Thus we continue our whistle-stop tour of my initial ideas for a Hybird Dungeons and Dragons game, pulling together the best aspects of all previous editions. Last time we looked at the core maths that need to underpin the system, and my intention to use Iourn as the default (and only setting). This time, I’m giving you a full overview of making characters.
Chapter Three: Making Characters
This is the chapter in a rulebook that usually sports a representation of the character sheet in a double-page spread, with lots of annotations explaining what everything means. I don’t have a character sheet, but I’m going through the annotations anyway.
The Thirty Level Game
I propose that, like 4e, HD&D is a thirty level game. Characters advance over thirty levels rather than the twenty levels we saw in second and third editions. The extra ten levels give us the opportunity to grant PCs extra toys as they advance. However, PCs won’t become any more powerful. A 30th level character in HD&D will be about as powerful as a 20th level character in third edition. This means if we are converting from third edition to HD&D we need to multiply all the character levels by 1.5 to make sure all the characters are at the same power level.
With another nod to 4e, I’d like to keep the three tiers of play. I find this a helpful distinction, and we could have certain powers and abilities that advance per tier instead of per level. Fourth edition refers to the Heroic, Paragon and Epic tiers; I’m more inclined to call them Basic, Expert and Master – just to hark back to D&D’s earliest days. It also means that I can make 1st, 11th and 21st level something special.
Epic levels in HD&D will be level 31 onwards. I don’t want to touch on epic play in the first run through these rules. Those levels would be largely irrelevent to most players anyway. Rather like 4e (again) Epic levels won’t actually use different rules, although they may require greater options. Some of the off-the-wall abilities found in fourth editions Epic Destinies would be more at home with characters of level 31+.
Let’s not mess with the classics: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. They still represent the same things, they are still scaled from 3-18 and still give the same bonuses they did in third and fourth editions.
I am convert to a point-buy for stats rather than rolling the dice. While I’m not sure of the exact method at the moment, it should be possible for most players to be able to start adventuring with one 18 stat (including racial modifiers) without otherwise crippling their character.
Attributes increase at the same rate as in fourth edition. +1 to two attributes at levels 4, 8, 14, 18, 24 and 28. +1 to all attributes at levels 11 and 21. I want to avoid all items, spells and abilities that alter or increase your attributes. I can see that being a problem for things like Wildshape. However, such abilities are incredibly fiddlesome and can demand the recalculation of 70% of the character sheet each time they are used. Better to say +1 to damage than +2 to strength isn’t it?
No more rolling hit points. Fourth edition taught me that this was a good thing. Everyone starts with a number of hit points equal to their constitution score (not Con modifier). Additionally everyone gets an extra 4 hit points per level starting at level one. So at first level you get your Con score + 4 in hit points.
Hang on, everyone gets the same hit points? Shouldn’t a fighter have more than a wizard? Yes, they should – and I have a mechanic to remedy this. It’s a bit off the wall, so you need to bear with me. Suffice to say that it’s quite important for multiclassing to work smoothly.
As characters advance in level they receive certain advantages called Talents. I’ll explain what Talents are in a moment. Each time a character gets a Talent he also gets extra hit points.
Everytime a character picks up a Defender talent he gets 3 extra hit points. When he picks up a Striker or Leader talent he gets 1½ extra hit points. When he picks up a Controller talent he gets no more hit points at all.
Let me qualify this by saying two things. Firstly, I am only using the Defender, Striker, Leader and Controller monikers for want of something else to call them at present. If anyone has any better ideas please let me know! Secondly, the ½ hit points gained through this mechanic are not treated like any other ½ unit in the game. You don’t round these up.
If this sounds a bit fiddly, then you’re probably right, but this does work. A character who takes nothing but Defender talents will reach 30th level with exactly the same hit points as a fourth edition fighter of 30th level. The maths work, but how we get there is rather odd.
What this system doesn’t do is take into account Large and larger creatures. You can’t use these rules for a dragon because even a 30th level dragon is likely to have less than 200 hit points. I’m not sure how to address this issue. I have though of multiplying total hit points depending on size:
Tiny (×½), Small (×1), Medium (×1), Large (×2), Huge (×3), Gargantuan (×4) and Colossal (×5). To a degree this mirrors the distinction between Regular,Elite and Solo monsters in 4e. However, their hit points aren’t dependent on their role, they are dependent upon their size. This is more realistic. Fortunately most solo monsters tend to be very big, so this might conceivably work.
Of course, this causes its own issues if you’ve got a Large PC in the party. Headaches! Headaches!
I will be using the fourth edition model of Defences instead of the third edition model of saving throws. From what I have played of 4e I find that using defences speeds play along.
