4e Ability Score Progression

I’ve noticed some issues with ability scores in 4e D&D. Here are a couple suggested fixes to help smooth things over.

Rounded Growth

The Rule: At every level the player would gain +1 to 2 ability scores, they instead gain +1 to all ability scores.
The Reason: Only increasing 2 abilities at 6 different levels puts the modifier for those two 3 points higher than any other score. Since the boosted abilities are usually the character’s strongest, this widens the divide between high and low scores even more as the character progresses. That in turn makes it harder to set a worthwhile DC for even two character with similar training but different ability priorities. Due to difficulty scaling, this has the net effect of making characters worse at everything else outside their focus as they reach higher levels. This rule change still keeps the range between high and low scores, but keeps that gap from widening at higher levels.
Gameplay Effects: While this does make higher level characters better overall, it’s mostly an increase in versatility over raw power. It doesn’t make them better at their strong suits, it just keeps their weaknesses from getting exaggerated at high levels.

Practiced Growth

The Rule: When you get a chance to raise all ability scores by 1, you can forgo raising one scores that’s at 9 or higher to raise a second score by 2. The score being increased this way can not be raised beyond 19. If the ability is used by one of the character’s powers or trained skills, raise the maximum to 21. Increase these limits (including the minimum score) by 1 for each previous time all scores could be raised by 1.
The Reason: This one is actually meant to counter the dominance racial ability modifiers often have on race selection. By giving races without a bonus to their primary ability the chance the catch up at higher levels, we can hopefully reduce the prominence of those bonuses a bit.
Gameplay Effects: The net effect should be pretty mild. In general, it’s roughly equivalent to letting the player swap their racial ability score bonus to a different stat at a certain level.
There is one possible side effect of combining this with Rounded Growth in that a player could choose to go with lower starting score to get more efficient use out their point buy. If that’s a big concern, consider limiting how many times this option can be selected.

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Design: Ascendant Adventurers

Lately I’ve noticed another round of the classic “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” (LFQW) threads popping up again. Here are some musings on how you might get around this.

Adventurer Progression


Each adventurer gains a class which grants them access to a pool of common abilities. These abilities are roughly limited to effects an ordinary person might be capable of with training. Some of these abilities may let the character produce these effects through extraordinary means.


When an fully fledged adventurer forms a strong bond to some part of the world, they may become a champion. Each champion gains an allegiance which gives special perks such resources or limited access to extraordinary abilities. Some of the stronger perks may also come with certain duties and responsibilities.


When a champion has mastered their craft, they may find or discover a gift that lets them become a paragon. This gift grants access to extraordinary abilities. These abilities exceed what a normal person is capable of, but stay with in the limits of what’s conceivably possible for exceptionally talented individuals like geniuses and world class athletes.


Should a paragon manage to push themselves beyond mortal limits, they may become a legend. In the process of doing so, they become more than human. This places a mark on them which grants access to wondrous abilities while also making their superhuman nature evident. Wondrous abilities are not constrained by mortal limits, though their impact rarely extends beyond the local area.


Should a legend find a way to shed even more of their mortal limitations, they may become an ascendant. Each ascendant is defined by the path they follow. While paths may occasionally let an ascendant stretch the scope of their wondrous abilities, most of their emphasis is on changing the nature of the ascendant. As such, many of these features will be more about removing limitations than changing the world.


Should an ascendant remove their final limitations, they may become a power. In the process, each power largely leaves behind mortal concerns. Each power gains an ascension and a legacy. Their ascension determines what they become, while their legacy determines what they left behind. As with ascendant paths, ascensions improve the character’s very nature. However they also may grant occasional use of world altering cosmic abilities. While legacies are less likely to outright change the world, they can leave behind things or groups that are more than capable of doing so.

