Last time out I promised you a reasoned explanation as to why I don’t like character classes and also my thoughts on True20. So, taking it from the top: My issue with classes is that they limit creativity.
Disregarding skill points, feats, and combat bonuses (which are valid reasons to have classes, IHMO), the only thing left that defines a class is special class abilities. “What’s wrong with class abilities?” you ask because you are a bright and perceptive reader whom I’m not sucking up to in the least right now.
They limit creativity and they limit characters. Yes, you heard me right. Class abilities limit characters. I will explain. This has been a problem as far back as first edition AD&D when only the Ranger class had a tracking ability, which meant that none of the other classes could track. At all. Not even a little bit. In the basic edition, we just sort of assumed that if you came across a trail of footprints, anyone could follow them but the way the Advanced rules were written any sort of tracking was the sole province of Rangers — who were limited to good alignment too, so in all the world there were only Good trackers. What if you wanted to play a woodsy guy not based on Strider from Lord of the Rings? You were S.O.L.
And yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a dated example and I know full well that anyone with the Survival skill can follow tracks now and it doesn’t even cost a feat or anything since v3.5 but that doesn’t change my point. I also know that by referencing first ed. rules I am revealing myself to be both old and out of touch. Live with it.
Hypothetically, if someone publishes “Perceive Own Nose” as a new Rogue talent, that’s great for Rogues and better for Rogues who happen to take that particular talent, but it’s sour news for everyone else who suddenly loses the ability to see the nose on their own face — because they lack that class ability. It’s only available to Rogues. Moreover it’s only available to second level Rogues and they have to choose it as a rogue talent, so in this hypothetical world only criminals with a full year’s worth of experience and who undergo special training are capable of perceiving their own nose. Ridiculous.
And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that most class abilities give bonuses to existing abilities rather than all-new capabilities, but why can’t they be feats instead? “Perceive Own Nose” should be available to everyone the same as Power Attack or Dodge.
And that’s where True20 gets it right.
Everything in True20 is either a skill or a Feat and there’s only 3 classes: Adept, Expert, and Warrior. Classes that specialize in supernatural powers, skills, and combat respectively. Everything else is represented by a feat and you get a new feat each level (plus a few extra to start out with). While this means you might have a somewhat weaker character than in Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons because you have to spend feats on stuff you’d otherwise get for free as first level class abilities it also means that you take only the exact abilities you want, which includes options that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to until 5th, 8th, 10th level.
There are limits though. Each class has a pool of feats that’s only available when you take a level in that class (i.e. you can only take the Tough feat if you’re a Warrior), but you can mix and match classes super-easily. There’s no special penalty or bonus for dipping 1-2 levels into another class (unless it happens to be a level that doesn’t grant a to-hit bonus or something like that) so why not give your Warrior a level in Expert? You miss out on the +1 to hit but you can get 8 skill points and can take a feat that replicates the a 5th level Bard ability or the Rogue backstab (and if it’s not your first level of Expert, you still get a +1 to hit 3/4 of the time). Want an full-fledged spellcaster who has a favored enemy like a Ranger? Like maybe he’s a priest of a church vehemently opposed to the undead. Have your Adept dip one level into Warrior to get the Favored Enemy feat. Pow. Instant custom character.
And if that’s not enough for you, there’s rules in the back for creating custom classes of your own if you feel the need or have a concept that somehow can’t be created with mix-matching the three standard classes.
The issues I have with True20 are less with the system and more with the way that the book itself is organized and laid out. It’s so densely packed with information and options that there’s very little room left over for how to play or even a suggested campaign world. They’ve streamlined the d20 system to such an extent that they’ve not only eliminated all the rough edges but have also smoothed most of the personality out of the system. Still, if you’ve gamed before, and don’t mind doing a little world building it’s pretty close to being the perfect only-one-book-needed-to-play-any-game game.
For some reason True20 never really hit. Maybe because of the issues above, maybe because the publisher didn’t promote it heavily enough. (Green Ronin had their hands full with Mutants & Masterminds so that’s somewhat understandable). I knew a few people who used to be die-hard advocates of it, but even they’ve moved on to more popular systems. It’s always been the “Mr. Pibb” of tabletop RPGs. Those who try it, like it. But hardly anyone has ever tried it.
And that’s why I regretfully have to announce that paNik productions won’t be publishing for True20 any more. If the remaining True20 fans email-bomb us at customerService (at) paNikProductions (dot) com or heavily comment this post we might change our minds but… I honestly doubt that both of them will see this post in time.