I'm on record as being against fiddly mechanical balancing of game rules (I ranted about it on RPGnet.) I'm more of a "rough equivalents" kind of guy. However, I also want a low-level feel, and I'm in favor of limitations. I like the approach of "you get two things from this list and three from this". If a player looks at the list of classes available for a game and asks "how can I get more powers?" I'm not sure I want to play with that person. These principles have affected the way I've been designing my alternative rules. In
fact, the main reason I'm designing alternative rules is to simplify things for "eye-balance" purposes.
Backgrounds are bought with years of experience and are limited by age. Having an appropriate background:
- lets you do things that require an appropriate background;
- gives a +1 bonus, where applicable.
Labels are meant to be internally balanced; they are descriptions or distinctions that are a bonus in some situations and a drawback in others, although some acquired labels (like One-Eyed) are mostly drawbacks. Again, we're only talking about a +1 at most. Most of these are social modifiers, a few are based on physical distinctions (Short, Tall.) Occasionally, I might tie a mechanic to a bonus, but that's on an ad hoc basis: "There's a 50-50 chance this guy either hates people taller than himself or kow tows to them. Let's roll a d6!"
Class Abilities are limited (only one basic, always-on power and one scaled power that improves with level.) There's no internal balance most of the time, but the abilities I've suggested are all roughly equivalent to abilities of the original D&D classes. The basic or general ability is mostly fool-proof, but there's almost always situations that can change this: Fighters can use any weapon or fighting technique, but if a weapon is too big for them to lift, or there's not enough room to use the weapon, or if a weapon is stuck in something, this will prevent using that ability; Tricksters can use tricks and distractions to re-roll surprise, but if a creature is immune to surprise because it has telepathy or 360-degree vision or something like that, a Trickster might not be able to surprise that creature.
Hybrid Classes are balanced against ordinary classes by sticking to the two-ability limit. Mixed Classes are balanced by splitting available hit dice/levels between two scaled abilities, for the purpose of determining the power level. And overall, mundane and supernatural classes or hybrids are balanced against each other by requiring more experience (four times as much for any class with a supernatural scaled ability; twice as much for any class with a supernatural base ability and a mundane scaled ability.)
Racial Abilities are class abilities, but if they duplicate or are equivalent to a spell, I try to make them 1st level, or add restrictions to higher-level effects. I still have to come up with some regular ground rules on this. If I can pass the ability off as non-magical, I'm less worried; the dwarven ability to sense magnetic north or depth underground seems pretty minor and can be distorted in a couple ways, so it's at-will, while a pixie's flight is 1st level instead of 3rd mainly because it requires wings (which can be damaged) and is presumably tiring, unlike a Fly spell. An alternative would be to double the needed experience for every level of power above the 1st.
The scaled class abilities of the Gifted, and racial Gifts (in other words, a variant Gifted class) have a special condition. The other two supernatural classes have a restriction on how often they can work magic (Spirit-Workers have to make a reaction roll to convince a spirit to cast the spell; Magic-Users have to prepare spells in advance and have limitations on how many spells they can prepare.) The Gifted can use their abilities at will; to make the Gifted roughly equivalent in power, this has to be limited in some other way, like a hit point cost or Con roll to avoid fatigue.
You'll be seeing more of this kind of rough balancing and limitations in future posts. I still have to do non-class abilities for Blanc and a system for building variant spell lists.