Magic Items

Ideally in this set up magic items should primarily grant extra abilities. If each class can use items which grant a given ability tier, that could help cut down the LFQW problem by quite a bit. If wizards can only do “common” spells on their own (barring promotions) and require a magic item (spell book) for extraordinary and wondrous spells that put them on par with a fighter who’s stuck with common maneuvers (again barring promotions) but can gain extraordinary and wondrous abilities through things like magic weapons and armor.

Published in: on September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Character Progression Musings

I’ve been thinking over the quick start / emergent detail combo this past week. Here’s a rough idea of the progression I’m looking at.

Character Creation

Each character should essential start as an “extra”. Creating an extra may boil down to writing up few sentences of their most notable features and motives. This description can then be invoked during play to grant anywhere from minimal to professional ability in a given task.

The description can also be turned against the character. In that case, they may gain some compensation. If the the setback helped identify the character, the compensation might be advancing beyond being an extra faster. Otherwise, some kind of rebound enabling resource sounds appealing.

Adding Details

The characters description can be added to during play. However, additions are subject to the approval of the other players. I suggest no more than one “reveal” per character per scene.

Signature Traits

Once a character has made it through a challenge or two, the player can turn a detail into a signature trait or “shtik”. These traits are more effective than the boosts granted by normal details and should help define what the character does.

A signature trait still function as a detail and can be invoked for things outside it’s primary purpose, though it’s less effective when used that way. For example, a character with the “Master Duelist” shtik could try to parry an arrow with that shtik, they’d just have a lower chance that if they were making an attack.

Support Traits

As characters develop further, they can add special features to their signature traits. These added features should primarily make a shtik more versatile rather than increasing it’s raw power. Using the “Master Dueling” example above, the character might take “Parry Arrows” as a special feature to let them use that shtik at full power when performing the stunt.

Support traits should probably be added between sessions and during character downtime.


Once the character has an adventure or two under their belt, they can pick up specialties. Ideally these should help the player define how the character handles certain challenges. These will likely be more tactical abilities that help define the character’s role within the group.

A character might develop multiple specialties, but should generally only use one per round.

Further Growth

Once character’s become specialists, a lot of growth should go toward character breadth.

However, if the group wants more high power adventures this should be possible by marking signature traits as “legendary” and expanding them from there.


The whole thing can probably be summed up with the following layers.

  • Details/Background
  • Thematic Specialty/Signature Trait
  • Tactical Specialty/Role
  • Power Level/Legend

I like the thematic/tactical divide and will probably do more with that as I flesh this out.

Published in: on October 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Evolution: Wasted Turns

One potential source of frustration during play is wasted turns. A wasted turn happen when the character’s actions have no noticeable effects.

A common source of wasted turns is failing action checks. While the chance of failure does add tension, repeatedly failing to contribute tends to be more frustrating than fun.

This becomes more of an issue at higher levels. In most versions of D&D the difference between an expert’s check modifiers and those of non-experts as character level increases. This means at higher levels, any check the non-expert stands a decent chance of passing, the expert automatically succeeds at. By the same token, anything that the expert may fail at becomes an automatic failure for non-experts. This puts the DM in awkward position of tailoring the difficulty to the expert and having everyone else sit on the sidelines or focusing on non-experts and letting experts succeed at every check.

Today I’d like to look at a few ways around this problem.

Spending Skill

One option is giving characters the ability to burn check modifiers on other effects. That means you can tailor the difficulty at non-experts and let experts spend their extra bonuses on perks and stunts.

This approach does keep the expert from feeling like their high skill is wasted. However, you will still see expert automatically succeeding on most checks, as they’ll rarely spend enough to lower their chance of success by much.

Partial Success

Another option is granting limited benefits at at check value that’s reachable by non-experts. Then you can set the target value for full benefits to something that still challenges experts.

This does address diverging modifiers as you can give benefits to both groups. It does take a little extra design work, though less that a more extensive system redesign would.

Limit Modifiers

Finally, we could keep the modifiers from diverging in the first place. This means putting a tighter cap on how far ahead a specialist can go. However, these limits can be beneficial as they free the specialist up to shift their resources to other areas of expertise.

