Tuesday, February 1, 2011

[Greyhawk] Experience & Advancement, Part the Second

Old Business Before New Business
Progressive Skill Cost Method
In the course of writing the prior article on Experience, I had a thought that my previously determined flat rate of 1 XP per +1 skill might need an alternative. I am considering that each +1 of skill upgrade costs that same number of XP as the desired skill level. This means that to get a +4 skill to now be a +5 skill costs 5 XP.

Stated differently, my previous article suggested that to get a +0 Skill to be +5 would cost a player 5 XP. To do the same thing under this new "progression method" would be: 1+2+3+4+5 = 15 XP.

Using the progression method appeals to me it addresses a couple things that had been bugging me:

  • It makes the higher levels of skill proficiency MUCH more difficult to achieve. Legendary really is legendary now.
  • It reduces the chances of a character being able to add new skills that "leapfrog" lower level skills that they previously had. This promotes a more natural progression within the Skill pyramid.

Additional Stress Box on Level-Up
I had forgotten to mention that up achieving a new level (creation phase), you also receive an additional "base" stress box (in addition to aspects, stunts, etc). So a 1 phase character has a single stress box and for each phase gains an additional stress box.

Note that stress boxes are still adjusted by skills, etc.

Onward to New Business

So last article, I talked about a process by which players can accumulate experience points. This time, I'm focusing on players spending those experience points on their characters.

To start with, I will lay some brief groundwork for the basis of how Advancement might work in Spirit of Greyhawk.

Advancement Method
Based upon some number crunching, I have decided to stay with the SotC standard "Pyramid Method" of character building and advancement. Originally I was planning on going with the "Column" or "Tower Method" of advancement, but decided against it for the time being.

This post was getting way too long, so I've edited this section down to just show the bottom lines of Total XP expenditures.

Using the most efficient method possible (least amount of experience) to get a single skill from +0 to a +5:

  • Tower Method (Linear Cost): 15 total XP
  • Pyramid Method (Linear Cost): 35 total XP
  • Tower Method (Progressive Cost): 35 total XP
  • Pyramid Method (Progressive Cost): 75 total XP

So I like the Pyramid Method of structuring skills because it gives a very clear "apex skill" which will become important later in the article. I also like costing the skills in a Progressive Cost method, because it makes the higher end of the skill ladder much harder to achieve.

However, that now means the XP thresholds increase dramatically.

...Any opinions on this?

Class & Level Advancement

Every character class must have both of the following:

  • Class Aspect
  • Apex Skill

Class Aspect
Basically the player decides what class their character should be (again, just sticking with the generic "Fighter", "Wizard", "Thief" and "Cleric" for the time being), the player then must decide (with GM approval) upon an Aspect that reflects (or defines) that character's class.

Examples of Class Aspects:

  • FIGHTER: Guild Grunt, Trusted Retainer, High Lord's Shield Bearer, Duellist, Sargent of the City Garrison, Thug for the Thieves' Guild, Ranger of the North Woods
  • WIZARD: Sorceror's Apprentice, Alchemist, Master of the Lost Library, Battlemage
  • THIEF: Footpad, Locksmith gone Bad, Master Thief, Guild Master of Undercity
  • CLERIC: Acolyte of the Dark One, Gom's Healer, The Voice of Justice, High Priest of the Order of G'nirwob.

While you can be as generic or as dramatic as you wish, I believe that the Class Aspect should also contain some clue as to the general power-level of the character.

As the character progresses, the Class Aspect is going to change somewhat. It's possible that it could be totally redefined I suppose, but I would suspect that's probably more story-driven.

Apex Skill
As I mentioned above, the character's Class Aspect must be supported by single skill at the apex of that classes' skill pyramid. It doesn't always have to be as simple as a character with a Class Aspect of something Fighter-related, the Apex skill is "Melee". It could be something else such as "Might", or "Leadership". The character's Apex skill could be anything the player can "sell" to the GM.

Some ideas could be:

  • FIGHTER: Leadership, Melee, Missile, Intimidation, Survival
  • CLERIC: Magic (clerical), Leadership, Medical
  • THIEF: Burglary, Sleight of Hand, Deceit, Stealth
  • WIZARD: Research, Magic, Crafting, Resolve

...you start to see the possibilities.

