In part 1 I discussed some things I do and don’t like about character progression in games.
From the observations in part 1, I’ve made a simple criteria to examine character progression, specifically, the mechanical abilities and features that characters get (I’ll be calling them all features because its a reasonably generic term).
The DAQ criteria
- Is it appreciable?
- When the features comes into play in the moment, at the table, do we appreciate it?
- Can we point to something happening in the game and say ‘that is happening because of this feature’?
- Do the other players at the table notice the impact of the feature?
- For instance: if a character has a +2 bonus from proficiency, a +3 bonus from dexterity and a +2 from a feature, then all of those sources contribute to a success, so its hard to credit any of them in particular. However if the feature gave a +10 and the margin of success meant that they could only have succeeded due to the +10, then it is appreciable.
- Is it qualitative?
- Does the feature have a tangible effect on things in the world or is it only a numerical impact?
- A feature can have quantitative effect and a qualitative effect, they are not mutually exclusive.
- Just because a feature can be roleplayed doesn’t mean its qualitative. Whilst you can turn things which are just numbers into character moments but we want to know if the feature itself is just numbers.
- For instance: if a character has a +1 sword that has +3 against goblins then it is quantitative. It’s just numbers. But if the character had a +1 sword has +3 against goblins, and which glowed bright white and whispered shouted hateful messages in elven whenever it was drawn near goblins, then that is qualitative.
- EDIT: I’ve since done a whole blogpost about qualitative design here
- Is it distinctive?
- Is the feature something that everyone can do or is there limited access?
- Can only this class do this thing? Can only this subclass do this thing?
- If others can do this thing, how common is it?
- For instance: if a character can cast a spell to let them fly, and another character can shapeshift into a falcon, the the flight spell is somewhat distinctive, whilst the shapeshifting is more distinctive. This is because whilst they both have ways to fly, only one of them can also shapeshift. The distinctive quality is on more of a sliding scale than the others and is more affected by having a larger pool of options.
Another way of thinking of these qualities:
- Appreciable: does it make me think ‘thank goodness I have that feature’
- Qualitative: does it make things happen in the world that de-genericises play?
- Distinctive: is it something that helps define my character and creates opportunities to move the spotlight to them?
I’m going to apply these criteria to fighting classes from a few games to see how they fare. I’m looking at fighters because they should be harder to hit these criteria with than, say, wizards or clerics.
I’ll look at Fighters in 5e D&D , Old School Essentials and GLOG, scoring each feature out of 3.
(I’ve used Appreciable, Qualitative and Distinct as the ordering throughout but DAQ is more pronounceable than AQD so I’m calling it the DAQ criteria.)
The Fighter in 5e
I won’t explain each feature because that would take too long but you can check out their wording here.
|Feature and score||Appreciable?||Qualitative?||Distinctive?|
|Fighting Style 0/3||Most of this is just +1 or +2 bonuses. The most appreciable is great weapon fighting but its not very good statistically.||Again it’s mostly just numbers.||These features are shared with the paladin and ranger.|
|Second Wind 1/3||Yes – I declare that I use it and I get to heal 1d10+level hit points.||No, again its just numbers.||While Second Wind is unique, healing is pretty ubiquitous so its not really distinct.|
|Action Surge 2.5/3||It is very appreciable, but in my experience it is mostly used to just do another attack.||+1 action this turn is a quantity increase, but because you use that action to do something in the world, it is qualitative.||Everyone has actions. Actions can also be gained through the haste spell so its partially distinct|
|Extra Attack 2/3||Yes, though as time goes on it becomes less appreciated and more something you just do.||As above, it is a quantity that gives you something tangible, though that thing is generally just ‘I swing my sword again’.||Other martial classes have extra attacks.|
|Ability Score Improvements 0/3||It is appreciated just after levelling up but after a session or so it just becomes part of the overall modifier and is not appreciable.||Quantitative. You could trade it for a feat but that’s optional and beyond the scope of this assessment.||Everyone gets this|
|Indomitable 1/3||Rerolling saving throws is very appreciable||Entirely quantitative||There are lots of ways to gain a reroll or reroll-like effect|
|Hit Points 1/3||Yes – I often hear ‘that would’ve killed me if I had as few hit points as the wizard’ or some variation on that theme||Again, entirely quantitative.||Everyone has hit points and the barbarian’s hit points are larger. The ranger has as many hit points as the fighter too.|
|Weapon and Armour Proficiencies 0/3||Because access to weapons and armour is so widespread in 5e, having access to all types is hard to appreciate.||This is quantitative because it’s saying: anyone can use the weapon but only you can get a +2 bonus||Other characters can get access to the weapon/armour proficiencies, some more easily than others.|
|Equipment 1.5/3||Yes it is well appreciated at 1st level. This tails off as the party gets money and everyone gets the best equipment they can use.||This is qualitative but because the type of weapon you are using so rarely matters in 5e (past its damage dice and whether it is ranged) its a weak quality||Anyone can buy this equipment and many others start with it too|
We’ll look also at the Champion and Battle Master subclasses. The Eldritch Knight has spells and so I’ll be ignoring it because as I said earlier, magic is much easier to hit these criteria with.
