That all said, I think I'm going to ditch classes. I'm slowly setting up a little viking themed hexcrawl, in which my players are shipwrecked on a compact, flavourful island. To start them all off I'd like to drop the standard system, which always ends up with everyone I know wanting to be a druid, and instead start everyone with 4 Adventure Points™.
Adventure Points are cashed in at character creation in order to get your character an adventurey... thing, just like filling in inventory slots. You want to be competent with sword and shield? That's one AP, thanks. After skills as an alchemist? One AP. Pet cougar? An AP again. Rock-climbing gear and mastery of knots? One AP! General rogue skills are one AP, while specific expertise in trap-making might also be one AP. This works for spells, too. You want to be able to cast Magic Missile once per day? That's one AP. You want to be able to cast Fireball on demand? That's... probably 10.
And the AP system lets people build a class anyway. If you're really really into playing fighters you can start off strong with all your favourite ideas for what a good fighter can do. Sword and shield (1). Ability to do that thing dragon slayers do where they crouch behind their shield and are somehow unaffected by AoE (2). Ability to baseball-bat spells back at people with your sword, Zelda style (3). Suit of nice armour (4). Fighter done, and they're probably more fun than the stock standard duelist that knows Power Attack.
Or people can just make a character out of disparate elements that are tied together by who their character is, which is a nice variation on the character boxing that a class system can enforce. Nobody has to pitch a new class to the DM, they just grab abilities they think are thematically appropriate and then have the DM cost them in AP.
|Yeah guys, narrowly defined archetypes make me grumpy, too.|
The next obvious step is to get rid of levels. While clearly, yes, you can level up and get +1 Adventure Points, I'm a lot more attracted to the idea that people pick up and wield power by just finding it on the floor of a dungeon, or going away and training for a few months. Though it could be a little kitsch to throw a magic boon for every player at the end of every major dungeon, isn't that kind of what levels are anyway? Wait, isn't that kind of what major dungeons are for anyway?
So no more leveling up, and no more levels. You can measure power levels in approximate AP if you really need to. This also means you don't have to worry about players exchanging magic swords or even spells, so long as it makes sense.
All this might totally fall to shit if my/your players start power- or meta-gaming too hard, but running a session is kind of a dialogue, and you can always just tell a player that something's too powerful. Anyway. Hopefully my next post has less rhetorical questions, but for now here is a little party of "level 1" vikings.
- Carries big old war-hammer of crystal bone. Shaft is hollowed into a kind of oboe thing (1).
- Three cute lil cuttlefish follow her around, drifting through the air (all cuttlefish can fly, obviously) and following the commands she plays on the oboe (1).
- Battle Yodel 1/day. Basically a first level spell. Can spend a round just yelling super loud. Nobody can cast spells. Everything nearby with ears is deafened. Con checks each round to keep going (1).
- Decently good healer. Herbal medicine, bandaging wounds, amputations, all that. The cuttlefish totally have anaesthetic saliva that helps or something (1).
- Weaponised tattoos. Ten barbs across each forearm. 20 is the hard limit, probs. Can be magically extracted and throw like a shuriken. Redoing a tattoo takes about the same amount of time as fletching an arrow. (1)
- Inkspray at will. Looks like colour spray, hurts like burning hands. Costs one arm tattoo per 1d4 damage. Use as many as you want, but does 1 damage per tattoo used. Feel free to kill yourself nuking the mega lich. (1)
- Seance 1/day. Touch a dead thing's brains, speak with its voice. Gives out when the ghost is out of useful stuff to say. Need someone to take notes for you. Maybe translate, too. (1)
- Ogle 1/day. Make eye contact with target in order to make them freeze up, missing a turn and shitting themselves. No save b/c that's much funnier. (1)
- Groom's Tear; a great sword that can cut ghosts. Knows how to cut normal people, too. (1)
- Seal blubber armour. AC as scale. Keeps you dry and warm while swimming in icy water, doesn't weigh you down. (1)
- Sunspear 1/day. If under daytime sky can do a sweet anime pose and call down bolt of sunlight. Strikes any target that can be seen for 3d6 damage in fireball size AoE. Also, can use this before jumping off cliff in order to do sweet, explosive three-point landing, etching your name into the ground around you. So sweet that it costs: (2)