(Crunchy) A high-powered setting (no DMG-type NPC classes, most people's level > 1)

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This is a somewhat unusual setting concept. It's basically the opposite of E6 -- instead of everyone being low-level, the norm is adjusted toward somewhat higher levels.

Here's the basic issues that I feel need addressing:

1. I think D&D is too bunched up at the lower levels. A typical soldier is supposed to be a warrior 1. What's an inexperienced, trainee soldier? Well, also a warrior 1, unless he's completely inexperienced, in which case he's maybe commoner 1. What's an average, unexceptional, typical person who can function at a job competently without standing out? A commoner 1. What's an inexperienced, 13-year old apprentice, or a dysfunctional alcoholic? Also a commoner 1. Also, see housecat vs. commoner, etc.

2. I don't like the dissociation between ECL and actual effectiveness that DMG NPC classes involve. I think that ECL 7 should be better than ECL 5. With NPC classes, a ranger 5 is almost uniformly better than a commoner 7.

3. I don't like the dramatic effect of level 1 maximized hit die/quadrupled skill points. In build terms, a scout 1/wizard 1 is significantly superior to a wizard 1/scout 1, with the scout 1/wizard 1 having 18 more skill points and an average of 2 more hit points.

4. A fantasy trope is that a typical elf is better than a typical human. If the typical human is a human commoner 1, and the typical elf is an elf commoner 1, then typical elves are not better than typical humans.

5. Multiclassing means that new abilities can be acquired abruptly and seemingly without any training -- becoming a wizard 1 is supposed to be a process taking years of apprenticeship, etc. While a rogue 1/wizard 1 isn't really any more powerful than a rogue 2, it does seem thematically more jarring to go from being a rogue 1 to being a rogue 1/wizard 1 than it does to go from being a rogue 1 to a rogue 2 -- if you take the idea that a wizard 1 is a fully trained, accomplished wizard seriously, that is.

So here are some ideas I've had about this:

1. Level 0 is introduced, which is a "pre-class" level. Generally, level 0 is for children, although some adults might never gain a class level. The most advanced stage of level 0 grants 4 hit points (do not add constitution) and 12 + 3 x int skill points. (Note: there are earlier stages of level 0 -- for instance, an infant might have 1 hit point and no skill points, a toddler gets an upgrade to 2 hit points and 4 + int skill points, a young child gets 3 hit points and 8 + 2 x int skill points, and finally a pre-adolescent gets 4 hit points 12 + 3 x int skill points.) During childhood, all skills cost 1 skill point per rank, as if they were in class, but they have a cap of 2 ranks, as if they were cross-class. PCs can generally ignore this rule or use it, whichever is to their advantage (i.e., using all skill points to buy first-level in-class skills up to 4 ranks, or buying 2 ranks in cross-class skills for 2 point). When first level is gained, the first hit die is not maximized, nor are skill points quandrupled. Thus, a first level wizard has 4 + 1d4 + con mod hit points and 14 + 4 x int skill points, while a first level scout has 4 + 1d8 + con mod hit points and 20 + 4 x int skill points.

2. New classes are introduced which are suited for NPCs, but supposed to be mechanically on par with the PC classes.
  • The adept is eliminated. Clerics, druids, wizards, and other casters step into the void, along with the magician practitioner (see below).
  • The aristocrat is replaced with the kshatriya.
  • The commoner and expert are replaced by two classes -- the civilian, an educated, skilled, helpless-in-combat type representing lawyers, sages, and the like, and the survivalist, a less educated, more rough-hewn type, capable but not great in combat, representing a peasant farmer on the borders of civilization near monstrous threats, an inhabitant of a gang-ridden urban ghetto, or the like.
  • The warrior is eliminated and straightforwardly replaced by any of many other classes, such as barbarians, fighters, rangers, etc.
  • Two new classes are introduced: the gendarme, a town guard or police type, and the magician-practitioner, a spellcaster focused on utility with essentially no combat power.


All of these classes are available to PCs as well as NPCs, although only the gendarme and the kshatriya are likely to be of interest to typical PCs.

3. The demographic generator is revised: rather than generating the highest level person of a given class, then two people of highest level/2, four people of highest level/4, etc, then having everyone else be level 1, 90% commmoner, 5% warrior, 3% expert, 1% adept, and 1% aristocrat (or whatever), classes are in a fixed proportion by area (in a frontier village, for instance, maybe 65% survivalist, 10% ranger, 5% civilian, 5% bard, 5% barbarian, 5% druid, 5% other). Level is generated by a Poisson distribution with average level varying by race. For instance, for adult humans, mean level might be 2, while for elves it might be 5.

