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    Default 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation
    by Djinn in Tonic

    *****

    Introduction

    This is not merely a repost of my previous guide. I am in the process of extensively revising it from the ground up to provide a better framework for understanding homebrew design within the D&D 3.5 system. Many of these concepts will also stretch over into Pathfinder, 3.0, 4e, d20r, and similar systems, so if you don't play 3.5 but still love to homebrew, you may find something of use here.

    First, let me begin by saying that nothing in this guide is set in stone. I'm no expert (though I give a good account of myself). There are better and brighter homebrewers out there, and many who I wouldn't dare to list myself amongst for fear of being completely eclipsed. So don't think that I'm preaching something mandatory; feel free to take or leave what you read here.

    What I am offering is an insight into the philosophy with which I approach D&D 3.5 homebrew. Over the years I've seen numerous "how-to" articles on homebrewing balance and class formatting, but I have yet to encounter anything that actually discusses the theory and practice of homebrewing within the 3.5 system as it stands today. As a result, I tend to see a lot of homebrewed creations that, while they show a high level of technical and mechanical competence, nonetheless fail to mesh with the system. This treatise is my attempt to put my thoughts on homebrew creation down for others to see and, hopefully, to learn from.

    I'd also love to hear your input on these thoughts, as well as suggestions for things to add at a later date. And keep an eye on this spot...more will be coming on a regular basis.
    -The Djinn



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    Table of Contents

    Post 1
    • Conceptualization: What Am I Making?
    • Sub-Systems: A Brief Overview
    • A Bit About Balance
    • Reflavoring
    • Alterations & Rewrites
    • Alternate Class Features & Racial Substitution Levels
    • Base Classes


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    Conceptualization: What do I Really Want?

    The first step to homebrewing is to make sure you really have to do it. Step back, envision your concept, and see how you could make it work with existing material. If you can't find something that works perfectly, try to find the easiest way to get what you want (and still have fun homebrewing): it'll save you time in the long run, and potentially focus any homebrewing you actually have to do to make your dream a reality.

    Think carefully when deciding where best to fit your creation, as a well thought out homebrew is almost invariably better than one created on the spur of the moment. If something just isn't coming together, back off and look at it again. Maybe you're trying to make the wrong sort of thing. Maybe your class is better as a series of feats, or your alternate class feature could really just be a spell. What this basically comes down to is choosing the right sub-system. I'm throwing the term at you out of the blue, but I'll talk more about it in the next section. One thing to remember is that there's no right or wrong decision when it comes to selecting the sub-system your homebrew is going to use: some are just easier or more elegant than others. Play around with your idea, and find the right one for you.

    Example: Let's say I want the following (one character, one concept): Simone Bolvangar (a dual-wielding swordmistress possessing a swashbuckling flair touched with a primal edge), and a magic-user who channels his or her power through the energies of crystals, drawing power from within the stones.

    I could make a whole new base class for Simone, but that would be a lot of work. She might also work as a mix of any of the following: Rogue, Barbarian, Scout and Warblade (or Swordsage), flavored to taste. She might even work as a straight version of any of those classes: I could drastically reduce my workload by building her a prestige class or series of feats (or even both) with a focus on the style and flavor I wish to see in her character, rather than trying to force the existing frameworks to fit her exactly (and rather than building a whole new one). Another possibility is alternate class features for existing classes: replacing the Warblade's Intelligence based mechanics, for example, with the Whirling Frenzy Barbarian's Rage ability. Finally, I could use an existing class (possibly with alternate class features) and homebrew her a Martial Discipline to encompass her philosophy and fighting style. Personally, I'd probably go with the modified Whirling Frenzy Warblade (Tiger Claw and Stone Dragon come to mind, with a touch of Setting Sun thrown in), and either whip up my own discipline or make a couple of feats to round her out. Not to much work, and I like making new martial maneuvers. Success!

    For the caster, I could take an even simpler route: I could easily reflavor a Psion, Wilder, Wizard, Sorcerer, Archivist, Incarnate, Warlock, or any caster to use crystals as a focus for casting, and declare my character unable to cast spells or manifest powers without such a focus. I could also create a whole new class, but that might not be the best option: rather than create a whole new class for what is effectively a minor flavor change, I could design a set of alternate class features or feats to get this point across without rebuilding a whole class. Unless I'm aiming for something extraordinary (a whole new magic system designed around these crystals), there's no compelling reason to overwork myself, when I can get a simpler, more comprehensible, and still just as elegant (if not more so) solution for less expended effort. In this example, I'd be liable to go with maybe a level 1 alternate class feature (for the Wizard), with a series of feats to back it up (and maybe a spell or two, to be unique). It's simple, but it allows me the customization to tweak my character in minor ways without causing me to much trouble in the long run.


