Thursday, 25 June 2015

Combat Verisimilitude

Imagine the following scene… 
Flairin crouched behind the fallen tree, listening for the signal. A low whistle from Elanor, perched high in the tree above, marked the start of the ambush. Flairin leapt to his feet and sprang down the slope towards the Orcs, hurling his hand axe as he did so. Drawing his sword, he uttered the words that unleashed fire leaping along the edge of his blade, and crashed into the leading Orc Chieftain even as the Chieftain lifted his blade to parry. An Orc to his left lay still, his lifeblood spilling into the dirt, Elanor's arrow through his throat. Osran and Khazem threw spears, one finding its mark and felling an Orc, and crashed into the Orcs to either side who stood frozen to the spot, whilst overhead a bolt of lightning from Mazak blasted the wagon rider where he sat, still clutching the reins as he fell to the floor.

Flairin stepped sideways to avoid a lunge from the Chieftain, and bloodied his arm in return. Osran and Khazem each found themselves facing a pair of Orcs. Osran swiftly dispatched one, and blocked the other's attack. Khazem wasn't so lucky, he felled one, but took a blow from the other – fortunately his breastplate saved him. Elanor shot at another Orc, and leapt down to join the fray. The Orc's joy at the arrow bouncing off his helm was short lived as he took a lightning bolt to the face. The Chieftain shouted orders to rally the Orcs, but that didn't stop two Orcs running off back down the track, Mazak in pursuit.

The battle didn’t last much longer – Elanor dodged an Orc before felling it, Osran made a feint and then stabbed his, while Khazem’s bad luck continued – he took a serious blow to his shoulder, opening him up to an attack from another Orc who would have finished him were it not for his breastplate. Mazak blasted one of the Orcs running down the track, and continued the pursuit of the other. Flairin with a roar chopped off the Chieftain’s head. With this, the rout was complete, and it didn't take long to pick off the fleeing Orcs. One hiding under a fallen tree gave them some grief, but Mazak's Clear Hearing spell soon located him by the sound of his breathing.
I want that reflected in how the scene plays out at the table. Here's how it looks with my combat system:

DM: Elanor - the first Orc is now passing your vantage point.
Elanor: I whistle and let loose my arrow at the first Orc.
Flairin: I leap to my feet and spring down the slope, throw my hand axe at that Orc, cast Lightning Blade, and rush the Orcs.
Osran: I stand up, throw my spear at that Orc, and rush the Orcs.
Khazem: Me too.
Mazak: I lightning bolt the wagon driver.
DM: OK. Roll attacks. Elanor...
(Elanor rolls)
DM: You kill it - it falls to the ground, an arrow through it's throat. Flairin...
(Flairin rolls)
DM: It is lightly wounded. Osran...
(Osran rolls.)
DM: Miss. Khazem...
(Khazem rolls.)
DM: There's now a dead Orc with a spear sticking out of it. Mazak...
(Mazak rolls.)
DM: The wagon rider falls to the floor dead, still clutching the reins. Now - who's moving where?
Flairin: I take the Chieftain.
Elanor: I shoot that one.
Mazak: I'm going to wait and see who to lightning bolt.
DM: OK. (Moves the figures). Round 2! Right - roll for surprise.
Mazak: (Rolls a 5) Yay!
(DM rolls for every Orc.)
DM: Argh! Everyone but the Chieftain is surprised so they all lose initiative outright. Flairin vs the Chieftain...
(Flairin and DM roll. DM wins.)
DM: The Chieftain attacks and (rolls)
Flairin: Miss! Now my attack (rolls)
DM: Just a minor wound. You've bloodied his arm. Osran: it's surprised so...
(Osran rolls.)
DM: You kill this Orc, but this one attacks (rolls)
Osran: Miss!
DM: Khazem: it's surprised so...
(Khazem rolls.)
DM: You kill that Orc, but the other one attacks (rolls)
Khazem: Whew! You hit my armour.
DM: Elanor?
(Elanor rolls)
DM: It bounces off his helm! The Orc grins from ear to ear. Mazak have you decided who you're blasting?
Mazak: That one! (Rolls)
DM: Well that wiped the grin off his face. OK what are you all doing?
Elanor: I jump down out of the tree and attack that one.
Mazak: I wait for an inviting target.
DM: The rest of you just continuing the attack? (They nod). OK - the Chieftain shouts out "Kill the human pigs you useless scum!" in Orcish and these two move forward and engage you in combat (moves the figures) while these two run off down the track (moves the figures).
Mazak: I'll run after those two and blast at the first opportunity.
DM: Right... Round 3. Elanor roll initiative against this Orc... (Both roll). The Orc wins and (rolls)...
Elanor: Dodged! And I (rolls) kill it.
DM: Osran roll initiative against your Orc (Both roll). The Orc wins and (rolls)...
Osran: Missed! I (rolls) stab it dead.
DM: Khazem roll initiative against your two orcs (three rolls - Khazem lowest). The first (rolls) is a serious blow to your shoulder, and the second (rolls) is a miss - no - with the bonus from the wound it's a hit (rolls) but your armour saves you. Again.
Osran: Yay! I kill it (rolls).
DM: Indeed you do. Mazak?
Mazak: (Rolls). Does that kill it?
DM: Yup. Flairin roll initiative versus the Chieftain. (Both roll).
Flairin: At last my turn! I (rolls snake eyes) chop off his head.
DM: Seems a reasonable interpretation to me! So, the Chieftain dead they're all making a run for it. These two head this way, this one over here. (Moves figures) What do you do?

