I have learned a bit on the internet over the past few years, making statements like this is one example:
This post is about wrecking the advancement system in D&D. This post (this blog in fact) is NOT me telling anyone how the game should be played, or what you personally should do. It's just me throwing ideas around. If these ideas somehow offend you please do not use them, offense is not my intention. I have seen how sensitive some folks can get about D&D ...
First things first there is a ton of RPG "stuff" on twitter.
I highly suggest going on the service and seeking out others who enjoy the types of role playing games you enjoy and joining a conversations. I find that on twitter it is easier to engage in a conversation when I find the subject interesting. On the flip side, I also find it easier to disengage with a twitter conversation than I do on Google Plus.
A week or so ago I got involved in a tread with @thedicenerd about playing D&D without using the standard typical level up reward system. the conversation was basically about how long could a group hang together knowing they were going to be playing at level 5 or so in perpetuity.
I have always held the view that my DM-ing sweet spot is 2nd edition D&D somewhere between levels 5 and level 11. Anything lower and death is too easy, anything higher and the stories tend to balloon into other planes and overwrought world sweeping events. I hate to see players make disposable characters. That one person who shows up at the table with a notebook of 10 first level characters. The player's thinking, most of them having met some horrible death will be crumpled into balls by the end of the game. I also hate Having to make adventures too grand, I know that sounds counter intuitive, but I like nitty gritty adventures. I like characters fighting to save their home town rather than dealing with demigods eye to eye. That's a matter of taste.
So the question becomes why don't I just stop character progression at say level 9? ("name level" if you're old.)
I have two answers, first the players in my game will tell you:
" He fucking slows down progression to a crawl at level 5, he never gives out magic items' and we hate him"
That's good, it's all true and in response:
"Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me."
In reality D&D and most Rpg's in the same vein are one way or another built around progression.
The the characters face a situation and use their skills and their guile to overcome that situation. If they fail to overcome, the character must grow somehow and improve in hopes of then being able to overcome. An Ogre spanks a level 1 fighter, but by level six that same fighter has learned enough and improves enough as a warrior to where that single Ogre is no longer a threat. Players and DM's know this, it's how the game works, it's how the game has always worked. Remove progression and it's like pulling the pistons out of an engine.
That means in my thinking some kind of reward system should remain. The characters should improve somehow. In this vein I have two thoughts.
A bit by the seat of the pants for the DM's pants, reward players with bonuses and abilities based on their characters actions. I call this the catch wrestling of Role Playing Games.
Minor Boons should be small mechanical bonuses based on the persistent actions of the characters. Rewards of playing a character consistently.
Boons should not stack, the player should know that if they are using a boon, they must choose one boon which applies to the action.
Your player that is running a cleric is adamant about having the character pray every morning?
To the the point where the player is roleplaying scenes where the other characters are saying "C'mon we have to GO !" and the cleric is resolute about not breaking camp until prayers are over.
Give that character a boon.
"On days that you personally sacrifice in order to pray (Ie Hold up the party, fail to eat, stuck outdoors in harsh weather) you get one extra 1d4 level spell for the day."
Will that create a situation where the Cleric is fishing for reasons to make his morning prayer in convenient? Yes. I'm 100% fine with that. Why am I fine with that, because ti rewards a situation that the player has already established about his character.
The fighter always tries to parley before fighting?
Give the fighter a +2 bonus on persuasion, or charisma checks.
Alternately grant the character an attack bonus of +2 during a fight if their attempt to parley fails.
The thief loves to finish off opponents with a flourish of some sort?
Have the player describe his finishing maneuver, apply a penalty of -2 to hit but inflict backstab damage. The move automatically fails if the target has more hit points than the charters maximum backstab damage. Limit the move to one use per target.
Will the thief try to land that big hit to early in a fight, and wiff horribly? YES! Will that set up interesting situations? Damn right.
Is this 100% satisfactory? No not realy. For some games it could be a fun way to give characters some progression in power that is based on their actions without having things spiral out of control. Unless players having a list of Boons they can invoke is "out of control. I think it's pretty vital to the whole concept that the players understand the minor boons don't stack with each other. As stated above, If more than one boon can be applied to an action then the player must pick which one they wish to apply.
Goals and à la carte:
Warning: Once this starts your game will not even look like D&D after a few sessions.
Set a Goal for the party, whatever it might be. "Find the lost Prince", "Plan the invasion", "build the ship", " negotiate the contract." The goal can be up to the DM's discretion and may even be DM only information, or set by the party. Whichever works best for the group is the right choice.
DM leg work:
The prep for his techniques is all in the background. Before a game where the party will most likely achieve a goal the DM will have to go through the player's handbook and make a list of level up bonuses from the different classes. the list should include whatever level up the DM feels are appropriate. Let the game do some of the work for you. Look at each character class and develop a list based off of the options already built into the game system for you.
For example a list might include:
(using 5th ed as an example)
- Fighting style Duelist
- +1 Hit die
- +1 Proficiency bonus.
- Immunity to disease.
- Divine sense
- And so on...
When a goal is achieved by the party let each player pick a Goal Reward from your painstakingly curated list. The DM should cross the rewards that players pick of the list. No two characters may recieve the same reward. Create a new goal for the party (or several.) Just so the DM will be ready when the next goal is achieved they should write a new list of rewards and keep it handy.
Will this get crazy? Yeah probably.
Is it possible that after a few goals have been achieved one of the characters will end up a healer that goes into rage during combat and dual wields maces? Possibly.
Do I personally care if that happens? No, not so much much.
What I am saying is that this idea askew's any balance built into the game. Any reader who has been scanning this blog for a while knows I am not a huge fan of "balance" as a concept in role playing games.
This kind of advancement system would force each character to be very diverse from the others. No two players can take the same goal reward. It would give the DM control over what gets into the game and what doesn't. The DM makes the list of rewards after all. Finally it would give the players some autonomy over what their characters end up being able to do, during their adventuring career. As it is (Again using 5th ed as an example) the player makes choices at level 1 creation and again at level 2 and is pretty well tracked into what kind of character they are going to be from then on. This sort of lunacy would change that dynamic.
Well that's that .
I'm sure these ideas are not for everyone, perhaps beyond broken in some ways.
However I like taking a fundamental part of the game and mixing it around a bit. The process alone can lead to better ideas down the road.
Thanks for reading.