The Components of a Character: How can we use the tools D&D Next gives us to make non-standard PCs?

I love playing weird characters. Ones that don't fit exactly into the normal D&D Paradigm. Not for power, nessicarily, but for concept and novelty.

The issue is that, tradtionally, a lot of characters I'd love to mess with in concept have impractically high level adjustments and/or racial hitdie in 3.5, and... well, I don't have much experience with 4e as my only game in that system fell through, so I can't say.

It is inevitable that eventually someone is going to want to play a pixie, or a lich, or a half-fiend, or the ever popular half dragon. But the level adjustments in 3.5 were crippling at times. Now, they mentioned the possibility of using backgrounds to help define characters with unique backgrounds. Which is great! But it doesn't cover everything. 

So, in the spirit of a modular system, let's see what this early playtest gives us.

From what I can tell, a character can be broken down into four components, which are conveniently listed in a neat little row. Race, Class, Background, and Theme. It's only the first playtest, so I don't have a lot. But I do know a few things.

Race is pretty much the classic D&D standard for races. Ability adjustments, a size, and racial abilities. The adjustments aren't listed yet, but I'm guessing they're still present for the purposes of this idea.

Class is a bit different, as there has been mention (somewhere), of classes also offering ability adjustments at first level. A wizard, for instance, might get an intelligence boost. This, combined with the natural abilities inherent to the idea of a class, already vastly expands character concepts.

Background offers even further expansion. It offers you skills, as well as an ability that offers a semi-mechanical roleplaying benefit. In addition, the feats made available to PCs (at least on the Wizard's sheet) seem to come from background as well, offering some form of expanding benefit

Theme appears to be a bonus feat of some kind, though it's possible they offer more benefits at later levels.

So, how can we use these? For this exercise, I'm going to use the High Elf race as outlined in the playtest document. 

So, for starters, we have our elf. With it's currently unknown bonuses and it's three racial features: Free Spirit, Keen Senses, and Low Light Vision.

Now, let's say we want to make a Fiendish Elf. Based on what we know so far, we can give our pointy eared friend a Fiend-Blooded background. He'd get skills like Planar Lore and Intimidate, and a background ability. I can't think of one at the moment, but the initial background ability is mostly roleplay focused (like access to a library), while later abilities are more mechanical (a familiar). By doing that, we can make a reasonably fiendblooded character

Well, if we scurry over to the race proper, you note we have three racial abilities listed. One is a sense type, one is an immunity to two effects, and one is an advantage on multiple checks. We also have the ability score adjustments. We can make this a bit modular as well. We don't want to do too much of a change, as the elf would cease to be an elf. But we can replace racial abilities if we apply specific rules to them.

Let's assume a theoretical system where racial abilities are assigned a point value that adds up to... say...  five.  So in the elf's case, Keen Senses and Free Spirit would be worth two of these theoretical points each, where as Low Light Vision is worth 1. I'm leaving ability scores out of this equasion for the moment because I don't know the elf's adjustments. 

So, let's say you wanted to play up the infernal aspect of your character, by taking Fire Resistance (3 Points) as a racial ability. You could go about this in several ways. For one, you could drop Keen Senses and Low Light Vision from your character, returning three points to your pool. 

Another way of going about it would be to introduce racial drawbacks. For example, taking Bad Reputation (-2 Point, Disadvantage to Social Checks against Good Aligned characters when your demonic nature is recognized) would let you trade Keen Senses for Fire Resistance, and would let you grab a one point Darkvision quality as well. This modular system is not without flaws, however. For one, if you change too many racial features, your character eventually stops resembling a member of that race entirely. More importantly, Drawback systems are quite easy to break. Limits would need to be placed, and GMs would need to adjudicate. It's a minmaxer's wet dream, which is... I don't know. Depends on your opinion. It's easily broken, which is bad. But it allows for versatility, which is good.  One distinct advantage I can see is that breaking down races into modular features allows Worldbuilders to put together new races rather easily.

