In a recent thread in rec.games.frp.dnd, I was asked if I would really allow a player character to have “any bizarre talent of his level just because he feels like it”.
The short answer: sure, why not? As long as it makes some sense for the character, I see no reason related to balance to restrict it. There may be setting reasons to disallow it, but that’s beyond my control outside my own campaign.
There may be other prerequisites based on relationships between powers. For instance, some divine talents (talents I frankly expect to largely replace domain powers, and then some) may require that a character have the ability to channel divine energy. I might just have such talents provide the ability to channel divine energy, but if I have a ‘Divine Channelling’ talent that provides the ability needed by the divine talent then clearly there is a requirement that the channelling talent be taken before the divine talent can be used. Similarly, anything “Improved” needs the character to have what is going to be improved, the “Improved” talent doesn’t typically offer anything the base one doesn’t, and most of these talents are only there because I prefer to not have stacking talents called the same thing. For instance, ‘Heroic Martial Training’ gives +2 to the martial training bonus, and ‘Heroic Improved Martial Training’ gives +2 to the martial training bonus. There is currently no real reason to take one over the other, so take the base one.
However, it turns out that prerequisites between talents are actually rather less common in Echelon than I might have expected, and certainly less common than in D&D 3.x. The list is getting smaller as I go for several reasons.
- Certain builds are hard to do if prerequisites are enforced. For instance, modeling the Swordsage class accurately is impossible if a character must have Martial Training and Combat Style before taking the Martial Discipline talents, unless you’re willing to wait until at least second level before getting the more defining abilities for your character.
- In most cases the relationships between compatible talents is pretty obvious. The Swordsage mentioned above may want to take a couple of Martial Discipline talents to start. He will almost certainly want to get his Martial Training up and likely a Combat Style (for the better weapon use), but he’s not likely to accidentally take a spell casting talent. He might do so deliberately (he wants to play an arcane warrior of some kind) but here you’re deliberately moving away from prerequisites.
- Talents should be more or less equally attractive to those who would take them, considering power, utility, and relevance. Some will work better for a character than others (Cleave probably isn’t so useful if you don’t tend to do big damage), but there should be enough awesome in a talent that taking another one first should not be required.
- In D&D 3.x, often prerequisites existed between feats so they would form a chain of related abilities. A character with Whirlwind Attack could be expected to have certain other abilities (Spring Attack, Mobility, and Dodge), and this was enforced by the prerequisites (except where a character gains the feat as a bonus that lets him waive the prerequisite feats). Echelon would handle this more simply by having the talent provide the abilities.
- Frankly, I don’t care. I got tired of matching and tracking prerequisites with D&D 3.x and can live without the hassle.
Echelon, mechanically, is primarily concerned with play balance, and even then it’s pretty relaxed. Something that is mathematically consistent is nice, and having things mathematically equivalent is balanced (but frankly boring in some ways unless it brings something else with it)… but I want to balance by awesome. That is, when a player has a choice in build options it might be settled by which gives the player a bigger grin when he thinks about what it would look like, than whether he does 5% more damage per round.
Echelon is not, however, particular concerned with campaign sensibilities. I can easily imagine a campaign with some kind of ‘Wolfen’ as a player character race (guess what they look like). This race could quite reasonably have a bite attack, or they might only have it if actually trained for it – ‘savage Wolfen’ might have the full damage available to a creature of their level, ‘Wolfen soldiers’ might have a lesser bite attack as part of their military training and most ‘civilized’ Wolfen might not have a viable bite attack at all. On the other hand, if a group wants to play with a set of giant Pac Mans (people with large heads and huge mouths who do 1d6 bite damage per attack), I’m cool with that, too. I think it’d probably look a little strange, but it’s not my concern.
Flight is another specific talent that I thought about for a while before deciding it was okay. Yes, I would allow a first-level player character to have the ability to fly. He’s going to be not so good at it (Poor maneuverability and he starts at his base speed of 30), but he does have wings and can get himself off the ground. Well, he can if he isn’t carrying too heavy a load. If needed I might also look to fatigue mechanics or the like to limit how much or how far he can do it (either by maneuverability or some other mechanism), but that’s a consideration for later. “Natural fliers” in the real work tend to be rather smaller and would thus probably have better capacity for flight as well as be more maneuverable, and may invest additional talents into the ability, but this seems appropriate to me.
As might be implied above, some of these talents are not likely to be possessed by normal humans. Wolfen and winged humanoids both are not human and thus could take talents a normal human would not have, whereas a normal human would ‘properly’, though not mechanically, be constrained to more ‘normal’ talents.
Thing is, player character adventurers are almost by definition not normal humans, even if they are (or perhaps were) human.
If it makes sense for your character to have heavy scales covering his body and providing some natural armor, even though born of normal man and woman, then your character can have heavy scales covering his body providing natural armor. If these scales are thick enough they could provide some protection against acid and fire effects, you can take that talent too.
The two prerequisites I want to avoid, though, are “must be a player character” and “must not be a player character”.
A comment I once read was beautifully written:
“Taste the indecision? That’s the balance, right there.”
@Hadsil: that’s the balance I’m looking for. I’m not so terribly concerned any more than two fighters would each bring the same target down in a comparable amount of time, I just want to know that they both have cool choices to do awesome things.