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    Sub-Systems: A Brief Overview

    Let's talk about sub-systems. A sub-system is a term I'll be using to refer to any individual system within D&D 3.5. These sub-systems are groupings of rules that share specific qualities across the group: base classes, feats, spells, martial disciplines, and so forth. Each of these sub-systems follows its own specific rules, and for your homebrew to mesh well with the game as a whole, it must also remain firmly grounded in its own sub-system (or, alternatively, develop its own sub-system through the use of a new mechanic).

    I'll be covering the following sub-systems within this article:
    • Reflavoring
    • Alterations & Rewrites
    • Alternate Class Features & Racial Substitution Levels
    • Base Classes
    • Prestige Classes
    • Martial Disciplines
    • Spells & Things
    • Feats
    • Monsters
    • Races
    • Templates
    • Magic Items
    • Creating Your Own Sub-System



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    Sidenote: A Bit About Balance

    Before we delve into the different sub-systems, we must discuss the concept of balance.

    Balance is possibly the single hardest element of homebrew to explain, but without it your creation is just a good idea floating in a sea of poor design. Developing a good eye for balance is really something you have to practice: listen to critique from more experienced designers, test your creations, get a lot of stuff out there, and take criticism in stride (and learn from it). You’ll find you begin to figure out when something is balanced and when something isn’t, although it may take a while.

    Still, some things bear mentioning. The end goal of balancing is the following: A player should view your creation as a choice of equal potential to the other choices available within the same sub-system and at the same level. This means you should aim (in general) to balance the class against your ordinary player playing with a solid but not overpowered class, not against something that a devoted powergamer would whip up using a Wizard and some rules exploits. Balancing against the former makes your class a choice among other choices: balancing against the latter means that players will be hard pressed to find any advantage to not taking your class.

    The following are common balance mistakes that I often see, and would like to address.

    But the Number Go Up: Nine times out of ten, a mere upwards numerical progression makes for an underwhelming creation. It's for this reason that feats like Weapon Focus are often overlooked: a +1 bonus rarely makes the cut. Even things like Improved Disarm at least add a kicker to the bonus (in this case, you can't be disarmed on a failed attempt). If you find your creation boils down to a few little increases on already existing abilities, but doesn't really add anything new or unique (a staff-master class that adds to AC, attack rolls, reach, and damage, for instance, but doesn't really learn any interesting techniques or develop unique class features), you're selling yourself short. Think up some creative ways to explore your topic: most players would rather have a fun new ability or an interesting variation on an existing one than a mere +2 damage bonus.

    Crippling Negatives: If your creation has a tremendous amount of power, you balance it by making it available at a higher level, not by adding huge penalties to other aspects of the creation. This technique is the epitome of poor design: it grants incredible power to those willing to eat large penalties in areas which might not matter to them, while making the creation incredibly unappealing to anyone not wanting to min-max (perfect one area of a character’s mechanical strengths at the expense of others) to this extent. Rather than do this, either raise the level at which the choice becomes available, or lower the overall power of the creation.

    It's So Hard to Do: If a combo takes an exact set of circumstances, that doesn't mean it's balanced. The Assassin's (Dungeon Master's Guide) Death Attack is a bit weak, but that's because it takes 3 rounds of study to make work. If it was on every sneak attack, that would be to strong. In this case, losing actions is what balances it out. If it relied on getting a sneak attack on a flat-footed target in the dark, for example, you can be sure that players will find all the ways possible to make that happen at least 50% of the time. Thus, don't think that your incredible ability is balanced because the circumstances are specific: balance the ability for the level, and add circumstances only if they fit.

    One-Trick Pony: Being insanely good at one thing but incompetent at others is not balanced. Don’t make a creation that is the only possible choice for a specialist in that area: a prestige class devoted to archery should make a character a better archer, but shouldn’t make him or her so much better that it becomes the only choice. Having a signature trick is fine. Hell, you should even become pretty damn good at it. However, making that single trick into an insanely powerful tool with the justification that “it’s the only thing you can do” is not good design. After all, if your full attack routine with a bow can kill 95% of foes in the first round of combat, why would you ever want anything else?

