I'll actually post my mechanics for Empress in another post. For now, I'll talk a little about why I chose to build off Lamentations, and what new ideas Empress brings to the table.
But first: why call it Empress? Well, at first, I called it Exultations of the Incandescent Queen, as a heavy-handed homage to its precursor. However, I find that title to be ponderous, so Empress is shorter and probably more memorable. Besides, we can't stand in LotFP's shadow forever, can we? Don't worry: I'll never forget to mention LotFP in conjunction with Empress, in case anybody actually cares.
OK, so why Lamentations? Well, they provide a great foundation, because the rules are really clean and platonic. There's nothing flashy about the classes, but they each have their own unique abilities that completely set them apart. It's crisp and clean and perfect...the exact opposite of my other beloved ruleset, DCC.
But we're not going to talk about DCC, today.
Anyway, LotFP provides a great foundation to build on top of because it's so simple and clean. Of course, that means that I'm going to ruin that purity, but I think we can all live with that if it's actually any good. I'll let you judge its value to you.
So, what does Empress do that's special? I'll try to succinctly describe the most important changes.
Different abilitiesThis probably doesn't have that much effect, overall. Also, I swap out the old-fashioned saving throws for the more modern D&D approach - which is to say, Reflexes, Fortitude and Willpower. On top of those, I add Wits and Mind to the mix. Wits is used mainly for perception checks, and Mind usually comes into play with spellcasting (and sometimes magic defense).
ClassesI drop race-based classes, as well as clerics. That leaves me with Specialists, Fighters (renamed Warriors) and Magic-Users (renamed Mages). Clerics are just a type of Mage with a religious flavor.
Also, I let characters multi-class pretty freely. Thus, each level is distinctly either an improvement to fighting ability, an improvement to magical ability, or an improvement to assorted skills.
InitiativeThis is where I start to diverge a bit more. In my game, characters have an Initiative score equal to their Agility modifier, plus one (for a leveled character), and plus any Warrior levels. In a large fight, everyone goes in a segment equal to their Initiative score, counting downwards. In smaller fights, combatants may roll 1d6 and add it to their Initiative at the start of each round.
I'll go into more detail about Armor Class in a minute, but for now, realize that I drop all Dexterity- or Agility-based modifiers from AC. In place of that, there are certain initiative-based bonuses. If a character attacks a character who acts on a lower segment, before that character attacks, then the attacker receives a +1 to hit. However, if that character holds off his or her attack till after a combatant with a lower initiative score, then that attacker receives a -2 to hit.
Thus, being quick on your feet gives a character both offensive and defensive options, and these take the place of a simple modifier to AC for Agility. In practice, this system works smoothly without slowing things down. In fact, it makes things pretty intuitive while giving players some nice tactical options.
Armor ClassI make some other big changes, here. Now, a character has a Hit Class (HC) and an Armor Class (AC), instead of just an AC. The HC represents the number an attack needs to hit a character, whereas the AC represents the number you need to roll to bypass armor completely.
Armor now has a new attribute called Protection. If an attack hits the character but doesn't bypass the armor, then damage is reduced by Protection.
What are HC and AC based on? HC is based on an object's relative size, and movement speed. For a human-sized target, this is always 12 in melee. At a distance, range and movement speed come into play, and cover can reduce the target's effective size.
AC is equal to the Coverage value of the character's armor (or natural shell/plating/etc.) added to the character's HC. If a character has no armor or total encasement, then there is no AC value, and any Protection value is subtracted from all attacks. For a normal suit of armor that a PC will wear, the default Coverage is six (i.e. AC of 18). A suit of full plate with the helmet visor down would result in Coverage of eight (i.e. AC of 20).
Protection values range from one (for thick hides and leather armor) to five (for plate armor) for non-magical armor.
To add a little complication, some weapons are considered Thrusting, which reduces the effective Coverage of armor by one. Optionally, daggers and unarmed attacks may reduce Coverage by two. Also, some weapons are good at getting through armor, and are considered Penetrating; they ignore one point of Protection. Magic weapons and other exotic attacks might have a greater Penetration reduction.
This system adds some complexity, but it isn't that bad, and it makes certain things a lot more intuitive. For instance, does it really make sense that a giant's club should receive as much of a hit reduction from plate as a simple spear thrust? With this system, the effect of the plate would be to reduce the damage, but against such force, plenty would still get through.
MagicWhere I really change things up is with spell-casting. I have kept the spell list from LotFP (although I've compressed the spell levels to five from nine), but the mechanics of casting are very different. Without going into too much detail, the default casting experience replaces the Vancian approach with a mana pool, and higher level spells typically take a long time to cast and may even fail in the casting (that's where those Mind saving throws must be rolled). There are a few other changes, but that's most of it.
However, that's just the starting point. Empress has a very comprehensive system of points that allow the GM to easily create custom magic traditions, where the mechanics of casting can be very different.
For instance, alchemy spells may typically have the improvements of being "transferable and triggerable," meaning that the product of the casting can be triggered later, at will, and could even be handed off to a non-mage for that purpose. In other words, he can make potions, and pretty much anyone he gives them to can use them with simple instructions.
The cost of this great benefit is that alchemy is harder to master, and more time-consuming to cast. Also, alchemy spells require expensive components which might be rare or even one-of-a-kind.
Meanwhile, another school of magic may offer the benefit of spontaneous mana-free casting, at the cost of plucking out an eye.
Even though this system has a lot of tables, its easy to go with the default system, and it's also easy to tweak it just a tiny bit with some point-buys (and corresponding point-sells). Every improvement over the default must be accompanied by a limitation, sacrifice or even risk. World-shattering rituals of black magic may entail human sacrifice and the risk of madness, and must be cast upon the right mountaintop during the correct stellar conjunction, that happens every two-hundred years.