Monthly Archives: July 2012

RPG System Review: Torg

Greetings, readers! This week, I’m taking a look at a somewhat obscure RPG from the 90’s that took on some ambitious goals—and in many ways represents an innovative step in roleplaying game design. I’m talking about the boxed set containing cyberpunks, barbarian warriors, dinosaurs and superheroes… ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the game known as Torg.

Cyberpunks and Priests. This is actually just one realm in Torg.
Created by West End Games in 1990, Torg is a cinematic, multi-genre roleplaying game from the talented pens of Greg Gordon and Bill Slavicsek. Torg is an acronym for “The Other Roleplaying Game,” and its original presentation was as a boxed set that included rulebooks, a “possibility shard” that was in fact an oddly colored D20, and a “drama deck” of cards (more on these later). Also included in the box was an advertisement for the Infiniverse magazine, a periodical of in-universe information for Torg that promised to track and include the progress of a campaign through “rumors” in the magazine that would be confirmed or denied. This system made use of a response form to tell West End Games what happened during your campaign.

What is it all about?

Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
In “the near now,” Earth has been invaded by a number of other dimensions, each ruled by a “High Lord.” The High Lords have changed the natural laws wherever their reign rules supreme, and large areas of the planet have transformed to match the invading reality. The player characters are “Storm Knights,” special people from Earth and the invading dimensions who are gifted with a limited ability to affect “possibility energy,” a rich field that envelops Earth and interacts with all of the invading dimensions. The Storm Knights oppose many of the High Lords and the plans of one in particular, the evil Gaunt Man.
For the rest of the review, click to follow after the jump! 

In my opinion, the most distinct and interesting things about Torg were its setting and its system.

The Setting

Pseudo-Victorian gothic colonialism Horror is just one of many, many parts of the setting.

Torg’s Wikipedia article does a better job than I can explaining the various “cosms” that have invaded Earth in Torg, but I will single out a few to mention here that I found to be interesting or unusual.
The Cyberpapacy: This realm is bound to raise some eyebrows with its very concept, and it can definitely make some folks uncomfortable with its portrayal of a pre-reformation—meaning /very/ corrupt and immoral—Catholic Church.
The Nile Empire: This realm rocks, period! The authors of the game are obviously fans of pulp adventure, and it shows through in many places. Not just the Nile Empire, either: Orrorsh, the Land Below, and (of course) Terra are all very pulp-y and flavorful.
The Nile Empire has some really great character archetypes, from the Amazon to the Rocket Ranger, and I heartily endorse it as my personal favorite realm—both to adventure in and to build characters from.
Tharkold: This is a really interesting mashup of the Terminator and Hellraiser… and definitely the kind of place I don’t think you’d be able to find anywhere else. While it is not as interesting to me personally as the Nile Empire, it is still a cool idea and worth checking out.

The System

One notable thing about the Torg system is that it strongly encourages a cinematic approach. Game sessions are divided into Acts and Scenes, for example, and the ways that characters interact with the world are intended to be more epic than a typical roleplaying game. Keep in mind that the following is a very basic overview and that my own experience has been limited to just a few games so far!
D20 and Result: To resolve actions in Torg, you roll a D20 and consult a simple chart. Low numbers on the roll give you penalties, high rolls on the chart grant bonuses. Applying these to the base attribute or skill produced your result. The D20 is rolled again if the player rolls a 10 or a 20, meaning that very high results are possible. The value of a skill is directly added to an attribute for this purpose.
The “possibility shard” d20.
Here’s an example: Rex Steele is trying to hit a cultist serving the evil Dr. Mobius. Rex’s Dexterity is 10 and his Unarmed Combat skill is 3. Rex rolls a d20 and gets a result of 14, which is a +1 result on the chart. Adding the +1 to Rex’s Dexterity and Unarmed Combat gives him a total of 14, which is higher than the cultist’s Dodge. The cultist is roundly struck by the Rocket Ranger’s fist.
Possibilities: The idea of Possibilities is interesting; these represent the Storm Knight’s ability to affect reality. A player can spend a possibility to enhance his roll, giving him an additional roll of the d20 and adding it to his previous roll to find the result on the chart (for example, Rex Steele in the above example spends a possibility when attacking the cultist. Rex rolls an additional d20 and gets a result of 9. Rex adds the 9 to the 13 that he previously rolled for a total of 22. Comparing that number to the chart shows that Rex would get a +8 modifier. Adding that to his Dexterity of 10 and Unarmed Combat of 3 means that Rex’s total result would be 21.).
Characters start the game with a number of possibilities (typically 10) and are awarded more at the end of each game session. Spent Possibilities are gone forever.
Unfortunately, Torg also says that Possibilities are your experience points. Player characters spend possibilities to increase their abilities and attributes over time. 
What is cool is that characters can learn and grow in interesting ways. A mage from Aysle can learn Kung fu. A priest from Orrorsh can learn computer hacking skills. A superhero from the Nile Empire can learn to cast spells. Gaining abilities like this is not cheap, but it is possible!
Characters from the Nile Empire with superpowers were required to spend a number of Possibilities (typically 3) every session to keep their powers working. I’m not a fan of this approach. At all.
Many of the named bad guys (the more important and dramatic foes that you encounter during a session) can spend possibilities as well, and doing so is the only way they can re-roll a low result. However, possibilities can be spent to oppose each other, essentially cancelling each other out. Therefore, a character may spend a possibility to stop a hated foe from re-rolling a low result, or vice versa.
Actions:  In keeping with the cinematic nature of the game, Torg allows all characters to do much more than simply attack an enemy in combat. Other Actions that any kind of character can take include Maneuver (Move yourself or someone else, shift positions, etc.), Trick (get someone to do something you want them to do), Test of Wills (attempt to get an opponent to flee or surrender), Taunt, or Intimidate. These abilities are further incentivized by the Drama Deck (see below), where characters are offered a bonus if they perform the specific action called for on the card.
The Drama Deck: One of the most controversial elements of Torg’s system is a deck of cards known as the Drama Deck. These cards are multipurpose; not only do they determine who goes first in combat (either the heroes—the PCs—or the villains), they determine various effects that occur in combat (such as Setbacks) and offer players a number of options that they can play during combat to enhance their own abilities (such as cards that offer extra actions or bonuses). 
When the Drama Deck is being used to determine initiative, it also offers a selection of actions (see above) that are given a bonus; if the player performs one of the actions during that round of combat, he can draw an additional card from the deck into his hand. Thus, if the card is turned over at the beginning of the combat has “Maneuver/Trick” on it, players are incentivized to use those actions that round. 
Personally, I really like the Drama Deck, as it makes combat interesting and constantly provides something fresh to work with in every part of the fight.
Realities and Cosms: The rulebook also contains some really interesting rules for how the various cosms work; each one has their own “realm laws” that change the way things work when in that reality. On top of that, there are ways for groups of Storm Knights to use their abilities to affect reality, create “possibility shards” to help stabilize their own individual realms, and even carry a portable piece of a certain reality around with them.
In Addition: The game handles separate rules for miracles of faith, magic spells, cybernetics, and superpowers. Later on, psionics were also added.

