Playing Dark Souls has helped crystalize in my mind a lot of how I want the character advancement options to work in The Final Castle. Back when I was working on the Hexagram rules, one of my main goals was to support flexible cross-class abilities without complexity or undermining traditional class archetypes, though now I find the particular approach I was working on somewhat unsatisfying. There was too much discretion, not enough structure, and the lists of system options were too long.
The Final Castle has a far simpler, and more elegant, method of advancement which I believe satisfies my original requirements. Characters may advance potentially to level ten, and each level gained allows the increase of one ability score* (though the same score may not be increased over subsequent levels). The ability scores are combined with a class bonus (which is half level, round up) to determine most action resolution. So, for example, a character is going to roll something like 1d20 +dexterity +fighter (shorthand here for fighter class bonus) when making a combat roll. Starting stats range from 0 to 3, a given stat can be increased up to +5, and the class bonus rises to +5 at most, yielding a nice range of bonus for even the luckiest and most focused character (up to +13 on the d20 scale at level 10). Such specialization comes at the cost of flexibility, as will become clear momentarily.
It may seem at first glance like this does not have much to do with the previous discussion of Dark Souls. However, like Dark Souls, the magic rules apply to characters of all classes. That is, a fighter, for example, rolls 1d20 +magic +magician when casting spells, and the number of spells that can be prepared is also governed by those numbers. (Recall that intelligence has been replaced by magic.) Now, in the case of a fighter, +magician (the class bonus) is always going to be zero, but +magic may be increased (if the fighter wants to dabble in magic) during level up rather than one of the physical stats. Magicians have access to more methods for learning spells, but any character with sufficient stats can at least learn spells from a teacher, and any character has the potential of sufficient stats through level up choices.
Cleric magic (called boons), is handled similarly, with +charisma and +cleric taking the place of +magic and +magician. Rather than learning spells one by one as does a magician, clerics are granted access to a full suite of powers upon making a covenant with a given immortal. The default covenant available to clerics at first level is with The King of Life**, but other covenants may be discovered during play and accessed by any character that has sufficient charisma score. Most immortals will not covenant with characters that use magic though, as such is considered presumptuous and hubristic. More than one covenant at a time is impossible, and breaking a covenant may come with serious consequences.
* Oversimplifying slightly for clarity.
** Inspired by Dogs in the Vineyard and used with permission.
Between you and Gus I am strongly being pulled into the OD&D camp from the B/X camp I was firmly entrenched in. And still jonesing to play Dark Souls. My vacation is not coming soon enough!
Thought on “more than one covenant at a time is impossible” – While I understand how this might feel necessary for balance, and easy enough to justify in a given game-world through mutual jealousy of the powers involved, I would be interested in seeing a more flexible system that allows both polytheism and devotion to a single entity. (I’m thinking of Classical Greek religion, where all gods were generally acknowledged but each would have specific temples etc. devoted only to them.)
It would take a little more work, but perhaps a given covenant could have two sets of boons: “universal” ones that can be wielded by any priest who obeys its rules and granted to any worshiper who acknowledges it, and “zealot” ones that are only accessible to those who devote themselves to that covenant alone. E.g. if you have a benevolent covenant that gives access to healing, anybody can come, take part in a prayer service, and be healed by any priest who obeys the covenant’s rules, raising the dead is reserved for true believers and can only be performed by priests who live in the covenant’s temple and eschew all other paths.
A certain amount of balance could also be enforced through covenant requirements: players will be discouraged from trying to collect all possible “universal” covenant benefits if the time investments, taboos, and tithes start piling up or even contradicting each other.
In any case, you’ve given me some real food for thought for the “devotions” system I’ve been playing around with for clerics, so thanks! 8^)
This sounds pretty awesome! Any plans to release it to the general public?
Thanks! Yes, I have a complete draft already and do plan on releasing it sometime, but I am currently buried in grad school work so do not have a timeline.
Awesome! Can’t wait to see it.