Reconsidering Level Bonus

I started working on Echelon (in its current form) about the same D&D 4e was announced.

One of the things I actually liked about D&D 4e early on was the concept of the Level Bonus, and I ended up doing something rather similar in Echelon.  It was quite easy to work with the Level Bonus and a ‘Training Bonus’ to get numeric progressions of the “+1/2, +3/4, +1/1” form used for the Base Attack Bonus in D&D 3.x.  It also looked to do well for modelling spell casters, getting focused casters with caster level equal to character levels and lesser casters with lower caster levels that are still useful.

I’m not entirely convinced this is appropriate for Echelon.  I think the approach is sound, but that the Level Bonus might be too small.  Echelon is all about “higher level is better”, so what if we just used the level as the Level Bonus?  At this point, I think changing the Level Bonus in this way will affect

In fact, I think this change will generally be positive, but let’s see what it does.

Impact On and Comparison To Current Design

Ability Pools

Ability pools are currently “ability score + Level Bonus”.  This definition need not change, especially since the specific pool costs have not yet been fully defined.  Ability pools will get bigger, but at this point that’s about the only effect here.

Insufficient information at this point to really judge the impact of this change… but it would likely only result in a change to something yet to be designed.  Probably okay.

Armor Class

Armor Class in Echelon includes the creature’s Base Attack Bonus.  As such, it will be directly affected in the same manner as Base Attack Bonus as described below.  At any given level the change will be neutral (the Level Bonus is the same for attacker and defender), and between levels the effect will be increased (which is what I want).

Overall, I’m good with this.

Base Attack Bonus

Clearly, if I want to still have the “+1/2, +3/4, +1/1” BAB progressions from D&D 3.x I can’t use the new Level Bonus.  I could come up with a talent and bonus structure that emulates these progressions, but I’ve been considering a different model for martial training, combat styles, and so on that would avoid the whole issue.

I currently base hit points in part on Base Attack Bonus, though (maintaining the trope that martial characters are tougher and harder to kill than less physical characters).  If I want to continue to do this, I’ll have to find another way.

Caster Level

The same structure I was using for Base Attack Bonus looked like it would work very well for caster level, especially if I want to unify the spell casting system that somewhat models D&D 3.x.  If I change the Level Bonus calculation I would need come up with another way to get caster level… if I want to model D&D 3.x.  I’m not entirely convinced I do, to be honest.

This is a sticky bit.  If I need to I can just use “half Level Bonus + Training Bonus” or some such, but that seems like a hack.

However, the idea of a ‘spell casting system’ with ten grades of ability (one for each spell level) that ignores the distinction between even and odd levels, may be sufficient.  I know that I tend to simplify spell durations to ‘specific’ descriptive durations (such as “until you rest”) so I don’t need to track things carefully, it doesn’t offend me to similarly simplify spell ranges and effects.

I will have to explore this another time, it’s a bit of a departure.

Check DCs

I posted about this recently, and that post prompted this post.  I was okay with four-point steps between difficulty classes, and that training was sufficient to cover the difference in bonus between characters eight levels apart, but I felt the difference between ‘mediocre’ and ‘best’ ability scores was too big.  Changing Level Bonus to be equal to level rather than level/2 solves the impact of the differences in ability score.  Training no longer makes up for eight levels of experience, but only four (and at that can still do better because trained characters get better effects for the same checks).

Overall this makes a difference of +12 over 24 levels.    An analysis I did suggests because of how the Level Bonus is applied, this actually has little adverse impact on check DCs, and provides some good effects.

Hit Points

Hit points are not rolled in Echelon, but calculated based on Constitution, Base Attack Bonus, and level (and level is heavily weighted).  This need not change much.  The biggest difference I see so far is that I might not have Base Attack Bonus to work with, but I can probably find other ways for some creatures to be harder to kill than level and Constitution might indicate.

As it is, it’s not terribly difficult to get formulas that approximate D&D 3.x and old school (AD&D and BECMI) hit point totals, though the relatively low weight I put on Constitution makes the difference between hit points of high and low Constitution creatures much smaller.

As with the Check DCs, I’ll discuss this in more detail in another post.

Saving Throws

This is a potentially interesting one.  Assuming a model similar to D&D 3.x where saving throw DCs are equal to 10 + spell level (or HD/2) + ability score modifier, while the save bonus here is equal to Level Bonus + ability score modifier, the save bonus goes up rather faster than the save DC.

I’m not convinced this is a bad thing.  In old school the saves ended up very low (remember, you had to roll over the save back then), often down around 2 or 3 in BECMI (a little higher in AD&D).

I think I’ll go with it for now.

Talent Slot Acquisition

This is indirectly impacted.  The current talent acquisition table is based on always getting ‘a little bit more than the previous level’ at each level.

This will require some examination and redesign, but I don’t expect it to be difficult.

In fact, I’ve already written it.

Closing Comments

I don’t see any truly compelling arguments against this change.

  • Ability pool totals change somewhat, but since I haven’t fully defined these anyway this is not a hugely damaging thing.
  • Armor Class does what I want, no problems here.
  • Base Attack Bonus, using the current calculations and talents, can’t readily model D&D 3.x BAB progression… but I’m actually okay with that.  I can model different degrees of martial ability through other means.  I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while.
  • Caster level… sticky.  I could use “half Level Bonus + Training Bonus” as a bit of a hack to get D&D 3.x-style caster levels.  I’m not entirely happy with that, but it would work.
  • Check DCs are relatively unaffected by this change, really.  There are only three more difficulty classes between “everyone, even the most inept, can expect to do this successfully all the time” and “even the biggest and baddest of us all cannot do this without special circumstances”.  This looks okay to me, I’ll be posting my notes later.
  • Hit point calculations will change slightly, but not hugely so.  I expect to post about this in more detail later.
  • Saving Throws, I suspect will work better this way.  Having the bonus improve faster than the DC should make saves work more like they did in the old days, and I like that.
  • Talent Slot Acquisition, already done.  It looks fine and in fact addresses a concern shared with me by several readers.

Barring someone pointing out something I overlooked (badly), I think I’ll go with this change.

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  2. hadsil

    Saving throws will be tricky. They need to be good enough for a decent chance of saving (I’m ok with the concept of a character having a good and poor progression as in 3E) but also not so good PC spellcasters are useless because almost every save is made. I believe even at high level a spellcaster’s lowest level spells should have a decent chance to succeed. Perhaps spell save DCs also need to be based on level. Would a DC of level bonus + spell level + ability score modifier be too high/low?

  3. in D&D 3.x, the DC was 10 + spell level + ability score modifier, and usually hosed the target (my active modifier is likely somewhat higher than your passive defense modifier, and the spell level goes up every two levels where your base save probably goes up every three levels — at least, if I’m being at all smart about this).

    level bonus + spell level + ability score, vs. d20 + level bonus + ability score? it might be a little light… though I imagine there’ll be a +4 possible on either side to bring it up.

    First impression is that it might work, second (realizing that level < d20, usually) is that it might be a little too hard on the caster. Let me think about it and run some numbers and get back to you. 10 + level + spell level + casting ability score vs. d20 + level + defense ability score seems too hard on the target, it'll probably amount to "sometimes succeeds" rather than "often" or "usually".

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