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d20 Design Diary (Part 6)

This is the sixth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).

If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, we’ve settled on an appropriate and interesting class concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure we are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity, and discussed spell access and progression.

But we still need to talk about spell lists. Specifically, do you give your new class access to one (or more) existing spell lists, or make a brand-new spell list? And, it turns out, that.s a pretty complex question that depends very much on the game system you are using.

So, you know, let’s start by saying studying what that system does and how it handles those questions.

Also, it’s very important to know if you are building expansions classes that are in addition to a *core* set of pre-existing classes or are building a whole set of classes from scratch. Most of the advice here is directed at the former case. If you are in the latter situation, there may not even be pre-existing spell lists for you to borrow from. In that case you’ll need to make decisions about how many class lists to build from scratch, and the following advice may still be applicable to that decision.

Certainly the more you want a spell list to have a very strong theme tied to the class’s concept, the more you should consider a unique class spell list. The more you want the spell list to interact and grow well with other publisher’s content, the more you should consider using an existing class list.

In Pathfinder 1st edition, classes have access to a hodgepodge of class-specific lists, sharing class lists, and mixing class lists. The bard has its own spell list for example (though the skald later gains access to it as well), while the warpriest just has access to the cleric list (though it gets most spell levels later in its own level progression, when they are less powerful compared to the challenges being faced). Both sorcerers and wizards use the sorcerer/wizard spell list, though it has specific spells only one of the classes can take. Hunters get both druid and ranger spells (and gain access to ranger spells much earlier than rangers do, potentially making them more powerful compared to the challenges faced when you first access them), but inquisitors have a unique spell list.

Counting only official classes, no alternate classes, and only actual spell lists (as opposed to formula lists for alchemists and investigators), by the end of its run Pathfinder 1st d had 16 separate spell classes. On top of that, all of the class spell lists are defined as being arcane, divine, or occult.

In that environment, it seems insane to create a brand new unique class list. First, there are tons of lists with different themes already. Second, each of those lists has been expanded by so many supplements (official and otherwise) that any new lists is either going to fill a small book on its own, or have many fewer options than the 16 existing lists. Further, if someone is adding content from other publishers, those 3pp spells won’t even know to suggest what new spells should be on your unique class spell list.

By the same token, by the time a game has 16 unique spell lists, it’s hard to claim a 17th will be the bridge too far for design weight.

Pathfinder 2nd edition, as a counterexample, has only 4 spell lists. Absolutely every class has access to the arcane, divine, occult, or primal spell list. Some classes can pick what spell list they access based on other class features (such as the sorcerer), and many classes have access to a very small number of “focus spells” unique to their class. This includes both classes with access to a traditional spell list (such as the bards and their occult spells), and classes with no other spell access (such as champions). While it would be possible to build a whole 5th spell list (akashic magic, perhaps, or runic magic), this would likely only make sense if designing multiple classes that accessed it, or perhaps writing class variants of existing classes that accessed your new magic type. However, adding a small number of focus spells to any new spellcasting class, but otherwise tying them to one or more of the 4 existing lists, seems an excellent way to both benefit from that class having unique and flavorful spells of its own (new focus spells) and benefiting from ties to a growing standard spell list that other books and companies can expand. Pathfinfer 2nd ed also has things such as spell rarity which could be used to create “new” spell list options (such as creating a magister class that has access to common spells for multiple lists, but can never gain uncommon or rare spells).

By contrast Starfinder goes the opposite route, and give every spellcaster their own unique spell list.

Starfinder only has 3 official spellcasting classes so far of course, and each also has the same level of spell access and spells/day. That certainly sets an expectation for players that a class focused on spellcasting would likely follow the same path. There are many potential reasons to not go that route (if creating a mechanic/technomancer hybrid class, the Dronemancer, that only had access up to 3rd level spells, it might well make sense for it to have the technomancer spell list), but again the key point is to know what tools are at your disposal, and study how the core game (or similar games, if you are starting from scratch) use them.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed also gives each class its own spell list (at least in the Player’s handbook), including the sorcerer and wizard, who shared a spell list when the sorcerer was first introduced in 3rd edition. There is greater variety in both spell access (paladins and rangers only get up to 5th level spells), and how the class uses spells (warlocks and wizards have very different game mechanics dictation how they interact with and use their spells). The larger number of lists makes it more likely that you can match a specific class’s theme with an existing class list or combination of lists, but it also drives home player expectation in much the same way Starfinder does.

