In this month's exclusive interview, the designer of Complete Adventurer discusses making old rules new again, pre-Complete preparations, and his self-imposed rules about what a new class must accomplish.
Wizards of the Coast: Given the focus of the other books in this series -- Complete Warrior,Complete Divine, Complete Arcane-- it would seem that designing Complete Adventurer would prove a particularly challenging undertaking, especially to avoid repeating material from those other books. What basic structure did you apply when outlining this book? How did you decide where to begin?
Jesse Decker: I really like to start writing on Day One of a project, so I always do outlining before my official design time begins. I started writing an outline for Complete Adventurer about three weeks before I actually began writing. With Complete Adventurer, I built the outline based on the structures of earlier Complete books and the assignment from the design manager that was something like: Create three base classes, a fair number of prestige classes, and "do a lot with skills."
Once I actually start writing, though, I'm far less organized. I never write a book straight through; I start with a very rough outline for it, and then just work on a different section each day, as inspiration occurs. I spent the first couple of weeks working on the base classes, mainly because I was excited about some of the ideas and wanted to make sure that there was extra time for playtesting. Since Complete Arcane and Complete Adventurer were being designed at the same time and both dealt with different aspects of bards, there was some confusion about what parts of a bard's abilities belonged in each book. That, however, was a minor concern, and was easily dealt with in a quick conversation with Rich Baker, the designer of Complete Arcane.
Wizards: Complete Adventurer really expands the rules and possibilities for skills and feats. In the introduction you describe this as "new applications for existing skills." Tell us about these new applications and what players are going to find exciting about them.Jesse: There are new uses for eighteen different skills (and that's counting Craft as only one skill). They range from simple twists like taking a penalty to picking a lock faster than normal, to tailing someone through a city unseen. New uses for existing skills should always excite players -- more ways to use skills means more options throughout every stage of an adventure. I like characters who have lots of options both in and out of combat, and I like it when the rules help the DM figure out how things work. New uses for skills do a great job of serving both of those desires, so they're a really good addition to the game in my opinion.
Wizards: The book also introduces quite a few new feats. Some have descriptive names -- Danger Sense, Dive for Cover, Leap Attack -- while other names seem a bit more poetic -- Brachiation, Green Ear, Open Minded. What are some of your favorite new ones? Which do you imagine will see quite a bit of use?
Jesse: Well, Brachiation and Green Ear are revised versions of the 3.0 feats of the same name; keeping with the Complete books' mission of updating some of the best (and worst) 3.0 material to bring it more in line with the 3.5 revision. Mobile Spellcasting, one of my favorite feats from the book, lets a wizard with the right skills double move and cast a spell in the same combat round. There are also a large number of new feats that help multiclass characters in interesting ways. The book introduces a new style of feat that encourages paladins and monks to multiclass by allowing different class levels to stack when using abilities such as Smite Evil, Sneak Attack, or Favored Enemy and removing the multiclass restrictions. There are new bardic music feats and new wild feats too -- I really enjoy designing feats that allow an existing ability to be used in new and interesting ways.
Wizards: Of the three new character classes, the spellthief seems destined for popularity (at least among NPCs, if for no other reason than that it will drive wizards nuts to encounter one). What's the inspiration for the design of this class?
Jesse: Designing the new classes for Complete Adventurer was a tricky assignment -- all three had to be able to fulfill the rogue's niche in the party. It's important that a player who chooses one of the new classes doesn't get criticized by the group for not having access to certain skills and abilities (such as Open Locks and Trapfinding). Beyond those parameters, I'm also very picky about core classes. If a core class doesn't bring something new to the game, I don't think it's worth publishing. I had three ideas that fit within these guidelines: a non-spellcaster who wants to move every round of combat (as opposed to standing in one place and slugging it out with full attacks); a high-offense, low-defense character with limited ability to remove himself from the field of battle; and a character that uses a foe's resources to power his own abilities. These ideas became the scout, the ninja, and the spellthief respectively.
So that's really it -- I had a thought that a character who used a foe's resources to power his own abilities would be fun to play. Once I got that far, I started working on the mechanics first. That's actually unusual for me, as I normally design rules to follow the flavor of a game element, rather than the other way around. With the spellthief, though, I found the rules that I liked, and then wrote a background for the class around what I had designed.
Wizards: More than 25 new prestige classes appear in Complete Adventurer. That's a lot of new material! What new ground do so many prestige classes cover?
Jesse: The new prestige classes reward versatile character builds, and several focus on multiclass spellcasters. Classes like the daggerspell adept make otherwise underpowered choices (like druid/rogue) into cool and interesting choices. My favorite is probably the shadowbane inquisitor, a prestige class that's easiest to qualify for by taking levels in paladin and rogue. Members of the shadowbane inquisitors are gifted with a conviction so strong that they sometimes stray into intolerance or evil. I like it a lot because the prestige class also sort of auto-qualifies the character for the blackguard prestige class, presenting a flavorful and interesting way for a paladin (whether PC or NPC) to fall to evil.
It's no secret that one of the purposes behind the "Complete" series is to update the best (and also the most problematic) prestige classes from the 3.0 "splat books" such as Song & Silence.
Wizards: You state that the spells in this book "interact with skills." What does that mean to the average player? How, exactly, can my skills enhance or modify my spells? Further, you say that many of the spells "focus on using existing abilities in unusual and interesting ways." Can you give examples of how that might work?
Jesse: Game elements like feats and spells should inspire. They should inspire new character concepts, they should inspire new encounters, and they should point the way toward more interesting options in the game. What should the average player get from the spells? I hope he or she walks away with a character idea or four, along with a double helping of options for an existing character. The spells that interact with skills encourage the use of skills in exciting situations. The sniper's eye spell, for example, encourages the use of the Hide skill to set up ranged sneak attacks. Other spells, like listening lorecall, have a greater effect if the caster has a high number of ranks in a related skill. Finally, some spells that are swift actions to cast allow you to make a specific skill check as a free action, giving you a real chance to use the skill in combat without having to forego valuable opportunities to attack foes.
Wizards: Organizations have really become front and center in D&D lately, and Complete Adventurer offers some 30 pages of new organizations and, perhaps most interesting, how to build an organization. As a player or DM, what are your feelings about organizations? And what is the design philosophy behind including more DM-useful info about building an organization in a primarily player-focused book?
Jesse: I find that a campaign really comes alive when the characters have ties and loyalties beyond their adventuring companions. Organizations that appeal to players encourage them to become more involved in the DM's world. On the other side of the screen, organizations that have clear goals and well-established philosophies about the world help DMs keep their campaign consistent and help add elements of intrigue.
Wizards: Finally, you always seem to have exciting projects on your plate. What are you working on now that you're at liberty to tell me about?
Jesse: After I wrote Complete Adventurer, I lead the design team on Races of Eberron, and I really enjoyed the experience. Writing in Eberron was about the most interesting design work that I've done. After that, I did design work on Dungeon Master's Guide II. In the midst of that project, however, I took on a different set of challenges as the Development Manager for Roleplaying Games and Miniatures. The last six months or so have been filled with development work on products that will see print in 2005!