Improved Critical is very appreciable – the player will appreciate it every time they roll a 19. It’s a quantitative improvement for sure – though rolling extra dice is tangible for the players it is not tangible in the world. It is pretty distinctive – as far as I know it is the only rules-as-written way to crit on a 19 in 5e. Score 2/3
Remarkable Athlete reads
Starting at 7th level, you can add half your Proficiency Bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check you make that doesn’t already use your Proficiency Bonus.
In addition, when you make a running long jump, the distance you can cover increases by a number of feet equal to your Strength modifier.
This is not appreciable because it gets added into your tally of modifiers, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a GM use the written rules for jumpable distance (although I’m sure it happens at other tables). The first half is not qualitative. The second part does give is a quantity but that quantity is saying ‘you can jump further than other people’ which is tangible. It is not distinctive because the Bard has a similar, but strictly better, feature called Jack of All Trades. Score 0.5/3
Additional Fighting Style is a re-run of Fighting Style 0/3
Superior Critical is also a re-run of Improved Critical 2/3
Survivor gets you some hit points back as long as you are in the lower half of your hit points. This might be appreciable in a fight, but not that much. It is entirely qualitative. Though it is a distinct method of healing, as I said earlier, healing is pretty common in 5e. Half points for distinctive and appreciable gives a score of 1/3
Battle Master is not on the link from earlier so here’s one just for it’s features.
Combat Superiority is great. You pick some ‘maneuvers’ and can expend ‘superiority dice’ to use those maneuvers, buffing their result.
Example maneuvers: Disarming Strike (chance to disarm an opponent and bonus damage); Menacing Attack (chance to frighten an opponent and bonus damage; and Commander’s Strike (forgo an attack to allow an ally to make an attack).
Many of these features are also appreciable – we all notice when Jimmy gives up his attack to let Timmy make one, or that Billy’s fighter just shouted that ogre into temporary submission.
Frightening opponents, disarming them and allowing others to move are all qualitative. Though some of the features are just quantitative buffs, there are enough choices to give this a pass.
The list of maneuvers has 16 entries, many of which allow you to do things which there is no other mechanical way to do in 5e, or things which you cannot do without casting a spell, so this is distinctive.
Student of War gives the Battle master proficiency with one type of artisan’s tools of their choice. Whilst that sounds like a flat bonus, it’s probably going to make the player buy and use those tools when they otherwise wouldn’t, and so is potentially appreciable, if the player remembers where they got their proficiency from. It is quantitative and indistinct though. 1/3
Know Your Enemy is a nearly-great feature. Essentially, spending 1 minute in a non-combat interaction or observation with another creatures grants some knowledge of its statistics. This is appreciable only if the party is going to act on the information, which is not very likely as it is all stuff that a reasonably experienced player could guess at. Maybe they couldn’t guess the exact number, but they could guess if a stat will be relatively high or low. It is quantitative which is a big shame – if it gave you knowledge about the creature’s mood or motivation then it would be so much more tangible. It’s a pretty distinct feature. Score is 1.5/3 but with a few tweaks it could easily be 3/3
Improved Combat Superiority just changes your superiority dice from d8s up the dice ladder to d12s. Marginally appreciable (because an numbers added to a check from an additional dice are more noticeable than say a flat +2 bonus which gets folded into the modifier), quantitative and not distinct. 0.5/3
Relentless also interacts with superiority dice, giving you one if you have none at the start of a fight. Appreciable when it is used but not qualitative or distinct. (the dice are distinct but replenishing things is not). I expect it would push the player to use up their dice knowing they get one back which I suppose increases its appreciability (is that a word) 0.5/3
5e fighter summary
Battle Master is better than the Champion using these criteria. Most of the features are not very interesting. I should note that the Fighter gets a lot more ability score improvements than other classes, which (using optional rules) can be turned into feats. This does allow for a fighters to get some very distinct, appreciable and qualitative features and therefore to increase the distinction between any two fighters, but it does so by accessing features from a communal pool. IE the fighter gets more interesting by accessing features that are not part of their core design. Doesn’t that say something about the core design by itself?
