So it looks like the group's taking a break from Starmada this weekend for a D&D one-shot while we wait for Jared to return from somewhere. I'm pretty OK with this; Starmada's fun, but we get really competitive about it, so I'm not sure it's the best thing for group cohesion. But as the games go, so go my thoughts, and so goes the blog, and so this one's about Trailblazer.
Trailblazer (henceforth TB) is a 3.5 derivative that is nominally competing with Pathfinder, though on a much lower budget and with basically no support (I hear they're coming out with a monster book soon - might have to pick that up). They did some really neat things that made 3.x significantly more fun; my favorites are their iterative attack changes (now works like Rapid Shot, Flurry, and TWF - penalty to all attacks to get an extra attack. Much easier to keep track of the Power Attack penalties), combat reactions (AoOs, Aiding Others, Dodging, and Blocking now all fall under one mechanic that scales nicely with BaB, giving the martial classes a nice boost in addition to the extra class features they already get), and the unified Base Magic Bonus progression / casting system, which eliminates the need for classes like the Mystic Theurge and makes Caster / Non-Caster multiclassing much more viable (for example, a Cleric 3 / Monk 6 casts as a 6th-level Cleric in all respects, which is still useful at 9th character level, while 3rd-level Cleric casting would not be so much). Non-casters like the Rogue, Fighter, and Barbarian get 1/3 BmB, Ranger, Paladin, and Monk get 1/2, Bard and Adept get 2/3, and full casters get +1 BmB per level. Your total BmB is indexed into a table that determines the number of slots and readied spells (CD Spirit Shaman-style) you have available from all of the class lists you have access to (with a few restrictions that I won't go into here).
Trailblazer also did a bit of class rebalancing using a numeric system developed by Craig Cochrane (author of the Immortal's Handbook). This generates a number around 1 for each class, which is the average CR gained by taking a level in that class. The non-caster classes get the short end of the stick, ending up mostly between .9 and .95, while the full casters end up around 1.2 after TB's modifications, plus or minus .03. The primary contributing factor to their higher CRs is naturally their spellcasting; they gain about .4 CR per level just from their casting. The CR from casting formula's interesting; I've reverse-engineered it to .00025 * max spell level available at 20th level * total number of spell levels per day available at 20th level (before bonus spells and whatnot). So a 3.5 Sorc ends up with about .6 CR per level of casting, while a Wizard ends up around .4 because they have fewer raw spell slots per day. I think, however, that the casters in the 1.2 range could be pulled down to around 1 by reducing their BmB from full to 3/4. At 3/4 BmB, at 20th-level caster gets 100 levels of spells per day and a maximum of 8th-level spells, for a CR per level from casting of .2. This, applied to any of the full casters, would reduce their CR per level to 1, plus or minus .3. It also raises the level at which play starts to break down from 4th-level spells like Solid Fog that hose non-magical characters unstoppably from 7th to 10th, which means that Epic 9th then becomes a viable option (for those unfamiliar, I recommend checking out Epic 6th here).
There are, however, a couple of problems with this solution, as pointed out to me by one of my caster-playing friends. The first is that at low levels, casters suck extra - you don't get 1st-level spells until 2nd level with 3/4 BmB. The second is that your caster level lags as well as your spell availability, decreasing the power of all your spells in addition to limiting your slots. The third, and perhaps most systematically serious, is that since saving throw DCs are based on spell level, by reducing spell level availability, you reduce saving throw DCs against spells across the board. My proposed solution to problem 2 is to do something similar to the Bard's Arcane Forte ability, which grants them a bonus to caster level with spells from certain schools. This lends itself beautifully to specialist wizards, and to domain-centric clerics, but I haven't found a good way to apply it to subsets of the Sorc or Druid lists yet. Problem 3 could probably be solved through careful selection of spells - those without saves, like most rays, or those with saves that you know your enemies to be weak against. I'm loathe to increase save DCs across the board, though I'm also slightly tempted by True Sorcery's approach, where all spells had a save DC equal to 10 + half caster level + relevant ability score modifier. It introduces a nice parallel to monster special ability saving throw DCs, and makes low-level spells more useful at high levels. 3.5's psionic augmentation rules might be the best way to go, though. Finally, I don't have a good solution for lack of spells at first level, except perhaps to round BmB up at first level with a 3.0 Druid Animal Companion-style caveat (for those unfamiliar, a 3.0 druid could choose an animal companion with a number of HD less than or equal to their druid level, except for 1st-level druids, who could get up to 2 HD of animal companions).
Thoughts? Nerdrage? Willing victims for playtesting? I'm hoping Tim'll let me run a TB character this weekend for the one-shot; while I ran a 10thish level TB campaign last summer, I could stand some 6th-level playtest data as well. Also, this may lead up to a Wilderlands of High Fantasy TB campaign - I found a cheap used copy of the Necromancer version of Wilderlands recently, and it looks like it would play kind of as a cross between Traveller and D&D, which would be pretty awesome...