I recently started tooling around with NWN again. I noticed a couple of things about the character design that seem really weird:
- Racial stat modifiers. Unlike most systems, where you apply the modifier AFTER you roll (or buy) stats, in NWN the modifier is applied before. So, while human characters start with all 8s (before using stat points), an elf starts with all 8s, but a 6 Con and a 10 Dex. The problem with this system is that at a 6 or 7, your character has a -2 penalty applied for that stat. So, unless you’re willing to suck that up, the first thing you do is spend 2 character points to raise your low stat to an 8. I doubt people would suck that up in most stats, because it’s a pretty serious penalty (the manual, for example, recommends going to at least 10 in every stat). So presumably, every nonhuman character is going to spend 2 points right off the bat to raise their 6 to an 8.
Once you do that, though, your racial modifiers become meaningless. An elf who spends two points to get his Con to 8 is no better or worse than a human who spends two points to get a 10 dex. They have the same stats and same amount of character points left. That’s pretty lame–in AD&D (and in most fantasy RPGs), racial choice is really important, in large part because of its effect on your stats. In NWN, it’s pointless. This could be easiliy alleviated if NWN applied the racial bonus after you buy stats. I don’t understand why they decided to design it the way they did.
- Multiclassing. I haven’t played 3rd edition AD&D, but I think the NWN people went pretty much with the rules straight from the book. Even so, the system seems broken to me, so I don’t see why they went with it instead of changing it. In 2nd Edition, multiclass characters benefit from using separate XP tables. Since the XP tables are all exponential, a multiclass character isn’t too far behind. For example, it might take 40,000 XP to make 5th level, and then 80,000 XP to make 6th level. Therefore, a character with 90,000 XP could be either a 6th level fighter, or a 5/5 figther/thief (45K in each class). That always seemed about right: a 6 fighter is about as good as a 5/5 fighter/thief. I always thought the multis had a slight edge, but not that much.
In NWN, though, multis are terrible. You use one advancement table (for your “character level”), but each time you go up you can take a level in any class (giving you various “class levels”). This cripples multiclass characters. Using the prior example, you could be a 6 fighter, but you would only be a 3/3 fighter/thief (because you alternated where you put your character levels). The problem is supposedly balanced out because your class abilities stack rather than being mutually exclusive. So, for example, a 6 fighter might get +6 to hit, and a 3rd fighter gets +3, and a 3rd thief gets +2, say. The 3/3 fighter/thief gets to combine his combat bonuses, so he’s +5 to hit, almost as good as the 6 fighter. All is well.
The problem comes with classes that gain powers that don’t stack together. For example, a 3/3 fighter/mage, or 3/3 barbarian/bard, or any of dozens of other classes, suck in this system. The fighter/mage can’t fight (because he’s only like +3 to hit and has 22 avg hitpoints), and only has 2nd-level spells; he sucks ass compared to a 6 fighter or a 6 mage.
On the one hand, people might say “Well, obviously not all class combinations are good. Part of the game is picking classes that work well, with complementary skills.” Well and good, but the system as it’s made discourages many of the “classic” multiclass combos that are dear to many players and in fact discourages nearly all interesting multiclassing. For example, the classes that are primarily spellcasters–wizard, sorcerer, cleric, druid, bard–cannot effectively multiclass with anything, because they have to get their new spell levels as they advance to remain viable. Monks aren’t very good either, because they need to get regular access to their level-based abilities.
That leaves you with a bunch of idiotic effective multiclasses like “Fighter/Ranger” or “Barbarian/Rogue” that have complimentary abilities (so they stack together well). Who wants that? What’s the point of playing something like a Barbarian/Fighter or Paladin/Ranger? Why did they do it this way?
Another problem with it is that there’s a real temptation to take a single level in some unrelated class to get some cool 1st-level abilities. For example, a wizard or sorcerer might take a level in a fighting class to get access to better weapons. Anyone might take one barbarian level to get rage, dodge, and fast movement. Anyone might take one druid level to get the awesome “Animal Companion” special ability. Or one ranger level to get two-hand fighting. (This only works for humans and half-elves, or nonhumans playing their favored class as either their primary class, or the one they take a single level from, because otherwise you get an XP penalty. But still, that subset describes nearly everybody.) It seems like a lame sort of thing. Obviously I can just not do that if I think it’s lame, but then if I try to game with other people, I’m going to have my 6 ranger who is not that much different from, and is worse in combat than, the 1 ranger / 5 barbarian next to me. Lame.