Wednesday, January 19, 2011

[Greyhawk] Experience & Advancement, Part the First

Much credit and respect to Rob Dohoghue's blog entry as the genesis of this post:

So, Spirit of Greyhawk is NOT dead, but had been on something of a hiatus for two reasons:
  1. The demands of the non-RPG world just became too great to allow for any progress in the back half of 2010.
  2. I had hit a bad case of writer's block with The Spirit of Greyhawk campaign (which tends to drive my postings here). The campaign storyline has been building to something of a "watershed moment" and I didn't feel as though I had enough planned to make it work the way I wanted.
Anyway, New Years' Resolutions and blah-blah-blah commitment to gaming blah-blah-blah, we got the game going again last weekend and though I was no further along to solving reason #2 above, I decided to stop delaying, put on my "Big GM panties" and really run the game as a "true" Fate game: stop worrying about lack of planning and let the players really have a say in where and how the game played out.

As most of you Fate-faithful might already have guessed, I was worrying too much about lack of planning. The session was actually one of the most engaging and fast-paced of any we've ever had. Being a Fate-GM, I had a very proud moment while we were cleaning up the Buffalo Wing bones, dice and empty cups when one of the players shook his head and said, "This session would have made for an amazing story to read or watch!"

In large part I credit that sentiment to a new rule I implemented with the goal of getting the players to stop "hoarding" their Fate Points--using the expenditure of Fate Points as the basis for character advancement.

Earning Experience Points
I've implemented Rob's rule pretty much as stated in the blog entry linked above:

"You can treat Fate points as XP by keeping a bowl in the middle of the table. Every time a player spends a FP, it goes into the bowl. The GM might also randomly toss into the bowl when he wants to reward general awesomeness. At night's end, the points in the bowl are converted to XP and divided among the players. Give any extra to whoever the table considers the night's spotlight player, or just let it ride til next time."

Playtest Experience
It was as though the clouds had parted: FP hoarding (or spending them only in a reactive sense) was a thing of the past. Declarations, tagging and Aspect powerings o' plenty. In a single 5 hour session, two 5-phase PCs had racked up 11 XP for the party.

Some examples of Player-related Awesome from that Session:
  • Declaring a large chandelier was hanging DIRECTLY above a wounded Villain, and the various rituals in chamber that involved the creation of a vortex (long story) had weakened the chandelier's chain, thus making it primed for use in a "Death from Above" attack.
  • PC encircling a villain's neck with his "chain whip" weapon while she tried to strangle him with her bare hands (big Wagnerian woman!), then using his Athletics skill and "Parkour" aspect to run up a wall and flip over the villain, thus simultaneously breaking her stranglehold on him and breaking her neck.
  • Correctly guessing/tagging another villain's "Mama's Boy" aspect to send him into a wild frenzy (cuz the PC had killed his Mother in the prior bullet point) causing him to scream in rage while attacking wildly and thereby negate any protective benefit of fighting within an obscuring mist.
  • Another correct guess/tag from the party that the geothermal vents upon which the town sat meant that the occupied mansion they had just cleared MUST have an escape tunnel somewhere and used it to free the mansion's servants. "If there's gonna be an escape tunnel ANYWHERE in the city, there'll be one in the mayor's mansion!"

This was (for me) the first time a Spirit of Greyhawk gaming session really FELT like a Fate "High Fantasy" game, rather than a Fantasy game that just happened to use the Fate ruleset. As a GM, I really felt the power of collaborative storytelling and that my job was to provide strong characters and settings to surround the PCs, keep a few things in my back pocket just in case, then put the pieces in motion and just let it happen.

And again in large part, I believe it was due to providing the players with an explicit mechanism to empower them to actively engage in the Fate system.

So now that Experience Points are a reality--how should Advancement be handled? There are other Fate implementations out there that deal with advancement in many different ways, but considering that Spirit of Greyhawk is attempting to stay consistent with players' expectations for how the gameworld works, I found that just lifting them "as is" into SoG wasn't going to work for me.

So here's my current thinking on how SoG will handle Advancement...

Spending Experience
Creation Phases and Levels
Spirit of Greyhawk makes the general assumption that each Creation Phase (as documented in Spirit of the Century) is considered as being the equivalent of "2 levels" in the source material. In other words, a Wizard with 3 creation phases is equivalent of a 6th-level Magic-User.

