Monday, March 17, 2014

Thoughts on d100 classes, and a Performer class

So Zak Smith's d100 class system is really, really good. I've personally played as or GMed for an Alice, Barbarian, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, and Paladin, and had a great time with all of them. One of the things that I like about it is how well it conveys setting and tone. A generic OSR M-U or fighter doesn't do this, which is a good thing. Part of the beauty of the OSR classes is how simple they are, such that a magic user can be whatever kind of magic user you want, and a fighter can be a hired hand, a noble warrior, a soldier, or anything in between. But, if you do have a specific idea of what a class looks like in mind, especially if it is inspired by certain source material(s), I think the d100 system is great for a number of related reasons:
  • It allows for character abilities that would be difficult to place in a game as part of a standardized level progression chart. Results 72, 79, 87, and 100 on the Wizard table are some of the many good examples of this. How on earth could you put "there's a magic item that is largely of your design within 4 sessions of adventure" on a standardized progression chart? What level would that be appropriate for? If characters could pick that result (or 77-78, the "don't die" result, from the Paladin table), why wouldn't they pick it all the time? Randomization grants these types of abilities in the fairest possible way.
  • Though a d100 class will likely be thematically more developed than the standard classes, actual character progression is highly random. This means that: (1) they are harder to predictably power game; (2) given two characters of the same class, you are are likely to see development in significantly different directions while still having both characters be recognizable not just as a general class (like fighter), but as a specific archetype (like barbarian, ranger, or paladin); and (3) there's less concern about balance, both in designing and playing these classes. 
  • It creates results that are usable in interesting ways, encouraging creativity and problem solving. Normal fighter progression is a straight line from "hit hard" to "hit really hard." The 84-86 result on the d100 Fighter chart, though, gives the fighter an extra round to prepare for the fight, which can be used in any number of ways. I think maybe the best example of this, however, is 97 for thieves. This result is kind of metagame-y without being obnoxious (looking at you, every viable 3.x combat feat ever); makes players think about the scope of the game as a whole, and the world they occupy; gives players an ability that is very useful to the whole party, but that is also a problem to solve ("Do we want to have a black market dealer in the Elven Fortress, or a seller of secrets from the City of Depraved Wizards?"); expands the game's world without introducing story gaming elements that may or may not be appropriate for your table; creates fodder for plot hooks. In short, this ability is fucking fantastic for the players and the GM.
  • It allows for abilities directly inspired by source material without running into problems with balancing character progression (see above). Take for example the riddle scene from The Hobbit. Pretty awesome, right? But my players don't want to go around riddling, they want to get adventure. And if I force the players to play a riddle game, they'll probably get bored pretty fast. But if I add an ability that says "once per session you can gamble an item for something of equal value with an NPC on a riddle (must be sensible and fair; use your common sense). You ask a riddle, and the GM has 1 (or 2, or 5, or whatever) minutes to come up with the answer. if the NPC answers it correctly, she gets your item. If not, you get the NPC's item." This is probably not the greatest example of an ability, but you get the idea.
Now obviously it's possible to implement those kinds of benefits in any kind of game or character advancement system, but the d100 system seems to work particularly well. If you haven't tried using one of those classes, I recommend it. And if you ever are designing a class for use at your table, consider whether a d100 class might not be the best way to do it. Speaking of which...

After long use and many vanquished foes, Danika the Paladin, one of the characters at my table, has died. RIP. I was asked to write a new class, which is based loosely on vaudeville performers and classic swashbucklers. Idea inspiration also came a bit from a post I read somewhere about treating the illusionist class not as a M-U specializing in illusions, but as a thief variant with minor magical abilities. I seem to have lost that post, so if you know which one I'm talking about let me know so I can give due credit! Anyways, here's my take on a vaudeville/rogue/swashbuckler/ne'er-do-well d100 class.

The Performer

The Performer gains hit points and levels as per a specialist/thief, and begins with level 1 thief saves. The class begins being skilled* at dex-based athletics, sleight of hand, and stealth. These abilities can't be used if wearing armor heavier than leather. Every level, including 1, roll twice on the following table and gain the written ability.

*I use Skills: The Middle Road as a skill system. Whatever your skill system is, it should be fairly easy to divide a skill up into four general tiers: untrained, skilled, expert, and master. Use whatever works for you.