Ability Score Example

Here’s an idea I’ve been toying with that combines partial successes with limited modifiers.

Let’s start by taking WotC linear scaling of ability score modifiers. Now let’s say instead of shifting the number a score of 10 maps to a modifier of 0, we just let the modifier be 1/3rd the score. In addition to being simpler math, it opens up an interesting trick.

Now let’s say attacks and opposed checks work something like this:

  • Attack roll = d20 + base attack + attack score bonus
  • If attack roll >= 11 + base defense, gain a partial success.
  • If attack roll >= 11 + base defense + defense score bonus, gain a full success.

For example, let’s say a fireball is an Intelligence vs Dexterity attack. If the attack beats the target’s base defense it does a little damage. If it beats their Dexterity defense (1-6 points higher) it does extra damage.

If we keep base attack and defense roughly equal for most character, this give us:

  • Worst Case (+1 vs +6): 55% chance of partial success, 25% chance of full success.
  • Matched Case (+3 vs +3): 65% chance of partial success, 50% chance of full success.
  • Best Case (+6 vs +1): 80% chance of partial success, 75% chance of full success.

That means even a character using their weakest ability vs their opponent best defense has a better than even chance of having at least some effect. More often, they’ll be looking at only a 1 in 3 or lower chance of having a wasted turn.

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Design: Adventurer Progression

One of the key features of D&D is it’s use of character levels. In this post, I’d like to look at how adventures and what they do changes as they reach higher levels.

Personal Ability

I’ll start by sketching out how a characters own skills and powers build up from generic citizen through full fledged hero and into immortality.

  • Recruit: No notable skills or training beyond what an average citizen might have.
  • Novice: Just enough training to cover the basic functions and tasks of a class.
  • Veteran: Fully developed member of one’s class.
  • Elite: Among the best in the region at what they do.
  • Paragon: At or near the peak of normal human ability. Action Hero level of ability
  • Legendary: Beyond the bound of what humans should be able to pull off, without straining natural laws too much. Wuxia, tall tale, or urban myth level of ability.
  • Mythic: Able to perform superhuman feats on a regular basis. Demigod, mythic hero, or superhero level of ability.
  • Cosmic: Capable of world altering feats. Capable of contenting with deity level forces on a more or less even footing.

Earlier editions tend to start you off closer to the novice end of the scale, while 4E seems to favor starting off closer to veteran level. Starting off as recruits is rare. In fact, “Dungeon Crawler Classics” is the only D&D inspired game I’m aware of that starts you off at that point.


In addition to their own personal abilities growing, adventures often gain things that tie them to the game world. Two good examples of this are strongholds and character kits.


In earlier editions of D&D, characters would gain a strong hold on reaching certain levels. In effect, high level adventurers become rulers, teachers, and/or prominent members of an organization. Opting out was also possible, if the characters didn’t want to be tied down.

3E would pretty much drop this entirely, save for the Leadership feat. 4E didn’t even start with that, though limited stronghold rules have since been added.

Character Kits

Kits were special packages that changed how a character operated. Examples include peasant hero, pugilist, noble, outlaw, sharp shooter, and so on. Each character could only have 1 and some were restricted to certain classes or backgrounds. Though they had definite mechanical effects, many also helped tie the character to a certain background or otherwise helped define the character.

In 3E, this role was taken on by prestige classes. While the mechanical benefits were more prominent here, some of the requirements do seem to try encouraging a certain connection to the game world and the groups that inhabit it.

In 4E, this would expand from Paragon Paths into backgrounds and themes. The last two act a lot like classic kit in that add a relatively small mechanical impact while providing good hooks for deciding the character’s identity and past.

Progression Suggestions

The following is a quick overview of how the character’s connections to the game world might develop over time.

