Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homebrewing New D&D Classes

Designing new classes for D&D is tough work, as I have noted before. Balance is tricky. It's phenomenally easy to either design a character that upsets the delicate balance of the core archetypical classes—or one that feels rather lame or mundane in comparison.

When farting around with class-design myself, I keep wishing that there would be some kind of simple metric to help keep a class from floundering on either of those poles. Fortunately, Michael Curtis of the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope pointed some time ago on his blog to an article in Dragon magazine #109 by Paul Montgomery Claburgh that laid out some guidelines to tricking out custom classes. Duly tracking it down late last week I was pleased to find a number of useful charts to help scratch my itch.

Note, like Michael, I have done some heavy modifications of my own to fit my own tastes. Some costs are a increased to protect the core classes; many other guidelines are simplified; and more specific detail for the meat of any custom class—special abilities and restrictions—are added.

Tomorrow I will spend some time talking about the non-mechanical backside of class creation such as creating a coherent concept; tailoring a class to pulp fantasy archetypes; experimenting with new special abilities; and the like.

Design Steps:
Draw up a class concept. What is the basic idea behind this class? What is this class capable of? What are the ability requirements? Prime requisites? Alignment restrictions?

Work your way with through the tables starting making choices that fit with your class concept. Tally up the various percentage amounts as you go.

Add the combined totals to a baseline cost of a 100 percent. Multiply the total to the baseline experience level for each level to get the final cost for level advancement.

Example: the Delver class has a combined percentage of 280%. This is added to the 100 base cost for a total of 380. This total percentage is multiplied against the baseline experience costs (500x3.8) for a grand total of 1,900 to progress to level 2. The cost for each level is doubled after this, 3,800 to progress to level 3 and so on down the line.

Table A: Level Advancement
Starting Level Baseline Exp. Next Level
1 500 2
2 1000 3
3 2000 4
4 4000 5
5 8000 6
6 16000 7
7 32000 8
8 64000 9
9 128000 10
10 256000 11

Table B: Hit Dice
The default hit dice is a d6.
d4 -25%
d6 N/A
d8 +50%
d10 +100%

Table C: Armor
Default is no armor allowed.
Shield +10%
Leather +20%
Chain (and below) +30%
Any +40%

Table D: Weapons
Magic User appropriate weapons is default.
No missile weapons -10%
Additional d6 damage weapon +5%
Additional d8 weapon +10%
Additional d10 weapon +15%
All blunt weapons +20%
Any weapon +75%

Table E: Racial Abilities
Default is Human.
Halfling (Half Orc, Half Elf, Gnome) +10%
Dwarf, Elf +20%

Table G: Magic-Item Use
Default is only potions. More than one class set can be used at an additional cost.
Fighter-appropriate +20%
Thief-appropriate +20%
Cleric-appropriate +30%
Magic User-appropriate +40%

Table F: Saving Throws
Magic User is default.
Cleric +10%
Magic User

Table G: Combat ability
Fighting as level 0 Normal Human is default.
Fights as Magic User +30%
Fights as Cleric or Thief +50%
Fights as Fighter +100%

Table H: Special Abilities
Default is none.
Individual thief skill (pick locks, backstab, etc)
All thief skills
Mundane skill (barter, glassblowing, archivist, etc.)
Special mundane skill (tracking, outdoor survival, sleight of hand, etc)
Minor spell or spell-like effect (charm person, protection from evil, hypnosis, etc)
Major power (turn undead, fly, regeneration, spell over 2nd level, etc.)
Cast Magic-User (or Illusionist) spells
Cast Cleric(or Druid) spells
The cost of an ability can be modified by introducing that skill at levels past the first. Note that the minimum cost for any special ability is +5%.
Ability introduced at levels 2 or 3
Ability introduced at levels 4, 5, or 6
Ability introduced at levels 7 or higher


  1. Very cool. I've got a few different systems for creating D&D classes at hand, and this one looks solid. Nice work.

  2. Interesting. There are some similar tables in the AD&D2e DMG p.32. I figured XP costs for standard PC classes ranged from 1500XP/level for a fighter to 2400XP/level for magic user. Interestingly while "cast any school" is quite expensive (3200XP/level), "cast one school" is dirt cheap (600XP/level). So an "Enchanter" class might fight as a thief or cleric but get access to both Sleep and Charm Person at first level - quite formidable!

    I wonder about defects one might take on to counterbalance, e.g. a wizard who is also expert in longbow. As referee it would be possible to limit access to spells on a per-character basis ("Sorry, your spellbook only contains Tensor's Floating Disc"). A fighter with mystical abilities is usually balanced by behavioural restrictions, but that seems like a pretty cheap price if you get to pick the restrictions.

  3. @modernhacker
    2nd edition was the game I skipped completely (4th too, must be an even number thing). But I've been getting more and more interested in reading about some of the edition's nice design bits.

    I hear you loud and clear about worrying about players' taking advantage of such a system. I should have slapped a big day-glow orange sticker saying "for GM use only" or the like.