Help me figure this thing out
Help me out, fellow gamers. But first, a confession: I have never played d20. By that, I mean no D&D, no Pathfinder, no d20 Star Wars. Nothing. The closest I've come is playing Knights of the Old Republic, which I understand is exactly the same thing, but somewhat more limited. Knowing that, I just need a little help getting acclimated so that I may better serve you, the gaming community.
The next phase of my Complete Characters is adding stats from various relevant open gaming systems, and obviously the d20 fantasy/modern are at the top of that list. It's everywhere, thanks to its place as the original system to go OGL. If aliens are watching us from the upper atmosphere, peering through telescopes and furiously typing notes on their space-Macs, trying to learn our language, it's the d20 lingo that they undoubtedly think is Earth Geek Standard. I, too, must learn to speak it.
I'm a relatively accomplished gamer, so the system doesn't really intimidate me. I understand stat builds and Occupations and Feats and Skills with very little difficulty, and when I trip and fall on these basic mechanical issues, I'm caught by the loving arms of the Internet and its various resources. What there is no substitute for, however, is live repetitions. I have no in-game context to gauge some of the finer points of the system, and that's where I need your help today.
If I may, please allow me to get your thoughts on a few subjects by jumping below the fold. Pretty please?
What's the proper level?
This is a tricky subject, because the answer invariably changes from group to group, Game Master to Game Master. My basic query is, what level character is appropriate for use as a major NPC? My gut instinct is that any of my Complete Characters should probably range between Levels 6 and 12, with most falling in the meat of that curve around 8 to 10. At lower levels, a character's collection of skills, and even character class, are still very much in flux. A Level 3 character is still growing up, such that when Level 4 is attained, that Tough Hero character is as likely to take a level in Strong or Charismatic as anything else, which really changes the basic character altogether. Likewise, that plucky Level 3 Fighter can just as easily grab a level of Rogue as continue on the established path.
By level 6 or 7, however, I surmise that most characters are well on their way to being whatever it is they are going to ultimately be. They have had ample opportunity to set down how they are going to multiclass going forward, either having taken the one or two extraneous levels in a secondary area of study, or have established roughly how the character will split classes in the future.
In terms of compatibility with a campaign, my guess is that an NPC of Level 3 or 4 will only be relevant to a campaign for a short amount of time, say, a handful of hard-fought sessions. Most adventuring parties will quickly climb the experience ladder and leave the early levels in the dust, while the road past levels 7 or 8 remains on the horizon for far longer in the career of the players, meaning that NPCs of that level will be relevant far longer.
So, I said all of that to try and determine what is the proper level for a key NPC, such as those detailed in Complete Character. In addition to the actual statted-out character, would it be helpful to list, as a part of the offering, what classes/feats/skills are a priority for the character over the next few levels? Does level even matter, or would characters be just as well served to be built by assembling relevant skills, feats, and various modifiers without going through a true character generation process?
What's the story on skill relevance/diversity?
I've always been a big proponent of skills being part of the character's background information. I'm the type of player and game designer that makes sure that any character that I write knows how to swim, use a computer, build a campfire, and drive a car (as is appropriate to the setting), actually taking these "life skills" as long as it makes sense to do so. So, my natural inclination is to assign some points to skills even if they do not maximize the utility of the character, even if they are cross-class. For example, for a random Academic-type character that I was generating, I put in a couple of ranks of Swim. The character wasn't particularly built to encounter the water, but in my mind he is a world traveler that would have picked up a decent breaststroke in his lifetime.
Obviously investing in a rank of Swim isn't crazy or inexplicable. My only question is, will it seem odd to a d20 player that picks up the character sheet? Is any self-respecting d20 gamer going to look at it and think, "Why the hell were these points wasted on swimming when they could have been put into something useful?"
This leads me to the second part of this question. How broad or deep do skills tend to be in d20? Is it understood that a character should find a couple of things to be very, very good at? Or do most characters have a few stray skills with only a rank or two each, and then several deep skills with most of the ranks? Or is it normal to spread the love around to be a jack-of-all-trades? Again, there isn't a right/wrong here, obviously, but I'm just trying to get a gauge of what people might expect.
And, one final skill question related to the above: What rank is considered to be poor, normal, or extraordinary in relation to level? For example, if a Level 7 character has seven ranks in Bluff, is that good? Great? What about a Level 7 character with 12 ranks in Bluff? Best ever? Too much? Should primary skills stay pretty well maxed out?
I have many, many more questions and issues to work out, but I figure I should take small bites at a time. Throw me whatever you've got, and I'm going to take a first stab at this. Look for a trial character to be posted in the next week or so, and you can do what you do best and tear it apart.
Should be fun!