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that whether a game has dozens of class spell lists or just three, d20 games almost always have some basic spells that appear on multiple (or even all) spell lists. the most flavorless and utilitarian spells are often there, from detect magic to light. By the same token, most such games have at least a few types of spells that are kept off specific spell lists, in the tradition of “clerics don’t cast magic missile, wizards don’t heal.”

But honestly, that’s another whole blog post worth of commentary.


These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. If you want to keep seeing them, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.

d20 Design Diary (Part 5)

This is the fifth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).

If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, there’s one big step left to actually creating your class, even after you settle on an appropriate and interesting concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure you are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, and looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity.

You still need to design the actual class features, the special abilities you class gets that (at least mostly) others don’t.

I mean, technically you don’t HAVE to give a class features beyond it’s progressions. If you gave a Starfinder class 10 SP and HP/level, all good saving throws, 12 skill points + Int/level, any key ability score, all class skills and weapon and armor proficiencies (and Weapon Specialization as appropriate), and a full attack bonus, it would honestly probably be pretty balanced with no other class features at all.

It would also be boring and flavorless as heck. And I have no idea what concept you’d start with that would lead you to that design. but yes, it COULD be done.

And that does touch on an important element of designing interesting and balanced classes — the more useful things the class gets outside its class features, the less room you have to make its class features useful without making the class overpowered. A 5e barbarian has d12 hit dice, and 2 skill proficiencies (selecting from 6 options) and 5 weapon and armor proficiencies. A fighter has d10 hit dice, and 2 skill proficiencies (selecting from 8 options) and 6 weapon and armor proficiencies. A rogue has d8 hit dice, and 4 skill proficiencies (selecting from 11 options), one tool proficiency, and 2.5 weapon and armor proficiencies. It’s not hard to see that while their proficinecy starting points are different, when combined with their hit dice they all come out on a fairly even playing field, allowing their classes to have equally-useful class features.

One of the biggest and most impactful potential class features is spellcasting. Assuming you are building classes for a game that already has a full set of classes you can use as examples, it’s normally best to stick to the spell progression and acquisition schemes that already exist, unless you feel it’s a severely underdeveloped design space. (Classes with some number of spell-like abilities are a different matter than the spellcasting class feature we are discussing in this article.)

For example, first edition Pathfinder has both spontaneous and prepared spellcasting acquisition, as well as spell lists that go from 1st-4th level, 0-4th level, 0-6th level, and 0-9th level. However, every spontaneous class in Pathfinder with access to a 0-6th level spell list has the same base access to spells known and spell slots per day (though OTHER class features, such as domains or archetypes, can vary their total beyond the simple base). Starfinder, on the other hand, *only* has spontaneous spellcasters with access to 0-6th level spells. While adding a whole new spell progression or access to Pathfinder would likely muddle a crowded field, there’s easily room in Starfinder for class with reduced spell access (perhaps level 0-3 spells).

Wizard with Green Disk Spell

The more spell power a class has, the less room it has for any other options. For example, in all the most popular d20 games classes with the greatest spell access never have the highest Hit Point/health value of classes, or beginning proficiency with all types of armor. This has two significant impacts on their design. First, it means that they generally need to use some of their spell power to bring their defenses up to their best level and, even at that level, it’s generally not as good as the best defenses of the most defense-focused class. Secondly, it means they aren’t as durable without depending on their spells (and even then some classes with major spell access have very little in the way of healing or damage mitigation spells — a 1st edition Pathfinder cleric can heal themselves much more easily than a wizard).

Again, using other classes as benchmarks can be extremely useful for making your first stab at granting spellcasting to a class. In 5th edition D&D, paladins and rangers gain up to 5th level spells, clerics and wizards gain up to 10th level spells, and specific specializations of fighters and rogues get up to 4th level spells. Those benchmarks make it pretty easy to see what kinds of class features, both in terms of scope and utility, a class with each of those options can gain. For example, a great deal of the class features of sorcerers and wizards are focused on their spells–allowing them to be more flexible, used more often, or even just boosted in power. Paladins and rangers however, have very few spell-focused class features, with their class features more likely to actually give them entirely new abilities.

Even once you know how your spellcasting class is going to acquire spells and to what degree, there still another crucial question–what spell list do they use?

We’ll tackle that one next week.