Over the years I've tried many different ways of resolving combat actions and movement, looking for a system with results that "felt right". Ironically some of the more complex rules I found least satisfactory with regards to realism. I want a system:
  • where complexity doesn't get in the way
  • that feels like you're in the heat of combat, in melee with an opponent, interacting with each other, not a disjointed series of independent actions
  • where people describe what they want to do in normal language, not in some special lingo
  • where what people can and can't do and the interactions of these make sense within the fiction of the world
The following is the system I developed and have used for several different systems over the last couple of years:

Length of a round
Rounds are 6 seconds long.
This makes 10 rounds a minute, and one bow attack per 6 seconds seems reasonable.

When are attacks normally resolved?
All melee atacks (apart from surprise attacks) are considered to be an exchange of parries, feints, and attacks, which take from a couple of seconds to a full round. Most of the time they occupy a whole round.

If you're attacking someone, and on the other side of the chamber your friend is attacking someone else, then in the heat of battle you're not going to notice whether you hit your opponent before or after your friend hits theirs.

Thus it's a reasonable abstraction that most combats span over a single point in every round, and at this point in the round we resolve attacks and spells. Thus:

All attacks and spells are normally resolved once per round, at the start of the round.
Since missile attacks make sense at the start of each round, actions are normally resolved at the start of each round.
The side effect of this is that in the first round you can throw a missile weapon and charge into combat, then at the beginning of the second round you do your melee attacks, as per:
"each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men"
What order do you declare your actions in?
It is often thought that the DM is at odds with the players - this is why I prefer the term Referee to show the impartial role of the DM.
The DM decides impartially what the monsters / NPCs are doing, and then ask the players what they're doing, then say what the monsters are doing, and allow the players to change their minds.
There shouldn't be a need for the DM to declare first.

Round Order
Who is doing what attack? (Players then DM)
Resolve attacks
Who is doing what now? (Players then DM)
Resolve movement, other actions, delayed attacks.

Attack Resolution Order & Initiative
Combat naturally split into groups of combatants who are targeting each other.
If you have more than one potential target, you generally attack one of the people who's attacking you.
I've never actually needed to make that a rule - it always turns out that way in practice. This means the groups are always small.
If you cast a spell with multiple targets then you go after everyone else (seems reasonable, and keeps things simple).
Everyone in a combat group rolls initiative (d6) and goes in that order. We put the dice next to the figure so it's clear what the order is. A tie means simultaneous attacks.
Since you attacking someone and them attacking you is resolved at the same time, this is much quicker (less context switching) as well as feeling more realistic.

