I want to play a fighter.
I want to play a dwarf.
I want to kick the crap out of monsters.
I want to be a soldier who fought against the orcs during the Siege of Barrow Hall and who lived to tell about it.
Each statement reflects a different way players approach D&D. Each suggests different interests, but each might also lead to the same place: a dwarf fighter who was a soldier in a bloody war long ago. No matter what edition you’re playing, you create this fighter by making some choices. In a classic D&D game you might make one choice: dwarf. Then you fill in all the other details if you like. In AD&D, you make two choices: dwarf and fighter. Again, you fill in all the other details. As the game evolved, players gained more choices to help create the character they wanted to play. Second Edition expanded the proficiency system and introduced kits. Third Edition replaced proficiencies with skills and feats, and it added prestige classes. Fourth Edition ditched prestige classes but brought in paragon paths, epic destinies, backgrounds, and themes.
Choosing race and class doesn't require a lot of headspace. You make two basic decisions and you’re ready to go. For a player like Chris, who just wants to get in and out of character creation as fast as possible, these big decisions are the only ones he wants to make. But Laura loves to tinker with her characters, wants to choose her skills, feats, and other mechanical options to create the character she sees in her head. Two choices for her are not enough. Since 3rd Edition, players customized their characters by choosing skills and feats. We want to preserve the option to make these choices so that players such as Laura are happy. But we don’t want to require our more casual players, such as Chris, to have to make these decisions. So how can we do this?
Our current plan is to condense skill and feat choices into two choices: background and theme. Background tells you where you came from, who you were, and what you are trained to do. Your background gives you a set of skills, specific tasks, areas of knowledge, or assets a character of that background ought to have. The thief background gives you Pick Pockets, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thieves’ Cant. The soldier background gives you Endurance, Intimidate, Survival, and an extra language. We want your abilities to carry the weight of basic task resolution, so these skills improve your chances when you perform tasks related to them or just let you do something, such as cook a meal, speak Goblin, or run for twice as long as the next person.
Where background speaks to the skills you possess, your theme describes how you do the things you do. All fighters, for example, kick ass in combat because they are fighters. A sharpshooter fighter is awesome with ranged weapons while a slayer fighter dominates in hand-to-hand combat. Your theme helps you realize a certain style, technique, or flavor through the feats it offers. Each theme gives you several feats, starting with the first one right out of the gate. As you gain levels, your theme gives you additional feats that reflect the theme’s overall character.
This approach does many things for us. It speeds up character creation. A player such as Chris can just take the background and theme listed in the class’s starting package. And Laura can customize her character by choosing a background and theme to create something unique.
What I like about this is that it helps us deliver the same options you’ve had for two editions into nice packets of information. The packets themselves have importance in character creation. Rather than being a human fighter with Intimidate and Power Attack, I’m playing a human fighter who’s a soldier (background) that slays monsters (Slayer theme). Or I could be a thief (thief) who strikes from hidden positions (lurker theme). Or, I might be a mystical warrior who came from a wealthy family and can detect magic at will and might even one day get a familiar (without ever having to leave the fighter class).
Laura might balk at having these micro-decisions made for her. As evocative and flavorful as backgrounds and themes will be, there’s nothing stopping Laura from constructing her own background (by picking some skills) and determining her own theme (by picking some feats).
So if you’re like Chris and just want to play D&D, our system is for you. And if you’re like Laura, you can tinker to your heart’s content and customize your character in whatever way you want. And if you’re somewhere between the two, then we’ve got you covered.
No poll from me today, but I’m keen to read what you think about this direction. Do you find this approach appealing? If you could change anything about this approach, what would it be? Are there any themes that strike you as being required for the game?