This is a repost of a previous blog from a while ago. I have made edits and revisions to it...
I got the idea to write this from listening to the Kobold Quarterly podcast so if any of it seems familiar, you may have heard or read something similar from the KQ folks.
Leveling Up Paradox
Point: You work really hard developing your character and you don’t really get anywhere. The better they get, the harder their challenges get. Or at least they should. And if they don’t, you’d be bored. So, instead of fighting orcs your character is now fighting storm giants. Instead of picking simple locks, they’re breaking into Dwarven master-locked vaults. If you look at the relative difficulty, it’s the same. If you needed to roll a 12 on the di(c)e before, you probably still need to roll something similar. It can feel like you’re running really really hard on a treadmill. Lot’s of movement but you’re still not going anywhere.
Counter Point: Your theater of mind is evolving and your character is growing. It’s a sense of accomplishment and the trappings are getting cooler. Your character has gone from no magic weapons to wielding a +5 Soul Eating blade. Your wizard can now rain down a shower of meteors on a town if need be. And your character is now leading armies into battle against hoards of the damned, not just saving a small village from raiders.
Point: This is the aspect of your character always having to train, train, train. Or go and kill things, and then kill more things, and yet more things. All in the long and painful effort to try and get XP so that they can level up or raise that next skill. It’s especially painful in the beginning because your character can’t do jack shit and won’t be able to for a while.
Counter Point: Then again, sometimes it’s not the destination but the journey. Being super powerful is not always as much fun.
Point: Oh, here’s my favorite. You got to play to win right? And everyone wants - no needs - that XP. There's a quiet competition to get as much XP as you can. No one says it but everyone is in competition. Admit it, you hate when another player gets more XP than you.
Sometimes it’s because they are better or more involved players. Sometimes it’s because they can make more sessions. Whatever the reason, it sucks when a fellow role-player advances faster than you and this can create animosity.
Counter Point: Competition brings out the best in people. Without it we often fail to be our best.
The Great XPeriment
There are more dynamics to this I’m sure but I think those three get my point across. So what’s to do? I think everyone should try to run a campaign where the characters start at the top of their game. Agree that everyone will make the character they want at the level/rank they want them to be.
If you're planning on designing a system that does this as it's core mechanic, you can just skip the section on XP and spending it. You simply allow players to advance anything they want if they lay the ground work down. In the case above, the player would have to find a master through game play, pay the master their fee, and take the month to train.
If you don't think your players could give up XP completely...
In place of experience, players will get one reward point every time you play or maybe two if they excel in their gamesmenship. If they want their character to develop in any way, they need to work it out with the game master. Maybe the character wants to train in something. Maybe they want a new ability or spell or to make a special item. Whatever it is that would advance them in some way they will use one of their reward points. The GM will work out what they need to do and provide it for them for the point. This is sort of like XP only in a very scaled down way.
For example. Let's say John wants his character to gain another weapon proficiency. As a GM I would say "sure, your character needs to train for one month with a master and it will cost "x" amount of money and one reward point." For that point I make sure the character is able to find a master and has the month to train.
As for the competitive aspect, it pretty much goes out the window. No one is going to care if your character has learned a few more things than theirs did because their character is already at a point that they are content. Everyone can focus more on enjoying the game and telling the collective story and less about leveling up.
What Do Think?
I look forwards to hearing your thoughts on this. How would you handle it? Do you think this would work for your group?