How far can you move?
Usually 20' a round.
You can move up to 40' but can't then shoot a bow.
You can run up to 60' but can only throw something if you're doing that in a straight line.
You can charge up to 80' but only in a straight line.
Figures of some kind are used (miniatures or lego or coins), but purely for position and clarity (no grid based movement).
The DM adjudicates who ends up where, based upon what people say their character is doing.
Movement is in addition to fighting, not instead of. You can move and swing a sword at the same time.
You can retreat backwards at only half speed (10' a round).

How much can I do per round
You can cast one spell per round, and make one attack.
If a spell targets an unwilling creature then it counts as an attack. Otherwise you can cast a spell and attack in the same round. (Why not cast jump as part of your surprise attack? Why make people miss an attack when they cast a boring utility spell? Why make it like homework?)
You can swap weapons, draw a weapon, cast a shield over your shoulder, grab your shield with no fuss.

Engaging in combat
If you move next within melee range of an opponent then you can only advance up to them and engage them in combat for the rest of the round. If you try to continue moving and evade them they get a free melee attack on you.
At the start of a round you can retreat from melee combat, and your opponent can either press the retreat and get an attack in the next round, or let you escape.
If you want to move when engaged in combat, then that's resolved by an opposed attack roll.
You can't make a missile attack against someone you're in melee with, and if you change weapons when engaged in melee, or make a missile attack a spell attack against someone else they'll get a free attack on you.

They're dead - can I change my mind?
If you say your attacking someone, and then they're dead before you get your attack, you still spent some time fighting them, so don't get to attack anyone else. You don't have to waste a spell though - you can save it.

What about surprise attacks?
If your opponent hasn't seen you, then you can move up to half your standard movement (usually 10') and hit your opponent that round.
Any further, and they get a chance to react and engage you in combat, which lasts until the end of the round and then you each get an attack at the start of the next round.
Surprise +3 bonus on to hit.
The next round, roll d6 once for your side to see how effective your surprise attack was. Each opponent must equal that roll else loses initiative automatically.

What about conditional attacks?
You can delay a missile attack or spell until after the resolution phase (i.e. after everyone else's go) and have it some time later in the round.
If you start the round able to make a melee attack against someone, you can similarly delay that attack until later - e.g. I'll kill him unless you drop your bow - though not if you disengage from them.

Other Actions
Can do acrobatic manoeuvres - if climb cannot make missile attacks. If jump can only throw in direction jumping in.
Some actions would restrict your attacks, or possibly take all round (e.g. pick a lock).

It's an exercise for the reader to spot what I forgot to cover!

Certain common features of combat systems are purposefully missing:
1) There is no bonus on initiative rolls - it is very fast without this, and wouldn't be with it.
2) Spells don't have "casting times" and you cannot "interrupt" a spell by hitting the person. Instead you should win initiative and kill the caster first, which is possible with wounds instead of hitpoints.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Skills - this time for Star Frontiers

Is I explained in my post on skills, that system is based upon the one I created for my Star Frontiers campaign. It can be dropped straight into Star Frontiers with no other changes. It's mostly a tidy-up of the skills to make them more focussed, and a revised skill point system.

This is the entire system as I used it in my game without changes. Next time I run a SciFi game I'll be adapting Explore to SciFi and using a revised version of this skill list.

Primary Skill Areas (PSAs) are Martial, Agent, Tech and Science.

Skills are given in the table below.

Rockets @2nd
Sneak, Survival, Navigation, Tools, Tracking, Hide, Camouflage
Climb, Swim , Run, Jump, Dive, Ride etc.
Forgery, Disguise, Sleight of hand, Surveillance, Bugs, Bonds
Operate Computer, Bypass Computer Security,
Information Retrieval, Program Computer, Repair Computer
Demolition Tools, Bypass non-computer security,
Mechanical Repairs/Alterations (Vehicles, Robots etc. – not the CPU)
Large Land & Fly @2nd,
Large Fly & Underwater & Space @ 3rd.
Any large @4th.
Natural Sciences
Chemistry & Geology
Climate & Ecosystems
Administer Drugs, First Aid, Diagnosis, Surgery, Neutralize Toxins
Psycho Social
Empathy, Persuasion, Alien Communication, 
Hypnosis, Psycho-Pathology

Skill Costs
Combat Skills (if PSA) cost 2, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…
Other skills (if PSA) cost 3, 3, 6, 12…

If skill not in your PSA then cost is +1, so costs:
Combat Skills (if PSA) cost 3, 3, 5, 9, 17, 33…
Other skills (if PSA) cost 4, 4, 7, 13…

Start with 6 points to spend, all must be in your PSA.
Thus Martial characters typically start with 3 martial skills @ lvl 1.
Other characters typically start with 2 non-martial skills @lvl 1 (all martial skills lvl 0).

