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Saturday 5 July 2014

Arrows of Indra Class Skills And Old-School "Character Powers"

Arrows of Indra has an awful lot of skills for an "old school" game.  These are, as I mentioned in my previous entry on the caste/background skills, not really set up in the same way as players of more modern games would think of as typical skills; rather, the background skills mostly tend to be things that, while conventional as skills, are not meant to be directly related to adventuring as such (though many will certainly be put to very good use by creative players), and the Class skills are really closer to "special abilities" than to anything we'd normally define as "skills" in the post-3e-D&D sense.

There are in fact a few skills in AoI that do fit the standard; "theology" for Priests or "disguise" for Thieves, for example.  But in AoI the more basic "spells" for Priests and Siddhis are found on the "skills" table, and not because they're in any way rolled as skills (they aren't; each occasion where you get one means you can use it once per day).  Likewise, fighters and rogues get proficiencies (bonuses to using particular weapons) from the skill tables, as well as other things like Leadership, or Urban Knowledge. 

Human characters get two initial rolls on the skill tables, non-humans get one; that's at first level, and after that any PC gets one skill roll per level.  Optionally, players can simply choose one of the skills from the basic table, but doing that they won't get a chance to choose any advanced skills until all the skill slots from the basic table have been filled. If they roll, there's a chance they can obtain an Advanced skill earlier.

All of this brings up what I think is an element of my own old-school perspective: there are some people who think that part of old-school play means "don't give the PCs too much stuff", that the idea of a PC getting some new power or bonus every single level is somehow anathema.  I don't think that's true. 

See, I think that this is a reaction against something that happens in some new-school gaming; two "somethings", actually.  The first, being that characters become quite overpowered outside the more traditional scale of old school D&D.  The second, that mechanics like 3.x's feats create a situation where people engage in a type of character-building that puts the focus on getting the right bonuses, on pre-planning how your character gains in power, and that often slows down the game as players have to choose between series of feats with pre-requisites for other feats, etc. etc., and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of any old-schooler who feels character progression should be an organic thing.
That sort of thing is certainly not within the aegis of "old school".

But I think there's nothing in old-school that is against the idea as such of player characters being able to regularly increase in power as they go along, including gaining something every level. Magic-users have always gained at least one spell each level, thieves always gained percentage skills each level. So the key in Arrows of Indra was to create a skill/power system that didn't fall into the aforementioned traps of 3.x-style "CharOp".  In AoI this was worked out by having gains generally be gained through random determination from a set and limited list; no picking and choosing from a huge variety of powers.

As far as power-level, being an "Epic India" RPG, Arrows of Indra is supposed to be more powerful than your average D&D game.  Even at mid-levels, fighter characters can be frighteningly competent; and while there's a chance a Siddhi may not cast as many spells in total as a D&D 1e magic-user of his equivalent level, he can theoretically (between class skills and Enlightenment Powers) gain some very powerful spells at a very early point in his career. But again, all of this tries to stay within the old-school affinity; what you don't see are feats that involve tricks that operate at the level of mechanics, a wide variety of "conditions" and condition-affecting feats, or character stuff in general that has more to do with gaming-the-system than with roleplaying a character in the world.

So in all that, I suggest, Arrows of Indra provides one way that you might "do it right" when it comes to innovative design that still falls entirely under the style of old-school play.

All that said, I think now that if I were to do something along similar lines to AoI's system but intended for some other setting, I might simplify the mechanics of character advancement even further, while at the same time using the "random advancement" method to encompass even more of what a character does. I won't have a chance to work out this idea with Dark Albion, as it won't be having its own rules-system; but possibly we'll be seeing the product of these thoughts in my next project after Albion.


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