Echelon is a classless system, in that characters can take talents according to their character concept without having to limit themselves to particular progression paths (classes). At each level they gain benefits and talent slots (which are used to purchase specific abilities) as outlined in the table below.
|Talent Slots Available|
A character gains one talent slot per level, at their highest tier, and can upgrade a talent slot from the second-highest tier to the highest tier. When gaining a new slot, a character may choose to upgrade a slot from a lower tier to use in the new slot, then gain a new slot at that lower tier and add a new talent.
That is, when a character reaches level 14 (second level of the Heroic tier), that character gains a new Heroic slot, and can upgrade a Veteran slot to a Heroic slot. When filling the new Heroic slot, the character may take an entirely new talent, or could upgrade, say, an Expert talent slot (Expert sun domain talent, for this example) to Heroic tier, then gain a new talent at the Expert tier.
Common talents and cornerstone talents do not have prerequisites, but capstone talents do. More about this below. When determining dice to roll for a check, only one die per talent type can be added (that is, one die from a cornerstone talent, one die from a common talent, and one die from a capstone talent).
Cornerstone and Capstone Talents
A character may have one cornerstone talent per tier, and one capstone talent per tier. When upgrading, the talent types can be exchanged freely (cornerstone to common, etc.) as long as each tier has no more than one cornerstone and one capstone talent.
Because of how the talent dice stack, a character likely wants to get the cornerstone and capstone talents as soon as possible. Cornerstone talents have no prerequisites and can be added or upgraded immediately on entering a new tier. Capstone talents have prerequisites and may only be taken when these prerequisites have been met.
The cornerstone and capstone benefits can vary by game being built. Currently I envision them capturing “what you are” and “what you do with it”. For instance, if a character has ‘warrior’ as the cornerstone (which brings certain benefits) the character might have ‘knight’ or ‘gladiator’ or ‘weapon master’ (which have different benefits) as the capstone. The other talents are used for specific abilities held by the character and might affect what capstones are available.
For instance, ‘devil’ might be a cornerstone talent. It has at each tier the abilities and powers common to devils (lower-tier devils are less powerful than higher-tier devils, and carry different common effects). In addition to any effects inherently provided by the talent, a creature with this talent might now be eligible for other talents that non-devils are not. Given the correct selection of other talents, the devil might be eligible for the ‘succubus’, ‘devilish arcanist’, or ‘officer of the Host’ capstone (seducer, temptation-of-knowledge, general of the army of hell).
Cornerstone and capstone talents work much like other talents. A character might keep a certain cornerstone as high as possible (warrior, say) by upgrading and backfilling every time he is eligible to do so, while another might build up to a certain tier then expand into another area (such as a devil that develops to a certain point ‘as a devil’ before branching into arcane studies at a higher tier).