28 October, 2011
When last we did a weekend design challenge... oh, has it really been three months? Yeah, I slacked a bit here. To be fair, I've been busy. :)
But, let's get back on the horse and take a look at our "coverting D&D 3rd edition to classless" project, shall we?
Finding our place
Okay, so where were we? Last post we had separated out the class-specific abilities into a spreadsheet. Remember the handy hyper-text d20 SRD. Now we need to come up with a way for players to define their own class.
Remember the goal was to re-design the d20 system as a classless system for a single-player computer RPG. That's our boundary for this work. Again, yes, it's arbitrary but it's like a "real" game design problem.
As a reminder, I'm going to go through my own design process here. I'm not going to claim this is the one true way, or even a good way, but it's how I generally work. This is a glimpse into my design process, not a proscription for how it should be to be a "real game developer".
As I said last time, let's use feats as the core of our system here. The basic idea is to give the player so many feats per level and let them buy up their abilities. This brings a lot of questions:
- How closely will we emulate the class-based system?
- How many feats are granted per level?
- What class-specific abilities, such as Rangers being able to take a Combat Style, ignoring typical prerequisites while restricting character to light armor?
- What about non-feat abilities like hit die, bonus to hit, etc?
Let's take these one at a time.
How much deviation?
Our goal is to make the classless system for a computer game. So, we'd like to have as few "exceptions" to the rules as possible. We'd like things to be a mostly "one size fits all", so we're going to use the existing rules as a guideline rather than a straight-jacket. We'll get something where you could mostly build a character based on the existing classes, but you won't necessarily be able to build one exactly.
Note that there might be a lot of other issues that influence us. If we were only going to go up to 10th level in the game with no expectation of a sequel, we might balance things a bit differently. But, let's assume we're not going to have a limit on the game quite yet; we'll work up to level 20 to keep it simple for now.
How many feats?
Okay, determining the number of feats to give is a really tough problem. The basic d20 setup doesn't balance things out very well. In fact, some of the initial research I found about deconstructing classes was intended to show, for example, that Fighters get a bit boned on their special feats and should get a bonus feat every level.
So I've added a new page to the spreadsheet where I'm going to count up each ability that a class gets. Abilities that increase each level get counted per level. The snag comes from spellcasting... how should that work? I'll add a few variables under the page with a level of spellcasting equal to a certain number of abilities, and we can play around with that a bit. For now, we'll count lesser spellcasting as 1 ability per level, main spellcasting as 2 abilities.
Looking at this, we see a lot of disparity between the classes. Fighters are left behind quite a bit even compared to the other non-spellcasting classes. Monk has a ton of abilities, and the spellcasters are have fairly elevated totals for abilities given their spells. But, we just picked an arbitrary number for our calculations; we might need to adjust those figures later.
For now, let's pick some numbers to work from: 4 feats at first level, 2 feats every level after that. These include the bonus feats granted at first and every third level; it gives us an average of 42 total abilities, which matches a few classes in the middle of the pack. We will almost certainly adjust the number of feats later, though.
Dealing with special cases
Since we want to keep this simple, we'll ditch the special cases like the ranger bonus feats. This takes away a bit from the game since re-creating a ranger will be harder, but it'll still be possible to create a lightly-armored fighter character if you want.
Okay, what haven't we covered?
Trying to fit this into the existing feat-based system provides a few snags. For example, weapon proficiencies can be taken as feats, but that means that the warrior type classes would have a huge amount of added feats at the beginning; there are 35 martial weapons in the core SRD alone before we go to any additional books.) Requiring feats for each weapon also opens things up to quite a bit of min/maxing, where people could just take the popular weapons. One option would be to have a special "Martial Weapon Proficiency" feat that is only available at level 1 for people who want to build a fighter type. Another option would be to give a discount at first level, so that 1 feat equals, for example, 10 weapon proficiencies. Or, allow the character to pick five "free" proficiencies at level 1, then buy other (perhaps at a discount).
This also depends on how many weapons we're going to implement. If we aren't going to do polearms, for example, then this diminishes some of the power of the warrior-type classes and makes spending feats on weapons less useful.
We have a similar situation here, where proficiencies could be taken, but that would require the heavy armor types (the Cleric, Paladin, and Fighter) to spend a lot of proficiencies at first level. Perhaps give light armor as a free proficiency, but require others to be bought. Fighters would require 4 proficiencies: Medium, Heavy, Shields, and Tower Shields.
This could be pretty easy, a feat = +1 Attack bonus. But, again, the fighter types would have a tough time at first level with yet another feat required and it would eat into other abilities.
Here everything goes to hell. There are three save categories, but not every class is the same. Some have one strong save, others have two, some have all three. How do you balance that out with just feats?
Well, okay, maybe feats won't work quite as well as we had hoped. So, what alternatives should we consider?
Consider that, and we'll discuss some alternatives next week. This week, ask questions and contribute your thoughts as to how to use feats for class features.