All characters have three defences that improve as you go up levels. These defences are Reflex (to avoid being hit), Fortitude (to resist poisons, disease and fatigue) and Will (to resist compulsions, charms and see through illusions). The level of defences are determined as follows. Remember that all fractions are rounded up:
Reflex: 10 + half your level + (Int Mod or Dex Mod)
Fortitude: 10 + half your level + (Str Mod or Con Mod)
Will: 10 + half your level + (Wis Mod or Cha Mod)
So far, so identical to fourth edition. But you will notice that I haven’t mentioned Armour Class at all. When you roll to hit someone in HD&D you are rolling to hit their Reflex Defence. Armour Class still exists. It’s granted by armour. But it doesn’t make you more difficult to hit, it makes you more difficult to damage. Armour Class works like Damage Reduction did in third edition.
There are two reasons why I have done this:
1) It makes real-world sense. This is the way that armour actually works. Putting on a suit of plate armour doesn’t make it more difficult to land a blow, it makes it more difficult to damage the target once you have landed a blow.
2) The maths demands it. You remember I said that defences had to advance at the same rate as skills and attacks? Well, if the level of those defences is dependent upon an outside agent (namely armour) then it throws out everything. A first level character in plate mail becomes literally impossible to hit. Fourth edition saw this, which is why it gave all weapons a proficiency bonus to strike. But moves like that are damage limitation. I’m trying to solve the problem at the source.
And no I haven’t worked out what the Armour Class (aks DR) of different suits of armour will be yet. Certainly, this needs to be factored into the equation when we’re working out how much damage a particular character needs to inflict at each level
Everyone starts off with a character race (goes without saying doesn’t it?). All races have the same sort of benefits to the character. Regardless of the race you have chosen you will get:
- +2 to two prescribed attributes
- +2 to two prescribed skills
- +1 to one prescribed defence
- Two “Racial Features” that are each about as powerful as a feat. These are minor racial traits like a dwarf’s Cast Iron Stomach, or a dragonborn’s Dragonborn Fury.
- Four languages or scripts of their choice.
- Speed, vision and natural attacks (punch, kick, claw bite) will vary between races. On the whole these advantages are so minor that they don’t need to be balanced.
Humans are a slight exception to the above. While the decriptions of all the other races tell you which two attributes, which two skills and which one defence you get a bonus in – humans get to choose. This makes humans supremely versatile. They are no better than any other race, but they are an equally good choice for any character class. Iourn is a world dominated by humans. I wanted to make the mechanics reflect that.
You’ll notice above that this looks pretty much like fourth edition. There are no racial penalties, and all races start out equal. Again, this is intentional. While you could argue that hobbits should be weaker, goblins less charismatic and elves weedier than humans – Player Characters are an exception to the norm.
It’s up to the player where he assigns his attributes during character generation. If he wants to play to type and come up with a weak and corpulent hobbit, with high Charisma and high Constitution then they can. If they want instead to create Bullroarer Took then that is also an option.
What about more powerful races that have more than two racial traits? Well, everything else that a race can do is labelled a racial talent. I’ll talk about Talents below, so please be patient. There will be a lengthier post on races in few days.
After race the next step is class. As I said in a reply to Daniel a few days ago, my intention is look at converting 22 core classes from third and fourth edition into HD&D. Do you want the list? Deep breath:
Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Wizard, Warlock, Warlord, Avenger, Invoker, Warden, Shaman, Swordmage, Artificer, Sonorist, Healer and Mariner. You’ve gotta have mariners.
I’ll deal with the classes in more depth in later posts. Being a member of a class gives you access to specific talents and feats that are only available to those classes.
Characters can multiclass by taking a Multiclass feat. The feat gives you a worthwhile benefit in addition to letting you multiclass. When you multiclass you gain access to all the talents and feats of a the second class as well as the first. This only increases your choice, it doesn’t increase the number of talents or feats you have access to (see below). There is no limit to the number of multiclass feats you can have. Multiclassing gets a longer treatment in an upcoming post.
Prestige Classes are simply a collection of specialist talents and feats. In order to qualify for a prestige class you must be of a particular class (or have the relevent multiclass feat), and satisfy certain prerequisites. These prerequisites will always (always) have an in-game roleplaying element. You must be a member of a certain society, or achieve a certain task and so on and so fourth.
Talents are the core abilities of each class. They would have been called Class Abilities in third edition, and Powers in fourth edition. These are the elements that make each class unique. Things like a rogue’s backstab, or a ranger’s twin strike ability are talents.
You gain one talent at every odd numbered level, with the exception of levels 1, 11 and 21 (when you gain 3 talents). This measn that between 1st and 30th level you gain twenty-one talents. This is the same progression as powers in the fourth edition game.
