Threshold d20 Review: Talents

In this post I will discuss material from

In the first page, John describes how Talents are categorized and their general characteristics.  In the second he provides a list of specific Talents.


Talent Types

Talents are broken down into three types.

  • Traits describe base abilities of a creature and for the most part are binary (a creature does or does not have them) and do not improve with time or development.
  • Skills are non-magical, non-extraordinary things a character learn and/or improve with time or practice (by spending Talent Points).  Their initial values are usually based on ability scores.
  • Boons are ‘everything else’ that doesn’t fit into either of the above categories.

This breakdown seems a little odd to me.  I expect ‘Boons’ to be the most-used type.

Talent Level (and Cost)

Talents have one of four levels, and pricing (in Talent Points) is based on these levels.

  • Minor Talents cost one Talent Point to gain and cannot be improved.  Most Traits are Minor Talents.  These should be about as powerful as Traits in Pathfinder.
  • Standard Talents cost two Talent Points to gain or improve, and usually can be improved by investing more Talent Points.  These should be about as powerful as Feats in Pathfinder.
  • Major Talents cost three Talent Points to gain and usually improve automatically, without additional expenditure.  These should be about as powerful as some of the more powerful class abilities in Pathfinder.  It is not described how often or in what manner they can be improved.
  • Epic Talents cost five Talent Points to gain but may only be taken when the character is at least 20th level or has achieved a major story goal.  They usually grant one very large benefit but generally do not improve automatically over time.  These should be about as powerful as capstone abilities in Pathfinder.  [It is not explicitly stated whether or not Epic Talents can be improved by spending Talent Points.]

I have a couple concerns about this.

First, the costs don’t seem to align well.  I can accept Darkvision being worth half a feat (Darkvision is handed out in boxes of breakfast cereal), but being worth one third of a ‘more powerful class ability’?

I mentioned yesterday in my post on Archetypes that I am uncomfortable with Major Talents improving automatically over time without additional cost.  As I read it from the Talents page and the Archetypes page, improving my Base Attack Bonus by +3 will cost me three Talent Points (which I’m okay with), but because spell casting is a Major Talent I pay three Talent Points and it improves automatically.

Both of these things seem problematic to me, taken together it could be disastrous.  At a minimum, I would think Major Talents should have a cost to improve.

Talent Format

Here John outlines the fields that may be included in a Talent definition.  It looks like quite a few fields (comparable to the number of fields spells in D&D 3.x or Pathfinder), but it looks like only a subset is used for any particular Talent.

I suspect that there are enough consistent subsets it might be worth breaking the Talent descriptions out by type explicitly.

Talent List

I am reviewing these in light detail because I think some fundamental assumptions need to be reexamined and reconsidered.  However, even at this level I can see things I think are worth mentioning specifically.

On reconsideration, I will give only general observations.  I started to review in more detail but found that I was repeating the same comments.

  • Talent descriptions are sometimes inconsistent (the duration of Alter Shape 1 (Any Animal) changes between paragraphs).
  • Minor Talents are defined as “cannot be improved” and some mention improvements.  ‘Fast Initiative’ gives a +2 bonus to Initiative checks for one Talent Point… and a +4 bonus if you spend two Talent Points (can I spend four for a +8 bonus?)
  • Standard Talents may not have explicit improvements (either specific options for improvement, or guidelines for how they may be improved.  For example, ‘Concentration 1 (Effortless)’ is a Standard Talent that reduces the cost of maintaining concentration on effects from the chosen subschool by 1 AP.  If I improve this Talent, must it apply to another subschool?  May it apply to another subschool?  If I may apply it more than once to a particular subschool, what is the maximum number of times?  This sort of thing could be made more explicit.
  • Standard Talents might not have any way to improve.  For example, the Diehard Standard Talent gains a binary ability (he can do it, nobody without the Diehard Talent can) that doesn’t have any clear way to improve (no checks to make, no improved effect possible, and so on).
  • Major Talents are defined as “usually improving automatically” and some mention explicit improvements.
  • The “Name #” format is not obvious in intent.  The number seems to indicate a degree of power (presumably an ‘Attack 1’ Talent is less valuable than an ‘Attack 2’ Talent), and this seems to be so for the purpose of prerequisites), but the number doesn’t seem to mean anything else.  For instance ‘Attack 5 (Quivering Palm)’ sounds like it should be a powerful Talent, but has no prerequisites.  May I take it at first level?
  • Talents do not do what would have been expected given their earlier use.  Specifically, the ‘Extra Fate’ Talent doesn’t give a flat bonus per level (as suggested in the Archetypes pages, such as for Fighter), it is defined as giving ‘+1d10 Bonus Hit Points’.  And again, how many times am I allowed to take this, and when?
  • Awkward and misleading names.  ‘Familiar Defense’ has absolutely nothing to do with a magical animal companion, it is a defense bonus against a chosen type of favored enemy.  Similarly, ‘Familiar School’ improves caster level by one for a chosen school of spells.
  • Many descriptions are incomplete (that’s okay, this page is in draft), which I mention only for completeness and because I spent very little time on those Talents that lacked critical information (Talent Type isn’t all that critical, Benefit is).
  • Minor irritant, the Talents seem to be presented in no particular order.  This can make finding specific talents annoying, especially since I am predicting what they would be called.