    Playing Hard to Get: So your creation is really rare, has heavy prerequisites, or is just hard to qualify for. Fine. But don't use that as an excuse to dish out tremendous abilities. You can use this sparingly (difficult classes are often stronger), but don't rely on it to much. A little bit of power here and there if fine, but it's not a green-light to toss out excess power. Remember to balance based on level, as well as on requirements. Balancing by level should always take precedence.

    There are more, obviously, but an full discussion on balance in D&D 3.5 would take more time than I care to spend. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or suggestions of things to add to this portion of the article.


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    Reflavoring

    Reflavoring isn't really a sub-system, but it bears mentioning anyway. The simplest option available to you is to simply alter the flavor of existing material to suit your tastes. There's no real rhyme or reason behind this, other than that you should try to have it make a bit of sense: magic missile might manifest as a clap of thunder and a shock of phantom lightning, but it won't manifest as Kord himself descending to smack the target upside the head (unless you're playing a very lighthearted game). Keep your reflavoring within reason, and within the context of the ability itself.

    Examples
    Let's take the Inferno Blast martial maneuver (Tome of Battle), and, just for fun, an elephant (Monster Manual 1 & SRD) with the Fire Elemental template (Manual of the Planes) on it.

    Example 1-1: A Change of Perspective
    Inferno Blast is pretty easy. The maneuver itself involves sending an explosion of flame through your own weapon, supposedly as a result of some burning inner ki energy. Personally, I find this a little far-fetched for some characters. This could easily become a truly magical effect for a warrior/mage hybrid, or my character striking the ground with such force that the fires within the earth rise up out of the hole, or (my personal favorite) a particularly devout warrior of Pelor calling down the fist of the sun god to smite his foes. I might change the name to Pelor's Burning Judgment, just so that what I say out of character matches the effect I want in character. Either way, the technique still deals 100 points of damage across a wide area, and I just saved myself a bit of work by adapting something that already exists.

    Example 1-2: An Elephant!?
    The elephant is a favorite example of mine, as I discovered it from firsthand experience. A DM of mine once confronted my party with a burning lion-beast the size of a small house. It charged through our ranks, dealt colossal damage, and bowled through fortifications with relative ease. We were terrified of it, as none of us had any idea what we were up against, or what obscure sourcebook he had pulled it out of. When he revealed that it was simply an elephant with the fire elemental template on it, we were stunned. He had changed the looks and reflavored the stamp and gore attacks to be claws and teeth, but that was all. It remained one of the most frightening and flavorful fights of the entire campaign, largely because we were convinced that it was some horrible monster.

    Final Thoughts
    Used right, reflavoring saves you a ton of work, and can even make your players, party, or even DM sit up and take interest. Just like you might add personal touches to your Wizard's spells (maybe your fireballs are green, or your magic missile is shaped like the head of a dragon), you can add your own touch to any existing mechanic. Done right, it will seem like something brand new.


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    Alterations & Rewrites

    Like reflavoring, alterations aren't really a sub-system (with the exception of alternate class features, discussed below), but they are still important enough to merit a look. An alteration is when you take an existing mechanic and tweak it slightly to fit your needs. Balance is pretty important here: a Rogue who trades evasion for the Barbarian's Rage progression isn't balanced, but just the first level of Rage 1-3 times per day might be. In short, when rewriting with an intent to preserve a given power level, always trade abilities for other abilities of equal power. DMs have a little more leeway with the balance (since they can fudge the numbers if things go south), but when an alteration reaches player hands it must be carefully considered.

    There are many reasons for alteration. Sometimes a feature doesn't fit an intended character or world, and sometimes a DM doesn't want a particular ability in his or her game. Occasionally two players play the same class and wish to see some differentiation between the two characters, and sometimes it's just a matter of a player being bored of the normal options. These are good reasons for alteration.

    Bad reasons for alterations are also plentiful: a player may try to combine features to access a powerful prestige class or feat earlier than intended, or to get a potent combination of abilities on his or her sheet. As a player, avoid these reasons. As a DM, keep an eye out for potential abuse.

    A rewrite is when you taken an existing mechanic and, rather than tweaking it slightly, you rewrite it to better fit it's intended goal. This may involve minor additions or removals, a complete revision of the feat along similar lines (replacing Two-Weapon Fighting with, for example, the ability to make two attacks at your full bonus as a standard action), or a slight change in the exact wording: the point is that you're merely changing the exact specifics, not inventing something completely new. Perhaps an ability doesn't work as intended, or you feel a certain feat is to powerful or to weak. Either way, you have a basis for your creation, from which you do not deviate to much.