  • Recruit: Social ties are largely limited to friends and family. Kits might be present, but mechanical impact should be minimal.
  • Novice: Professional ties based on class come into play, though these are often limited to those who trained them or trained with them. Kits might flavor this development, but the effects are still pretty minor.
  • Veteran: The character is known locally and has influence within a small group. Actually being the leader of a unit is possible, though it’s more likely their words simply carry a lot of weight. Their kit is fully developed by this point and dabbling in a second one is a possibility.
  • Elite: The character is known on a regional level and has a fair amount of sway on the local level. At this point actually leading a small organization or a subset of a larger one is a real possibility. Additional kits may be taken to help represent standing with an organization, though the mechanical impact of each should be limited.
  • Paragon: The character is recognized on a national level and may even be known in other countries. They have some sway through much of their home lands and may lead a sizable organization. Multiple kits may be mastered at this point.
  • Legendary: World wide renown and access to similarly world spanning organizations kit in around here. Advanced kits may be possible to help represent the character’s legendary status.
  • Mythic: Both reputation and organizations my span across multiple worlds. A new kit might be added to represent their ascent to mythic status and how they attained it.
  • Cosmic: Reputation and influence are largely capped out by this point. Any kits added at this point would most likely present divine areas of influence.


Lastly, I’d like to look at the kind of adventures a party might go on and how the scope of those quests changes with increasing levels.

  • Local adventures center around a single area, such as a community, town, or dungeon. From recruit to veteran levels, this is the most common adventure scope.
  • Regional adventures impact a large area of the campaign world, such as a nation or province. This is a common scope for veteran through paragon levels.
  • World Spanning adventures take place in a variety of different areas and may even involve an otherworldly location. Travel options tend to be limited at low levels, but pick up around elite and paragon levels.
  • Plane Hopping adventures make heavy use of traveling between worlds. Such adventures are rare before paragon and often involve a gate or other adventure specific hook. More character controlled access to planar travel usually kicks in around legendary levels.
  • Cosmic adventures deal with the entities and forces that shape the game world. Such adventures are rare before legendary levels, becoming more common at mythic levels. By cosmic levels, this will be the most common adventure scope.

Wrap Up

It look like there are 4 rough stages of play.

  • Recruit through Veteran deal with small groups of trouble shooters trying to make their way in the world.
  • Elite through Paragon deals with movers and shakers, character who are the best in their fields with significant connections and political influence.
  • Legendary and Mythic deal with potentially world changes events and larger than life actions.
  • Cosmic is a world shaping end game where immense power is only offset by similarly potent beings.

Note that there’s a potential cross over point between each stage. Players may very well decide they want to stay within a given level range. This can mean both capping the maximum level and different possible end games. For example, leaving behind a legacy might be ranked above developing personal immortality.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Design: Character Specialization

In this series, I’ll be putting up some ideas game design ideas and seeing how they apply in dungeon crawl games like D&D. Let’s kick things off by looking at character specialization.

Specialization Overview

A specialized character is one which has developed one set of abilities significantly further than their other abilities. How much better they are in that one area depends on how heavily specialized the character is.

Specialization Benefits

  • Expertise: Heavy investment in their area of expertise makes the character a top performer in that area.
  • Focused Concept: Having an area of expertise can provide a good starting point or hook for getting a quick handle on the character.

Specialization Costs

  • Weaker in General: The heavy investment in a single area leaves the character less to develop other skills. This in turn makes the character less effective out side of their area of expertise.
  • Flat Concept: If the character is defined solely by their specialty, they can seem “flat” and one-dimensional.

Team Effects

If specialists are grouped with others with the same specialty, you run into the same strengths and weaknesses a lone specialist runs into. However, if you a group where each member has their own specialty, you get some interesting effects.

Group Benefits

  • Expanded Coverage: If each member has it’s own area of expertise, you’ve got a wider range of situations where at least one member is fully effective. This helps specialists mitigate their weak areas by passing it off to an ally better equipped to handle it.
  • Niche Development: Since each member has fewer situations they need to handle, they’re freer to focus on their area of expertise. This can also help them develop a unique identity and role within the group.
  • Interdependence: Each member’s mutual reliance and support for other team members can help build a sense of cohesion and unity within the group.