A Troubled History

 

Alas, poor Infiniverse… a great idea brought low before its time. I seem to be saying that a lot lately.
Torg had some limited success in the market, but was held back by a number of issues. One of the most notable issues involved the writing of the rules system—while the system itself was sound, the descriptions of how things worked had been left at a very technical stage and there was no time allotted to edit it into something more easily understood. Some sources claim that Torg was rushed into production to compete with Palladium Books’ Rifts game that came out at roughly the same time.
It has been said that one of the common sayings is that if you could send Greg Gordon to every gamer’s house who purchased Torg to run it for them, the game would have been a huge success… this concept was called “Greg-in-a-box.”
Unfortunately, the game ground to a halt only a few years later. Infiniverse floundered, and the game did not take any advantage of the birth of the internet.
A company known as Omni Gaming Products released a new issue of Infiniverse as part of their attempt to relaunch the game, but the attempt failed.
West End Games announced in 2004 that they were interested in and working on a new edition of Torg, but despite promises that the game would be revealed at Gen Con 2006, nothing has actually been produced for a Torg “2.0.”

The Good

Just about anything is possible in Torg!
 
Torg’s setting and mechanics are, in my opinion, inspirational and revelatory. The Drama Deck is exciting and unique, and the die roll mechanic is a blend of Savage Worlds and D20, with a simple and elegant resolution mechanic.
The game’s focus on cinematics encourages imaginative combat scenes with lots of action and creative stunts.
The system as a whole strikes me as one that is surprisingly rules-light while providing plenty of depth.
The setting is intriguing and presents so many options that it is hard to find something that doesn’t give you a few adventure ideas just on a casual read. In addition, many of the settings (especially the Nile Empire and Tharkold) are quite cool and unlike anything else out there in the RPG industry.
The idea of your character using the universal laws of various dimensions and taking advantage of his own ability to affect reality is especially cool and distinct, and I definitely feel that this is a great game to study as a game designer for some interesting and unusual twists on the normal RPG experience.

The Bad

The way the rules of Torg are written, they are difficult to understand and are not very well explained—a good editing pass and some additional playtesting would have really helped, but in my opinion the rules sections should be entirely re-written with an eye towards clarity and ease of use.
I feel that Torg failed to capitalize on many of the unique opportunities of its setting. A good example is the Victorian-Horror realm of Orrorsh. While you can play a vampyre or a werewolf, some additional attention to playing as monsters (like Frankenstein’s monster) or monster hunters (perhaps in the same style as Solomon Kane) would have really added a great deal of flavor. In the same vein, I think it is good that the realm of Aysle exists in the setting, but I found it extremely difficult to motivate myself to play a traditional fantasy adventurer with all of the other options that are available.
Each Cosm has different ratings in Technology, Spirituality, Magic, and Culture. Generally speaking, if you try to use an item, skill, or ability that has a higher rating than the cosm you are currently in, it has trouble working or may fail to function at all. Therefore, using high-tech gear in the Living Land (which is primitive) or Aysle (which is roughly medieval, much like many fantasy worlds) has a chance to result in failure—the item may disconnect from your home reality or even transform into something more fitting for the cosm you’re in at the time, like a rock or a sword replacing a handgun.
This is generally fine as an idea, but it means that low-tech items remain useful more often than high-tech ones. This means that an Eidinos (lizardmen native to the Living Land) with a stone spear can continue to use his stone spear without too much trouble in nearly every realm. Likewise, a Hospitaller from the Cyberpapacy will find that his power sword, machine gun, and cybernetic implants are far more troublesome to use in nearly every other realm aside from Tharkold. Overall, this means that lower-tech items are more valuable over the long run. Admittedly, this is a bit of a nit-pick, but I feel it is worth mention.
Lastly, I think it is quite a shame that Infiniverse floundered the way that it did, and I wish that the game had more embraced the World Wide Web during its day.

The Ugly

The back side of the Drama Deck cards.

 

The way that Possibilities act as both a way to boost your abilities in the game and as experience points is a terrible, terrible idea. Punishing players who want to do cool things is a direct refutation of the otherwise cinematic-focused system. Possibilities should be used just as boosts or as ways to interact with the reality rules of each dimension… something completely separate should be earned and used instead as experience points. Otherwise, Drama Cards and the use of Possibilities in-game as boosts become an option that several players—including myself—would simply ignore in favor of developing the character’s own abilities.
Characters with cybernetics are basically screwed right from the start. Oh, cybernetic characters have a lot of built-in advantages; they’re usually better in many ways than other starting characters and have access to very effective gear. Some of the best starting weapons and armor in the game, for example, are available to cybernetic characters.
However, Cybernetic characters have a unique flaw in that they suffer from cyberpsychosis—whenever a card from the drama deck indicates a “setback,” cybernetic characters must make a Spirit test, and the result of that test is compared to the Cyberpsychosis chart. Most of that chart is bad, ranging from suffering minor penalties to being stuck doing nothing for a couple of rounds. Some of the chart is very bad, involving rolls on a systems failure chart (no good results on that one, either) and going bezerk, attacking all other characters for a number of rounds. At the extreme end of the chart (and, admittedly a very unlikely result), the character is removed from play and becomes an NPC. 
The issue here is that Setbacks are very likely to occur around once per game session, and Cybernetic characters don’t really gain any other benefits from having a good Spirit. The Tharkold sourcebook later introduced a skill called Cyberpsyche that could be used in place of a Spirit Test (skills add to characteristics and are generally easier to improve), which did go a ways to help out. Taking into account the technology issues of using higher-tech gear in lower-tech cosms, Cybernetic characters faced significant handicaps compared to other kinds of characters, which is unfortunate given the rich array of character options for cybernetic PCs.

My Torg Experience

My favorite cosm by far.
I bought the boxed game for Torg when it first came out, and I was initially very excited by the game’s promises of cinematic gameplay, multiple genres all crossing over each other, and the living campaign through the Infiniverse magazine.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite figure out how to play the darn game… the rules were written in such a way that I couldn’t grasp what I was supposed to do to make the game work (and this is in the era where I was regularly running Star Wars D6 games, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and Robotech!).
Thus, the box remained unused and forgotten for many years.
Later, I had the honor of working alongside Brian Schomburg at Fantasy Flight Games. Brian had previously been a big part of the art direction at West End Games, and through talking to Brian about many games of mutual interest—amongst them Star Wars D6 and Ghostbusters—Brian brought up the subject of Torg. I hadn’t really thought of the game in years, but after discussing it with Brian, I began to remember some of the more distinct elements of the game and I became interested in it once more.
Unfortunately, Brian and I weren’t able to play Torg during my tenure at FFG, but again Fate stepped in. I was hired at Vigil Games to work with Ed Stark, a luminary of the RPG industry with numerous credits under his belt, including a stint working on Torg.
Ed ran a game of Torg for me that was a twofold landmark moment. It was both the first time I had ever played Torg and the first time I had ever played in an RPG alongside my father. Needless to say, I had a great time, and having played Torg, the mechanics of the game suddenly all made sense.
Since then I have joined another group for a Torg campaign and it is quite enjoyable.

