Friday, March 02, 2012

Adventures in Layout

Remember the NPC classes introduced in 3e, the Warrior, Adept, Expert, Commoner and Aristocrat?  The pretty much sucked compared to the PC classes, with the Commoner being far inferior to any other class.  Except maybe the Sorcerer.  I hate those guys.  Anyway, the Warrior and Adept are particularly interesting to me, as they are basically recongizable as cut down versions of standard D&D classes.

So here's my idea, integrate something like the Warrior and the Adept as the backbone of the class system.  Then implement more robust classes as add-ons to the baseline.  Like this:

Imagine this as a two page spread in a rulebook.  The lines in black are the NPC class information, with the rectangle being the spot you'd insert some artwork of a typical Warrior or Hedge Wizard or whatever.  The red, purple and green columns are the buffer PC/important NPC variants, which all build off the stuff in the black columns.  So if the black text said "A Warrior is someone who fights, here's his XP chart, hit dice, etc..." then the red text would say "A Fighter is a Warrior with the following special powers" or something like that.  The illo box on the lefthand page would feature three characters, typical members of each of the three subclasses. (Note that in the actual rulebook the text wouldn't be different colors.  I'm just trying to ruin your eyes this afternoon.)

What do you think of this approach?


  1. Really nice, really intuitive.
    On a completely unrelated note, a game with only commoners would be pretty fun with the goal being the guy who dies last.

  2. I love it.

    That said I know some people who "Hate modular systems" (Don't know the reason)
    and who "Don't like the idea of paying for a book 2/3rd full of stuff they won't use" (Which I do not completely understand because most of everyRPG book is stuff you read once and never look at again except the monster books but if someone wants to explain be my guest...)

  3. I like it! I imagine the main problem would be filling up just the right amount of space, without going under or over the two-page spread. Not a big problem, especially if you don't have a committee telling you what to do.

    (Following up that completely unrelated note, there is at least one game that's almost just that: It's like being first level in OD&D or 1st Ed Warhammer, except...moreso, and forever.)

  4. Basic chassis + customizable superstructure (within defined - hopefully playtested to heck-and-back - limits). Makes sense. You can see how everything fits together.

    And if an NPC graduates from "guard #3" to class leveled henchman (or replacement PC) status you can just slap level-appropriate abilities on him in keeping with his archetype.

    PS: did you ever look at The Gaming Den's take on the Warrior and Adept NPC classes? They were fun little mook classes topping out at around L5. (1 = guard/cultist, 3 = sergeant/big cultist, 5 = captain of mooks.)

  5. I think it's a great idea - I've played a couple of characters who had NPC class levels (one cleric who started as an Expert for brewing and liquor production, and a character I play now that started off as a Warrior hireling) to start with. They were pretty fun for me, since I like characters who aren't quite as focused as the standard PC classes. I love the idea of using the NPC classes as the base for a modular class system - I'm totally going to run with this idea. Once again, Jeff - your great ideas are going to be pilfered!

  6. I think it would work well.

  7. Anonymous3:44 PM

    True20 from Green Ronin is a good d20 variant doing exactly as you describe Jeff, i.e. core classes are Warrior, Expert, and Adept and how you distinguish your character is with with feats and power (spells, special abilities, etc.) you choose when you create the character.

  8. I played a character that started as an aristocrat once before entering rogue. Aristocrats start with more gold than any PC class plus they start with all armor proficiencies iirc.

  9. Anonymous4:18 PM

    To be honest, I didn't see a point to doing this with NPC classes until reading Chris' comment about henchmen 'leveling up'.
    The idea of a 2-page spread for drawing out modular classes, though; I like that one.

  10. Very cool Jeff. I dig it. It's a simple and elegant approach. For your suggestions of add-ons have you looked at (and I may be missing the point here) the Pathfinder Advanced Players guide and see how they handled the variants for starting classes rather than coming up with a whole new class as WotC did (Swashbuckler, Shaman, etc)? I really dug how they did that and think it would be really cool to have a system like that.

  11. requiring 1st level characters to start out in an NPC class, with PC classes only available to those who level up is a nice way to establish back-story

    you could even do a little warhammer-esqe rules with certain NPC classes having particular PC class exits to channel would-be barbarians through commoner, and limit paladins to aristocrats

    you've got 11 PC classes and 5 NPC classes, so giving each NPC class 2 potential PC class exits is feasible if you ditch one - I'd suggest mooshing wizard and sorcerer together, or ditching bard, I'm wavering myself, but I think a solid case can be made that one out of the 3 classes is too close to the other 2

  12. also, I might add that a 1st level wizard is less comparatively squishy and improbably narrowly skilled if he has a level of expert under his belt

  13. @ Jeff:

    Reminds me of Mongoose Traveller. Or Saga edition Star Wars (which did something similar with its core classes + "talent tree" might take a look at that book for an example).

