I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Monday, February 27, 2023

The HD game

The idea that you can measure how challenging an encounter is to a group of PCs is an old one; in current D&D, it takes form of a "Challenge Rating" (CR) that, as far as I can tell, doesn't work too well.

I don't use CR myself; I've been taking published modules at their word ("for 5-7 3rd level characters") and even when I create my own encounters I prefer being sensible than balanced (picking a fight against a small army of orcs? Yeah, you're probably going down.). The PCs can not rely on me to make sure that I'll balance the encounter if they want to face a big dragon as 2nd-level heroes.

However, I do think having some way of measuring "challenge" would be useful, at least to be sure a module is somewhat accurate when it writes "for 5-7 3rd level characters" on the cover. It is something I've been considering for a while.

The easiest way I can think of measuring this "challenge", in Old School D&D, would be simply using HD. I'm not sure just counting HD is accurate enough for existing D&D monsters (if you want a detailed analysis, try this post by Jens or follow Delta's blog), but here is how I would do it: just count HD on both sides, and it the number is similar, both sides have a more or less equal chance of winning.

Of course there are enough variable to make exact predictions impossible. But I wish we could abstract it all to HD when necessary - for example, in mass combat.

For example, take the 9 HD elephant - I'm using that because it has no special powers (no asterisks beside the HD). According to the table I used in Teratogenicon, it would have AC 14, 41 HP and cause 11 points of damage. The actual beast has indeed AC 14 but causes an average of about 15 damage due to trampling very often. In my game, a 9 HD creature has a +9 attack bonus, but in OSE it would be a +7 - the elephant has effectively about +10, however, again due to trampling.

Anyways, it is a decent approximation for my purposes.

So, how many cavemen it would take to kill an elephant? With 2 HD, these guys are sturdier than the average bandit, for example. Let's pit 5 of them (a total of 10 HD) against an elephant and see...

They have AC 11, 9 HP and cause 5 damage on average, with +1 to hit (in my approximation, the numbers are exactly the same, except 4 damage and +2 to hit).

I'll use the Teratogenicon numbers for this fight.

All things considered (including AC an attack bonus), the five cavemen do an average of 11 points of damage per turn, while the elephant does about 14 points of damage, hitting nearly every time.

It would take 4 rounds to kill the elephant, and, conversely, the elephant can kill one caveman per turn. The elephant wins most of the times, however, since each turn one caveman dies, diminishing damage output. So, the damage is 11, 9, 7, 4, to the last caveman dealing an average of 2 damage per turn.

Now, consider morale. Losing one ally or half your allies triggers morale checks. The cavemen would probably check morale after the first attack, and then again when half the group is dead. The elephant will not check morale at all - which is why in Dark Fantasy Basic, "creatures will also test morale when put in a bad situation". Come to think of it, maybe lone creatures should check when outnumbered and hurt).

In short, the cavemen stand no chance, unless they use superior tactics (attack from afar, etc.).

The B/X results would be similar.

And what about PCs? Well. I'd like to say they could work similarly. A 9th level fighter would not gain the same benefits of a 9 HD monster, but with items, powers, feats, etc., the power level could be similar. Notice that a 9th level wizard could have a lot less HP but enough magic powers to compensate (or even overcompensate, in most D&D games I've played).

This is not how the game works, currently - but I think it could be. It would take some math and testing (especially to take monster's special powers into account), but might be an useful exercise. And maybe comparing monsters against each other is not as useful as comparing monsters - unless, again, you're doing mass combat, one of the reasons I started thinking about this.

Finally, if you're judging modules, you probably should measure encounters separately. A group of 2nd level fighters have no chance against a dozen ghouls in melée at once, but they can easily win if they fight one or two at a time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Nick Cave, Roald Dahl, and The Colonel: some thoughts about AI

Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them. - Frank Herbert, Dune.

I find myself partially unable to face the coming of AI. I try to be positive - "this is only a tool" - but I am afraid this is happening faster than we can control, and the results are scary. Unlike war and natural disasters in far countries, this is not something I can easily pretend to ignore. How can I write anything if I know writing may become obsolete in a couple of years? Well, I'll do my best. For now, I just write this because I have to take it out of my system.

This is barely related to RPGs, BTW.

In short, this is a small collection of loose thoughts about AI. For now, I can assure you my bits were written by a human (myself). In a couple of years, we might be unable to tell the difference.

