The last session of my Wilderlands campaign was more a a design session than a game. As it was Mother's Day weekend, two of the seven players could not make the game. This was not a disaster because we had agreed over the week to convert the campaign from OD&D to Microlite75 so I could playtest some of the rules. This was a great time to convert as the characters had finally reached the City-State, sold the young dragon they had subdued, and were ready to start something new. Three players had decided they wanted new characters, so were going to have their old characters take their new-found wealth and "retire" in the City-State and roll up new ones.
Crating the new characters would have been straightforward except that one the players had a non-standard idea for a character. She thought it would be interesting to have a character who had been apprenticed as a magic-user but her master had disappeared early in the apprenticeship long before she had even started to learn enough magic to cast real spells. Her character had been forced to live on the streets and had become a thief. So far, nothing a "former MU apprentice" type of background could not handle. However, she wanted her character to have learned enough magic to have the minor magic and arcane blast abilities. She had ever figured out a way to balance this. Although she was a human, she'd take the +7 to Experience Base that Elves had, meaning she would need more XP to level.
I thought about this a while and after some discussion with the player and other players in the group, I agreed she could do this but because her character had not completed her apprenticeship she was not very efficient in what limited magic she had. Therefore, using Minor Magic or Arcane Blast would cost her 3 HP (instead of the standard 1 HP) and making a new wand would take a few days instead of 12 hours. This seemed more in line with a "failed apprentice" background and about a +7 to the character's XP base worth of an advantage.
I've been having second thoughts about this over the week. Not the "you really should not have agreed to this" type of second thoughts, but the "perhaps the idea of advantages of an increase in XP Base should be worked into the rules of Microlite75" type of second thoughts. One of my problems with feats in D&D 3.x is that many of them take ordinary abilities that anyone should be able to try (e.g. Bull Rush) and try to limit them to those who have the appropriate feat. This makes characters "mechanically special" by eliminating options that anyone should have.
There are, however, special abilities that truly are something not everyone has an inborn ability to do. Some examples might include being ambidextrous, having a photographic memory, or having a stronger ability to resist magic (like Dwarves and Halflings). Abilities like these are legitimate "must have the ability" to have even a chance of success things. However, they really would not work as feats. They aren't something a character can "pick up from experience or training." They are abilities a character is either born with or doesn't have. They shouldn't be something a character suddenly gets at level 9 by selecting a feat.
After some discussion on our group email list over the week, I've decided to write up "Advantages and Disadvantages" as an optional rule for Microlite75. This optional system will allow limited mechanical customization of characters with special abilities that really can't be used successfully by anyone lacking the inborn ability (e.g. photographic memory) or a very special background (e.g. the "failed apprentice" bit that started all of this). Advantages will increase a character's Experience Base while disadvantages will reduce it (to a limited extent). While the rule will be entirely optional, even when it is used, the GM will have to approve each advantage or disadvantage a player wants.
I'll work on writing up these optional rules over the next few days -- and they will probably be in the third playtest draft of Microlite75 (which is coming soon). Whether they will be in the final edition will depend on feedback from playtesters -- and how well it works with my group of players. Comments are welcome.