So now, rather than simply having a fiendish heritage, our elf is a full on fiend-blooded character resembling a tiefling. But we can go further. One idea explored in 3/3.5 were Savage Progressions, breaking down powerful races into classes. The issue with that, however, is that these aren't actually classes. You don't gain hit dice. It's a set of racial features you can take instead of a level. 4e tweaked this a bit by making Vampire into a class, which was interesting, but playing a vampire that was just a vampire isn't something all players want to do.

So for this exercise, I propose a hybird. A blend of racial class and prestige class that allows a character to dabble in racial abilities while still advancing with the rest of the party. The addition of ability scores to classes here really helps. This also works for things like acquired templates.

For example, let's say our Fiendish Elven Wizard is a follower of Orcus, and decides to lich himself. Rather than taking a template, he can simply take a level in the Lich Racial Class, advancing as normal.  The question of spellcasting is the big issue here, however. The big problem with level adjustments and the like in 3.5 was that spellcasters, manifesters, and other classes that relied on a scaling bonus to their main ability suffered as a result, while classes like fighters barely even noticed. A class based system could work around this like 3.5 prestige classes do. But what if you take the racial class levels first? Which... you probably will.  That's something I haven't figured out a way around yet. So it's something to consider.


The final options for character creation are Themes, which seem to work like feats. Themes that flesh out a character by offering things like cantrips or other special abilities are a good finishing touch on this whole, crazy idea.


This took way too long to write and probably doesn't make much sense. But the point I am trying to make here is that I think, if this is handled correctly, D&D next can allow for a level of conceptual versatility never before seen in a D&D game. Custom Races, easily applied "templates", concepts formerly impractical (or impossible)... it's exciting! 

Though, uh... not what we're testing right now. Still, I can't wait to see what WotC actually does with the races. These are just my thoughts on the matter.
I am theifing this for my big list of module ideas while of course giving you credit and linking to this post.
It's far too early to know.  The playtest goodies didn't involve character creation.
I am theifing this for my big list of module ideas while of course giving you credit and linking to this post.



Oh! Thanks! And yeah, this is super early wistful thinking. 
I am theifing this for my big list of module ideas while of course giving you credit and linking to this post.



Oh! Thanks! And yeah, this is super early wistful thinking. 



I don't think so. I think it is good thinking!
Actually, given the flatter math, I don't think Level Adjustment would be nearly as big an issue anymore. You may have a +5 level adjustment, but you're not missing out on 5 levels worth of BAB, saves and skill points anymore, either.  You lose class features, but in return gain amazing monstrous features. In a system where there isn't nearly as much numerical difference between levels 1 and 20, I don't see Level Adjustments for powerful monsters being a problem at all anymore.
Actually, given the flatter math, I don't think Level Adjustment would be nearly as big an issue anymore. You may have a +5 level adjustment, but you're not missing out on 5 levels worth of BAB, saves and skill points anymore, either.  You lose class features, but in return gain amazing monstrous features. In a system where there isn't nearly as much numerical difference between levels 1 and 20, I don't see Level Adjustments for powerful monsters being a problem at all anymore.



That is a valid point. Particularly if they add racial hit dice instead of level adjustments to allow advancement. However, I still prefer a progressive system. It makes it easier to fit certain races in. Otherwise you have people being more powerful than other party members, or people being unable to join the party unless it starts at a level higher than their LA. 
One thing I just realized is that ability scores have been evened out a bit due to the new skill/save system. They aren't totally even, but it's possible to make it easier to shuffle the bonuses around if there is rhyme and reason to it. I just need to see them first. Can't wait for the character creation build.
Good ideas on the OP; it does seem like that was part of the thinking early on, way before these few Play-test characters were intoduced.  I seem to remember having read somewhere that Mike Mearls wanted race to be an important part of a character... and with the new Saving Throws being directly drawn from ability scores, that racial bonus to stats makes even more of a difference.  Please, oh PLEASE keep that bonus at +2.  And I don't mind a negative, but maybe limit it to -1.

