New d20 Sci-fi Game (Part II)

Work on the game continues apace.  Unfortunately, it still doesn’t have a title yet.  Although I sort of wanted to figure that part out once the game is more or less wrapped up and complete.

The main thing that happened today was a read-over of all of the class skills currently included.  I’ve been pulling out class skill from d20 Modern and Future, as well as a few from the Pathfinder SRD.  So far they’ve had mixed results.  While I really like a lot of d20 Modern as it’s presented, some of the class abilities begin to feel weak or improperly balanced when converted to Buy The Numbers.  Certain abilities that were nice bonuses for certain prestige classes become ludicrously expensive, while other powerful abilities become a little too cheap.  However, this is overall kind of rare and a result of just using certain default formulas for how much these abilities cost.  I actually found it useful to calculate the cost for a few of the simple abilities as complex abilities.  This greatly reduces the cost of taking the ability while still feeling balanced within the experience point costs of the system.

A quick run-down of how Buy The Numbers calculates the cost of a class ability:

The general rule of thumb to use when pricing a
simple ability is that the XP Cost to obtain the
ability is equal to 300 XP times the minimum
character level at which the ability can be
obtained under the Core Rules. For instance,
a prestige class might grant an ability at the
4th level of the prestige class; entry to the
prestige class might require the character to
be at least 5th level. Thus, the ability should
be priced as a 9th-level ability, with a cost of
300 XP times 9 or 2700 XP.

Simple abilities are those abilities that do not have a limitation such as uses per day, or being dependent on your character level.  Increasing your base speed by +5 ft would be an example of a class ability, or gaining +2 HP to all Treat Injury checks.

Complex abilities are those abilities that have a limited number of uses per day or are based around your character’s class level.  Sneak attack, which has damage progression based on your character level, or Smite Evil, which has a limited number of uses per day, are both complex abilities.  The costs for these are calculated as such:

Unlike simple special abilities, which require a
“one-time” entry cost, complex special abilities
require at least two XP expenditures to be
made. The first XP expenditure a character
must make is the XP Cost to have access to
the ability; this cost is always listed first below
the ability description. Other costs that may
be required include:
1.) The cost for each daily use of the ability
(“Base XP Cost for Single Daily Use”).
This cost escalates as the character
purchases more uses of the ability each
day; the second entry below the ability
description is the “Base XP Cost for
Single Daily Use.” Purchasing one use of
the ability per day has an XP Cost equal
to the new total number of daily uses
times the Base XP Cost; thus each
successive purchase of a daily use
increases the XP Cost (i.e., if an ability
has a Base XP Cost of 500 XP, it requires
a payment of 500 XP to use the ability
once per day, an additional 1,000 XP to
use the ability twice per day, another
1,500 XP to use the ability three times per
day, and so forth).
2.) Increasing the effective caster/character
level with which the ability is measured.
Some abilities have a Starting Caster
level listed; this level is subsumed in the
cost of purchasing access to the ability
and is the minimum level at which the
ability operates (if no entry appears, and a
level is necessary assume the starting
level is one). If the description of the
ability references “appropriate level,” this
is the level used. A character may
improve the effective level for one ability
only by paying an XP Cost equal to 50
times the new effective level (i.e., raising
the effective level from 1 to 2 requires 100
XP, raising it from 2 to 3 requires another
150 XP, and so forth).
3.) Increases that do not follow a “caster
level” pattern are also possible; the cost
for these is usually noted in the text.
When pricing complex special abilities, the
general rule of thumb is that the cost for
access should be 100 XP times the minimum
level required under the Core Rules to
achieve the ability if the ability is “leveldependent”
and 150 XP times the minimum
level required if it is not. The base cost for
uses per day should be priced at half the cost
for access. Exceptionally useful abilities
(such as sneak attack) may see an increase
in cost but never more than double. As with
simple abilities, prerequisites for complex
abilities should “make sense” as much as
possible, usually being drawn from earlier
abilities on a class list or in exceptional cases,
from other areas (e.g., since being an arcane
spellcaster is part of acquiring a familiar, the
familiar ability requires some ability with
arcane spells).

(Both sets of quotes are from Buy The Numbers, by Spencer “The Sigil” Cooley, which is Open Game Content.)

There were also definitely some differences of opinion based around how much an ability costs versus its utility, but I think those will become more settled and clear once initial XP values are calculated, as the relative cost of each ability will be much more apparent.  The main issue I think is going to be reconciling the costs that look high on paper with the amount of XP characters would have been expected to gain before getting that level in the default system (d20 Modern, Future, Pathfinder, etc.).  I have a feeling a lot of costs will seem more reasonable in that light.  My main worry at the moment is going to be that we end up in a dive to the bottom with XP costs, where suddenly everything is so cheap that there’s nothing interesting for characters to take in their later levels.  But this will require further playtesting and building of characters to ensure it works out.

I realize this may not have made the most sense ever, and I apologize for that.  I wanted to get the thoughts from the playtest down and out there in the world, and I’ll have more concrete examples once the XP value of all the abilities is calculated and another playtest is run or experimental character building is underway.

Next post: Converting wealth DCs to actual credit numbers, hopefully using the Hamburgers and Handguns method.  Woo?

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