The big four (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, and Thief) do an excellent job both of providing broad umbrellas to build characters under and providing some niche protection. As I've written before, though, there are certain character concepts that just don't fit comfortably under any of the above. How do you handle a Ranger who can actually fight? How would you build Conan under such a system? Or Elric?
This brings me to my idea for Lateral Advancement for LotFP. OSR already works with the understanding that not everyone advances at the same rate. More powerful classes already cost more XP to advance, and in AD&D multi-classing was literally just "take both classes, divide XP between them." The premise "choose to advance slower in exchange for more power" is baked in from the start. I think there was a kernel of something useful in there, and I've expanded it here.
Lateral AdvancementAny time a character would gain a level they can choose instead to purchase a lateral advancement, burning the XP they would have used to gain said level in exchange for one of the following non-standard benefits.
Characters who purchase a lateral advancement are immediately set back to the minimum amount of XP required to have reached their previous level.
- Increase an Ability Score: the character may increase any one ability score by 1 point if they can explain how their character improved it. No score can ever be improved in this fashion by more than 2 (read: a character who rolled 15 strength can only purchase two increases bringing it to 17), but may be purchased separately for each of the character's ability scores as desired.
- Increase a Skill: the character may add a single pip to any one skill if they can explain how they learned it. Obviously, this is useless for Specialists.
- Increase Attack Bonus: the character may increase their base attack bonus by 1. Obviously, this is useless for Fighters.
- Improve a Save: the character may improve any one category of saving throw by 1. This may be purchased up to twice for any single save, but may be purchased separately for each save as desired. Obviously, less useful for demi-humans.
- Learn a new class ability: In my home campaigns, I often design rituals and other special abilities that can be gained through play but not necessarily earned automatically as a class ability. If the Fighter got inducted into a berzerkergang cult, this would be his way to buy the ability.
In LotFP, a Fighter gains level 4 at 8,000xp and 5 at 16,000xp. Upon gaining 16,000xp the Fighter could choose to take a lateral advancement and would then be back at 8,000xp again having burnt the remaining as the cost of advancement.
I rather like the above as a setup. It allows characters to dip their toes into different fields without being in any danger of overshadowing anyone else's niche as well as giving the DM a way to let characters earn special abilities they want without just handing them out willy-nilly. You want your Fighter to be a Paladin? Do good deeds for the church and in the course of it, I'll give you the ability to learn some paladiny abilities. Now I can do that without being unfair to the other fighter who is perfectly happy just smacking things with a sword. It's also perfect for when you have a character who just wants a skill to fit a concept (survival comes up a lot with fighters who want to be barbarians or rangers) without having to do some kind of multi-classing setup or hacking together an entirely new concept. Want to be a Witch-Hunting Specialist? Increase your Save vs. Magic a couple times to keep an edge on your prey.
If you're wondering why there's no "purchase magic" to go along with the options for skills and attack bonuses, it's because I'm already using Ten Foot Polemic's Arcana Skill.
Would you use it? Tell me what you think.