The Fighter in Old School Essentials
The system reference document for Old School Essentials (OSE) can be found online here. It’s an excellent tool, I generally have several tabs open while running my weekly game. As OSE is a re-rendering of the 1981 D&D rules there is less of an emphasis on class features which are gained while levelling up, and far less push-a-button style features.
|Feature and Score||Appreciable?||Qualitative?||Distinctive?|
|Hit Dice 1d8 1/3||Even more appreciable than in 5e since being reduced to 0hp kills you instantly and bonus hit points from constitution are much less generous.||Entirely quantitative||The Dwarf class also gets 1d8 for its Hit Dice.|
|Weapon and Armour 2/3||More appreciable than in 5e again (the fighter can use any weapons and armour) because some of the other classes are so limited in their access – the magic user can only use daggers. Treasure is also more often magic weapons which the Fighter can always make use of.||Unlike in 5e where a proficiency gives you +2 at 1st level, in OSE it allows you to use the weapon. Being able to pick up and use a fallen enemy’s bow (when others cannot) is qualitative.||This is shared with the Elf class.|
|Languages 1/3||Fighters know the bare minimum of languages so its pretty impossible to appreciate this.||Knowing or not knowing a language is about as qualitative as it comes.||The Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and Thief all have the same language options.|
These next two features need more unpacking than the table can provide.
Stronghold: Any time a fighter wishes (and has sufficient money), they can build a castle or stronghold and control the surrounding lands.
This feature requires the context of other classes: all the non-Fighters have a specific feature explaining what level they have to be to build a base and the nature of that base . For instance a Thief can establish a Thief-Den at level 9.
For the kind of game I run I would assume that the fighter has to still contend with issues such as the supply of materials and access to specialist workers, especially in more remote locations. There is also the political concern of neighbouring factions and rulers.
So this is appreciable because being able to make a castle when others cannot, which might serve as the base of operations for the party, is going to be appreciated. It is also definitely qualitative (a castle is not a quantity, right?). It’s not very distinct because everyone can make a base and both Halflings and Dwarfs can make a Stronghold. Score 2/3
After Reaching 9th Level: A fighter may be granted a title such as Baron or Baroness. The land under the fighter’s control is then known as a Barony.
So right out of the block this is qualitative. Lets just get that out of the way.
At 9th level (or 11th, around that mark anyway) is when most classes can make their stronghold, but since the Fighter can already do that, instead they can become a Baron(ess). This is basically saying that the fighter is not just a warrior who has a keep but a noble, a recognised member of the feudal hierarchy. Skerples has a great post about what this means in a medieval society. Anyone who has played Crusader Kings or watched Game of Thrones will know the potential for gameplay to come from this. So it is definitely appreciable, as long as the NPCs in the game react appropriately to the character’s rank (including other nobles holding them to certain expectations).
It is distinct too, no other class gets to become a member of the nobility through a class feature.
Attack modifiers (THACO) and saving throws: The fighter also gets very good attack modifiers and saving throws as they level up. This is not distinct or qualitative. It is more appreciable than the modifiers that a 5e fighter gets just because there are so few ways to get modifiers. Still 0/3 though.
OSE fighter summary
There is so little in the class but once you ignore the features which are common to all classes (attack modifiers, saving throws, languages and hit dice) everything that remains meets the DAQ criteria really well.