These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. If you want to keep seeing them, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.

Design Diary: Creating d20 Classes (Part 4)

Last month we began a line of Design Diary entries discussing how to create a character class from scratch for a d20 class/level based game. We’ve gone over concept, and discussed the class progression tools various games give you to fill out the mechanical roles your class might fill, and begun discussing the etiquette of the presentation of special abilities (the heart of any d20 class).

So, we need to dig into Class Features… and that’s a big topic. So this week we get a big post, that tackles some of the context and frameworks you can use when designing how a class and a character interface with class feature choices.

When looking at what special abilities to give a class, you should consider the category of each ability. Some abilities are access abilities, such as a spellcaster’s access to a spell list (and we’ll talk more about spells and spell lists in a later post) or access to a list of feats. Some are unique powers available only to that class. Some classes (and some game systems) blur that line — Pathfinder 1st edition has fighter-only feat, which some later classes can can access as their own class features. Pathfinder 2nd edition has feats for every class that are unique to that class, except that any other character can pick many of them up by taking a mutliclass dedication feat.

In addition to the access-unique spectrum, class abilities can be divided into static abilities, group abilities, and selectable abilities. Static abilities are things the class gets with no variation or choice (and least without accessing optional or advanced rules). In Starfinder, every operative gets trick attack. Group abilities are things where a player makes a choice between one group of abilities and another, but once that choice is made the abilities it grants are set. Looking at the Starfinder operative again, each operative select one specialization. That specialization has a few abilities it grants over the course of the operative’s career, but once the choice of which specialization to take is made the abilities within that choice are set. Selectable abilities are individual things that can be chosen from a list (though they might have prerequisites). The operatives exploits are a good example of this.

Some of the access choices are things every character class can take some portion of, so when designing a class you need to consider not just what access options help their role within the game and a party, but how that interacts with other classes in the game. Skills are a perfect example of this. Most classes have access to more skills than they can take (whether through a skill-point system, scaling proficiencies, or just what ability score they focus on, depending on how the game system handles classes). If you give a class access to all a game’s skill options, the chances they’ll overlap with some other class that needs a skill more for its core function increases. Even if no one character can take all the skills, adding some limits to what subset they have to choose from can help give a class focus and clarity of purpose.

There are some pseudo-choices a character can offer as well, where every member of the class has the same ability, but characters may be differentiated by which choice they make. For example, all fighters in most d20 game systems have access to all martial weapons, armors, and shields. However, most fighters select a small set of weapons to use most often. Even though two different fighters can both use a greatsword or a longsword and shield, most characters go with one or the other. While that’s a minor difference at first, as the character evolves the other choices they make are likely to reinforce one equipment selection over another.

One of the less-obvious consequences of how you allow ca class to access its abilities is complexity. A character that has access to a wide range of spell choices, for example, is less likely to have lots of selectable abilities. The need to read through and pick spells is already a lot of footwork to ask of a player. (Even if a character ends up with only a small number of spells, the need to pick them from a large list slows and complicates character creation). If you are designing a class to add to an existing game you likely can afford to make the design more complex overall–players who don’t like more work to make their character can stick to existing class options. But if you are designing all the classes designed to be used in a campaign (such as if you are creating new classes that are all that is expected to be available for a campaign setting), you should consider having at least one class that is simpler and has fewer choices, to allow players who prefer simple design an easy entry point.

That’s not universal, of course. Many players prefer highly customizable characters with lots of options. Many just enjoy being able to build a character closer to their pre-existing concept, while others want to have enough flexibility that if another player chooses the same class their two characters act and play differently from one another.

However that plays off another important fact, which we need to discuss before we move on to ability balance–the more selectable options a character class has at a given level, the more potential for min/maxing exists. Even if the options are tied to a set of options that are (theoretically) all at the same power level, the wider the set of options you give access to the more powerful a character can become. For example, if you give a class access to a single specific feat at 5th level, that’s a typical and easily balanced level of power. If you give the character their choice of one of 6 feats, that is slightly more powerful, even if all those feats are perfectly balanced against one another. If you allow a character to take any feat they meet the prerequisites for that is much more powerful, even if you assume every feat in the game is perfectly balanced.