Spellcasting is a talent – or more accurately a collection of talents. Each spell level (from levels 0 to 9) requires you to spend a talent to have access to it. Therefore a 30th level wizard who can cast 9th level spells would have used ten of his twenty-one talents on Spellcasting. He’ll probably think it’s worth it.
This harkens back to third edition prestige classes where wizards and clerics limited their spell casting progression in return for cool abilities. A wizard could have lots of natty talents, but he gets them at the expense of his spellcasting power. There’s more on spells below.
Ideally, I would want a list of forty talents for each class divided between the Basic, Expert and Master tier. This would give sufficient choice for each character class.
Remember that there are also Racial Talents (such as a dragonborn’s dragon breath) for characters to select as well. The number of talents available is dependent on your level and not your class. So it doesn’t matter what race you are, if doesn’t matter how many classes you have, you still only have a maximum of seven talents in each tier.
This is how I balance powerful races. All the game destabilising powers of these races are not given away for free at first level – they are talents instead. If a player wants to pursue these racial abilities then he can, but he does so at the expense of his class abilities. It is up to the player to find the right balance.
Talents should grant characters unique abilities. They may work like spells, but more often they are “always on” or at-will abilities that the PC can draw upon at any time.
There are about fifty three skills in the game. Every class will have a list of about thirty Favoured Skills. These are designed to focus the mind, and will be the skills most associated with a particular character class. From those Favoured Skills, a character chooses 16 skills. These 16 skills become a characer’s Class Skills.
Everthing that isn’t a Class Skill is then a Cross Class skill. Even if the skill was originally on the list of a class’s Favoured Skills, but the player chose not to select it, then it is a cross-class skill.
Every level (starting at level one) a character gets 8 skill points. It costs one skill point to advance a class skill by one rank. It costs two skill points to advance a cross-class skill by one rank. The most ranks you can have in a skill is half your level (rounded up).
That is the essence of the system. It is fair and it works. All classes get the same skills, and the number of skills are not modified by race or by attributes. That is important for balance. Why should one class have more skills than another. A different focus I can accept, but why more? Also if all classes have the same skill points it takes away one of the big advantages of third edition style multiclassing.
Here is the big change:
Weapon skills use the same skill point system. The thirteen Weapon Groups from fourth edition become thirteen different skills. It’s up to the player to assign the skill points accordingly. Fighters will have to spend their skill points to choose to be skilled in numerous different weapons. There is no base attack bonus in HD&D, there is no THAC0. If you don’t have the ranks, you’re no good at the skill.
Some skills will work together, although there are no synergy bonuses any more. For example:
Track is not a skill in and of itself. To attempt to track you must have ranks in the Survival skill. However, in order to track you make a Perception check using your ranks in Perception or your ranks in Survival. Whichever is less.
Because we are using defences instead of saving throws, spellcasters have to roll to cast their spells. The skill they use to do this is Arcana. All casters use Arcana, but the governing attribute (Wis, Cha or Int) varies by class. Each spellcasting tradition is associated with a knowledge skill as follows:
- Arcane magic (wizards, sorcerers): Knowledge [Draconic]
- Song magic (sonorists, bards): Knowledge [Fey]
- Primal magic (druids): Knowledge [Nature]
- Divine magic (clerics): Knowledge [Religion]
Casting a spell uses the same mechanic as tracking. You make an Arcana check using the ranks in Arcana or the ranks in the related Knowledge skill, whichever is less.
You gain one feat at every even numbered level. In addition you gain an extra feat at levels 1, 11 and 21. This means a 30th level character has a maximum of eighteen feats. This is also the same progression as feats in fourth edition. I am toying with idea of giving about two feats at levels 1, 11 and 21 – which would give characters the same number of feats and talents. I think I’ll wait and see how many useful feats we generate before making the final decision.
Feats are usually knacks that allow to enhance a skill or ability that you already have. So a feat might make a talent more effective, it might give you more skills, a better defence or another language. Very rarely do feats grant unique abilities.
Feats are divided into four broad categories. Multiclass feats I have already discussed. General feats can be taken by any one of any race or any class (although they may still have some prerequisites). Racial feats can only be taken by characters of a certain race. Class feats can only be taken by characters of a certain class.
Just as with talents, the number of feats you have is dependent upon your level. Therefore players must strike a balance between all the different options available, and choose to specialise their character in particular directions.
