Posts Tagged ‘Class’

Ability Score Driven D&D

May 3, 2011

This is in response to a Blogger post by Omnipotent Eye. Apparently it’s impossible for me to post on Blogger no matter what I do (WordPress, Anon, Input Name, etc). I just get a generic unhelpful error message that says something like “Blogger can’t be assed today.” I guess they really only want Blogger people to talk with Blogger people.

Omnipotent Eye talked about using Ability Scores as saves. Here’s the response I would have given if Blogger had cooperated.

Invent some shit on the spot. This is the Way.

Rocks fall? Have everyone roll d20 trying to get under DEX.

Wading through a leech-infested swamp? Roll d20 trying to get under CON.

Getting the tough sell from a merchant? Roll d20 under WIS.

Give a bonus for easy things, like the bite of a weak spider, or a penalty for tough things like the breath of a dragon. It’s appropriate to use the existing save bonus/penalty (whether a straight +/- in 1E/2E, or the number above or below 11 in 3E).

You could do the same thing with attack rolls. No reason why that type of success should be any different. I’d go with STR for melee, DEX for missile.

You can simulate the improving saving throws from gaining levels by giving +1 to save per 3 levels or something. That means a reduction on your roll, making it easier to get under your stat.

Likewise you can give bonuses for skills, as with the proficiency system in 2E D&D. If a character is said to have +2 with Carpentry, have him take a -2 on the d20 roll against STR when trying to raise a barn. Or maybe against INT when designing a building. But don’t give level-based bonuses for skill checks: it doesn’t make sense that just because someone is an accomplished swordsman that he has a better chance to design a building.

Although it might be better to just go with the same premise and consider whether the task falls under that class. If you’re a Fighter you’re good at fighting type stuff and maybe also wilderness things, sailing, falconry, horsemanship, equipment maintenance, etc. A Thief is good at picking locks, sneaking, climbing, hiding, bribery, escaping handcuffs, appraising and fencing loot, etc. A Magic-User is good at sage knowledge stuff in general but not necessarily application. Give them the level-based bonus (+1 per 3 levels or whatever you decided) to those tasks.

Then it’s just up to each class to have some special skill. Fighters get multiple attacks, good equipment choices, and high HP. Thieves get backstab, easy level advancement, maybe a luck bonus to saves. Magic-Users get spells.

Consequences: this system makes low level characters have a better chance at success than in 1E/2E D&D (I’m not sure about 3E, I remember something like a 50-50 chance or better at low level). They don’t improve as quickly. The DM has to figure out what a save should be against every single time. It makes ability scores really important. It requires changes to all the magic items, spells, and abilities that reference specific saves. It makes a “save vs. spells” a lot more complicated than 1E/2E people are used to (although it won’t make much difference for 3E people).


April 29, 2011

I think the 1E/2E Paladin and Ranger are failures as classes. You can approximate the Paladin with Fighter/Cleric, and you can approximate the Ranger with Fighter/Sneaky/Wilderness. You’d use the same Wilderness class to approximate a Druid, as Cleric/Magic-User/Wilderness. Note that by breaking them out, you get the ability to multiclass other combinations. You could have a straight Sneaky/Wilderness to make a Bandit character that had less fighting ability than a Ranger type.

I’d suggest the following list of classes:


So? I realize there are more than 7 +/- 2 classes to choose from. Kind of a bummer, it’s just outside the range. Also note that you could multiclass with more than three, though I’d suggest a normal limit of 3 unless the player can come up with some description of what the character’s role is like. Also I intended each to start with a different letter so you can abbreviate more easily. If that doesn’t matter to you, “Intellectual” should probably be called “Scholar” or “Sage” or “Academic.”

This should be good: pick any of them and try to come up with an archetype that fits pretty well. Some examples:

Nautical Craftsman: Boatswain
Social Rogue Magician: 2E D&D Bard
Social Rogue Fighter Wilderness Priest: 1E D&D Bard
Rogue Fighter Priest Intellectual: 1E D&D Monk
Nautical Laborer: Sailor
Wilderness Laborer: Peasant
Social Aristocrat: Courtier
Wilderness Magician Priest: Druid
Social Fighter Rogue: Assassin
Nautical Fighter Rogue: Viking
Intellectual Fighter Rogue: Indiana Jones

Are there any basic classes that I’m missing?

Archetypes and How to Invent Them

April 28, 2011

Early D&D character archetypes were “fighter”, “non-healer spellcaster”, “healer spellcaster”, and “sneaky dude”. Yes I know the Thief wasn’t in at the start, but thereafter we saw new classes that fulfilled the same roles. Later we split up into “battlefield control/modification”, “buff/debuff”, “aggro gatherer/tank”, “healer”, “striker/sniper/glass cannon”, etc. It seems like the 4E archetypal roles pretty well cover things, right? What could you possibly add?