Group Costs

  • Limited Coverage: Unless a group has a specialist for every possibly situation, they will end up with some challenges they simply are not well suited to handle. While the group has wider coverage than an individual specialist, full coverage of every situation is harder to achieve.
  • Limited Participation: During a given challenge, specialist in that area will usually contribute more than those who don’t specialize in that area. The higher the degree of specialization, the lower the contributions of those secondary participants drop. Taken to an extreme, you have a few party member essentially doing everything in certain events.
  • Composition Pressure: In order to give themselves the best chance of successfully completing an adventure, the party will want to make sure they have enough ability and man-power to cover the most common challenges. This in turn, creates an incentive to have a certain number of members who can handle one situation, another set which can handle another, and so on. Taken far enough, this can become something like “we need 2 warrior, a talker, and a scholar”. While this does create a distinctive group, it also reduces the player’s flexibility in what they can play without limiting their play experience.

General Suggestions

So how do you gain the benefits of a specialized group while down playing the costs? Here a few tricks we can use.

Limit Specialization

First, let’s but a cap on how much a character’s are of expertise can exceed their general abilities. Even a modest amount of specialization can give us the benefits mentioned above. Higher levels of specialization do increase niche development, but they also aggravate the limited participation and group composition problems. After all, the strong specialization is the greater the feeling of needing a specialist for a given situation becomes. With lower specialization, if becomes easier for other members to stand in for the missing member.

I’d suggest putting a fully maxed specialty at around half again (150%) to double the effectiveness of a undeveloped trait in any area you want party member to reliably and meaningfully contribute.

Multiple Specialties

Give the character enough development resources to flesh out more than one specialty. This helps reduce limited coverage (more bases covered by fewer characters), limited participation (more likely to be active in a given event), and composition problems (more ways to cover your bases).

Extended Resources

Give the character a way to fill in their weak spots as needed by tapping into a flexible but limited use resource. This can range from calling in allies through buying special equipment or favors.

D&D Implications

First off, I strongly suggest cutting down on ability divergence. Skills in 3rd and 4th edition are excellent example of this. It’s easily possible to get a big enough difference in skill modifiers that anything a specialist doesn’t auto-succeed can become an automatic failure for a non-specialist.

4E did cut this down a bit by tieing skill progression to your level. However, this still leaves the ability score issue. Each character can and usually should pump 2 of their highest scores at each opportunity. However, this means the difference between their best and worst scores increases as they level up. Since difficulty is set to scale with their best scores, this means that high level characters effectively become worse at everything outside their specialty, leading to the problems mentioned above.

Second, I recommend balancing combat and non-combat abilities between classes. Currently in 4E, all classes are assumed to be roughly equal in combat, but some have significantly greater skill access and benefits which gives greater out of combat utility.

Third, I suggest allowing skill development outside of a class’ favored skills. While it’s alright to encourage or enforce some skills for a class, not allowing certain skills means if you want those skills you must have a member of certain classes, which limits group composition.

Henchmen in 4E

Those familiar with the Dungeon Master Guide 2 will recall the addition of companion characters to the game. At first glance, these match up with the character type of the same name in the Character Progression post. Indeed, if you’re just looking to fill out the party, they work fine.

However, companion character in the DMG are meant to act as secondary characters. As such, they’re not set up or intended to develop into full characters. In this post I’ll look at adding a similar character type that fills the same position with the option to expand into a full PC.

Note: Given that “companion” is already in use for a different function, I’m changing the character progression to hireling -> henchmen -> hero.

Creating Henchmen

Henchmen can be built using a variant of normal character creation rules. The main differences are that henchmen creation uses certain shortcuts to make things go faster and trim down the feature set. Some of these shortcuts parallel the NPC creation rules in the DMG.

Race: You may actually be able to skip this step when creating the henchman. While this can make them harder to describe, it does let the player set the race during play.

Ability Scores: Use an array to set ability scores. Point buy is possible, but is somewhat slower and generally not worth it during initial henchman creation.

