Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

31 July, 2011

Weekend Design Challenge: First steps

Last week we set goals. This week we will take the first steps toward creating our classless system.

Given that I’m getting ready to head to Gen Con this week, this post will be a bit more brief than usual. Hooray, less bloviating!

A reference

I’ve created Google spreadsheet to work with. This might not be the most elegant tool, but it’s good enough for this job. I’m no Google docs master, so pardon me if I don’t use things to their full extent; tips always welcomed. It’s easy enough to share via Google Docs, though.

I have restricted the editing rights to just myself. Feel free to make a copy if you want and work on your own version. I’ll try to create new pages in the document to “show my work” for future changes. For this week, the page entitled “Class Abilities” is our focus.

Having a breakdown

What I did was go through the d20 SRD and take each individual ability from the class descriptions and put them into the spreadsheet. They’re currently sorted by class and indicated by level. Obviously, since we want to go classless, this organization won’t stand for long.

I also divided up powers as I felt was appropriate. For example, is the Bardic Music better thought of as a collection of different skills, or would it be more like a progression where you need to buy one ability before buying the next? Same with Barbarian Rage and Druid Wild Form. Rogue’s Special Ability is also interesting, in that it’s like bonus feats but without the feats being generally available. I currently have them separated out, with notes indicating that they are related in most cases.

Fighters also have one pretty limited ability, but that one really puts a snag in our classless system: the fact that some feats require Fighter levels. These are only the Weapon Focus and Specialization feats, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Pattern matching

So, let’s see where we can find patterns. For example, the spell progression of the “Lesser Divine Spells” casters (Rangers and Paladins), are the same even if the spells are different. There are also a few abilities heavily tied to a class; a Rogue’s Trapfinding ability is a good example, intended to make it so that a Rogue is needed for really difficult traps, not just someone investing a lot of points into Disable Device.

A few classes are really sparse in special abilities. Fighters are almost entirely defined by their bonus feats, which come from a limit pool (that others can still get). Alternatively, Sorcerers are almost entirely defined by their spellcasting abilities. Contrast this with the Monk, where the class has a wide variety of different abilities; they certainly fit a theme of mastery over one’s body, though.

What’s next?

I’m going to hesitate saying “next week” here, since I’ll be busy at Gen Con. I might sneak in another post on this design example, but I won’t promise anything.

So, what’s next? We’ll need to make a big decision about how to have players pick their abilities as they level; I’m leaning toward the “everything is a feat” angle for simplicity’s sake, but I have some time to consider alternatives. We’ll then sort out the abilities and figure how out to present them.

So, what do you think? Anything seem wrong? Any patterns missed in this dissection?


  1. Change fighter level restrictions to a BAB requirement.

    Gobble gobble.

    Comment by BobTurkey — 31 July, 2011 @ 4:20 PM

  2. BobTurkey wrote:
    Change fighter level restrictions to a BAB requirement.

    Right, that’s the obvious adjustment. I was just noting that it is interesting that these are the only feats that require a specific class and how that interacts with wanting a classless system. It’s also interesting that Fighters are so heavily defined by their extra feats, too. I have to admit I like 3rd edition fighters more than 2nd edition because of this flexibility. But, some people have argued that the feats don’t make up for how powerful other classes seem.

    Comment by Psychochild — 31 July, 2011 @ 10:08 PM

  3. I’m finding it difficult to break up the classes without a framework to hang it on.

    For example if everyone can get 4 skill lines a player could take
    Trap Removal
    Fighter BAB progression
    Cure spells
    Druid wildshape

    as his 4, something like that.

    Can you give us some idea of what you want the skillset of a maxxed character to look like Brian? (Gencon permitting ofc, have a lovely time!)

    Comment by Stabs — 2 August, 2011 @ 9:13 PM

  4. What I’m aiming more for is where someone might come up with a concept and can build their character the way they want.

    So, for example, let’s say I want to build a Holy Warrior (like a Paladin, but not necessarily as defined in the PHB)

    In this case, the player would pick abilities that made sense to them, possibly per level. So, I’d want some sort of divine casting, something that emphasizes martial prowess, etc. The details of that are for the next posting, though, so I won’t go into a lot right now. But, in general I see people picking concepts and trying to build them rather than being forced into existing classes.

    That clearer?

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 August, 2011 @ 8:37 AM

  5. Much.

    OK Vampire Hunter.

