Considering Character Advancement

Considering Character Advancement

In this post I'm going to babble about character advancement in role-playing games. As any regular role-player knows, character advancement systems are pretty ubiquitous in the RPG genre. Sure, there are a handful of games without them, but the vast majority have some sort of system for characters to improve over time.

From a player perspective, it's fun to watch your character get better and adapt to events of the game. Character advancement also often opens up new possibilities, as characters gain the ability to survive in new environments, perform new feats or otherwise overcome challenges they were not able to before.

But traditionally in RPGs, character advancement is also meant to represent a real game-world change. It's not just the character getting better at the metagame level, but the character actually becoming more skilled or powerful in the world.

This means that in most character advancement systems there's a double purpose to what the advancement represents. It's both a powerful metagame motivator and a simulation of the character getting better at things.

But these two roles in character advancement are sometimes at odds. After all, it seems contradictory that a character can suddenly cast spells despite never having performed magic before, just because the player chose to take a level of wizard.

I've been thinking recently about how to tie character advancement to the simulation, without losing the metagame incentive of advancement or impeding too much on player agency.

One possibility I've considered is tying experience points earned to different pools based on player actions during the session in which they are earned. As an example, let's say a character relies on Charisma, Strength and Dexterity during a session and over the course of that session earns two experience points. The player then could chose to put the experience into any of those three areas, but couldn't put it into an area that wasn't used - for instance, spellcasting.

I've also toyed with the idea of representing experience points as statements rather than simply tally marks on paper. Rather than simply checking off a point towards, say, charisma, the player might write down "charmed a giant." This would represent some actual charismatic action the character took during that session. Later these statements could be used to gain a bonus to relevant actions. So, for example, if giant-charming was relevant to an action--perhaps because there's a new giant needing charmed--a character with that written down would benefit from it.

I'm curious if this will prove to be too much bookkeeping in character advancement. But if it works, I think I may be onto something.

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