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.