There are ten talents that grant spellcasting for each spellcasting class. So a mutliclass wizard/cleric who can cast 9th level spells in each class would have to spend twenty talents to do it. Each spellcasting talent has a level prerequisite. You cannot know the talent or cast spells before reaching this level:
- Spellcasting (0): Level 1
- Spellcasting (1st): Level 1
- Spellcasting (2nd): Level 5
- Spellcasting (3rd): Level 9
- Spellcasting (4th): Level 11
- Spellcasting (5th): Level 15
- Spellcasting (6th): Level 19
- Spellcasting (7th): Level 21
- Spellcasting (8th): Level 25
- Spellcasting (9th): Level 29
Notice how the progression is neatly divided over the three tiers. Also remember that Level 30 in HD&D is the same as Level 20 in third edition. So you don’t have to wait as long as it looks.
Once you have the appropriate Spellcasting talent you can learn spells of that level. There is no limit to the number of spells that you can know. However, you get very little for free. Every time a spellcaster advances a level he can automatically add one spell (of a level he can cast) to his repetoire. Anything else he has to learn/research/buy in game. This applies to druids and clerics as much as it does to wizards.
There are no spell points. I am leaning toward a Recharge mechanic similar to Encounter powers in fourth edition. Once you have cast a spell you cannot cast it again until you have taken a short rest. You can imagine certain feats that grant spellcasters the ability to cast a certain spell twice before taking a short rest. I like the way that when you start to look at the rules, all the feats seem to write themselves.
Most spells will be cast as standard actions, meaning they can be used once per “encounter”. However, many higher level spells will have a much longer casting time. These will be cast in a manner more similar to 4e rituals, or third edition incantations.
Does this mean that spellcasters will be more powerful than non-spellcasters? Yes. Is it a problem? Probably not. I think there is a less scope for abuse in this system than using spell points. All the really annoying spells (powerful divinations, teleportation and the like) will take much longer to cast. Plus it supports the fantasy archetype of the wizard with a vast repetoire of spell books. We want to keep that, right?
And before anyone asks: yes it is my intention to bring back the nine schools of magic; and to allow specialist wizards in HD&D.
As a quick note, I am beefing up the role of Alchemy. I love the way it’s presented in Adventurer’s Vault. It’ll work in the same way as spells, except that “casting times” will always be longer. Mastering alchemy would probably require three talents (one per tier) instead of the ten required for magic.
Firstly, we’ll use the gp costings from third and second edition with a firm dose of common sense. The economics of fourth edition is out there with the fairies. This will help to limit things like plate mail falling into the hands of first level adventurers.
Magic items can’t be bought and sold. That’s just stupid. However, I like the concept of residuum introduced in fourth edition (I don’t play an MMORPGSs so the concept isn’t soured for me). I also like the idea that the use of residuum makes the resale of magical items economic nonsense. If a ritual converts a magic item to its true gp value in residuum, then it is always better for criminals and shopkeepers to reduce expensive magic items (which no-one can afford) to their component parts that they sell off separately.
I think I’m going to do away with Superior (aka Exotic) weapons. I’ll make all weapons equally usable, but the application of certain special feats or even talents will allow those who are truly proficient to take their weapons to the next level. I hope that different weapons can have different effects in the hands of different characters.
As far as magic weapons and items are concerned, well I’m going to be a bit revolutionary. I am doing away with the endemic +1 to +5 bonus that is stuck on weapons, armour, cloaks and whatever have you. Allowing magic weapons to grant a bonus to hit and to damage skews the underlying mathematics I was talking about in the last post. There will be no such thing as a +1 sword.
Instead, all magic items will be unique. They will all be worth having for dint of what they are, and not because you’re 10th level, therefore you have to have a +2 sword. You see, if magic weapons have these bonuses then the campaign evolves in one of two ways:
1) You build the bonuses into all the DCs in the game. You assume a 10th level fighter has a +2 sword, so all Reflex defences must be 2 points higher to take account of it. But if you do that, then the GM is forced to give away magic weapons in order for the game to function. PCs without magic gear are screwed.
2) You ignore the bonuses from weapons when working out all the DCs. This means that everyone with magic weapons has it too easy. They’ll be making all their Moderately difficult tasks far more often. PCs without magic gear are still screwed.
Neither of the above is desirable. I don’t like giving out copious magic items because I like them to be special. I certainly don’t like the game forcing me to do it just so the mechanics work. Therefore, let’s bite the bullet and get rid of mundane magic items. For example:
A PC comes across a magical scimitar that bursts into flame at his command. It has the soul of an efreet bound into it you see, as part of a complex plot that ties directly into that character’s background. As the character advances in level, so the sword increases in power until the day the PC of sufficient power that he is worthy be possessed by the efreet. The item is unique. It’s not a +1 flaming burst scimitar.
Well, that was a long post. I could have added more, but I think you’re beginning to get the picture. Next time we’ll look at Character Races in more detail.