Note - this is probably too complicated, but I was trying not to deviate too far from the original rules.

Obvious changes from the standard Star Frontiers system
  • New Agent PSA, with lots of stuff moved there to make the other skills more focussed.
  • Computer/Robotic/Technician changed to Infotech/Hardtech as Robots are just mixture of computers and mechanical parts.
  • New Pilot skill (other space skills from Knight Hawks not needed).
  • Demolition moved to Hard Tech
  • Beam, Gyrojet, Projectile Weapons all combined.
  • Environmental refocused as scientific skills Ecosystems and Natural Sciences.
  • Skill costs for non-PSA skills much reduced.
  • The rate of increase for skills is changed - the protoype for the system in Explore

Friday, 19 June 2015

Is D&D a Role Playing Game?

What is Role Playing?
It is generally accepted that "Role Playing" is an important aspect of playing a "Role Playing Game" but there is little consensus as to what this means. Some people insist upon an interpretation which places Role Playing in the mould of Thespian and Psychotherapy roleplay. Some people go further and say that since D&D didn't contain rules or recommendations for anything like this, nor did it originally call itself a Role Playing Game, that D&D was not a Role Playing Game. Derogatory terms such as "Rollplayer" are used for people who do not toe the line as regards the correct sort of role playing. On the other hand, some people say that Story Games are not RPGs, despite containing role playing.

Why did people call D&D a Role Playing Game?
It is true that in the earliest days, D&D didn't call itself a Role Playing Game – it was "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures". However it does mention role playing, that is – literally – playing a role:
"Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user."
So how did this "playing a role" morph into "role playing", and what is meant by it?

I don’t believe that people referred to D&D as a "role playing game" implying an adherence to the Thespian and Therapy meaning of roleplay – to understand what they meant you should discard all prior baggage associated with the term and instead look at the game that they are trying to describe with the term.

In D&D, role playing, or playing the role of your character, simply means you are told by the DM what your character sees / hears / experiences, you ask questions about this information and say what your character does, and the rules are used to resolve situations.

It is not an understatement to say that this was an entirely new concept in games. It does not require you to identify with your character, pretend to be your character, or to think as your character (though you may choose to do so). It is entirely compatible with Thespian/Therapy roleplay; but how much you incorporate this into your games is a matter of personal taste.

Is this a helpful or meaningful definition of "Role Playing"?
In this form of Role Playing, you cannot find out things which your character does not know, you are not told about things your character does not experience, you have no influence over events other than that which your character can exert. That is, Role Playing is both an enabler (you have complete control over the character's decisions) and a restriction (you cannot do more than play your character's role).

This definition allows you to clearly see how come some adherents of "Role Playing Games" insist that Character Choice is all important, Causation* is imperative, Cut Scenes are an irrelevant distraction, Thespianism** is optional, and the degree of Simulation is a matter of taste.

It is also clear that you can easily roleplay without it being an RPG (e.g. dress up and talk in character when playing Cluedo) and also that by removing the restriction on your actions to be limited to the role of your character (e.g. collaborative story telling games) you break something fundamental to RPGs to the point that it is at the least misleading for it to be referred to as an RPG.

Strict Role Playing
To this end, I suggest that we refer to this influence-and-knowledge-remains-within-the-role-of-the-character which characterises D&D (and most other RPGs) as "Strict Role Playing" to distinguish this play from other uses of the term and to highlight the difference. It is then possible to talk about the difference between strict RPG play and other forms of RPG (such as Story Games) without annoying adherents of other approaches by saying they aren't roleplaying and hence (by inference) aren't "doing it properly", and hence allowing people to discuss the issues and understand other viewpoints.

