The structure of characters has fluctuated a lot during design, but I feel like the the current setup captures things properly.
Originally classes and races were distinct choices. However the stuff I'd come up with for racial abilities felt pretty uninspired and was focused too heavily on skills. I started thinking about switching to an older "races-are-classes" model and a couple ideas jumped out at me immediately. When I brought them up in conversations with friends I got the same excited response from each independently, and that sealed the fate of the races.
So we have our favorites, Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Rogue, joined by Elf, Dwarf, and Orc. If I get carried away there will also be a Golem. I'm very likely to get carried away.
I wrote the first draft of Wayshielders on a weird Saturday, lying on the kitchen floor and just putting down what felt right. A very early decision was to use the "classic" abilities, but leave out Constitution and Charisma.
Hit Points work well but I've never really enjoyed having a whole extra ability score whose primary purpose is to determine them. It's been called to use for other things over the years (system shock, Fortitude, Concentration, etc. etc.) but those always felt like consolation prizes. So let's do HP and all its friends without Constitution.
Charisma always felt out of place in older games, where you're supposed to rely more on your roleplaying in social situations than a number. It works fine in games where you have social skills and checks, but I wanted to discard those for Wayshielders, so it was easy to let go.
That leaves just Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom. These are also abilities I'm fine using with monsters, which is nice. I do like having one system for PCs, NPCs, and monsters.
- Strength takes on much of Constitution's old role as it's what's used to determine HP.
- It also affects melee attacks and possibly the Armor or Fortitude defenses.
- Strength also sets Load - how much you can carry.
- Armor and Reflex are influenced by Dexterity.
- It's part of the Initiative modifier.
- In sort of a weird role, Dexterity in Wayshielders is also a bit of luck, so a high Dexterity helps your Saving Throws.
- Intelligence can help the Will and Reflex defenses.
- It also determines how many Spells you know, which is independent of class (though Mages and Elves are going to have the highest Intelligence scores).
- This factors into Will, Fortitude, and Initiative.
- It also determines how many languages you know. Languages may sound like a fairly weak benefit, but they do open up social and communication options, and scrolls use is dependent on knowing the language it is written in.
Talents & Focus
Each class has nine talents. You start with four, and over the course of the character's life and career can get up to eight, so there's always one you can't have.
Each talent has a focus, which improves its efficiency or effect - characters start with two and can get up to four, so about half your options are preferable most of the time, but you have others.
Characters have to start with at least one Guard talent and at least one Assist talent. Guard talents do very weak damage, usually d4, but have very high chances to hit and usually cause some additional effect when they do. The defenses they target and the effects they cause are more effective against some enemies than others - a major strategic element of combat is determining who is best able to keep opponents weakened.
Assist talents aren't intended as attacks, but rather benefit and heal allies. Using them builds Peril though. I'll write about Peril in a future post but it's a global counter of all the harm, danger, risk, stupidity, panic, and indecision the party has built up.
Other talents are generally used to hurt things in a manner consistent with the class's style.
I have a huge, unfinished list of kits. Characters pick two and each gives a nice passive bonus. The Verdant Disciple for example gets +1 damage with wooden weapons because they grow thorns in her hands.
Kits let characters of the same class differentiate themselves from each other. They allow for archetypes to be reconstructed without needing special classes - you can build a perfectly recognizable Ranger out of a Rogue who took some ranged talents and the Archer and Animal Trainer kits.
Each kit also gives a way to earn bonus XP. These aren't as well fleshed out yet, but are supposed to hearken back to the 5 or 10 percent bonus characters would get for having high ability scores. I wanted to shift this reward to roleplaying, but still tie it to things that happened at character creation.
Kits each have four options which become available as the character levels. These provide some new spell uses, or special attacks, or such and such. The first one is available at second level, to provide some sense of immediate reward and hopefully hook players on their character. They get access to six over the course of their career though so won't ever get to use all eight of them.
There's a list of possible backgrounds, but since their impact is so broad, it's fine for players to take this opportunity to present whatever backstory they want for their character.
Relation to the Wayshielders
Every player character is a member of the Wayshielders guild, so in addition to the background, this is a chance for them to define their more recent history.