Saturday, May 17, 2008

Playing with Dex

In the beginning, there were only three character classes: fighting-men, magic-users, and clerics. Each had their own special stat (Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom respectively) and if you had a high score in your class' stat, you got a bonus to your earned experience points. In addition, at that time, those three stats didn't give you any other bonuses. (For those of you who were wondering, this is why the stats back then were listed in order of STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON, CHR.) The remaining three stats gave you useful bonuses, like extra hit points or a greater number of henchmen. In those days, a fighting-man was far more likely to use Intelligence as a dump stat than Charisma.

But as time went on and folks added cool additions to the game, this elegant system grew unwieldy barnacles. The thief was, I believe, the first of these. Thieves used Dexterity as their prime requisite, meaning that thieves not only got the benefits that normally came with Dexterity, but also an XP bonus as well. This, of course, threw the whole system out of kilter.

By the time the Moldvay Basic D&D rules were published in '81, every stat offered bonuses or penalties to your character. But not every stat had a class associated with it. Some had more than one class using it as a prime requisite. Now, this isn't really a problem, but my desire for symmetry, of a sort, balks at this. And so, in my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack, I've set out to make sure every stat has at least one class that uses it as a prime requisite. In some cases, this was a simple matter of moving a class from one stat to another. Specifically, I've changed dwarves from using Strength as their prime requisite to using Constitution, which I think fits their tough and rugged image.

That was the easy one. Others I made more difficult for myself, because I apparently can't stand for things to be too easy.

I've already expressed my dissatisfaction with thieves. I like the idea behind the class, but many of the mechanics don't work for me, or the way I prefer to game. But I still want a class that uses Dexterity as a prime requisite. To fill that need, I've invented a class I'm calling, for lack of better inspiration, the rogue.

Obviously, the prime requisite is Dexterity, and a Dexterity score of 13 or greater will earn the rogue a bonus on earned experience points.

RESTRICTIONS: Rogues use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hit points. They may not wear any armour or use shields. They may use any one-handed weapon, spears, and staves. They may also fight with a weapon in each hand.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: When striking unnoticed from behind, the rogue gets a +4 to hit and inflicts twice the normal damage. Rogues roll on their own to-hit table. Here’s a sample from levels 1 through 4, since the whole thing won’t fit here easily:

AC

To Hit

9

10

8

11

7

12

6

13

5

13

4

13

3

13

2

13

1

18

0

19

-1

20

-2

20

-3

20

The rogue also acquires magic-user/elf spells according to the following table:


Spells

Level

1

2

1

1

*

2

2

*

3

2

1

4

2

2

5

3

2

6

3

3

7

4

3

And here’s the XP chart:




Spells

Level

XP

Hit Dice

1

2

1

0

1d6

1

*

2

1,802

2d6

2

*

3

3,602

3d6

2

1

4

7,202

4d6

2

2

5

14,402

5d6

3

2

6

28,802

6d6

3

3

7

57,602

7d6

4

3

8

112,500

8d6

4

3

9

230,000

9d6

4

3

10

337,500

9d6+1

4

3

11

450,000

9d6+2

4

3

12

562,500

9d6+3

4

3

Obviously, the model for this class is the Gray Mouser. But it also works for rangers, bards, wizard-school dropouts, charlatan magicians, and the like.

The attack matrix is predicated on the rogue fighting like a swashbuckler. More than simply trying to be faster, they use the cumbersome armour of their foes against them. Thus, the plateau of to-hit numbers between ACs 5 (chain mail) to 2 (plate + shield). Below 2, you’re getting into the realm of high Dexterity bonuses and magic, which counters the rogue’s speed and agility. Fighters, however, maintain their status as the best in combat through better hit dice as well as greater options in armour and weapons.

Still, on the recommendation of others, I'm considering replacing the funky to-hit progression with stating that the rogue gets to use their Dexterity bonus on to-hit rolls. That might actually make them more dangerous in certain zones, however, especially with a +2 or +3. On the other hand, using the table I have now and combining it with a high Strength would be incredibly deadly. Does this make the rogue too dangerous? Or is it properly balanced by the lack of armour?