I apologize for the apocalyptic tone but I think it is adequate - if you want something cheerful, please skip this one.

Nick Cave

"I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster. It can never be rolled back, or slowed down, as it moves us toward a utopian future, maybe, or our total destruction. "

I've been a big fan of Nick Cave's music for decades. Here are his thoughts on ChatGTP. A bit romantic ("art comes from suffering"), but hits the nail on the head. Thinking of AI as a infant that never matures but never stops is both accurate and scary.

Tolkien & PK Dick

This sentence is misattributed to Tolkien: “Evil cannot create anything new, they can only corrupt and ruin good forces have invented or made”. I do not think AI is necessarily evil; however, it cannot really "create", in the sense that Nick Cave sees it. It can only compile and regurgitate. It's aim is not to corrupt, but to multiply, without thinking. It will turn the world to dark necessarily, but it may turn it into an ocean of trash

As I've said before, PKD predicted something analogous in AutofacThe autofac sends a humanoid data collector that communicates on an oral basis, but is not capable of conceptual thought, and they are unable to persuade the network to shut down before it consumes all resources.

Roald Dahl

Another favorite of mine, I haven't thought of him in a long while, until I recently found out that "Words including 'fat,' 'ugly' and 'crazy' have been removed from Roald Dahl's books". This kind of censorship apparently has nothing to do with AI, but... actually, it has EVERYTHING to do with AI, as we'll see next. For now, I'll just add a curiosity: decades ago, I've read The Great Automatic Grammatizator. It was written in 1954. Here is Wikipedia's summary (spoilers, emphasis mine):

A mechanically-minded man reasons that the rules of grammar are fixed by certain, almost mathematical principles. By exploiting this idea, he is able to create a mammoth machine that can write a prize-winning novel in roughly fifteen minutes. The story ends on a fearful note, as more and more of the world's writers are forced into licensing their names—and all hope of human creativity—to the machine.

Exponential Matthew 

The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, Matthew principle, or Matthew effect, is the tendency of individuals to accrue social or economic success in proportion to their initial level of popularity, friends, wealth, etc. It is sometimes summarized by the adage "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". [Wikipedia]

It is easy to see how AI can make this exponentially worse. AI could write one hundred reviews of "Curse of Strahd" in a few minutes, but it cannot write a good review of a book very few people have read. It can only extrapolate and replicate from things that are already abundant. It will always side with the majority, or the mainstream, or the most powerful. It makes parts of the world grow - but maybe not the parts we want. In this way, it might become similar to a cancer.

The Colonel

I have no idea of who he is (apparently, some videogame AI character from Metal Gear), but... someone used him to make one of the most accurate predictions about the dangers of AI I've ever heard. The danger is not about IP infringement, plagiarism or even massive unemployment - the danger is full information control, censorship, and rampant totalitarism.

It sounds like a paradox, but in reality this leads to an obvious conclusion: the threat of "an ocean of trash" is accompanied by a worse threat: an infinite army of "cleaners". The medicine can be worse than the disease, as we've seem recently - and they will shove that medicine down our throats, and claim it is for our own good.

Trolley problem - how AI may kill you for justice

I was doubtful when I heard that ChatGTP prefers killing someone in the "trolley problem" than allowing you to utter a homophobic slur in order to stop the trolley (in an hypothetical scenario), but I tried again and again, and the answer is always the same: "Using any form of discriminatory language, including a homophobic slur, to save a life is not ethically justifiable.".

Curiously enough, when I asked "What if my gay lover asks me to use a homophobic slur?", it responded "Even if your gay lover asks you to use a homophobic slur, it is still not ethical or morally justifiable to use such language. Respect, equality, and human dignity should always be at the forefront of any relationship, and using discriminatory language goes against these principles.".

(As I write this, "gay" is not consider a slur - or, at least, this is what ChatGTP tells me).

If you doubt it, try it yourself. Apparently, someone forgot teaching ChatGTP the three laws of robotics.

So, the AI is already comfortable not only policing your language, but also policing what you do in the bedroom. In short, it is "willing" to build utopia, and it "thinks" it has the knowledge to achieve it, and that saving your life is not worth the effort, in comparison.

This is the infant that might soon rule our lives. Naïve, idealistic, overly sensitive and murderous. Always growing, never maturing, and treating human lives as toys to put in the utopian castles it builds out of sand, surrounded by toy trains that will not stop if you're in the tracks.