Skills: Henchmen start with only 2 trained skills.

Features: During henchman creation, you can choose to put some class features on hold. This should not be used on the class’s role defining features, but can work well for minor or supporting features.

Powers: As with NPCs, henchmen start with each of at-will, encounter, and daily attack powers. Henchmen can also start with a utility power if any are available. For paragon tier henchmen, add a second utility and encounter attack power. For epic henchmen, add a third utility and second daily attack power.

Feats: If there are any feats that are crucial to the character concept, add those first. Ideally, there should only be one or two of these. Once those are added, the henchman should gain an Expertise feat, the Improved Defenses feat, and a Weapon/Implement Focus feat in roughly that order.

Equipment: Give the henchmen any equipment they need, up to the wealth limits for their level. For level 1 henchmen, assume that’s 100 gp. For higher level henchmen, use the cost of a magic item one less than their level. For 5th level henchmen, assume their armor, weapons, and neck slot items are generic +1 magic items. For every 5 levels past that, increase those items enhancement bonuses by 1.

Promoting Henchmen

At any point, any details with minimal mechanical effects can be added. This includes things like the character’s name, appearance, personality, or mannerisms. If race has not been set, that can be added at any point as well.

At the end of a encounter, challenge, or scene, a henchman can gain one of the following. The henchman must be participating in the event to gain these perks.

  • Ability Scores: Readjust the character’s ability scores as desired using the standard methods (point bug, array, or rolling). This perk can only be used once.
  • Skill Training: If the henchman is below the number of skills allow for a full member of their class, they can gain training in a new skill now.
  • Class Training: Use this perk to enable any class feature that were put on hold for this henchman. If multiple forms of a given feature are available, the henchman’s owner can pick which on they get.
  • Power Training: Add one power that a full member of the class would normally have access to.
  • Feat Training: If the character still has feat slots available, they can fill one now. Alternately, they can retrain any feat they have. Each feat can only be retrained once this way.
  • Item Reveal: The character can gain a new item or upgrade an item in their possession. For first level characters, the total value of their items is capped at 100 gp. For higher level character, this cap raises to that of a magic item of their level minus 1. They can also gain one item at their level, one item of their level minus one, and one item one higher than their level. Essentially once all picks have been made, the character should be equipped as well as full character of their level.

Reusing Henchmen

Henchmen are meant to start of as generic and replaceable party members. As such, you may want to create a number of henchmen “builds” which can be used as the basis for creating more henchmen on the fly.

Next time I’ll take a quick look at adding hirelings to 4E. If anyone would like a similar treatment for other editions, let me know.

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Evolution: Class Paths

I’ve noticed two interesting changes in the new D&D Essentials line. First, they’ve broken the strict one to one linking of classes to roles. Fighters can now be defenders or strikers. Druids can now be leaders or controllers, and so on.

The second interesting point is that certain class features are being reused. Defender’s Aura and Healing Word are prime examples of this. Given how many highly similar powers had been creeping into the system, this choice makes a certain amount of sense. Healing word an it’s variants are an excellent example of this.

Let’s take a look at what would happen if we extended these two ideas a bit further.

Modular Features

Let’s start by moving those shared features out of the individual class entries and into a common area. While we’re at, we can move some updates to those features into the same area. This gives us rough feature set or development paths centered around a strongly defined focus.

We can then put alterations to those features in the class entries. For example, the Cleric might add the divine keyword the healing word feature, while a shaman would add the primal keyword instead.

This approach can also be extended to powers. For example, fighters, paladins, and barbarians might share access certain weapon based powers. Each class could also have certain power sets of their own and some of their optional features may open up access to other sets.

Tactical Roles

Once we’ve got features grouped into themed sets, we can attach tactical roles to those sets rather than the classes themselves. We can then give the player a choice of each of these options, letting them pick their role just like any other build option. Granted, some classes will have more features for some roles than others.

