Thoughts on level/leveless design and class/classless design

BlackWolf

Legendary Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2019
Messages
239
Reaction score
484
Name says it all, I'm interesting in reading designer notes or even forum posts you judge good about the matter. It's linked to character creation and game system development.

I'm working on a zine, slowly, really slowly but I'm a player that is really into d100 and all It's systems, from brp and mythras to It's more distant cousins like WFRP. Aiming for learning and deciding go a little further in the ups and downs of both approach (level / leveless and class / classless) I would be really happy if you could share any insight/books/links about it.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
1,530
Reaction score
2,748
I think it's intended to be, in the manner of books on computer programming design patterns and especially object-oriented programming.
I am a huge fan of design patterns in my work in software development and read the original Design Patterns and other works. The original by the gang of four authors is a great read the others are hit or miss. I thin the idea of design patterns has a lot of applicability to writing RPGs. But the work linked misses the mark.

The biggest issue is the use of custom chart icons which is novel to this work. Forcing the reader to learn that to get the most out of this work.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
1,530
Reaction score
2,748
Name says it all, I'm interesting in reading designer notes or even forum posts you judge good about the matter. It's linked to character creation and game system development.
My view is that progression can packaged in a variety of ways. It can be fine grained like Runequest or GURPS. It can be done in large packages of abilities like various editions of D&D including the current. It can a hybrid where you get a boost in abilities but also some elements are improved in smaller increment like some virtues in Adventures in Middle Earth which improvement that a character can do outside of the leveling process once they gain the virtue.

The trick is decide how character are defined and progress written in plain English. Keeping in mine how you think people learn and progress in life. Decide out of everything characters can do and learn in the genre or setting you are using that you are going to focus on. Then decide how fine you want to make the mechanics. It can minimal like OD&D or extensive like Runequest. It can be a toolkit like the Hero System.

I will have more thoughts later in the day.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
1,530
Reaction score
2,748
I did extensive work on three different RPG
1) A fudge/fate variant called Majestic Wilderlands RPG for Fudge.
2) A Swords & Wizardry variant called the Majestic Fantasy RPG.
3) An science fiction AGE variant called the Majestic Stars

Majestic Wilderlands RPG for Fudge
I will start off with this because it is the closest to a clean sheet RPG I did. Fudge itself is more of a framework/toolkit to create a RPG. To a much higher degree than GURPS. SJ Games at the time didn't have a 3PP program or were interested in working with 3P (the latter since changed). And I like GURPS, a lot. But I was aware of its issues and felt some of it was overkill for running campaigns.

As a result character progression in my Fudge variant is points based except in one important respect which I will get too later. I spent several version juggling different point coats until I got what in the link above.

Like GURPS your skill bonus was a combination of an attribute plus your skill. Like GURPS if you wanted to attempt something with a sword that is knowledge based, like who made a sword,you would roll 4DF + INT + Skill instead of 4DF+DEX + Skill as if you were going to attack.

I felt GURPS and Basic Roleplaying had too many skills so I cut it down to the list pages 17 to 19. I felt that some skills had a basic competency level like GURPS so kill have a default modifier to use if untrained.

When you spend points in skills, you buy it up from its default. For example Physician defaults to -2. You buy one skill level now means you are -1 in Physician or 4dF + Int - 1. This still was in flux as generally players don't like to start in negative or think it is initiative. GURPS does this but because skills are Attribute Score - default difficulty + purchased skill, the result is always a positive number. The fix I was mulling around for my rules was rework the scale so everything is a positive number.

Primary Attribute are generally priced at three times the cost of a skill. Which means that if you have more than three skills tied to an attribute initially it better to raise the attribute than the skills. GURPS has a similar tradeoff.

There are secondary attributes based on the primary attributes, also like GURPS, which can be raised or lowered independently using the primary attribute as the base default. Also like GURPS.

Because all of this were expressed as bonuses instead of scores and designed as bonuses to a roll of 4dF, I felt it was unique enough compared to GURPS for my purposes.

Aspects
Where I broke with GURPS (and Fudge) designed is in what I called aspect. Borrowed from Fate, the idea of an attribute is that it describes something about your character beyond attributes and skills. Unlike Fate it is a descriptive mechanic not a narrative mechanic.