An archetype is a way for a character to interact with some feature of the world. There are other people in the world, so there is opportunity for someone to smack those people, convince them, sneak around them. There are locked doors and containers in the world, so there is an opportunity for someone to be good at disabling locks and traps. There are spells, so someone can be good at casting spells. That’s just about where it seems to stop. What else is there to interact with? When you approach the question like that, it becomes clear what you need to do to add archetypes: add world features.

If there are computers and networks, there is an opportunity for a hacker character. If there are psionics, you can have a psionic character. If you add demons and their infernal contracts, you can have a character who interacts with them. If sailing is really important to the game setting / rules, then a sailor character may be appropriate. If little gizmo inventions are available, then a tinker / artificer could work.

The point is, adding a new class should represent a huge new swath of skills, not just a new blending of the old archetypes with a single cool power at the middle to anchor it. If you want blending, multiclass. If you want a new class, create a new world feature. Here are some world feature ideas:

1: One pantheon has six gods, all of whom are jealous and must be worshipped equally. If the character goes about slaying monsters, he gains favor with Defender of the Six, but doesn’t gain favor with the other five. If his favor with any one god goes too far below the others, he loses the special abilities he gains from that god. If it gets really bad, he may suffer hardships. It doesn’t matter so much how much favor you have with any one, just that they’re all fairly even.
Defender of the Six: Concerned with fighting monsters that threaten communities, especially temples of the Six.
Builder of the Six: Concerned with building and maintaining temples and other services.
Explorer of the Six: Concerned with exploration, opening and maintaining trade routes, and securing natural resources for civilization.
Teacher of the Six: Concerned with raising youths, teaching inexperienced adventurers and militia, and nurturing henchmen acolytes.
Speaker of the Six: Concerned with spreading knowledge and the reputation of the Six.
Keeper of the Six: Concerned with guarding and acquiring magic items that might help the church and also any religious artifacts related to the Six.
Adventuring groups want these Priests of the Six because they have strange and useful powers, and are willing to put up with the various demands their faith puts upon them.

2: Every thing in the world contains some spirit. These are usually pretty weak, and are what you speak with when you use Speak with Plants or Stone Tell. This is why speaking with a Rabbit using Speak With Animals results in some useful information instead of gibberish – you’re talking with its spirit. But there are bigger spirits, such as for a whole river or forest. There are town spirits too, and cave spirits. Spirits may be tainted by the foul vapors of the Mythic Underworld. Your character is able to see these spirits and interact with them, at first only by speaking with the weakest of them but eventually summoning the greater ones or negotiating for boons (such as “can you please open a tunnel from this passage to the next one”). Incidentally, ESP spells affect the spirit of the person, which is why they can’t refuse to think about something, and a ghost is just a spirit that became dislodged from a person. Corporeal undead have trapped, tainted spirits. Adventuring groups want a Spirit-Speaker because it’s a great source of information and can occasionally find extra treasure or an easier path, especially long distances overland through tough terrain or in a dungeon, to deal with Undead, and to appease a dungeon spirit who may otherwise cause them trouble in small malicious ways.

3: The world is built on the ruins of an ancient civilization. Their magic items use strange crystalline bars, glowing blue and faceted, to hold “charges”. An ancient Wand of Lightning for example has a charge bar in its handle, and when you use the wand it consumes these charges. When the bar is empty you can replace it with a new charge bar, if you have one. When you break an ancient artifact it’s a mess of tiny fibers and squirrely little pieces, etched with fine lines, impossible to reproduce or repair. Some people are experts at recovering, identifying, and using these artifacts. Some few high level among them know the secrets of recharging a crystalline charge bar! Adventuring groups want to have these experts along because they would otherwise not know which artifacts are worth taking, which can be salvaged, and how to use them.

I hope this brings archetypes into perspective. You need a new class to be important and different. It is NOT OKAY to make up a new Fighter class that approaches combat in a slightly different way, or a new Magic-User that has a slightly different mix of spells. That takes up page count in the book, and it takes up mental space in the players’ minds, and represents a wasted opportunity.

Classless 2E

October 9, 2009

The proficiency system in 2E D&D is able to handle non-fighting and non-spellcasting skills. It refuses to handle Thief skills because those are the province of the Thief class, but it could perform admirably in that way also.

So what if we don’t like the idea of classes? What if we don’t like that a Fighter beats on Orcs for several days and then spontaneously learns how to build ships?

(No, the ship is not in the shape of an Orc)

We have just one “class” – everyone rolls 1d6 for HP. Saving throws are as Thief (which is kind of in the middle of everyone). XP advancement is as Fighter. Everyone gains 7 proficiencies at first level, plus two per level thereafter. No proficiency can have a higher bonus than your character level. So at first level you must choose 7 different skills or else save some for later.