    Alteration and rewrites are technically a form of homebrew, but are usually on a small enough scale to not really qualify. Changing a spell list, combining Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization, or granting the Monk a skirmish progression isn't a complete remaking of anything, and may not even qualify as an alternate feature (discussed below). Yet these small changes happen frequently enough that you should know how to handle them: the trick is practice, and getting input from others. Remember never to sacrifice something of greater or lesser value than what you're gaining, unless you're intentionally trying to improve or reduce the power of the mechanic you're altering.

    In general, if your homebrew doesn't stray to far from the source mechanic (not source flavor: it must specifically stay within the mechanical realm of the original mechanic) and doesn't spread into another sub-system, it should be considered an alteration or a rewrite. After all, you're heavily grounding your work in an existing framework, not building one of your own. If, however, your rewrite of the Druid base class (for example) becomes a prestige class, a series of feats, or anything partaking of another sub-system, you're in the realm of homebrew.

    Examples
    Let's take the Desert Wind martial discipline (Tome of Battle), the Sai (Player's Handbook & SRD), the Toughness feat (Player's Handbook & SRD), and the flaming elephant mentioned in the previous example.

    Example 2-1: Winds of Change
    The Desert Wind discipline is really simple to tweak: I could rename it Frigid Wind and change all the damage to Cold damage, or Rushing Storm and do the same with electricity. Alternatively, I could rename it Rising Phoenix, cut all the non-fire related maneuvers, and give it some of the healing maneuvers from Devoted Spirit. Provided I keep the power of the swapped maneuvers approximately the same (not just adding them haphazardly), my result should be fairly reliable. The options are limited only by my imagination, and my sense of balance.

    Example 2-2: Improving the Sai
    The Sai is an interesting case, as it's quite weak for an exotic weapon (and thus a feat). An alteration in this case would be directed at making the weapon a stronger choice for a player to select: this alteration will increase the power of an under-used weapon in an attempt to make it worth the feat. Looking at the Sai, it's meant to be a disarming weapon, but a +4 bonus only negates the -4 penalty a light weapon grants. So, keeping the base stats (light weapon, 1d4 damage, 20/x2), I might do the following: A Sai grants +2 bonus to disarm attempts, and does not suffer the normal penalty bestowed by using a light weapon on disarm attempts. Additionally, wielding a Sai grants the wielder a +1 untyped bonus to armor class. This gives me a weapon most likely worth a feat, without being incredibly strong.

    Example 2-3: Toughness v2.0
    The same is true for Toughness: it's decent (but not good) at it's level, and weak thereafter. As both Toughness and its older brother Improved Toughness are weak feats, a strong alteration would be combining them together, perhaps with a bit more of a kick. The resulting alteration might be something like this: Toughness: You gain +3 hit points, plus an additional +1 hit point per hit die you possess. Additionally, you gain a +1 bonus on Fortitude saving throws. It's not overpowered (Power Attack might still be a better option), but it's suddenly much more appealing. I didn't really make something new, but I tweaked what was already there to make it more balanced with regards to the game as a whole. Had I completely rewritten it (DR 1/-, increasing by +1/- every 3 levels) so that it was no longer recognizable as Toughness, that would be homebrewing a feat. As it stands, I merely altered the existing mechanic.

    Example 2-4: An Elephant (Again)
    Finally, we'll bring up the elephant once more. I could take the fire elemental elephant and alter it slightly (using DM alteration balance to not remove anything) to create a truly unique encounter for a stronger party. Maybe I give it an aura of flame, allow it to cast fireball, or give it a breath weapon. Maybe it can disintegrate into flame, allowing it to pass through small areas, or causing weapons to treat it as incorporeal. Maybe is just has spell resistance. Any way I look at it, I'm not altering that much, nor am I doing all the work of creating a new monster: I'm just taking what's there and giving it a once-over to match my concept. Which, really, is what alteration and rewriting comes down to.

    Final Thoughts
    Alterations and rewrites require a good amount of practice, as they're really entirely at the homebrewers discretion. If you're just starting out, stick to simple alterations and rewrites, and use things like alternate class features instead, if possible (most alterations can be done with alternate class features), as the more defined a sub-system is, the easier it is to balance (usually). Still, both alterations and rewrites have their place, and it will do you well to practice them and gather input and critique from your fellow homebrewers.

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    Alternate Class Features & Racial Substitution Levels

    Alternate class features and racial substitution levels are very conceptually close to alterations and rewrites, but they have the distinction of occupying a specific sub-system within the base class system. Both alternate class features and racial substitution levels replace abilities normally gained through base classes, and function on a trade mechanic: sacrificing one feature of a class in exchange for another.