This is because players who achieve a high-degree of system mastery can use synergy between options to make a character that can do more than an off-the-rack build. Especially in games with growing rules additions (which are most games that are seen as “well-supported”), every adjustable class feature is a chance to find some combination that works better than a typical combo. Even if none of the new options are built into you class’s features (a character who has a set of 7 specific feats they can choose from doesn’t have that list automatically expand just because new feats are added to the game, unlike a character with access to all of a type of feat–or one with access to all of one set of spells), a synergy could develop between an old choice and new options any character can access.

There’s no right or wrong choices with these elements, to be clear. They are just things to consider when looking at the ways you can organize and hand out class features.

With all that in mind, we can look at power level of class features and appropriate choices by character level… next time! (Maybe in a week… maybe in 2-3… )


These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. I was thrilled to be able to really take some time to write and develop this particular entry over a few weeks, thanks to your kind support! If you want to help me keep producing these Design Diaries, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.

Master Class, Hybrid Classes (Part 3)

Master Class are posts where I talk a bit about design choices, how I make them, and what guides these decisions. They’ll likely be pretty rare.

Building the Bombardier (Hybrid Alchemist/Gunslinger), Part Three

So in the first two parts of the Hybrid Classes entries in Master Class, I went over picking classes to combine, deciding their base statistics (skill points, proficiencies, hit dice, base attack bonus, and base save bonuses), and assigning carryover abilities taken from the two parent classes. That gives us a sketch of a hybrid class, but it’s still just a sketch. In essence, our bombardier is currently just a collection of existing class features shuffled together. That can be a fun way to make a new class (and is the basis for the QuickBaseClasses I’ve written 11 or so far), but it falls short of the design of a hybrid class, which has to add some new ability neither parent class has.

So, clearly with the bombardier we need some way to make bombs and guns work together. To do that, we need a good feel for how they both work. Guns are actually pretty easy, since they’re at their core just ranged weapons with some misfire rules and ranged touch attack rules. Bombs are slightly more complicated, as a class feature only alchemists use. But at their core they are specialized thrown splash weapons. That’s interesting, because that means in your first range increment, both your bombs and firearms act as ranged touch attacks. That immediately lends itself to a way to combine these in a meaningful ability for bombardiers.


Bombard (Ex): As a standard action you can infuse the power of a bomb into the ammunition of your firearm, making a combined bomb-and-firearm attack with a ranged attack from a firearm you are proficient with. This is treated as a ranged touch attack, using the firearm’s range increment. A hit acts as a direct hit with you bomb, dealing splash damage normally. A miss scatters using the same rules as for a thrown splash weapon. If the target is within your firearm’s first range increment, the target also takes damage from your firearm. You both load your firearm and infuse it with bomb damage as part of the standard action to make this attack. This counts as one daily use of your bombs class feature. You can apply bomb specializations to your bombard attack as if it was a normal bomb attack.

If you have the Fast Bombs specialization, you can infuse ranged attacks from firearms with bombs as quickly as you can load and fire the firearms. In this case the bombard attack does not automatically load the firearms, but every firearm attack you make can include a bomb infusion.


Assuming we keep the ability to make extracts (which is currently included in our class sketch, but might prove too much as full power for our firearm-wielding character) it’s easy to see how we could also use firearms to deliver extract effects. That would require something like the arcane archer PrC’s imbue arrow ability. Since we want to maintain balance, we should place that at a level comparable to when a character taking arcane archer could get it, and use similar language to make it clear it works in a similar way. However, imbue arrow is about area spells, and alchemy is about individually targeted magic, so we’d need to adjust.


Imbue Firearm (Su): At 7th level, a bombardier gains the ability to place an extract that had one or more defined targets into a firearm attack. When the firearm is fired, the spell targets the creature hit by the firearm attack, even if this is normally outside the extracts normal range. Extracts with a personal range cannot be imbued in this way. This ability allows the bombardier to use the firearm’s range rather than the extract’s range. An extract used in this way uses its standard casting time and the bombardier can load and fire the firearm as part of the casting. The firearm must be fired during the round that the casting is completed or the extract is wasted. If the firearm misses, the extract is wasted.


Looks solid, right? But… look at the alchemist’s list of extracts. Most of them that qualify are either healing or buffing spells. As written, this becomes the ranged-healing-and-augmenting ability… with firearm damage attached. That’s a potentially cool idea… but does it really fit with our bombardier?