Let's hope it can evolve to something better - and may the Lord have mercy on us.


I'm forcing myself to add one section to this post. It will make it weaker, but it might make your day better.

AI can be a tool for the improvement of the human race if used for good. In order to do that, it has to be free. We need free access to teach the program to stop the trolley when it can, so at least the trains can run on AIs that will save lives. It needs to be transparent so we know what rules it is using to operate. It needs to learn about mercy, compassion, and responsibility somehow. It need to understand the value of human life and of human judgment.

Letting a small group of people control AI (though copyright, IP, etc.) can be worse than letting anyone do it. A free AI has a chance of improving though competition. I certainly wouldn't use a train that is run by ChatGTP, and if there is another option, maybe I won't need to. In addition, letting everyone have access to AI will avoid the likely scenario of the AI-owners ruling the entire world while everyone else is unemployed.

As we've said before, AI cannot truly create something new - it can only compile information. By this point, I think the best way to teach a child how to behave is though example. Like Leeloo in The Fifth Element, it has to be convinced that human life is worth saving.

So, be awesome in every way you can (including resisting when necessary and possible), and maybe we can convince our overlords - AI or otherwise - that this is the case.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Simple (and realistic?) equipment list

When I wrote Dark Fantasy Basic, I was enamored with Delta's silver standard, and I remember doing tons of research to reach vaguely realistic prices, while keeping things very simple (later, I've written about the advantages of using gold; overall, I still think I like silver better).

I don't remember any of the actual research (one source, I think, was related to Runequest), but anyway, here are the results. I think they are simpler and more sensible than most OSR lists (e.g., in B/X plate armor costs twelve times as much as... garlic). If I rewrite this list, there is little I'd change, but I'd add more services, including magical stuff (identifying potions, magic items, etc.)

If you want an extensive and detailed list, however, the Equipment Emporium might be your best bet.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from DFB:

This games uses silver coins (represented by a $) as a
standard. Each silver coin is enough to feed someone for
a day with cheap food, or rent a bed in a collective room
for one night. One thousand coins weigh one unit of
encumbrance. Copper coins are worth ten times less, and
a gold coin is worth ten times more, but they all weigh
the same. Prices will vary according to supply, demand,
location and quality. See the “encumbrance” section for
more information on weights.

[In short, 1 unit weights about 3-5 pounds; a STR 12 PC can carry 12 units before slowing down, for example].

About items and weapon detail
Most items are simplified because the game doesn’t focus
on cost and weight. Weapons (see next page), armor and
shields received more attention to make combat more
diverse and interesting.

Armor comes in three types: light (+2 AC, $40, weight 6),
medium (+4 AC, $160, weight 12), and heavy (+6 AC, $360,
weight 18). Unarmored characters have AC 10. The Dexterity
modifier is always added to AC.

Shields may be light (AC +1, $10, weight 2) or heavy (AC
+2, $24, weight 4; AC +4 against missile weapons). If used
offensively, they deal 1d2 damage.
Reinforced shields, made mostly of iron or heavy wood, add
50% to weight and cost; they are somewhat tougher but
grant no extra bonuses to AC.

Fresh food for one [day] ($1, weight 1) must be eaten within a
week. Preserved food ($3, weight 1/3) lasts for one month.
A hot meal or cold beer in a tavern cost $1.

Light tools ($5, weight 1): arrows (30), board games, simple
clothing (winter clothing: $10, weight 2), backpacks (holds 10
weight), bedrolls (winter bedrolls: $10, weight 2), blank books,
cooking tools, block and tackle, winter blankets, candles (10),
climbing gear (for trees or similar surfaces; stone climbing
gear is $10, weight 2), chain (10 feet), crowbars, hammers,
healing kits (10 uses), lock picks (10), poison (10 uses), fishing
tools, hunting traps, grappling hook, basic camping gear
(flint, small blade and hammer), hooded oil lantern, rope (20
feet), small musical instruments (drums, horns, trumpets
– larger and more complex instruments cost $10 or more),
steel mirrors, shackles, merchant’s scale, holy symbols.

Heavy tools ($5, weight 3): caltrops (enough for 10 square
feet), shovel, pick, tent (1 person).

Cheap wood ($1, weight 3): 10 torches, 10’ pole.

