Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Character Class Conundrum and the Axes of Awesome, Part 2

In my last post, I explored, in general terms, a mechanic for flexible character generation, one that makes the assumption that the basic character archetypes each descend from either Fighter or Magic User. Now, for my next trick, I will try to figure out how it might be implemented.

I suggested the virtually any playable character could be conceived across three axes: Power, Skill, and Divinity.

The Power axis is about how the character does what he or she does to achieve in-game effects in large terms. That is, it's the character's ability to use force(s) of some kind(s). At one end of the spectrum, I put brute force (i.e., combat) and at the other I put arcane power (i.e., magic), because I'm thinking in terms of fantasy RPGs. Arcane power could, though, be changed to something else if need be.

The Skill axis is about the character's adoption of in-game knacks or capacities to do routine, in-world tasks (e.g., thieves' skills, any other skill checks based on the assumption of practical knowledge and ability). This would not apply to things that just about any character should be able to do--things based on ability scores like lifting heavy things (Strength) or jumping out of the way of a charging yak (Dexterity/Agility). Instead, these are "advanced" skills like lock picking, blacksmithing, animal handling, things like that. They are useful skills that are separate from the character's core damage mechanic (Power axis), but which could, conceivably be used to supplement it at times.

The Divinity axis is about the character's connection to the forces of the Unseen World, to gods and patrons, to the aether, to Nature, or whatever. This is, for me, the trickiest one to define. It's tricky because in some cases it seems to get into the first axis (Power) when we're dealing with arcane magic, but that problem is avoided if we make the assumption that part of what this axis brings is a way for the character to relate to the universe, rather than to his or her own personal power. Even with something like Nature or the Winds of Magic, for example, the character must commune in some way with an external power or potential. This is more clearly evident when we make that external power or potential a deity or supernatural patron of some sort.

So, then, how do we make this work? I think at the lowest levels, it would be something like a generic modifier in that category. At higher levels, it would be more powerful, and potentially better defined. Maybe it would apply to what I said in a post I wrote a couple months ago, which proposed creating a DCC character "menu" off of which one could select powers or capacities (e.g., spell casting or thief skills or ability to use a Deed Die in combat). I think that's a good framework for this purpose, but we needn't tie it to DCC characters, certainly.

Now, to be clear, the way I'm thinking about this system for character generation only really applies at the time of creation. We're talking about characters' basic potential. Advancement through levels (if that's what is determined to be how characters get better, and if that's something that we are concerned about) would require additional thought and development. I'm not going to tackle that here, at least not yet.

So, here's my first stab at using this mechanic. At character creation, the player would have a pool of points to spend (say, for example, 4 points). He or she may spend up to 3 points on any one axis. Those points could reflect more generic advantages (i.e., modifiers to rolls in that category of abilities) or more specific skills that are members of the category captured by that axis. The player needn't spend points in every category, but would be required (if there are 4 points available) to pick two axes to which to assign points. Another assumption I have here is that the number of points used would not result in a linear result. That is, spending 2 points in something is worth more than twice as much as spending just 1.

Let's take a stab at creating a character in this way. Let's say I want to make an assassin with some arcane powers and some fighting ability.

The Power Axis: This is fighting skill and magical powers. Let's say I decide to put 1 point in fighting and 1 point in magic.

The 1 point in fighting could be a generic modifier that affects both offense and defense (+1 to hit, +1 AC), but doesn't really provide much flavor to the character. It could, alternately, be the Warrior's Deed Die. This has, potentially, a great deal more power to hit and to damage, but wouldn't apply outside of that specific mechanic. If you chose a Deed Die, you couldn't just say, "I apply my +1 modifier to this other thing that isn't the Deed Die." So, greater power for particular effects, but more range of application for less specific effects. Alternately, something like the Deed Die might require at least 2 points buy-in, because it is very powerful, potentially.

The 1 point in magic is pretty weak, but useful. Let's say that 1 point would grant me the ability to cast a particular spell type (e.g., healing, fire, illusion, etc.), but it would be limited in some way. I only get to cast it once per day, for example, or maybe it comes at some cost (e.g., spell burn).

For my one point in fighting ability, I would get a generic +1 modifer. For my magic power, I get one spell. Had I spent more, I could have gotten a more powerful version of that ability. I'm not going to specify what that might look like in this post.

At this point, I would have 2 points remaining at this point to assign to one or both of the other axes.

The Skill Axis: This has to do with things my guy can do that are like skills. I'll spend 1 point on this. I could spend 2, but then my example wouldn't get to the other axis, and I want to do that.

For my 1 point, I would select "Thief Skills." These would be the typical skills one gets as a thief, and I would have an advantage that someone who doesn't select them would not have. That's not to say, for example that someone could not attempt to climb sheer surfaces. This character, though, would be able to accomplish routine versions of the task automatically, with no roll. More challenging tasks would require a roll, but the character would make that roll with a modifier (+1 to start, and maybe it could improve later). [Note: I'm going to assume, here, that the +1 modifier is to a d20 roll].

The Divinity Axis: This character spends 1 point on the Divinity Axis. This might mean, for example, that the character is more in tune with the universe in some way. Maybe he or she can "feel" the probabilities and potential outcomes of certain actions, or whatever. As a mechanic, that could be reflected in the character's ability to re-roll a missed to-hit roll, or to negate a successful attack against him/her. This is pretty powerful, so we'd have to limit it. Maybe that's a skill you can use once per day or once per combat (Hmm... starting to sound like 4th ed. D&D... not sure I like that). In any case, it's pretty generic and fairly weak, but it's potentially very useful. At higher buy-in, this connection to the universe (in whatever way one is connected) would have other, more powerful effects. I'm not quite ready to figure out how that might work, but I imagine this would be a bit more like having a diety or patron (as per DCC rules) or the ability to do things like lay on hands to heal (instead of using a spell), or something like that.

So, there you go. The first pass at a mechanic for the Tri-Axial Character Creation system. I'm not sure what I think about it yet, but I think it may have some potential.