Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fast Leveling?

As my Omegea campaign nears its one-year anniversary, I'm struck by the fact that the highest level any character has seen in this game is third. It really shouldn't be that surprising, considering the following facts:

1. Its a bi-weekly game, just 4-5 hours twice a month, and
2. The players are all busy writers, artists, and entrepreneurs, and we often have to skip a session due to schedule conflicts, and
3. Much as we hate to admit it, we aren't kids anymore, and can no longer devote entire weekends to gaming, putting in hours and hours whenever we feel like it.

Still, I can't help but think that after a year, the players should be high enough level to really spread their wings and enjoy the more challenging aspects of the setting. You can only go so long, I'm thinking, before the charm of death-by-falling-into-a-10-foot-pit wears off. It would be nice for them, I think, to get killed by a dragon or nuclear device once in a while instead.

So I'm considering some sort of fast-track leveling system.

It seems like the obvious way to do this would be to just hand out more xp arbitrarily, or even halve the xp needed to gain a level, but I worry that if the characters are leveling up every session or so, the thrill of advancement will become somewhat banal or anticlimactic.

I think an alternate way to do this would be to develop a system wherein the characters still only advance in level every 3 or 4 sessions, but advance more than one level at a time. Maybe I should cut out the "even" numbered levels altogether, so that a character would hit level 3 when they would normally hit level 2, for instance. Level 5 when they would normally hit level 4, and so on. This way, leveling would still be a rare and precious occurrence, but the gain in character "power" would be even more significant.

The thief's level advancement, for instance, would look something like this:
1 - 0
3 - 1250
5 - 5000
7 - 20000
9 - 50000

The advantage here is that I don't really have to change much, rules-wise. The players just advance their characters two levels every time they level. They roll 2 HD instead of one. Magic users always gain access to a new tier of spells each time they level.

A lot of new implications open up with this system. The first time a character levels (from 1st to 3rd), it becomes a lot stronger than with 1st to 2nd. This means if you survive your "initiation" period of 1st level, you come out the other side of it one tough customer, reminiscent of Spartan youths going out into the wilderness alone and those who survive coming back as warriors.

As a referee, I get to be a bit more creative as well, as I am getting a bit yawny designing low-level challenges for the players, and would like to bring some of the higher-concept, and higher-power, elements of this game setting into play. I mean, Omegea is setting where gods walk the earth and psychic overlords command hordes of mindless minions - kobolds are starting to get lame, fast.

Another interesting side-effect is that long-term campaigns like mine will see more clearly defined "chapters" as the players will be able to take on greater challenges at each step, rather than easing into more gradually difficult scenarios.

I'm not yet sure if I'm going to adopt this system or not. It certainly has its appeals. If nothing else, its an interesting experiment.

What do you think?


  1. You can only go so long, I'm thinking, before the charm of death-by-falling-into-a-10-foot-pit wears off.

    Uh, yeah. Hats off to your players for sticking with it for a year! ;)

    A fast-track advancement system is absolutely the approach when you're faced with uncertain, sporadic gaming. I like your idea. Here are a couple I've used by way of more food for thought:

    One solution is simply to ditch XP entirely and advance everyone by a single level, say, every other session. The solution that's worked best for me is to award treasure XP as written but replace monster XP with 100XP per Hit Dice. This makes low-level monsters worth much more and helps level up the lower levels quickly. I also implemented a "best player" XP award voted on by the group: the "best player" of the session (however you want to define that) gets 100XP times current level.

  2. This sounds great to me, as I am worried about having players linger at lower levels for far too long. We've been able to meet almost every week for a while now, with the occasional week off. But I've been dreading the slow progression of levels for a while now. It's been a long time since I've gamed this frequently (if at all), and I'm eager to get to mid- and high-level play, to tell the truth. I've had enough of goblin hordes! ;-)

  3. Might I suggest something different? Only have 5 levels, and make them cumulative. Also rename level 1 to Level 0.

    Level 0 = 1 hit die
    Level 1 = 2 hit dice (1 + 1)
    Level 2 = 4 hit dice (1 + 1 + 2)
    Level 3 = 7 hit dice (1 + 1 + 2+ 3)
    Level 4 = 11 hit dice (1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4)
    Level 5 = 16 hit dice (1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5)

    I say rename 1 to 0 so that you get a bit smoother early game. You would want to pick out some different xp totals.

    Just a thought.

  4. Ha! I just posted some similar thoughts regarding a new game design...I guess I'm not the only one who has this on the brain!
    ; )

  5. I wish more DMs were like you. Too many seem perfectly content to run nearly endless 1st level kobold-cleaner adventures.

    As to which method you use to get them to mid-levels, I don't think it really matters. I can't think of anything wrong with leap-frogging levels, but simply stepping on the XP pedal should work just fine too.

  6. I'd throw in some more combat/treasure. In my own campaign, I also give out a little xp for magic items, a la AD&D.

  7. I think it is cool how Old School Hack solves this by tracking "awesome points" instead of any kind of OBJECTIVE measure. The players have a lot of control over how fast they level.

    Maybe instead of solving this with math, there's a way to say that they level when some significant life change happens. They become vassals, or become heroes in a town, or are identified as the King's Dragonslayers.

  8. If you give out some xp for magic items a bag of holding can shoot up a party a level by itself. Plus, what fun is it to read about all those great spells and combat options unless you can use them? A slow grinding game is fun sometimes and other times a little nitro action is a nice change up.

  9. My 'old timers' group that meets monthly levels at the end of every session, campaigns generally tend to last 6 - 10 months. They like this as they only get to play for 5-6 hrs once per month.

  10. One thing I've found has worked very well in this regard is giving players a way to spend gold in order to earn more XP. I give them three possibilities: carousing (based on Jeff's party like it's 999), making sacrifices to cosmic powers, or (for MUs) magical research. The rule is that they can spend any amount of gold they want on these things, it translates directly into XP, and they gain no other benefit (and there are possibly some interesting / funny / plot-hooky side-effects).

    So they gain 1 XP per gp value of treasure gained through adventuring, as usual. Then, making use of the above options, they can, if they want to, basically double their rate of advancement. Of course it's a trade-off though -- there are plenty of other interesting things to do with money.

  11. Wow.

    I think the skip-a-level is a brilliant way to deal with the situation you've described (we can all relate to a cut-down in gaming hours).

    Obviously, you could completely replace the advancement system in any one of the ways given above (or spend 10 mins on Google and find 1001 others). But I'm guessing if you wanted to do that you would have already. I mean, hacking the XP system is GM homebrewing 101.

    What you're suggesting, though, offers something none of the suggestions above do: it doesn't toy with any other part of the game.

    If you start awarding XP for magic items, or for being awesome, or making advancement dependent on completing a session or on in-game achievements, it changes the focus of the game (in some cases dramatically). I'm not saying that those things aren't valid or cool, just that they're significant changes.

    PS: As you point out, simply increasing the amount of XPs earned each session wouldn't keep the grind between levels intact, which would change the whole feel of the game in at least that respect.

    I really, really like this idea as a way to drastically increase the rate of advancement without touching any other area of play.



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