Design Diary 5

"We're going back… to the future!"

Way back in my first DD entry, I talked a little bit about backwards compatibility. Now that I've had some time to work on things and see how they're turning out, I thought I'd address that point a bit more in depth.

Backwards compatibility is a make-or-break proposition if you're playing 3E or 3.5, and it's why many people haven't gone to 4E – it's too difficult, if not flat-out impossible, to convert their homebrew campaign settings, favorite classes, and/or PCs.

So how compatible with Project Phoenix be with 3.5? Fairly. It's a bit further than the change from 3E to 3.5, but not nearly as far as the one from 2E to 3E or 3E to 4E. There are a lot of chages, ranging from the major (the classes) to the relatively minor (the tweaks to the races) in terms of convertability. Some things have gotten dropped (Use Rope), but these should provide only a minor inconvenience, especially when I put out a conversion guide.

As I mentioned before, the classes have gotten an overhaul. As it is, most of them have very little to keep a player from multiclassing or "PrCing out" as soon as it's feasible or possible. Those that do (the druid, e.g.) are usually overpowered. And, of course, there's the infamous multiclass spellcaster problem. My intent here was to a) makes the classes interesting and fun to play, and b) give the players a reason to stay in the class for more than 5-6 levels. Multiclassing is not restricted in any way – in fact, the XP penalty (widely regarded as one of the stupidest rules ever) is gone – but I think that with more options available at the basic level, the players won't be looking further afield for outlandish combos to achieve their ends.

That being said, most of the classes are done, and the rest are 75% complete or better; mostly, they just add abilities (because there weren't any to begin with), so converting them will be easy. The druid and monk have been completely overhauled for balance and to bring them more in line with the other classes, and the paladin got the "holy warrior" treatment – I came up with a way to make a paladin (a divine champion, if you will) of any alignment.

Several PrCs are gone – the Archmage (rolled into wizard), Blackguard (evil paladin), Dragon Disciple (now a sorcerer heritage), Eldritch Knight and Mystic Theurge (no longer necessary), and the Hierophant (rolled into cleric). Of the remainder, most of them have received minor to major changes – the Assassin, Duelist, and Shadowdancer were overhauled, the Arcane Archer, Dwarven Defender, and Horizon Walker got moderate changes, and the Loremaster and Thaumaturgist got only minor tweaks (mostly to fit the new rules). Of course, I'll be adding new PrCs to take the place of those that got dropped. Again, changes here were made in the interest of game balance and to give the PrCs a coherent suite of abilities instead of just a mishmash of stuff.

This leads into the second part of this entry: power level. The relative power level of this new revision will be roughly equal to, or slightly lower than, 3.5 – no more power creep. I don't agree with Pathfinder ramping the power up on all the core classes to keep them in line with later products – you should balance everything else against the core, not the core against everything else.

I've got a rough idea of how to proceed with the spells, when I get that far, too; since I have free rein to change whatever I see fit (within reason), I can overhaul some of the more broken spells (gate, wish, death spells) and make them more palatable or remove them entirely.

Part of the new power level is a coherent scaling system. Starting wealth is the baseline for this – if the PCs can't afford it, chances are they won't have it. A wealth table that has a set progression, instead of simply ramping up after 10th level, enables things like magic items to be better balanced. You can make assumptions about the bonuses of magic weapons/armor a PC will have at a given level, which (when added to other factors like class/level, stat boosts, and other magic items) can then enable you to balance monster ACs and scale threats accordingly.

And, of course, everything here is designed to take epic play into account. You might say "I don't like/want to play epic!" No problem – I won't force you. But, a lot of the problems inherent at epic levels (immunities, the wide gap between high/low saves, the increasing gap between the capabilities of melee PCs vs. spellcasters, lack of scaling skill DCs) start at low levels. By fixing these things from the start, I think it will make epic play a lot more balanced and fun, and it might encourage some of the people who don't play epic because they think it just plain sucks to give it a try. I will be converting the epic material, but that's a long ways down the road – after I finish the core rules.

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