Thursday, February 25, 2010

a better system for action points?

While I don't normally use them in my games, looking over some old work of mine regarding a Dark Sun/Iron Heroes game, I came across a bit of altered mechanics for them that I think merit mentioning in this blog. The normal action point rules are pretty standard from normal 3rd edition, but I did add a mechanic from White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade for players to regain points.

Each PC starts the game with an action point pool of 5, and the pool expands by 1 per every level.
The character may spend points(as many as he wants as long as he has the points to spend), and gain a bonus to any given roll. The player may only spend the points before the DM determination as to what the result of the roll is.
Each character chooses a Nature/Demeanor archetype(presented in the V:TM book) at character creation, and any time the character does something that would result in V:TM characters regaining a Willpower point, they instead regain an Action point.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Magic as a Character Creation tool

Yesterday, I talked about how magic is the defining factor that allows a 0-level character to gain class levels. No, this doesn't happen EVERY time a person is exposed to magic(though a DM in a High Magic campaign could allow it), but often enough to allow a few relative nobodies to band together to eventually become heroic powerhouses.
Listed below are a few ideas on how magic can be used(and in some cases HAVE been used) to explain why the PCs have class levels as part of their backstories.

- Race: Some races; Elves, Gnomes, and even Dwarves, are often portrayed as being innately magical, hence the higher incidence of classed characters in their societies as compared to human societies. You don't even have to be a full member of the race(such as half elves, or just a human with elven blood somewhere in his ancestry) to explain this.
- Magical Training: Most campaigns handle wizard training in 3 ways, either they're played in a fashion similar to 3rd edition sorcerers(magic is their birthright thanks to some sort of magical bloodline), They function on a Master-apprentice system, or their are magical colleges that young aspiring wizards may train at. Any way you do this, the wizard is exposed to large doses of magic and making them classed is the easiest of any class type out there. It also works well in settings where you want the majority of priests to be spellcasters.
- Touched by the Divine: This works best for clerics and Paladins, but there's no reason this couldn't work for any character. At some point during the character's life, he became exposed to divine power, perhaps an accident resulted in him being taken before a cleric for many days of magical healing. Alternately, perhaps the character was forced at some point in his life to call down the power of the gods directly into himself(perhaps to save a sibling or parent from a group of kobolds or giant rats).
- Trained by the magical: The Fae, Dragons, Celestials, Fiends, the undead, and various other creatures in the world are all magical in nature, and each one has skills similar to those of PC classes. It could be possible with DM permission to have a character trained by one of these creatures.
- Magical Locations: Perhaps their is more to that haunted house you went into as a kid. Maybe it had been the site of a terrible spellbattle in the distant past. Alternately, maybe the tree that you spent the majority of your time sitting under as a child grew from a seed planted in the remains of a dragon, or atop an ancient gateway for the Fae.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The rarity of 0-level characters

One thing that always irked me about game supplements from TSR was the almost complete lack of 0-level characters in their product. If these people were so numerous, how is it that every town seemed to have at least a 1st level cleric, and why every king of every nation was a 9th level something or other, when the DMG clearly stated that the majority of churches, rulers, and fighting men were merely single HD 0-level characters. They also never explained what exactly caused a character to become classed.
I'm not saying that such a practice as "no 0-level npcs" is a bad thing. In some settings, it actually makes more sense, Dark Sun for instance, where the world is far more brutal, and 0 level characters wouldn't even make it in the cities. But other settings, such as Forgotten Realms, Mystara, and Greyhawk should have fewer high level(level 7+) characters in positions of power.
I realize, as a DM, that I could always change such characters, but I've long been a fan of maintaining the integrity of settings, because altering something to that effect really does seem to change the mood of the characters and thus the setting, at least for me.
I'd agonized over this for most of the time I've played 2nd Edition, but sometime last year, my aspergers-induced anal-retentiveness finally forced me to sit down and figure out a way to make sense of this from within the settings and not from a game designer standpoint.
The first thing I thought about, was the classes themselves. What made them different from the standard run of the mill character. Fighter? Specialization. Cleric? Magic. Wizard? Magic. Thief? Well, never really did figure out why thieves didn't just spring up out of the ground at the drop of a hat. That covered the four "Core" classes but what about the others, what about their flavor set them apart from the rest of humanity. What made a paladin different from the everyday knight, a ranger different from the average woodsman, or a Bard different from any other minstrel, sage, or storyteller? What made characters in Birthright, Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, or even from our own world's legends so much more badass and hardcore than the rockstars, politicians, and clergy from the real world(why wouldn't the average soldier be a fighter? Why wouldn't every good DM out there not have a level or two of Bard? Why are all martial artists not monks?)
The answer finally hit me like a ton of bricks. The common thread between the classed characters from legends and the worlds we play in was that classed characters had been exposed to magic. Think about how much magic took place in old sagas and tales. How many of them carried magic weapons, or called down the fury of magic itself?
This does have some rather fun implications after you think about it for awhile, and gives you another angle for character creation and world design. It makes you think about the role of magic in your campaign and setting. In low magic prevalence settings(of which TSR and WotC made depressingly few of outside of the Historical supplements), it makes the player characters that much more unique.
Over the next couple days I hope to post a few additional thoughts on how this might impact world design and character creation.