This is one of those moments that raises its head occasionally during any class design. We have a cool idea, but it may or may not fit with the theme we are building on. We need to decide; do we keep imbue firearm (and tweak it and our class theme to fit)? Or do we set that idea aside, perhaps saving it for an archetype, and move on with things that have a more bombard feel to them?

What do you folks think?

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Master Class, Hybrid Classes (Pt. 2)

Master Class are posts where I talk a bit about design choices, how I make them, and what guides these decisions. They’ll likely be pretty rare.

Building the Bombardier (Hybrid Alchemist/Gunslinger), Part Two

So we already looked at the reason for building a bombardier, and selected the “above the fold” information we were borrowing to help define things like hit dice and skill points, back in Part One.

While we decided on our base attack bonus progression in Part One (since base attack and hit die are connected, even though that’s not always obvious), I want to revisit that decision just a bit. A character’s base attack bonus tells a player a lot about what a class is intended to be good at and it also absorbs a lot of potential power from a class. A full attack bonus (beginning at +1 and increasing by 1` at every level) is restricted to combat-focused characters, and is never combined with spellcasting better than weak (no spells at 1st level, and a maximum of 4th level spells, like paladins and rangers). A moderate attack bonus (beginning with +1 at 2nd level, and increasing by +3 every 4 levels) gives us the greatest flexibility, and can be combined with moderate spellcasting (up to 6 levels of spells over 20 character levels) or even strong spellcasting (up to 9th level spells) with a spell list that doesn’t focus on offensive magics. A weak attack bonus (beginning at +1 at 2nd level, and increasing by +1 every 2 levels) removes direct combat as a function of the character, and is almost always pared with strong spellcasting with a spell list with many offensive abilities.

When designing a hybrid class that combines two classes with different base attack bonus progressions, such as alchemist and gunslinger, this is a crucial decision. Hybrid classes that go for the lesser of the two attack progressions (such as the hunter, skald, and warpriest) leave more room for special abilities to make the class more interesting, and can easily draw on 6 levels worth of spells. Classes that go with the higher base attack bonus progression (such as the bloodrager, brawler, and slayer) have much more limited options about magical powers.

These are both legitimate design choices. So for our bombardier, we had to decide if we want to build a alchemy-and-guns combatant focused on kicking ass and taking names, or a martial-themed effects and magic class with a broader range of options but less direct combat ability and resilience. I’m sticking with the decision from part One and going with a moderate base attack bonus progression, but that will impact the next few decisions.

The next step is to do a rough listing of what features we are going to borrow from the parent classes, and what levels we plan to get them at. We can “pencil in” that information to form a rough skeleton of a class. His will show us what is already designed that we can use (or modify), give us a sense of what the class is lacking, and show us where we need to add something interesting to avoid “dead levels.”

An aside – For those not familiar with the term, a dead level is a character class level that doesn’t give the player something new and exciting. It sucks when you gain a new level, and discover all it does is give you more hit points and some attack or saving throw increase. A player works hard to earn new character levels, and we want to reward them. Sometimes a new level of spells can count (especially for good spell lists with lots of options), and other times we really want a new ability listed under “special” for the class.

So, looking at the gunslinger we can see we need the gunsmith feature, or something a lot like it. If the character class is going to feel like it can bombard things (and if it can’t, it shouldn’t be a bombardier), it needs some kind of bombard. We may play with what firearm you can get or exactly how it works later, but for our “pencil in” stage, we should mark the gunsmith ability for 1st level. Since the bombardier has less hit points and a lower base attack bonus than a gunslinger, we have room to collect at least a few gunslinger abilities without being overpowered. The other things the gunslinger gets are deeds, nimble bonuses, and grit. We going to want some of that, but it may not all happen at the same levels gunslingers get it. Let’s look at the alchemist.

The alchemist gets bombs at 1st level, and clearly a bombardier needs bombs. We’ll likely need to make some adjustment to the ability to have it work with the firearm somehow, but that’s a problem for later. Like our firearm, the bombs seem crucial to the core idea, so we need to get them at 1st level.

The alchemist also gets alchemy, brew potion, discoveries, mutagen, poison resistance, and poison use. We clearly can’t take all of that, or we end up with an alchemist who also gets a gun. So we need to decide what from that list doesn’t fit our vision.

Certainly bombardiers don’t need poison use, at least automatically. Poison bombs could easily be a thing, but we can make that an option a character chooses if desired. Similarly mutagens have nothing to do with bombs, and are a major ability for alchemists, so cutting them gives us some breathing room for the things being added from gunslinger. We want discoveries, to make neat bombs, and likely some kind of bonus that takes the place of poison resistance, which we may tie to nimble from gunslinger.