Human population at different levels would thus be:

0: 13.5%
1: 27.1%
2: 27.1%
3: 18%
4: 9.02%
5: 3.61%
6: 1.2%
7: 1 in 291
8: 1 in 1,164
9: 1 in 5,237
10: 1 in 26,185
11: 1 in 144,017
12: 1 in 864,104
13: 1 in 5,616,676

As you can see, there's a lot in the mid-low levels, with about 60% being from levels 2-6, but higher-level NPCs are actually rarer than with standard demographics. The highest level character of a city of 25,000 people might easily be 10.

For adult elves, on the other hand, with a mean level of 5, it might look more like:

0: 1 in 148
1: 3.37%
2: 8.42%
3: 14%
4: 17.5%
5: 17.5%
6: 14.6%
7: 10.4%
8: 6.53%
9: 3.63%
10: 1.81%
11: 1 in 121
12: 1 in 291
13: 1 in 757
14: 1 in 2,120
15: 1 in 6,359
16: 1 in 20,350
17: 1 in 61,191
18: 1 in 249,088
19: 1 in 946,536
20: 1 in 3,786,142

Elves are more powerful, on average, than humans. The highest level character of an elven city of 25,000 might well be level 16. This doesn't, of course, affect PCs -- if the PCs all start at level 1, so do elf PCs, and if the PCs all start at level 5, so do elf PCs.

4. The "heroic level" for PCs is more like level 5 or thereabouts than level 1. A level 1 character is still in a state of apprenticeship, training, etc. A campaign could start at level 1, with characters going on various "training quests" and the like under the watchful eye of a teacher, for instance, if the players and DM decide that an "academy" type game would be fun. If PCs want to start off as being heroic characters far above the norm from the start of the game, though, they might start at level 5. A rogue 1/wizard 1 does not suddenly learn the arts of a fully trained wizard in a few weeks -- he just begins to dabble with apprentice wizardry, since level 1 is not considered to be fully trained yet. A rogue 3/wizard 3 is full trained in both arts, but it no doubt took him a while to get there.

Thoughts?

UPDATE 4-19-09: Added notes about gaining first class level.
One question though...game-wise, should it take three or four good hits to take out the "average" mook? Maybe in real life it'll take a few good hits to kill someone...but in high fantasy and fiction in general, there are supposed to be a sea of redshirts, mooks, minions, pushovers, and sword fodder that Our Hero can simply slide a sword into and out of and kill.

Keep that in mind that most guards above 1st level will not die in one hit which means adventures, raids, sieges, battles, and many other scenes will be much more dangerous, take much longer, and lose their dramatic flair as Johnny McHero stands there for 30 seconds dueling each unnamed guard.

Also, much adjustment has to be made for wealth. NPCs above a certain level are expected to have masterwork and magic gear and if your average citizen has the wealth to buy a suit of masterwork plate mail and a +1 sword, you have a strange economy...not to mention that magic-item-makers will be a lot more common.
Well, your approach is the oposite of mine (I use E6, make extensive use of NPC type classes, etc), but this may appeal to people who dislike E6.

M.
HEMA and History Student.
This is my DM's world. The common Commoners do exist, but people of experience are everywhere, the party among them. We play an epic-type game even though we're not epic level. The DM will recognize from time to time when things are too powerful for even the admitted high-powered game, and I know me and another player wouldn't mind if the power level was cut a tad, but generally we like it. When combat happens I can see the fun everyone has with the numbers, but the drama in the roleplay is just as high. Passionate is an understatement.
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Sigh ...

Be careful what you wish for.

Today my DM did a nerf on my character that lowered his power level a bit. He didn't take away anything I did in making the character but rather took away something he had added to the character as part of campaign plot. My character is still the awesome crusader/master of nine I love to play; I just no longer have that extra stuff he gave which had many forms and was Incarnum in its last incarnation.

Oh well. I still kick butt.
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I think you may be throwing out the baby with the bath water!

A typical soldier is supposed to be a warrior 1. What's an inexperienced, trainee soldier?

One that rolls badly, or possibly one with the Trainee template (which can be created for a variety of purposes such as -1 on attack rolls for characters with full BAB, and -2 on skill checks for characters with more than 4 skill points per level, even the loss of level 1 spells for magic users).

What's an average, unexceptional, typical person who can function at a job competently without standing out? A commoner 1. What's an inexperienced, 13-year old apprentice, or a dysfunctional alcoholic? Also a commoner 1.

A commoner 1 with a low intelligence score, a Commoner one with the Flaw Alcoholic, maybe a 13 year old apprentice should suffer penalties due to their age by adding Juvenile or Immature before adult ( which has -1 to all scores).

