting their class niche, which is get 2 skill points. They start with 1st-level saving throws reduced by one, and get 2 skill points with no roll at first level.
The Thief special ability tables are subject to the same general issues as the Fighter, as stated above – “+X to Y“, generic allowances for stuff that could be gambits, and so on. However, there’s a good number of actual special moves and situationally useful abilities that are good. Special mentions for bad filled go to the following entries:
- 81: level-up advancement that gives you rather trivial stuff.
- 86: get an expensive thing.
- 87: assuming LotFP as base once again, this is just letting you do a thing you can already do with less restriction.
As the Specialist has a 4-level advancement bracket, the chance to get an overall save increase hit should be 1-in-4 (with 2 rolls per level). 20% for overall and 1% each for Poison +2 and Breath +2 (albeit with added utility for both) feels a bit slim. The 50% for skill points is also as expected. The starting save array as “LotFP Specialist with -1 to all” works out fine, though there is a weird anomaly with saves vs. Paralysis as the Thief can’t get that 5th-level bump from anywhere. Anyway, for reference, the reduced saves are:
Paralyse 15, Poison 17, Breath 16, Device 15, Magic 15
If we were to “fix” that wonkiness with the Paralysis (and Poison, which is scheduled to be bumped up at 5th level), the B/X tables make for a good substitute as-is, as the Thief saves with -1 there would be:
Paralyse 14, Poison 14, Breath 17, Device 15, Magic 16
…maybe mixing and matching there would be in order there.
The fact that Random Thieves have 4 levels to get +2 to all saves and they got less to catch up than fighters means that they have more things than a regular vanilla thief would (out of the eight rolls, two can go to whatever and they’re still just as good) but on the other hand, thieves kinda suck by default and they probably need that edge.
As a matter of taste, the Thief table is more on the thuggery and burglary side of thief business than being a generic Specialist, but I’ll notch that up to design choice.
Conclusion for improving Thieves:
- Fine-tune the base saves a bit, and/or make an entry for that neglected Paralysis advance
- Slightly raise the chance of save improvements (take from axed specials or from the skills) towards 25%
- Maybe lower the skill improvement chance a bit – 50% takes a lot of space from the tables, and most characters using the LotFP skill rank system are quickly “good enough” in the things they want to do with their skills.
- Get rid of the entries that do nothing or give trivial material gains.
- Maybe do a bunch of alternate classes with their own flavour of special abilities?
Unlike the Warrior or Thief, Wizards progress normally on their saves and only roll when they would get a spell slot. Which is sort of boring. Why not just make their save advances random too, and have them roll more?
As apparent from that table above, Wizards get a roughly one spell slot per level at low levels, and if their saves were to advance by rolling, the expected rate would be 1-in-6 in their bracket. Like Fighters and Specialists/Thieves, “get your hit points and roll twice” would be fine, with a possible reduction in the saves like Thieves have.
Maybe have them roll once at first level and give one guaranteed spell slot, mirroring the Thief structure.
In general, the Wizard list seems to have relatively high change of getting stuff that is bad, and something could be done to the entries to alleviate that.
I’m not a fan of spell slots in general (Maleficars are way more fun), but the get the spell slot as usual could be split to separate entries – get a spell slot of half caster level, get a couple of lower-level slots, and so on?
- More rolls, more random
- Bake saves into advancement tables
- Special entries should be interesting, yes, but not purely bad (see taboos, witch table, and such).
- As with classes above, no permissions to do shit you can already do.
Clerics are basically Wizards, with Specialist save rates.
I’ll try to do better shortly. Expect random core classes to start with.