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For the campaign in question, I'm running one person through a dungeon inspired by Vagrant Story. Clearly some things from the video game can't be emulated, and many of those are integral to the game: ie. the unlocking of special abilities as Ashley (main character) travels deeper and deeper into the city of Léa Monde.

I want to add abilities that will make the character more-or-less gestalt, but there's two problems with this. One: I want the ability to be DM/plot specific and granted. Not just something at each level up. Two: Saves, BAB and skill points aren't on my list as of yet for things to add. Gaining skill ranks from drinking a potion seems really weird to me, anyway.

I've run games before where I granted the party some limited cool and (sometimes) unique abilities and have had some measure of success in balancing them. I know I can include equivalent abilities for the 'really tough' encounters, like the BBEG. Is there a precedent for granting extra abilities to characters as part of story progression in D&D (not limited to 3.5, I can extrapolate) or has it all been unrecorded DM calls? My question is meant for games with a party of six or less.

Playing Baldur's Gate yields very few magical abilities for the main character (especially considering his heritage, for the love of Bhaal!). I want a yard of wiggle room, not just a few inches.

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The new Mythic Adventures rules from Paizo seem like they're right on track to help you out here - unfortunately they won't be out till Gen Con 2013. paizo.com/paizo/blog/v5748dyo5lduw?Mythic-Adventures –  mxyzplk Oct 7 '12 at 13:56
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

I've seen things like this done in most of the D&D games that I've played, actually. However, I've rarely seen it as any kind of hard-and-fast ruleset. There's a few systems that I've seen that are conducive to this:

  1. The d20 Modern Mutations System. This system lets you mutate your character using mutation points. 5 mutation points is worth roughly a feat. One approach is to use a system like this, where you create a menu of abilities that are themselves not very powerful, and let players either save up for better ones or get ones worth less immediately.

  2. E6. In E6, leveling stops at 6. After that, you can spend XP on feats instead of higher levels. One solution I've seen is to grant bonus feats like this instead of bonus XP.

  3. E6, but with gestalt levels. If you're looking to give players additional class features without giving skill points or saves, then that document might have what you're looking for. It's something a former GM of mine drew up as a mod of the E6 system.

  4. The way you've been doing it. This is by far the most common way that I've seen this done. As long as players are getting roughly the same power as eachother, and you can keep an eye on their total extra power, you shouldn't have any problems. In my experience, as long as you're not giving players powers far beyond their own level, there shouldn't be much problem with balance.

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I didn't know about this E6 system, sounds great :) –  Scrollmaster Oct 7 '12 at 15:10
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This. There's very little difference between how magic items were given out before 3e and just making up plot-based powers. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '12 at 3:09
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Is there a precedent? Yes, of course. A recorded precedent? Well, that's more difficult. Anyway, 3 propositions that in my opinion apply to what you want to do:

1 - Just give them spell-like abilities. You choose one, roughly of the maximum spell-level than a caster of their level would be able to cast (e.g. 3rd lvl for lvl 5 characters), and based on one of their stat: DD based on that stat, and as many times per day as this stat 'or this stat minus the level of the spell-like ability).

2 - You can also use the Quinggong Monk abilities list to have a list of what abilities are relevant to which level. Less useful for caster characters though.

3 - Use a modified gestalt system: let's say the character is mainly a fighter, and wants to gestalt as a druid. He only has the fighter progression, but at some points in the story you allow him to up his gestalt level to his main class level, but only for the abilities. For example, the character is fighter 3, gestalt-druid 1. He accomplishes something important, you allow him to become fighter 3, gestalt-druid 3 (but only for the abilities, and maybe spells if you wish)

4 - Finally, the experience-free step advancement system could also fit the bill, especially if combined with the gestalt system.

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