Design Journal Part 5: Characters, Revisited
A few months back, I discussed my early thoughts on character races and classes for Umber. Since then, I've developed those ideas more fully, expanding the range of options for player characters.
In looking at some of the more powerful races that I wanted to include as player characters (such as aasimars and tieflings), I realized that I had a bit of a conundrum. I wanted these powerful races as available options for starting characters, but I also wanted every player to begin as a 1st-level character. With races that have a level adjustment, that would be impossible to balance--everyone would want to play one of the powerful races, rather than be "stuck" with a less-potent race.
My solution was to "power up" the other races to bring them more in line with the more powerful options. By layering additional ability adjustments and special features onto the standard races, I could bring them in line with the tougher ones. Essentially, every race would have a level adjustment, which I could then conveniently ignore. Umber's a tough world, so it's only fair that starting characters get a bit of an edge.
I also tweaked the racial options a bit to make sure that each race had its own niche in the class system. That meant dropping orcs (too similar to half-orcs, and not as interesting), and adding a new sorcerous race (see the dragonblood, below). Here, then, is my final list of player character races. (The descriptions aren't complete, but they give you an idea of how the races compare to one another.)
I'm still set on my original idea of no single-classed spellcasters. That makes bonuses to spellcasting stats--Int, Wis, and Cha--much more palatable, and lets me put those bonuses in the races that I'd most like to see as (potential) spellcasters. Elves are the iconic druids of Umber, so they get a Wisdom bonus. Dragonbloods are the iconic sorcerers, thus the Charisma bonus, but many other races make reasonable sorcerers as well. With no wizards, the dwarven Intelligence bonus has few ramifications other than for skills.
You may be surprised to see paladin listed as an available class, since I had stated earlier that such characters wouldn't be present. I've rethought that a bit, and I'd like to include (non-spellcasting) paladins as vestiges of the Old World's nobility. They retain a semblance of supernatural power, though whether this comes from the thought-to-be-dead gods or purely from force of will is unknown (and to most, unimportant--belief is what matters).
Though I expect that rampant multiclassing will help make a race's favored class significant, I'm quite interested in determining other ways of increasing the importance of favored classes overall. For races with a spellcasting class (druid or sorcerer--bards and rangers, like paladins, will lose their spellcasting in Umber), I'm considering allowing them to be a spellcaster at 1st level, and letting them "round up" when determining how many spellcaster levels they may have (two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, etc.). The result: A dragonblood who pursues the path of sorcery (or an elf who follows the druidic faith) can do so more quickly than any other race. I'm not yet sure how to "reward" the other races for pursuing their favored class, but it's on my mind.
Some classes--bard, paladin, and ranger--are losing some of their punch by losing spellcasting. I think that those classes will still have a lot of appeal, thanks in part to the low-magic aspect of the world. The bard's ability to fascinate or inspire will seem pretty good compared to the spellcasting ability of a multiclass druid or sorcerer, and the paladin's supernatural abilities are quite attractive in a world without clerics. Similarly, the ranger's aptitude in wilderness situations will come in very handy in a campaign that features a lot of overland travel. I'll be playing this one by ear, though, ready to add other small class features to help out, should my theory prove incorrect.
The other classes--barbarian, fighter, rogue, and the two as-yet-unpublished classes--will work pretty much as written. The fighter (and indeed, all combat-oriented classes) will gain some versatility from a change I'm instituting in those feats that require you to select a weapon to which you may apply their effects (such as Weapon Focus). I plan to broaden the feats to apply to a wider range of weapons, allowing characters to more easily switch between weapons as they find new and better ones. Few characters will be able to afford to begin play with a sword or longbow, so it seems overly punitive to make them a) focus in a weapon they'll soon discard, or b) focus in a weapon they won't see for a few levels. Instead, a character choosing a feat that normally requires application to a specific weapon (Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Improved Critical, Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization) will choose a category of weapons--light melee, one-handed melee, two-handed melee, thrown, or projectile--to apply its effects.
Admittedly, that's a bit arbitrary and abstract, but I think it allows for plenty of versatility while still allowing for characters to follow specific archetypes. A barbarian who begins play with a greatclub or longspear is much more likely later in his career to switch to a greataxe, greatsword, or falchion rather than picking up a pair of short swords. A fighter wielding a club and wooden shield at 1st level is more likely to upgrade to a longsword and steel shield than to a greatsword. A high-Dex archer-type character is more likely to trade in his shortbow for a longbow than for a bastard sword. And so on.
I think I'll keep Greater Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Specialization as applying only to a single weapon, though I don't anticipate many characters reaching a level sufficient to select those feats.
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.