* By Causation I mean what people often term associated mechanics. Players say what their character does, and the game resolves the character's actions.

** By Thespianism, I mean putting on a voice or affecting mannerisms or style of speech, ever asking yourself "what is my Character's motive in this scene?", or taking actions based upon the beliefs of your character rather than what is optimal. I do a bit of all of this when I play RPGs!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Best: The Tomb of Aethering The Damned

Back in 1982/83 I purchased a whole load of Judges Guild modules, mostly (I think) for the maps (as they are often very evocative). Sadly a couple of them were - how shall I put it - sadly lacking (The Dragon Crown in particular).

One of the ones that most definitely wasn't lacking was "The Book of Treasure Maps" by Paul Jaquays. It gives five small modules, each with some sort of treasure map, ready to be dropped into an ongoing campaign.

I never ran any of them at the time, and then I moved into my MERP / Rolemaster phase, so it was twenty five (!!) years before I ran a game of D&D again. When they found a treasure map, it obviously had to be one from this old book...

Map of the Tombe Of Aethering Who Is Called Damned

Now this map has a couple of fantastic bits - the name, the "hidden entrance", the question marks for unknown areas, the fact that you have a map to the treasure but only a vague idea of the location, and the evocative "copyed from the original" and a clue that the tomb "is not yet finished" so the map is missing something.

The module gives you rumours about Aethering's Tomb which can be discovered from local NPCs or libraries, so there was plenty of fun with musty unhelpful librarians and useless extra pieces of information I invented for them. For example, if the library had no information I'd tell them instead that they found a tome on Tomb construction with valuable hints such as "always use the best quality stone" and "never trust contractors".

Finding the tomb entrance isn't easy - it has been hidden behind a river redirected to form a waterfall over the entrance - my players discovered the dry bed of the old river and investigating that lead to the waterfall and the narrow path leading behind.

The tomb contains several varied traps, the tombs of his Wife (tries to possess a PC) and Son (a mummy nailed to the wall hand and feet) both of which are my sort of disturbing, the passages have been further excavated so the secret door isn't where you expect, there's a false tomb, and the real tomb which can be found if you maintain belief that the map is correct and hence deduce a corridor has been blocked off with a secret door. Even then, you have to persevere to find the buried treasure.

I think the imagery in this module has heavily influenced me - last night the players had to rescue some prisoners so I had them suspended in cages above a pool of piranhas - it's not just a random bunch of undead, it's undead who all hated each other in life and want revenge in death. Don't you love families?

The adventure is great throughout - in particular I love the author's illustration of the mummy nailed to the wall:

Yes, that's a cursed amulet hanging round it's neck! The only changes I made in play were to beef up the monsters a little, and to turn the cursed skull with the gem inside into a skull with gems for eyes that when touched turned into an "Eyes of Fear and Flame" from the Fiend Folio.

The tomb is only 8 pages of the 52 page module - the other adventures also look good, but I've never actually DM'ed them - yet!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