Final Thoughts

I really like Torg. But I do have some issues with the system.
I wish playing a superhero or a cyberpunk didn’t come with so many negatives. I wish that possibilities weren’t also XP. I wish the rule system was easier to understand.
Overall, however, it is an excellent cinematic system for fun, action-filled games. With all the setting material, you can basically play almost any kind of game you want, and I like that there’s a sense that anything can happen. Playing around with the concepts of different rules for each reality is interesting and unique.
People who love RPGs and especially those who enjoy cinematic genres should play Torg to check it out. It is a unique system with a lot to offer even the most jaded gamer. I would love to see a second edition of this system that cleans up the rules and explains them in a much easier to understand way, changes possibilities so they are not your XP, and fixes cyber characters and superheroes to be more playable. I’d love it if a company like Fantasy Flight Games or Catalyst Game Labs would pick up the license for a Torg 2.0 and release a new boxed set of the Possibility Wars.
For more information about Torg, check out these RPG.netreviews.

Interview Time: Sean Patrick Fannon

When I started Rogue Warden, one of my goals was to go around and interview a number of my friends and colleagues in the RPG industry—partly to help raise awareness of the blog, of course, but also to get some insight into the professionals that create the games I love. Today’s interview is with a man I would describe as a rogue, a colleague, a Game Master, and a friend: Mr. Sean Patrick Fannon.
Sean with his fiancee, Carinn Seabolt. Sean, you lucky dog!!
I’ve known Sean for several years, having run into him in a particularly memorable (and somewhat embarrassing) incident at Gen Con during its last year in Milwaukee. I got a chance to play in one of Sean’s demo games that year for Shards of the Stone, and I could tell right away that Sean had a notable passion and love for games.
I had known of Sean’s work before meeting him due to my deep appreciation of Champions 4th edition, and Sean worked on many of my favorite books of that line.
Later on, Sean gets the credit for introducing me to (at the time) a new-fangled RPG system called Savage Worlds—I was particularly impressed by how that system handled 20+ players at the same time in one of Sean’s Shaintar convention games!
I’d like to call out a couple of really interesting and thought-provoking pieces written by Sean: the first being the Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible and the second being his Project ’77 “gamer manifesto” post.
Currently, Sean has finagled his way into a great position as the Customer Marketing and Communications guy for DriveThruRPG. Also, Sean is the man responsible for single-handedly convincing Kevin Siembieda to bring Palladium Books into the 21st century by offering PDFs of their products on DriveThruRPG. Way to go, Sean!
Sean wrote the excellent “How to use Enemies” chapter in this book.

Lastly, I’m pleased to say that Sean and I are colleagues, having worked together on projects including the ENnie-award winning Creatures Anathema. Take it from me, Sean’s a talented writer and one HELL of a GM.

If you want to know more about Sean, check out his blog and this episode of The Game’s The Thing (it’s an eye-opener!)
Now, onto the questions! As before, my questions are in red.
(See the rest of the interview after the jump… it’s a big one!)

RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?
Sean: In 1977, I discovered D&D thanks to a “GAMES Magazine” article, and got my mom to buy me the early boxed set (the one with the powder blue rulebook inside). I had a keep on the border of some lands, and no one to teach me a thing about what I was doing. I honestly believe my impetus to become a designer of worlds and a writer of gaming stuff came from that “first one into the wilderness” beginning. 
From that beginning, I forged ahead as a gamer, GM, and writer/designer with a heavy focus on the immersive qualities of roleplaying. For me, it’s always been about creating the environment in which all of us get to tell stories like the ones we read and watch. With Star Wars releasing the same year I discovered D&D, you can rest assured the sweeping, epic qualities of action/adventure cinema have always been a huge influence on me, and remain so to this day.
A man wears a hat like that, isn’t afraid of anything.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
Sean: At some point, all of the worlds and characters and stories I’d created convinced my players and friends that I was at least as good as anyone being published at the time. This was the mid-eighties, as the RPG industry was just beginning its meteoric climb from a “some copies sold at conventions” to a pervasive presence in any store likely to carry games and toys. 
I finally decided to take my shot at writing professionally by submitting a review to Scott Haring, who was Editor-in-Chief for “The Gamer Magazine.” I got a few published, and that was all I needed to decide it was indeed time to dive headlong in. At this stage of things, there was no easy access via the Internet, so face-to-face and mailed letters were still the best way to communicate with the publishers you wanted to write for.
(Note that self-publishing wasn’t the easy way in that it is today; if you didn’t work with an established publisher – who was taking all of the financial risk to develop, prepare, and print a product as well as the massive effort to sell it through the distribution networks – you were going to have to come up with rather significant financial capital just to get a single book done and out yourself.)
I’ve always been pretty good with in-person encounters, and I had plenty of friends on the staff of DragonCon. I got myself a Staff badge, hit the floor of the exhibitor hall on set-up day, and proceeded to help the folks of Iron Crown Enterprises and Hero Games set up their booth. Hero was partnered with ICE at that time to publish all of the Champions and Hero System stuff at that time, and that was the realm I wanted to play in as a designer and writer. Helping them gave me an opportunity to not only introduce myself, but make a pitch for a game product.
The Final Reich – a modern-day team of Nazis and their organization.
They pretty much rejected it out of hand; they’d just had to recall Wings of the Valkyrie, a module where the superheroes had to actually save Hitler to save the future. This did not apparently sit well with an influential Jewish organization, so ICE yanked it rather than deal further with the controversy.
Fortunately, I’d impressed them enough to open the way for another pitch, which is where High Tech Enemies came from. After that, I was on their list, and eventually became the Continuity Editor for the Champions Universe for a time. At that time, success bred success, as other companies and editors wanted to work with folks who had proven they could write and get work in on time.
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
Sean: People live in worlds I create or help to develop. I really can’t think of anything more heady than that.
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
Sean: I’m one of the very few people I know who enjoys a steady paycheck and insurance benefits in this industry, and I still live literally paycheck to paycheck. Anyone who treats their role in the RPG industry as their primary income probably lives well below the poverty line. 
Alas, poor Shards of the Stone–a great concept, dead before its time.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
Sean: I have no illusions about how much time, effort, and struggle is involved in making this a career. At the same time, things are so very much easier than they were at the beginning. In just the five years you mention, technologies and techniques have developed so rapidly that literally anyone can go from fan to published creator in a single night. Nothing stops anyone from getting into this professionally – except themselves. You still have to actually do the work, instead of just talking about it.
RW: You’ve been in charge of your own projects before… how would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of projects you were in charge of?
Sean: Using the tools and tech that’s available now, I see building teams around an idea and moving forward with everyone owning a piece of the total result. It’s not possible to cut everyone in for a percentage of the revenue of a specific product without anyone fearing “getting screwed.” Using the royalty system of a site like DriveThruRPG, you can do “moment of transaction” royalty splits; each time a product is purchased, each person that’s a part of it gets their cut instantly.
Frankly, I’m kind of surprised we don’t see more of this happening than we do right now.
RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?
Sean: With the “Everyone Can Play” atmosphere of the `Net, it’s more important than ever that all of us who represent the working professionals of the industry act in a fashion that provides the right example. We don’t need to be stiff-necked and difficult (leave that to the better-paid non-gaming sector), but we can certainly maintain a level of mature composure and professional demeanor that gives our customers and fans confidence in us as they support us.
Freelancers best serve themselves by communicating effectively with the teams they are working with. They need to hit their deadlines, and if for some reason they can’t, they need to let their editors and developers know as soon as they do. Freelancers also need to ensure they respect the properties they are being allowed to play with; if they bring too much into a project that isn’t really compatible with what has gone before, they force their editors to do a lot more work to get the product in shape.
Publishers need to be forthright about all of their expectations right from the start. At the same time, they can go a long way towards easing new freelancers into the process by providing helpful tools and examples of what they need and expect. I recently finished a project with Fantasy Flight Games, and I was massively impressed and pleased to work with an actual template they provided for my writing; it provided all of the headings and related formatting right in the document, which meant what I ultimately delivered fit neatly into their development and layout process right off.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
Sean: The money. It is a sincere shame that we all work just as hard as any other creator of entertainment, yet most of us cannot really make a decent living at it. Unfortunately, the realities are that our customer base remains a niche marketplace. The pie we’re all scrambling to eat from is only so big, and that means there’s just not the kind of revenue flowing through that the electronics industry sees – never mind the fiction, television, and motion picture industries.
I’d just like to see easier access to health care options. Too many of my colleagues have to hold onto jobs they utterly despise in order to have crappy insurance that barely takes care of them and their families.
RW: How do you engage with the fans of your work?
Sean: I’m very active in social networking, especially Facebook and Google+. As well, I go to a lot of conventions (a LOT of them), and I love doing panels where I can talk about all of this stuff. Most importantly, though, I love just sitting down at the gaming table and playing with my fellow gamers.
A must-own for any serious roleplayer.
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
Sean: At one point, I would have said writing The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible. However, in 2010 Haiti was hit with a 7.+ earthquake and it literally rocked the world in many ways. Chuck Childers (my colleague at DriveThruRPG, where I work now) and I jumped on a plan to pull together products from all of the publishers that wanted to help and do a kind of “mega bundle” for raising funds. We figured we’d help pull together a few thousand dollars, if all went well.
We raised nearly $179,000.00, which we donated to Doctors Without Borders (that was Carinn Seabolt’s idea, the love of my life). 
Creating and developing a means for our culture to be more socially conscientious and effective in helping the world be a better place? That is, undoubtedly, my greatest achievement so far in this industry. 
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
Sean: I don’t write nearly enough. A complete lack of effective time management, mixed with other issues and distractions, has kept me far from my potential for the amount of work I should have produced by this stage of my career.
One of my favorite Champions 4e books!
RW: Your book, Hi-tech Enemies is one of the best Enemies books for 4th Edition Champions (IMHO). Can you tell us a bit more about the Destruction Company, Doc Digital, or the development process of the book in general? Were Sci-Fi and Fastball former player characters of someone in your group?
Sean: Wow, it’s been a long, long time since I thought about that book! Thanks for the very kind words. 
Here’s the funny thing – many of the characters created for High-Tech Enemies were created whole cloth for that book. I had a few technological and scientific enemies in my ongoing campaign, and the Montgomery family was very prevalent in my personal “mythology,” both as a GM and as a player. So Master Control had been the main villain for me for quite some time, and the STRIKE Units had been plaguing my players for a while. As well, Crossbow and Stellar Paladin (though the latter was originally called Starknight when I played him, way back in 1984-86) have always been player characters for me.
The Destruction Company was also an infamous villain group in my campaign, and the Weasel remains the single-most hated supervillain I’ve ever put into a game.
Pretty much the rest of the villains – and their stories – came up as I developed the book from scratch. Granted, I intentionally wove various stories together as I did so; I’ve always loved having a sense of continuity and back story for the villains, and tying all of them into the framework of the campaign overall. I didn’t mean, at first, to create a continuity whole-cloth for the what would become the Champions Universe, but somehow that’s a major part of what happened as I wrote up all those stories, relationships, and backgrounds.
Doc Digital and his group sprang forth from pure inspiration, and that remains one of my favorite creations for the C.U..
RW: Hi-Tech Enemies tied in to two other 4th Edition Champions books; Corporations (for Montgomery International) and Allies (for the Cyber-Knights). How many years were the Cyber-Knights active in your home campaign? (My personal favorites are Crossbow and Heavy Duty)
Sean: Again, the Cyberknights as a group never actually existed in play form; Crossbow was a personal player character for me for a long time, and Hardwire evolved from another character I played for a bit. I built the rest of the team around them, strictly based on the fact that they’d been mentioned so much in High-Tech Enemies. 
They became very real after publication of the book, though, and frequently assisted other hero groups in my campaigns afterwards.
Part of any good Champions 4e collection…
RW: When you designed The Mutant File for 4th edition Champions, what were your biggest influences? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of that book?
Sean: Naturally, Marvel’s take on mutants and their place in society strongly informed everything that had been done with mutants in the Champions Universe by the time I got handed the book. My goal was to tap into that particular gestalt while still trying to create distinctive elements that were unique to the CU.
At the time, I really enjoyed creating all of the stuff I did for Genocide. In hindsight, however, I have to admit that so much of it was very derivative of existing material in comics. I still think the characters and agents are cool, but I really could have stretched farther than I did.
I think the Downtrodden remain some of my favorite characters, and I truly enjoyed riding the line between villainous and sympathetic with IMAGE.
RW: Can you tell us more about your thoughts on the Downtrodden (the mutant superpowered biker gang led by Fry Daddy) and Genocide?
Sean: The Downtrodden are generally decent, but they’re mostly just a bunch of people out on the road, trying to get by. I’ve had a lot of fun using them as surprise allies in various stories, especially when Voodoo needs to reach some heroes and let them know about something happening on the Grand Scale. 
As with all my character stuff, these folks just start writing themselves. I come up with a bare-bones concept, and then start writing and see where it goes. The relationship between Fry Daddy and Tabitha literally wrote itself as fingers hit the keyboard. I love that.
The same thing happened as I was working on Genocide, and even though much of it is conceptually derivative, I remain proud of the fact that all of the characters stand up as their own people. The inner workings, conspiracies, and the rest of it just gelled together, and it is a scary and effective organization.
Immortal Legends indeed…
RW: I believe that your fantasy RPG setting, Shaintar, represents one of your greatest accomplishments in gaming. Do you feel that’s true?
I know that my most well-known work is either from my original association with Champions or writing The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, but I do feel that Shaintar is my very best work – especially the new stuff about to be released by Reality Blurs.
RW: Shaintar has lived both in convention games, online, and in your home campaign across the country. Can you tell us more about how you’ve developed this world for so many years?
Sean: That would be a long essay all by itself, Ross. 😀

Let’s just say I started with a keep on some borderlands of somewhere back in 1977 and, having no world to work with, I started building one. Over the decades, that world evolved organically, benefiting from all I was learning about world-building, story-telling, and running good campaigns. Inspired by fantastic people like Ed Greenwood, Lawrence Kasdan, and Joe Straczynski, as well as exceptional game masters like Albert Deschesne, Mike Dean, and Marcus Pregent, I learned a great deal about making a campaign setting full of story potential and a compelling place for players to inhabit with their characters over the long haul.

