Combining Feats with Themes: quality or quantity

The game needs more significant customization beyond what feats can provide, sometimes in larger less frequent doses. IMO the value of feats can at times be too little and we get too many of them, if every character has to make a trivial decision every three levels or commit to a set of trivial feats at level 1 I foresee this leading to serious bloat and option paralysis. We have to make customization something that excites players and allows them to make truly unique characters.

I propose combining Specialties with something more akin to Themes from 4E. Firstly how often you get Feats/abilities from these specialties/themes would depend on which one you take. This would allow there to be to be small feat/abilities and big feat/abilities. This would In a way be a return of Kits because Kits varied in complexity, except these Kits are not class specific and don't take away any class features.

Something as simple as Marksmen or Survivalist would be a moderate amount of abilities, looking much like a current specialty does with smaller abilities coming in every 3 or 4 levels. These kinds of kits are good for players that are looking to get the most out of their combat abilities and don't want too off beat of character.

But then for things that require more significant mechanics such as Warlord or Alchemist you would get much better abilities at a less frequent rate like every 5 levels. This would allow players to put a new spin on their class and have really cool builds with some noticeable flavor. 

And then you could do even bigger things like Werewolf and Animal Companion that give you game changing mechanics but you might only get 3 or 4 of them all together. These Kits would be for players who want to add a whole new element to the character concept and be something really out of the box.

This in my opinion would make it so not every specialty has to have a certain amount of feat/abilities which forces some feats to exist when they really shouldn't and marginalizes other feats that should be more important. Doing it this way also takes a lot of pressure off of classes to provide customization at the cost of their own mechanics. It would cut down on the number of feats and prestige classes and we wouldn't need themes later on which means less bloat.
Pros and Cons of using variable Kits instead of Feats

Pros:


  • More customization on a more meaningful level

  • Less prone to bloat and paralysis, less filler feats and feat taxes 

  • Classes are no longer forced to have subclasses or certain class features 

  • An easy way for players to make things like Werewolves and Half-breeds 

  • Get to play a warlord that feels like a Warlord, also any class can be a commander type 

  • Utility feats that are actually noticeably useful

  • [added] Provides a place to implement things like Feats, Themes, homeless subclasses, bloodlines, campaign setting archetypes, flaws, monster templates, old classes that don't need a full writeup and not mention old class features that don't fit in their old class anymore



Cons:



  • Tricky to balance, but balance isn't everything and wouldn't have to be perfect as long as all the Kits are fun to play.

  • Cannot mix Kits, benefits are not interchangeable 

Thousand Suns has a neat mechanic - PCs buy key words that help define their character which they can spend each adventure to gain narrative authority over the story as long as that key word applies.  It's easier to balance in games that have more narrative components but I can see it working in conjunction with backgrounds and themes that function out of combat. 

Living Greyhawk did something similar with certificates linked to adventure outcomes.
I think using a system like this would not only give you more power to customize your character mechanically but also define them a something more than just a race and a class. For instance, because the mechanics and benefits are dished out differently with each Kit, you could have Kits that have flaws built into the balance; for players who want characters who have their own struggle

With this Kit system players could make characters that're elderly, blind, cursed or follow a srtict vow. It would just be a matter of having the benifits balance with the flaws
Ooh and if D&DN is truely built to have modular rules added and taken away; not only would Kits be completely optional, I could even see these Kit's as something that if a DM wanted to he could allow player to have more than one of.

Then one player could make a Blind Warlord, another could make a Marksmen, Skirmisher , maybe a Knight Bodyguard and another player could be a Werewolf with a pack of Animal Companions  

I had been thinking of something quite on those lines recently. The basic idea was, indeed, to bring back something on the lines of 2e Kits.

for that idea.

My only concern is that it may become a one-time choice that sticks with your character forever. I'm more a fan of separate choices you make during the length of the campaign according to your character's progression in the narrative, based on his developing story. "So my character was trailing that path, but in light of recent happenings he starts to think maybe a change of focus/direction would be better."

Using your examples: Maybe so far he's been a bodyguard. But after joining an army of being knighted by a king he decides he's done with the bodyguard life. Should he just keep gaining bodyguard Kit abilities? Or maybe for some reason he abandons the urban life and goes live in the wilderness; can't he ever pick an animal companion because he didn't choose that early on?

I think we should have ways of trading those choices or change the course we're heading midway through.
Probably we would need some form of standardized bonus gain for that. Such as "every 5 levels you gain one of your Kit's benefit's" or something like that. Then if the guy who picked Bodyguard at level 1 changes the course of his character before level 5 or 10 he may start on a different Kit instead of progressing his former one. Assuming the ongoing story of his character supports that.

