Monday, May 13, 2013

Flexible Classes, Part 1: Unpacking Character Classes for DCC--Warrior and Wizard


In two earlier posts, here and here, I proposed an alternate method for conceiving character classes. The system I had in mind while doing this was Dungeon Crawl Classics, but I think this might be applicable to just about any system, fantasy-based or not.

To review briefly my points from those earlier posts: 
  • You really only need two character classes: Fighter and Magic User.
  • Additions to those characters could get you to the other classes simply by bolting on other capabilities.
  • Those capabilities could be sorted into three axes: The Power Axis, the Skill Axis, and the Divinity Axis. These axes are bounded sets with terminal endpoints, and signify where the character gets damage-dealing powers, advanced skills, and connection to the Unseen World of gods, spirits, and so forth.

 So, when we examine the classes in DCC, we should be able (if I am correct) to figure out how to translate that system into these axes. Let's first take the two "basic" classes I suggest are fundamental: The Warrior and the Wizard. We'll examine their powers, their skills, and ability to connect with the Unseen Powers.

The Warrior in DCC isn't particularly versatile, but packs a lot of great stuff into his or her relatively narrow area of expertise. Let's lay it out for easy viewing:

·         d12 for Hit Die—Warriors can take a lot of damage.
·         Attacks: Melee attacks only.
·         Attack Modifier: The Deed Die—The Warrior's deed die adds to the attack and damage rolls, and can be used to invoke an attack with a special effect. The Deed Die increases by one per level, up to d10. After that it gains +1 per level. Warriors do not add their experience level to their attacks, but may add either Strength or Agility modifier to their attacks (melee or missile).
·         Unique Ability: Mighty Deed of Arms—This special attack is invoked with a roll of "3" or better on the Deed Die.
·         Critical Hits: Higher Critical Table & Enhanced Threat Range—The Warrior's critical tables go from III to V and the die rolled on those tables starts at d12 and goes to 2d20; The threat range starts at 19-20, increases at 5th level to 18-20, and plateaus at 17-20 when he or she reaches 9th level).
·         Initiative Bonus: Warrior adds level to initiative rolls
·         Luck bonus: Lucky weapon—The Warrior gets to pick a "lucky weapon" to which to apply his or her Luck attribute modifier. This modifier will not change thereafter, and goes both ways (positive and negative). Nice if you have the Luck for it, but not really that great an ability.
·         Action Dice—Warriors only get to make additional melee attacks using their Action Dice. They get an extra attack with a d14 at 5th level which rises to d20 by 7th level, and add another d14 attack at 10th level.
·         Saving Throws: Fortitude increases the most quickly and Will the least quickly. Average increase is about +0.5per level of experience, and top out with a +6, +4, and +3 among the save categories. Warriors are Physically Tough, Dexterous, and Mentally Tough, in that order.
·         Skills—The Warrior gains no bonuses to common adventuring skills.

Now let's consider the Wizard in very much the same way:

·         d4 for Hit Die—Wizards are very, very squishy.
·         Attacks: Spell casting or melee attacks. Spell Casting: The Wizard can cast a limited number of spells dependent on his/her level, modified by the Intelligence modifier. He or she can learn more spells with additional experience levels. Spells also can go very, very wrong, and are unpredictable in their outcomes. A bad die roll can easily take out the spell caster and other party members. The Mercurial Magic table can also cause particular spells to swing in a positive or negative direction. However, when things go right, the Wizard could be a one-person army, unleashing arcane powers of staggering potential to harm or protect (sometimes at the same time).
·         Attack Modifier—Wizards can add their Caster Level and Intelligence Modifier to spell checks. They get a somewhat limited modifier of +1 to melee attacks at 2nd level, which increases very slowly and tops at +4 at 10th level.
·         Defense—Wizards' spell casting abilities are impeded by heavier armors.
·         Unique Ability—Spell Burn: Wizards can tap into their Strength, Agility, and Stamina attributes to add the "burned" ability score to spell checks. These have a refresh rate of 1 point of Attribute score per day passed.
·         Unique Ability—Supernatural Patrons: Wizards can bond with and call upon demons and other powerful entities to enhance their abilities, to protect themselves and allies, etc. Like spell casting, this ability can have potentially negative results.
·         Unique Ability—Familiar: A Wizard can have a familiar and gain powers from it. However, damage to the familiar damages the Wizard.
·         Luck bonus: Wizards apply Luck modifier to rolls for magical corruption and mercurial magic.
·         Action Dice: Wizards can use first action for either spell or melee rolls, but subsequent action rolls may only be for spell casting. The action dice are exactly the same as the Warrior.
·         Saving Throws: Will saves increase the most quickly and Fortitude the least quickly. Average increase is about +0.5per level of experience, and top out (as the Warrior does) with a +6, +4, and +3 among the save categories. Wizards are Mentally Tough, Dexterous, and Physically Tough, in that order.
·         Skills—The Wizard gains no bonuses to common adventuring skills.