RW: How do you reconcile working on a game that, on the one hand, requires a set of rules… but on the other hand, encourages GMs and players to break the rules or come up with their own?
Sean: My job isn’t to create inviolable rules of play. My job is to create processes and tools that foment creativity and facilitate creative shared storytelling. If I empower a Game Master with a set of rules and guidelines that give him or her confidence in making good on-the-spot decisions, I am successful. If the players had a great time and want to play again, that goes in the Win column.
RW: If you were a shadowrunner, you’d be a…?
Sean: Street samurai with a serious paladin complex. This would, of course, make me very unpopular with other shadowrunners. I know this already from painful experience…
RW: What’s your favorite RPG that you have no involvement in?
Sean: Kind of funny, that, because inevitably any system I become enamored of becomes one I want to work with. I’d say BASH! (Basic Actions Super Heroes) is one at this point, though I am already doing some development in that area. I love its clean resolution, its flexibility, and the ease at which it handles most superheroic combat situations.
I want to give props to Pathfinder for getting the OGL version of D&D right. I am also keenly interested in the Ubiquity system (though, again, my non-involvement with it may not last very long).
I will always love both Torg and Rifts – not for the system, in either case, but for what they accomplished in terms of epic genre-twisting and big stories.
RW: What do you look for… and what is a red flag… for a random freelancer submission?
Sean: Confident and clear communication, and a respect for what has been done already. Whenever someone comes crashing through the door with the idea that they know better than anyone else, all I can do is remember how I felt that way… and how wrong I was. 
Someone who talks a lot about something but has little to show for it? Instant red flag.
Finally, if you wish to be a professional game designer/writer, you must be willing to use proper words, grammar, and spelling in all forms of communication. If you tend towards “l337” or “Text-ese,” I tend to not take you seriously. Yes, this even means texting; don’t use “I have something 4 u.” Take the time to write “I have something for you,” if you want me to not put a block up where you are concerned as a writer.
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
Sean: Savage Worlds – just about anything.

Gaming Awards

The list of nominees for the 2011 ENnie awards have just been released, and I’m super-proud to say that there are three products on that list with my name in it. I have won some ENnies before (for Dawnforge in 2003 and Creatures Anathema in 2008), and I’m honored that my work has been recognized in this way.
Today’s blog post is all about the art and science of gaming industry awards, so I need to be clear up front with full disclosure: I’ve won some ENnies—I’ve participated in the ENnies process many times, and they are probably my favorite set of gaming awards in the current landscape.
All that having been said, let’s talk about gaming awards in general. What are they? How do they work—or not work? Is there a better way? These are the questions I’d like to address.
Hey now, no recursion!

Who Are the Awards For?

Of the gamers I know in my local area, roughly two-thirds of them are aware of gaming industry awards in a general sense, and amongst those, there are many who find them useful and/or possibly influential. One-third simply does not care and is not influenced by them at all.
I’ve heard it said that mostly gaming awards are for the industry, not the consumers—I guess I just like to imagine that, just like there are film buffs who discuss the Academy Awards, there are game buffs who discuss gaming awards.
In my experience, the ones that are most affected by industry awards are the industry professionals themselves. The folks who spend all that time and energy and money making games are the most invested in the recognition those games receive… and I’m fine with that. It definitely looks good on a resume, and I can speak from experience that having won an industry award is helpful getting one’s foot in the door for doing work with a professional gaming company.
I think for many gamers, relevance is the most important issue when it comes to awards—but that is also a complicated issue. Obviously, the award is meant to be given to the most qualified recipient. But what meaning does an award have if it is given to an extremely obscure product? There’s something to be said for the awards raising awareness of more niche games, and I am definitely a proponent of that… but a quality game, IMHO, is generally one that is recognizable to many, if not most, gamers who pay attention to the awards in the first place.
Now this is an award I’d love to have on my shelf…

Is There a Better Way?

My friend and colleague Kevin Wilson used to say that what the industry really needs is some kind of journalistic approach to awards. For example, printed novels have the “New York Times Bestseller List.” RPGs have no real journalistic, “neutral third party” group to provide an objective viewpoint. Having researched this issue for some time, the only conclusion I’ve come to is that there may be a better and more ideal way of handling awards… but I have no idea of what it is. I can say that I feel personally the ENnies is the most representative option of gaming awards in our industry—although there’s still room for improvement.

Which Awards?

Let’s check out the current crop of gaming industry awards. The “big two” are the Origins Awards and the ENnies. There are also smaller award groups like the Golden Geek awards, the Indie RPG awards, and the Diana Jones award.

The Origins Awards

According to their Wikipedia entry, the Origins Awards have been around since roughly 1987 and have been more of a force in the industry since 2000. I know that I first became aware of them sometime in the 90’s and started paying a lot more attention towards the early 2000’s, especially given the rocky events of that decade (see below). The Origins Awards has the prestige of being the first and probably most recognized set of game industry awards. The Origins Game Fair is built around the Origins awards, and it is the current keeper of the game industry hall of fame. For these reasons, Origins is one of the “Big Two” in the gaming industry awards set alongside the ENnies awards (see below).

The Good

The Origins awards try hard to be comprehensive; they attempt to recognize nearly every category of product you’d see in a typical game shop—from RPGs, to miniature games, to board games, and so forth.

