Echelon is a classless, level-based game framework, based originally on Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.
Classes have two primary purposes, ensuring a reasonable balance of abilities for a character, and enforcing character archetype.
In Echelon, all creatures have a baseline of ability based on their level, with Talents providing differentiation on top of that. Talents may complement each other, but only in certain cases do they actually stack (and this usually happens only for those archetypal elements that are ‘too big’ for a single Talent, where there can reasonably be a ‘lesser form’ of the archetype). Talents mostly provide specialization on top of the baseline, which causes the character or creature to be better at certain things, without becoming unbalanced.
Character and creature archetypes are implemented through the selection of Talents, the choice of what specializations a character or creature has. This allows a range of archetypes to be implemented within the same rule set, including blending of archetypes (spell casting swordsmen, for example) in a much simpler manner than using classes.
Levels are a useful mechanism for measuring relative ability. A level 10 creature should clearly be more powerful than a level 5 creature, but similarly outmatched by a level 15 creature.
In order to compete at any particular level, there is a certain baseline of ability that must be met. A character that is too imbalanced may be difficult to play. If offense greatly exceeds defense the character may be too fragile to survive, despite being able to easily defeat opponents that don’t get to beat his defense, but if defense greatly exceeds offense the character may be too boring to play because despite being able to take a beating, he can’t do anything.
In Echelon this baseline is largely implemented using a ‘Level Bonus’ as D&D 4e does. This Level Bonus ensures a character or creature will have some minimal ability to take part in a scene of a similar level. The Talents chosen determine which scenes a character or creature will excel at.
What Are Talents?
Talents are the building blocks on characters and a creatures are constructed. In many cases they may be learned through training (such as weapon use or spell casting), in others they may be intrinsic or inherent to the creature being modeled (such as sheer size — you can’t really train nine feet tall, or demonic bloodline… though you can argue that use of abilities gained from the bloodline may be trained). Talents are gained based on the level of the character or creature, as described in Talent Slots.