Monday, May 27, 2019

Character Buffs - Zero to Hero

D&D and AD&D had a system of allowing characters to be buffed by adding some sort of skill to one of the regular classes via professional skills. Noticeably short on details, it encouraged DMs and players to think outside of the box. AD&D had the ranger and monk classes which featured two hit dice at first level while clerics were buffed with not just first level spells, but bonus spells based on Wisdom scores.

With the release of Unearthed Arcane, players received a model for having a character start below 1st level in the form of the cavaliers. Magic users received cantrips which hinted at powers before first level. Weapon mastery made fighting classes much stronger while pushing other classes into the non-combat skills.

Obviously, the cavalier and thief acrobat were nods to the cartoon. Clearly TSR wanted to change and update their product long before 2.0.

At the time, 2.0 wasn't available to me and by the time it was, I was already so invested in AD&D and Basically, I was unwilling to change. I had a large group of players, between 5 to 12 players per session, a few of them running 2 character at the same time.

What made this possible was an embryonic idea to codify low-level, non-combat oriented characters. While much of this was roleplay for my players, a bit of it dove into the skills possessed by these secondary characters.

Fast forward 33 years to 2018. That stack of notes, rules of thumb and memories of the fun were transformed into an actual pamphlet so that others could implement these types of secondary characters into their campaigns. Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners was born.

It started with a list of 50 professions from the middle ages. In January, the list increased by 9. The professions are broken into 3 groups: Sedentary, Active and Laboring which determines their hit points. The characters are average people, so they have ability scores generated by average dice, numbers 2-5 weight towards 3 and 4 or collectively as 9 to 12. Combat skills were limited to using the tools of the trade. Each new "class" has its own abilities, which are flexible and sometimes overlapping. The classes feature their own levels, from 1-5.

These rules were meant to flesh out NPC classes and include a table of modifiers for hiring them. But I also wanted to include rules from converting a non-player character to one the main classes in D&D and AD&D.

Once a professional becomes a fully fleshed out player character, I needed to include rules for the tools of the trade. Can a mason turned magic user use a hammer? Sure, why not. Within limits. Stats for mauls, hammers, woodworking axes, zaxes and various other implements were created. These improvised or unusual weapons were define in such a way so as to delineate them from traditional weapons of war. In the right hands, they are powerful tools, in the wrong hands they are poor cousins of their martial variants.

Due to the use of average dice for these characters, a path to "rescuing" a hopeless character was created. All of these rules were designed with the existing D&D and AD&D classes in mind. While not entirely balanced, because the regular classes are not balanced, they are not overpowering. The intent was to flesh out bit part NPC and color player characters with a background.

I hope you will take the time to read Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners and incorporate it into your game. I also have a character sheet for use with characters designed with Unearthed Arcana. Both are available at DriveThruRPG at a suggest price of $0.99 or PWYW.

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