    Turn Undead
    All cleric undead harming spells
    Fighter BAB

    Bonus Feats: Improved Turning, Lightning Reflexes.

    Class skills: Balance, Climb, Concentration, Decipher Script, Escape Artist, Gather Information, Heal, Jump, Knowledge (History), Knowledge (Local), Knowledge (Religion), Listen, Search, Spot, Use Rope.

    Class features:
    +4 to turn attempts against Vampires.
    +20% to the efficacy of Vampire repellant materials such as Garlic, Silver, etc.

    Comment by Stabs — 5 August, 2011 @ 2:20 PM

  6. Out of curiosity, is the intent to create a system which would allow for the substantially identical reconstruction of the original classes (amongst other alternatives)?

    An alternative visualization that might yield some insights of value would be to create a grid: classes across the top, levels down the side, and note all the different additions which take place at each level for each class, side by side. At a minimum, it might give some idea of the weight the original D20/OGL design team gave to various elements, which could influence the composition and breakdown of certain abilities into 1 or more feats (or variable costs).

    If the intent is to stay within the D20 paradigm, then the “Everything is a feat” concept is the obvious choice. My own interests would lead me more in the direction of a Rolemaster-style model (RMSS or RMFRP, take your pick), but in that case, it would have made more sense to simply start with Rolemaster as the base :-), so that avenue is likely outside the current discussion. Wish I had been around a few weeks ago… now that I seem to have a little time and energy again, maybe I should use this series as an excuse to resurrect my old blog…

    Comment by DamianoV — 9 August, 2011 @ 8:23 AM

  7. The overall intent was to do a design in public to give people an idea of how things might work. I chose a pretty arbitrary goal here. As I posted before, designers don’t always get to cherry pick what they want to work with. Making 3rd edition classless echoes what I attempted with 2nd edition back in the day, so it seemed a reasonable thing to do. As an indie, I’d probably be able to pick and choose a bit more. Given my preference, I’d rather design something from the ground up. But, I’ve already done a few original design concepts on here, so I wanted something where I’d be bound. This is more accurate to the experience of an actual professional designer, as the likelihood of you being able to start form the blank page and go wild is usually very low, especially if you’re a new designer. More likely you’ll have to either deal with someone else’s original concept, either because you’re brought onto a team to work on a sequel, or because someone above you in the hierarchy dictated something specific.

    I’ll try to work up a post for next weekend to continue the work.

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 August, 2011 @ 1:33 PM

  8. Sorry, I was unclear with my question… (I really have to work on my clarity of writing.)

    I wasn’t referring to the intent of the series of posts per se, I meant the intent/goal of the example design project as defined. There would be ways of approaching the general goal (D+D3/D20/OGL-based classless system) that would be quite viable, but might not allow for the (easy) recreation of the existing classes, and ways of doing so that would allow such to occur easily. Understanding which of the two is preferable (potentially) leads to different ways of exploring the challenge. An attempt to clarify the desired/viable solution space within the example design problem, if you will. (yeah, that’s clear prose, lol)

    For example, in looking at alternatives to feats… after a bit, I came to feel that a point-based system for purchasing skills/abilities could be quite different if the need to be able to precisely recreate all the original classes was relatively unimportant. In particular, looking forward to balance considerations, it could be an important limitation to the options available to compensate.

    Anyway, looking forward to the next post, and hope GenCon is going well…

    Comment by DamianoV — 11 August, 2011 @ 8:24 AM

  9. Actually, that should have been hope GenCon _went_ well. (The weeks are all running together these days…)

    Comment by DamianoV — 11 August, 2011 @ 1:05 PM

  10. Ah, fair enough. To be fair, I was also pressed for time when I commented before (and still am!)

    As for recreating classes, I think a game like this should let someone play a character that is mostly like a class, even if not 100%. I imagine this would let someone do tradeoffs in the character without having to rely on (or, worse, implement) a million prestige classes. So, if I wanted a Thug character (Thief with better combat ability), I’d be able to do that by sacrificing some of the typical thief abilities.

    I’ll probably try to recreate the core classes as a test for the system, so we’ll see how that works.

    Oh, and Gen Con went very well by all appearances. Hopefully some cool announcements soon.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 August, 2011 @ 7:22 AM

  11. Weekend Design Challenge: Looking at smelly feats

    [...] so where were we? Last post we had separated out the class-specific abilities into a spreadsheet. Remember the handy hyper-text [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 29 October, 2011 @ 12:31 AM

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