Spending XP
The player may spend the XP as they are earned to increase the character's skills. Typically increases would occur at the end or start of sessions.

How to address the idea that a player may not follow an "optimized" pyramid progression? If you consider the progression from a 2nd phase character to a 3rd phase character (requires 6 XP), the "normal" track might be starting from this:

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

So, the first increase would give this:

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

Next increase to get:

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

Finally one last increase to get:

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

...and the character is now considered a 3rd phase character, and gets the extra 2 Aspects, 1 Stunt and +2 Fate points on the Refresh.

So this is only the "basic" progression and probably the most efficient one for the fastest advancement of the Apex Skill under the Pyramid Method. However there's a few wrinkles that could happen to complicate things:

Picking A Non-Standard Pyramid

It's entirely possible that a player might select a skill pyramid that doesn't allow for that next apex at the soonest available "threshold":
If you consider the basic example of a second phase character:
1 Skill at Fair (+2)
2 Skills at Average (+1)

The player could allocate similar increases as listed above and end up here:
3 Skills at Fair (+2)
4 Skills at Average (+1)

...So you might have spent the almost the same XP, but have not yet achieved a Good (+3) skill. Should that character still be considered a 3rd phase character?

I say no, that character is not a 3rd phase character until a Good (+3) skill has been achieved, regardless of many XP are used. I consider the phrase "Jack of All Trades, Master of None", to be very applicable here.

So there's nothing wrong with creating a pyramid like this, just understand the impact (or lack thereof) to class.

In essence, the XP thresholds from the prior article represent the minimum Experience needed to achieve that level of "mastery". Additionally, by doing it this way, there's no need to adjust any thresholds if you chose to use different Skill architectures or costs.

Levelling & Aspects
The +2 Aspects acquired by a player at the achievement of a new level could be used to either:

  • Add a new aspect
  • Modify an existing aspect (important with redefining the Class Aspect)
  • Remove a character aspect

...at a cost of 1 earned aspect per transaction. In other words, each one of those three options costs one of the Aspects.

Whether existing Aspects were attached to the character during the course of play or from the player's prior decisions is not important.

I have considered the impact to the Advancement economy with respect to using XP to do the three things above, but at the moment I don't have a clear sense of how much currency those things cost. I had considered something on the range of 5 XP to add / modify / remove an aspect but it's not dancing and singing for me at the moment. I currently like the idea of tying a player modifying aspects based upon their level and it also reinforces the importance of a character's level in SoG.

Side Note on Epic Play: Too Many Aspects?
In my research there's plenty of mentions about folks having concerns about too many Aspects and being too much to keep track of at the high end.

I think that's a valid concern for some people, and while I have no plans to limit the number of aspects on characters, I think it's entirely reasonable for a GM to have a house rule capping the total number of aspects available on characters. In that case, you could still take the Aspect piece of the advancement and simply state that if a character's cap has been reached, their aspect modifications must be used within that capped amount.

Levelling & Stunts

Consistent with Aspects, Stunts are tied to levelling and not to XP. With that extra Stunt, the player can choose to either:

  • Add a New Stunt
  • Replace an Existing Stunt with Another Stunt

I'm not entirely certain about the concept of replacing a Stunt with another one, but I'm allowing for the idea that a player should be able to "focus" or "redefine" the character. Note that replacing a Stunt that is a requirement for other stunts, will essentially "liquidate" that related Stunt also. I'm currently going to side with the player and allow them to keep that empty slot and redefine that Stunt as well.

Multi-Class / Split Class
A player can have choose to effectively have multiple classes for their character, and spend Skill points as they wish, but they are working with two separate skill pyramids. I currently don't see that SoG is served by making a distinction between Split Classes and Multi-Classes, and the model appears to cover them both, so I'm going to leave this "as is".

For each class of the character (however many a character has), there would need to be:

  • A Class Aspect
  • A Skill Pyramid associated with the class, and by extension, an Apex Skill that supports the Class Aspect.

Plus looking back at the records of the old school gameplay experience and character advancement, it was quite common to have higher-level characters with two or three classes anyway--certainly at the higher levels of play.

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