Designing Talents

There are several steps to creating a talent.

  • Name and define the talent theme.
  • Determine talent type.
  • Grant advantage to checks.
  • Identify candidate talent abilities.
  • Assign abilities to tiers.
  • Play test.

These steps are described below.

Name and Define the Talent Theme

Before you can build anything, you need to know what it will be. Choose a name for the talent — the more evocative the better! — and define the talent’s theme, a brief high-level description of what the talent is.

Cutting Wind (Combat Style)

Cutting Wind talent allows sword-wielders to focus the power of the wind to cut enemies at a distance.

The talent will likely end up doing more, but at its base this is what characters would know about the talent.

Determine Talent Type

Talents come in three types: cornerstone, common, and capstone. Each talent type should be worth about as much as another, but they have different characteristics.

  • Cornerstone talents are gained in the first level of each tier. A character has one and only one cornerstone for each tier, with no two cornerstones of the same tier. These are the most likely talents to have limitations or disadvantages (and when they do, they offer more benefit than other talents)
  • Common talents are the simplest overall. They have no prerequisites, and are unlikely to have any limitations or disadvantages.
  • Capstone talents are gained at the last level of the tier and have prerequisites that must be met. A character has no more than one capstone talent per tier, with no two capstones of the same tier. They might have limitations or disadvantages, but they probably don’t.
    • Prerequisites will likely be met by either having a certain amount of advantage (“sword attack 2d8”; probably most common), specific abilities (the same ability could be gained from more than one talent, even within the same type, such as low-light vision being common to many cornerstone talents and even some common talents; this will likely also be common), or by specific talents (“heroic cutting wind combat style”; probably quite uncommon).

Choose a talent type for the ability being converted. The type can change later if needed, and they should all be about comparable in value, but the talent type influences how the talent will interact with others.

Can a character have more than one talent like this at the same time, at the same tier? It must be a common talent. Cleric domains and many, if not most or all, feat chains would make good common talents.

Does the talent represent something a character is, some fundamental aspect of the character? This is probably a cornerstone talent. Races, bloodlines, and traditions (such as caster, martial, and religious) all would make good cornerstone talents.

Does the talent represent something a character achieves, conformance to an archetype of some sort? Are there too many elements ‘always present’ in those with the talent for it to be a reasonably-sized talent? This is probably a capstone talent (with parts of the ‘always present’ material in prerequisite talents). Capstone talents can be a good way to model some prestige classes.

Cutting Wind (Combat Style)

A character can be trained in many combat styles, and trained to the same degree in each. This must be a common talent.

Once you know what kind of talent the ability will be, it’s time to sort out the advantages and tier benefits.

Grant Advantage to Checks

In many variations of Dungeons & Dragons abilities such as feats and class features have prerequisites. These prerequisites often include things that have checks such as skills and attack rolls (which use the base attack bonus). Cornerstone and common talents in Echelon instead include their prerequisites, which means that instead of requiring ranks in the skill or a particular base attack bonus, the talent gives advantage to those checks. Capstone talents also give advantage to checks, but have prerequisites as well.

Identify checks that will receive advantage from the talent. These can include specific skills, attacks with specific weapons, saves, or damage. The advantage might apply only under certain circumstances.

Advantage is not strictly limited to these checks! If it seems a talent would improve a creature’s ability to do something, it can apply. ‘Disciple of the Spider Queen’ (cornerstone religious tradition, perhaps, or a capstone talent indicating a character’s dedication to the Spider Queen) might not explicitly grant advantage to climb or balance checks, but could still grant advantage when crossing a chasm on a decrepit rope bridge because it’s so reminiscent of his time in the Great Web of the Spider Queen.

Cutting Wind (Common, Combat Style)

Cutting is a sword-based style, so grant advantage to sword attacks. Practitioners have an intuitive sense of the wind (advantage to predicting weather and navigation if wind is involved), and can feel disturbances that can tell them when they are near enemies or secret passages (advantage to notice checks to find enemies or secret doors or passages). Being so intimate with the power of the can probably make a practitioner better at flying.

