Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Class format, part II

The seventh bullet on the “list of elements I think should be in a system” was character building. This was getting at the idea I presented yesterday that 3e had the feeling that you truly built your character and that I felt that was missing from 4e. A huge part of building is in multiclassing; the idea that something can be three-parts rogue, six-parts fighter, with a dash of barbarian. Yesterday I posted a sample of the class format and hoped people could extrapolate from that sample to see how elegantly multiclassing could work, how easily you could add new powers to the class without having to worry as much about balance, and the ability for a player to customize their play experience through the powers they select.

Today I’m going to present the class format more generically to make it easier to understand and, hopefully, discuss. Here is a link to the barbarian preview if you missed it. Below is a generic format of a class table to help understand the discussion that follows.

Class Level
[Class] Prowess
Class hook, flavor hook, stock


Trade x2

Trade x2

Trade x2
Stock x2

Trade x2

[Edit-evidently the Action Point symbol is not supported and so it replaces it with a mu-symbol. Replace any instance of mu with the little circle-star from the pdf].
  • Ten levels. All base classes are ten levels. It is challenging to make them longer than 10 but certainly easy to introduce less than 10-level classes (i.e. prestige classes would be incredibly simple to add).
  • [Class] prowess. All base classes have a [class] prowess that begins at +1 and increases every level thereafter. Prowess dictates the rate at which a lot of powers increase in power. Because  prowess is correlated to how many levels of a particular class you have, a Fighter 8 is more powerful as a fighter than a Barbarian 4/Fighter 4. They may have access to the identical power, but the Fighter 8 is *better* at that power than the multi-class fighter. This rewards pure-class builds and ensures that level increases bring exciting improvements to the character *without* having to balloon the number of options so high as to become unwieldy.
  • Class abilities. At first *character* level, characters gain all the listed starting feats, three affinities, and several class powers. If a character later multi-classes, at first *class* level they gain a single starting feat and no additional affinities. If a starting feat grants an additional affinity, that affinity may be taken from any class list in which the character has levels. The first level of any class also confers several powers: a combat hook, a flavor hook, and a stock.
  • Combat hook. The combat hook is a significant power obtained at first level that remains relevant throughout play and helps define the class. The combat hook ensures that even at level one, the class feels like the class. Many powers available at later levels will expand upon or improve the combat hook. The combat hook typically costs an µ. This is to ensure not only that first level characters have interesting things to spend µ on, but also that multiclassing early on (since you accrue more µ as you increase in total level) spreads the character thin.
  • Flavor hook. The flavor hook is a secondary power that supports the feel of the class but doesn’t define it as readily as the combat hook. That isn’t to say that the flavor hook can’t be powerful, it is just less frequent.
  • Class score. The remaining powers, stocks and trades, can only be selected if the class score meets or exceeds the requisite level. A class score is equal to ½ character level + class prowess. So our Ftr8 above has a class score of 8 and can take any stock or trade of 8 or lower. Our Barb4/Ftr4 has a class score of 6 and can take any stock or trade of 6 or lower. The class score, again, rewards pure classes with greater access but also recognizes that a Barb10 is not properly compensated by first level powers if he multiclasses.
  • Stocks. Stock powers are received at every odd class level and two are selected at 9th level as a sort of reward for sticking to the class throughout. Stock powers provide access to the sort of stock bonuses that the base math presumes: defenses, hit points, surges, and, to a lesser extent, attacks. The neat thing about stocks is that they let you customize your character. If you want to focus disproportionately on defense, go for it. Would rather be a hit point machine, the tools are there. You have to make tradeoffs and decide your vision for the character because you only improve in one area at a time.
  • Trades. Trades are powers received at every even character level. At level two, you gain only a single trade in part to balance the fact that classes are frontloaded but also to be a slight deterrent to multiclassing too heavily. At level four and beyond two trades are gained. Trades grant unique attacks (similar to 4e powers), improve existing attacks, improve or broaden the combat hook, or really do anything. They are the core method by which exciting actions are introduced to the game. Their closest analogue is probably a 3e class power—you can pretty much just write up whatever neat thing you want; it’ll work. One prevailing trend, though, is that trades confer bonuses at two general frequencies: the first is substantial bonuses that increase at class score 1, 7, 12, and 15. These correlate *character* levels 1, 7, 14, 20 for a pure class character. The second frequency is for lesser bonuses that increase by class prowess. “Lesser bonuses” refer to things like bonus damage. This has the interesting interplay that a Barbarian 14 could multiclass into fighter and begin play with a class score of 7+, thereby jumping to the second tier right away. However, his Fighter Prowess would still be +1 and so other abilities are powerful.
  • General notes on complexity. Most stocks are “static” meaning they are just recorded on the character sheet and don’t interfere with play. The character is better or has some new ability, but they aren’t triggered or difficult to remember. About 50% of trades are also static (although you could decide to select none). As a result, player can decide how many options they want to balance during play and customize the complexity of their play experience.

That is the class format in a generic nutshell. Hopefully it is becoming easier to understand the underlying ideas and see how they interact with each other. As always, feedback is appreciated.


  1. Just to be clear, when you say a multiclass character gains an extra feat-what is the benefit of a feat as opposed to a trade or stock? The reason why I'm asking is because it seems like the design space is a little cramped and doesn't allow all that much room for feats.