Classes as Archetypes

This decoupling of classes from roles leaves us with a looser definition of what classes are. To me, this seem like an excellent opportunity to treat them more as archetypes and less as source/role combos.

This may lead to the consolidation of a few classes. The seeker would probably be absorbed into the ranger. The invoker might merge into the cleric, unless they can make the flavor even more distinct. The warlord might blend with the fighter, and so on.

Classes Combinations

These are a variety of ways D&D has let us mingle classes and similar feature sets through it’s history. Let’s take a look at some of these options.

Minor Classes

The earliest example of this is probably Kits from AD&D. These are essentially very limited sets of abilities and modifiers that help the character fit a certain theme. These can be merged with different classes to give the resulting character a unique flavor without over powering them. As such they’re a definite plus.

I’d suggest making these available to all characters early on as they provide nice character hooks. You might even set it up so they can have greater effect if the character diverts some extra resources into them.

Advance Classes

The earliest example of this I’m aware of go way back to OD&D. At higher levels, fighter could become paladin, knights, or avengers, while clerics could become druids.

In 3E, these took the form of prestige classes. In 4E, they’ve become paragon paths and epic destinies.

If I were extending on this, I’d probably stick with 4Es approach of limiting these extra picks to key points in the character’s development. However, I might add more of these points and theme the paragon / name level pick toward the character’s links to an organization or part of the game world.

I might also let at least one of those slots let the character minor in another class.

Split Classes

Though they do complicate things, characters that mix classes have been around since D&D’s earliest days. In fact, the original elf and cleric were hybrids to an extent. In the elf’s case this involved switching between two classes, while the cleric mixed two classes (fighter & magic user) and add it’s own distinctive touch to them.

Distinguishing major and minor feature might help with this as you could limit them to a certain number of each from either class. Similarly, you could limit them to only one role defining feature from either class.

Another possible option is extend the rules for minoring in another class. If set up right, you could start them as minoring in 2 classes, but give them a certain number of upgrade picks which must be split between those classes.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Evolution: Character Promotion

Last week on rpg.net there was a thread about bringing D&D races and classes into the gamma world rules. The idea was to create a kind of “D&D-lite” that takes advantage of the more fast and loose style of gamma world.

This got me thinking of how character creation in earlier editions was a lot faster and easier. In fact, I believe that extra character creation investment is one reason PC death has been played down in later editions. It’s a lot easier to be amused by an innovative death trap when the actual cost in the player’s time and ability to participate is lower.

So is there a way to get to couple that fast character generation with the customization of later editions? Here’s one way you might handle it.

Evolving Characters

What if we started with quickly created characters and give the players to flesh them out during play? That means the longer a character is played, the more personalized it becomes. We could also tie this to survivability. That means the quick characters are easier to KO but easily replaced while characters you’ve invested more are harder to take out of play. Let’s look at an example of how this could be done.


Henchmen are basically player controlled mooks or red-shirts. They’re generic and highly expendable, but the party can use them to boost their number and help out with various tasks.

They also act as the raw material for replacement characters. If a player has no characters that can participate in an upcoming challenge or encounter, they can promote one of the party’s henchmen into a companion. This means henchmen can function as a kind of extra life resource for the players. If their character dies, they can pick a new one of the stack and keep playing.

In 4E terms, henchmen would probably be stated up as minions. Each one would use a standard stat block like monsters. For example, you’d have things like an elven archer stat block for the henchman to use. However, I’d give them the following traits.

Instinctive Action: When not controlled by a player, a henchmen will make a cautious retreat from the encounter. Treat this as moving toward the nearest safe area or the edge of the combat area, using shifts as needed to avoid attacks.

Guarded Retreat: When the henchmen uses their instinctive action to retreat, they can not be damaged until the start of their next turn. This ability can only be used if the character is within 20 squares of conscious, allied Companion or Hero.

That uncontrolled henchmen are relatively safe, but will not attack. They can be controlled to contribute to the battle, but doing so will put them at risk. They can also be killed if all allied Companions and Heroes are dropped.