    If you're going to go this route (which I don't think is bad), why stop with just the warrior and adept? The expert's a good "back bone" character as well...hell, for that matter even the commoner and aristocrat would be hip. Aren't there examples of frivolous nobleman adventurers in fantasy literature...certainly the Saga Star Wars did "Noble" as a core class. But you could make a "thief build" on a commoner core class as well as the expert.

    I don't know...maybe I'm a bit of a romantic, but I can think up some advantages for the commoner. A commoner ADVENTURER will need to be someone with a lot of ambition and a way of thinking outside the box. "Resourcefulness," would be necessary to rise above a normal peasant or laborer.

    Just my thoughts.
    ; )

  14. I thought I saw something like this in ACKS as I flipped past the classes to get to the domain stuff.

    I don’t think I’ve seen an idea like this ever laid out as well as Jeff’s image, though.

    If I understand Jeff’s idea here, though, it isn’t just customizing through feats or talents. It’s just three pre-built variants. And I’d personally prefer that to having to pick out feats/talents myself.

    I keep toying with the idea of running a True 20 kind of game but using the original generic classes from the 3e UA. Except that I’d rather the Warrior and Adept gang up on the Expert, kill him, and take his skill points. I’d rather let everyone be “the skill guy” rather than it being a separate class. (If we’re going to have skills.) Especially since—by picking different skills—you can have a lot of variations on “the skill guy”.

    And one day I’ll convince someone to let me play a Fighter/Aristocrat in 3e. Aristocrat may be an NPC class, but the extra starting gold and better class skills along with +1/level BAB means such a fighter can trade some feats for better skills.

  15. I'd be a little worried about clarity of presentation (although that's something I've been obsessing about lately), but "if it works, it works". I think I'd have to see it in practice before judging whether it was clear or jumbled.

  16. As mentioned by Anonymous above, this is True20's central class schtick, with the idea being that you add your own layers on top of the classes to tailor them to your home campaign. I've run a lot of True20 over the past several years, and I think it was handled quite successfully.

  17. Anonymous7:37 PM

    I think this idea could end up being a lot like 2E D&D kits. Fighter + the Archer package vs. Fighter + the Beast Rider package, etc. That way if you want a Clerical Beast Rider you don't have to write two packages, just apply the Beast Rider addon to the Cleric class.

    A DM who wanted a certain campaign flavor (Arabian, Oriental, Spelljammer, etc) could just buy / write up the booklet on the new addon packages. Basically, the "Complete X Handbook" supplements but ignore everything except the kits.

    You could also do what they never did with those kits and what they did with only a dramatic minority of prestige classes, and describe a few ways that you could go about acquiring the kit.

    Then again you could also describe this as 3E. You have a class and you tack on another class package. But instead of open multiclassing with prestige classes or highly specialized feat choices, it sounds like you'd effectively have Class + Up To One Prestige Class.

    You could also just describe the game system as "Base Class" plus whatever expansions you want to pay for in increased XP cost to gain a level. That's your customized class system from Dragon (and I guess from some latter Unearthed Arcana book?). In this way you describe a standard PC as d6 HP per level, +1 to hit per five levels, +1 to saves per five levels. If you want to play a Fighter type or you add on the Fighter package, that raises your HD and attacks, and raises your saves a little. It also gives multiple attacks per round at high level. Other class packages give different things.

    I guess it's a variant on a lot of things.

  18. Why the sorcerer hate? Inevitably, almost every new player wants to be a caster, and I always thought the sorcerer was well-suited for noobs. Fewer spells to have to be familiar with and no worries about figuring out what to memorize.

    1. Nothing that wrong with the class, I guess. It's that iconic guy and his ultimate dungeonpunkery.

    2. Yeah, that guy's a jerk.

  19. I like this. You could also rule that certain classes require different combinations of NPC classes, such as needing a level of both warrior and aristocrat to be a paladin, or by making a level of commoner required to be a thief. This is more along the lines of JB's suggestion of making it a bit more like Saga Edition, but wasn't that what 4E was supposed to be, anyway?

  20. Also (stupid site wouldnt let me edit my last post), NPC classes provide pre-built backstory for a character. A thief who has the aristocrat and commoner classes could be a rich kid out 'slumming', while an expert/commoner could be more of an Indiana Jones type explorer, and a straight commoner could just be interested in cold, hard cash.