Now mind you, this is all good from a narrative point of view. It gives players more freedom to develop and change course of characters along with how the story develops, instead of making a perpetual choice at the start which will never change no matter what. But this could also lead to unpleasant attempts of pure min/maxing powergaming from some players. "I'll pick this and this ability from that Kit, and that and that from the other one, etc." So I think 2 careful measures would need be in order for that: 1) Kit benefits shouldn't be overly powerful mechanics-wise but offer more thematic, circumstancial benefits; 2) Kits need to have synergy with the ongoing story, the story is a pre-requisite for the Kit, so a player can't just say "Ok, so now I pick that from the Bodyguard kit" if he's never show any effort of trying to become a Bodyguard in the game (DMs should be strict in enforcing that so Kits don't become pure mechanical choices).
My only concern is that it may become a one-time choice that sticks with your character forever. I'm more a fan of separate choices you make during the length of the campaign according to your character's progression in the narrative, based on his developing story. "So my character was trailing that path, but in light of recent happenings he starts to think maybe a change of focus/direction would be better."

Using your examples: Maybe so far he's been a bodyguard. But after joining an army of being knighted by a king he decides he's done with the bodyguard life. Should he just keep gaining bodyguard Kit abilities? Or maybe for some reason he abandons the urban life and goes live in the wilderness; can't he ever pick an animal companion because he didn't choose that early on?

I think we should have ways of trading those choices or change the course we're heading midway through.
Probably we would need some form of standardized bonus gain for that. Such as "every 5 levels you gain one of your Kit's benefit's" or something like that. Then if the guy who picked Bodyguard at level 1 changes the course of his character before level 5 or 10 he may start on a different Kit instead of progressing his former one. Assuming the ongoing story of his character supports that.

Now mind you, this is all good from a narrative point of view. It gives players more freedom to develop and change course of characters along with how the story develops, instead of making a perpetual choice at the start which will never change no matter what. But this could also lead to unpleasant attempts of pure min/maxing powergaming from some players. "I'll pick this and this ability from that Kit, and that and that from the other one, etc."

That's a good point. Currently with Specialties a group can choose to make it a more freeform pick & choose system. With variable Kits that wouldn't work as well because some benefits offer a lot more than other and many higher level benefits would be related to the lower level ones within that Kit. If players got to mix Kits it would be wonky if not broken and would most likely be a powergaming nightmare.

So I think 2 careful measures would need be in order for that: 1) Kit benefits shouldn't be overly powerful mechanics-wise but offer more thematic, circumstantial benefits;

This would not be the route I would take because I feel it kinda. defeats the point of offering more significant options. I think it's less daunting for players if the options they have are consequential and exciting  
2) Kits need to have synergy with the ongoing story, the story is a pre-requisite for the Kit, so a player can't just say "Ok, so now I pick that from the Bodyguard kit" if he's never show any effort of trying to become a Bodyguard in the game (DMs should be strict in enforcing that so Kits don't become pure mechanical choices).

I think you would have to suggest to the DM that if a player wants to break out of his Kit; that they can allow them to swap the Kit with another Kit that the DM approves of, or if they prefer they can grant everyone in the party an additional Kit that are all DM approved. So it's not an ideal solution but I think it's the best way you could keep the integrity of the system and still allow players to stray or branch out.  

Scratch that DM suggestion thing, I have a better idea. What if not only did we combine Specialties, Themes, bloodlines, flaws and templates; but we also threw in Prestige classes.

Make two tiers of Kits, 1-10 and 11-20, then you would have shorter Kits for archetypes that dont need much mechanics and after level 10 you could take the prestige Kit to continue your first Kit, take a standalone Prestige Kit or take another standard Kit.

Start off with Werewolf and take Werewolf Lord or start with Werewolf then take Animal Companion. Prestige Kits could offer a little more than standard one, but they start at level 11 and have requirements (Werewolf Lord for example would require the Werewolf Kit)
I definitely like the idea of prestige classes continuing alongside your class rather than taking levels of other classes. However there was one comment from Wizards that he wanted pretige classes more grounded in the narrative. I saw it as: all prestige classes give you a background style benefit the minute you achieve them, and then start supplying you with feats and features in levels 11-20.

For instance, in a Dragonlance campaign a character with the Knight background completes the quest in game that qualifies him to join the order of the Rose at 7th level. He immediately gets a benefit along the lines of "All friends of Solamnia will house you and feed you" (or something, that's too similar to the knight benefit I'll think about it more). He has somethng on his character sheet that makes him feel like he is a knight already, and in four levels he starts getting an array of feats and features that represent his growing association with the Knights of the Rose.

Characters who don't earn a prestige class by 10th level get to choose a Paragon prestige class. There are Race Paragon and Class Paragon options. A High Elf Wizard may take the Elf Paragon prestige class and get an extra +1 to dex and int, bonuses with swords and bows, a trance that gives him prophetic dreams, etc. While the Wizard Paragon gives him access to more Magical Feats.
^I like this

I've been a huge supporter of racial paragon classes, and I hope they really do make it into the game.
I also like adding background-esque options later as the narrative progresses, even though I try to do that myself it's nice to have suggestions. 
You are Red/Blue!
You are Red/Blue!
I have been thinking of these less as kits and more as Sideclasses. I can see sideclasses becoming a really big part of the game, right along with race and class. It can cover a lot of ground and it let's the classes get to breath. The mechanics of a class should be built around having fun and not catering to every player's idea of what the class should be. Sideclasses could be sorted out into different categories based on what aspects of a character they represent.

