How should PCs be special?

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I haven’t been writing a lot about 4e, but I’ve been keeping up on the released information (official and unofficial). One thing that got me thinking was Keith Baker’s recent LJ post, in which he talked about how the PCs in an Eberron game are presumed to be special and use different rules from most NPCs.

Now, I’ve long been a proponent of PCs being consequential. Its one of the reasons I rarely enjoy Call of Cthulhu… and one of the reasons I tend not enjoy the old school GM vs. player high-PC-lethality style of gaming. Similarly, I’m not happy when NPCs play by special rules. Even when I was younger, AD&D bugged me for its proliferation of magic items that it was near-impossible to make as a PC. NPCs that break PC rules feels like cheating to me somehow.

So… I have mixed feelings about what Keith Baker is telling us about 4e here. I think it is perfectly fine for PCs to be valid targets of Raise Dead when many NPCs aren’t. Like him, I think it resolves a lot of funky issues (though those funky issues could easily generate some interesting plot/setting ideas) and emphasizes the PCs as agents of destiny or somesuch. While I also like the idea of being able to throw NPCs together quickly, I don’t know how I feel about the possibility of a low-level NPC having a very high skill total. I mean, in principle it is OK – but why can’t a PC do so as well?



5 Responses

  1. I don’t know how I feel about the possibility of a low-level NPC having a very high skill total. I mean, in principle it is OK – but why can’t a PC do so as well?

    What about the simple effects of time? A master blacksmith may only be 3rd level, but he spent years and years perfecting that Craft (Horseshoe) roll. Does your PC want to step out of the campaign for ten years to get half as good?

  2. Two responses:

    1) What if my PC concept is that of a retired craftsman? Should I be limited to playing a lousy former blacksmith?

    2) Not all NPCs will have the advantage of time on their side. I’ll bet you that within a few months of release, we’ll see write-ups of things like street urchins with higher Theivery and Stealth scores than rogues of their level.

  3. Level in D&D is mostly a measure of adventuring knowledge, though 3e muddied this up by grafting on a level-based skill system and adding a bunch of NPC classes. But the core of the game is that “level” equates to your ability as an adventurer.

    Your point 1 in response to Jeff points out the usefulness of an old-style “non-weapon proficiency” system as was the default in 2e AD&D or in RC D&D. You can give your PC whatever background “skills” you like and they’re at a reasonably high level because they don’t depend on adventurer level as much as they do on raw ability scores. I don’t know if that’s the best way to go, but personally I find the conflating of “skills that will come up on a game to game basis” with “skills that are mainly there to add flavor to your character” one of the big weaknesses of 3e design.

    Your point 2 to Jeff is kinda the same thing – will those urchins have commensurate combat abilities as well? If so then they should be rogues of the right level, but if not then maybe they’ve just spent more effort on their “Theivery” than an adventuring rogue can spend because they aren’t learning how do do all those other cool things that rogues can do, and aren’t spending time on watch while camping out in a dank cave looking out for giant spiders and cave trolls…

  4. Thanks to trying to stat FO, I gained a love of the Saga NPC rules. Sure, it seems weird that a stormtrooper has four levels and is CR 1, but they’re NPC levels. So Lando may only be 6th level, but he’s a badass, cause he’s got PC levels, and has traits, and more force points, etc.

    Fits right into my Winter Steele theory of NPCs vs. PCs. (an old MTV series on Liquid TV. Anybody who wasn’t important was a sock puppet. )

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