Additionally, the Origins awards encompass the Hall of Fame mentioned above and are a proponent of the Origins Game Fair. These are all good things that I personally give them credit for.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the Origins awards have become increasingly irrelevant over time. I myself know of at least two big name game companies that refuse to have anything to do with the Origins awards. In addition, the method by which awards are nominated and which games are recognized is confusing and opaque.
Personally, the last several years of Origins awards have never failed to leave me scratching my head and wondering why certain games won awards and others were ignored. A good example from the 2011 awards is the Best Miniature Game category. While I am certain that the Blackest Night Heroclix had some quality to it, I’m very surprised that games like Malifaux were passed over in its favor.
Similarly, the 2006 awards gave RPG of the year to Burning Empires whilst ignoring Spirit of the Century… if someone can explain this to me, by all means, chime in down in the comments section, because I find these kinds of decisions absolutely baffling.
The RPG of the year for 2011, according to the Origins Awards, is Arcanis. I’m certain Arcanis is a fine product, but this is also the year of the Pathfinder Beginner’s box, the Mouse Guard boxed set, and Savage Worlds Deluxe… which (for me) makes no sense.
The actual awards show itself (hosted at the Origins Game Fair) is an impressive affair… but is noticeably lacking some of the bigger names of the industry in attendance. Even companies that participate in the awards (i.e., sending in product for consideration) rarely make an appearance.
These are some of the reasons why I believe the Origins Awards have become essentially meaningless—the awards are being shunned by significant publishers, the awards themselves are handed out without seeming rhyme or reason, and…

The Ugly

The Origins Awards are frustratingly opaque as to how the awards (and the Hall of Fame) are handled. The Origins Awards are decided by the “Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design,” which is apparently a part of GAMA. I regret to say that I don’t have a lot of hard facts regarding the specific function of the Academy or the Awards, nor could I find such information on the GAMA website. It’s possible that such info is there, but it’s certainly buried beyond a casual search. 
Ultimately, I have no idea how the Origins Awards work—I presume that if you’re a member of GAMA or on the GAMA board, you can vote with the Academy… or maybe the Academy is the board… I just don’t know. And to me, opaque awards committees are basically just a recipe for disaster.
There was, in fact, just such a disaster in the early part of the new millennium. In 2004, Ryan Dancey had been elected treasurer of GAMA—Dancey had previously served as a Brand Manager for WOTC during the heady years of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd and 3.5 edition and was a key figure in the Open Game License of that era. Dancey’s election was part of a much-anticipated “reform group” that it was hoped would change the Origins Awards, the Academy, and GAMA for the better.
This scandal tainted the Origins Awards’ integrity and was one of the reasons that some publishers (mentioned above) chose to steer clear of the awards show from that point forward.

My Opinion: The Origins Awards used to mean something, but now I believe they are completely irrelevant both to the average gamer and the industry at large. The meaning and significance of the Origins Award has been severely tarnished by the 2004 scandal, and I think it would take some major effort on the part of the Academy to redeem the awards into something meaningful once again.

The ENnies Awards

The ENnies have been around since 2001 and are an outgrowth of a popular and influential RPG website known as EN World, a site built by Eric Noah focused around Dungeons and Dragons (particularly its D20 incarnation during 3rd and 3.5 edition). Initially, the awards were solely internet-based and only recognized contributions to the d20 license, but the awards have since blossomed and grown into a much more comprehensive look at the RPG industry as a whole. Since 2002, the awards have been held at a live event at Gen Con—it’s actually quite a lively and fun show, and I definitely recommend attending if you have any interest in the awards or the nominees.

The Good

The ENnies, as mentioned previously, take a good long look at the RPG industry and recognize a number of elements in that industry every year, from “Best Production Values” to “Game of the Year.” A panel of Judges are nominated and voted on each year by the public, and these Judges then select the top nominations for each category. The winner in each category is then determined by popular vote.
This means that getting an ENnie nomination is the real victory—the most popular game in each category generally wins (there was a particularly memorable sweep of awards by Pathfinder in 2010, for example).
The nomination and voting process are fairly transparent, the nominations in each category are quite relevant and generally reflect the best entries for that year, and a majority of publishers—both upper- and lower-tier—participate every year.
Even in years where one company dominates (such as 2010), the nominations list makes sense to me—in my opinion, it accurately reflects the highest quality of the games released. There are definitely some cases where I disagree with the winner, but I generally nod my head when scanning over the nominations list.
One thing that is critical to note is that the ENnies Judges review only the games that are sent to them by the publisher. As one example, the Fantasy Flight Games entries for 2010 (including amongst them Deathwatch and a number of other 40K RPG books) were not submitted in time due to some health issues, and thus they were not considered for that year’s awards.

The Bad

My only serious criticism of the ENnies is that I would like to see them widen their scope—as I mentioned during my look at the Origins Awards, I enjoy seeing comprehensive awards that look at every aspect of tabletop gaming. The ENnies has done a good job of growing and evolving since its inception in 2001, and I would really like to see that continue and encompass broader portions of tabletop gaming… maybe start looking at board games, or including more categories for miniatures, as some examples.

The Ugly

I don’t really have much to say here. The ENnies have, to my knowledge, stayed clear of any major stumbling blocks and have done a great deal to bring respect and honor to the industry in the form of official recognition—the awards themselves.
My Opinion: I’m a self-admitted fan of the ENnies. I think they’re the most relevant and significant awards you’ll find in the gaming industry, and I’m planning on attending the award show at this year’s Gen Con.

And the Rest

After the “big two,” there are a few other RPG awards that I feel are worth discussing:

The Diana Jones Award

My Opinion: The Diana Jones award is quirky, but relevant, and the awardees all appear deserving. Overall, I’m a fan.

The Indie RPG Awards

My Opinion: I don’t know much about the Indie RPG Awards, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. The Indie awards exist in part to help raise awareness of the more obscure and niche RPGs in the industry, and I think that is a laudable goal. Many of the winners of this award are definitely relevant and I am pleased that they’re around—I wish there was a way to incorporate them into the ENnies to help both sides of this equation grow and receive the recognition they’ve earned.

The Golden Geek Awards

My Opinion: The Golden Geek Awards are a very recent entry into the industry awards area, brought about by the site BoardGameGeek.com. Lately, the Golden Geeks have added categories for RPG products, and I definitely hope to see the Golden Geeks improve in both prominence and breadth. My only concern is the opacity of how the awards are nominated and voted on… but this is a hurdle I think the Golden Geeks can easily overcome.

The Hack Factor

A quick side note–I’ve been slackin’ lately! I missed a whole week of updates. I’ll try to do better. Enjoy a super-sized blog post this week to make up for it!
Today’s blog post title is slightly disingenuous… I’m actually intending to talk about two main factors of RPG character types, and “Hack Factor” is only half of the equation. A sexy, sexy half. So sexy that the name itself forced me to grant it the singular honor of the post title. Congratulations, id!
Moving on, I want to briefly talk about tabletop RPG characters. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of discussions with various folks, from my D&D Dungeon Master to fellow game designers about what makes a particular type of character compelling. Naturally, any character can have a compelling concept, backstory, or even something as simple as a cool name or a really sweet picture (often found on Deviantart or 4Chan).
Who do I want to be today?
However, for me and many gamers like me, among the most important elements of a character are mechanical in nature. How does the character interact with the game’s mechanics? How well can they weather the storm of combat? Most RPGs have a strong focus on combat because of the nature of RPGs… I would posit that most RPGs feature direct, violent action against the antagonist of the story in a confrontation as the climax of a given session or campaign.
Thus, while my own taste in characters definitely involves the intangibles of his backstory, concept*(see below), name, image, and so forth, I often spend far more time and energy considering the character’s mechanical benefits: his Utility Factor and Hack Factor.
*Caveat: I should take the time here to say that, for me, the concept of the character is the trump card. If I have a really compelling concept, that’s what I’ll want to play, regardless of any other influences.