2. I don't like the dissociation between ECL and actual effectiveness that DMG NPC classes involve. I think that ECL 7 should be better than ECL 5. With NPC classes, a ranger 5 is almost uniformly better than a commoner 7.

But its well known that DMG classes are NOT equal to Player classes, and so its a poor comparison, DMG classes are probably worth 1/2 to 3/4 of a player class, and so a maybe Commoner 7 to 10 is a closer match for Ranger 5.

3. I don't like the dramatic effect of level 1 maximized hit die/quadrupled skill points. In build terms, a scout 1/wizard 1 is significantly superior to a wizard 1/scout 1, with the scout 1/wizard 1 having 18 more skill points and an average of 2 more hit points.

Nor do I, but the solution is simple, don't allow multiclassing between such different classes.

You mention later the folly of multiclassing into Wizard 1 (and bypassing the years of training and study Wizards are supposed to go through) and I totally agree with you, so it becomes a simple matter to divide the classes into several basic types.

Fighters - Skilled - Magic users

All you need to do next is only allow characters to multiclass with classes of the same type or immediately next to them (and even then they can only take half as many levels in that class as they have of their original class)

Thus a 4th level wizard can only take 2 levels in a skilled class (like rogue or Bard perhaps) requiring another 2 levels of wizard before they take more Rogue or bard.
Failing that use the mighty powers of the DM and say NO! to characters if they ask for something unreasonable, if your barbarian levels in the middle of a dungeon or in the middle of a wilderness and they suddenly want to take a level of Wizard, say NO!, however if said character wants to take a level of rogue (perhaps he learned something during the dungeon crawl) then that's more reasonable.

4. A fantasy trope is that a typical elf is better than a typical human. If the typical human is a human commoner 1, and the typical elf is an elf commoner 1, then typical elves are not better than typical humans.

Its not a trope I am a fan of myself,(I have done away with elves in my setting completely) but generally the Elf as presented in the PHB is nothing like the elves you are probably referring to (LotR elves for instance).

I wouldn't say they are "better" so much, rather I would say they are superior, they don't have more class levels, but have better ability scores due to their choice of race.
Even their longevity cannot account for this as Humans are generally stated to learn quickly and master things rapidly (Immortality means they are in no rush, time does not weigh heavily and so they can be more relaxed about things, there is also the notion that such longevity breeds stagnation).
In D&D terms, the Elves you are talking about should be a race with a LA, rather than just higher level characters.

5. Multiclassing means that new abilities can be acquired abruptly and seemingly without any training -- becoming a wizard 1 is supposed to be a process taking years of apprenticeship, etc. While a rogue 1/wizard 1 isn't really any more powerful than a rogue 2, it does seem thematically more jarring to go from being a rogue 1 to being a rogue 1/wizard 1 than it does to go from being a rogue 1 to a rogue 2 -- if you take the idea that a wizard 1 is a fully trained, accomplished wizard seriously, that is.

See above, its only a problem if you allow the player to take whatever classes they wish.
One way of dealing with this to put requirements on Base Classes (like prestige classes have) that come into effect as soon as a character tries to multiclass (I.E you ignore the requirements at level 1).
A rogue wanting to take levels in Wizard might require certain feats, or X number of ranks in concentration, knowledge: Arcana, and spellcraft.
At least this means the character has started the process of becoming what they intend to multiclass into, a Rogue with ranks in spellcraft is closer to becoming a wizard than one without them.
If the required skills are not class skills, then they will have to take feats or take ranks as cross-class skills, multiclassing should not be easy and should require some sort of sacrifice, Jack of all trades, master of none.

You can even create feats to aid this (perhaps the Wizards Apprentice feat, requires DM permission and 6 months of game time with a wizard studying, the benefit being that the prerequisite skills for the wizard class become class skills for one level advance, and thus allow you to meet the skill requirements much easier, the Wizards apprentice feat itself could be a requirement for mutliclassing into Wizard).
1. I think D&D is too bunched up at the lower levels. A typical soldier is supposed to be a warrior 1. What's an inexperienced, trainee soldier...

1. Level 0 is introduced...

I agree with the problem, but think the introduction of new rules is needlessly complicated. I generally assume ordinary people gain exp by just living. The rate is up to the DM, but I generally assume;
1st- rookie/apprentice
2nd- trained/journeyman
3rd- veteran/experienced journeyman
4th- elite/master (with age penalties starting to kick in)

2. I don't like the dissociation between ECL and actual effectiveness that DMG NPC classes involve. I think that ECL 7 should be better than ECL 5. With NPC classes, a ranger 5 is almost uniformly better than a commoner 7.

