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25 June 2013 @ 07:42 pm
Dungeons & Design 8: Advantages  
The idea of Feats is great, it's just the implementation that was terrible.

Wait, what?
Pre-3.x D&D didn't really have any mechanical way of representing characters' capabilities other than ability scores, race, class, level, spells, and equipment. Stuff like coming from a wealthier family, or being taller or short than the normal range, or having a particular talent with a skill or weapon, or even things like "How hard is it for non-thieves to hide? What if you grew up a street urchin but then became a caravan guard?" are all things that the GM had to either ban or come up with spot rules for on the fly. Feats provide a mechanical structure to hang all that on, and that's a good thing.

The problem comes in when you look at the actual feats. Not only are they not equal in value like I've mentioned before, but there are over 3000 of them published, and in d20 the typical character only gets 7 of them, ever. Toughness is even worse under those circumstances.

I can avoid that, because I dislike class/level systems and this won't be one, but I still have to either develop a variable point-buy system for Advantages or just try to make them as close as I can and accept that some might be worth a bit more or less than normal. There is an extant point-buy system for Feats, but it's inarguably worse than the existing system. I mean, Skill Focus costs 10 points, and Natural Spell costs 5. In what world is being able to cast spells on people while you are in bear form mauling their face worth half as much as getting a +3 bonus to one skill? He also costs Toughness at 10 points, so...

The design principles laid out before the bizarro costs list are worth it if I do decide to go that route, though.

One possibility of using lifepaths is that I can add Advantages that you can only acquire by taking specific lifepaths. Like the "Noble Birth" Advantage, I mentioned earlier, or culture-specific stuff. I do have ideas for the setting I'd like to use with this, but I want to hammer everything else out before I start talking about it.

Fortunately, since I want to model the standard D&D murderhobo/"homocidal transients" character types, there's a lot of Advantages I don't need to write. Anything involving too much wealth, or involvement in organizations, for example. Though I could write those and put them into lifepaths, for people who used to be soldiers and mustered out or went AWOL. Speaking of soldiers...

Gating Techniques and Boring Advantages
One of the criticisms leveled at the Feats in d20 is how warriors needed to take a bunch of Feats just to do their job. Stuff like Improved Disarm, where they have to take it in order to not be punched in the face whenever they try to do something other than "I stab them in the hit points." And that's a legitimate criticism! It also runs into another problem I've been thinking about. Namely, how to properly divide them between new abilities and making abilities better.

The problem with an Advantage that gives a new ability is that it implies that it's not possible unless a character has the Advantage, unless stated elsewhere. Unfortunately this leads to a trap, where they're either boring "+2 to blah" Advantages that you take because you have to but you don't actually care about them, or you wall off bunches of abilities behind an XP paywall. I might be able to get around that by adding riders (Improved Disarm! Now you can disarm and do some damage), but I'll have to think about it. Of course, I don't plan to write 3000+ Advantages either, so...

Maybe if I made some of the boring stuff Advantages you get in lifepaths, so some of them are taken already? Hmm...

Magical Powers
True20 has a separate "powers" section, and taking Feats grants you access to 2 powers per feat taken, or one if you're a "Wild Talent" and aren't formally trained in an arcane tradition. I'm not sure I like that, but I think some kind of structure for supernatural powers that fits into the experience scheme is necessary. One of the problems with pre-4e D&D is that casters can acquire new spells with essentially no downside. It doesn't cost them extra XP, it doesn't cost them any of their other capabilities, it only costs them the time to search out the spells. This was my major problem with the Wayfarers RPG--everything is all set up as point buy and balanced, except that casters can learn as many spells as they can find. I have to avoid that, but I'm not sure if I want to just tie them into Advantages, or provide a separate system. Probably the latter, but I'll think about that when I talk about magic. Which should be next.
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