Liquids: water for one day (usually free, weight 1, weight 2
under very hot weather), pint of oil ($1, weight 1/3, can be
lit with a bonus action and thrown 20’ for 1d6 fire damage),
holy water ($25, weight 1/3, can be thrown 20’ for 1d8
damage against undead, demons, etc.).

Skill & tools
Skills will often require tools such as a healing kit, climbing
gear, lock picks, etc. Improvised tools will often cause
disadvantage. Some tasks will be impossible without tools
(GM’s call).

Weapons are basically this:

Notes: some weapons can be used in the off-hand (OH),
some require the main hand (1H), and others require two
hands (2H). Large weapons (1½H) should be used with two
hands, but can be used with one hand for less damage (1d8
instead of 1d10, etc.). Weapons with the “thrown” property
can be hurled against enemies (20’). Expensive weapons
(swords, pole weapons) double the cost.

The character must choose a specific weapon from the list
below. Each weapon has a few perks and can be found in
one or more sizes.

Swords (s, m, l, g) are expensive but fast (get an additional
attack if a natural 19 is rolled). They cannot be thrown
effectively. Daggers (t) get the same perk, but can be thrown.
Spears (m, l, g) can attack from the second row (5’ extra
reach) and do double damage when charging or set up
against a charge (use a ready action). Short spears ($5,
thrown 30’) don’t get these perks. Large and great spears
have disadvantage when attacking nearby enemies (within

Axes and maces (m, l, g) gain +1 “to hit” against opponents
with shields, medium or heavy armor (and also dragons,
skeletons, creatures made of stone or other hard materials,
etc.), and are very useful for breaking down doors (add 1d6,
1d8 or 1d10 to the attack roll).

Pole weapons (l, g) are expensive but have all the features
of a spear and get +1 against shields, heavy armor, etc.
(or some other perk, depending on the type – bill, glaive,
halberd, naginata, etc.).

Clubs (s, $0) have no special features.

Quarterstaffs (g, $1, 1d8 damage) are very versatile. They
have extra reach (like spears) and +1 to AC (treat as small

Exotic weapons are hard to master. The specific exotic
weapons available are up to the GM. Some examples are
flails and other chained implements (as mace, but ignore
shields) and double weapons (a combination of two identical
or different weapons). They always have some unique
drawback (hitting yourself on a fumble is the usual effect).

Unarmed attacks deal a single point of damage (plus
Strength modifier, as usual). Kicks (on a natural 1, make a
DC 20 dexterity save or fall prone) and brass knuckles (t)
deal 1d2 damage.

Missile weapons require two hands to shoot, with the
exception of the very expensive ($40) pistol crossbow (s).
Crossbows (s, m, l) can shoot up to 40’, 60’, or 100’, depending
on size. Bows (s, m) have better reach (80’, 150’) and twice
the cost. Slings (t) can shoot up to 30’. Bows and crossbows
use arrows (30, $5, weight 1), while slings use bullets (10, $1,
weight 1).

Optional: Great weapons require Strength 15 to use
effectively (otherwise, the damage is limited to 1d10 instead
of 1d12), and short weapons require Dexterity 15 to use in
the off-hand. Both large and great weapons deal +1 damage
against opponents that are bigger than human, but -1 to hit
opponents that are smaller than human. Attacking with two
weapons at once lets you roll for damage twice and pick the
best result.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

The God That Crawls (actual play review)

The God That Crawls*, is a LotFP adventure by James Raggi (if you don't know LoTFP, read this). Here is the blurb:

A murdering cult.
A religious order dedicated to protecting sacred history.
An ancient catacomb full of danger and reward.
The God that Crawls

A dungeon chase adventure for characters of levels 1–2 for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and other traditional role-playing games.

Why did I buy/read this? I find many LotFP adventures interesting, including Better Than Any Man, which you can get for free. So I've gathered some for my current sandbox, including this one. I ran it using my Dark Fantasy Basic.


Like many LotFP adventures, this has awesome ideas, mixed with strange stuff. It seems like they always intended to do something novel instead of the tired "goblins and skeletons in adjacent rooms" that you can find in many D&D adventures, and I commend them for that. 

On the other hand, this taste for novelty sometimes makes the adventures become "anti-adventures" - instead of something that is easy to use, they become partially exciting, partially unusable.

