I had an epiphany of sorts last night. Also, insomnia; the epiphany might be nothing of the sort.
In my previous post about the card crawl I described PCs as starting at ‘second level’, and that each level made them better in one area of endeavor (martial, arcane, divine, skill), with a specialized skill within that. I considered the different pieces that can be assembled for the initial character builds and realized that I might actually want three levels at the start instead of two. Dwarves are classically powerful warriors and skilled crafters (argument for martial and skill), elves are magical warriors (martial and arcane), paladins are holy warriors (lots of martial with a bit of divine) and clerics are crusaders (lots of divine with some martial). It starts to make sense to have characters starting with three levels instead of two, especially since it allows initial builds to have uneven amounts of two areas of endeavor.
I originally expected PCs to start at second level and perhaps reach seventh or so. If the overland map is a 3×3 array, the PCs start in one corner and must travel to the diametrically-opposite corner to complete their quest they’ll have to pass through at least three and probably up to five of the other locations. This aligns closely enough with the design of Echelon that I can probably look at that for guidance. Start at third tier, each dungeon completed can result in a tier gain (and new cards are based on tier, so the later-game gains get to be pretty impressive)… this could work well for me.
Which led me to think: Echelon assumes that higher-tier characters are simply better than lower-tier characters, at least as far as adventuring capability is concerned. The d20 model of the game uses a 4e-style Level Bonus as a base modifier for rolls, and the dice pool version adds another die to all rolls at each tier (and talents improve the size of the die rolled). Higher-tier characters are more likely to succeed at tasks than lower-tier characters.
Having recently played some One Deck Dungeon (card-based rogue-like game) recently I realized that having none of something can be a problem. Higher-level characters are supposed to be better, and this can entirely hamstring them in some area. I am inclined to have each level provide a ‘general bonus’ (that applies to pretty much anything) in addition to the level-specific abilities. This gives space for higher-tier characters to be generally more capable than lower-tier characters, while actually reducing the significance of the potentially greater number of levels — I now picture gaining up to eight or ten instead of three to five — between characters of the same tier. That is, a sixth-tier character has six general levels (typeless, no specific ability, etc.) and up to six levels of martial ability, and acts with twelve martial and six anything-else, while another (four arcane levels and two skill levels) acts with ten arcane, eight skill, and six anything-else.
This can apply when buying new cards as well, though I might want to double the cost to account for the greater purchasing power available. Anyone could afford an ‘arcane 6’ card when they reach the sixth tier, but a dedicated arcanist could afford the card at the start of the game (three arcane levels and three general). This opens things up a bit for those who need to spread their abilities out, without requiring large diversions to get the basic ability needed to branch out at all.
I’ll want to keep an eye on that. There is merit to having an “arcanist” that is only good at magic and a warrior that is only good at martial activity. This might not work well in very small groups because too much specialization can be a problem… but it’s worth examining both options. I could even have both built in, but ‘hard mode’ means you don’t count the general levels.
More grist for the mill.