I have written in the Talent Repository about how to convert RSRD abilities to Echelon talents, but haven’t talked about a resource that looks very useful for Echelon talents: Iron Heroes, originally presented by Monte Cook and now published by Fiery Dragon Productions.
Iron Heroes is predicated on warrior-types being very much more than presented in the RSRD, with abilities that outstrip what is usually seen as appropriate for warriors. This has my attention with regard to Echelon, since I’m trying to do much the same thing.
Primary Areas of Interest
Without going too much into mechanical considerations (such as token pools; I’ll have to think about those some more) I see two primary areas to mine for talents, class abilities and ‘mastery feats’.
Class abilities are pretty straightforward. Most classes have a core ability that improves at each odd level. In some cases the specific implementation of that ability is chosen by the player (such as the specific ranged attack improvement an Archer gets at each odd level), in others they are specified by the class definition.
Given a 20-level class, there are thus ten related abilities, one gained at each odd class level.
Mastery feats are an interesting addition in Iron Heroes. Rather than having feat chains as in the RSRD, similar and related feats are grouped into ‘Mastery Feats’. Each class grants different mastery ratings relevant to the class (plus “Other”, which is used for anything not specifically granted). When the character gains feat slots he can spend them on mastery feats and choose a specific feat from that list that requires a mastery rating no higher than the one he has. For instance, if a character has a “Lore” mastery rating of 5 he can taken any Lore mastery feat that requires a Lore mastery rating of five or less.
Overall, this looks like it should lead to a character tending to take mastery feats closely associated to what his class does. He may branch out, but is likely to stick close to the class concept.
Each mastery feat has about ten entries, and mastery doesn’t seem to go up more than every two levels (not quite true; as I recall without looking at the book there may be classes that grant specific mastery ratings higher than one at first level).
Approach in Echelon
I see two ways to go about incorporating these class abilities and mastery feats into Echelon.
Modelled on Training Bonus
A very simple way to incorporate these abilities into Echelon would be to have two linked talents (much as Martial Training and Improved Martial Training) providing a Training Bonus that governs the access the character has to the specific ability. A character with Master Executioner and Master Improved Executioner (total Training Bonus of +8) would have access to the eighth Executioner ability (I assume a Basic ability would need to be added to each talent). A Legendary character with Legendary Executioner (Training Bonus +6) would have access to the fifth Executioner ability.
I have considered a similar approach elsewhere regarding spell casting — Legendary Caster Training gives a Training Bonus of +6, which combines with +10 Level Bonus to allow casting sixth level spells as a 16th-level caster (fifth-level spells and 13th-level caster in D&D terms, more or less). This gives some significant and useful casting ability as a sideline (“Legendary Dabbler”, as one person put it) without necessarily being overpowering.
Level-Appropriate Gains and Specialization
One of the major design considerations in Echelon is that at each level, the abilities gained are appropriate for the level. While dabbling in magic as described above seems reasonable, the abilities gained via the Iron Heroes class abilities and mastery feats seem somewhat less than that — a Legendary Dabbler above has enough mojo to cast teleport, which is not insignificant.
An alternative to the above that might work better for these abilities is basing the entire thing on the tier of the talent slot used. Instead of working out a Training Bonus and giving access to the abilities up to that bonus, have the ‘base talent’ (let’s say, Sneak Attack) give access to the ‘odd-numbered’ abilities (those gained at levels 1, 5, 9, etc. — “spell levels 1, 3, 5”) and the ‘improved talent’ (Improved Sneak Attack) give access to the ‘even-numbered’ abilities (those gained at levels 3, 7, 11, etc. — “spell levels 2, 4, 6”).
In the case of Sneak Attack, the base talent might let the character do additional dice of damage to a target that is flatfooted (+1d6 per tier). The improved talent might also let the character do the same against targets that are flanked (adding another +1d6 per tier) and allow the option of doing ‘crippling damage’ (apply the damage from that talent to an ability pool instead of hit points).
In general, this approach means that the ability gained at any particular tier is proportional to the tier (which is always a good thing in Echelon). It also means that a character who specializes in an ability by spending two talent slots on it can be as good or better at it than someone who dabbles at a higher level (in the case of Sneak Attack as described above, does as much damage and has better options available because his training is more thorough, even though he is lower level).
It’s probably pretty clear from the above which way I’m leaning.
Where an Iron Heroes class ability or mastery feat seems to fit Echelon, split it so the ‘core abilities’ of the class ability or mastery feat are in the ‘base talent’ and the good-for-the-level effects are in the ‘improved talent. Anyone with sufficient training in the talent can be expected to have the base ability (everyone who can Sneak Attack can do it from ambush), while those with dedicated training can do more (Sneak Attack targets that are flanked, not just flatfooted, target ability pools, and do more damage, just as the base talent allows).
I might even consider a similar approach to spell casting, but that would be quite a change from my current expectation. Granting access to even a subset of (D&D) ninth-level spells for only a single talent seems a bit rich… the Iron Heroes abilities, even though somewhat more powerful than those available in D&D 3.x, are still relatively mild compared to high-level magic.
For that matter, given the relative difference in power (Iron Heroes class abilities and mastery feats still tend to the relatively mundane) it might be worth splitting them up even more than they are and making multiple talents of these trees, then give more fantastic options at the higher tiers of each.
I think initially I’ll go with the straightforward approach and just go with two talents each that grant access to all relevant abilities, then revise if needed.