wcdavidson (wcdavidson) wrote,

Niche Protection

Back in my D&D 3.x days, one of the things I liked the most in the source books were the prestige classes. They seemed like such a cool way to connect the setting with the mechanics. They were rules rich with flavor. This seemed at odds with my dislike of class-based systems in general. I always felt confined by them and preferred point-buy character creation. Class-based systems do have an advantage with regard to niche protection. Characters have a shtick that makes them special. In addition, when a player chooses a particular class, this serves as a flag to the GM about the types of challenges he or she wants to face in play.

In Heirs to the Lost World, I wanted to use a point-buy character creation, but I also wanted to keep some of the benefits you get with niche protection. I did this with two mechanical ways and two "suggestions" in the book.

The first mechanical way Heirs provides for niche protection while still being a point-buy system is the use of Paths. Paths are sets of skills and abilities that characters can "buy", but they are optional. They are kind of like prestige classes if there were no regular classes. A player could easily portray a thief by buying the appropriate skills and Assets, but he could also take the Thief Path as an option. Within each path, players pick from a short list of special abilities. Paths also are a great way to tie in the setting. Players can take Paths such as the Eagle Knight, Jaguar Knight, Lightning Warrior, Blood Mage, Capoeria Master, Alchemist, etc. These Paths are unique to this setting.

"Discounts" on Assets
The other way Heirs mechanically supports niche protection is through "discounts" on certain Assets. Assets are special abilities a character can take. If you have a particular trait at a level of 4 or higher, certain Assets are one point cheaper. Therefore, the Traits that you select at 4 or higher determine which Assets are discounted. For example, while any character can take the Inspire Asset, it is cheaper if your Presence is a 4 or higher. In fact, all Assets dealing with social interactions are cheaper if you have a Presence of 4 or higher. The same applies to other traits such as Notice, Agility, etc.

"Something Special"
In creating characters, I give advice that players come up with "something special". Players should think beyond the basic archetype and think of something that makes their version of the archetype different. This addresses a problem with class-based systems where virtually every version of the same class looks the same. Many Assets can work as the "something extra" or players can just make up something new. For example, a player should not just be a Conquistador but rather could be a Conquistador who "went native" and married an Aztec blood mage and is now uncertain about his religious beliefs.

Adventure Creation
In the Game Directing chapter, I give advice on creating adventures based on character's complications and motivations. This will ensure that every PC has a reason to go on the adventure. Often this means customizing every adventure to connect each PC to it. The adventure planning sheet (in the previous post) can help with this planning.

These four methods help produce some of the benefits of niche protection within the point-buy character creation system of Heirs to the Lost World.

Niche Protection at saveVSdm.com - The first of apparently several posts on niche protection.

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