Backgrounds, Whitebox20 and the Multiclass Problem

I’ll try to keep the post short and to the point. I’ll fail. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the best part of 20 years, and here are my thoughts and what I’m doing about it in W20 and AFG.

I’m really keen on characters being able to do varied things, so I very like things like multiclassing. Except multiclassing in D&D comes with a whole lot of nags and caveats and feels like a hack. Newer editions have some problems as they use level pick and mix shop, which really pleases me but pisses off a lot of people because “it’s totally broken and the way you have fun is wrong”. It’s also what I used before the d20 system was a thing, and more recently in AFG, where a significant number of characters end up having a couple of classes (out of three in the book).

But that leads to front loading, a big bump of skill increase at the beginning of a class, and less later. I don’t like it, but not because of balance (I’m not bothered), but I’d like to have a less irregular progression.

For AFG the choice was to not have the massive bump: all characters can cast level zero spells and use all weapons. Fighters hit better and get extra hits, casters get more mana and better spellpower, practitioners get more skills, and it’s possible to cast spells in armour if the fighter level is comparable to the level of the spell cast.

W20 has Backgrounds. You pick a background at character generation, giving you some benefits. You then add the first level, which gives more benefits, and then a class/career/lens. Some W20 playbooks will have some limits on background and class combination, so for example something like OD&D will only allow Dwarf and Human backgrounds to get Cleric levels, and when you get cleric levels you can only get cleric levels. Some other playbooks will allow to pick a class or career at each level, or every three levels, maybe without double-dipping, maybe with a career tree. So you can pick fighter (to survive in combat), then duelist (for dual-wielding), then Fop (because well you might want to get some posh dandy skills) then… well, you get it. Or you start as apprentice wizard or hedge mage or mystic, then become wizard, or conjurer, or seer, or High Hierophant of the Mystery of the Bridge of Bones (caveat: the previous hierophant must retire first).

Now some backgrounds here (thanks Scrap for the equipment). Note that the class names above match some of the backgrounds below. Ignore the misdirection.

Pick one background at character creation:

  1. SCAVENGER: Sacks, long hooked pole, protective gear (light armour), shovel (1H). +2 stealth, +2 appraise (it’s a bit rough)
  2. HUNTER: dried meats, snares, animal calls, animal scents, spear (1H) + 20 arrows. +4 hunting
  3. SOLDIER: bag, chain mail (medium armour), spear (1H) or bow+20 arrows, shield, knife, 1d6 scars. +3 hit points
  4. REFUGEE: exotic cultural item (scrolls, tablet, icon), exotic luxury good (incense or amber or drugs worth 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6c), concealed jewellery, staff(2H). 3 languages, or +4 to any one skill.
  5. PEASANT: a farm animal (horse or cow or 1d6 goats or 3d6 chicken), trade commodity (1d6x10c), lard, jug of hooch, pitchfork or billhook (2h). +4 farmer (includes things like handling farm animals, some woodwork, barnraising)
  6. PETTY THIEF: bad drugs or jug of hooch, stolen valuable (2d6 x 10c), lockpicks, club (1H), leather jack (light armour). +2 stealth, +2 mechanics
  7. DILETTANTE: jewellery (3d6 x 10c), weird drugs, upnosed reading material, clock, really foppish clothes, fine rapier (1H). +1 to posh twit, +1 chitchat, +2 to a kinda useless skill of choice.
  8. EXPLORER: lantern, lead, “treasure” map, crowbar, climbing gear, compass, staff (2h). +2 climbing, +2 endurance.
  9. MYSTIC: implements of sacrifice, spirit cleansing incense, chalk, fireworks, blankets, walking staff.
  10. FOOL: a small white dog, a vagabond staff w/cloth, a nice hat. +1 fate point, but is a magnet of weirdness, so all weird things at random happen to the character, but not specifically bad things.
  11. EXORCIST: holy symbols, blessed water, scrips of banishing, iron rod (1h). +4 exorcism: an exorcism takes 1 round and, if successful, deals 1d6 damage +1/level to all spirits and undead within 30′. It also drains 1 mana from the exorcist: if the exorcist is out of mana they must roll under Heart or collapse for 1d6 turns.
  12. LEECH: doctor’s bag, pot (to boil gauzes), beaky mask, big cloak, sword (1h). +4 medicine (medicine is not for first aid)
  13. BARBER/DENTIST/SURGEON: razor (1H), leather strap, towels, scalpels, pliers, gauzes, jug of high-grade hooch. +4 barber/surgeon (this is for first aid and surgery)
  14. SEER: pillow, incense, narcotics, dagger (1H). Once per week can have a vision on a topic, either during sleep or while high.
  15. WITCH: dowsing rod, talisman, black cat, knife (1h). +4 pharmacy
  16. APPRENTICE WIZARD: 6 blank scrolls, 1 magic item (either cursed or temporary like a potion). Spellbook with 3 spells
  17. DWARF: plate armour (heavy), pickaxe (2H), bag with pebbles from back home and 1 tiny gold nugget (10c). Can smell gold.
  18. GOAT: horns, can eat everything, shouts like a human, +8 climbing.

Then pick a skill at +4 for each 4 points in Wit. Skills at character generation can’t be at more than +4. If you have a skill at +2 you can bring it to +4 and get another skill at +2.

Then, pick a class. If your Referee is a nice person, pick an extra class every 3 or 5 extra levels. If your referee is not a nice person, they will let you pick a class at level 2:

FIGHTER: +1 melee. Can both attack and block each round.

ARCHER or ARQUEBUSIER: +1 missile. Double rate of fire with a bow or gun.

CASTER: can cast more complicated spells.

SPECIALIST: a skill gets +4, up to +8.

JACK OF ALL TRADES: +2 more skills at +4


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