In SKALD: Against the Black Priory you create a single character and then recruit the rest of the party as you go. The game uses classes, numerical stats and feats combined with level based advancement to flesh out its characters. Creating a robust and balanced system for character development is challenging (and immensely rewarding) and I’m going to take my time getting it right.
In other words, this blog-post is a rough draft where we exploring how the character system might look for SKALD: Against the Black Priory.
Design Goals and Pillars
As with any design task, it’s always a good idea to set down a few basic pillars and goals to guide the work ahead.
The primary goal for the character system might be something like:
“Character creation and development allows players to express themselves creatively whilst making interesting mechanical choices concerning their character.”
In other words: A player should be able to envision a character (within the games setting) and then create and play that character in-game.
For design-pillars I’ve chosen these for now:
Balance: Each class should be equally playable. There should be no “dump-stats” or skills. The game should accommodate a wide range of builds and each ability should have something to offer each class.
Transparency: The player should have access (preferably in-game) to all the information required to make meaningful decisions when making, and developing, a character.
Narrative Impact: The choices the players make in character creation should matter in-game. There must be plenty of opportunities to use skills and abilities, and your class should matter in the narrative.
Scalability: The level system should have no “hard” upper level cap. That is, no upper level limit beyond which the system breaks. That’s not to say that the system won’t have a “sweet spot” level-range, within which play is particularly enjoyable. It just means that the system is not mechanically upward limited.
I would also like to refer all my readers to Josh Sawyer’s (Obsidian Entertainment) excellent video on attribute tuning in Pillars of Eternity.
At the moment I’m working with five ability scores:
Strength: Physical strength and brawn. Affects your ability to do melee damage and your skill in athletics (jumping, climbing, swimming etc.).
Agility: Speed, reflexes and finesse is determined by agility. Affects dodging, initiative, hit-chance and fine-motor skills like thievery.
Fortitude: Physical and mental toughness. Affects willpower, hit points and resistances.
Intellect: Mental faculties. Affects several skills as well as spell-casting. Might also affect how many skill-points you get and perhaps an XP-bonus.
Presence: A measure of your attention to your surroundings and your place within them. Affects your ability to interact with people and animals as well as your perception and attention to detail. Also affects leadership.
There is a tendency for “physical” abilities to become overly powerful (especially at lower levels) in RPGs due to combat being prevalent, with the mental abilities becoming dump-stats for many character builds.
As a result I chose to go with five abilities as opposed to the more typical six. I find that three physical and two “mental” abilities seem more balanced whilst still allowing for a range of expression. Furthermore it’s a easier to make each ability relevant to every class with fewer abilities.
Post character creation, ability scores advance very slowly.
I want SKALD: Against the Black Priory to feature basic classes that are recognizable enough to provide a foundation upon which to build the character you want.
Beyond that I want a lot of flexibility as the game progresses with few (if any) class-exclusive skills or feats. Classes should encourage certain builds, but I like the idea of not imposing too many limitations.
The six classes in “Against the Black Priory” are as follows:
Warrior: Soldiers, sell-swords and mercenaries. They excel at combat, dealing large amounts of damage (often to multiple targets).
Rogue: Thieves, assassins and swashbucklers. Rogues are stealthy and excel at using skills to perform tasks. In combat, rogues are more based on maneuvers than soldiers are: backstabbing, flanking, ham-stringing, disarming and all round fighting dirty.
Cleric: The holy men and women of the Empire draw upon their devotion to channel the divine power of their deity. From ascetic monks to armored battle-priests, clerics play different roles on the battlefield: Healers, support-casters or front line fighters.
Wizard: Chartered Imperial Wizards or rogue hedge-mages. Wizards harness the corrupting arcane energies of magic. A wizards magic is powerful and devastating (sometimes to friend and foe alike).
Skald: Part of an ancient, dying tradition, skalds are the wandering bards and storytellers that preserve the lore of the myriad cultures assimilated by the Empire. A life spent roaming the breath of the Empire and beyond, makes the skalds jacks of all trades. They excel at inspiring their allies in combat and bolster their party with both magic and a strong sword arm.
Captain: In “Against the Black Priory”, captains are the smugglers, pirates, merchants and officers of the Northern Isles. As expert sailors, leaders and skilled fighters, they make an invaluable addition to any group adventuring in the north!
Skills are learned and improve over time (whereas abilities are more innate).
The trick with skills is including many enough to provide granularity and range of expression whilst still having few enough that each skill gets screen time!
I’m currently considering the following six skills:
The total score of a skill is calculated by adding up ranks in the skill with the score of one or two ability scores. Ranks are purchased as you gain levels.
Note that the game also contains secondary abilities as well. These include stats like “Base Attack”, “Dodge” and initiative. They may look a bit like skills but they cannot be improved by spending skill points. In stead, they must be improved by using feats.
Feats are selected at certain intervals as you gain levels and allow you to customize you character by adding special talents. Think perks in Fallout. Whilst skills and abilities add numerical values to you character, feats allow you to break rules (in a sense).
Many feats are combat related but there are also other types like adventuring feats (consume less food, ability to swim, more carry capacity) or narrative feats (guild memberships, special allies, access to more equipment etc).
Races and Backgrounds
At this point in development, the SKALD universe is human-centric. Demi-human do exist, but they are few and far between. As such humans will likely be the only race available in “Against the Black Priory”.
As a way of adding more definition to your character however, I intend to offer a selection of backgrounds. The backgrounds offer a small mechanical bonus and will, hopefully, tie in to the narrative as well.
More on that down the line.
That’s it for now!
It’s worth repeating that this is a work in progress and it might look very different a year from now.
As always, I would love to hear from you if you have questions or comments. Feel free to reach out on twitter or get in touch at (contact at skaldrpg dot com)! Most importantly: SKALD is on Kickstarter till July 3rd and we would love to have your support!
Have a great day!