Equipment Packs: The Distinctiveness of Characters

A large swath of tabletop RPGs have long lists of equipment—gear, weapons, armor, you name it—that’s used to kit-out your character. And in some instances—I’m looking at you, Shadowrun—these lists are very expansive, even in the core rulebook. To try and ease players into building their characters and ultimately transition into game play quicker, games will often have ready-made kits of gear you can grab. In Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, these are equipment packs. What’s more, you don’t even need to agonize over what will be more useful, a Dungeoneer’s, Explorer’s, or Scholar’s Pack. Instead, 5E ties the equipment pack to the Class you select.

For those that may never have played Dungeons & Dragons but are interested in Dragonfire, your Class—or Character Class, as it is termed—is the primary definition of what your character can do—their calling, so to speak. Be it Wizard, Fighter, Rogue, or Cleric, your character’s Class defines who you were born to be, finding and embracing your calling as you accept the call to adventure.

In the original Shadowrun: Crossfire game, the idea of a “Class” for the characters doesn’t really exist. And that’s because in the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, base Character Classes like these don’t really exist. You have the same general idea, but it’s much more fluid and you can do a fair bit of mixing and matching, both during character creation, and during play. That was reflected in Shadowrun: Crossfire by the idea that you select your Runner card—basically a race card; there are five them in Crossfire—and then you grabbed one of four role cards for what you wanted to play that game.

This worked very well, however, it also had a downside. The biggest one was that while we offered several different Runner cards for each race, the stats on each card were identical. They were really just illustrated differently. So it was only a Creative change we were offering, not an actual game play alternative.

That fluidity doesn’t really exist in the D&D RPG. Instead, you start by selecting your race and then you forever wed yourself to a given Character Class. I know, I know, I can hear it now: “But multiclassing!” And sure, even 5E has rules for working on multiple classes with a given character. But you pay a pretty hefty price to do so. And I personally don’t believe that really steps away from the core D&D philosophy that your Character Class defines who and what your character does throughout their adventuring career. (So, so many debates right there….)

With those key concepts in mind, when we started working on what would ultimately become the Dragonfire Character screens, we knew that the ability to switch up roles needed to go. Instead, a given screen would fuse race and Class into a single set of stats as your foundation for the character you would build across many adventures. (Dragonfire is a wonderful one-off game. But like the tabletop RPG, it really starts to sing when you play it across a campaign of inter-linked Adventures.)

I previously discussed this, but I’ll run over it again. Every Dragonfire character has four base stats that define them. Some of them also have a fifth stat. (Though technically they all have a sixth stat in Magic Item Limitations, but I’ll delve into that in a future post.)

The four stats all characters have are: Equipment Pack, starting hand, starting gold, and starting Hit Points. Then some characters also have an additional race ability on their card. This is often used both to balance the stats against other Character, as well as to bring out the Creative aspect of a given race.

Let’s take a look at the Shield Dwarf Cleric and the Sun Elf Wizard.

(As an aside, the Shield Dwarf Cleric is one of my all-time favorite D&D character illustrations, well…ever. Just makes me want to strap on armor, grab my hammer, and find a cave troll to take down. And then the Sun Elf Wizard show-cases an all-new D&D illustration. One of the wonderful aspects of working on Dragonfire is that we’ve had the chance to work with truly amazing artists—and the Wizards of the Coast team—to add all-new art to the magnificent D&D legacy. The Sun Elf Wizard is a great example of that.)

Okay, back to our comparison. The Sun Elf has a starting hand of 6 (the number of cards he draws at the start of the game), 3 gold, and 5 Hit Points; where he’ll place his clip along the Health Track at the top of the Character screen. For the Shield Dwarf Cleric, you’ve got a starting hand of 4, 4 gold, and 9 Hit Points. Pretty good and different spread of numbers.

You’ll also note that the Sun Elf has Keen Senses, a racial ability that helps to bring the Creative aspect out via an interesting tactical style of play.

