Something I didn’t make clear in my previous D&D centered posts is my absurd and self-flagellating obsession with modding. Tabletop games, that is, not computer games (which at this stage still overwhelms my capacity for code lingo.)
I find D&D a flawed system— but only in the same sense of a large hunk of unsmelted iron oxide. With a forge, hours of labor, a few watts of electricity for computer power, and the anvil of my desk (using my forehead as the hammer), I can make nearly any imaginable creation from it.
To be absolutely clear, roleplaying games should not be founded solely on mechanics. The true strength and magic of these games is in the free-form story and the interactions between dungeon master and players ( I think my next post might be on railroads, which are extra ethnically relevant! ). Mechanics should serve only to enhance that story, never limit it nor replace it.
Without further filler, here is the system and the general changes made, and how I think they add to the D&D experience.
Art credit goes to GuzBoroda from DeviantArt. Check out his work here: http://guzboroda.deviantart.com/
Deadly and Poor-Paying Adventure in High Medieval Faux-Europe
Landsknecht and its rules are aligned towards a low magic setting, where magic is not a gift born to man, but a powerful ally or a foe who must be sought out– if you dare. The setting is largely inspired by the times of the mid 15th and early 16th centuries, where knights and muskets clashed on the battlefield in full fury, when science began its full maturation into a disciplined field of knowledge, and when an entire new half of the world was discovered. However, it is equally adaptable to earlier and darker times, or even modern or futuristic settings, though work is still required to adapt its primarily sword-and-board oriented rules to mages-and-machineguns.
It was born out of a desire for glorious adventures matched with harsh and tactical combat and cerebral social interaction, as well as a feeling that the fighter class should be more than a meat shield +6, and that magic couldn’t be truly wondrous if half the party used it to do the dishes in the morning.
Most Important New Additions:
- Attack is no longer determined by an arbitrary base attack, but by your skill in that weapon. Weapon skills are handled just like your normal Acrobatics or Athletics, increased with skill points gained either at level up, or through practice in the day to day (at the DM’s discretion). For medieval settings, they are divided into Daggers, Swords, Axes, Blunt, Long-Swords, Polearms, Bows, Crossbows, Firearms, and Throwing.
- Stamina is now a serious consideration in any fight. Depending on class, characters start with a given amount of stamina, which is increased by ability scores as detailed below. In combat, stamina is consumed when running (normal motion– you wouldn’t really walk in a fight, now would you?) and with attacks– and when wearing armor, the listed stamina penalty drains your stamina every round that you do anything. Combat now requires planning and careful rationing of a character’s stamina, which is only recovered slowly by hanging back out of the fight, if at all.
- HP has a new friend, Wounds. HP in Landsknecht is raised significantly from D&D, but does not scale with levels, and with the immense damage that a well-placed hit can inflict, a character that took weeks to create could be dead in minutes. To balance that in favor of preserving storytelling, Wounds and Courage were added. HP is analogous to your character’s physical ability to remain conscious and fighting; Wounds represent your character’s sheer will to survive. A number of Wounds equal to your Courage can be sacrificed during combat to restore full HP and Stamina, and only suffering the permanent injury penalties after the day has ended. Expect epic moments of fending off entire armies while being filled with more arrows than you have bones in your body.
- Armor actually does something. +8 AC plate is gone, and now more on the scale of +14, +17 if you have a good helmet. All armors also offer some degree of DR, based on their ability to absorb the kinetic energy of a well placed hit (which is negated by crits or by blunt weapons), though light armors will offer quite a bit less. Heavy armors have predictably higher stamina costs, while most light armor won’t cost any stamina at all (not entirely accurate, but sacrifices were made for gameplay.) Good armor is also mind-bogglingly expensive, and DM’s should decide carefully if they want their players to start out with top of the line equipment.