    If I'm sounding overly critical, let me explain. You've got Trades for "cool stuff your character can do that most other people can't" (ie. 3.5's class features and 4th edition's powers), Stocks for "static bonuses that make the math work", and Affinities for "stuff your character can do that most others can as well." Where do Feats fit into this paradigm? Because I'm not seeing much space for them.

    In 3rd and 3.5, feats tended to be either small static bonuses or mini-class features that gave you more options. In 4th edition, powers took on the option-giving role, and feats became minor static bonuses (often conditional). So what I'm confused about, is what exactly you're doing with feats-it seems like you've already covered everything feats have ever done with other mechanics.

  2. The feats in question are "starting feats." The only sample as of now is in the Barbarian preview (link in the post).

    Feats in this game are more potent than 3e or 4e. They are things like Bonus Affinity (gain an affinity) or Martial Weapons (gain martial proficiency in all weapons) or armor proficiency. Armor is a slightly bigger deal as will be made clear shortly.

    At first level, you gain all four starting feats. If you later multi-class, you gain a single starting feat from the list (a little bonus for multiclassing to offset the other penalties).

    You're right that the typical purview of feats is covered by trades. What feats do is mostly give access to new things; they are not typically numerical bonuses. As such, they're important and powerful, but not necessary to keep up with the balance of power. They let you do new things, not existing things better. Obviously there are exceptions now and again, but, for the most part, that is a good description of them to date.

    Hope that helps.

  3. From John (blogger kept posting errors)

    I love what you are doing here (I tried unsuccessfully to do something
    similar to D&D 3.5), but I am concerned about the final level of a
    class being relatively unrewarding. It is the ultimate milestone in
    progression in a class, but it is not treated as such. Having the
    final level as an anti-climax is a big no-no in my book.

    You explicitly mention that "two [Stocks] are selected at 9th level as
    a sort of reward for sticking to the class throughout", but level 9 is
    not sticking to the class throughout; level 10 is!

    A level 10 character gets only two things:
    1) 1 character level. That is by definition interchangable with a
    level in any other class and is hence meaningless; and
    2) 2 Trades. This is arguable, but it seems to me that Trades are
    poor reward for class loyalty for the following reasons:
    2.1) You have said that they "really do anything. They are the core
    method by which exciting actions are introduced to the game." I don't
    mind this in principle, but unless you strictly avoid different
    classes doing the same exciting actions, this means it is not even a
    class-specific reward.
    2.2) There are arguably diminishing returns to taking a Trade. If you
    have nothing interesting to do, another 2 things to do would be
    excellent; but when you already have 7 interesting things to do,
    another 2 things to do are probably going to be rarely used. The 7 you
    chose first would best reflect how you play the game, after all.

    So I hope we can agree that level 10 may not be rewarding enough for
    people to bother with.
    Consider multiclass builds in D&D 3.5. Only even numbered levels of
    rogue are taken starting at second level; BAB for a build is only
    calculated in multiples of 5 +1 for the extra attack; and so forth.
    In all cases, the bang for your buck for subsequent levels is
    outweighed by the early benefits of other classes, and a class is
    never finished as a result.

    Here is an idea: In keeping with your stated aims, have each class
    start with a bang to reward multiclass characters and end with a bang
    to benefit single class loyalty.

    You could do it by getting rid of level 10 altogether, and merging the
    pitiful few benefits of the level back into level 9. Maybe shuffle
    down the less dramatic gains to earlier levels.
    You already have the all-important class prowess at every second level
    including 1 and 9; this way you would have a bang at the start and a
    bang at the end. You could work it so that a single class character
    at level 9 gets access to a couple of Trades that really show their
    mastery of their class hook in a way that multiclass characters won't
    get until the character has become more rounded.

    For example, let's have 2 players, M and P. M goes multiclass and P
    goes pure class for the first 9 levels. At level 9, M has a level of
    versatility that P can't match, but P really shines where his hook is
    relevant in a way M can't. Then, several levels later, M has enough
    character levels to start shining in the same situations as P, and P
    who already finished his class at level 9 has become a well rounded
    character with skills in other areas by now.

    I don't know how the numbers will work out, but I hope that gives you
    food for thought. :-)


  4. John,

    I concur and had a couple of thoughts for what I wanted to do. My drafts of classes right now each have a single ability requiring class score 10 with most being placeholders just titled "Capstone." So I think we are in the same mindset.

    I also had the general idea that eventually you could release even higher level abilities (i.e. Class Score 12) that would only be unlocked once you attained all 10 levels of a class. This would sort of be a built in "epic" (although I'm not a fan of how that played out in 4e so I use the term generically). They would, of course, be more potent abilities.

    The problem that I've had so far is "what should a capstone be?" I considered abilities like allowing a fighter to resolve his melee attack at a range of 10 (basically inspired by an anime you've ever seen) but I don't really want to force a flavor like that and it also isn't clear how useful that even would be.

    The other thought I had was to go back and have capstones change very basic game principles. So the Bard might have a song that lets all allies crit on a 19+ instead of just a 20, the Ranger gains a move action anytime they knock their ward (similar to a mark) unconscious allowing them to dart around the battlefield, stuff like that. I actually like this set of ideas much better, but whenever you tinker with base mechanics like that you open the door to super combos you didn't foresee.

    So I'm torn. But great insight and thanks for the comment.