Sunday, January 26, 2014

Retro-clone Read-through - Character Creation, Part I

Today, as I understand it, is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, and thus in a way the entire RPG hobby. What better day, then to continue my series examining ten of the games that have been closely inspired by it?

Possibly the most important part of the rules, it's no surprise that all of the retro-clones I'm reading through have the character creation rules right up front. For the next few read-through posts, I'll be creating a character for each game, following the processes of each as closely as possible.

While many of them suggest various ways to generate it, all of them use the general "Six stats in the 3-18 range" mechanic. In order to test the rules as scientifically as possible, I'll be rolling one set of stats the traditional way - 3d6 In Order, of course - and applying them to each. So, without further ado, here are the numbers:

10, 15, 9, 9, 13, 9, 9

Not a bad spread, altogether, though the number of nines seems a bit of an anomaly - and yes, there's an extra at the end, I got a bit carried away with the dice-rolling and decided to keep it around in case any of the rulesets have an oddball stat or something. Anyway, let's take a look at what we can do with these numbers:



AdventurerConqueror, King: Not suggesting any other methods for generating the appropriate numbers, ACKS presents its character abilities in the following order:

STR: 10
INT: 15 (+1)
WIS: 9
DEX: 9
CON: 13 (+1)
CHA: 9

No penalties, and bonuses to Proficiencies and Languages, and Hit Die. Happily, nine is the minimum score required for any given class's Prime Requisite, although if I pick one requiring Intelligence or Constitution there's a 5% Experience bonus. That pretty much means a Mage, as all the other classes have at least one other Prime Requisite (oddly none are CON), and in the case of two the rules default towards whichever is lower.

Speaking of classes, this is one of the areas that ACKS is really known for. The game uses race-as-class, which is not my favorite way of going about things, but it makes up for this by assuming that the non-human races have various classes of their own - the examples given are Elven Spellswords (fighter-equivalents) and Nightblades (thief-equivalents) and Dwarvish Vaultguards (fighters) and Craftpriests (clerics). For humans, the game draws a distinction between Core Classes - the classic Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Thief - and "Campaign Classes", the examples of which are the Assassin, Bard, Bladedancer (a fighter/mage hybrid) and Explorer (a ranger-type).

Besides the Mage, the way the stats rolled out produces something of a leveling effect, where no particular choice is more optimal than any other, so I'm going to go with the Dwarven Vaultguard - I like Dwarves, and the demi-human classes are one of ACKS's specialties, after all.

Ambition & Avarice: Attribute generation here is 3d6 in any order, although the rules note the in-order variant "if you are feeling lucky". The option is also offered to reroll all results in certain circumstances. The attributes are presented in a bit of a different order:

STR: 10
DEX: 15 (+2)
CON: 9
INT: 9
WIS: 13 (+1)
CHA: 9

One notices right away that these rules are also a bit more generous when it comes to bonuses. To these stats, in particular, the bonuses are to to-hit & damage rolls with projectile weapons, speed, and AC; as well as surprise and initiative rolls.

Something that A&A does not do is tie attributes to either class or race, leaving all of each available for the choosing. The game offers ten of each of these, with differentiation between "Civilized" and "Uncivilized" races, and mundane and magical classes. While I'm very tempted to go with another Dwarf, in interests of stretching boundaries I'm going to go with the Lizardfolk.

The classes in Ambition & Avarice are rather unique - as mentioned, there's five each of the mundane and magical classes, and none of the classic four are present as such. However, it's easy to see the influence of the Fighter in the Knight and the Savage, as well as the Thief in the Knave, and Robber. There's also the Ranger, who of all the mundane classes I think is the best fit for an exceptionally wise and dexterous Lizardfolk. Similarly, the Mage and Cleric are reinterpreted as Conjurer and Sorcerer, and the Cultist, Priest, and Shaman.

