Converting Class Abilities and Feats

Under Review: Much of this has been moved to Designing Talents, but I haven’t updated this page yet. –kjd

Many Echelon talents are derived from or inspired by aspects of other games. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is one of the major sources of talents, drawn from class features such as domains and bloodlines, and feat chains. In fact, early draft talents might well use the feats as placeholders for tier abilities (“Veteran: you gain the Spring Attack feat”) until they are rewritten to account for differences between systems. The entirety of D&D 3.x is similarly available, and FantasyCraft from Crafty Games is another.

Other games are used in developing talents (especially HERO System, when devising or evaluating abilities), but these “D&D-esque” games will be primary sources for talent design.

Converting abilities from these games consists of several steps.

Identify Candidate Talent Abilities

Each talent grants one or more abilities at each tier. Identify abilities that might be included in a talent. Some might later be dropped, others might be replaced, and still others might be added… but start with a base set.

In some cases the base set is pretty obvious. A sorcerer bloodline grants access to spells, but it also grants bloodline powers at levels 1, 3, 9, 15, and 20, that might make good candidate abilities. A feat chain consists of feats of increasing power or scope that might make good candidate abilities.

Determine Talent Type

Choose a talent type for the ability being converted. The type can change later if needed, and they should all be about comparable in value, but the talent type influences how the talent will interact with others.

Questions I ask:

  • Can a character have more than one talent like this at the same time, at the same tier? If so, it must be a common talent. Examples include cleric domains and many (probably most) feat chains.
  • Can a character have only one talent like this at a time, or multiple talents like this but different tiers? If so, it might be a cornerstone talent or capstone talent.
  • Does the talent represent something a character is, some fundamental aspect of the character? If so, this is probably a cornerstone talent. A character can have multiple cornerstone talents, even more than one of the same type of cornerstone talent, but each will be in a different tier. Race and monster type are commonly talents: a character might have ‘two races’ to represent a mix-breed character, or might have two variations of the same monster type (‘brute dragon’ and ‘arcane dragon’ might be found in a single dragon). Bloodlines (from the sorcerer class) are another type of cornerstone talent.
  • Does the talent represent something a character achieves? Is it something a character earns, or a recognition of capability? Is it “big enough” that it can’t or shouldn’t include at least some of “what they all have”? If so, it’s probably a capstone talent. Most prestige classes that get converted would likely be capstone talents (and many prestige classes are better handled through talents, especially those that handle mechanical limitations such as certain multiclass builds — the eldritch knight is not needed in Echelon because it’s possible to get a good fighter-caster build).

Once you know what kind of talent the ability will be, it’s time to sort out the individual tier benefits.

Determine Levels

Talents grant abilities at each tier. Most candidate talents start with some idea of what will be in the talent, and they just need to be assigned levels. This is mostly pretty straightforward.

Look at the level the candidate ability is normally gained. For class features, use the minimum class level that grants the feature (evasion is available to level 2 rogues, so use level 2; that a ranger gets evasion at level 9 is irrelevant).

For feats, look at the prerequisites, especially the level-based ones such as Base Attack Bonus (level equals base attack bonus), skill ranks (level equals number of ranks), base saving throw (not common; level equals twice the base save, minus four — ‘base Reflex +7’ can be achieved at level 10).

Use the table below for a first estimate of the tier to assign to the ability.

Ability Level Echelon Tier Echelon Levels D&D Level
Basic 1-4 CR 1/10-1/8
0-1 Expert 5-8 CR 1/6-1/2
1-5 Veteran 9-12 1-4
4-9 Heroic 13-16 5-8
8-13 Champion 17-20 9-12
12-17 Paragon 21-24 13-16
16-21 Legendary 25-28 17-20

These are not exact, and in many cases you’re likely to extrapolate to get Basic talent abilities.

Assign Abilities to Tiers

Assign abilities to tiers based on the level ranges above. You might need to step just a bit beyond the normal ranges sometimes, but as a first approximation use the ranges above.

For instance, a sorcerer’s bloodline gives bloodline powers at levels 1, 3, 9, 15, and 20. As a first cut I would probably map these to the veteran (source 1-5), heroic (source 4-9), champion (source 8-13), paragon (source 12-17), and legendary (source 16-21) tiers respectively. They aren’t always a great fit (the level 20 bloodline power is intended as a capstone ability of sorts) but they fit as a first approximation.

Special Case: Feat Chains

Feat chains will often have only the feats and other non-leveled considerations as prerequisites. For instance, the Two-Weapon Fighting feat has only Dexterity 15 as a prerequisite. In cases like this, each step of the feat chain is likely to be in a different tier. Specifically, since Improved Two-Weapon Fighting also has a prerequisite of BAB +6 and Greater Two-Weapon Fighting has a prerequisite of BAB +11, I’d be inclined to assign Two-Weapon Fighting to the veteran tier (despite it not having a level-based prerequisite), Improved Two-Weapon Fighting to the heroic tier, and Greater Two-Weapon fighting to the Champion tier. This all aligns with the table above.

Examples

The examples below are not yet complete.