    Alternate class features usually sacrifice either a constantly improving ability for an equal improving ability (trading Evasion and Improved Evasion for Mettle and Improved Mettle, for example), a one-time ability for a one-time ability (trading Flurry of Blows for the ability to make a single, more powerful attack), or delay an improving ability to gain another ability (trading Evasion for Mettle, and then gaining Evasion when you would normally have gotten Improved Evasion). Sometimes you are offered a choice each time an option arises: trading your daily use of Rage for some other benefit, so that you could mix and match between X uses of Rage and Y uses of the second ability, where X + Y is equal to the number of times you would have normally been able to use Rage.

    Racial substitution levels are extraordinarily similar to alternate class features (largely because they are alternate class features), but are unique to a specific race. They tend to come in sets of three, although this is really just a tradition that doesn't need to be followed. For all practical purposes, they are alternate class features, and should be considered as such.

    Alternate class features rarely have prerequisites, although this is not an absolute (racial substitution levels, for example, obviously require a racial requirement). If you wish to add requirements to your creation, by all means do so. Such requirements should be easy to meet: a single feat or pair of feats, an alignment, a choice of spell, or other simple prerequisite should be as complex as you get.

    The purpose of an alternate class feature is simple: you should make an alternate class feature when you have a single ability that you wish to add to a class. This ability shouldn't redefine the role of the class, but rather offer options for someone who wishes to take the class. The classic example is the Whirling Frenzy Barbarian, a barbarian who becomes inhumanly fast and evasive during a rage, instead of becoming strong and durable. To further that, you might also give options to sacrifice Damage Reduction for Evasion at 7th level and Improved Evasion at 13th level, allowing your character or player to becomes even more agile, if he or she wishes.

    To summarize, use an alternate class feature if your concept involves a minor differentiation from the base class, or if you wish to gain a certain ability you might not otherwise be able to possess. Do not use alternate class features to rewrite large portions of a class, or to completely change the concept or mechanics of a class.

    Format: Alternate Class Feature
    Spoiler
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    Name:
    Class/Classes:
    Requirements:
    Replaces:
    Level:
    Benefit:

    Copy-Paste Formatting
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    [b]Name:[/b]
    [b]Class/Classes:[/b]
    [b]Requirements:[/b]
    [b]Replaces:[/b]
    [b]Level:[/b]
    [b]Benefit:[/b]


    Examples

    Name: War Wizard Training
    Class/Classes: Wizard
    Requirements: Proficiency in at least one martial weapon.
    Replaces: Bonus Feat (not including Scribe Scroll)
    Level: 5, 10, 15, and/or 20
    Benefit: Any time you would gain a bonus feat granted by the Wizard class (not including Scribe Scroll), you may instead opt to select War Wizard Training. If you do, you gain a permanent +2 bonus to all attack rolls and you may select a single feat from the list of Fighter Bonus Feats (provided you meet the requirements for the selected feat). You may take War Wizard training on up to four separate occasions, and the bonus to attack rolls stacks with itself (up to a total bonus of +8 for selecting War Wizard Training four times).

    Name: Thundering Yowl [Racial Substitution]
    Class/Classes: Barbarian
    Requirements: Shifter
    Replaces: Trap Sense
    Level: 3
    Benefit: You do not gain Trap Sense. Instead, you gain Thundering Yowl. Once per round as a swift action you may choose to deal 3 points of Sonic damage to all creatures within 10 feet of you. Each time your Trap Sense bonus would improve, you instead deal an additional 2 points of Sonic damage with this ability. You may only use Thundering Yowl when Raging. Creatures unable to hear do not take damage from this ability.

    Name: Quick to Anger [Racial Substitution]
    Class/Classes: Barbarian
    Requirements: Orc or Half-Orc
    Replaces: Trap Sense
    Level: 3
    Benefit: You gain Trap Sense later than usual. At 3rd level, you may enter your Rage as an immediate action. At 6th level, you gain Trap Sense +1 instead of Trap Sense +2. Your Trap Sense improves by +1 every three levels beyond 6th level.

    Name: Primal Reflexes
    Class/Classes: Barbarian
    Requirements: None
    Replaces: Damage Reduction
    Level: 7
    Benefit: You do not gain Damage Reduction. At 7th level, you gain Evasion and a +1 bonus to Reflex saves. You gain an additional +1 bonus to Reflex saves at 10th level, and every three levels beyond 10th level. At 13th level, you also gain Improved Evasion.


