Look at me, killing monsters for wealth and XP! Experience points (Exp or XP) are a great reward for players and a fun part of the game (it’s all fun though, right?). But do they really do their job? Can we build better RPG leveling systems that include roleplaying?
Leveling up with XP is a staple of the genre and games like D&D and Pathfinder would lose much of their playability without it. Imagine being level 1, forever! Each new level gives you more options and lets you fight bigger monsters and face more dangerous challenges. But has anything really changed for your character? Hasn’t the bar just moved? Has the character’s experience of the world really changed them at all?
Before I sound too much like a jaded grognard, I’m not saying that the system’s broken. It doesn’t need fixing. But what if the system incorporated character development? What if your character didn’t just become more powerful, but their outlook changed and they grew in their understanding of the world?
The Mouse Guard RPG and Marvel Heroic Roleplay both tie mechanics to your character’s goals, and I’ll bet there are a ton of other systems that do too. How does it work? Basically, you gain some penalty or bonus (or both) when your character’s goal or flaw comes into play. These goals or flaws often change at the end of a session or when you level up your character.
In D&D, we have ideals, bonds, and flaws, but they’re not linked to level progression. With One D&D recently announced, are we likely to see that change? What might an ideals-based leveling system look like?
An Ideals-Based RPG Leveling Systems
Instead of (or in conjunction with) using inspiration in your D&D games, players earn experience points when they play to or against their ideals. You can award XP according to four tiers linked to the XP Thresholds by Character Level table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (Chapter 3). For example, a minor use of an ideal, for a 6th level character, you might only award 300 XP. Going against their ideal that causes major consequences might, in contrast, be worth 1,400 XP to the same character.
This XP is awarded only at the end of the session, and could be divided between the players to ensure nobody is too many levels ahead of the rest. In essence, while one character might have had a significant moment of personal growth (or regression), their whole party is affected and learns from it.
This isn’t rocket science, so I’ll be surprised if GMs aren’t already doing something similar. Let me know.
#DnD DMs/GMs, do you award XP to players for playing against or to their character's ideals? pic.twitter.com/CmbNqNIOX5
— Rodney Sloan ?? ?? (????), RPG Freelancer (@RSloan) August 26, 2022
RPG Blog Carnival
A big “thank you” to Adventures to Authenticity for hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. This month’s topic is “Character Development”, so head on over there to see all the great articles submitted by the community.
Camp Karate Goes Copper
Camp Karate, our game of hot-blooded dramatic roleplay, is now a copper seller on Drive Thru RPG. To celebrate, we’ve got a special discount link for you, so you can join in the action. Haya!
5e Madness Cards for Home Printing
We’ve added a PDF version of our Madness Cards for 5e to Drive Thru RPG, so you can print them at home. We still think the POD option is better, but here’s a discount link if you want the PDF.
That’s all from me for today, have an amazing weekend.
Hey there, I’m Rodney!
I’m a writer and editor of tabletop RPGs and a painter of Orks. Welcome to Rising Phoenix Games!
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One thought on “Can We Improve RPG Leveling Systems?”
I reward playing within your ideals, bonds and flaws within the campaign world. I have color-coded Post-Its in my DM screen (or behind my laptop screen for online games) with each character’s details, and I use the Renown mechanics to provide in-game rewards, from monetary awards to good stance with Dragonmarked Houses and the royal family, depending who your adventuring patron is. So far I haven’t had to face the problem that would arise for having independent adventurers yet, though. I’ve planned in advance to favor them just with plain luck, involving them encountering just the right magic items that fit their characters among other treasures.