Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Character Generation in Advent Horizons
I have been messing around with Advent Horizons for the last few days....despite some strong contenders for my attention (e.g. The Traveller Companion from Mongoose which just released in print) Advent Horizon has captured my full focus.
Some details so far: AH is based on the 1.0a OGL which is the same OGL that Pathfinder 1.0 operates under, and therefore allows AH to be a complete rules system, as I am reasonably sure the D&D SRD for 5th edition is more limiting in this regard. The book directly mentions Dungeons & Dragons compatibility by name on more than one occasion, which is something I had thought was not permitted, but maybe I'm just assuming that because so many other products just mention it as "The World's Greatest Fantasy Game" or something else....my OGL-fu is a bit rusty here.
As a result, some parts (not many, but enough) of AH feel like 3rd edition thematics wedded to a 5th edition chassis. This actually works, because while the 3rd edition elements add some variables, they do not change the core design conceit, which was to make sure the game's numbers and math matched the bounded accuracy mechanics of D&D 5E. As a result, while a character in AH will look a bit different (and have more stuff, to be honest) than a 5E character, it will remain fully compatible from a numbers and stats point of view.
One example of these older approaches, now revamped and wedded to 5E mechanics, include proficiency slots as a purchase-mechanic for both skills and feats. By adding a point-buy mechanic to skills, and re-adding in "simpler" feats which are also purchased with the same points, you bring a level of design granularity (along with potential design pitfalls and peaks) that is more common in 3rd edition. However it is tempered with the mechanical consistency of 5E, so you do not see issues such as stacking effects and obvious out-of-control of immediately preferable build options getting in your way. Personally, I love what it is doing here....I wish 5E had a rules option similar to this, actually. But I love games with greater emphasis on skill mechanics.
So character generation is pretty straight forward and anyone who has played 5E D&D will know most of the steps. It deviates a bit...and I'll show how and where as I walk through the steps as follows:
1. Basic stuff first. Attributes can be rolled (they default to 2D6+6 for each stat) or point-buy purchased, using a variant method that is not like the standard 5E mechanic (probably for OGL reasons). You also get to pick a species and class, familiar stuff. Of note: the system defaults to metric, which is fine with me, but it has a couple interesting implications for those who are going to blend content with D&D 5E, and AH includes some conversion tables for ease of reference. I'll also note that so far my reading on AH suggests it does not expect much tabletop map/minis will be going on, and the game seems to assume more focus on TotM style combats. I am still ploughing through combat and the additional environmental rules so will confirm that in the next blog post, though.
2. Species. The species all look fairly consistent with 5E standards, and include the following choices:
--The Ba'alur, a warlike draconian race of reptiles that advanced to space through stolen or restored tech
--Colonials, the standard humans, who can pick special traits based on their type of homeworld
--Ephari, mysterious "gray" like aliens who dwell on world ships
--Empyreans, a humanlike race of transgenics
--Ixaxians, the obligatory insectoid race with the ability to communicate via radio frequencies and a penchant for technology
--Seyvul, the obligatory mischievous race that is basically a species of Rocket Raccoons
--Thothid, the totally-not-Mind Flayer species warped by strange beings of Cthulhuian origin; like mind flayers, but with wings! (Actually I love this species as presented)
--Urroru, bulky four-limbed totally-not-Tharks (hey, Starfinder has like 3 of these!) who have a introspective warrior culture
--Xhu Akreen, an ancient race of blue skinned human-like aliens of a fallen empire
So, some good and iconic choices. All are well illustrated, too. The book looks like it would be fantastic to see in full color, but alas the Barnes & Noble edition I purchased is a black and white soft cover only.
3. Classes. Classes are varied and all built on the design principles of 5E, so they balance together (so far, I am still rolling samples PCs of each class to look for oddities). I've designed a few PCs so far though, and all look damned interesting and fun to play. The classes include:
--Agent, an espionage themed class
--Combat Specialist, the warrior themed class
--Diplomat, the negotiator class
--Explorer, a scientist/adventurer class
--Insurgent, a guerilla combatant (maybe closer to the Starfinder Operator, thematically)
--Marshal, a commander-type (think warlord) class
--Science Specialist, a skill focused academic
--Spacer, an "EVA and Zero-Gravity" specialist
--Spiritualist, a spiritual/religious themed class using akashic knowledge as its theme
--Tactician, a manipulator/operator type
--Technophile, the engineer/technologist type
Although each class follows the class design principles of 5E, they do deviate in two ways: each class at level 1 is front-loaded with four key abilities as a package they get, but none of the classes have standard D&D archetypes of any sort built in by level 3. Instead, some have a range of specific options (the combat specialist gets some soldier specializations to pick from), others give you abilities you pick over time ("spycrafts" for agents, for example), and still others either get nothing specific like this (single ability choices) or make a theme choice earlier (such as science specialists choosing their focus at level 1). There is a reason for this, it turns out, and this is where AH varies from traditional 5E approaches to design by using proficiency slots to flesh out characters. Finally, you can multiclass in rules which are recognizable to anyone who's played a 3rd edition version of D&D (but it works fine).