    Examples
    Let's take the following concepts: a Monk with the ability to enter a zen trance that improves his combat ability, an Elven sorcerer with strong connections to the Fey, and a Barbarian who takes the phrase “fiery temper” literally.

    Example 3-1: The Zen Monk
    A good basis for a zen trance mechanic can be found in the Barbarian's Rage ability, so I'll use that as a starting point (although I could create something new). I'd like it to be around at 1st level, but I'd also like to have it improve, so I can't just cut the bonus feat or Flurry of Blows and call it a day. Losing a combination of Flurry of Blows, Greater Flurry, and Slow Fall allows me more room to homebrew. The choice is now between a reliable full attack routine and a reliable utility power, or a stronger yet limited buff ability. I might end up with something like this:
    Spoiler
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    Name: Zen Trance
    Class/Classes: Monk
    Requirements: None
    Replaces: Flurry of Blows, Greater Flurry, Slow Fall
    Level: 1
    Benefit: You do not gain Flurry of Blows, Greater Flurry, or Slow Fall. Instead, once per day, a 1st level Monk may enter a Zen Trance. While in a Zen Trance, she gains a +4 untyped bonus to her Wisdom score, adds her Wisdom modifier to her damage with unarmed attacks, and may use her Wisdom modifier in place of her Strength modifier on all unarmed attack rolls. Additionally, while in a Zen Trance, she gains a +4 bonus to saving throws against all mind-affecting spells and abilities. A Zen Trance lasts a number of rounds equal to 3 + the Monk's Wisdom modifier (including the +4 bonus). At 11th level the benefits improve to a +6 bonus to her Wisdom score and a +6 bonus to saving throws against all mind-affecting spells and abilities. At 20th level, the benefits improve to a +8 bonus to her Wisdom score and immunity to all mind-affecting spells and abilities.

    At 4th level and every four levels beyond 4th level, a Monk gains an additional daily use of this ability.

    The end result is clearly a Monk, although it has a new mechanic integrated into the class. It doesn't change the role of the Monk, or result in a character with a set of abilities completely different from normal: having a Monk along still means you've got a reliable unarmed striker, and the inclusion of the new ability merely helps to take that concept in a slightly different direction. It's also still a choice: the Zen Trance variant isn't something that every Monk will want to take.

    Example 3-2: The Fey Sorcerer
    Alternate features for Sorcerers are always difficult, as the only things you can really tinker with are the familiar, the spells known, and the spells per day. Regardless, once you get the hang of the value of spell levels, this gives you a ton of options. For now, however, we'll keep it simple: we'll deal only with the familiar. The familiar isn't that powerful an option, so we can't make our alternate power that much stronger. We do want to emphasize a Fey connection though, which means dealing with things like the Fey subtype, invisibility, enchantment and illusion spells, and the like. Something like this might suffice:
    Spoiler
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    Name: Fey Magic
    Class/Classes: Sorcerer
    Requirements: Elf, Half-Elf, or Human
    Replaces: Summon Familiar
    Level: 1
    Benefit: You do not gain a familiar. Instead, upon gaining access to each new spell level, you may select a single Enchantment or Illusion spell you know of that level. Whenever you cast one of the selected spells, increase the spell's DC (if any) by +1. Additionally, you are treated as a Fey creature in addition to your normal creature type for the purposes of spells and abilities.

    It's not particularly powerful: at most, it's a partial type change and a +1 bonus to the DC of 10 spells (one of each level). That said, it also doesn't really change what the Sorcerer is, and it allows a character to grab a little bit of Fey flavor if he or she desires.

    Example 3-3: The Burning Berserker
    Finally, we'll deal with a higher level alternate class feature. I want a bit of power here, so I'll pick something that's fairly useful to replace: Tireless Rage. As Tireless Rage allows a Barbarian to avoid the penalties of his Rage ability, I can sneak a good bit of power in, as a Barbarian with this ability will have to pay the price for the use of this ability. I'm interested in the fire subtype, but that alone won't make an appropriately balanced power, as that also comes with some large disadvantages. I might settle on this:
    Spoiler
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    Name: Raging Inferno
    Class/Classes: Barbarian
    Requirements: None
    Replaces: Tireless Rage
    Level: 17
    Benefit: You do not gain the Tireless Rage ability. Instead, whenever you enter a Rage, you gain the Fire subtype and your melee and unarmed attacks deal an additional 3d6 points of fire damage. Additionally, all enemies who being their turn within 10 feet of you must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 10 + ½ your class level + your Constitution modifier) or be fatigued for 1 minute.

