Friday, June 23, 2017

Why I like point-buy systems

    I can't remember how it happened.  A few days ago (well, maybe a few weeks now) I was looking over my AD&D 2nd Skills & Powers book.  I haven't played AD&D since High School, which is now measured in decades ago.  I always liked the point-buy books (Skills & Powers, Magic & something and Combat & Tactics [I'm at the library, don't have the books in front of me]) but never actually played them.  So why they popped into my head I don't recall - but I decided to make a character for them.
    I like half-elves and fighter/mages, so I decided to start with that.  I wanted a kind of jack of all trades, someone who could be useful in a variety of roles, but not outstanding at anything - which got me thinking, what if he was a traveling knight or soldier who helped other travelers and pilgrims and such?  Kind of a road guard and rescue squad.  That seemed like a good concept to start with, and I was wondering if S&P could even handle it.  Of course, for the very few who might not know, AD&D was class based, so you got specific abilities and specific levels.  S&P let you change the abilities you had, dropping and adding new ones, to make a custom character/class by spending points.
    Being AD&D, my half-elf was limited to certain classes and multi-class options.  So I started looking at the abilities and seeing which classes had the ones that fit the concept.  I looked at Fighter, Thief, Wizard (of course) and Cleric - and after a few scrap papers settled on Wizard/Cleric.  I didn't want to have a million abilities, but I did want a lot that were not in the base classes, and so would cost extra.  That meant taking disadvantages (I think the book called them limitations) to get the extra points I needed.  So I began the serious stage by choosing those first.
    Light armor seemed a good fit, this was going to be a quick, come the rescue kind of character, not a front line fighter.  "Awkward Casting" was a limit that his magic could not be hidden when cast, which sounded fine, I justified that as him being someone who wanted to be seen, to let people know that he was there for them.  "Talisman/symbol" meant he needed to hold or have an item to cast spells, and the idea of a staff that he channeled magic through (making it glow and stuff to be obvious) came to me.  I was going to make him the stereotypical elf sword/bow fighter.  "Behavior/taboo" meant there was something he had to, or could not, do - and darn it if I didn't write that down and now I don't remember what I was going for.  I think it might have been something like always tell the truth.  Again, he had become a symbol, not a thief type.  Those limits were in both classes, but the wizard also had the option to limit magic items usable; I decided he couldn't use any necromancy or illusion magic items, since they went against his helping people and being visible/honest/upfront.
    That settled, and with some extra points, I could start buying abilities.  The Wizard side was the easiest, each class got a different number of points to spend (not a fan of that) and the Wizard had to lowest (while the Cleric had the highest, which made me settle on that as the second).  For his Wiz abilities I gave him: can cast in any armor, gains a bonus spell/day, automatically acquires spells on level up, and could only cast from the Alteration, Abjuration, Divination and Invocation/Evocation schools.  So his magic was supposed to protect, find people and things, let him transform to fit the circumstances, and blast anything that needed it.  No idea if that's what I got, the AD&D spell lists could be weird and by the time I finished I didn't want to pick his spells and roll to learn them (also not a fan of).  So this cemented the traveling rescue idea, and I thought he could also do things like organize and train militias, and use his magic to help hunt dangerous creatures terrorizing a community.
    The Cleric side was a lot harder in some ways, because I had a ton of points to spend (140 I think, to the Wiz 80 or so).  I wanted him to have some Warrior Non-Weapon Proficiencies (the early AD&D skill system that is either loved or hated, I don't think it was a great implementation) because they included stuff like Survival and Tracking and Riding, all of which seemed to fit the character (and I'd have to pay extra for, so this was the cheapest way to buy them).  I also gave him the Fighter THAC0 progression, since I wanted him to be a decent fighter.  The really had part was the spells.  I did want him to have some Cleric spells, since they included the healing and remove curse/ poison/ disease/ et all that seemed to fit the character.  But, in S&P the Cleric spells are divided into a ton of Spheres (like Wiz schools) and there are Minor (up to 3rd) and Major (all) versions of each, all of which had different point costs.  I ended up with Creation, Guardian, Protection, Healing, Animal, Plants, Weather, Traveler, War and Wards.  All of those sounded like the character, but again I'm not sure of the exact spell list since this took me most of an afternoon to hash out.  Funny thing was, I still had some points left over after that.
    So I bounced ahead and got his NWPs: Riding, Healing, Herbalism, Read/Write, Survival (mountains and forest), and Tracking.  I also could select a kit, a general skin that would flesh out the class.  I immediately thought Rider when I saw it (he has to get around to help people after all) - but then on the animal list I saw Griffin.  Now, I love griffins, and it seemed a perfect match since it would let him fly around.
    I only had weapons left, which I knew was going to be tricky, so I went back to try to finish spending those Cleric points.  And I saw something that hit me.  In S&P as a Cleric sub-type there is that Shaman, a Cleric that communes with spirits of deceased ancestors, or a specific place, or nature in general.  Suddenly I thought, what if the griffins, being half-animals (land and air) were some kind of bridge to the mystical/spiritual world and so they granted some mortals access to spells and powers to help their fellow man?  I sounded like a crazy idea, but when I thought of him summoning spirits it just sort of felt like a neat fit.  So I gave him the ability to commune with animal spirits, which would increase with his levels like spells (in a more limited way).
    Now I really just needed his weapons.  I wanted him to use a sword and bow, then thought a spear would make a useful weapon too, but the point costs for learning all these weapons not on either classes' list was too much.  When I thought of something else, what if he only used the spear (a land weapon and air when thrown, like the griffins) and that spear was like his badge of office and the thing he cast magic through for his talisman, and in an obvious way because now I started thinking that there had been some kind of magical catastrophe and the griffins were created from that and decided to help man - wizards would be kind of frowned on or outright outlaws.  With only the spear to learn, I could give him "weapon of choice" and expertise which gave him a +1 to hit and 3/2 attks per round, so he would be pretty good with it, at the cost of being useless with anything else.
    Mostly done, I finished up the last few details and had a ready-to-play character for a version of D&D I never play.

    Okay, so what's the point?  I'm sure you've been fascinated by my tale, but maybe you missed something, like I did at first - it came to me a day or two later.  I love point-buy systems because you have to keep coming up with ways to build your concept, and then ways to change your concept when you can't buy exactly what you want.  Almost each step through this process led me to refine my "fighter/mage" generic idea into an almost setting concept and more unique character class (though in hindsight, I was also channeling Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar pretty heavy).  I've written the Joe Haldeman quote before here, that "art thrives on restrictions."  With just a class or multi-class character I never would have come up with something so detailed (which I know because I made a lot of them and never did).  The choices and trade-off and limits of each step drove me to ask myself questions and things grew from there.  Maybe this is just me, it might be a by-product of the strange way my mind works.  I noticed the same thing when doing my series of 1 Character 13 Systems; when I made the Hero System (heavily, totally, quintessentially point-buy) I thought up some nice details of my character concept when, again, I had left-over points.  Random tables can be nice, but the back and forth of point buy really speaks to me, in a way that's hard to do with just a class.  Pathfinder hit that same strange block for me, they added archetypes to alter how a class worked, but there are so damn many of them that it's like having a million classes to try to choose from.  My character would kind of be a Magus, but again not quite what I wanted or what he grew into.
    Anyways, this was just a strange thing that kind of pointed out to me something that I really already knew, but seemed noteworthy enough to bother all of you with it :)  Also, sadly, it made me think of a character and setting I'd really like to play and develop - but likely never will :(

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