Advantage: sword attacks, weather prediction and navigation (when wind is involved), notice checks (find enemies or secret portals and secret passages), fly checks.

[TODO: list of common things to get advantage]

Identify Candidate Talent Abilities

In addition to advantage, talents give qualitative benefits. That is, at each tier they don’t simply ‘give numbers’, they give new options or allow things that could not be done without the talent.

Common talents exist from veteran through legendary tier. Particular cornerstone and capstone talents might exist only for a few tiers. Either way, the talent will need qualitative benefits for several tiers.

Identify candidate talent abilities, or the nature of such abilities. In the end you’ll need enough for the tiers you expect the talent to cover. Some might end up dropped, others will be added, but this will be a starting point.

Cutting Wind (Common, Combat Style)

The talent’s theme makes this pretty easy. “Allows sword-wielders to focus the power of the wind to cut enemies at a distance”.

Wind attacks at increasing ranges and areas of effect. The range will probably start with ‘reach’ (just beyond normal melee range) and extend to ‘medium’ or ‘long’ range. Areas of effect shapes will include line (extending from the character) and radius (around the character), and might include cone (away from character).

Lightning is specifically not part of this talent.

May offer some defensive abilities. I imagine the ability to churn the air up around the character could interfere with ranged attacks, and possibly interfere with the ability for others to move.

I have not enumerated the abilities yet. Ability (power) construction is another topic and outside the scope of this process.

Assign Abilities to Tiers

There are two main elements to look at when assigning abilities to tiers.

First, examine the actual tier definitions. Does the ability seem like it would be appropriate for a character of that tier who invested that much into the talent? If so, it is probably a good fit. For instance, the Hulk is a paragon-tier character whose primary abilities are centered around strength. If I’m looking at a strength-based ability that’s comparable to what the Hulk could do, it’s probably a paragon-tier ability.

Second, if that’s not conclusive, look at what primary casters can do in that level range in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. If the ability is comparable to a level 5 or 6 wizard, cleric, or druid spell, it is likely a champion-tier ability.

Ride the Spear

I don’t have a concrete ability devised for Cutting Wind combat style at the moment, so I’ll use an example from a conversation I had some time ago regarding Cú Chulainn. –kjd

Cú Chulainn, hero of Celtic myth, was described as throwing a spear, jumping on it and riding to the other end of its flight, hopping off the spear and catching it, then killing someone with the spear. I was asked if this would be possible in Echelon if someone took the right talent. My first response was a resounding Yes! (hey, it sounds pretty cool), and when I broke it down I found the following:

  • Cú Chulainn was a hero of Celtic myth, which makes him a heroic-tier character by default (by definition, even). Throwing spears was one of his major things, including having mastered the gae bolg, so it would be reasonable to assume he had the Spear Casting talent at the heroic tier.
  • The effect basically amounts to “one round of flight, plus an attack”. The sorcerer/wizard spell list has fly as a third-level spell (which is even better than what this can do — longer duration, if nothing else), so one round of flight is clearly level-appropriate for the heroic tier.
  • This probably doesn’t consume resources the way casting a spell would, but it sounds like it would be limited duration.  Call it a wash.

I’d make this a heroic-tier ability of the Spear Caster talent. The character can throw and ride a spear up to the normal thrown distance (complete with range penalties), making an attack roll to see if he hits the target. If he hits, he lands with the weapon in hand and does damage normally, but if he misses he rolls (as if missing with a splash weapon) to see where he lands and ends up prone. This can be used to travel by targeting a grid intersection.

Many Echelon talents will be class abilities and feat chains converted from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It can be easier to assign abilities to tiers when doing this because many abilities already identify the level they become available, but the result should be checked against the process above. This is described in Converting Class Abilities and Feats.

Play Test

The above steps should give a pretty reasonable first cut when designing a talent, but until you take it to the table you can’t be sure.

Do this: take it to the table, have fun with the talent and see if it works the way you imagined. If it plays well and people like it, good work. If not, take it back and give it some more thought and polish, then test again.