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.