Lightning Reflexes and Evasion

Lightning Reflexes can be taken at first level and gives a +2 bonus to Reflex saves. Characters with good Reflex saves have a similar bonus to their Reflex saves (and may be considered better if they have something that depends on Base Reflex Save). Evasion is gained by rogues at second level and Improved Evasion can be gained at tenth level (second and ninth for monks). I’d make Evasion an Expert-tier ability and Improved Evasion a Master-tier ability (it’s just a little too good for Heroic). I’ll still want abilities for Basic, Heroic, Champion, and Legendary; it might be as simple as making Evasion and Improved Evasion part of the Lightning Reflexes talent. You are unusually good at avoiding area effects.

Tier Benefit
Basic +2 to all Reflex saves when you are not helpless.
Expert When making a Reflex save, on a successful save you can use an immediate action to move up to your speed to get out of the area of effect and take no damage.
Heroic +4 to all Reflex saves when you are not helpless.
Master On a failed Reflex save you take only half damage, on a successful save you can use an immediate action to move up to twice your speed to get out of the area of effect and take no damage.
Champion +6 to all Reflex saves when you are not helpless.
Legendary

Weapon Focus and Specialization

With slight expansion, this feat tree is very easily converted to a talent. A boring talent, mind, but still very simply converted. RAW, abilities can be gained at first level (Weapon Focus), fourth level (Weapon Specialization), eighth level (Greater Weapon Focus), and twelfth levels (Greater Weapon Specialization). This is trivially expanded by inserting ‘Improved Weapon Focus’ and ‘Improved Weapon Specialization’ before the Greater forms. The Weapon Focus talent works on a group of related weapons (such as axes or swords) rather than a single weapon as in the RSRD. This roughly matches the progression of the RSRD feats, lagging potentially no more than one level behind when they could be taken according to the RSRD. It’s still pretty boring, though.

Tier Benefit
Basic ‘Full martial use’ of weapons.
Expert +1 to hit with weapons from the chosen group.
Heroic +2 damage with weapons from the chosen group.
Master +2 to hit with weapons from the chosen group.
Champion +4 damage with weapons from the chosen group.
Legendary +3 to hit with weapons from the chosen group.

Eldritch Weaving

When I drafted the talents using the Eldritch Weaving I split things up using similar guidelines. The spells were trivially split on spell level and caster level such that each tier of the Thread Focus talent gave access to two new spell levels. However, each thread also has a minor power and a major power. In the original source, at fourth level the Eldritch Weaver class gives access to the minor powers of threads a character knows, and at twelfth level the class gives access to the major powers of threads he knows. These are significant benefits, so I put them in the higher of the applicable tiers. All zero-level spells are in the ‘Thread of Cantrips’ (I am planning to recalibrate spell levels, but that’s another matter) and threads don’t have zero-level benefits, so there are no ‘Basic tier’ benefits to these talents.

Tier Benefit
Basic
Expert You add first- and second-level thread spells to your list of available spells.
Heroic You add third- and fourth-level thread spells to your list of available spells. You add the thread’s minor power to the list of minor thread powers available to you.
Master You add fifth- and sixth-level thread spells to your list of available spells.
Champion You add seventh- and eighth-level thread spells to your list of available spells. You add the thread’s major power to the list of major thread powers available to you.
Legendary You add ninth- and tenth-level thread spells to your list of available spells.

Domain Talents

My posts on Divine Powers in Echelon and Alignment Domain Talents describe how feats in Agents of Faith can be converted into talents. Each domain has feats available at third, sixth, ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth levels (coincidentally, five feats per domain, three levels apart – close enough to Echelon tier spacing to be useful), plus an ‘ascended’ feat that has special rules for selection that are beyond the scope of this article. These don’t quite align with the level ranges described above, but are close enough to use for a first attempt at domain talents, especially since unlike Agents of Faith the abilities are cumulative – instead of paying five precious feat slots to gain all the feats of a particular domain, or only the slot gained at fifteenth level to gain that one ability, you spend a talent slot of the appropriate tier to gain all benefits of the feats up to and including that level. There are no domain feats described in Agents of Faith available to characters below third level, so the Basic tier slot below is empty.

Tier Benefit
Basic
Expert You gain the benefits of the third-level domain feat.
Heroic You gain the benefits of the sixth-level domain feat.
Master You gain the benefits of the ninth-level domain feat.
Champion You gain the benefits of the twelfth-level domain feat.
Legendary You gain the benefits of the fifteen-level domain feat.

Closing Comments

I have found that most character and monster abilities, when they are large enough that a pattern is discernible, can often be translated to Echelon talents. In this post I haven’t gone into the larger abilities (such as sneak attack, or wildshape, or bardic music) because they may not quite fit this sort of pattern. Instead, they may be implemented as complementary talents, one providing the basic or core ability, and one providing expanded use or improvement to that ability. Similarly, fundamental construction talents (martial training, which improves attack bonus, and caster training, which improves caster level and controls access to spell levels) are not covered here because they are not abilities per se, being instead building blocks for modeling certain character facets.