In Spirit of the Century, each creation phase is basically credited with having the following benefits:

  • 2 Fate Points added to character's Refresh
  • 1 New Stunt
  • 2 New Aspects
  • Increased Number and Proficiency in Skills (discussed below)
Skill Points
If you consider each +1 in a skill as costing 1 point, the SotC 5-phase character would have the following...

1 x (+5) Skill = 5 Skill points
2 x (+4) Skills = 8 Skill points
3 x (+3) Skills = 9 Skill points
4 x (+2) Skills = 8 Skill points
5 x (+1) Skills = 5 Skill points

...for a total of 35 Skill points. At it's most basic, you could just divide the points by 5 (Creation Phases for a SotC character), make the statement that each phase would be worth 7 skill points and be done with it.

However I don't think that's really consistent with how this gameworld works and would be counter to the expectations of those players familiar with the source material.

Greyhawk Assumptions - Experience & Advancement
The following are derived from the Greyhawk source material:
  • As a rule of thumb, it takes roughly 2x as much XP to get from one level to the next. In other words, it takes about 2x as much XP to get to level 3 that it took to get to level 2. Then another 2x as much XP to get level 4 that it took to get to level 3.
    NOTE: This is FAR from a constant, and at many classes' higher levels, this multiple starts to drop off.
  • XP rewards are constant with respect to who is earning them. A level 3 player killing a particular monster gets as much experience as a level 10 player would from killing the same monster. This means that a higher level character had to either do MORE of the same things, or kill tougher monsters (and get more treasure) to increase at the same pace as their lower-level counterparts.
  • If a 1st level PC were fighting a monster with a 12th level PC in the party, even though the 12th level PC might have done the lion's share of the damage to the monster and might have been solely responsible for killing the monster (with the 1st player being little more than an extra target), the basic rules state that 1st level PC gains as much XP for the kill as the 12th level player.

Phases: Skill Amount and Proficiency
Given the assumptions listed above, consider the SotC pyramid progression looking at the number of skills and at what degree of proficiency they are:

Phase 1:
1 Skill at Average (+1)

Phase 2:

1 Skill at Fair (+2)
2 Skills at Average (+1)

Phase 3:
1 Skill at Good (+3)
2 Skills at Fair (+2)
3 Skills at Average (+1)

Phase 4:
1 Skill at Great (+4)
2 Skills at Good (+3)
3 Skills at Fair (+2)
4 Skills at Average (+1)

Phase 5:
1 Skill at Superb (+5)
2 Skills at Great (+4)
3 Skills at Good (+3)
4 Skills at Fair (+2)
5 Skills at Average (+1)

So, working from that, we could take the following progression of total skill points needed to achieve each character creation phase. (NOTE: I've expanded the pyramid out to 9th level to be consistent with the SoG Ladder, as well as to see if the progression holds up at the high end.)

Phase 1: Earn 1 Skill point total.
Phase 2: Earn 3 more Skill points for a total of 4 Skill points.
Phase 3: Earn 6 more Skill points for a total of 10 Skill points.
Phase 4: Earn 10 more Skill points for a total of 20 Skill points.
Phase 5: Earn 15 more Skill points for a total of 35 Skill points.
Phase 6: Earn 21 more Skill points for a total of 56 Skill points.
Phase 7: Earn 28 more Skill points for a total of 84 Skill points.
Phase 8: Earn 36 more Skill points for a total of 120 Skill points.
Phase 9: Earn 45 more Skill points for a total of 165 Skill points.

While this progression is not a perfect fit with the source material, I think it's close enough out of the box to not worry about having to come up with something else.

Playtest Experience

Back to the last playtest session of SoG: we have two PC's at "Phase 5", or the equivalent of 10th level. As I had stated, the party had accumulated 11 XP total in one 5 hour session. For right now, I'm going to generalize that into a convenient "1 XP per gamer per 1 hour of gaming time" guess-stimate.

This means that for characters to get from Phase 5 to Phase 6, they would need to earn another 21 skill points each. Restated in source material terms, that means for 10th level characters to get to 12th level (remember that 1 phase = 2 levels), they would each need about 21 hours of gaming time to get there. From the perspective of my current gaming availability (5 hour game session every 2-3 weeks), that sounds pretty reasonable or perhaps even stingy. But then again going from 10th to 12th level is no walk in the park!

...So, any comments? My goal here is to try to stay true to the assumptions players have when they are playing in "Greyhawk", while staying as close as possible to the Fate system as implemented by the Evil Hat folks.

Coming up next:
Going further off into the weeds with more specifics for spending XP and Advancement for a Fate game in the Greyhawk gameworld.
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