Background and theme also seem solid to me; might be conducive to making some very interesting non-standard characters.  From old AD&D I used to enjoy playing a Cleric/Thief.  Silence cast on a rock made sneaking around much easier.  As long as they can keep balance with the non-standard races, it think there is great potential for a very high level of customization.  Looking forward to seeing more...
Good ideas on the OP; it does seem like that was part of the thinking early on, way before these few Play-test characters were intoduced.  I seem to remember having read somewhere that Mike Mearls wanted race to be an important part of a character... and with the new Saving Throws being directly drawn from ability scores, that racial bonus to stats makes even more of a difference.  Please, oh PLEASE keep that bonus at +2.  And I don't mind a negative, but maybe limit it to -1.

Background and theme also seem solid to me; might be conducive to making some very interesting non-standard characters.  From old AD&D I used to enjoy playing a Cleric/Thief.  Silence cast on a rock made sneaking around much easier.  As long as they can keep balance with the non-standard races, it think there is great potential for a very high level of customization.  Looking forward to seeing more...



Oooh! Yes! Even outside of race, this is great for concepts like Physically Strong Wizards and divinely empowered thieves. There's a thread toying with it right now, I think.
One thing I just realized is that ability scores have been evened out a bit due to the new skill/save system. They aren't totally even, but it's possible to make it easier to shuffle the bonuses around if there is rhyme and reason to it. I just need to see them first. Can't wait for the character creation build.

Spread your ability scores using the Elite Array:
15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8

Fighters get +1 Strength
Rogues get +1 Dexterity
Wizards get +1 Intelligence
Clerics get +1 Wisdom

High Elves get +1 Intelligenge
Hill Dwarves get +1 Constitution
Mountain Dwarves get +1 Strength
Halflings get +1 Dexterity
Humans get +1 to all ability scores, and an additional +1 to whatever their class bonus is
(For example, a Human Fighter gets +2 Strength for being a Fighter, instead of +1)

The second part of the human bonus is an assumption, mostly because it kinda makes sense, and it's what I would do. It's also possible that they just get an additional +1 to any ability score, not just their class's primary. What I really find interesting, though, is the original +1 to all ability scores. This makes up for htem not having anything like the really powerful racial features the elf, dwarves and halfling have.
Checking the ability spread... that actually appears to be accurate.

It also makes the point buy system for class features that much easier. If we assume that a +1 bonus to a given stat is worth a single point, and that  all races are given six points to start with, then we end up with a spread that looks kind of like this.

1 Point
+1 to any ability score
 Low Light Vision
Stonecunning
Dwarven Speed
Naturally Stealthy

2 Points
Small Size
Dwarven Resilience
Keen Senses
Free Spirit
Lucky

Granted, that is all entirely arbitrary on my part. But it does give us a few guidelines.

First, a size change seems to be worth two points, at least when going down. When going up, it might not work out quite as well, but it's a good baseline.

Immunity to a single status effect seems to be worth either one point a pop. Free Spirit covers two (Charm and Sleep). It's kind of debatable if sleep is a status effect, but sleep effects are deadly, so I'm willing to count it as one.

Immunity to a broader descriptor like poison seems to be worth two points.

Advantage also seems to be worth two points for either three skills all the time, at least. Lucky is basically gaining advantage on a roll if you use it normally, though... it is kind of weird when disadvantage comes into play. Still this actually looks like it's possible, which is awesome.
Note that Stonecunning is a huge boost, since you can never get lost in a stone-based dungeon or maze. And while it's mostly RP, the other parts of it are also very useful. And a halfling's Naturally Stealthy is also incredibly useful. Also, a human (by your system) would have 7 points, if you count the extra +1 they get in there.

Finally, I don't really see why size small would be a cost at all, much less two points; it doesn't actually give you any bonuses, and prevents you from using a type of weapon.

Honestly, I doubt they used anything as precise as this. However, it does make a decent baseline. You just have to narrow down what's worth what a bit more.
Ill be honest i cant see an abilty score based system without rolling stats being the baseline gen process. From what I can tell they are trying to discourage the "dump" stat which I agree with. There may be a point buy variation but this screams roll the die to me.
Always excuse the spelling, and personal opinions are just that personal and opinions. Getting Down with the playtesting of 5th http://community.wizards.com/dndnext/go/thread/view/75882/29139253/Complilation_of_Playtest_Feedback Compilation of Feedback post /bump please
Array works fine. And even if they (mistakenly) forget to include point buy, it's not like people won't use it. It's not a hard system to port over, really.
Based on this entirely arbitrary analysis, for the sake of SCIENCE, I am going to attempt to create a playable race right now. Don't try this at home kids.

