Build (Part I)

Last week I talked about how your character in Delve might come to a tragic or heroic end, but this week let’s look at something a little more life-affirming: Character building.

If you haven’t gleaned it thus far, Delve is a fantasy adventure game of a particular tradition. While it was my goal to reexamine, sometimes prune, and other times advance the forms of that tradition, but the entire engine is designed to create and run fantasy campaigns of any size or scope. This involves going on adventures, achieving goals, and becoming more…well…more potent. And your character’s potency is decided by two factors: your level and your build. There’s also treasure…but we’ll discuss that at a later date.

Like other games, your level determines two things. The first is how you increase your attributes. The second is it opens more build options. Attributes are at the core of every character, the fuel of math that allows the system to run at a mathematical baseline with a visible and controllable variation. I think this is the easier part of RPG design. It’s not without its challenges and pitfalls, but usually, those come because designers worry too much about mouthfeel and fail to look at the logical consequences of the probability of an outcome. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve absolutely done this in the past, and my first draft of any system will often feature wildly out of control math. I always try to look towards the cool before I settle on the sustainable. But once you come across a half-way satisfying confluence of viable and cool, pounding the math into submission becomes relatively easy. Especially when it comes to the relatively small numbers and small pools dice probabilities. And once you have beaten the math into shape, the hard (and enjoyable) work comes of wrangling exception-based design.

In Delve, the sources of exception-based build design balances on three main legs of a tripod. The first is the race of your character. Races, like the linages or species of the real world, have both commonalities and differences. But I’ve talked about my thoughts on the subject and how they work in Delve before. The second leg is class. Class is your adventuring career. It determines most of your relevant training (as an adventurer), grants you two free class talents at 1st level, the number of Hits you gain during that level, and the set of class talents you can pick from at any given level. Each class also contains within it, the requirements needed to multiclass into that class. The last leg is the tripod are general talents. These are talents potentially open to any character. They can be used to facilitate multiclass, create a well-rounded character, build a more robust background, and just give your character a little more oomph.

Now that’s a lot to unpack, but before we do, let me explain leveling in Delve because it is a little different. Like most games of this ilk, you create a 1st-level character and as your adventure, through the completion of achievements and goals, you “level up.” That all sounds familiar, but one of the subtle thing that Delve does is it puts all characters on the same level track. In other words, no matter your class mix, when you reach 2nd level, no matter your class or your multiclassing combination, you will gain the same set of things.

Allow me to illustrate. Here is a chart of the first five levels of progress for Delve.

Levels

So at 1st-level, you gain a lot. You get a bunch of Hits based on your race, class, and Endurance, and then you get a bunch of talents. Two of the talents are granted based on your class choice. Those are pretty much set in stone. But you also get one of each other category of talent: class, free, general, and race. The class talent you gain allows you to start to customize your flavor of class from another character of the same class. The free talent is not really another type of trait, but an indication that you can fill that slot with any class, general, or race talent you wish (and that you meet the requirements for), the race talent allows you to customize the elf, dwarf, or whatever you are playing. Humans treat this as free talent but lack the total choice of other free talents for people of other races. Your general talent allows you that rounding-out of character I talked about earlier.

Now, move on to the 2nd level and beyond, and you see the set gets smaller. This has been commonly true in other games of similar structure, but in the desire to allow multiclassing, the design problem nearly always pops up that (assuming your attribute build can support it), you gain more from taking another class at 1st level than advancing a class to its 2nd and further levels. This often leads to limiting multiclass with some outside and sometimes a somewhat arbitrary mechanic or set of mechanics. In Delve, my goal was to do something that was more systematic.

Now, let’s say you start at 1st-level as a rogue and you wish to multiclass into the fighter class. The first thing you do is look at the fighter class. When you do, you’ll notice that the bonus talents granted at 1st level are Combat Opportunist and Weapon Mastery. Here are those talents look like.

Combat Opportunist

Weapon Master

You might notice that both of those talents to the right on the talent line indicate “Fighter,  General.” This indicates that they can be found on both of those lists. This is important, because while if you’re 1st level and take fighter, you gain those for free. But if you want to multiclass to that class, those bonus talents become prerequisites to do so, and it points you to the general talent list to do just that. Imagine that rogue again. For her to move on to fighter at 2nd level is that if she took one of those required talents as her general talent and the other as either her free talent or her race talent (if she is human).

Now let’s say she does that and she can choose whether to take a level of rogue or fighter at 2nd-level, she will gain the same talent mix: one class talent and one general talent. The only difference is if she is picking from the list of fighter class talents or rogue class talents at that level. It may not seem like a big difference, but it is. In the end, splitting your class like this increases your flexibility horizontally while decreasing it vertically. Both are perfectly sound choices in building your character, but both have benefits and drawbacks.

We’ll get more into that later when we start taking a stronger look at talents, which are the building blocks of Delve.

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