No Class

I haven’t GM’d a session of Shattered Empire for about six months, but this weekend will be a finale of what used to be a steady weekly game. Diving back into a fantasy world after spending months on sci-fi is a little bit of a system shock for me. But going over the monster manual and roll charts and spell lists has reminded me of something that Distant Earth is missing: Classes.

Shattered Empire was supposed to be classless too. Or rather, limitless in which kind of class you wanted. Instead of predefined Classes, it used a class point system that allowed players to craft their character in any way they wanted. A priest could wield a battle axe and cast fireballs, a ranger could wear heavy armor and cast necromancy spells. You just had to put points into the right place.

What I found is that most of my players took this system and still made the basic archetypes, but with perhaps one “multiclass” element. Is the Class system so common because it’s what players want? Is more direction better than more freedom? It’s tough to say, but I wonder if Distant Earth might benefit from some pre-made classes to help guide players through character creation.

Base12 Mechanics in Distant Earth

The Base12 Attribute system is used to build your character in Distant Earth, but what exactly does each attribute govern?

Strength (STR) – Carry weight, brawling attacks, melee attacks, general acts of raw power

Dexterity (DEX) – Gun attacks, fine motor skills, mechanical repair, lockpicking

Intelligence (INT) – Technology skills, using computers, hacking, general knowledge skills

Awareness (AWA) – Defensive skills (blocking), explosives, perception, sniping, piloting, espionage

Agility (AGI) – Defensive skills (dodging), martial arts, acrobatics, balance

Willpower (WIL) – Defensive skills (fear, mind control), resisting Madness, social interactions

Constitution (CON) – Wound capacity (health), poison resistance, disease resistance, cybernetic capacity

Stamina (STA) – Skill Points (SP), athletics (running, swimming), advanced combat tactics

Wisdom (WIS) – Survival techniques, scavenging, commerce, identification, intuition, social skills (vs lying)

Charisma (CHA) – Diplomacy, persuasion, intimidation, social skills

Speed (SPD) – Initiative rolls, movement speed, stealth, pickpocketing

Luck (LUK) – Bonus rolls, lucky shots, loot rolls, random extreme situational rolls


Here’s a link to the “standard” Base12 system for reference.

Base12 RPG System

Staying Alive: Constitution and Wounds [Distant Earth]

Distant Earth will feature a Wound Track system instead of a Hit Point system. Wound thresholds will be determined by the Base12 system of Constitution governing maximums and bonuses. The wound system will make combat deadlier than traditional HP systems, especially with the lack of “magical” healing found in fantasy settings.

Just Wound Track

The large boxes on bottom represent Major Wounds, while the three small boxes within each large box represent Minor Wounds. If you sustain three minor wounds, you also sustain a major wound. The reverse is true, too. A major wound automatically fills the three minor wound boxes above it. (It is possible to have additional independent minor wounds. See below.)

The penalties at the bottom of the Major Wound boxes effect ALL rolls, and come into effect only when that box is completely filled by a current unstable wound. For example, if you have one minor wound in the -4 box, you are not necessarily receiving a penalty to rolls from the previous boxes, and you are not receiving the -4 penalty until you have a major wound or two more minor wounds. Same with being knocked out or (gasp) dying. You have to fill the whole box for the penalty to occur. Also, penalties do not stack, so if you have a major wound in the -2 and the -3 box, your penalty to rolls is only -3 (not-5).

Every character starts with a base wound threshold at the line between the -4 and -5 boxes. Moving left to right, an entire major wound box is added for each CON Bonus the character has. Additionally, the CON die is rolled once at character creation and the total is added via minor wound boxes. All boxes beyond that are marked out as unusable, but their penalties are ignored.

Example:  A character with a CON of 5 has a Bonus modifier of 2, so they add 2 major wounds to their starting threshold of 2. Their CON Die is a d4, so they roll it. In our example the result is a 2, so they add two minor wound boxes to their threshold. Their character sheet would reflect this by appearing something like this:

Just Wound Track 2

In this scenario, you could potentially receive 5 minor wounds before you have to mark off a major wound and take the -3 penalty. The boxes that are blacked out do not come into play at all; the character’s CON was not high enough to use these. No penalty is assigned because they are not “active” wounds. They aren’t anything.

If a character was to sustain a major wound and then get that wound stabilized, they would no longer take the penalty in the box. However, stabilizing a wound does not “heal” it. It would remain marked off, and future damage would continue to the left across the wound track, making the next wound more debilitating. Only during long rests or through high quality medical services can wounds be completely healed.

The higher a character’s starting CON score, the more damage they will be able to receive, and at lower penalties. CON will also affect how much they heal during long rests.


Mutagens [Distant Earth]

Here are the three main mutagen strands and their common effects. Combinations of mutagens can create new effects.

Bolbo – Giantism, dwarfism, muscle mass, rapid growth, regeneration, brain cell growth.

Fauni – Limb generation, wings, gills, horns, fangs, scales, claws, feral degeneration

Seeth – Toxins, poisons, elemental cell replacement, rapid decay, form change

Turn Based Combat

Something about traditional turn-based combat has always bugged me.

Here’s the standard: The character with the highest initiative goes first. They move their entire maximum movement (commonly 30 feet) and then make one or two actions, for example drinking a Potion of Might and then attacking the enemy archer with a battle axe. Damage is totalled, effects are distributed.

Then the next person goes.

Why didn’t that archer loose an arrow when he saw the barbarian charging at him from across the room, battle axe raised?

Because his Initiative was one point lower. It wasn’t his turn to act. In this simulated battle, where one entire round is only six seconds of in-game time, and everything is supposed to be happening at the same time…well, nothing is happening at the same time.

Look, I don’t care if you “have the initiative,” if you start running at me from 30 feet away, I’m gonna have time to react. And if it’s real life, I’m probably going to start running in the opposite direction. I ain’t waiting to see if you lower that axe on my skull because I’m polite and waiting my turn.

For Distant Earth I’ve been workshopping some combat options that represent action and reaction slightly better. Since it will more often be focused on ranged combat with powerful guns, things like bum-rushing a turret seems ridiculous. So I’d like to have a system that allows for more reaction to enemy movements and actions, without totally taking the advantage away from the character with the highest initiative. My idea?

Reverse Initiative.

The lowest initiative goes first and makes their intentions known. Then the next person goes and so on, having knowledge of what all characters before them are going to do, but before anything is resolved. I’m hoping it would make actions like taking cover and suppressing fire more common, and that groups would work strategically.

It’s probably a stupid idea. But I’m gonna give it a try. I want to encourage critical and strategic planning. In most pnps players don’t want to “waste” their turn on anything other than making their most powerful attack. If the “turn” becomes more of a round of simultaneous actions by two teams, working together will hopefully make non-attack actions feel like they are important contributions to success.

Thoughts? Experiences? Am I CRAZY?!