Utility Factor

 

If it’s good enough for Batman…
My definition of a character’s Utility Factor is a measure of how often he can meaningfully interact with the game on a mechanical level. Another way to put it is an answer to the question, “How often do I get to do something cool—mechanically—outside of combat?”
Often a character’s Utility Factor is a representation of things like the number and variety of skills he possesses (especially social skills), social abilities, the number and variety of spellcasting or psionic or similar powers, movement abilities, and any realm-building or leadership-style abilities.
For example, in Rifts, I really like the Manoan Amazon R.C.C. This character can cast spells, use psionic abilities, and possesses a bunch of interesting nature-related skills as well as some enhanced senses. That’s a lot of utility factor in one character!
Similarly, in the Hero System, I like a character that has a wide variety of skills. My character Technicality can investigate a crime, hack the syndicate’s computers, and even argue a case in a court of law—all valuable and meaningful ways to mechanically interface with a superhero game.

Versatility Trumps Everything Else

One thing that I’ve learned from over 25 years as a tabletop RPG player is that he who has the most options generally “wins” by having something cool to do more often. I’m generalizing with a broad brush here, admittedly—I’ve played in games before with very un-versatile characters and have had a lot of fun. So to get it out of the way early, I should point out that a talented GM can make nearly any game fun, regardless of mechanics.
That having been said, I do find that the more options I have, the better my play experience tends to be, especially in the long run over a number of sessions in the same campaign. In many, many gaming systems, spellcasters happen to be an excellent example of this. Spellcasters are rarely the strongest or toughest or most agile character type you can pick, but they usually have a huge bag of goodies to choose from in any given situation. Zap the bad guy? No problem. Breathe underwater? Got it covered. Invisibly snatch the idol from the primitive altar? You got it.
Versatility usually comes at a price; spells can only be cast once a day, or must be re-memorized before being cast again, or cost a number of “spell points” that must then be replenished.
Having a versatile character means that you have a high Utility Factor, and often, it also means you have a high Hack Factor as well. Why? The Utility Factor part should be self-evident; the more versatile a character, the more opportunities are present to engage with the game. Versatile characters are also generally good at combat as well, especially with being able to engage enemies at range (via a lightning bolt spell, for example) or locking down foes with debuffs, adjustments to their movement (such as a web spell), or altering the conditions of the fight itself (such as summoning a storm). 
A Versatile character may not be able to dish out as much damage as a character who focused entirely on fighting, but such characters can still achieve a high Hack Factor by being able to do more than just inflict damage. In fact, some versatile character types (such as spellcasters in Dungeons and Dragons) can eventually achieve immense amounts of damage or eliminate the opponent outright at higher levels of play—all simply due to the vast amount of options available.

Hack Factor

When in doubt… Hack!
My definition of a character’s Hack Factor is a measure of his raw ability to perform meaningful actions on a mechanical level in combat. Another way to define it is an answer to the question, “How often do I get to do something cool—mechanically—in combat?”
Meaningful combat actions often involve doing lots of damage, hitting enemies on a consistent basis, applying status effects (such as blinding them, grabbing them, etc.), locking down enemies with special abilities (such as spellcasters, psionics, etc.), and being able to drop lots of lower-level enemies or (often, singular) higher-level enemies more efficiently.
In the Feng Shui RPG, I played Keiichi O’Hara, a Karate Cop who focused his abilities on being able to take out Named Characters (the more powerful and rarer type of enemy) more efficiently—this was his role in combat, to seek out the biggest, baddest bad guy and hand him his head.
In West End’s D6 Star Wars RPG, I played Kaldryn, a Trianii Ranger. He was an alien warrior whose abilities were well-suited for causing havoc on the battlefield and taking out lots of lower-level enemies while the other party members handled the bigger threats.

Damage is Not the Key

In most tabletop RPG’s, combat happens a lot. That means inflicting damage is good, and inflicting lots of damage is great! However, if your character’s only option to do serious damage to an opponent depends on your ability to run up to him and whack him with a sword, it’s not as good as it initially appears. Many RPGs feature magic, science, some combination of the two, or other such esoteric abilities that let opponents fly, levitate, create walls or change the nature of the battle’s terrain. Thus, the ability to reach a foe and hit him with a sword is certainly not guaranteed. How fast can the character move? Can he fly?
If you asked me what I consider the most important part of Hack Factor, I would define it thusly: one’s ability to consistently affect the battle. Naturally, “affecting the battle” often involves simply defeating as many enemies as possible, as quickly as possible, but doing direct damage is not absolutely necessary to qualify. Grappling an enemy wizard, using a debuff on the entire enemy force, or shutting down the supervillain’s impervious force-field all fall under this category as well.
Using this metric, a strictly melee warrior has a rather low Hack Factor. He may be able to inflict impressive damage on a directly adjacent foe, but such a warrior struggles whenever he must move to engage a distant enemy and is seriously hampered whenever terrain interferes (i.e., limited access via a bridge, having to move through deep water or mud, etc.) or if his enemy is flying or otherwise out of melee range.

Factors and Systems

Most often, RPG systems with fairly open and flexible character creation systems don’t have too many issues with imbalances of Hack Factor and Utility Factor. In the Hero System, for example, it is relatively simple to change a few points around to acquire more skills to raise your Utility Factor or to buy some additional combat levels or power dice if you want to increase your Hack Factor.
Class-and-level RPG systems, however, seem to have the most trouble balancing these two elements in my experience. For this particular blog entry, I’m going to use the character classes from Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition as an example.
Why 3.5 D&D? I should say upfront that I believe all editions of Dungeons & Dragons have their strengths and weaknesses, and my personal favorite edition is 3.5. I’ve done a fair amount of work in the industry for this edition, and it’s fair to say that I’ve studied it’s game design more thoroughly than nearly any other system (with the exceptions of Hero and Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay) in my collection. I’m going to limit myself to discussing the classes from the Core Player’s Handbook for this post, although I will certainly mention other books along the way, simply because the classes from the Player’s Handbook are more well-known and iconic to the genre than any others, and thus are perfect examples for this discussion.
What about 3.0 and Pathfinder? Well, in 3.0 I’d go so far as to say the differences were even more pronounced—Fighters, Bards, and Rangers had it particularly bad in 3.0. Pathfinder goes the opposite direction, helping out nearly every class, but in general I’d apply the same rankings to Pathfinder characters of these same classes.
Tl/dr: 3.0 ratings are the same but worse, Pathfinder ratings are the same, but slightly better.
Check out the 3.5 character classes and their rankings after the jump!

