From the first time I was introduced to the career concept in Warhammer Fantasy I found myself attracted to the simplicity, flexibility, and the power to really customize a character to my liking. But I have experienced several other systems in the mean time, all of which do something different very well. So I started musing what one might make when combining several different character creation system. And thus, the Character Stack was born.
The idea of a stack is bit of a cross breeding of L5R’s ranks and of WFRP’s careers. Stacks have three or four careers in them. Each career emphasizes a different set of abilities and skills that are unique to that particular career as well as a set of stat increases that are unique to the stack. Each career gives you a number of options to move on. You can stay inside the stack or move to a different stack. In staying inside the stack, you get the next set of stat bonuses (after buying your way through the new career). Go to a new stack, get a different set of skills and stat bonuses based on the theme of that stack.
Stacks are themed. Thief, Knight, Apprentice (wizard or priest), Scholar, Noble, Peasant, Streets, etc. Careers inside the stack are all tied to the theme and share many of the skills and abilities across the careers present. For instance, the Thief stack could have careers like Cutpurse, House Breaker, Smuggler, and Rogue. It’s easy to see where the skills all apply to the different careers. Now for a different view, you have the Peasant stack. In that one, I could put careers like Servant, Valet, and Messenger. Here the ties between the careers are not as obvious, but if you think about how one gains trust inside a household, then it should become more obvious.
Career exits would also have some thematic tie to the career. I could see House Breaker and Smuggler getting an exit of Fence (from say, the Underworld stack) while Cutpurse and Rogue could have Vagabond (from the Streets stack).
I can imagine if such a character system was implemented, I would want to employee an buy system with some minor tweaks. As already mentioned, the stat bonuses would only come from the stack and would apply _after_ having bought through the career’s skills and abilities. Off the top of my head, I think skills would cost 50xp and could be purchased indefinitely, but have an increased cost each time. So the first repurchase would cost 100xp, the next 150 xp, the third repurchase would then cost 200 xp, etc. which makes it self-limiting. Each additional purchase would provide a 5% increase bonus to the roll.
If a character has a given skill from a previous career, they don’t have to purchase it again to pass the career, but they can if the player wants to.
Abilities are one time buys costing 100 xp each. I imagine abilities coupled very tightly to the career and stack themes and are along the lines of feats and class abilities from 3.x ed d&d or paizo’s pathfinder.
I can also see where changing stacks would cost experience. Maybe 100xp since the character is changing its emphasis. Staying inside the same stack is free. There might be a provision to jump to an unrelated career for 200 xp considering that a character’s story might change completely during the course of play.
Stack bonuses — it all depends on the system underlying this character system, but this is where characters would receive their stat increases. Each time a career is completed, the character gets the stat increase (and possibly a new ability or power — thinking of wizards, druids and priests here). The point being staying inside a given stack would give a more focused stat increase the longer the character stays inside it. The converse is that jumping from stack to stack, while not getting the same size of stat increases gives them a more rounded/diverse set of increases to the character.
Sticking with the Thief example from before. First stat increases would be to dex/agility, intelligence, fellowship/charisma, and combat — the next would be another increase to dex/agility, combat, and an initial health increase. Here they might also get a bonus to hiding or a backstabbing ability. The third again increases dex/agility, fell/char, some dodge ability or bonus thereto (again depends on the underlying combat resolution system), some bonus to lying/quick talking.
Ran out of idea for the fourth career, but I think you get the idea.
Also to make sure I’ve said it, jumping from stack to stack, you only get the first bonus from the new stack.
But this is just the “Basic” stacks — There is more than enough room to also do “Advanced” stacks which give a greater set of stats and abilities while putting less emphasis on skills (which was the point of the Basic stacks).