Friday, July 22, 2016

Lateral Advancement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Other Old School Fantasy Games

One of the strengths of OSR games is how simple the advancement scheme tends to be. No worrying about builds or feats or whatever. You just gain your xp, roll your Hit Dice, and go. The B/x style class scheme tends to help this quite a bit. They are nice and broad, defining your character by your skill set rather than forcing specific fluff to make its way into your character. Your Fighter could be a wandering mercenary, an archer, a tribal barbarian, or a chivalrous knight depending on how you want to picture them.

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 Advancement

Any 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.
  • 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.   
Characters who purchase a lateral advancement are immediately set back to the minimum amount of XP required to have reached their previous level.

 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.


  1. This is an absolutely brilliant idea. I have ran games in the past with multi-class and dual-class characters, mostly because the fantasy OSR campaigns I ran were very much in the style of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. Creating characters like Conan, The Grey Mouser, Elric, and other classic Sword and Sorcery heroes/anti-heroes has always been a bit tricky. Your ideas seem kike a much more elegant solution than clunky multi or dual classing.

    I plan to give these rules a try in my current campaign. If you are interested, I'd be happy to report back to you and let you know how things go during play.

    I am also working on an OSR game supplement, and I have a feeling that the rules you propose would be a great inclusion in the "Optional Rules" appendix. They are perfect for the genre and setting I'm using. I would never use your rules in a published game supplement without your permission, but perhaps we could message privately via Google+ or e-mail and work something out?

    In any case, thanks for a very inventive post that will help out greatly in my current campaign!

    1. Id love to hear how it goes. I've been working on a very Howardian OSR game off and on myself, so nailing the flexibility between classes has always been a thing I've chewed on. I have a post in the works on multi classing to publish next.

      Feel free to email me at if you want to kick something around.

  2. When I ran LOTFP I simply allowed liberal multi classing. Your system charges a full level of experience for a partial level of another class. Why not give them the full level? For the paladin example simply have the character alternate levels of fighter and cleric. The character won't be as good a fighter or cleric as a pure charcater of the same level so niche preservation is not violated. It worked well for my group over several campaigns and allowed assassins, rangers etc. without class bloat.

    1. 1) I'm fine with multi-classing. The next post is on that. There are two primary ways to do multi-classing though. The first is the AD&D method, where you are taking both classes each level (at least until you hit a cap in one) and splitting all xp between them. The second is the style used by 3.x which I've never been a fan of in large part because it doesn't mesh well with the variable xp requirements for different classes at different levels.

      Multi-classing is fine if your character concept needs it. If I want to play a combat-based assassin, going full fighter/specialist is a good idea. If however, I just want my fighter to get a couple points in Bushcraft because I want him to be a barbarian archetype, saddling myself with an extra 80% per level xp tax (Paying an extra base 1600xp to level Specialist along side Fighter) is way, way more expensive.

      The above gives you the ability to tailor what your character can do without having to level a whole second class.

      Now, if you're going with 3.x-style multi-clasing, this may not be a problem for you, but I'd be curious how you reconcile the variable XP structure with purchasing multiple classes independently.

      2) There's several options on that list that have nothing to do with multi-classing, most notably the ability scores, saves, and special abilities. None of those are replaced by multi-classing.

      3) Due to the way xp works before name level, the cost isn't as bad as it sounds anyway. Because XP requirements double for most levels, our fighter will have gained his level back before other people in his bracket have moved on to the next.

      Assume two fighters were in the same party in LotFP. They both hit 16,000xp. One chooses to level up to 5, the other chooses the lateral advancement and remains at 4. The first is now at 16,000xp, the second is at 8,000xp. Level 6 is 32,000xp. 8,000xp later, the first fighter is now at 24,000xp. The other has bumped back up to level 5. By the time they are shooting for level 7 (64,000xp) the 8,000xp difference is even less noticeable.

  3. Some fair points. I used 3.x style multi classing. XP was a bit clunky in my first run. Basically you would look at what the level would cost in xp. So, for example, that paladin is fighter 1 and cleric 1. To advance to third level as cleric costs 1750 (3500 -1750) so he would pay 1750 for cleric 2. Clunky, so in future campaigns I used a unfied experience table. (The horror!)
    If you want just a bit of Bushcraft a single level of specialist is all you need, since it's 3.x style you don't have to take any more. The experience cost is negligible in the long run as your point number 3 reinforces.
    My system covers attack bonus, skill increase and gaining class abilities. I don't have any abilities that aren't class abilities, it sounds like you do. Saving throws are kinda covered by multi classing since you take the best, but your system covers that better. I'm not a fan of ability score increases, but the Black Hack is warming me to them.
    Interestingly, I tinkered with your approach around 1980, 1st edition days. None of my players ever took me up on it.
    I look forward to seeing your thoughts on multi classing.

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  5. Hey, Jackson. I know this is 3 years late but only now I'm reading this and planning to apply this at my table. I got an issue, tho. It seems it benefits those who take all lateral advancements on the very first level since it'll cost them less for the same benefits. Maybe allowing one lateral advancement per level could solve this. Or maybe there's something I couldn't figure out