2. New classes are introduced which are suited for NPCs...

I disagree with this being a problem. NPC classes are supposed to be less powerful, that's why they are for NPCs. Otherwise, why introduce a bunch of new classes, just have the NPCs use PC classes. Problem solved.

3. I don't like the dramatic effect of level 1 maximized hit die/quadrupled skill points. In build terms, a scout 1/wizard 1 is significantly superior to a wizard 1/scout 1, with the scout 1/wizard 1 having 18 more skill points and an average of 2 more hit points.


3. The demographic generator is revised...

4. A fantasy trope is that a typical elf is better than a typical human. If the typical human is a human commoner 1, and the typical elf is an elf commoner 1, then typical elves are not better than typical humans.

4. The "heroic level" for PCs is more like level 5...

Huh? I see, you switched the answers for 3 and 4. Answer 4 is for question 3 and answer 3 is for question 4.

Multiclassing;
I agree that the crunchy bits of multiclassing cause the order of training to have a significant impact. I remember seeing this idea addressed somewhere, but can't remember what the conclusions were.

The memory is always the 2nd thing to go with age, I just wish I could remember the 1st....


Elves;
Elves averaging more levels than humans, sure why not, sounds reasonable.
5. Multiclassing means that new abilities can be acquired abruptly and seemingly without any training ...

5. A rogue 1/wizard 1 does not suddenly learn the arts of a fully trained wizard in a few weeks ...

On 1 hand I agree, just suddenly taking a class that you have no training in is strange. On the other hand, I could design a background and then roleplay to justify it.

Bob's parents were a fighter and cleric, so he grew up around those classes. He was apprenticed to a wizard who beat hum, so before his training was complete, Bob ran away and lived on the streets....

I could work in as many classes as you want into a background. While that makes multiclassing easier to justify, it stifles a players creative control over his characters development. I can see both sides to this issue and have no real preference.
Sigh ...

Be careful what you wish for.

Today my DM did a nerf on my character that lowered his power level a bit. He didn't take away anything I did in making the character but rather took away something he had added to the character as part of campaign plot. My character is still the awesome crusader/master of nine I love to play; I just no longer have that extra stuff he gave which had many forms and was Incarnum in its last incarnation.

Oh well. I still kick butt.

Latest game was the first without me having the extra stuff. The party was flying over an underground river when were attacked by bad guys. When the battle was almost over a basilisk appeared. The wizard failed his save and turned to stone. I used my Aura of Perfect Order stance to "roll an 11" on my reflex save, which was enough to react and be able to catch the stoned wizard before he fell into the river. With my eyes closed, I proceeded to attack the basilisk with my other hand. I have Improved Unarmed Strike thanks to Swordsage variant and Blind-Fighting Feat, both necessary as prerequisities for my Master of Nine prestige class. I attack the basilisk with Greater Insightful Strike and use Shadow Stride to move away to the rest of the party, avoiding the AoO for moving and the basilisk can't full attack me.

The basilisk flies into the middle of the party, forcing saving throws. I use Mind Over Body for my fortitude save, easily making since I have a +22 Concentration check. The psion failed. I used my stance again to make the reflex save and catch the psion. I'm now holding the stone wizard in one arm and the stone psion in the other. I have a 20 strength. The DM wasn't being particular about the details of encumbrance anyway, but I had a "good enough" strength so as not to worry about it and allow for the cinematic verisimillitude to commence. There were still other party members attacking the basilisk. My turn. My arms are full, but thanks to Improved Unarmed Strike I could attack with my feet, which I proceeded to do. With Blind-Fighting to back me up if I needed it, I kicked the basilisk with Divine Surge, doing enough damage to kill it.

That was F .... U .... N .... FUN! It was an excellent reminder of just how awesome my character is without the extra stuff he no longer has.

Bring on the crunchy!
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To clarify, the numbers of the problems weren't really intended to correspond to the numbers of the houserules. So "houserule 3" isn't really intended to be a solution to "problem 3." The houserules all taken together are intended to address the problems, but not with any form of one-to-one correspondance. For instance, problem 1 (D&D being "bunched up" at lower levels) is actually primarily addressed by houserules 3 and 4 (altered demographics and altered heroic level). Problem 2 (dissociation between ECL and effectiveness) is addressed mostly by houserule 2 (new classes), but that's just a coincidence. Problem 3 (first level class choice's excessive effect) is primarily addressed by houserule 1 (level 0). Problem 4 (elves vs. humans) is primarily addressed by houserule 3 (altered demographics). Problem 5 (rogue 1/wizard 1 accomplishing in a few weeks what it took the wizard 1 years to accomplish) is primarily addressed by house rule 5 (altered heroic level).