Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Dancing the Black Labyrinth

I'm writing a class for OSR games.
I want it to tie into a few OSR-ish ideas: frequent character deaths, prioritizing the story of the party over the stories of individual characters, amorality.
I want it to subvert expectations of play in ways that other classes don't. That is, I want to make a class which does not mind dying. A class that sees the unpredictable lethality of OSR play, and embraces it, and profits from it. A class for which death is not the end.

Here's how I'm gonna do it.
First up, the fluff. The Dancers Of The Black Labyrinth are a mystical religious group. The Cleric as a class embraces fundamentally western ideas of spirituality. Worship, death as a finality, the granting of favors through divine grace. This class, meanwhile, takes on a more oriental approach, focusing on the soul's journey through reincarnations towards transcendence. I want this class to be morbid, thanatological mystics who treat death as a minor setback.
The do not see death as an end. The soul passes into a lightless maze, from which it cannot easily return. These mystics, though continually retread the paths of the black labyrinth, each journey expanding their knowledge of its nature and how it might be exploited.

In play, how does this work? The Dancers work like clerics: it makes sense for such a mystically-inclined class. They have only a few spells, mostly surrounding death and divination. Compared to an MU or even a cleric, their repertoire is limited.
The first Dancer you play is capped at level one.
When they die, if your next PC is also a Dancer, then this cap is increased; if they survive and gain enough XP, they can progress to level 2. The new PC is, on some level, the same entity as the last one. Though their body and mind are different, they have some degree of memory of their previous life and their exploration of the Black Labyrinth can continue.
Furthermore, each time they die, the nature of their death unlocks new secrets to them: each subsequent Dancer gains a permanent bonus for each new type of death unlocked. For weirder and more esoteric deaths, these bonuses can be quite dramatic.

So you get an entity who reincarnates into different PCs over the course of the game, gradually unlocking greater power as they do. One who is motivated to die in new and unusual ways.


  1. Huh. The meta-character bonuses are, I suppose, what saves the class from being unattractive compared to the rest.
    It's weird, but I'd try it!

  2. What are the bonuses? What is the spell list and progression? Do they wear armor? What weapons do they get? Attack, save and XP charts?

    1. Specifics like the spell list and bonuses for dying are still getting written. Essentially, though, they're a cleric, without Turn Undead, and with a necromancy/reincarnation focussed spell list. So equipment restrictions, levelling charts etc are all gonna be as a cleric.

    2. Cleric subclass, got it. Love to see what you come up with.

  3. Hmmm, this is interesting. This is the same transition that videogames went through between Rogue and Rogue Legacy.

    -Full permadeath. You start right from the beginning every time, as if you'd wiped your save file.
    -Player skill focused.
    -You can complete the game in 20 minutes, but it will likely take you many tries and deaths to become good enough to do that.

    Rogue Legacy:
    -Permadeath, but every time you die you unlock more content. Your next PC will be stronger.
    -Because of this mechanic, the focus on player skill lessens - it becomes more about a time commitment (playing and dying repeatedly to level up).
    - It is no longer possible to complete a fresh game in 20 minutes. You need to die over and over again in order to unlock content and progress.

    I dislike this in videogames but I think this could be a really cool idea in tabletops. I know a some people have done similar death unlock ideas like: When you meet a new race/culture, you unlock new races/classes to play as. As you progress (dying frequently) you get more and more character creation options.

    I think if I ran this, the reincarnation angle would be something I'd give to everyone - not just one subclass. After all, everyone is dying just as much as they are. I'd probably add in a bunch of unlocks on death apart from a raised level cap (EG, new races, classes, you gain a bonus based on how your last PC died (You were killed by a dragon - your next PC can breathe fire once per day)).