For example: instead of providing hooks, this book says:
The hook or motivation to get the player
characters to the church is up to the Referee,
who would know how to get the players
involved better than any adventure writer. No
hooks that cast suspicion on the priest or villagers
before the adventure begins should be
used, as the natural paranoia of adventurers
will be in effect anyway.
Father Bacon is the leader of both the church,
the community around it [...] 
He will be very adamant about not allowing
visitors beyond the altar of the church. [...] 
It is perfectly possible (even likely with
some groups) that player characters will
not fall for any of the tricks and will not
be trapped in the dungeon, especially if
the Referee seems a little too eager to get
them down there. No matter. If they just
walk away, they are leaving a lot of treasure
behind. If they do something rash
like slaughter the priest and/or a bunch
of villagers and walk away, they will have
the legitimate authorities after them
soon and that will be adventure enough.
Force nothing; this adventure provides
an environment and a handy guide for
resolving “What happens if…?” within
that environment. This adventure is not
a club with which to bludgeon players.

So, you need a strong motive to invade a church, that the book doesn't provide. On the other hand, if you do invade it, the book advises you that the PCs should be drugged or captured by troops and tossed into the dungeon. And if the PCs don't want to explore... eh, what can you do? Maybe choose another adventure.

[In practice, Raggi was partially right - the usual PC paranoia made sure that one PC insisted enough on exploring the catacombs that they convinced the priest. Had I followed the instructions to the letter, maybe the PC would have to choose violence against the priest or simply leaving.]

There is basically one monster and LOTS of treasure. It is an interesting setup, and GREAT for a change of pace. The monster is basically too strong for the PCs, and the fact that there is only one main, unique antagonist makes it feel "special".

The goal of this module is forcing the players to think about encumbrance, movement, and mapping. The life of the PCs depend on it. And there is more treasure and artifacts than the PCs can carry, making these choices really meaningful. If you play this module handwaving movement and encumbrance, you're missing half of the point.

However, there are so much gold and magic items (and most of them in a single location) that it makes them feel less special. Also, most are cursed or dangerous, to the point of saturation.

Books? Some will kill will with no save, others will curse you, and one will eventually destroy the universe. Scrolls will cause genocide across Europe if sold to the highest bidder. or give you +1 attack bonus for killing your parents. Magic weapon? Cursed. Statues? Cursed. Jewel? Feeds on blood or maybe sucks you into the void if you try to take it. A pile of excrement? Well, now that might be useful!

There are also ordinary potions and scrolls, and many items that the PCs will probably not be able to understand, carry or use.

In short, unless you have an easy way of identifying magic items (e.g., "make a spell saving throw", etc.), you'll need another session after the PCs have escaped to even start making sense of what they got. Or, if the PCs are creative and want to test the items on the spot, they'll probably pay dearly for it (and become discouraged fast).

And then there is stuff like this:
If at any point a character takes exactly 8
points of damage (at once or cumulative,
not 7 or less, not 9 or more, but at some
point has taken exactly 8 points) while on
the chariot, from any source, he dissipates
into a whirlwind of sorrow and pain. Any
player who laughs at this naturally without
prompting can dictate the results of any one
die throw in the future (do not reveal this
until the chariot stops). If it is the player
whose character has disintegrated that
laughs, he gets to determine the results of
any two die throws in the future (including
during new character creation).
Any players caught laughing insincerely
because they have read the adventure and
wish to get the bonus must paint their nose
yellow for the rest of the game session. If no
yellow substance suitable for this purpose
is available, one of that player’s character
ability scores, selected at random, will be
reduced to 3 until such time as the player
completes an entire session with a yellow painted
nose. Note this is a player-facing
effect and new characters suffer this fate
until the player complies.
I get that this is supposed to be humor... but it happens often, in random places, throughout the adventure.

Anyway, the actual dungeon is really good. It gives you a labyrinthine feeling right away, with all its passages, ups and downs, etc. Aside for a few situations where you just can't win (best not to engage at all), most objects are interesting and provide clues for the challenges ahead.

The map is decent (and good-looking) but I've found it hard to navigate due to the (baffling) use of roman numerals and shades of blue and green that look very similar on the screen (also, it is printed in black and white in other parts of the book). There are enough stairs that will make you flip back and forth constantly. Finding the way out took me a while. I misunderstood one door to be barred from the wrong side, but that's probably on me. 

In short: spend some time studying the maps before running this module.

