Threshold d20 Review: Archetypes

In this post I review pages starting at (and under)

These pages tend to be fairly content-light, so I’ll just do an overview.

This section of my review may seem harsh.  It is based on material that has not been completed (the number of partially-implemented archetypes makes that point clear).  The design I see here raises a number of questions in my mind that I as a designer I would want to consider.

John does mention this as an obvious note on each archetype.

“The amount of Talent points and the actual concept of “spending” Talent points is up in the air at the moment.  This is generally only for our purposes for calculating how much It would “cost” to construct a class archetype”.

So, this is very much a work in progress, so this review may well be invalidated at some point.  I hope the comments I provide below will be helpful.

Archetypes

John uses archetypes to describe how various character types can be modeled in Threshold d20.

This is a good idea.  It makes things much more convenient for new (or lazy or hurried) players and game masters and illustrates how character types can be modeled if it is non-obvious (such as a D&D 3.x ‘high damage’ fighter becoming a Ranger in D&D 4e rather than a Fighter).

He starts with the core D&D classes, which is pretty reasonable.

  • Assuming the D&D classes are well-designed (and to be honest, I’m pretty sure they aren’t for reasons I’ve described elsewhere), being able to model them reasonably closely helps confirm a new framework.
  • Even if the D&D classes are not well-designed, attempting to model them can help highlight the differences between D&D and the new framework.  For instance, in Echelon modeling ‘fighters’ leaves a fair number of talent slots unused, while modeling ‘wizards’ can use a larger number of talents (and getting ‘clerics’ all their goodies can be problematic).  Given that the Fighter class is less powerful than the Wizard class, and Wizards are a little less powerful than Clerics, I can take this as evidence that I’m on the road to correcting this problem – ‘fighters’ in Echelon will be able to afford some more nice stuff.
  • Even just internally, modeling the D&D classes can give a feel for how things fit together.  My initial approach to Echelon looked good on paper, but when I tried to actually apply it I found things I didn’t like.  For similar reasons software developers often ‘eat dogfood’, use the software they are developing for real to see where it doesn’t suit (such as the developers of a web browser setting aside Firefox and Opera to use their new browser, in order to find places that can be improved).

Looking at the archetypes presented, I have to hope that this information is very incomplete, out of date, or that I misunderstand it.  If I’m reading this correctly, spell casters tend to be the cheapest characters to build.  Given the number of classes that currently have very little information I think this area is seriously under development.

Class/Archetype Initial Cost Typical Per-level Costs
Barbarian 20 9 or 11
Bard ? ?
Cleric 17 5 or 8
Druid 11 ?
Fighter 16 7-10
Monk 13 ?
Paladin 19 (14 after -5 in drawbacks) ?
Ranger 15 ?
Rogue 18 ? (very incomplete)
Sorcerer 9 ?
Wizard 9 ?

This section is very incomplete.  Nothing wrong with that, it just means it isn’t done yet (Echelon is a little farther away, as far as documentation is concerned).  I will make a couple observations, though.

The Talents page says that “Major talents usually improve automatically without requiring spending additional Talent Points”.  The caster archetypes indicate that spell casting is a major talent, but Base Attack Bonus is not (but only costs a fighter one point every level…).

The examples show that ‘fighters’ pay for their benefits every level (because they get new abilities in the form of feats pretty regularly and a Base Attack Bonus that improves at every level), but wizards evidently pay a small cost at character creation that scales automatically.

I can appreciate having character development broken down to high detail like this, but I am concerned about where this seems to be heading for a couple of reasons.

  • Having to buy up individual areas of development makes it very easy to build unbalanced characters.  A character might have gaping holes in its abilities (certain bonuses too low for their level, or abilities overdeveloped for their level because of points saved elsewhere).  This leads to min-maxing hell (or perhaps heaven, if you’re into that sort of thing).
  • It is an ‘anti-simplification’, in that the entity designer (player or GM building the character or creature) has more things to keep track of.

That the point allocations seem backward (cheaper to be a wizard than a fighter, wait what?) makes this even worse.

The approach taken here is not one I would use (and indeed, Echelon doesn’t), but I can’t say it won’t work after a few changes.  Some possibilities (and these may well be contradictory because they are different approaches to the problems) are below.

  • Major sources of power (such as spell casting) do not scale automatically.  Gaining a new level of ‘wizard casting’ should cost almost the entire point allocation for that level.  Wizards in D&D 3.x get a +1 improvement to their BAB every even level and access to a new spell level every odd level; assuming these are each worth two points and that the spell slots are worth three points we have a cost of five points per level.  The Fighter, on the other hand, pays two points per level for the improvement to BAB and three points for more hit points… hit points are evidently expensive, this might need adjustment.  However, we’re much closer to parity than what is currently documented.
  • More sources of power (anything you would want to take more than once that stacks) automatically scale.  If I pay for ‘badass with a sword’ and my buddy pays for ‘awesome with magic’ they both scale with level.  Yes, this directly contradicts the previous option.  If this is done it would probably be best to have these happen only at first level (or perhaps initial Talent Points are used for things that shape the character as a whole, and later can modify that – your base training as a warrior or wizard sticks with you for the rest of your career and you can build up from there).

To be honest, I don’t much care for either of those options.  Instead, Echelon tries to ensure that anything a character ‘must have’ just comes with the territory.  Base Attack Bonus and Base Saves have baseline values (equal to the Level Bonus) to ensure that the character has a minimum value appropriate to his level.  After that a character can develop different areas to be better, but the minimum needed to give a chance of survival will be present and available.  Major powers (such as spell casting) may include baseline values (such as a spell caster’s Caster Level when casting spells [smurfy smurfy smurf!] being equal to Level Bonus + Caster Training Bonus) to help ensure they stay appropriate to the character’s level, but the major step-ups in power are still paid for explicitly.

Conclusion

The Archetypes section is a very good idea to include.  It serves several useful purposes and (in classless systems especially) I encourage their use.

At this point it is very incomplete.  What I see here suggests either that the archetypes section needs to be rewritten to suit ‘new reality’ or that the archetypes indicate some worrisome design.  I’ll have to dig into the Talents section in more detail to see which it is.

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