Obviously, the smart rogue is going to use magic to make up for a lack of armour. Shield, invisibility, and mirror image will, I’m sure, be very popular choices.

13 comments:

Sham aka Dave said...

I like that direction you're going with this. I've often felt the need to provide a single class for each of the six abilities, and I have notes I've been sorting out for such a system.

Since you're using Moldvay, Dwarves for CON is a good change. I'd almost be tempted to say Halflings for DEX, but your Rogue is a pretty cool idea.

I'm still looking for some Thief type class that I'm happy with for my own campaign.

Cheers!

~Sham

Max said...

Nifty. The small selection of spells gives your rogue an opportunity to replicate a number of traditional thieving skills but in a sharply limited way. In particular detect magic, hold portal, read languages, ventriloquism, invisibility, knock, levitate, locate object and wizard lock seem quite roguish to me.

This could be a highly effective character even with such a limited spell list. Maybe add in feather fall, jump, push, spider climb, darkness, Leomund's trap, rope trick, and you'd have a spellcaster focused on mobility and infiltration.

Does your rogue maintain a spellbook, or is the spell selection fixed? Do the spells represent arcane dabbling or the development of preternatural physical/mental dexterity? The latter notion would be especially well-served by a limited spell selection, I think.

trollsmyth said...

Thanks, Max.

Does your rogue maintain a spellbook, or is the spell selection fixed? Do the spells represent arcane dabbling or the development of preternatural physical/mental dexterity? The latter notion would be especially well-served by a limited spell selection, I think.

Right now, all I'm saying is that they maintain a spellbook like elves and magic-users. Beyond that, however, it's entirely up to the player. Was the character tossed out of wizard's school? Taught a smattering of magic by the local hedge-witch? Raised by elves? Or was the character's grandfather a demon? It's up to the player.

Heck, for the right bribes, I can probably be talked out of the spellbook thing, but I'd rather keep the flexibility.

- Brian

noisms said...

Out of interest, what are the other stat/class combos you're going with?

trollsmyth said...

I'm mostly sticking with the Moldvay/Cook ones:

fighter = Strength
magic-user = Intelligence
cleric = Wisdom

Those, of course are the classic three. The rest are changes.

rogue = Dexterity
dwarf = Constitution
gnome = Charisma

The elf has both Strength and Intelligence as prime requisites. Halflings have both Strength and Dexterity as prime requisites and are more rangers than thieves in Moldvay/Cook. At this time, however, I'm thinking of dropping them from the campaign because they do kinda clash for themes with gnomes.

- Brian

noisms said...

That's interesting. I'd like to know your reasoning behind gnome/charisma. Charisma is always the hardest to allocate a class to; I would have gone for elf or halfling instead, figuring that they're probably the most "charismatic" races/classes.

Ripper X said...

All of this abuse, and I still come around for more. How roguish is that?

This sounds awfully bardic to me. Jack of all trades, master of none. Kind of a gypsy-type character. I don't think that I'd play it. I mean, I can always play a wizard that has a roguish nature, and get much better results, or even a fighter who is more cowardly then brave.

From reading around the blogs, they try to make the thief sound like it was a fourth class, that didn't belong, but this was a real life occupation! Imagine a city without crime, I mean, it's enough to put a tear in my eye if I wasn't such a manly man!

Magic scrolls and thieves are a secret pleasure of mine. 25% chance to really screw it up . . . and that is if you even have a clue as to what the scroll is supposed to cast! How is that not fun?

I am a role-playing fan first. I can play any character class, of any race that you throw at me and have a kick'n good time doing it! I think that I like playing thieves because they do have to work so hard to keep up.

"Why do I let you tag along again?" Asked the warrior, wiping the blood of his enemy off of his sword.

"I fetch the clean towels! Oh, look, I think that he dropped something . . ."

James Maliszewski said...

From reading around the blogs, they try to make the thief sound like it was a fourth class, that didn't belong, but this was a real life occupation!