Unlike GURPS you don't spend points (or gain points) for aspect either. Instead the player is allowed to add any aspect that make sense in terms of the setting of the campaign, and what the referee agrees too that fits the initial situation of the campaign.

Aspects can be descriptive only and primarily influences how a player roleplays or interacts with an element of a setting. For example a player could take ex-Slave which has a social stigma in a fantasy setting.

Some aspects are accompanied by mechanics. For example the ability of clerics of certain religions to turn undead described on page 31. It is based on the clerics Religious Ritual as to how effective it is.

Other aspects have mechanics and have things that you can spend points on. For example Arcane and Divine magic.

I didn't get much beyond the generic fantasy basic until I abandoned for reasons I explain later.

So what controls aspects? My intention is that it is the character situation within the campaign that controls whether they can take an aspect or now. Generally only Priests of Delaquin, the Goddess of Honor & Justice, can take Turn Undead. Generally only those trained by the Order of Thoth can have Arcane Magic and buy the ability to cast arcane spells.

Now even with just these two limited example, I am sure folks are thinking of different ways in their own setting one could Turn Undead or use Arcane Magic and that good. That my system working as intended.

So what about balance? There isn't any, the only criteria I care about when refereeing this is that does it make sense in terms of my setting and the character's circumstance. The thing I care about when writing about this in my rules is whether the reader has enough information to determine whether it would make sense for their own campaign.

If I were ever to continue with this. I would comb the open content of Fudge and Fate for ideas and rework them to fit with the work I done. I would use GURPS as inspiration for anything that Fudge or Fate doesn't cover.

Packages
The bane of points based RPGs is all the damn lists even when nicely narrowed to a particular genre or setting. The choices are overwhelming and it is not always obvious what one has to do to get a particular character type. GURPS, Hero System, etc have come up with the idea of templates or packages. Logical grouping of attributes, abilities, and skills that define a particular character type like Mage, Priest, Thief, or Warrior.

My plan was to take each of the classes in my Majestic Wilderlands supplement for Swords & Wizardry and turn them into a character package along with smaller packages as an outline for progressing the character.

They are not a hard and fast character class but a starting point for creating a character. Also a referee tool describing a common character type to be used as a NPC for the campaign.

Example
MWRPG_Fighter.jpg
MWRPG_Mage.jpg

Wrapping it up
Why I didn't finish this. Because using 4 Fudge/Fate Dice means that a +1 bonus is an outsized bonus. Dramatically shifting the odds. Which left character progression and relative skills feeling rather clunky. It is bad enough to be noticed by players who are not normally aware of this. And happened multiple times with different groups. The reason for this is the steepness of the 4DF bell curve.

Then two years ago I played around with 1D-1D which makes the bell curve match that of Traveller's 2d6 system. Which is better but by then I played the AGE system and found I just like 3D6 the best. Which can work but by then I was knee deep in other projects like the Wilderlands maps.

However if I were to do a non-D&D system of my own the above would be the starting point for character creation and progression.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
1,530
Reaction score
2,748
The Majestic Fantasy RPG
This is my take on the classic editions of the original RPG. The link is to a basic version of the rules I been developing. It is also the furthest along of any my rules based projects.

The primary point is compatibility. My goal is to do I what to do but remain compatible that one can freely use material back and forth with other classic edition. For various reason I felt that Swords & Wizardry core rules was the closest ur version that the OSR had. My first pass was the Majestic Wilderlands Supplement.

In the ten years since I continued development.

The first key thing to remain compatible is to keep in mind that most RPGs are comprised of what I call the core mechanics, and the stuff. In the classic editions, the 1d20 attack roll is a core mechanic, the saving throw is also a core mechanic. the fighter class, magic missile spell, +1 mace magic item, doggelganger monster are all stuff. Even prior to the release of Adventure in Middle Earth, I realized a lot could be done to change the tone and tenor of the classic editions by changing the stuff while leaving everything else alone.

Part of this was due to my experience with GURPS, two GURPS campaigns can be radically different due the referees choices in what elements of GURPS they even with RAW.

So changing the stuff is where I am going to focus on.

Abilities
In addition out of all the classic editions, the one that Swords & Wizardry Core edition is based has little to no mechanics dealing with things outside of combat, spellcasting, and a handful of special abilities.

