Project Update: Boundless Horizons
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Author:  DukeOfURL [ Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:07 am ]
Post subject:  Project Update: Boundless Horizons

Note: Boundless Horizons is the working title for a modified 3.5 system designed to simplify, balance, and improve player choice. It is currently in development, but many of the pieces are complete and open alpha playtesting should be upcoming within the next couple of months.

As much as I like the 3.5 system, it's quite undeniable that there are some fundamentally “broken” things about it. In this particular context, “broken” refers to rules that truly do not wind up working as well as they were supposed to, but so integrated into the mechanics of the system that they are near-impossible to change.

Today's featured broken mechanic is multiclassing.

In the latter part of the 3.5 life cycle, certain mechanical elements gained more currency and/or popularity. “Multiclassing feats” allowed selected class features from two classes to progress at the same time (kind of like a “poor man's prestige class”). Similarly, games using the gestalt variant rules* from Unearthed Arcana are quite popular as players seek to find new and unusual ways of combining features from different classes.

Less apparent symptoms of the problem are the introduction of base classes that are mainly crossbreeds of two other base classes (many of the entries for Player's Handbook 2, for example) and the multitude of “dual progression” prestige classes.

All of these are really hotfixes for the core problem: multiclassing doesn't work.

It simply doesn't. 10 levels each in two different classes is nowhere remotely similar to 20 levels in a single class. Taking spellcasters as examples, a Cleric 10 / Sorcerer 10 may have a lot of spells, but 5th level spells are no match for 9th level spells. The general rule is that magic power doubles every 1-2 spell levels, so the power difference is at least a factor of 4, and likely greater.

Class features, even in non-spellcasting classes, generally aren't linear in power with class level. Every class level you give up to gain low-level features from another class means sacrificing considerably more powerful abilities.**

So, multiclassing is broken. How does Boundless Horizons intend on fixing this?

The short version is that class features of your base classes are progressed by character level as well as class level. With the exception of some prestige classes (where the trade-off for the prestige class' abilities is the lack of advancing base class abilities), every character level can count toward determining the class features for each of your base classes. In addition to simply fixing the general weaknesses of multiclassing, this has the added benefits of closing a loophole in bloodline rules and making racial hit dice less penalizing.

The long version... well, I'll leave the full details for the open alpha coming soon.

This method allows for a wide variety of character concepts to be realized, without having to resort to creating a new base class for each concept. With simple and effective multiclassing, the iconic base classes can be combined in a nearly unlimited number of ways, without falling significantly behind on the power curve. (A pure 20-level spellcaster is almost certainly still more powerful, but the multiclassed character is likely more flexible.)

The side-effect of this is that every class needs to be rewritten so that every level is valuable. The freedom to mix classes more freely makes the decision of which class to advance at each level often more complex, and the options available should reflect that. As such, every base class in Boundless Horizons will have incentives for staying in the class for 20 full levels, while at the same time, other base classes, prestige classes, bloodlines, et. al., will have their own incentives to provide players reasons to not take a single class for the full 20 levels.

    * I use the word “rules” here grudgingly. The section on gestalt games is open-ended and vague enough to require large amounts of interpretation as to what are rules versus suggestions, nor do they take into account other variant rules, even from Unearthed Arcana itself, such as bloodlines.

    ** There are obviously exceptions to this. A stock 3.5 fighter is about as close to linear advancement as you can get, as its only ongoing class feature is a bonus feat every 2 levels. But that's just poor class design on top of poor multiclassing design.

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