Like this, but with more knives
1-20: Improve saves by 1.
21-35: Jack of All Trades. You may take any one untrained skill to the skilled level. If all skills are at the skilled level, then take a skill from the skilled level to the expert level. If all skills are at the expert level, ignore this result.
36-37: Spend enough time running from police, and eventually you figure out how they get so good at hitting your friends. +1 to hit.
38: Hanging out with the fighter has paid off. +1 to damage with light weapons.
39-40: Sometimes magic tricks aren't just tricks. Pick a spell from the following list. You can now cast this spell once per day. Rerolling this result lets you pick another spell, or cast a spell you already picked one additional time per day.
1. Change Self
2. Enlarge
3. Faerie Fire
4. Feather Fall
5. Invisibility
6. Light/Darkness
7. Magic Mouth
8. Mirror Image
9. Phantom Sounds
10. Ventriloquism
41-42: "I use one of those in my act. It's not really magic, it's a simple mechani- oh, it is magic." Any time you encounter a magic item, you can make a roll under int check to identify its use. Reroll this result and you get a +1 bonus to your int check, then +2, etc.
43: +1 to dexterity, up to max. Additional rolls go into charisma, then intelligence.
44-45: “Did she just pull a rabbit from that guy's hat?” Once per day, you can instantly move any rabbit-sized or smaller object on your person to any spot within 30 feet without anyone noticing. Reroll this result and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
46-47: Those knives seem to be everywhere at once! +1 bonus to AC when wielding light weapons.
48-49: Expert juggler. You can wield three light weapons. Make three attack rolls at a -2 penalty and take the best roll. Reroll this result and the penalty becomes -1. Reroll this a third time and there is no penalty. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
50-51: “So you see, officer…” once per day, you can tell an at least semi-plausible lie to any humanoid or demi-human, or a group thereof. All who hear the lie must save or believe you entirely. Hostile creatures or others inclined to disbelieve you receive a +4 bonus to their saves. Reroll this result and saves to disbelieve are at -1, then -2, etc.
52-53: "I have one of those in my bag." Forgot to pack a rope? Not to worry. Once per day, you can pull any single mundane item from your bag of tricks. It must be able to fit, so no you can’t have a 50’ ladder in your backpack. Reroll this result and you can do this an additional time per day.
54-55: “Oh, this? It's just an old ruby-colored, ruby-shaped stone I found.” Once per day, you can disguise any carried item as a mundane object within 50% of the size of the first object. This will fool the five senses of anyone who doesn't have at least one full turn to study the object. Magic items will still detect as magic. Reroll this result, and you can suppress a magic aura (M-Us must make a save if attempting to detect magic, or the item will detect as mundane). Reroll a third time, and you can suppress a magic aura perfectly. Ignore subsequent results.
56: A quick jaunt through the shadow plane. Once per day, you can teleport from an area of shadow to any other shadow within 30' as a move action. Reroll this result and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
57-58: "Did I say traveling performer? I meant religious missionary." Once per day, you may force any single NPC to reroll a reaction roll. Reroll this result, and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
59-60: “Uh... let's try that trick one more time.” Once a week, you can reroll any one roll you make. You must take the second result. Reroll this result, and you can do this twice a week, then three times, etc.
61-62: Cartwheels are the best way to avoid fireballs. If you succeed by 4 or more (or get a natural 20) on a save against AOE effects where success would normally cause half damage, you instead take no damage. Reroll this result, and any successful save causes no damage. Reroll a third time, and a failed save causes half damage. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
63-64: Cartwheels are also the best way to avoid being stabbed. Instead of attacking in combat, you can assume a defensive posture, granting +4 to AC. Each additional reroll increases the AC bonus by 2.
65-66: Misdirection is the key to a good performer’s act. Once per day for up to one hour, you can make yourself perfectly silent, and invisible as per the M-U spell Invisibility. During this time you also leave no tracks, even in mud or snow. This is not the result of magic, and so you will not be revealed by a detect invisibility or detect magic spell. You are merely supernaturally talented at drawing the eye away from relevant clues. Reroll this result, and the invisibility is now as the spell Improved Invisibility. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
67: Gymnast. You move gracefully and lithely. You can move through difficult or occupied terrain without penalty. If your game uses attacks of opportunity, opponents make them at a -4 penalty. If your game doesn’t use attacks of opportunity, then you (and only you) get to make them anyways. Every time this result is rerolled, opponents’ Attack of Opportunity penalty increases by 2/you make attacks of opportunity at a cumulative +2 bonus.
68: Acrobat. You can climb at a normal moving speed, and make attacks while climbing without penalty. Every time this result is rerolled, you make climb checks at a cumulative +1/+5%.
69-70: Knife-thrower. You may make ranged attacks with thrown weapons into melee without penalty. Every time you reroll this result and you may add +1 to hit or damage with thrown weapons.
71-72: The sneaky get sneakier. Improve your stealth skill to expert level. If rolled again, or if stealth is already at expert level, improve stealth to a master level. If rolled again, treat as 73-74 or 75-76. If all three skills are at master level, treat this at 21-35.
73-74: “So I started doing dragon yoga.” Improve your athletics skill to expert level. If rolled again, or if athletics is already at expert level, improve to master level. If rolled again, treat as 71-72 or 75-76. If all three skills are at master level, treat this as 21-35.