    This one might be a bit strong, but the fact that you have to rest after the encounter (or be fatigued partway through the encounter probably balances it pretty close to the original. It's also at a high enough level that the power difference won't be that noticeable. Note that it is acceptable to overlook this here, as the Barbarian isn't the strongest of classes. I wouldn't be as lenient when dealing with something already exceptionally powerful, such as the Wizard or the Druid.

    Final Thoughts
    Alternate class features are a great way to begin homebrewing, as they're simple to make and easy for others to understand and critique. They'll help you gain an eye for balance, and are quite simple to incorporate into existing classes: with a bit of effort, you can make enough options to keep all your players happy. As a homebrewer myself, I wholeheartedly endorse alternate class features as a great homebrewing exercise, and as an effective finished product in and of themselves. Definitely put these on your list of things to try.


    *****


    Base Classes

    A base class is what defines your character's role within the confines of the game world. Fighters enter combat, Wizards cast powerful spells, Druids draw power from nature, and so on, each fulfilling a specific set of roles within the game. The very best base classes are those that act merely as a foundation to build a character on: the worst (Samurai, Soulknife, Monk, Paladin, Dragon Shaman, and so forth) insist your character progress down a certain path with a certain concept.

    Notice that my list of worst base classes wasn't necessarily the list of weakest classes, although there was a lot of overlap. That's because designing a base class has two important steps: concept, and execution. Concept is where your idea can easily fall through.

    Concept
    While many value mechanical strength over concept, it has always seemed to me to be the most important step in building an excellent class. The idea of a base class is that it provides a foundation for your character's growth, from which you can pursue any number of other directions. The more options a class offers within its area of specialty, the stronger a concept it is.

    Compare, for example, the Crusader to the Paladin. The Crusader is a conceptually strong class, as it provides a framework that can easily be adapted to a number of characters, even going to far as to allow the player to easily reflavor the entire class by stripping away the divine flavor. The Paladin, on the other hand, glues a player to a Lawful Good alignment, a holy warrior shtick, and a single philosophical code. Rather than provide a base to build upon, the Paladin class locks out options and concepts, and punishes a player for trying to reach outside the package. Something like the Soulknife suffers from a different reason: the class is so focused on a single (and highly specific) concept that it's useless for anyone without that exact concept in mind.

    Ideally, a base class is usable for a variety of characters: the number of possible permutations of Swordsage, Sorcerer, Psion, Cleric or Artificer I can make is truly staggering, so much so that a dozen characters with the same class might be similar only through a shared mechanic. As such, my class concept will appeal to a wide variety of players, and be easily mutable to fulfill their expectations.

    At its worst, a base class shoehorns you to a specific path or a specific “tight” concept. A tight concept is one where there's not a lot of room for leeway: the Paladin's “good and honorable holy warrior with divine magic” as opposed to the Crusader's looser “skilled and (possibly) holy warrior whose powers can be flavored as raw martial skill or divine power.”

    If you find your concept is heading towards a “tight” concept, consider making a prestige class instead, or modifying an existing base class with alternate class features or a feat chain. This is not to say that a "tight" concept can't work: The Warlock, the Bard, and the Factotum are good examples of a “tight” concept base class, but even these can be varied greatly. Any more restrained than those, and you're not on the path to a strong concept. If, however, your concept has room for the player to direct the growth of his or her character in a variety of directions, then a base class may be the right option for you.

    Execution
    Now that you've determined that you're making a base class, you have to figure out how to put it together. This is where even a good concept can fall apart: the Fighter is excellent in concept (a martial warrior class designed to be extremely modular, resulting in theoretically boundless options), but it's execution fails because its abilities are poorly considered and largely ineffective.

    There are three things that you need to make sure of.
    • Your class must remain interesting across all 20 levels.
    • Your class must gain stronger and stronger abilities as it increases in level.
    • You class must provide options for character personalization.



    --More to Come--

    *****
    Last edited by Djinn_in_Tonic; 2010-05-10 at 04:54 PM.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

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    Posting may now begin.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Awesome. This guide is way better. I particularly like the section on balancing.
    Avatar by CrimsonAngel.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Zexion View Post
    Awesome. This guide is way better. I particularly like the section on balancing.
    Huzzah! Success! I was actually really worried that the section on balance was far to ambiguous.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    New bookmark.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    I look forward to more. And don't sell yourself short on your homebrewing skills -- I think a number of folks here really respect your skills and would rank you higher than you rank yourself. Humility is a good trait, though.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Djinn_In_Tonic View Post
    Huzzah! Success! I was actually really worried that the section on balance was far to ambiguous.
    Balance is ambiguous. No one criteria can correctly rank everything in power. Learning how to balance homebrews is a skill that comes naturally with practice.
    Avatar by CrimsonAngel.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Heh, I liked the old one. But this is excellent, I agree.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    I'm loving the elephant story. So going to have to use that.

