Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

27 November, 2011

Weekend Design Challenge: More tweaks

Last time we were left with a sticky balancing issue of how many feats to give out. Paladins were feat starved, whereas a Sorcerer had plenty of feats to go around. This week I’ll provide some thoughts about how to tackle this to try to bring some balance to the system and some other considerations.

Magic Redux

The issue I ended with was Sorcerers having an extra feat slot per level. Add to this consideration that Wizards (memorized Arcane spellcasters) are supposed to get an extra metamagic feat every fifth level.

Let’s look at a few solutions to this balancing issue while trying to keep this mostly classless.

Option 1: Ability Packages

One option is to put class abilities into a “package” worth one feat. I did this Aura of Good/Detect Evil last week for the Paladin, and Toldain suggested doing this with Lay on Hands and Smite Evil. By putting some of the abilities into packages like this we could reduce the number of feats required by some classes and thus reduce the number of feats given to characters every level.

The disadvantage wit this option is that it seems kinda like giving characters templates to follow. It sneaks a bit of the class back in the classless system.

Option 2: Lower the cost of “expensive” abilities

A milder version of the previous option would be to allow some feats to increase automatically with level instead of having to take a feat every improvement. Taking Smite Evil as an example, we could just have the number of times it could be used per day increase with overall character level (once at level 1, twice at level 5, three times at level 10, etc.)

The fault here is that it is somewhat limiting to character customization; a player who wanted his or her character to get the smite ability to come more frequently does not have the option to do so. We could also use character points to split the difference; in the example of Smite Evil, it could take 2 character points to get another smite per day.

Option 3: Increase the costs of “cheap” abilities

We’ve already broken the rules a bit to make spellcasting cost 2 feats per level. It wouldn’t be much more to just bump that up to 3 feats. That would partially solve the problem.

Another option would be to make spontaneous casting an extra feat on top of the base spellcasting feat. This would fit with Wizards getting additional metamagic feats. Making this an additional feat per level seems steep, but an additional feat every other level (when the caster gets a new spell level, for example) seems more appropriate.

The disadvantage of this option is that it seems to penalize spellcasters more. It reduces the ability to have a character who has full arcane casting ability from branching out and becoming something a bit more interesting than a just a spellslinger. Where’s the ability to make a sword mage, or a spell-thief?

Option 4: Subdivide magic more

Yet another possibility is to divide out the spellcasting feats a bit more. One feat to advance one “level” as a spellcaster (in terms of level for spell effects), one feat to gain more spells known/castable, one feat to be able to cast a higher maximum “spell level” (and increase spell DCs). This would make full spellcasting more expensive overall while allowing a character to sacrifice some ability to take other feats. This would also make divine spellcasting more expensive, and with the additional abilities Clerics and Druids need this could become oppressive for them.

The drawback here is that it makes spellcasting a lot more complex to advance. You have to keep in mind all the abilities you want, and you’ll have to track things like “highest level spell I can cast” instead of it being a function of your spellcasting level. You also run into the problem of what happens if my spellcasting “level” is 6 (normally allowing me to cast third level spells), but my max spell level available is 2? Perhaps simply ignore the additional spells (as if my casting stat were not high enough)?

Option 5: Turn it all into points

One last option that would give a bit more control would be to just turn everything into character points. A character would get an allotment of points per level, and existing feats could be bought with a number of points (probably 4). We could then set the abilities to a specific number of points to balance things out a bit easier.

The big drawback here is on the player end. For many players it can be a lot less intimidating to spend 4 feats than to spend 17 (or so) character points where you want to try to maximize your powers gained per level. This might appeal to the more geeky gamer crowd, though, that likes digging into numbers. Of course, if we wanted to remove levels as well this might be a very good idea as we could hand out character points for play instead of xp. But, this could potentially change the tone of the game too much.

Other issues to consider

One thing I’d want to do beyond the mechanical balancing is to figure out how the system supports other parts of the game. As I said in a previous comment some of the design here reflects my own personal bias about how the world might work. You want the mechanical design to fit the world design as well as feel fun and fair to the player.

For example, in this balancing exercise you might not care about Sorcerers getting more flexibility and power. Maybe you feel that arcane spellcasters are a bit underpowered and want to give them a few more abilities easily. Maybe you see memorized arcane spellcasters as requiring more patience and dedication, so you want to force them focus more on metamagic feats, whereas spontaneous arcane spellcasters get more flexibility. Obviously we’re a bit restricted in that we’re using an existing system, but some of our design choices will reflect the game as a whole. Also, some of the flavor might come out as “house rules” or metagaming considerations when the rule doesn’t quite fit in the target medium. Keep this in mind as the design unfolds.


Do you have any particular thoughts? If not, go ahead and vote for your preferred method and I’ll strongly consider pursuing that.

As the news over on the sidebar says, I’ll be in London for a few weeks. I should have some time to do another post on this design, but I can’t guarantee anything. (As usual. ;)

Also, I welcome feedback. I notice there were few few for last week’s design challenge. Bored with this project? Holidays keep you too busy? Steam sales keeping you distracted? :)

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  1. Option 5 is good. Even the low geeky players can handle it ok if you make it an spreadsheet or similar.

    Makes zero impact on tone of game in my experience.

    Gobble gobble.

    Comment by BobTurkey — 28 November, 2011 @ 2:55 AM

  2. I vote for Option 5 as well, with at least some of option 4 thrown in. I’d suggest it’s potentially more confusing to have multiple currencies (feats and points), then to have a larger amount of just 1 currency, especially since it remains in the double digits. You can also reduce any intimidation/confusion by adding “suggested templates” to follow, if it becomes a problem during testing.

    I also like the idea of handing out character points over time instead of dumping a bunch on the character each level, perhaps 1 point per 1/4 level, with the remainder being awarded at level attainment?


    For me, in order, the distractions were 1) Thanksgiving, 2) work, 3) Skyrim, and 4) too much to say, too little time to write…

    Comment by DamianoV — 29 November, 2011 @ 8:37 AM

  3. I’ve been thinking about SRD 3.5 D&D a lot lately. If I were doing it, I’d probably do Option 5, and implement a builder application, to help players explore tradeoffs. But without it, I’d probably favor Option 4.

    One of the things you are running into is the class balance of 3.5. If Option 4 squeezes Clerics and Druids a bit, that’s probably good. You’ve heard of CODzilla? (COD = Cleric or Druid). These classes are probably over balanced, especially when you get into double digit levels.

    The same can be said for Option 3. The hybrid class doesn’t work out all that well in standard 3.5 either. That’s ok, because in double digit levels, the pure casters often dominate things. DDO tweaked a bunch of things so that this was no longer true. Spell points and infrequent rests, to begin with.

    Comment by Toldain — 29 November, 2011 @ 5:39 PM

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