So let’s sketch in a progression with bombs gunsmith, some kind of specializations (that will function as a mix of deeds and discoveries), and some kind of nimble bonus. We can define exactly how these thigns work later, we just want an idea how often they come up for now, and a rough progression to make sure we are avoiding dead levels.


Level      BAB        Fort        Ref         Will        Special

1             +0           +2           +2           +0           Bombs 1d6, gunsmith

2             +1           +3           +3           +0           Bombardier specialization, nimble +1

3             +2           +3           +3           +1           Bombs 2d6

4             +3           +4           +4           +1           Bombardier specialization

5             +3           +4           +4           +1           Bombs 3d6

6             +4           +5           +5           +2           Bombardier specialization, nimble +2

7             +5           +5           +5           +2           Bombs 4d6

8             +6           +6           +6           +2           Bombardier specialization

9             +6           +6           +6           +3           Bombs 5d6

10           +7           +7           +7           +3           Bombardier specialization, nimble +3

11           +8           +7           +7           +3           Bombs 6d6

12           +9           +8           +8           +4           Bombardier specialization

13           +9           +8           +8           +4           Bombs 7d6

14           +10        +9           +9           +4           Bombardier specialization, nimble +4

15           +11        +9           +9           +5           Bombs 8d6

16           +12        +10        +10        +5           Bombardier specialization

17           +12        +10        +10        +5           Bombs 9d6

18           +13        +11        +11        +6           Bombardier specialization, nimble +5

19           +14        +11        +11        +6           Bombs 10d6

20           +15        +12        +12        +6           Bombardier specialization


So, if we want alchemy, that’ll add a major boost to every level when the bombardier gains a new level of extracts (levels 1, 4, 7, 10, 14, and 18). Brew potion and isn’t huge, but it makes sense and we likely want it. Throw Anything we can likely skip, since our bombardier will be using a bombard of some kind. There’s not a lot of room left for grit, so we likely either ignore it or also make it a form of specialization, or somehow tie it to alchemy (perhaps you can burn extracts as liquid courage to do grit-like things). Gunslingers and alchemists both get a fair number of abilities at 1st level, and alchemists also get a lot at 2nd, so let’s see if we can fit in the stuff we want.


Level      BAB        Fort        Ref         Will        Special

1             +0           +2           +2           +0           Alchemy, bombs 1d6, gunsmith

2             +1           +3           +3           +0           Bombardier specialization, brew potion, nimble +1

3             +2           +3           +3           +1           Bombs 2d6

4             +3           +4           +4           +1           Alchemy, bombardier specialization

5             +3           +4           +4           +1           Bombs 3d6

6             +4           +5           +5           +2           Bombardier specialization, nimble +2

7             +5           +5           +5           +2           Alchemy, bombs 4d6

8             +6           +6           +6           +2           Bombardier specialization

9             +6           +6           +6           +3           Bombs 5d6

10           +7           +7           +7           +3           Alchemy, bombardier specialization, nimble +3

11           +8           +7           +7           +3           Bombs 6d6

12           +9           +8           +8           +4           Bombardier specialization

13           +9           +8           +8           +4           Bombs 7d6

14           +10        +9           +9           +4           Alchemy, bombardier specialization, nimble +4

15           +11        +9           +9           +5           Bombs 8d6

16           +12        +10        +10        +5           Bombardier specialization

17           +12        +10        +10        +5           Bombs 9d6

18           +13        +11        +11        +6           Alchemy, bombardier specialization, nimble +5

19           +14        +11        +11        +6           Bombs 10d6

20           +15        +12        +12        +6           Bombardier specialization


That’s not as crowded as it looks, given that alchemists have a similar set of heavily loaded levels. But it also doesn’t leave room for a lot of NEW abilities, which is an important part of a hybrid class. We can certainly make many new abilities specializations, but we need a core ability that is the bombardier’s alone, and that’s likely going to push something out. Also, we may want to tack on something like evasion, to help make the martial-bomb-user theme work, and that’s going to take up space. Compared to the alchemist, this looks reasonable. Compared to the rogue, it looks a bit too flexible.

But it’s a good START, which is all we were looking for. With the as a baseline we can design new unique class features, and shuffle things around, in Part Three!