    Have you thought of setting a release schedual on this? Last time it kind of petered out after three postings but with a schedual, there'd be neither harrassing nor distraction...and you know what you'd have to achieve in a given week.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Melayl View Post
    I look forward to more. And don't sell yourself short on your homebrewing skills -- I think a number of folks here really respect your skills and would rank you higher than you rank yourself. Humility is a good trait, though.
    I second this. Nice work as usual Djinn
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Mulletmanalive View Post
    Have you thought of setting a release schedual on this? Last time it kind of petered out after three postings but with a schedual, there'd be neither harassing nor distraction...and you know what you'd have to achieve in a given week.
    I'm aiming for 1 section a day (or one sub-section, in the case of Prestige Classes, which I'm still dividing up). Expect to see Alternate Class Features up later today.

    Updates: Alternate Class Feature section added (complete with formatting tags and examples of the theory in practice).
    Last edited by Djinn_in_Tonic; 2010-04-28 at 04:37 PM.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Djinn_In_Tonic View Post
    I'm aiming for 1 section a day
    Aroo?

    Mmm...philosophy.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Temotei221 View Post
    Aroo?

    Mmm...philosophy.
    Sorry. A lung abnormality of mine has been acting up lately, and breathing has been difficult. The Base Class section is sitting half-completed on my hard drive, but it's still under way. Don't worry...I'm not abandoning this one.

    I would, however, love comments, criticism, and suggestions.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Djinn_In_Tonic View Post
    Sorry. A lung abnormality of mine has been acting up lately, and breathing has been difficult. The Base Class section is sitting half-completed on my hard drive, but it's still under way. Don't worry...I'm not abandoning this one.

    I would, however, love comments, criticism, and suggestions.
    Sweet. I'm suggesting this be in the notable threads post if that's alright with you, Djinn.
    Last edited by Temotei; 2010-05-09 at 10:47 PM.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Temotei221 View Post
    Sweet. I'm suggesting this be in the notable threads post if that's alright with you, Djinn.
    One step ahead of you, actually. Check out the notable threads post.

    Also, the Base Class section is taking longer than I expected. Part 1, however, is up. The rest should be up within a day or two.
    Last edited by Djinn_in_Tonic; 2010-05-10 at 04:51 PM.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    It is quite an interesting read so far.

    By the way Djinn, I am trying to get an answer from you about the Psychokinetic Wright. Sent two PMs already (and also a post in the original thread) and no answer.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Draken View Post
    It is quite an interesting read so far.

    By the way Djinn, I am trying to get an answer from you about the Psychokinetic Wright. Sent two PMs already (and also a post in the original thread) and no answer.
    Ah. Sorry. I'll try to get on that ASAP.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Nice. My guide is more of a how-to, yours is more of a user's manual. Both have their uses.

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Thought-provoking. This is getting bookmarked and I'll be gifting the link to the homebrew-hopefuls among my players.

    Looking at the execution section for base classes, I'd be interested to see your design philosophy on extremely high-level class abilities. I've observed both on the homebrew section of this site and in many published WotC base classes that almost no one seems to know what to do with a class for levels 17-20. I'd be interested to see what guidance you have for homebrewing material specifically for that level range.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    I don't even homebrew, and I thought it was interesting enough to read

    Good up the good work! Now, to Calculus at things!

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Ahem.....

    This being continued?

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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by un_known View Post
    Ahem.....

    This being continued?
    Gods, man, if you need help, ask for it. I'm sure several people would be glad to help, including myself.
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    Default Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    Quote Originally Posted by Temotei View Post
    Gods, man, if you need help, ask for it. I'm sure several people would be glad to help, including myself.
    Indeed, PM me your thoughts. My life is a mess at the moment (just found out my bank account is basically empty, for example), and this just isn't the top priority.

    I'm trying though. I really am. It's in pieces on my computer, and some of everyone's thoughts would be appreciated.

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    Thumbs up Re: 3.5 Homebrew Theory: The Philosophy of Creation

    I really appreciate this thread. I'm currently altering/rewriting/rehashing some of the Tier 5 & 6 base classes and what you've suggested is nearly exact to my thinking. It's good to know I'm in a balanced area.

    I hope everything gets better for you and I hope you can post some more on here.


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