Astonishing SwordsmenSorcerers of Hyperboria: With a whopping five methods of attribute generation (generally variations on "role many choices and pick one") to choose from, there's the potential for a lot of different levels of power for different games with these rules. 3d6 in order is listed as Method I, and with that we get:

STR: 10
DEX: 15 (+1)
CON: 9
INT: 9
WIS: 13
CHA: 9

Same order as A&A, different bonus structure. In fact, each attribute has a number of bonuses not easily summarized on a single table, such as DEX modifiers to to-hit with missiles and defense, as well as to performing Tests and Feats of Dexterity.

Technically, AS&SH separates races and classes, but as there are no demi-humans the former are all strictly for flavor and borrowed from various historical and "historical" cultures (part of the setting conceit, I think). For no particular reasons besides personal preference, I chose Kimmeri-Kelt.

At this point in the process we find a so-far unique-to-AS&SH section about "Physique". Applying the extra 9 I rolled informs me that my Kimmeri-Kelt is between 5'10" and 6' and about 175 lbs. Good to know. There's some extra fiddly bits here that I'm going to skip for now, and come back to when (if) they become relevant.

As for classes, AS&SH has lots of these, with four sub-classes for each of the four main classes (six for Fighters). I'm most intrigued by the Scout, a Thief sub-class which is here less a wilderness expert and more a specialized dungeoneer. Helpfully, the Prime attributes are DEX and INT, and only require a 9 in each.

Basic Fantasy RPG: Like ACKS, BFRPG suggests no other ways of rolling up the Ability Scores than 3d6 In Order. Also like ACKS, the stats are presented in the following order:

STR: 10
INT: 15 (+1)
WIS: 9
DEX: 9
CON: 13 (+1)
CHA: 9

The bonuses and Prime Requisites are also similar, though there's no mention yet of an XP bonus. Unlike ACKS, however, non-human races are able to take on regular classes, though with some restrictions - no Dwarven Magic-Users or Halfling Fighters here. A Dwarf Thief is perfectly possible, though, if a trifle odd - the dwarven CON bonus to Hit Die will help here.

Dark Dungeons: In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the Dark Dungeons rules only allow for 3d6 In Order for Ability Score generation, though in the case of six sub-9 results everything gets re-rolled, and it is suggested that the order can be adjusted at the GM's discretion. The order of the stat listings is also familiar:

STR: 10
INT: 15 (+1)
WIS: 9
DEX: 9
CON: 13 (+1)
CHA: 9

Dark Dungeons also uses race-as-class with a minimum score of nine (except for the Mystic, apparently a Monk analogue, that requires 13 in both WIS and DEX!), without any real surprises other than the aforementioned Mystic. There is an interesting little twist on the familiar "sacrifice points in one ability to gain points in another" mechanic, in that each class only allows certain abilities to be adjusted. For a change, I'm not going to go against the flow of the rolls and build a Magic-User, taking advantage of that INT-based 5% XP bonus.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery: This set of rules is a bit vague as to the procedures for rolling up scores, saying that they "usually vary from one group of players to the next". Examples given are 3d6 in order, 4d6 Drop Lowest, and using a chart of pre-assigned numbers. As we see, the scores are in the same order as A&A and AS&SH, but with the bonus structure of the other games:

STR: 10
DEX: 15 (+1)
CON: 9
INT: 9
WIS: 13 (+1)
CHA: 9

FH&W is also a race and class system, with a few surprises along the way. First off, we find that all races have both minimum and maximum ability scores - this particular grouping disallows the possibility of playing a Dwarf (min. 11 CON), Elf (11 DEX) or Half-Orc (11 CON). Happily it doesn't overshoot any of the upper limits, which are 11 STR for Halflings and Gnomes, and INT 12 and CHA 14 for those Half-Orcs. Still, only the Human has no restrictions whatsoever.

But the classes don't stop with what are called out as the Traditional Fantasy races. There's also a clever little section about building Tieflings which re-imagines the 4e-ism into a template that can be applied to any race, as well as an example in the form of Dark Elves.

In addition, a completely separate list of races for "Weird Tales" mode is given, replacing elves and gnomes with Primates, Reptilians (with a sidebar explaining how they can be re-skinned into what's basically Dragonborn), and other character types for a more sword-and-sorcery campaign.

