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Monday, December 27, 2010

D&D: Too Limiting?

I'm sort of recovering from the holidays -- which actually aren't over for me, yet -- so I don't have much to say right now. But I figured I'd make a couple passing comments on a recent forum discussion about how limiting D&D is compared to point-buy systems. It's not too complex a topic, and it's loosely related to Liber Zero development, anyways.

First: Most point-buy systems are pretty limiting, too. Powers and abilities tend to increase in smaller increments in point-buy systems, unless you're talking about very coarse granularity point-buy systems (everything costs 1 point.) Most of your character improvements are a +1 to one narrow skill; if you want a bigger jump or a much grander power, you have to wait longer. Even in a somewhat coarse point-buy system, such as the way characters gain feats in D&D 3.x, you often have "prerequisite trees" which slow down advancement.

Second: The limitations that were specifically being cited in this discussion weren't skill or feat selection, but were race/class restrictions: minimum ability scores, level limits, and forbidden race/class combos. But these limitations are pretty easy to fix without switching to a point-buy system: ignore them. It's not without precedent.

In fact, you actually have three options when it comes to these areas:
  • limitless: no minimum or maximum, no forbidden combos.
  • hard limits: some combos are flatly forbidden, minimums and maximums can't be exceeded.
  • soft limits: minimums, maximums, and restrictions can be altered by other character details. Soft limits can range from semi-hard (restrictions vary from character to character) to semi-limitless (no prohibition, but a penalty applies if limits are exceeded.)
You can treat different character features in different ways: AD&D has hard limits on minimum ability scores for character classes (such that having two ability scores of 5 or less makes a character unplayable,) but semi-hard limits for race/class limits (maximum level depends on ability scores.) OD&D, in contrast, has hard level limits and class prohibitions for non-human races, but semi-limitless ability score restrictions: there are no minimum ability scores for the four core classes, but there are experience point penalties for low scores.

It's trivial to change the limits in D&D, but doing so changes the feel of the setting. Because it's so trivial, Liber Zero will stick to the original limits: semi-limitless for ability score minimums, hard limits for race/class combos and level limits. There will be notes that you can ignore level limits or change them to semi-limitless (xp penalty after reaching level,) but new races should be designed as if they have hard limits.

1 comment:

  1. I've played a lot of games with point buy systems, and I also used point buy when I played 3E, and I actually find this system to be more limiting because of the unavoidable tendency to min/max.

    While initially I thought it was great to let players design the character they want, it turns out that once everyone has optimized their character their is very little range of variability. These days I find rolling up characters to be a lot more fun and results in greater diversity.