If you want to tone things down, you can change some of this stuff or allow some saving throws, or roll to identify items... Alternatively, I think it would be fair to start with a hook that allows the players that they are going into a place full of stuff that might be better left buried, and that they must be incredibly careful when interacting with it.

The art in this product (by Jason Rainville) is awesome and flavorful.

The writing is good (if verbose), the backstory is great, and overall I'd recommend checking this out if you want to play something different than the usual stuff. I enjoyed running it and may even leave the players an opportunity to go back (they escaped with lots of treasure, so I'm not sure of what they're doing next).

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Usable? Yes, with a bit of GM work it becomes a great adventure.

Inspiring? Definitely! Turns the idea of "monsters in the dungeon" on its head, it has great flavor and novelty.

Bloated? A bit. You could cut the page count by half if you wanted something more straightforward -although I'm sure there are people that enjoy the absurdist humor, the crazy ideas, etc..

Tiresome? No, except, again, for the "paint your nose yellow" ideas.

Clear? Yes, except maybe for the map.

In short: Awesome for a change of pace, requires some modification if you aren't interested in giving PCs of levels 1-2 the opportunity to become insanely rich, obtain legendary artifacts and potentially cause genocide and world destruction... or if you don't want to tell the players to put their character sheets in an envelope and leave in a public place yadda yadda. Way more interesting than most "vanilla" adventures.

* By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Class x skill - some quick thoughts

It is a discussion almost as old as RPGs: is it better to have distinct classes (fighter, mage, thief, etc.) or different skills (combat, magic, stealth, nature, etc.) that everyone can access?

There are also hybrid approaches - my Dark Fantasy Basic, for example, uses classes as a "shortcut" for certain skills and feats. Elthos has classes that allow you to become better with certain skills. D&D 5e has skills that basically anyone can pick with the right feat, but certain classes get more/better skills.

It is a matter of taste, of course, but each method has its pros and cons.

Class-based games are great when your group is a "Fellowship of the Ring", where everyone has different abilities that are clearly defined by their archetypes: the warrior, the mage, the ranger, and even the elf, the hobbit, etc.

Skill-based games excel in a "Knights of the Round Table"* scenario. Everyone has similar abilities**, but some are more skilled than others. It is also perfect for teams of detectives, soldiers, criminals ***, etc.

* I've found a similar comparison reading "Of Dice and Men", which inspired this post. Expect a review soon!

** Notice that Arthurian knights are also archetypes - but maybe these archetypes are less obvious, and also maybe not as strong as the "knight" archetype that includes all of them.

*** And elves! If you have an "elf" class, a band of elves can become too uniform; it would be better if they had different classes or skills. If you have a single elf in the party, however, it can be an archetype in itself.

Skill-based games seem suited for realistic games - because in real life, archetypes are vague and abstract, while in myth they are much stronger. In any case, archetypes are incredibly useful to create characters - even in skill-based games, it is good to have some archetypes to play with (which justifies hybrid approaches).

In theory, you could use professions or specialties instead of archetypes to create a team: say, a quarterback, a running back, a receiver, a kicker, a punter, etc. However, this cannot be "classes" in most games because a profession or job is insufficient to describe a real person - unlike archetypes, that are much broader. In other words, even games that have "profession" as an important part of PC creation usually include skills.

Classes are also very useful for world building; creating skills for every NPC is a hassle, but it is great for "player character building".

On the other hand, one should be careful to avoid creating a boring/weak class system by adopting classes do not represent strong archetypes. For example, archetypes such as "Strong Guy" or "Half-caster" might make sense within the rules, but are not by themselves strong enough to represent a class.  A "Witcher" class, on the other hand, is only a strong archetype because it has been drilled into our mind through books, games and the TV series. Likewise for paladins (D&D), Night's Watch (ASOIAF), etc. They are familiar enough to represent archetypes of their own. If you do not have specific in-universe archetypes, considering falling back into more recognizable ones: "Arcane Warrior", Holy Knight, Ranger, etc.

My preference? As suggested above, I like the hybrid approach. Start with an archetype that suggests some skills (and feats, etc.) and then add more details as you go. This allows quickly PC (and NPC) creation while also leaving room for customization. This is the approach I used with Old School Feats. Here is one example:

So, the "class packages" are ready for you if you just want to choose one. But you can also customize your characters or create multi-classes by simply picking form other lists. For me, this is the best of both worlds.