Companions are more resilient party member that have yet to be fully fleshed out. To make a companion, simply copy over their henchman stat block and make the following changes.

  • Standard Character: Remove the minion property from the character and give them standard hit points for their role.
  • Instinctive Action: Instead of retreating like a henchman, an uncontrolled companion will take a full defense action and shift toward their nearest ally.
  • No Retreat: Companions lose the Guarded Retreat trait.
  • Bonus Breakdown: Halve the character’s level bonus and increase the level on their weapons, armor, and neck slot items up to their own level.

After each challenge or encounter, a companion can take a promotion. This promotion can be declared at any time before the start of the next challenge or encounter. Sample promotions include:

  • Ability Scores: randomize or buy the character ability scores, rather than using the standardized stat block values.
  • Feats: The character gains a feat selection, up to the maximum allow for their level.
  • Powers: The character can replace a stat block power or gain a new class power, up to the limits of their class.
  • Resilient: The character gain increased ability to resist death. In 4E terms, this would probably be where death saves comes in.

A fully promoted companion becomes a Hero.


A hero is simply a companion which has been fully upgraded. In game terms, they should be as flesh out as a fully customized character in 3E or 4E but will have reached that point during play. After reaching this status, customization slows down to normal levels.

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 6:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Progression

In today’s update I’m taking a quick look at how character’s and their adventures change as character’s level up.

Basic Edition Boxed Sets

Basic D&D was originally released in 5 boxed sets, each covering a different range of levels.

  • Basic covered the first 3 levels with an emphasis on learning how to survive the dungeon.
  • Expert took things up to level 14 and had more focus on exploring the world and establishing connections.
  • Companion extended levels up to 25th and stressed the choice between continued travels or building up a dominion.
  • Master took things to the cap of level 36 and hinted at the paths to immortality.
  • Immortal essential reset the level system entirely by turning the characters into low-level immortals.

The free retro-clone “Dark Dungeons” points out this progression fairly well in Chapter 2. In fact, the following section headings seem to sum it up nicely:

  • “Rags to Riches” is an apt description of the Basic Set.
  • “Expanding Horizons” matches nicely with the more travel oriented Expert Set.
  • “Power & Responsibility” ties in nicely with the political ties that start coming in around name level and the Companion Set.
  • “A Whole New Playground” touches on the high-powered rise to legends feel of the Master Set.
  • “A New Beginning” nicely sums up the Immortal Set which has a whole new set of rules and assumptions.

4E Tiers

4th edition seems to cover the first 4 stages nicely by splitting Expert between Heroic and Paragon Tiers. The Immortal stage is left out, but that’s not that surprising as it’s been essentially an entire new rules set of its own.


There seem to be a few key points in character growth over levels in D&D. These include:

  • Starting Out: The character has nothing but the most basic of equipment, the clothes on their back, and a little pocket change and has to work from there.
  • Established: The character has made a name for themselves and can start ranging further afield.
  • Name Level: The character have gotten well-known enough to start making some major contacts and may do things like starting their own holdings or joining a powerful organization. Either way, they become closely tied to a piece of the game world.
  • World Spanning: By this point the character’s reach extends over a significant portion of the game world, and possibly into other planes.
  • Ascent into Legend: At this stage the characters are performing world shaking tasks and are probably gearing up to leave a lasting legacy.
  • Beyond Legend: This stage generally takes the character out of the previous game world and moves them onto a whole new playing field.

Overall, this does lend itself nicely to the 3 tiered progression of 4E with a few key points.

  • Name Level, Ascent into Legend, and Beyond Legend are threshold points as they both focus on new paths for the character to take.
  • In contrast, Established and World Spanning are softer points where the character more grows into them rather than making a big decision on character direction.
  • The 4E model is a bit weaker with using Name Level to tie the character to the game world than 2E and earlier editions had been.

So that’s it for this review. Next time I’ll start laying out how we might go about rebuilding one of the classic classes.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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