Character Ratings

In the last few Legend & Lore articles, Mike Mearls has been talking about making the game more modular. The articles also included the idea that character power level can be more varied, provided their changes are adjusted to compensate. This touches on an idea I was already toying with for handling different specialties within the same party.

Character Specialties

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think character need to be equally competent in all areas to be enjoyable. Having some character excell at certain challenges while let others shine at different challenge can work well, provided:

  • Characters can make a meaningful contribution outside their area of expertise.
  • Characters can change specialties to match the needs of the campaign.

For example, imagine a party of rogues. One could easily be the “thug” good at combat and intimidation, but less skilled at traps and scouting. Another could be a “second story man”, good at getting into difficult locations, but less skilled at talking or fighting. The thug should be able climb if they need to and second story man should be able to fight when they need to without either feeling like dead weight.

Each should also be able to change their specialty. If the campaign ends up being more combat heavy, the scout should be able to beef up their combat skills to compensate.

Character Ratings

However, having differing levels of character ability does have some side effect. One of these is the current “challenge rating” or “xp budget” approaches are no longer accurate ways to estimate encounter difficulty. These are very useful tools in the DM’s arsenal, so let’s see if we can update them to work with this new approach.

The key difference is that character contributions are no longer considered equal for every challenge. One combat expert contributes more than a combat dabbler during fights. As such, we need to assign different number values to party members for each specialty. For example, the thug mentioned above might be “combat 10, social 8, exploration 4” while the scout might be “combat 6, social 6, exploration 10”.

Once that’s done, you can simply scale challenges by the total rating for the group. If you’re using an existing system, just divide by the value for an expert and you’ve got the effective party size. For example, a thug and 2 scouts would have a rating of 22 for combat, so you should set combat encounters for an effective party size of 2 (22 / 10 = 2.2).

Note that “effective party size” shouldn’t be needed if these rating are built into the edition from the start.

Other Applications

This approach also supports campaigns where the party is exceptionally powerful. Simply up the ratings and the effective party size should scale accordingly, increasing the challenges the powered up party faces.

Published in: on August 2, 2011 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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