So, my favorite race in the Eberron setting is the Warforged. It's a good place to start, so let's look at what we need, using a bit of information from both 3.5 and 4E as we go.

First off, a warforged is a construct, if a living one. One thing I was not fond of in 4E was how Warforged could be affected by diseases and poisons. I could imagine that they could get gummed up somehow, but at other times it is a bit of a stretch.


Warforged also traditionally do not sleep. So far we have...

Immunity to Sleep (1)
Immunity to Disease (2)
Immunity to Poison (2)

Which puts us at five.

Warforged also do not eat, drink, or breathe. This is the hard bit, as I have no basis on which to compare that too.  Is it worth one point or two? I'll go with two, as waterbreathing is a nice ability.

That puts us at the following.

Immunity to Sleep (1)
Immunity to Disease (2)
Immunity to Poison (2)
No Metabolism (2)

Warforged ALSO are difficult to kill. This can be explained by having Advantage on Death Saving Throws. Advantage for three things is worth two points, so advantage for a single thing might reasonably be worth one.

Immunity to Sleep (1)
Diehard (1)
Immunity to Disease (2)
Immunity to Poison (2)
No Metabolism (2)


That is a grand total of EIGHT Racial points before we even get to the ability score. Something has got to give.

We can ease things up a bit by adding a drawback to the race.  Warforged aren't biological, and have to heal damage differently that other races, so that can be a signifigant disadvantage.

Maintenance (-3)
Warforged gain no benefit from Healer's Kits. When taking a short rest, they must expend a use from a special Repair Kit to spend a hit dice. During a long rest, a warforged may only regain lost hit dice and hit points by expending a use from a repair kit. Without a repair kit, a warforged still recieves all the other benefits from a rest, including spells per day. Warforged may use healing potions and magical healing normally.

This is actually two drawbacks in one. The first drawback is that a Warforged has to use Repair Kits instead of Healer's Kits. This is mildly annoying,  as most parties will likely just have a big ol' Sack O' Healing Kits for the biological party members, while warforged have to have their own (potentially smaller) stockpile. That is worth -1 point. 

The BIG part, which is potentially dangerous, is the fact that they also have to spend a repair kit to gain healing from a long rest. This adds a layer of strategy. If you use too many repair kits during the day, there is a chance you might not have one available come nightfall. The diehard ability helps reduce the chance of death due to this, and magical healing is a good stopgap in a pinch. It's not super balanced, and it might not carry through to all levels, but it's the best I could come up with at 3 AM.

So we now have the following.

Immunity to Disease (2)
Immunity to Poison (2)
Immunity to Sleep (1)
No Metabolism (2)
Diehard (1)
Maintenance (-3)

8-3=5! Which means we just need the ability score. The classic for Warforged is constitution. So here is our end result!

Warforged

Size: Medium
+1 Constitution.
Living Construct: Warforged are immune to Disease, Poison, and Sleep. In addition, they do not need to eat, sleep, or breathe.
Diehard: Warforged are exceptionally difficult to kill. They have Advantage on all constitution checks to avoid death.
Maintenance: Warforged to not heal damage naturally. They must expend a use from a repair kit during short rests to spend hit dice. In addition, a warforged must expend a use of a repair kit during a long rest to regain lost hit points and hit dice. They gain all other benefits of a rest normally. Magical healing (such as healing potions) work normally on warforged. 

It isn't perfect. That last bit seriously would need extended playtesting. But it's a good example of the potential versatility of the system.
Note that Stonecunning is a huge boost, since you can never get lost in a stone-based dungeon or maze. And while it's mostly RP, the other parts of it are also very useful. And a halfling's Naturally Stealthy is also incredibly useful. Also, a human (by your system) would have 7 points, if you count the extra +1 they get in there.

Finally, I don't really see why size small would be a cost at all, much less two points; it doesn't actually give you any bonuses, and prevents you from using a type of weapon.