4. Backgrounds: Education and Professions. Every character picks from several choices to build their background, allowing for a range of flexible design options. Backgrounds are composed of:
--Education: grants a skill or two and a personality trait based on the type of educational background you have.
--Profession: your career path, which doesn't have to be tied to class necessarily (so a combat specialist who was also an artist is perfectly acceptable). This grants a couple skills and potential reputation and credit boost, as well as an ideal.
--Events: this portion of your background details something that happens to you, as well as the trinket (momento) of your experience and the flaw you gained from that event.
AH also uses something it calls the Axis Alignment, which is a series of descriptors you can pick from to give your character a defining personality focus. The options listed include methodical, analytical, reasonable, passive, zen, passionate, impulsive, zealous, and unaligned. Inspiration rules are also stuck here.
5. Proficiency Slots. Every class grants around 14-16 slots, plus you will gain some free skills due to class as well as possibly your species and later background and profession choices. I found that this meant, on average, you could end up with around 4-6 free skills, plus your points to spend, plus your intelligence modifier in bonus slots.
The system AH uses is based on skill trees: you buy the initial skill in the tree, which opens up basic knowledge of later skills, but you only add your proficiency bonus to skills you have actual training in. For example, if you know Perception as a skill you can use it to make observational checks, but you need to spend another point to also get danger sense, which lets you observe threats you might not notice without actively searching (e.g. passive perception alone won't spot a hidden trap, but danger sense will prompt a roll even if you weren't looking for it).
Proficiency slots/points are a 1:1 cost, and you must have the requisite skills/feats along a skill tree before spending on later items in the same tree. Most of the skill trees have at least 3 layers of depth and multiple forking branches, so in fact there are a lot of things to spend points on. Interestingly, the trees include both standard skills and feats. Feats in AH are not the "deluxe package" feats of D&D 5E, however, and each one usually delivers 1 distinct ability you can use; under this mechanic, a skill is a thing you roll on, and a feat is a thing that gives you a mechanical feature or effect.
My initial thought here was, "this seems like a lot of points to spend at level 1." And it is, from a certain perspective, but most classes then go about giving you a grand total of 12 additional feat points over the next 20 levels of your career (6 for general leveling and 6 for the class; another 3rd edition element). By level 20, assuming a smart character (INT 20) in a class that starts you with 16 slots, you can have a maximum of 33 proficiency slots spent, of which around 19 were spent at level 1. I count at least 154 skill tree choices to pick from plus 14 tool proficiency skills and a bunch of racial proficiencies, and of those quite a few can be taken multiple times for additional effects/ranges....so there are a lot of choices here.
The result of this is that level 1 characters in AH are front loaded with a range of interesting skills and abilities, but then progress more slowly in their long term career. This is offset by the fact that at level 1 most characters can be dropped or even killed by one good hit from almost any handgun in the game, so characters with greater expertise don't seem so out of balance against the threat level of the galaxy.
In my experiments with character design I've looked at an array of interesting choices, from an insurgent archer from a primitive world who kills with melee attacks to a sharp-shooting survivalist scientist to a combat specialist who secretly wanted to be a retired artist. You can make a lot of interesting characters here. I'll try posting some of the characters I've rolled soon.
I have found no feat or ability so far that raised my eyebrows in question of its power level ot utility, so far. I do however imagine with a point buy system like this that some players may find ways to game it a bit, or even find odd synergies. I won't likely see any of these (if they exist) until I see what my table rolls up, though.
6. Reputation and Credit. The last bits of character generation are a Reputation Score (another 3rd edition mechanic) which is basically your "bonus to influence" on DCs, and the Credit Score which is what the game uses in lieu of tracking actual cash. This mechanic can work just fine....you can see a version of it from the old days in D20 Modern, and it's not unlike the credit rating in Call of Cthulhu, but since all purchases are made with this it can mean a lot of die-rolling when time comes to spend. You can gain credit as a reward or lose it to influence advantage on checks, too. It's a solid mechanic. Not my preferred method (I like counting cash) but it expediently focuses the game on a broader range of topics for play than just acquiring specific amounts of filthy lucre.
So far, I am really enjoying the flexibility and range of options in character generation in AH. I'll be honest....I've been so enamoured with this game's design that I've convinced my group we must try it ASAP and also ordered a second table copy through Barnes & Noble (here) for play.
I'll talk more about Combat and the other mechanics next, and post some sample PCs soon!