Then we’ve got the Equipment Pack. The icons that make up the Equipment Pack are shorthand for the Basic Market cards you use to build the short stack of cards that will become your draw deck at the start of any game. Remember, this is a deckbuilding game.

You start out using Basic Market cards, which each have a very, well, basic ability. Then during game play, you purchase Market cards that have increased potency. Taking a look at the printed icons on the Shield Dwarf Cleric Character screen, you would select four Graces (Basic Devotion) for the green icons, two Glorys (Basic Martial) for the black icons, one Stealth (Basic Deception) for the red icon, and one Cantrip (Basic Arcane) for the blue icon, for a total of eight cards.

That all seems pretty straight forward, right? However, let’s start mixing that up some. First, let’s take a look at a Human Cleric. The stats change from 4, 4, 9 to 4, 3, and 8. And then for the Equipment Pack you drop a Glory, moving from 8 cards to 7. Now that’s only one card and two slight stat changes. Nevertheless, you’ll quickly discover that even just those mild tweaks create a different play experience. (You’ll also note that the Equipment Pack of the Human Cleric matches the Decker Role card from the top, even if the icons are different. One of the core touch-stones of the original engine as we then built upon that foundation.)

And just to show how it transitions across a given race, compare the Human Fighter to that Human Cleric. Obviously the Equipment Packs completely change to orient towards the Martial Type Fighter. But even looking at the stats you’re moving from 4, 3, 8 to 3, 2, and 10. That’s because, once again, the Class defines who and what you are. The human that becomes a Fighter absolutely is different in subtle ways to the human that becomes a Cleric, which leads to those great differences that ultimately bring altered game play to the table. Yet at the same time there are ties that bind all humans, just like all the races; in this instance, that regardless of Character Class or Class Type they only have 7 cards in their Equipment Packs, instead of the 8 (or more) of most of the other races.

Having run the numbers, there’s more than seven hundred combinations of Character screens we could publish! But of course we can’t possibly touch all that at the beginning. Instead, there are four Character Classes within the base game: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard, touching upon just five races—human, half-orc, half-elf, Shield Dwarf, and Sun Elf. Because they’re the baseline that’s usually the easiest to learn how to play, there are two humans—male and female—for each of those Character Classes, with the rest being unique combinations of race and Class.

But because we know that’s not remotely enough Character Class/race combinations, simultaneously with the release of the base game, we’re also releasing the Heroes of the Swords Coast character pack. In addition to more Market cards and a slew of new Feature stickers (which I’ll cover in a future post) it includes thirty-two new Character screens. That includes four new race/gender combinations each for the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard Character Classes from the base game. Additionally, it has sixteen new Character screens, introducing four new Character Classes in the Bard, Druid, Ranger and Warlock, along with additional races in the Lightfoot Halfing, Forest and Rock Gnomes, Gold Dwarf, Tiefling, and Wood Elf.

From that Heroes of the Sword Coast, take a look at the Forest Gnome Druid and you’ll see where we start to really push the design envelope. This character has the second lowest HP available at launch—a few of the Wizards push to 5 HP—and she starts with no gold. (Man that can be tough!) Additionally, she has 9 cards in her Equipment Pack, including “Color Spray,” a brand new Market Card for all Forest Gnomes. That pushing-of-the-envelope continues the pillars on which we built all the characters: trying to ensure balance between characters, making sure the Creative aspect is in full force every time, and crafting new game play experiences as you mix and match your party.

“What, no love for the Rogue?!” There’s still plenty to talk about concerning characters. Those Magic Item Limitations I mentioned. Those Feature Slots you see on the screens above. And so on. I’ll showcase the Rogue the next time as I delve into those details.

When we started this journey to create Dragonfire, we had no idea that character design would grow into a beast that would devour months of work as we hammered and hammered and hammered it out. But now, after all our designing and discussion and tinkering and retooling, I believe this may be one of the most exciting aspects of the game. I can see an endless series of debates coming soon that X or Y is obviously the best race in a given Class. (And don’t even think about knocking that Forest Gnome Druid…I’ve done some fantastic adventuring with her at the table!)

Until next time!


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