 

Barbarian

An axe is a Barbarian’s weapon…
Utility Factor: D
Hack Factor: D
Barbarians are made for one role; doing lots of damage. They’re tough, possessing large numbers of hit points, but they’re limited to lighter armors and don’t have a high amount of skill points—although they have more skills and a better variety than the Fighter. Unlike the fighter, however, Barbarians are nearly doomed to melee-only, and have a lot of difficulty reaching flying enemies or dealing with threats they can’t simply run up to and hack.
On the flip side, there are a lot of great concepts you can make with a Barbarian, and their Utility Factor would likely be higher in certain campaigns than in others (such as adventures taking place largely in the wilderness or away from civilization).

Bard

Bluff, bluff, bluff the stupid Ogre!
Utility Factor: C+
Hack Factor: D
The Bard’s decent Utility Factor is due to his variety of skills, decent number of skill points, a small selection of spells, and abilities that have a lot of value in social situations. The Bard’s Utility Factor takes a hit if the campaign is largely focused on dungeon-crawls or avoids social situations like the plague, however. In battle, the Bard’s Hack Factor is mostly due to his ability to buff or heal his companions—Bards are not great combatants on their own.

Cleric

Today’s sermon begins with an asskicking…
Utility Factor: A
Hack Factor: A
Question: What has good hit points, good saving throws, can kick butt in combat and sling spells almost as good as a Wizard? The Cleric. These characters are one of the first powerhouses on this list—the sheer variety of spells available improves the Cleric’s Utility Factor and his ability to smite infidels is quite potent, explaining the high Hack Factor. A well-designed Cleric character at higher levels can outperform nearly any Fighter in combat and is only barely eclipsed by the Druid and Wizard in dealing with out-of-combat situations.

Druid

The wrath of nature is a frightening thing…
Utility Factor: A+
Hack Factor: A+
In my opinion, the unquestioned champion of both Utility Factor and Hack Factor is the Druid. The animal companion is nearly as good as a Fighter in melee combat, and a great spell list plus the Druid’s ability to wild shape into animals (and other creatures with the right feats) enables him to meaningfully interact with almost any challenge you can imagine. Similarly, the Druid (and his mighty animal companion or any summoned critters he chooses to bring along) can kick massive amounts of ass in combat. In a one-on-one faceoff—at any level!—with any other class on this list, the Druid comes out on top with only one notable exception: a properly prepared Wizard.

Fighter

 The Men-at-Arms just aren’t what they used to be…
Utility Factor: F
Hack Factor: C
Alas, poor Fighter. I hardly knew ye. The Fighter suffers a failing grade in Utility Factor due to his abysmal number of skill points, a limited skill selection, and nearly zero abilities that do anything meaningful outside of combat. Even when the Fighter is doing his job (i.e., fighting stuff), he is often outclassed by other characters simply due to a lack of options. Thanks to his high number of feats, a properly built Fighter can be a formidable opponent in the right circumstances, but change the playing field even slightly (i.e., a fly spell) and the Fighter can be next to useless.
For those people (like myself) who enjoy playing Fighter-type characters, I strongly recommend checking into the Tome of Battle (AKA the Book of Nine Swords), as the Warblade class in that book is a great replacement with significant improvements in grade for both Utility and Hack Factors.

Monk

You want a piece of me???
Utility Factor: D
Hack Factor: D
The Monk has great saving throws but little else going for him. Monks have better skill options than a Fighter, but require significant investment in a lot of attributes in order to really benefit. Monks are similar to Fighters in that they do their best work up close and personal with the enemy, and they lack any real answers to flying enemies. In addition, Monks have difficulty dealing out significant damage when compared to many of the other classes on this list, limiting their usefulness considerably.

Ranger

Welcome stranger, to our danger…
Utility Factor: C
Hack Factor: C
A decent set of skills, a small handful of spellcasting abilities, and his animal companion provide the Ranger with a reasonable Utility Factor. However, like the Barbarian, this Utility Factor can suffer greatly if the campaign is largely confined to dungeon-crawling or large cities. Rangers have a decent Hack Factor due to their ability to strike foes at range (archer Rangers rather than dual-wielders) and the benefits of the animal companion and spellcasting. This Hack Factor rating is fairly generous, however (it assumes an archer ranger and a good selection of feats and the animal companion). Many Rangers (particularly the dual wielder style) will struggle to match up.

Rogue

Stealing hearts and purses in equal measure…
Utility Factor: C+
Hack Factor: C+
Rogues benefit from the best skill selection and number of skill points available, providing a more-than-decent Utility Factor. Rogues can also put their skills to good use in combat, and hit many enemies with a devastating sneak attack strike. Unfortunately, sneak attack does not work against several common monsters (such as undead), and the Rogue’s sneak attack is best used only in melee—and even then, only against a flanked target.

Sorcerer

She’s got the power, ah-ahhhh….
Utility Factor: B
Hack Factor: B
Although the Sorcerer shares a lot in common with the Wizard, he simply cannot compete on the same level when it comes to Utility Factor and Hack Factor. The Sorcerer’s limited number of spells that he knows does not make up for the freedom from preparation and the increased number of uses per day. The Sorcerer does regain some ground with his high Charisma and decent skill selection, but in the end he is only playing second fiddle to the other full spellcasters on the list.

Wizard

Can’t beat the classics, baby!
Utility Factor: A
Hack Factor: A
The Wizard is one of the kings of both Utility Factor and Hack Factor, thanks to his massively varied spell list (and not hurt at all by having a good number of skills and skill points added into the mix). A properly prepared Wizard can vanquish nearly any foe at high levels, and even at low levels Wizards contribute greatly to the party if given an opportunity to study the appropriate spell for nearly any situation.

Options Vs. Uses—The Inverted Pyramid

Particularly in the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0/3.5 paradigm, using a single ability more times per day is generally less powerful than having more options of what ability to use. This is because that recharging “per day” abilities is often fairly trivial—usually a simple matter of the party deciding to stop and rest after defeating any particularly powerful opponent or after exploring a portion of a dungeon.
Consider the following classes placed in an inverted pyramid—the widest array of options is at the top, with the number of options available narrowing as you step down the pyramid towards the bottom.
Thus, the top portion of the Pyramid is best represented by the Wizard—he has the widest selection of options available to him, and his one of his defining features is the variety of his spell list. The wizard is limited mainly by the fact that he must pre-memorize his spells and cannot change his spells on the fly (albeit there are some advanced feats, abilities, and magic items that go a ways towards mitigating this limitation).
Just below the Wizard are other classes with very broad and comprehensive spell lists, such as the Cleric and the Druid.
In the middle band of the pyramid you’d find classes like the Sorcerer and the Bard, both of whom have more sharp limits on the number of spells they are able to cast, but a higher number of times per day that those spells can be used. Similarly, they do not need to prepare their spells ahead of time.
At the very bottom of the pyramid you’d find classes like the Warlock. Warlocks have unlimited uses of their abilities—essentially able to use their powers “at will”—but have only a relative handful of abilities to choose from.