75-76: “The five finger discount just got better.” Improve your sleight of hand skill to expert level.  If rolled again, or if sleight of hand is already at expert level, improve to master level. If rolled again, treat as 71-72 or 73-74. If all three skills are at master level, treat this as 21-35.
77-78: Your foot is in the way! During combat, you can make a roll under dex check to trip an otherwise-occupied human-sized or smaller enemy. This ability only works once per fight, unless an enemy for some reason would not be aware of the tripping, or is mindless. Reroll this result and the trip deals d4 damage, then d6, then d8, then d10...
79: I performed for the Duke once. A nobleperson of some prestige in a city of your choice owes you a favor. You may call on this favor once, and the nobleperson will perform it to the best of his/her ability. Reroll this result, and you can call on another favor.
80: “Don't worry, I know a guy.” You gain a number of underworld contacts equal to your level, with a new one each time you level up. These can be in any city or cluster of cities you want. They each have one specific use: black market, information gathering, reliable thugs, etc. You can save a contact and use it later (e.g. you know you're heading to a new city soon, so you save one contact to make sure you have a black market connection to fence stolen goods). Reroll this result, and you gain an additional contact for every two levels. Reroll a third time, and you instead have two contacts per level. Ignore subsequent results.
81-82: A good offense is never being seen. Your sneak attack (or backstab, or whatever you want to call it) multiplier goes up by one, up to system max. Ignore this result once you reach system max.
83: Death-defying stunts? No sweat. If you spend a round preparing, you may avoid death or an equally miserable fate once. This only works for you; your allies are out of luck. Every time this result is rerolled, you may do this one additional time.
84-85: Forgery can get you far in life. Once per day, you can imitate the handwriting of anyone whose handwriting you are familiar with. This will fool anyone who does not have special reason to examine the writing closely or suspect forgery. Anyone who suspects must make a successful intelligence check (modified by familiarity with the handwriting) or still be fooled.
86-87: "Pay attention to me, I'm performing!" As a combat action, you may perform in order to draw enemies' attention towards you. Any opponents who see/hear your performance must save vs. paralysis or focus all their attention on killing you.
88-89: "I think I performed here once." Any time you encounter a culture or region for the first time, make a roll under int check. If successful, you are familiar with the region and its customs.
90-91: Dodge. If you are attacked in a round that you spent doing nothing but dodging and the opponent misses, they miss horribly. They lose a number of attacks from their next combat round up to your level. This only works once per combat unless the target is mindless. Reroll this result and you can use this twice per combat, then three times, etc.
92: You were told of this place, and the treasures it holds. The Mirror of Balt the Magnificent, the Dagger of Eyes, Merick's Bag of Tricks? It's there. 4 sessions of adventure away or less. If the party fails to obtain it, roll a separate result on this table. If the item is subsequently obtained, the separately rolled result is lost.
93: "It’s just like the gypsy woman said." One time, when things look dire, you have 30 seconds to explain a semi-plausible contingency you had prepared for just this situation. Then, make a  roll under int check. If successful, the contingency was prepared. The ability is not lost until a check is successful. Reroll this result again and you can have a second contingency.
94: "I do that trick in my act." Once per day, you can guarantee the success of a dexterity-based athletics check (no arm wrestling or hauling massive amounts of weight). This must be something that is humanly possible, at least by D&D standards. Reroll this result and you can use this twice a day, then three times, etc.
95: "What a nice youn- where's my wallet?" Once per day, if you get close to an unsuspecting person for a non-trivial period of time, you can guarantee the success of a pickpocket check. If the target suspects you, you instead receive a 20% (or 1/6) bonus to your pickpocket check. Rerolling this result means you can use it twice a day, then three times, etc.
96: “Can I have a volunteer from the audience?” You are particularly charming when asking for favors. Once per day you can charm a neutral or friendlier NPC with HD equal to ½ your level (rounded up) or fewer. This effect is not magical, and grants no save. The charmed NPC will respond favorably to any requests that don’t go against its nature. The effect will wear off 1d6 turns after the NPC leaves your presence, or if it is asked to do something against its nature. If rerolled, the HD limit of the target increases by one. This ability will never work on a creature with more HD than you have levels.
97: One of the nice things about working in music halls is you run into all kinds of people. You've learned how to interact with the social elite. +1/+5% to reaction or CHR checks with nobility, aristocracy, etc. Reroll this result and the bonus becomes +2, then +3, etc.
98: One of the bad things about working in music halls is you are constantly poor. You've learned how to interact with bums, thieves, and other social mistfits. +1/+5% to reaction or CHR checks with the lower classes.
99: Actors are sexy. +1/+5% bonus to reaction rolls with anyone inclined to be attracted to someone of your species/gender combo. Every time you reroll this, the bonus increases by 1, but you start suffering a cumulative -1/-5% penalty to reaction rolls with potential sexual competitors.
100: Your assistant seems to know exactly what your trick needs to get that extra oomph, and your rabbit always pops out of the hat at just the right time. You gain an exceptionally - though not supernaturally - intelligent, and perfectly loyal, animal companion or hireling of 2HD. If this result is rerolled and your hireling/companion is still alive, they gain one HD. Otherwise, gain a new hireling/companion.

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