How to climb a wall, open a lock, haggling for a sword, were areas where I could come up with my own mechanics to reflect how I handle these things. Yet still be compatible with other classic edition. The main consideration is that I would remain in the ballpark in terms of the odds to handle various task. For example it would not be compatible to have first level character be able to climb sheer slippery walls at a 90% chance of success. However a 5% to 15% chance of success at first level would work.

This lead to the development of my ability system. For things of average difficulty you start off with the chance of success of 15+ on 1d20 modified by attribute bonus and ability bonus if you have one. For something hard like the wall mentioned above, you would need a 20+.

I need the ability system to handle the fact that in my fantasy campaigns, what one does outside of combat and spellcasting is often just as important. And some common character types that players had played in my campaigns were better at those things and other characters.

The reason for this is in my campaigns, I have no issues with the players trying to become king, high priest, or a guildmaster. It will be a challenge but if they have a good plan and execute it well, I just roll with it and it becomes part of my setting's background for the next campaign I run. Over the years that has been generalized to players making one's mark. One group may shoot to be king, another to be merchant magnate, and another still happy to build a tavern. As result my campaigns over time resolved in a mixed bag of characters. A set of rules focused on defining characters in terms of combat capabilities, magical abilities, and spellcasting abilities doesn't cover this.

You can find my description of abilities starting on page 19 of the PDF I linked too above.

Character Classes
The Swords & Wizardry thief of the core rules didn't fit with what I wanted to do, so I dropped it. This left me with the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic User. In addition to these three, I added the idea of the Rogue class. Classes that were better at things outside of combat and spellcasting.

Because of the D20 SRD, I felt Rogue was the closest terms that would be understandable. Although my various rogue classes had little in common with those in the D20 SRD. What distinguished the Rogues mechanically was various abilities bonuses. Also unlike the first three classes, there is no generic Rogue. Instead for my basic rules I used the Burglar class.

So outside of the traditional three, all the classes reflected common character types people played over the years in my campaign. You can see a partial summary in this PDF. It is a partial summary because I cull my full list to classes that produces characters that would work together. A claw of Kalis (assassin), Myrmidon of Set, etc are fine for my home campaign, but at convention it doesn't work out so well.

So GURPS and Hero System with their wealth of skills, advantages, disadvantages, etc not possible to balance characters. A character focused on social skills is not going to ever be able to face a combat character in battle even when part of a team.

But luckily sense my campaign still involved lots of traditional adventures, the players figured out for themselves various mixes of skill and combat abilities that worked. Over the 20 years I played Fantasy Hero and GURPS Fantasy certain patterns emerged. So I mined that to make the additional classes like the Merchant Adventurer, or a Paladin of Mitra.

Plus in the mid 80s I developed a firm idea of what levels meant in my AD&D campaigns. Influenced by Judges Guild idea that every character has levels, I considered to levels 1 to 2 to be trained apprentices, level 3 a trained journeyman/professional, level 6 a master or leader in one's profession, level 9 a regional leader or grandmaster, level 12 nationally known for one's skill or knowledge, level 16 olympic/nobel caliber.

So I designed my classes accordingly and more importantly designed my adventures that way. I did discuss and borrow from Jeff Rient his idea of NPC classes. Basically classes that have levels, but they are so not focused on combat that they never go beyond 1 Hit Dice and their progression is not as dramatic. Plus they progress in terms of years of experience not points.

I did use a few benchmarks from Swords & Wizardry. For example Fighters are the best at fighting and get a +1 to hit bonus every level. I also made all my xp charts have the same relative progression. Some of the original charts have levels where it takes dramatically less points for one class to get there than other for example the magic users. While in other classes each level cost double the points needed to get the previous level. After the change the Magic User needs more XP to advance across the board.

Majestic Fantasy Standard XP charts

Abilities Redux
So to all the classes, old and new, I added ability bonuses and progression in those bonuses. The Rogues have the most abilities bonuses.

Playtest, Playtest and the Playtest some more
The single most valuable thing I did is playtest these rules over and over again with different groups over years. Now if one has a publishing deadline and expenses to meet this is impractical beyond a certain amount of time. But if publishing or sharing is a hobby then take the time to do this to do this a lot. Also making it easier is the spread of Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds which allows one to connect to people all across the world.

For example, as a result of playtesting, I found that reworking the ability progression to allow for some choice in where the bonuses are applied worked. At first I felt fixed progression was the way to go due to what I call a johnny one spell.

