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Generic Kit-Benefits? Help!

For Draz's rebuild of 3.5 D&D.

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Generic Kit-Benefits? Help!

Postby Draz » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:42 pm

Background Reading: Basics of Kits, Feats, and Talents, Momentum system

The Dilemma
Once your game system gets used for a little while, and players with natural powergaming talents start getting used to it, then the game world will adjust itself according to the rules you have written. The generic (3.5e) D&D setting doesn't have very many High Elf Wizards anymore, or sword-n-board Fighters; instead, it's got a disproportionate number of Barbarians with Spiked Chains who specialize in tripping their foes. :roll:

One of my goals in CRE8 is to design it so that "optimal" characters are also archetypical characters. More or less. So that what people picture as a fantasy setting is also reasonably believable mechanically. The challenge is to do this without punishing players who want to break the mold a little bit with their characters, play something that's never been played before. And it's a very, very narrow line to walk.

Kits are the most important defining aspect of a character, like Class in D&D. And they are where this issue rears its ugly head the most. The benefits a character gains from their Kits will largely define what kinds of characters show up in a CRE8 game.

Kits usually provide a boost to a character's Fighting Level (and Vitality Points), a character's Caster Level, or a character's Coast Number. It is also common to receive two of the options above, or to receive a bonus Talent of a particular sort. But all of this is just a start.

For a few Kits, it's easy to write up a unique ability that (1) is powerful enough to define an archetype on its own, (2) isn't the sort of thing that should be a Feat instead, (3) should be an ability for every character with the Kit in question, and (4) shouldn't really be available to anyone who doesn't have the Kit in question. The Wizard Kit, for example, was relatively easy to write, because the ability to keep a spellbook and swap spells out of it day-to-day is pretty unusual and definitive.

Most Kits don't have such a clear path open to them. The Ranger is a good, iconic example. What is its defining ability? I dunno. I could pretty easily come up with 10 character concepts that feel like Rangers, but otherwise have very little in common. Sure, they'd all have a decent Nature skill and the ability to Track, but that's more of a Kit Prerequisite than a Kit Benefit. I suppose something like Swift Tracker could be a defining Benefit of the Ranger Kit, but that's ... not exactly a strong enough ability to make people take Ranger.

It's easy to come up with other things that are associated with the Ranger archetype:
  • archery
  • stealth
  • an animal companion
  • two-weapon fighting
  • minor magical abilities, especially plant- and animal-themed
  • favored enemies
... but these should all be optional. Name anything on that list, and I can come up with a Ranger concept that doesn't emphasize it (or, in some cases, use it at all).

So I want many Kits to grant conditional Benefits, which are based on "optional prerequisites." If you're curious, I can name many, many examples of where this should come into play besides the Ranger kit. I'll just name two: elves with sword or bow proficiencies (even if they're not really warrior-types in general), or dwarves with some skill in metalworking or engineering. Both strong fantasy tropes; both should be optional (not mandatory for every member of a race).

Sometimes, archetype-appropriate combinations just kind of happen naturally. I don't feel the need to require a Ninja to take Sneak Attack, or to give him an extra reward for taking Sneak Attack, because his Stealth prerequisite and the Sneak Attack feat already have some natural synergy, so no optimizer will ever think this combination is a weird choice. But my elf and dwarf examples above? Not so much.

I could write the conditional Benefits of "optional prerequisites" on a case-by-case basis for every Kit in the game. Come up with a different minor reward to give the Ranger for each Ranger stereotype he fulfills. But I tried that for a while, and ... it got to be a LOT of work. I'd much prefer if there's a generic Benefit I can have Kits reward characters with, anytime I need to encourage a particular combination of abilities. This generic reward needs to be small, certainly, or else creative mold-breaking characters will get left in the dust. But creative mold-breaking characters do have the advantage of greater flexibility, so I think archetype-rewarding Benefits of some sort are justified.

TL;DR Version: I want to come up with a minor Benefit that all Kits can use to reward characters who follow a classic fantasy archetype (anytime when the archetype isn't just automatically encouraged by the game's mechanics).