Master Class, Hybrid Classes (Pt 1)

Master Class are posts where I talk a bit about design choices, how I make them, and what guides these decisions. They’ll likely be pretty rare.

Building the Bombardier (Hybrid Alchemist/Gunslinger), Part One

So, let’s say we wanted to make a hybrid alchemist gunslinger. Thematically this makes a lot of sense – only two official classes are built on technology, so combining them should work well. And I’ve never seen a campaign that allowed gunslingers but not alchemists (though yes, I am sure they exist), so we’re not likely to create something less likely than its parents to be allowed into a GM’s game.

Hybrid classes generally borrow features from both parent classes, then add a brand-new class feature designed to synergize them. But how that’s done depends a lot on early design choices.

Role: It’s worth writing a little about your hybrid class’s role early in your design process. You may want to modify this once you are done to reflect the final reality, but even early on it’s useful to have some idea what you are trying to build as a design guideline.

Alchemist and gunslinger both talk in terms of dealing damage, taking risks, and being useful in battle. Our bombardier is quickly sounding like a daredevil experimenter who loved cooking up dangerous devices, and willing to test them from the front line. Both alchemist and gunslinger talk about dual possible builds, which we may or may not want to copy over for the hybrid class… let’s decide that later.

Hit Die: d8.

Basically, if a class is designed to ever be close to fighting, it gets at least a d8 hit die. And if it doesn’t have a full +1/level base attack bonus (BAB), it doesn’t get a d10 or more. That first rule is important, and breaking it is very likely to make a class too fragile to survive its primary role. The second rule is more flexible, and if you have a good reason to make a non-full BAB class have a bigger hit die than d8, that’s fine. I did it myself with the armiger (Genius Guide to the Armiger), a defensive utility class I wanted to be able to survive constant front-line fighting despite having a moderate BAB progression.

For our bombardier, I don’t think we can afford a full BAB. We want to give the class a firearm as a class feature at 1st level, like the gunslinger, and it’ll ALSO need some form of bombs and/or extracts in order to draw on its alchemist heritage. That’s already a lot of power, and using the alchemist BAB gives us more leeway. And, practically speaking, if it’s using firearms and explosives it can likely do fine in combat without a full BAB, and while staying a bit back from the front line.

Now we COULD have made different choices here, which is one reason I recommend having a role sketched out early in the design process. If we had decided we wanted a different alchemist/gunslinger hybrid, perhaps one that focused on mutagens and grit called a juicer or madserum, we might have opted to forgo the firearm entirely and prefer a full BAB and d10 or even d12 HD. But that’s not the direction we’re going here.

Starting Wealth: 4d6 x 10 gp (average 140 gp)

Starting wealth only matters for 1st level characters, but you can’t make a new character without it. Basically, this is how you tell players and GMs how much gear you expect the character to need to start. Both alchemists and gunslingers have a fair amount of stuff assumed in their class, from firearms to alchemical components, so neither has particularly demanding money needs, though ammunition and alchemical weapons can add up as consumables. In this case we split the difference between the two, which seems fine.

Class Skills: Appraise (Int), Craft (any) (Int), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (arcana) (Int), Knowledge (engineering) (Int), Knowledge (local) (Int), Knowledge (nature) (Int), Perception (Wis), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Spellcraft (Int), Use Magic Device (Cha).

Skill Points per Level: 4 + Int modifier

Not being as deeply tinker-based as the alchemist, Disable Device, Fly, Heal, Sleight of hand, and Survival can go. Not being as dashing and swashbuckler-y as the gunslinger, Acrobatics, Bluff, Handle Animal, Heal, Ride, Sleight of Hand, and Survival can be discarded. Interestingly that means several of the skills both classes have – Heal, Sleight of Hand, and Survival, aren’t part of our final class.

Also, having cut a lot of Charisma options, we may be leaning toward having our Bombardier be an Int-based class, though that has strong tonal implications. We’re not set on that course, but we’ve taken a step that direction.

Since both parent classes get 4 skill points/level, we’ll go for that too.

Base Saving Throws: Both parent classes have good Fort and Ref, and poor Will. Unless we discover a good reason to change that, we’ll stick with it.

And that’s it for Part One! The current plan is to look at what we want to salvage from the parent classes in Part Two in 1-2 weeks, and then fill in conceptual and mechanical gaps with new class features in Part Three a bit after that!