Analysis

So, what have we learned about these classes, and how do they apply to my proposed triaxial system? I'll do my best to fit what I've learned into the axes. The results should be considered preliminary and incomplete.

Power Axis

When it comes to the ability to do melee damage, the Warrior is supreme. However, the Warrior's attacks are solid but mundane. However, when you add the enhanced critical hit tables to the equation, the Warrior is a monster—on Crit Table V, the d12 is the common bonus die for damage, and that table often adds multiple d12. They are predictable and powerful.

In contrast, at the highest rolls the Wizard's 4th level spell, Control Fire, can create magical fires doing 10d10 damage (or more). At the very highest level of that spell, the range could be 1,000 cubic yards and result in save versus death for any creature caught up in it. That's absolutely devastating.

In comparison, the Warrior's Power tends to be much less chaotic in its outcomes, as well. That might be an "effect" to consider, later.

Also, Warriors tend to wear heavy armor while Wizards wear little or none, making it likelier that a Warrior's fumble will prove disastrous in melee combat. The Wizard's fumble, on the other hand, is usually most disastrous in spell casting, and the results can be profoundly terrible.

Skill Axis

Warriors and Wizards get no bonuses on the Skill axis. While all character classes can attempt to, for example, find traps, only Thieves are granted significant, non-attribute-based bonuses to do so. This is somewhat troubling for my three axes, as the Skill axis may be less useful than I thought it would be, originally. However, if we look at the Unique Skills listed above as "skills," then maybe they should be included here. So what do they have.

Warrior gets the Deed Die. It's a very powerful thing, the Deed Die, and can result in bonuses to attack and damage, and can be used to produce unique, in-game effects. Some of those effects can produce significant advantages in combat.

Wizards get familiars. Familiars are potentially powerful creatures and can provide a variety of in-game bonuses, including hit point bonuses. However, a dead familiar can literally kill a Wizard, who must take double the hit points of his or her familiar in damage if it dies, up to 12 hp total. On analysis, familiars are worth the risk, just barely.

Divinity Axis

The Warrior doesn't have anything on this axis.

Wizards get supernatural patrons. This can produce an enhanced effect like a Deed Die, but (unlike the Deed Die) it cannot be relied upon to function in every case. A missed Deed Die doesn't really have a negative effect, per se. A failed attempt at Invoke Patron, on the other hand, can result in magical corruption and patron "taint." The patron also provides the ability to learn unique and potentially powerful spells.

Conclusion

I don't have enough data at this point to figure out if my triaxial system is useful. I will need to look at the other DCC character classes to be sure. Probably, I'll find that this system will need significant tweaks. More on this later.

I also am starting to realize (actually confirming) that the DCC system is very, very chaotic. The ways dice work, especially with the Wizard class, are, frankly, dangerous. I think this does a great job of modeling their conception of magic, but it makes it harder for me to use the three axes without somehow including "Chaos" and "Predictability" as elements of the proposed system. That needs some thought.