An RPG Manifesto

This is my manifesto for how I like my games to roll - what's yours?
  1. The DM controls the world, providing interesting settings and situations.
  2. Players control the actions of their characters, and consequences of actions or restrictions on actions are explainable within the fiction of the game world.
  3. There’s a random element to the game that sometime brings unexpected fortune, and sometimes unexpected disaster.
  4. Plot and story are not imposed directly upon the game - they are an emergent property of interaction between the previous rules.
  5. Failure should always be a possibility.
  6. The DM is an impartial referee.
  7. The DM makes rulings when needed, and can override rules if they deem necessary.
  8. The DM and players often come to a gentleman’s agreement about aspects of the game – this does not violate player choice.
  9. It is better for aspects of the world that will have consequences for player choices to be determined by the DM before those choices are made.
  10. The DM should abide by the outcome of dice rolls.
  11. The DM should not alter the world to invalidate players’ choices.
  12. Random Tables can provide inspiration for the DM – but not a strait jacket – this is not fudging.
  13. Impartial adjudication of NPC/monster behaviour can be enabled through dice.
  14. It is better to roll a dice to resolve whether something is possible, than debate it endlessly.
  15. It is your responsibility not to game with people who wreck it, not the game designer’s responsibility to stop them from wrecking it.
  16. Rules should only be as complex as they need to be; less is often more.
  17. The more complex the game mechanic, the harder it is to discover the consequences of it, and the more likely it is to be deeply flawed.
  18. If someone burns all your rules, character sheets, dice, modules, melts your miniatures, and puts an axe to your laptop - you should be able to carry on playing almost the same game with rock-paper-scissors.
  19. Content is more important than presentation, and clarity is the most important aspect of presentation.
  20. There is more to learn from RPGs dating from the era of runaway success - the first ten years (1974-1984) – than there is from the niche appeal and limited success of subsequent games.
  21. No game mechanic is a sacred cow.
  22. Rules in a game are there for situations which require them, they do not indicate the relative importance of the situation to the game. 
  23. More time should be spent playing than preparing.
  24. The proof of the game is in the playing.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A Milestone & Bad Reviews

A Milestone Is Reached
Well, I've made it to 33 posts :-)

I've had 4000 page views, which I know is less than the number of posts Eric Tenkar has made!

I've got followers, endorsements, and comments (complimentary ones, encouraging ones, questioning ones, and ones that feel more like a drive-by-shooting!).

Thanks for everything, and for making it seem less like I'm posting into the void...

With or without the blog, I'd still be playing, and I'd still be obsessing about the game on my drive to work, on my drive home from work, and on my runs; but putting it all down here gives at least some of my ideas a chance to fly away and have lives of their own.

I've got more ideas for games (whether you like them or not I hope they make you think!), and some more Best & Worst (though worst is far easier to find!) and I've got a little bit more to complete presenting the rules for Explore (I'm nearly at the end if you ignore spell and monster descriptions) - I've still got to decide what to do with it after that.

In addition I'm planning on branching out into sharing some of the adventures I've written for my group, and modifications/extensions I made to some classic D&D and Star Frontiers modules.

So now's a good moment to offer advice or steer my direction or advise on how to promote the blog better if you feel so inclined.

To finish with, I'll give one thought that doesn't seem to merit an entire blog entry all on it's own (and to pretend this isn't all a lot of navel gazing*).

Bad Reviews
In the Strategic Review #3, Gary Gygax vented his spleen about a bad review. He even went as far as accusing the reviewer of having ulterior motives, wanting to do down D&D so that he could begin "peddling a line of his own creations". The actual review, is notable for two things - firstly (hilariously!) that the reviewer mistakenly played the entire game with miniatures on a tabletop dungeon so could see the entire dungeon, so suggested that the game would be best played over the phone!!!! Secondly, and far more importantly, he had played the game he was reviewing.

Now what's so unusual about that?

Well, I've recently noticed that in the world of RPGs, reviews seem mostly to be written by people who have not played the game (or module) that they are reviewing. Some of these are negative - indeed it's not necessary to play a game to complain about awful typos, bad writing, or awful organisation - but some are overwhelmingly positive reviews without ever having played the game!!!

Would you ever consider purchasing a board game where the reviewer had just read the instruction booklet? A book reviewed from the back cover? A film from the trailer?

Does this state of affairs seem really odd to anyone else?

So wasn't that "bad review" Gygax was complaining about a better review than most modern ones?

*not to be confused with naval gazing, which is something entirely different.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Classes as Skills, Part Three: A Fully Compatible Simple Class System

In the previous two posts, I have outlined a skills system. But sometimes skill systems are too complicated, you want something simpler. You want:

A Fully Compatible Simple Class System
If you (or your players) prefer a simple class system, then let your players choose from one of the classes below. Characters start off at Level 1, 100XP. At 200XP, 400XP, 800XP… they level up and revise their skill levels according to the progression below.

This option is designed to introduce new players to the game without overwhelming them with choices. At any point you can switch over to the points system, and it is exactly as if they had always been playing with that system.

In particular, you can have a massively cut down version of the character sheet - you can remove all the points costs and for non-spell casters you can remove all spell skills.

