June 21, 2011 by Jeff
When it comes to D&D design is typically the realm of two groups of people DMs and…well…game designers. I say, however, that it’s time for players to take a turn at the design wheel as well. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to dabble in game design as a D&D player. First, there are some things players SHOULD try to design and some things that they shouldn’t. Second, TALK TO YOUR DM FIRST or be prepared for the DM to say “no” and watch your work be for nothing. If you are okay with that…go for it. Some people (myself included) find design fun when the inspiration hits regardless of if it sees use in my game.
As a player you aren’t going to be dabbling in encounter design, campaign design (unless it’s a collaborative sandbox game, but that’s a whole different topic), and seldom will monster design come into play. Although I could see a situation where you’re playing a mad wizard making his own creations to unleash on the world…to save it, I’m sure. That’s a rare enough situation, however, so this is probably about all the time I’m likely to spend on it.
That said, sometimes there are things you can, and even should, given the right circumstances, be designing. Feats, magic items (or mundane items, I suppose), paragon paths, epic destinies, themes, or even classes/powers. These are all things that PCs can easily either be doing/creating in game or that helps express who they are.
Sometimes, you see, there is an idea that sits in your head as a player and you MUST get it out through PC creation. You have to play that character concept, but there’s nothing out there that’s already been published that does what you need to do in order to make that character the way you want to make it.
That’s what this feature series is going to be all about. I’m going to walk you through designing things in each of the categories listed earlier. My goal is to give some ideas about how one might go about that design in a way that is true to your vision but balanced and without breaking the game. After all, if a DM is willing to let you do some design work, there’s a real temptation to make your new class, Super-Killer, clearly the best class ever. It heals better than a cleric, gets more attacks than a ranger, and does a rogue’s sneak attack each round to each creature on each attack. But if you do this, no DM in their right mind would ever let you play it.
So process, balance, and achieving flavor in each of the categories that as a player, you might be doing some design work.
Before we wrap up and I start work on the first design article it’s worth the time to go back and mention again, that you need to TALK TO YOUR DM FIRST. As someone who both plays and DMs I’ve seen both sides of this process. I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen it fail. So before you design, be prepared to go to your DM, explain what you’d like to design and why you’d like to design it. The DM might be able to discuss already existent options for your PC that don’t require design, they might impart some idea about what they might or might not be likely to accept in a home-made creation, they might even want to keep the lines of communication open and design it with you (so they can make sure it’s balanced and fits into their vision of the campaign while you get to make sure it fits into your vision of your PC).
I hope you’re looking forward to this series, because I’m excited to give it to you the first Monday of each month.
What’s more, if you are interested in providing requests I’ll likely create some of these things as examples along the way. Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. Leave an email address and I might even contact you to get more information.