This dislike of the Thief class among old schoolers is based on three factors:

1. It's not an original class; it didn't appear until Supplement I of OD&D.

2. It introduces the concept of skills, which is anathema to many old schoolers. Worse yet, the Thief's skills include things that other classes could already do, implying that merely that it was better at those things but that other classes couldn't do them at all. No, the rules don't say that, but that's what happened historically, so many old schoolers think it better just to ditch the Thief.

3. In OD&D, every character already is a Thief, or can be. As you say, it's an occupation but is it an archetype? Again, many old schoolers would say no, so bye-bye Thief.

I'm personally sympathetic to the "no Thieves" mentality and prefer a replacement class that's more like Trollsmyth's. The two paradigmatic Thieves of pulp fantasy are Conan (who wasn't a Thief in OD&D terms) and the Gray Mouser (who wasn't either). Even Cugel the Clever is more con man/mountebank than the OD&D Thief. But I also recognize that Thieves have been around longer than most other classes, so I'm willing to give them a chance. I'm nothing if not a sucker for tradition and Thieves have that on their side after 33 years.

Max said...

RE: Gnomes = Charisma
If you are using the fighter/illusionist gnome of AD&D as your model this fits very neatly, Brian, and makes the illusionist more distinct from the magic-user.

trollsmyth said...

Ripper X
James really nailed my issues with the the thief, as has Sham and Mr. Robbins over at ars ludi. I like sneaky characters, and I like characters who live by the swiftness of their wit and their blades. But I dislike the notion that only thieves can be sneaky, and I really dislike how they reduce interaction with traps to a single die roll. What I hope I've done here is create a character who can reproduce the fun parts of being a thief (in conjunction with more general rules for being sneaky, which I'll get to later) while removing the parts that, for me, steal some fun from the game. One of the players I'm hoping will join this campaign has already expressed interest in this class, so hopefully soon I'll have some actual play to tell me if I've succeeded or not.

Max
I hadn't actually been thinking along the lines of the illusionist, primarily because I hadn't decided if I wanted to introduce more spells than we get in the Moldvay/Cook books. Still, that's an option worth considering. I'll see if I can't nail down my thoughts into actual mechanics before the end of the week so y'all can tell me what you think.

- Brian

James Mishler said...

Well, for the rogue "good against armor" ability, I would avoid changing the actual chart itself, as this mixes two different kinds of armor classes that are quite different, the armor class of intelligent humanoids based on artificial armor and the armor class of creatures based on natural hide.

I would say that the rogue gets better every level at attacking against artificial armors. This can be better done, I believe, by granting the rogue a "secondary attack," call it a feint or riposte or what have you, when he misses against artificial armors. The secondary attack would follow at the end of the round if the rogue missed on the original attack, and have all the bonuses and penalties of the original attack. The rogue would gain a secondary attack on a miss if and only if the opponent was wearing armor with a base AC > 9 - Rogue level (i.e., not counting any Dex bonus or penalty).

In other words, the rogue gains a secondary attack when he misses a humanoid wielding a shield and/or wearing armor of progressively better base AC as the rogue rises in levels. A 1st level rogue could use this ability against opponents wielding a shield only; at 2nd level against opponents wearing leather; at 4th level against opponents wearing chain; and at 6th level against opponents wearing plate. He cannot gain a secondary attack against an opponent wearing no armor, as that is the best defense against the light swordplay of the rogue, to simply dance out of the way!

A bit complex for Moldvay, perhaps, and not a perfect solution by any means, but food for thought.

James Mishler said...

D'oh! That is supposed to be "greater than or equal to" not merely "greater than," as is seen in the example.

trollsmyth said...

James,

I'm going to steal that and stick it in my quiver. You're right, it's a tad complex for Moldvay, but it does exactly what I want the class to do. If I go that route, I'll probably let them wear leather armour as well.

I'm going to play with the modified to-hit table first, to see how it goes. Yeah, I don't like how it also works against critters with naturally tough hides and wizards with the shield spell active. And yet, at the same time, it perversely appeals to me. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's my own delight in chaos?

Thanks for taking the time to post that suggestion.

- Brian