For example, a fourth level fighter with 800XP has Melee, Unarmed, Parry & Athletics at level 5, and Thrown & Bows at level 4. This costs 16*4 + 8*2 = 80, which is precisely the number of points they would have to spend in the points system to get these skills.

The only differences with this system (compared to the full points system) are that:
-          all choices have already been made for you
-          all skill improvement comes at the end of the level

Melee: Char Level+2
Parry, Athletics: Char Level+1
Unarmed, Thrown: Char Level

Bow: Char Level+2
Melee, Parry, Athletics: Char Level+1

Ranger: Char Level+2
Bow: Char Level+1
Melee, Parry, Athletics, Unarmed: Char Level

Scout, Thief: Char Level+1
Melee, Unarmed, Parry, Thrown, Acrobatics, Athletics: Char Level

Healer: Char Level+2
Body Control: Char Level+1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Elementalist (or Wizard, Enchanter, Sorcerer)
Air, Earth, Fire, Water: Char Level
Any two magic skills: Char Level +1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Fire Elementalist (any one main spell list and two subsidiary ones from your chosen area)
Fire: Char Level +1
Earth, Water: Char Level
Any two magic skills: Char Level +1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Pure Fire Elementalist (any one individual spell list)
Fire: Char Level +2
Any two magic skills: Char Level +1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Italics are spell lists, and I haven't listed all the different spell class names such as Summoning Sorceror etc. as they're just the name of the list + the name of the area.

You can also have specific types based upon pre-existing spell caster trops, e.g.:

Druid (a type of Enchanter)
Plant ControlAnimal Control: Char Level +1
Any two magic skills: Char Level +1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Illusionist (a type of Wizard)
SoundLight: Char Level +1
Any two magic skills: Char Level +1
Melee, Parry: Char Level

Sadly, you cannot play a Cleric. The closest is a Sorcerer specialising in Divination and Undead. I hope this isn't a deal breaker for anyone!

Best of both worlds
If you wish to use this system, but prefer the gradual levelling up from the standard system then this can be achieved by preparing a table for each class in advance.

For example, a Fighter’s progression would look like the table below (with the skill to increase highlighted):

Melee 4
Parry 3
Athletics 3
Unarmed 2
Lvl2, Thrown 2
Melee 5

For example, after earning the first 40XP the Fighter gets to increase their Melee, then after another 20XP they get to improve their Parry (rather than having to wait until they have 100XP and can level up). 


Skill Progression per Character Level
As you can see, in both systems, every character level you go up you can simply raise the level of each skill you already have by one level; always leaving some at level 0, and keeping the gap between the other skills constant. This is because to raise each skill one level means spending as many points as you've already spent on it, thus meaning the total cost doubles.

Bonus Differences at High Levels
If you maintain Bows at 2 levels higher than Thrown, and you also have +1 more stat bonus in bows than thrown, then you will always be +3 better in Bows than Thrown. That means you will always be half as likely to miss with a Bow than Thrown - in particular stat differences do not cease to matter at high levels.
Similarly, the Fighter Class always has 3 more bonuses in melee & parry combined than a Magic Using class, so even without stat bonuses they're always a lot better at fighting.

Am I Getting Any Better?
In a world of escalating bonuses for characters and monsters alike, you can feel like you're on a treadmill and never getting any better. But with the wound system in Explore you will always find that lowly Kobolds are a possible threat. Because of this you are still going to get meaningful encounters with low level creatures. Hence your improvement will really be noticeable when you start one-shotting Kobolds.

Wide Spread versus Narrow Focus in Skills
If you have level 5 in one spell list, that's the same as:
  • level 4 in two spell lists
  • level 3 in four spell lists
  • level 2 in eight spell lists
  • level 1 in every spell list.
So you can have a very narrow focus on one spell list, at which you are brilliant but limited to just that list; or you can have a middle way with slightly less powerful spells but far more of them; or you can have a wide spread of spells, all of which are pathetic. Somewhere in the middle is advisable!

There's a similar comparison to be made between someone who focuses on a couple of combat skills or just one general skill. For example, compare the Rogue Class to the Archer Class.