The available classes and sub-classes are equally varied, with both ACKS-style racial classes and the ability for demi-humans to take some human classes, albiet with level limits. There's also a list of Weird Tales classes such as Psychic and Rifleman, but for this project I'm going to stick with the basics. Like the races, the classes have varied minimum attribute requirements, and one of the few that fit my example is the Thief.

Heroes Against Darkness: Right away, we see Heroes separate itself from the field with a new Ability Score lineup:

STR: 10
DEX: 15
WIS: 9
CON: 9
INT: 13
CHA: 9

There seems to be no bonuses as such, but higher numbers will of course mean better derived scores, of which there are a number. Like Ambition & Avarice, there's no limits to either race or class, though I note with interest that the base choices for both tends towards the combat-suited. No gnomes or halflings, but both Orcs and Half-Orcs, along with Drow and Tartareans, which are basically Tieflings, again.

As mentioned, there are no hard limits on ability scores for classes, but the flip side of this is that they all have three - and sometimes four - Key Ability Scores, usually DEX, and CON with STR for fighter-types and WIS for casters. The only one which uses INT is the Rogue, which is actually one of the four-score classes (the other is the Hospiter, a cleric-type). Hilariously, none of the classes have CHA as a Key Ability.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Up until this point, all of the rulesets I've examined have had very similar orderings of their ability scores, usually one of two sequences, and even the outlier (Heroes Against Darkness) starts with STR and ends with CHA. Not so with LotFP:

CHA: 10
CON: 15 (+1)
DEX: 9
INT: 9
STR: 13 (+1)
WIS: 9

The default generation method is written 3d6 In Order with swaps, or possibly one swap depending on how the rule is interpreted. Scores with modifiers that add up to a negative number may start over.

LotFP uses Race-as-Class, but helpfully has no minimum scores for any particular choice in the standard array - Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Specialist (read Thief), Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.

OSRIC: Perhaps unsurprisingly given its origins, with OSRIC we're back to one of the familiar ability score lists:

STR: 10
DEX: 15
CON: 9
INT: 9
WIS: 13
CHA: 9

For some reason, these rules are a bit stingier with the bonuses than other games. On the other hand, 3d6 In Order is referred to as a "brutal" generation method, with an assumption that the GM will be figuring out an easier method.

OSRIC also brings the return of minimum and maximum ability scores for races, with this particular set of rolls disallowing Dwarves, Halflings, and Half-Orcs (not enough CON). An Elf, on the other hand, is perfectly doable, though the adjustment to CON brings it right down to the minimum.

The classes are similar, with the non-core classes having a much higher ability threshold than the basic ones. In fact, these scores do not allow for any but the core classes, leaving me to apply the high-DEX standby, the Thief.

Swords & Wizardry: Attributes here are rolled basically 3d6 in any order, per the Referee's permission. The listing order is the same as several we've already seen:

STR: 10
DEX: 15 (+1)
CON: 9
INT: 9
WIS: 13
CHA: 9

Interestingly, although WIS doesn't have a bonus to any rolls associated with it, any character with a score of 13+ gets a 5% XP bonus. S&W also puts class ahead of race in the creation process, which is interesting - several (none-core) classes are restricted to humans-only. There's no requirements, but all the Prime Attributes (for an additional 5% XP bonus)  are 13+, which means that Clerics, Monks, and Thieves have the advantage. Since I've done lots of thieves (or equivalents) and this exercise isn't for a campaign anyway, I'm going to forgo the added bonus and build a Fighter, the only other class (besides the thief) that can be any race. Even a Halfling, even though they're ostensibly limited to four levels. And hey, if I'm reading the rules right, I can get that DEX bonus after all!

Well, that was quite an undertaking. Next I'll finish off Character Creation, and for ease of reference here's a review of the various class and race combinations I ended up with:

ACKS: Dwarven Vaultguard
A&A: Lizardfolk Ranger
AS&SH: Kimmeri-Kelt Scout
BFRPG: Dwarven Thief
DD: Magic-User
FH&W: Human Thief
HAD: Orc Rogue
LotFP: Dwarf
OSRIC: Elf Thief
S&W: Halfling Fighter

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