Honestly, I doubt they used anything as precise as this. However, it does make a decent baseline. You just have to narrow down what's worth what a bit more.



Hrm... good point. Stonecunning and Naturally Stealthy are worth more now that I think of it. Small is definitely worth something as Halflings have only two (admittedly powerful) racial abilities while Elves have 3 and Dwarves have 4.  So it doesn't perfectly match up. I've got a proof in concept though! 


One thing I just realized is that ability scores have been evened out a bit due to the new skill/save system. They aren't totally even, but it's possible to make it easier to shuffle the bonuses around if there is rhyme and reason to it. I just need to see them first. Can't wait for the character creation build.

Spread your ability scores using the Elite Array:
15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8

Fighters get +1 Strength
Rogues get +1 Dexterity
Wizards get +1 Intelligence
Clerics get +1 Wisdom

High Elves get +1 Intelligenge
Hill Dwarves get +1 Constitution
Mountain Dwarves get +1 Strength
Halflings get +1 Dexterity
Humans get +1 to all ability scores, and an additional +1 to whatever their class bonus is
(For example, a Human Fighter gets +2 Strength for being a Fighter, instead of +1)

The second part of the human bonus is an assumption, mostly because it kinda makes sense, and it's what I would do. It's also possible that they just get an additional +1 to any ability score, not just their class's primary. What I really find interesting, though, is the original +1 to all ability scores. This makes up for htem not having anything like the really powerful racial features the elf, dwarves and halfling have.



Overall this seems pretty likely. Though I am not entirely convinced on the human one. It is possible the human is intended to only have +1 to all stats and that extra +1 in the wisdom is a sheet error. Given the number of little numerical errors on the sheets that is entirely possible as well unfortunately. Gaining a potential +3 to your class stat for being human would be quite the substantial boon for them.. even with the +1 to all stats that would keep their class stat at +2 just like a well matched race class combo, they are also getting +1 in everything else too. Still a substantial benefit when you consider how large a role stat checks appear to play in this edition.
Given the number of little numerical errors on the sheets that is entirely possible as well unfortunately.

The only error is the quarterstaff not using Dexterity for the two people who have them. Fighters get an unlisted +1 to attacks and +2 to damage in addition to Weapon Focus (confirmed by members of previous playtests). Certain races increase the damage die of certain weapon types to represent racial weapon trainings (confirmed by the new L&L) as well as Dwarves increasing their class hit die by one size. These aren't errors, they're just not clearly spelled out on the character sheet... which is a mistake of its own, in my opinion, but not an error.

Gaining a potential +3 to your class stat for being human would be quite the substantial boon for them.. even with the +1 to all stats that would keep their class stat at +2 just like a well matched race class combo, they are also getting +1 in everything else too. Still a substantial benefit when you consider how large a role stat checks appear to play in this edition.

Considering the large amount of very useful special abilities granted to the other races, I think this is about fair. Humans are the best at doing what it is they're focused on doing... and I like the idea of humans having a drive and determination unmatched by any other race. Demihumans have other unique special abilities instead. Dwarves are flat-out immune to poison and can never get lost in a stone dungeon or maze. Elves are immune to sleep and charm, and always have advantage on the three most commonly rolled checks in the game: Listen, Spot and Search. Halflings get two rerolls per day (this is pretty big due to the flat math) and can hide behind other people easily. Add to that the racial weapon training and other minor abilities, and I'd say +1 to everything, +1 to class primary is about on par.

Although I will say I think the halfling is a little weak, as-is. I'd replace naturally stealthy with automatic Advantage on stealth, climb and balance checks, and add their Dexterity bonus to their Strength to determine jumping distance. This brings back the agile, athletic halflings of old, brings them more on par with elven features, and removes the slightly immersion-breaking "I'm hiding behind the elf (who is presumably moving and ducking and jumpign around, and thus not at all a proper source of cover to hide behind)!"

I'd agree. I do like the ability for them to be able to hide more easily. In a normal situation, Naturally Stealthy is almost Hide in Plain Sight. But it does need balancing, yes.
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