In Fantasy Hero sometimes a player of a mage character would dump all their points into a single spell and use it as a hammer for every situation. Later in GURPS this was somewhat muted but still players tended to buy up certain skills to really high levels.

But players liked being able to customize their character, so I played around with different ability progression until I arrived at the current version.

Another thing was adding in the to hit bonus for fighters. In classic editions, the fighter is pretty bare bones in terms of mechanics. Try as one might, players do like some amount of mechanical benefits. Adding the to-hit bonus to initiative was a instant hit without radically altering how combat worked. What it meant that in general fighters and high Hit Dice monsters got to go first in combat.

That if the party was going to face high Hit Dice monsters, which added 1/2 of their hit dice to their initiative, they better have fighter to act first and hold the first line. The fighter players really liked being able to go first most of the time.

Again a result of playtesting, listening to feedback and trying things.

A caution I have to keep in mind one's goal. I intended to remain compatible with Swords & Wizardry and other classic editions. So I didn't try everything I thought of like I would do with the Majestic Wilderlands RPG for Fudge. I also evaluated how well it fit with the classic edition mechanics.

That it for now, I will write up my other on my experience with AGE a little later.
 

BlackWolf

Legendary Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2019
Messages
239
Reaction score
484
@robertsconley It will take me a while to read everything, but really appreciate the effort, thank you!

Edit:

Read it, your notes are pretty good. The thing about kits is something I also wondered, personally I don't like classes but I always felt that the freedom of character creation weights heavily on the newbies, but was thinking of something more as a guide or as sugestion. Not that kits don't work this way in some systems, but just to avoid the confusion of calling or really having kits.

I will probably go back to define the goals of what I want out of the game better.

If I may ask, why is it the you preffer the 3d6 curve bell? Is it personal taste? I just read something that they have the same curve as the d20 and have been thinking about trying to work with only 3d6 too...
 
Last edited:

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
1,530
Reaction score
2,748
Read it, your notes are pretty good. The thing about kits is something I also wondered, personally I don't like classes but I always felt that the freedom of character creation weights heavily on the newbies, but was thinking of something more as a guide or as sugestion. Not that kits don't work this way in some systems, but just to avoid the confusion of calling or really having kits.
I didn't get around to writing the details yet, but AGE uses a mechanic called talents and specialties which are like D20 Feats on steroids. Think of them as customization major class features. Some can be taken by any of the three AGE classes, other have specific prerequisites and some are limited to one class.

It gives AGE players some customization but the lists are lot shorter and the trade offs are more clear. And since they are more substantial than D20 feats it doesn't feel overwhelming. Unlike my class approach, players feel there are more opportunities for customization.



f I may ask, why is it the you preffer the 3d6 curve bell? Is it personal taste? I just read something that they have the same curve as the d20 and have been thinking about trying to work with only 3d6 too...
A bell curves means most of your rolls will hover around the middle of the dice range. In the case of 3d6 this is 10 or 11. This provides more predictability than 1d20 where every number has an equal probability of showing up.

The downside is that bonuses using 3d6 (or 2d6 or 4dF) do not have the same effect depending on your base chance of success. In GURPS a +1 isn't going to shift the odds much if I already can succeed on a 15 or less. However it can make all the difference if I only succeed on a 9 or less.

The advantage of 3d6 versus 2d6 is the larger range allows for a more fine grained advancement. It feels right for the various systems where I used 3d6 like GURPS, Hero System (Champions), and AGE.

The advantage of 3d6 over 4dF is that +1 in 3d6 doesn't shift the odds dramatically the way it does in 4DF. Like 3d6 vs 2d6, progression is more fine grained and feels right.
 

Magister

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 1, 2019
Messages
258
Reaction score
353
A bell curves means most of your rolls will hover around the middle of the dice range. In the case of 3d6 this is 10 or 11. This provides more predictability than 1d20 where every number has an equal probability of showing up.

The downside is that bonuses using 3d6 (or 2d6 or 4dF) do not have the same effect depending on your base chance of success. In GURPS a +1 isn't going to shift the odds much if I already can succeed on a 15 or less. However it can make all the difference if I only succeed on a 9 or less.

The advantage of 3d6 versus 2d6 is the larger range allows for a more fine grained advancement. It feels right for the various systems where I used 3d6 like GURPS, Hero System (Champions), and AGE.

