My post yesterday didn’t give any ideas on how I would actually run a low-chargen game, which sucks. So here it is: run it using a specific edition of D&D, perhaps 1E or 2E for this example. Both of those systems assumed a couple things:
1: You will have a race, and that race will determine your choice of class or classes available.
2: You will never change your class or race (except in weird circumstances like permanent Polymorph Other, Reincarnation, dual-classing humans).
Let’s throw the second one out at least. You can choose later to throw out the first one, and it’s easy to do (just like getting rid of demihuman level limits). We’re going to start every PC out as a 0-level Normal Man but we can add a rule later for starting at higher level which is also a pretty common houserule for D&D.
Roll 3d6 in order for your stats. Get yer wailing and gnashing of teeth out of the way now. Those stats will change eventually. The DM will need to make up tables for starting equipment. I suggest a table for armor, one for weapon/shield, and one for adventuring gear. Roll 3d6 for starting gold (not 3d6x10!).
Here’s an example set of equipment tables:
ARMOR: d6: 1-2 no armor, 3-5 leather, 6 scale
WEAPON: d8: 1 dagger, 2 club, 3 hand axe, 4 hammer, 5 spear, 6 bow and arrows, 7 short sword, 8 shield (plus reroll once)
GEAR: d8: 1 50′ rope, 2 iron spikes, 3 tent, 4 a week of iron rations, 5 10′ pole, 6 big old dog, 7 torches and tinderbox, 8 backpack (plus reroll twice)
So grab your sheet of paper (no lines is better!) and write down your stats and your equipment. The important information is listed along with the equipment on the table (armor AC, weapon damage). Draw a sketch of your character even if you can’t draw anything but a stick man. If you got a dog, draw your dog too.
So far we rolled 3d6 six times for stats, thrice for equipment, and once for coinage. Assuming people don’t get too confused we should be about 3 minutes into this including the sketch.
The DM does his little intro of what’s going on. You’re thrown into prison and escape into the older dungeons beneath. You saunter into the mining town and everyone looks really glum and the gossip is about how the mine is full of dwarf zombies. Your airship crashes into a lost valley and natives come to investigate the fire. GAME BEGIN.
Anyway, let’s say you get through your first game session and survive. Whew! The DM tells you how much XP you got in each class. Each class has a brief blurb about what kind of stuff it does, and each one has cool stuff you get at high level. Here’s a quick class list:
Fighter (combat with weapons and unarmed) [Gains XP from dealing damage with weapons]
Ranger (wilderness survival and tracking) [Gains XP from avoiding wilderness hazards and outdoor exploration]
Magician (spellcasting and magic item creation) [Gains XP from damaging / healing with spells and making magic items and spells]
Dungeoneer (locks and traps, appraisal, read languages) [Gains XP from overcoming dungeon hazards and dungeon exploration]
Acrobat (stealth (sneak / hide / pickpocket), climb, tumble) [Gains XP from using acrobatic stuff and backstab damage]
Social (hiring, barter, reputation) [Gains XP from overcoming social obstacles]
You gain general XP that you can put anywhere you like by taking damage and finding treasure. This XP is added up for the whole party and split up among everyone equally. Each player decides which class(es) will get the XP.
Of course you get XP only for doing stuff that’s risky. You don’t gain XP for telling someone to run you over with a beer wagon, nor for casting Magic Missile into the woods all day. You need to succeed to get any XP.
What stops someone from doing everything and going up in all the classes? The game environment offers a limited amount of XP sources. There are only so many locks in the dungeon for example. If one PC opens all the locks, and gets Dungeoneer XP for it, the other players aren’t. Secondly, the abilities are not additive, you use the best of the class levels you have. For example, if Fighters get 1d10 for HP per level and Magicians get 1d4, then a Fighter 3 / Magician 4 would have 3d10 HP because that result is better for the Fighter class than for the Magician class (16.5 avg 30 max vs. 10 avg 16 max). The character would have +3 to hit from the Fighter class and wouldn’t gain the +1 to hit from Magician 4 because the +3 is better than +1.
What stops someone from, once at level 9 Fighter, just doing all the other stuff to gain a bunch of levels in other classes quickly? He’s not effective at those things and will gain levels slowly compared to his effectiveness as a Fighter. He also has a certain array of equipment which was probably filtered through his desires as a Fighter-type, which means he doesn’t have a lot of cool Acrobat magic items with which he can be an effective Acrobat and gain Acrobat XP quickly.
What stops someone from healing monsters to let the Fighters get more XP? The referee as a sane moderator will say “it doesn’t seem like you’re learning anything new from beating up this clown anymore” and we move on. You still need a neutral, strong referee.
When you have enough XP to go up in a class, maybe you get it right away or maybe you have to sleep on it or go back to town for training. Whatever, you guys know how to handle that stuff.
You can also just award XP based on other stuff, like each monster is worth 100 XP per HD and money is worth 1 XP per GP, split up among the PCs. You could have the players each just decide which class(es) get the XP, or the DM decides based on what class(es) you predominantly used during the game.
You’ll probably need to change the XP tables. I’d suggest a single table to refer to for every class. The 3E table looks good, but the 2E Fighter table is fine too. There’s a problem with high XP costs after name level, which could encourage people to leave off the main class the PC uses just to gain new abilities quickly, but it might not pan out in practice.
You could have standard 1E / 2E PCs adventuring with these multiclass PCs. Award XP as above for the strange multiclass PC. Add up everything again as standard for 1E/2E (monsters slain, treasure won) and divide by total PCs. Award the standard XP to the standard PCs but not to the weird one (he already got his individual awards). That extra XP share just dissolves.
When you go up a level in a class, if it’s your highest-level class now, you have a 1 in 6 chance of gaining 1 point on the class’s associated ability score. This also discourages complete evenly multi-classed PCs.
To sum up, specializing is good but generalizing doesn’t hurt too bad. Somewhat customized PC that changes to reflect experiences. Get better at what you do. Fairly simple to manage at the table. Not unbalanced compared to standard 1E / 2E PCs so they could adventure together. It’s a system bolted on to 1E/2E so you don’t have to revamp all the monsters, spell lists, and magic items. Easily convert existing PCs to the new multiclass system and they can start playing with it immediately.