Tag Archives: Classes


I’ve decided that I want to play more variety in RPGs.  This, combined with the fact that I have less time than ever to play them means I want a tightly written novella or short story for a campaign, not an epic 7 novel series.

So, I want a campaign to complete in 6-12 months.  I want to play 2x per month, for 5 hours or so.  This gives me 60-120 hours to complete an entire campaign, which really isn’t all that much time.  With this perspective, how many levels should the game have, and how many hours should it take to level up?

Let’s say we go with 100 hour campaigns, which is being a bit generous.  We could do 20 levels for 1 level every 5 hours of play.  We could also do 10 levels, with a  level for every 10 hours of play.  I’d also say that the game system should probably be able to handle a longer campaign, and that maybe there is a more epic tier that exists, but there would need to be some practical reason that most NPCs aren’t “epic” or there aren’t really epic-tier heroes controlling the world and pulling the strings.

I don’t want to go too far down that way though, because that way lies super-hero style RPG play, and I really don’t care about that right now for Lost Worlds.  So, I think I want to delay some of the gratification of leveling, so I think every-other session is probably appropriate.  Every session might be hard to keep up with for players as they have changing stats and powers every time they sit down after a 2-week break.

All of that being said, I think I want my design space then to be about 10 levels worth of stuff, with level 1-3 being an above average combatant, level 4-7 being a hero, and level 8-10 being a leader.  There is going to be a fine line between having fewer steps and making the levels granular enough that a level 2 doesn’t auto-win against a level 1, and a level 3 doesn’t auto-win against a level 2, etc., since I want a little more granularity in the range.

I’m not completely sold that every-other-session should be a level though.  What would you prefer?


Class Based Ability Scores

A few newer games that use base ability scores are using a mechanic where your race and/or your class actually adjust your randomly generated/point-bought ability scores.  Races have traditionally played this role, but for some reason, classes haven’t.  

So, when thinking about different races, it’s easy classical to define that race by what makes them different than being human – and that almost always tends to relate to the core ability scores.  They’re like a human, but stronger, or like a human but wiser.  A race is something you are – and your ability scores are often the primary vehicle for enumerating “what you are.”

Classes, on the other hand, have traditionally been about what you do.  So your class defines the abilities you gain as you advance in experience and training.  I think because of this dichotomy, classes haven’t traditionally been tapped with the duty of adjusting starting ability scores.

Still, I think I like this new direction.  If you close your eyes and think about a fighter, or a thief, or a wizard, you’re probably not just envisioning a set of skills, you’re likely also thinking about a strong, a quick, or a smart hero.  From a play balance and design perspective, it recognizes that if I pick a fighter, I probably want to play a strong character.  Since we know up front in the design that strength is probably a pretty important characteristic for a fighter, it’s nice to help make sure new fighters aren’t too gimped from the get-go and help give the player what they’re envisioning when they decided to play that type of character.

Another nice thing this can do is help represent the years of training that went on before a character became a first level thief.  When you start thinking about multi-classing, and a character with 8 years of apprenticeship in the local thieves guild starts dabbling in magic, why would they be just as good at each.  That extra bit of ability score for your first level class can help, if only a bit, differentiate your first class with all that background from any class switches over time.

So, I think I’ll probably give each class a bonus point to a statistic that’s primary to that class.  That ability will either be chosen for you, or I’ll give the player a choice between two (like Strength OR Vitality) for a Barbarian.

The Three Pillars

D&D Next has posited that the Fantasy RPG Genre is built on three main pillars: Combat, Roleplaying, & Exploration.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve distilled the essential experiences of D&D down into three general categories: exploration, roleplaying, and combat. We believe these form the three main pillars of gameplay in D&D, and, while broad, they can help guide our design.

A part of the design philosophy going forward is that each of those three elements contains some very specific things that contribute to the game and culture that is Dungeons & Dragons. However, we also know that individual DMs, players, and gaming groups might favor one of those elements over another; of course, sometimes they might favor one element over the others in one session, and then completely reverse that preference in the next. The goal, then, is to support all three of those elements in the design of the game in such a way that the individual gaming group can choose its focus and have a satisfying game experience. This doesn’t mean we necessarily need the same amount of game mechanics supporting each; obviously, combat has tended more toward detail and more rules support, and that may well be true going forward, but we also want to make sure we’re paying a similar amount of attention to the other two experiences.

This philosophy is something we want to extend beyond just character design; it should affect adventure design, monster design, setting design, and every other aspect of the game. Our goal is to make it so that you make choices for your character that speak to your preferred play style, and that it’s OK to do so even if other members of your party make choices pointing toward a different play style. Adventuring demands a certain amount of competence in all three areas of the game, but when you customize your character you might push yourself more in one direction or another.

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Unlimited Options, Few Selections

One thought on how to allow characters to really differentiate themselves:

Give players unlimited options for their characters, but only give them a few selections from those options.

As long as the options are balanced enough that the players aren’t obliged to make the same opening selections, the limited selections is what lets players individualize their characters.  Too many selections from the option, and characters start blurring together.

This is one reason I do not plan to give clerics a very extensive spell list.  Each cleric should be granted specific thematic powers from their deity that truly differentiates them.  I need to think through how this philosophy can be applied to the other classes as well.


I’m wondering if feats are worthwhile anymore.  Feats came around in 3e and persist into pathfinder and 4e.  They too had their origins in Non-Weapon Proficencies (NWPs) though, so they’ve  been around in some form for longer than 3e.  The NWPs that weren’t related to skills were often more like powers or talents.  In 3e, NWPs were formally split into a skill list and feats, which I think made a lot of sense given that construction and the evolution of the game at that time.

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Multiclassing: it wears me out just thinking about all the twists this can cause for game mechanics, play balance, and immersion.  Even in the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons there was a process for acquiring multiple classes.  Older versions of the game have pretty brutal restrictions on multiclassing.  You’d have to be a certain race to access classes, only certain class combinations were allowed, you’d suffer XP penalties, you’d need very high core attributes, you could only ever switch once (and you couldn’t switch back!), etc.  I’ve already started tackling the issue of multiclassing with Prestige Classes in an earlier post, and I suppose the mere existence of Prestige Classes suggests a pretty free-form multiclassing system.  Still, it’s worth thinking about again to make sure I’m happy with the way it’ll work and to make sure I consider the potential for abuse in multiclassing before I start really designing the various classes and races.

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The Optimization Problem

This is a post I’ve meant to write for awhile, but in writing the foundation of Lost Worlds, it just didn’t seem like it was quite time.  The following comment on my post about classes got me thinking a little bit more about the topic:

I think I would prefer the idea of build points being used to create classes.So as not to overwhelm players that don’t have the time/energy to go pick from massive lists of options a set of ready to go classes can be available. Essentially just build points allocated to recreate any one of the above mentioned classes.

To start, I want to give players lots of options, in fact, it’s my number 1 design goal.  The question is, what’s the best way to accomplish it.  The obvious, if somewhat dull answer, is to add more classes, more races, more feats, etc.  Clearly that would provide more options.  I could also move in the direction of what the reader above suggests, which is to break all the mechanics up into pieces and assign them a value – then allow the players to reassemble them into any permutation.  As he pointed out, you could certainly leave class structures in place for ready-made themes, but allow players who really want to customize the ability to mix and match to their heart’s content.  The third method, and this is the method that I’m really championing, is to provide a clear structure for adding an unlimited amount of custom content.

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