Monday, August 26, 2013

The Thief, the Specialist and Demihuman Level Limits

I received a whole bunch of material for Lamentations of the Flame Princess recently, including the new Rules & Magic hardcover book. And its presentation of the Specialist class makes me think it might be able to solve two separate problems.

Why I like the Specialist is that its abilities clearly extrapolate from systems that have been in D&D all along. The class takes the 1 in 6 or 2 in 6 rolls in dungeon exploration and figures that there is a simple mechanic behind them, and then just expands them so the Specialist gets better at those things. The specialist skills are neat things and don't over-complicate the game. They also allow thieves to be competent at things fairly early on, while in Greyhawk and its derivatives in Classic and Advanced D&D don't. (Halfling thieves with 18 Dexterity in AD&D aren't awful.)

So that's problem number one: making thieves competent at low level while allowing them to grow. I may tweak the skill list a bit, but overall I think I prefer the class to the thief as written.

The second problem is demihuman level limits. Generally demihumans with no limits are too good to pass up. There's no reason to play a vanilla human in a game where elves are just plain better. So that's where Specialist skills come in: they're a way to make demihumans continue to advance without letting them be as good as fighters or magic-users as a high level human. So when an elf caps out in level, they can take some amount of XP (say 100K or so) and use it to get points in Specialist skills. I think this is a compromise that allows demihumans to continue to grow without throwing the whole game out of whack.

Any thoughts on these?


  1. Glad you asked.

    My opinion on thieves in BX isn't that they're underpowered, it's that they're late bloomers like everyone understands MUs are.

    By level 12 they've got all their skills in the high 90s. Think about that and what you could do with that in a game primarily about acquiring treasure by raiding dungeons. Think about flawless sneaking, hiding and unlocking on a solo or all thief mission. They'd clear the dungeon of treasure and XP, leaving the monsters for the next poor saps. On top of that they level faster than anyone else. A 2e style thief can max out sneaking and hiding by level 4 if they're dedicated to those skills.

    I don't know how LotFP works, but probably wise to be careful about applying that kind of skill to demihumans.

    I think D&D does a poor job of modeling how crappy some races are. No hobbit is every going to beat a healthy man in a fist fight; they just can't. I suspect that's one of the big reasons for level limits but there's other ways to balance them out if you absolutely hate level limits. Like in 2e, hobbits and dwarves have half the movement of the tall folk. In a play style where you have to run from a monster now and then, that's likely to get them eaten. It's a big deal, it's fair and makes sense.

    In 1e the demihumans all have unlimited leveling as thieves anyway. The caps are all for other classes so that is how it works anyway.

  2. I think Basic Fantasy has an elegant solution; Give 10% more XP to humans so they level up faster than other races and demi-humans don't need to have a level limit.


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