Having Minor Talents and Major Talents with ‘improvements’ might be a shorthand for multiple Talents (such as replacing ‘Armor Proficiency, Light’, ‘Armor Proficiency, Medium’, and ‘Armor Proficiency, Heavy’ with a single Talent, as seems to have been done on the Talent List page).  This apparently contradicts the definition of Minor Talents… while I think I figured out the intent here, but was not as clear as it could have been.


Some ideas that might help address the concerns I describe above.

Talent Types

The Talent Type breakdown seemed odd to me.

Perhaps something like

  • Traits describe inherent abilities that a creature either has or does not have.  Being inherent, most likely cannot be improved and might not even be possible to gain after character creation (did you suddenly grow a membrane in your eyes that lets you use Darkvision?  In my campaign, possible so, but in many, probably not).  However, there could be multiple degrees to a talent (60 foot Darkvision, 90 foot, or 120 foot).
  • Skills are abilities a creature or character can learn and improve, whether normal, extraordinary (which normally covers non-magical stuff), spell-like, or supernatural.
  • Boons are the other things.  They may or may not be possible to improve (if you are given a magic sword it might be a ‘static item’, or it might grow with you).

This gives us with “stuff you have or do not have”, “stuff you learned”, and “stuff you got”.

Talent Level (and Cost)

I have no particular problem with Talents having different costs.  Some things are more worth having than others, and charging extra for those is reasonable.  Echelon does exactly that, charging more talent slots (or higher-tier slots, or requiring capstone talent slots for certain things) for ‘bigger abilities’.

I would make the following changes to the cost structure

  • Traits usually can’t be purchased after character creation, but might be.  Regardless, some are worth more than others and thus might cost 1-5 Talent Points (or possibly even more!  Though I suspect that usually these could be broken down to smaller Talents and bundled as Templates).
  • Skills may cost 1-5 Talent Points per rank depending on their value.  Armor Proficiency might not be worth so much and cost only one point per rank, while Wizard Spell Casting might cost five points per rank (see below for more on Spell Casting).
  • Boons likely cost 1-5 Talent Points depending how useful and powerful they are.  ‘Boons’ being something that was given, it may be possible that they are used up and go away.  I try to have things characters ‘pay for’ with development resources have a fair bit of story immunity, so I probably wouldn’t do this.  Boons might therefore cover things like patronage or a bonded (‘signature’, ‘named’, etc.) magic item rather than a favor or miscellaneous magic item such as a potion are generic magic sword.

Spell Casting Costs

Yes, Spell Casting can be considered a skill (and in the above section, is).  In almost every place I have read about spell casters, they invest a significant amount of time developing and improving their abilities.  What this means in each story can vary quite a bit, but they almost always have to (or have had to) learn how to harness their abilities, or even learn what their abilities are.

As such, trying considering it a skill.  However, not all spell casting is equivalent in D&D.

I would equate the power of clerics, druids, and wizards.  They are clearly better at it than anyone else, and it’s a major ability.  Charge five points per level for it (domains are a separate thing).

Sorcerers could be one step down.  Still a significant power, but they have severe limits on the number of spells they can learn.  The ease of casting is nice, but any decently-played Wizard has more available mojo, and with greater flexibility, than a comparably well-played sorcerer.  Charge four points per level for it.

I would charge Bards three points, maybe.  They are certainly outclassed by the classes above, but definitely better than Paladins and Rangers.

Paladins and Rangers are interesting.  Charging them two points per level is about right because they don’t get a lot of spell slots, nor broad spell selection.  These two have an interesting option, though – half-rate Cleric and Druid casting, respectively.  This would actually work out better for them, granting broader spell knowledge, more slots, and the same caster level.  This results in an average cost of two and a half points per level, so charging two points per level for RAW Paladin or Ranger casting should be fine.


I think John is headed in a workable direction.  I think it might be worth reviewing the definitions he is using for the design, there are inconsistencies that make it harder to follow than it should be and I suspect are hindering his design efforts.



  1. GreyKnight

    I didn’t actually go back and check the dates, just took a stab at it. Three weeks is close enough :-)

    How is Echelon going? Did you come up with any means of handling things like elemental vulnerabilities and other “weak point” traits? Dryads being bound to a region is another example. I’m interested to see how you handle that sort of thing.

  2. Keith has great comments and yes, my work is somewhat scattered (or scatter-brained) thus making a valid review more difficult. I’ll be endeavoring to clean this up a bit so that these don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

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