Developer's Journal: Duke Of URL
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Author:  DukeOfURL [ Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:14 am ]
Post subject:  Developer's Journal: Duke Of URL

Long time, no update...

It's not that we haven't been busy around here. Quite the opposite, actually. Projects tend to take on a life of their own, and expand to fill the available space. And then some. It reminds me quite a bit of my "day job" (software development), where there is an adage of "software isn't released, it escapes".

Hopefully, some of the things we're working on will get a chance to "escape" soon. In some cases, we're just waiting for art to be complete and final typesetting. For others, the projects have expanded well beyond their original intent.

On that last point, specifically, it's The Variants Handbook that has evolved far, far from its original concept. Originally, it was intended to provide some alternate rules (in most aspects of the game) and some new options to the base rules in the SRD.


Part of the change in focus is a business decision – do we honestly expect enough people to buy a book of variant rules to make it worth the publication effort? Maybe, given that the 3.5 system has been cut off from support by the original developers. Third party support and revisions, such as Paizo's Pathfinder variant, makes the equation murkier.

So, we returned to basic principles. Do we want to support the original 3.5? Or a variant system from a third party vendor? After really thinking about it, the answer was “neither”. We believe that there are fundamental issues with the 3.5 system that need to be addressed that have not been properly dealt with by existing products.

So the next question is, do we try to “fix” things within the 3.5 framework, or do we create a new system from the group up? Surprisingly, the answer we decided on is “both”. We are developing two systems in-house at the moment, using common design elements. One is a “replacement 3.5” that is meant to use the underlying mechanics of the 3.5 system, but modify them to improve balance and minimize the system's inherent flaws. The other is a totally new system, using the same fundamental concepts, but with a mechanical system built from the ground up.

In both cases, we're looking at things from a standpoint of “what makes an X an X?” (For example: what makes a Barbarian a Barbarian?) Class features, feats, spells, etc., are then being designed (or redesigned) both to fit the concept as well as game balance.

Since I'm on the team working on the “replacement 3.5 system” (name to be determined), I can provide more of an insight on that score. So, what are we up to?

First of all, every class and prestige class in the SRD is getting an overhaul. Part of it is for completeness, part is for balance, but on the whole, we've actually come up with a way to make multiclassing not suck. In fact, multiclassed characters wind up being pretty much on par with single-classed characters (or single-classed characters with prestige classes). Combined with the concept of reinforcing that prestige classes “cost” something (typically, it costs generalization in favor of specialization, though sometimes the opposite is true), and therefore that every class has class features up to level 20 worth taking, we had to redesign the base classes accordingly.

Additionally, base classes across the board are, for the most part, given an array of options, rather than a fixed list of abilities with maybe one or two choices. This will allow players to customize their characters to specific concepts without needing to have to come up with a brand-new base class for each new idea. The flexibility built into each class, along with the improved multiclassing, should provide the ability to create a wide range of characters without the need for endless “splatbooks” to define archetypes.

Prestige classes, of course, also need looking at to make sure that they are balanced enough to be attractive for players without being “must have” because they are patently better than sticking with a base class. (And yes, I'm talking about wizards, sorcerers, and arcane prestige classes as a prime example.)

On top of it all, we have our own system for fixing/balancing feats. And changes to the skills system. Revised and extended combat rules. Ways to mitigate racial hit dice and level adjustment. We're going to look at balancing spells that are “broken”.

Putting all of that together means we're also going to have to rewrite a fair number of the monster entries as well, in order to make them consistent with the other rules changes.

In the end, we're changing enough to warrant releasing it as an entire system, instead of just variants or patches to an existing system. On the other hand, we're using enough of the underlying concepts and mechanics so that it is still a variant system and not a totally new one.

Of course, we understand that many of our potential users are going to have a fair number of non-OGL and 3rd party sourcebooks, so we'll also provide advice and guidelines for adapting additional material into our variant system to keep things reasonably balanced and consistent.

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