- Weapons are meaningfully different. In standard D&D, a mace and a longsword both deal a 1d8, and are inconsequentially different. In Landsknecht and on the real world battlefields of medieval Europe, each weapon had immensely different purposes and usage. Long weapons will afford you free hits against enemies with shorter weapons, while short weapons deal critical damage in a grapple; axes can sometimes cleave right through a shield, blunt weapons crush even the heaviest armor, swords are excellent fencing weapons, bows shoot fast but cost stamina, crossbows deal high damage even with low attributes, but are a pain to reload, etc. Every weapon has a use and a style.
- New Combat Rules build on the diversity in weapon abilities. Parry allows you to add your weapon skill to a roll against an incoming attack (if you haven’t made a full-round action that would put you off balance, like a Charge), and swords and shields create an extremely powerful defensive combination with their high bonuses to parrying. New maneuvers like Engage (forcing the target to focus on defending against your wild flurry of swings), Blitz (extra attacks and chance to hit at the cost of weakened defense), Tackle, Half-Sword, Kicking, and more needlessly detailed mechanics that are entirely optional, but all serve to upgrade combat from a mere trial of hitpoints and luck into a cerebral puzzle, where the optimal solution might not necessarily be killing your enemy.
Away with the classic array of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, and in with a totally-not-just-a-reskin:
Athleticism, Agility, Acuity, Constitution, Courage, and Wisdom.
(My reasons for the name change were primarily to avoid my players conflating the new rules with standard D&D, to make it easier to attach different meanings to the new system, minor as it may seem.)
Each of these attributes starts at a base 1, with 4 points available to change them as you will, and with the different classes offering choices of bonuses to one of two attributes.
- Athleticism multiplies damage inflicted with melee weapons, bows, and thrown weapons, increases stamina by its score, and adds to all athletic abilities.
- Agility increases the number of actions you can take per round; at 1 Agility, you have your standard move action and one standard action. Thereafter, you can use your extra actions freely. Agility also adds to your Reflex defense.
- Acuity increases your character’s ability with ranged weapons, as well as Perception, mechanical skills, and the skill points gained from training (think of wrestling next to the campfire, or sparring under the stars, shooting at the range, or practicing your speech skills with random passerby or rehearsing one-liners). Acuity also adds to your Reflex defense.
- Constitution multiplies your Stamina, increases HP by 5, Wounds by 1, and Fortitude by 1.
- Courage adds to your Will defense, and each point of Courage increases the number of Wounds you can sacrifice to restore full HP and Stamina, ala second wind, and only suffering the injury penalties after the day has ended.
- Wisdom also adds to your Will defense, and grants you 2 extra skill points per level, and also increases the skill point gain from reading, studying, meditation, prayer, revelatory experience, or epiphany (think camera pans out kind of moments).
Philosophical Break for 5 minutes
At the end of the day, though, it’s still just a game, and it’s still just a set of rules. I can talk about how much it allows for detailed and glorious combat, tactical engagements, mechanization of storytelling… but what am I left with?
A game. (WARNING: SELF-PITY RISING TO 9000 SOBS)
Perhaps this is where I suck it up and realize that epic swells of emotion are not something to be found in daily life. Maybe I figure out that I’m not going to feel like a hero, ever. Or perhaps I just spend another season or three wallowing in angst, misdirected at my friends and fellow players or whomever my sad little self justifies as a target.
Maybe I hide inside my head, dream a few years more, living my fantasies while my real life crumbles around me. Maybe I vent it out here on this blog, where who knows if any are listening. Maybe I listen to Jeremy Soule’s “Fear Not This Night” a few dozen more times, picturing the epic struggle between light and dark, good and evil, while not a good thing comes out of it. Not a moment goes by where I don’t despair for my future, for the failure of my dreams to ever provide more than a momentary distraction from the gray, sunless days ahead.
Not a lot of good options it would seem.
This is where God comes in.
Without fear there cannot be courage. Without despair there cannot be hope. Without sadness there cannot be joy. To survive, my catastrophe must be my solace.
To live, my struggle must be my joy.
Though not born to fly, we men have done it anyway, through endless toil. True also is this of dreams, which are only achieved by the continuously applied toil of ages of work.
I appreciate your patronage, people. Read and comment, and if you feel so inclined, suggest a topic and I’ll try to write about it.
If you like, I might even post short stories up here.