Feats, racial bonuses and powers, these are good ways to customise a character but they can also be a royal pain in the arse with their sheer variability.
I’ve already said balance wouldn’t be a primary concern for me. Characterisation is more important to me. So that means whatever bonuses that I would work into the game wouldn’t be constrained by that.
So, what would I do?
My thoughts are torn between two semi-recent influences. On the one hand I really do like Aspects from the FATE games and its a mechanic that has turned up in one form or another for some time. White Wolf ‘specialisations’ are essentially one word versions of the same thing. I also used something similar in Neverwhere.
My other inspiration lately is Skyrim’s perk system, which can be found in variations in a great many computer games. This also gives an excuse to retain levels, at least in spirit, probably in a similar way to their implementation in Victoriana (as ranks).
So… I think for simplicity’s sake what I would go for are ‘Customisations’. Each level would provide one point that could be slapped into a bonus. Said bonus might be described, for example, as:
- Talented Sneak +1 (Bonus to stealth).
- Deadly Strikes +1 (Bonus to maximum damage).
- Fisherman +1 (Comes from a fishing culture, so can claim bonuses to related rolls).
- Tough as nails +1 (Bonus hit point).
These bonuses could be increased as you continue to level, giving you higher bonuses in relatively tight areas or being spread out to describe your character’s quirks, background and experiences. Providing appropriate bonuses and being used to offset penalties.
Each character race would get some bonuses of their own to start them off:
- Elves: Forest Hunter +1, one free choice.
- Dwarves: Stonecunning +1, one free choice.
- Humans: Two free choices.
- Orcs: Tough +1 (Extra hit point)
Flexible, simple, abusable – yes – but you have to trust the Games Master to look after their own game and give players the chance to exercise their creativity.
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One thing that I’ve done for my current campaign and will keep for my next campaign is to mix up the racial bonuses with regional bonuses. So the Pictish people of Northern Angelmar Isle have an ability score bonus of +1 constitution, a +1 bonus to the Survival skill and this skill as a class skill regardless of race. They may also choose Barbarian as a favoured class. Most Pictish are also shifters and get their racial bonuses too but there is no reason why they couldn’t be half-elf or changeling.
There is a tendency for players to min\max and pick regions that match their best class skills. That’s fine and it reinforces the idea that the Pictish region is a wild and untamed place full of barbarians. That’s the stereotype I’m looking for that makes the region stand out in players minds. You could still play a human wizard with a low constitution from Northern Angelmar but the bonuses won’t help much and people will assume that you’re hiding something.