The advantage of 3d6 over 4dF is that +1 in 3d6 doesn't shift the odds dramatically the way it does in 4DF. Like 3d6 vs 2d6, progression is more fine grained and feels right.
I like the trapezoidal distribution of two different dice; for d20+d4, the extreme values are less likely but +1 is 5% for most of the range of values.
 

Toadmaster

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2018
Messages
924
Reaction score
1,523
The downside is that bonuses using 3d6 (or 2d6 or 4dF) do not have the same effect depending on your base chance of success. In GURPS a +1 isn't going to shift the odds much if I already can succeed on a 15 or less. However it can make all the difference if I only succeed on a 9 or less.
I actually find this aspect of 3d6 an advantage vs the flat bonuses of d10, d20, d100.

I feel it simulates competence very well with rapid gains at the low end, and slowing as one gains mastery. Performance at the less skilled end is aided / hindered more easily through the quality of tools, taking extra time, working under duress. Again the master of a skill gains / suffers less from these kinds of things because the quality of their work is far more based on their skill and experience and less dependent on the quality of their tools, and working under high stress is just normal for them.
 

JoeNuttall

Member
Joined
Jan 19, 2020
Messages
6
Reaction score
20
My own game (Explore, still under development) mixes both worlds.

You get points to spend on skills, and after 2nd rank each rank costs double. So costs are 1,1,2,4,8,16 etc with the total being 1,2,4,8,16,32 etc. – i.e. the total is always the next number that you haven’t crossed out yet (so less maths). You start with 10 points, and to increase every skill by one rank always costs as many points as you have spent thus far. Hence you can make everything +1/+2/+3 ranks when you get to 20/40/80 points. You get some bonuses not via spending points, these have a bonus equal to your “level” which is 1/2/3/4 for 10/20/40/80 points, hence these bonuses go up at the same rate as your skills.
All this means you can have a simpler version of the same system using classes + levels. A class is just a particular starting spend of 10 points, and then each time you go up a level you add one to all your trained skills. This produces characters absolutely identical to those in the general system, but with a small number of trained skills, and with their improvements coming in steps rather than being gradual. This means you can quickly create NPCs of any level without having to do any fussing with skill points, and it is also makes it quicker when people have to spend newly acquired points as they often follow the pattern of adding +1 to each skill in turn until they’ve put them all up and then they start again.

For me that addresses the reasons I still enjoy D&D, but won't play Rolemaster anymore, despite my preferring it on paper.

There’s stuff about it in my blog, so I’m adding that to my sig, but all my blog’s recent updates have been about redrawing and fixing the map of The Caves of Chaos! There's also loads of guff about different dice curves and bonuses.
 

Stevethulhu

Lose 1d20 San
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
2,224
Reaction score
2,993
Name says it all, I'm interesting in reading designer notes or even forum posts you judge good about the matter. It's linked to character creation and game system development.

I'm working on a zine, slowly, really slowly but I'm a player that is really into d100 and all It's systems, from brp and mythras to It's more distant cousins like WFRP. Aiming for learning and deciding go a little further in the ups and downs of both approach (level / leveless and class / classless) I would be really happy if you could share any insight/books/links about it.
Take a look at Legend of the Five Rings. Especially 1st to 4th edition. That's an interesting hybrid of skill and level based game. Ok, it's a type of D10 dice pool and not a D100 system. But it's a blend that isn't that common.
 

BlackWolf

Legendary Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2019
Messages
239
Reaction score
484
Take a look at Legend of the Five Rings. Especially 1st to 4th edition. That's an interesting hybrid of skill and level based game. Ok, it's a type of D10 dice pool and not a D100 system. But it's a blend that isn't that common.
Few friends have the 4th ed book, might check on that.
But I heard the problem with d10 pools is that they can become worse depending on the number of die. I remember reading somewhere Vampire suffered from that problem where more dice didn't necessary mean you had better chances, do you know anything about that?
 

3rik

invidus es nostris quoniam tu talia nescis
Joined
May 13, 2017
Messages
1,479
Reaction score
1,767
Few friends have the 4th ed book, might check on that.
But I heard the problem with d10 pools is that they can become worse depending on the number of die. I remember reading somewhere Vampire suffered from that problem where more dice didn't necessary mean you had better chances, do you know anything about that?
I think that had to do with your chance of botching increasing with larger dice pools?
 
Top