Ideas I've Played With

Idea: Have Kits give players a Bonus Talent whenever they fulfill an Optional Prerequisite.
    Pros: Talents are easy to come up with. They don't add any complexity to the system that's not already there.
    Cons: When I tried to build some high-level sample characters using this method, the number of Talents they ended up with started to feel pretty overwhelming. Also, if an Optional Prerequisite consists of just a Talent, that Talent essentially becomes a free option for the Kit ... maybe that's not a bad thing, but it just felt like the reward was a little too big.

Idea: Give players Talents for fulfilling Optional Prerequisites, instead of getting Talents normally as they level up.
    Pros: This led to much more reasonable numbers of Talents on a character.
    Cons: This means every Kit more or less needs to have Optional Prerequisites attached to it, even if it's something like Wizard that's easy to write meaningful Benefits for anyway. Worse, sometimes characters would get stuck in a rut where they were having trouble qualifying for any new Optional Prerequisites from any of their Kits, so they would go several levels without gaining any new Talents ... and then, when they finally got ahold of a Talent, they used it to fill an Optional Prerquisite, which gave them another Talent, and so forth. So they got a bunch of Talents at once in a cascade effect. That's a terrible way to have characters grow and develop in an RPG.

Idea: Grant XP Bonuses for fulfilling Optional Prerequisites. (And I'm pretty sure I would go with one-time XP bonuses, not +10% XP bonuses like the old 2e rules.)
    Pros: A very meaningful benefit for PCs, yet also totally optional. Aesthetically, it's kind of nice to tie XP to the character-building mechanics in a new way, since they often seem oddly separated.
    Cons: Meaningless to NPCs, generally. Also, can lead to different party members leveling up at different times instead of the whole party leveling up together. Some groups like that, but I tend to find it means slowing down play as some players wait for other players' characters to level up.

Idea: When characters roll to gain Momentum at the start of combat, instead of adding their Heroic Bonus (or anything else) to the roll, have them add a number equal to the Optional Prerequisites they've fulfilled for their Kits.
    Pros: A good very-minor benefit that all characters will find useful. And I really do want Momentum to be one of the defining pieces of the CRE8 system.
    Cons: Involves adding another number to the character sheet. And another stat to the character sheet, just to rate how archetypical a character is. One of my friends really dislikes this idea. Feels inelegant.

Idea: When characters roll to gain Momentum at the start of combat, they still add their Heroic Bonus to their d20 roll, but the DC they have to meet is lower if they have fulfilled their Kits' Optional Prerequisites.
    Pros: Again, a very minor benefit that will still tempt any character. Feels a less redundant. This is currently what I'm leaning towards using.
    Cons: Still involves adding another number to the character sheet that wasn't there before.

Any votes? Or even better, brilliant new suggestions?
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Re: Generic Kit-Benefits? Help!

Postby Siosilvar » Fri Feb 11, 2011 12:24 pm

...Wow. That is difficult.

Bonus talents do indeed give that "cascade" effect. Probably not a good thing - though actually... (see later in this post).
The last two are functionally equivalent (though in the last one you also add the Heroic Bonus). Subtracting points from DC is exactly identical to adding a bonus to the roll.
The XP one I like the best, but it still doesn't seem like a good option...

This may not be the direction you were intending on taking this, but instead of optional prerequisites, why not optional benefits? A kit gives a fighting level/caster level/coast number bonus and "pick 3 of the following:". The "following" are then abilities, traits, or feats that are archetypical.

Once you have your kit(s), the other feats/traits you get either make you better in that area or dabble in something else.
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Re: Generic Kit-Benefits? Help!

Postby Fax » Sun Feb 13, 2011 12:07 am

Why not a small bonus for being "in class'? Sneak Attack is normally Xd6. Fir a ninja, it's Xd6+Y, where Y is their character level.

The archetype I used for the d20r Ranger was that of a guerrilla or a commando.
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Re: Generic Kit-Benefits? Help!

Postby Draz » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:16 am

Again following Siosilvar's advice, I've been writing up Kits with the assumption that they would provide XP bonuses to characters. I like this option flavor-wise, although I'm still a little hesitant about whether I want parties of characters to level up at different times.
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