General: Blacksmithing, Herbalism, Horse Riding, Move Silently, Tracking, Weather Sense, etc. (Everything but a weapon or a spell school)
Weapons: Axe, Hammer, Dagger, Bow, etc.
Magical: Abjuration, Conjuration, Evocation, etc.

There’s no real reason to split them up like this. I just figured it would help to visualize.

You spend your proficiency slots to buy proficiencies: they all cost one slot to purchase. At that point you have +0 to the proficiency check. Every additional slot you put in, you gain +1 to the check. If you’re not proficient you have -4 penalty to the check.

The object is to roll under the related ability score, so a bonus will raise the number you have to beat.

Example: Horse Riding at basic proficiency is (WIS+3) and your Wisdom is 12. You need to roll 15 or less on d20 to succeed. If you put an extra point into Horse Riding, it becomes (WIS+4) and you need to roll under 16. On your character sheet, you need to note what proficiency you have and in parentheses the number under which you must roll.

For weapon skills, the number of points you put into the skill is your attack roll bonus with it. This takes the place of THAC0 advancement by class. If you’re not proficient you have -4 to attack with that weapon.

Example: You have Axe +2 and Sword +1. You are nonproficient with Daggers, Maces, Hammers, and Unarmed. On your character sheet you need to note which weapon it is and what your bonus is. It helps also to put your total attack and damage modifiers next to each weapon you commonly use.

Note that none of this gives you any damage bonuses. You get that from magic or high Strength.

Side note about weapon specialization: this doesn’t exactly replace it, it replaces the THAC0 advancement. Specialization should be eliminated in this scheme since it was put in to help single-class Fighters.

As for multiple attacks per round, you get an extra half attack at +7 skill and another extra half attack at +13 skill. This neatly gives little capstone abilities, which you may want more of. Maybe +9 or +10 (“name” level in 1E) is the point where each proficiency gains a special little ability. That’s beyond the scope of this and may complicate matters too much. Though players don’t need to be told what the capstones are, just that they exist.

For magical skills, you cast spells of a maximum level equal to the extra points you’ve placed in the school. In any case your spells per day and caster level are based on your character level and are found on the Magic-User spell progression chart.

On your sheet you need to note the school and what your bonus is. You should try to keep at least one school high enough to gain access to the highest level of spells youc an cast by character level.

Example: You’re Level 3 and have Abjuration +3 and Evocation +2. In your spellbook you have Fireball (Evo Lv 3), Dispel Magic (Abj Lv 3) and Find Familiar (Conj Lv 1). You can cast 2 first-level spells and one second-level spell per day because you’re level 3 (found on the Wizard spell progression chart).
You can’t cast Fireball (you’re too low-level and you don’t have enough Evocation skill),
You can’t cast Dispel Magic (you aren’t high enough level to access third-level spells), and
You can’t cast Find Familiar (you can use first-level spells in general but you don’t have Conjuration skill).

Note that you still need to find the spell. All spells listed have the Magic-User school, even the Clerical ones. Yes, you can use Clerical spells, but they exist in scroll and spellbook form just like Magic-User spells. Yes this means you can have one character with Cure Light Wounds and Raise Dead and Vampiric Touch (all Necromantic).

Why is this worth doing?
1: More organic character development, more player choice, more interesting character skill sets, and believable NPCs.

2: Yet it allows you to use all the proficiencies out there, all the spells, and all the little modifiers in sourcebooks as-is. No need to change any text or rewrite anything. No need for custom monster statistics or anything – monsters work exactly as they used to.

3: It’s really just a mod of 2E, and players familiar with 2E will be able to jump right in. The only really funky thing is that you can’t be multiclassed. Heck, you could even still use kits from the Complete X Handbooks. Just nothing that modifies the rate at which you gain proficiency slots (such as many homeland kits). Bonus proficiencies are fine but stick to the level-based proficiency limitation.

What about game balance?
What’s to stop someone from spending all their points on Swords at level 1? Well, you can’t have a skill above your character level. So your maximum is proficiency and then +1 bonus. As for magic, you’re actually unable to keep up with all the schools you want to cast from. Effectively every spellcaster is a specialist to some degree. Which is still balanced with standard 2E because you get access to Clerical spells too.

DM’s Note
Remember that you shouldn’t have the player roll for every little thing. If he wants to build a fire in dry weather with little wind and plenty of tinder, just let him start it. If conditions are bad, make him roll unless he’s proficient, in which case he gets it automatically. If conditions are really bad, demand a roll at -4 or -8. But it’s okay to say something is impossible – you wouldn’t give someone a 1 in 20 chance to light a fire underwater, would you? Or to jump to the moon?

Deciding that a task is impossible unless you’re proficient may be tough to swallow but it reinforces the importance of the proficiency over just bashing at the task with the -4 nonproficiency penalty.