A Feats Sideclass could come with lots of small benefits that add to your combat abilities. (Marksmen, Bodyguard, metamagic)

Theme Sideclasses could have more narrative benefits, for specific settings. (Escaped slave, Ronin, Spellplagued)

Paragon Sideclasses could be for expanding upon one's race.

A Bloodline SC would be for playing something supernatural. (Vampire, werewolf, half-god)

A Flaw SC would be for players looking to mechanically balance a drawback. (Blind, Elderly, sacred vow)

A Specialist SC would be for those who want to add an extra dimension to their class. (Warlord, Beast master, Totemist)

and lastly Prestege SideClass would be like old PrCs but these go along side your class not replacing anything. (Arcane Archer, Slimelord, Planeshifter)

Many of the side classes would have a continuation SC for taking it beyond level 10
Truly unique characters will not be a function of feats. They will be a function of role-playing. I can be in favor of feats which add real functionality without breaking reasonability. The best of them, such as Cleave, actually reduced mechanical focus in the game by speeding combat in dramatic ways, for instance.
But adding mechanical complexity just to increase the number of mechanical variations on a class, seems to rather miss the point of an RPG.
So in your mind is taking a side class different than multiclassing or dual classing?
I would love to see racial paragon classes, but I feel that they belong more in the racial paragon splatbook then in the core rules.

@OP I really like the idea, but I also have some reservations. First off, I like being able to chose what feat I want to get at each level, and with this I feel like I'd be slotted into my character at level 1(at least until level 11). I'm not sure how to fix that though without destroying your idea...

@professordaddy Feats are the functional incarnation of your roleplaying/character design. If I want to play a human fighter who is extremely religious and visits his temple every week, then I can give my fighter healing initiate or magical rejuvenation. If I want to play a war hero who can lop off two heads with a single blow, I can give that same fighter cleave. Since my party spends most of it's time in dungeons, my character will show up more in the feats I've chosen(that support his personality) then his actual personality would.
The Oberoni fallacy only applies to broken rules, not rules you don't like. If a rule you don't like can be easily ignored, it should exist in the game for those who will enjoy it.
So in your mind is taking a side class different than multiclassing or dual classing?

Yes, those are about mixing one or more Classes. A Sideclass is about expanding on or branching off of a class. Sideclasses don't have attack bonuses or spells or HD, just features. The benefits you get from a Sideclass are on top of the features you get from your class(es). You don't have to swap anything out.
@OP I really like the idea, but I also have some reservations. First off, I like being able to chose what feat I want to get at each level, and with this I feel like I'd be slotted into my character at level 1(at least until level 11). I'm not sure how to fix that though without destroying your idea...

That's something I've thought about too and I have come to the conclusion that the 'choose as you go' aspect of character customization is a regrettable loss but a necessary one.

I could figure out a way to make it more 'choose as you go' but that makes balance a way bigger beast. Having it be a meaningful choice that you're stuck with for 10 levels makes it so the balance doesn't have to be as exact.

In order for us to have a balanced 'choose as you go' system it would pretty much look like Feats, which mean lots of little inconsequential choices, which means more bloat and choice paralysis, and means you would need multiple systems to cover all the things a Sideclass system can cover.

I think a Sideclass system offers a lot of the missing puzzle pieces from past editions; and if we have to give up 'choose as you go' to have all that other stuff, then I'm okay with that
@OP I really like the idea, but I also have some reservations. First off, I like being able to chose what feat I want to get at each level, and with this I feel like I'd be slotted into my character at level 1(at least until level 11). I'm not sure how to fix that though without destroying your idea...

That's something I've thought about too and I have come to the conclusion that the 'choose as you go' aspect of character customization is a regrettable loss but a necessary one.

I could figure out a way to make it more 'choose as you go' but that makes balance a way bigger beast. Having it be a meaningful choice that you're stuck with for 10 levels makes it so the balance doesn't have to be as exact.

In order for us to have a balanced 'choose as you go' system it would pretty much look like Feats, which mean lots of little inconsequential choices, which means more bloat and choice paralysis, and means you would need multiple systems to cover all the things a Sideclass system can cover.

I think a Sideclass system offers a lot of the missing puzzle pieces from past editions; and if we have to give up 'choose as you go' to have all that other stuff, then I'm okay with that



Like your idea, and name, of sideclasses.  I've been advocating a similar philosophy to yours.  So, I agree with you.  If you want to storm the walls of WotC, I'll be right behind you.