Thoughts on Advancement and Long-Term Play

Wed 28
Posted by at 9:23 pm. Filed under: Design Notes

A lot of people seem to really like the game’s “lateral leveling”, where advancement in the game doesn’t necessarily mean more health or improved bonuses as much as it just means having more options, which certainly breaks the D&D paradigm a fair bit.

I had planned on offering some small increases of power as players reached the next tier. I’m thinking of changing that a bit – making those increases in power still not tied to “leveling” – as in, experience you gain just from playing the game – but instead tie them to in-game quest pursuing, so that that particular advancement is more of an active goal in play rather than a passive benefit of just playing. Developing such a system also feels like it encourages more Campaign-ish play, which is certainly another goal of the Heroic Game (if you’ve gotten this far, you’re committed, right?)

I want to come up with a cool way for players and DMs to come up with a quest – something significant that represents an accomplishment of a goal in-line with the character’s themes, and then tie it to some sort of process or ritual or descriptive event that helps explain the character’s growth in power the way that “just adventuring” explains the character’s expanded breadth of abilities.

Of course it remains important that this not be narratively limiting or morally defining – the quest for power being something of an inherently selfish act that not all players are going to want their characters to be motivated by – so for instance a paladin-y character might perhaps pursue the reward of power as a painful and difficult-to-establish divine commitment to justice or benevolent rulership or something cool like that. Less “reward” and more “commitment to responsibility” or something.

I might loosely categorize them in the same way that the weapon model works so, f’rex:

  • Glory – Achieve some feat of prowess that makes you famous, your power comes from a heroic aura.
  • Justice – Right a grievous wrong that has been plaguing innocents, your power comes from virtuous recognition.
  • Influence – Find a leadership role in the world to fill, your power comes from notoriety and responsibility.
  • Wealth – Acquire a magical item of power, your power comes from bonding to it in some way.
  • Loyalty – Align yourself to a cause greater than you, your power comes from representation.

I dunno, that’s just throwing things against the wall. Might be interesting to try and tie them into the Attributes in some way, but that might be just a silly attempt at cohesiveness.

And speaking of silliness – it’s a pretty common criticism of Old School Hack that the Awesome Point system can sometimes encourage a certain over-the-topness that makes it hard to play “seriously”. In my own games, I’ve certainly noticed that, but I’m also aware that that’s a tendency to a lot of my gaming in general, I’m a fun-loving, over-the-top kind of guy. But the whole “let’s be as awesome as possible” may seem like something that’s just straight-up psychologically difficult to sustain, so maybe that too erodes people’s interest in long-term play.

Simple solution: What if all you did was change the language? Instead of Awesome Points, call them Hero Points or Thrill Points or something? And then decree that people only hand them out when someone does something Heroic, or particularly Thrilling, or whatever? It seems like that alone could change the tenor of the game subtly enough to give it some gravitas and thus a little more emotional investment.

Just a thought, maybe something to go into a future Afterword/FAQ page or something.

6 Comments on “Thoughts on Advancement and Long-Term Play”

  1. 1 Andrew said at 6:37 am on September 29th, 2011:

    I think that you really hit a nerve when you came up with “Awesome Points” for instructing how you wanted the game to be played.

    For people that think that’s over the top, and don’t want to play an over-the-top game, maybe they should hack their own version! (Like I did to go modern and to go against Cthulu, where I changed it to Morale Points.)

    Here is the thing, in my mind–no matter the tier, you want it to be awesome. When I was a kid, maybe catching a toad with my hands was awesome. As a teenager, a girl flirting with me. As an adult, completing a project. In every case, it felt awesome–but the actions were different. But the goal is awesomeness, and I don’t think you should tone it down.

    This tier is about over-the-top awesomeness. So can the other tiers! Be an over-the-top awesome king.

    I do think a faction concept built in, and building successes in a model like the weapons, is a great start.

  2. 2 kirin said at 10:32 am on September 29th, 2011:

    Oh! I didn’t mean for “let’s change the language of Awesome Points” as any sort of rules-change or something I was going to “officially introduce” for the Heroic Tier.

    It was just a thought/suggestion for those who had that particular concern, nothing more. I may try it myself, depending on discussion with my group.

  3. 3 fictive said at 5:01 am on November 3rd, 2011:

    I had not thought of the game’s progression as “lateral leveling” but that’s a really good term for it. In fact, I think it would be cool to have the “tiers” arranged horizontally, like a Venn diagram.

    You could have “Adventurers” in the center, with “Rulers” and “Researchers” and “Worshipers” as circles overlapping each other and the center, maybe.

    Then for each of those “types” develop stylistic talents and minisystems. Rulers focus on handling governance, with war and rebellion and trade agreements etc. Researchers go looking for lost cities, gain prestige among their peers, develop theories, and maybe change “common knowledge.” Worshipers convert others to their churches, find or protect holy artifacts, conduct services, and so on.

    You can see how each of those “realms” would overlap with adventuring, and also overlap with the others. You could also have novices starting from any of those places, and experts becoming novices as they move from one style to the next.

    The cleric starts focusing on converting people, transitions into adventuring, then explores rulership, maybe. But a cleric could also start with adventuring, move into rulership, and then transition into worship as a hermit or manager of a city’s religious life. Or, a church administrator is entrusted with growing the church in an area, (overlapping worship and rule), then tasked with leading adventurers to accomplish a goal.

    Just a thought.

  4. 4 Ulfgard said at 5:54 am on November 5th, 2012:

    I think that the lateral leveling is one of the charms of the game. It doesn’t make any sense to have 200 HP and a common person has 10. I get it that it makes for heroic game play but there may be a time when a hero has to run away from a life threatening situation. Don’t add a bunch of graphs and tables! Keep it simple , clean and fun.

  5. 5 Venger Satanis said at 12:04 pm on January 12th, 2013:

    I came up with a list of 7 major character motivations:


    They can (and should, in my opinion) be used in every fantasy RPG. Achievement of these can yield the character some kind of bonus to luck, experience, or whatever.


  6. 6 Gjjpab said at 10:28 am on September 10th, 2020:

    Ooh, you could really change the tone by using, say, Honor Points, or Justice Points, or Revenge Points, or Holy Points based on the style/goals of the game.

What do you think?