The Fighter in GLOG
Goblin Laws of Gaming (GLOG) is a ruleset made by Arnold K and can be found here (wizard rules are here). We’re looking at the Fighter on page 6 of the Goblin Guts pdf, which is the class list. Often GLOG is played using the Rat-On-A-Stick hack (or hacks of that hack) where HP is limited to 20hp at max level, and I will be taking this into account, especially when considering how appreciable abilities are.
|Feature and Score||Appreciable?||Qualitative?||Distinct?|
|Parry 2/3||Yes – potentially mitigating 2d12 hp in an fight is really big and might keep you alive.||Both parts of this ability are quantitative but the sundering of your shield is also quantitative so half marks for this.||The knight also has this feature, so it’s somewhat distinct with 10 classes. Half marks again|
|Notches 3/3||If you choose the right upgrades then they will be appreciable. +1 damage is generally not appreciable, crit on a 19-20 is.||Some of the potential upgrades to your weapon are qualitative – like with the battle master’s maneuvers I’ll assume those are the options which will be chosen.||No other class has this feature|
|+1 Attack 2.5/3||You will appreciate getting a second attack in when HP values stay low as your level progresses.||Like the 5e fighter’s extra attack, this is qualitative. A tangible thing is happening, not just a number change.||The Really Good Dog class also gets +1 attack features so this is at half marks.|
|Impress 3/3||You should appreciate the chance to smooth social tensions by winning a fight.||A +4 bonus is quantitative, but what’s really happening is that you’re getting a second chance at a first impression, which is qualitative.||Yes nobody else can do this.|
|Tricky 2/3||When you get a free chance to trip, shove or disarm someone then you will really feel it, however I think this ability might go forgotten due to its unusual trigger conditions||The second part of the feature is qualitative but the first part is just a +2 bonus. Half marks again.||The Acrobat can also do this so half marks again. Bit of a running theme here.|
|Cleave 2.5/3||Extra attacks in such a low-health and low-power game is highly appreciable, much more so than in a game with massive HP values for monsters like 5e.||Another way to get extra attacks, which are qualitative.||Whilst other classes get extra attacks, none get them this way. Half marks.|
GLOG Fighters also get +1HP per level which is not distinctive, qualitative or appreciable. That extra hit point might keep you alive but you probably won’t appreciate that you are alive because of this feature. 0/3
Starting equipment for GLOG fighters is very good, though narrowly focused on combat. Having a bow or chainmail will probably be appreciated in the same way that the OSE fighter’s weapon access was. Other classes have some of the same equipment so its partially distinct. Having a thing is qualitative so that makes it 3/3
GLOG fighter summary
Some really good features here. In fact I think the ratio of really-good-idea/total-rules is part of the reason behind GLOG’s success.
I posted some GLOG classes previously on this blog: The Dragon Wyrmling; Elf Wanderer; and three fighters: the Slayer, Captain and Ranger. They are overall more powerful than the core GLOG classes so they would need to be tuned down to avoid overshadowing them.
I might do a post in the future assessing my own classes using the DAQ criteria.
The GLOG and OSE fighters perform very well in the DAQ criteria, far better than the 5e fighters. In general, a more niche game will perform better on these criteria as abilities will probably be more distinct and qualitative. It might be a good project to scalp the most DAQy features from the 5e battle master and make a glog class, though someone has probably already done that.
I am well aware that the DAQ criteria is just one measure of quality when assessing character abilites in games. Features which score poorly such as hit points and proficiencies may really drive the flavour of the class without being unique press-me buttons which this criteria is looking for.
This criteria wouldn’t work for some systems I’ve played such as Chaosium’s Call of Cthulu, Star Trek Adventures or The Burning Wheel. That’s fine. Character progress in those systems is handled differently, and your character is more often differentiated by you skill lists or areas of expertise.
There is no Joesky Tax with this essay since I’ve already given you something useable.
When designing a feature ask yourself:
- Is it distinctive?
- Is it appreciable?
- Is it qualitative?
But don’t forget that the design doesn’t need to be those things to be good.
It’s a tool.
Don’t use a hammer to saw some wood.