What's your favorite advancement or experience system in games and why?

I am so with you on this @Jeremy_Strandberg - the spending gold to get XP thing just feels right for the fiction - especially since it means the characters basically have to go back out adventuring eventually since they are low on funds!

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Plus it gives you a chance to see what’s important to them.

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I am actually not a fan of the highlighting of stats for XP bonuses:

  • it takes away agency from the player (if the player is uncomfortable doing Hot stuff and Hot is highlighted, they aren’t going to get XP)
  • if the session happens to end up having no scenes for fights to happen the ones with Volatile highlighted aren’t going to get any XP
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Point one is definitely a weakness, and requires good relationships and communication to manage. Point 2, I think, comes down to exactly who is doing the highlighting and how scenes get framed. In Apocalypse World, when the MC highlights one of the stats, and is in charge of scene framing, it is part of the MC’s job to frame scenes where the PC can use the highlighted stat. I have almost never played in a game where everything was going well, the game was rolling along great, and then those stats didn’t get rolled. Great MCs create situations where PCs have to make interesting choices around whether to use the highlighted stat, take a risk and get XP, or back off, do the safe thing and not take the XP.

Moving back to the core question of the thread, I love it when players have the chance to offer XP of some kind to other players to do stuff they want. Strings in Monsterhearts, debt in Urban Shadows (less directly), etc… I think it’s sweet and fun.

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I’ll be contrarian and say I really dislike XP on a miss. I want XP to motivate me to do stuff, not to be a consolation prize. Plus, and maybe this is just a product of my own attitude and the play groups I’ve been in, I’ve never felt inhibited from rolling for something by the fear of getting a miss (such that the promise of XP would incentivize me to risk it). If it’s appropriate to the fiction I’m going for it anyway.

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One of my absolute favorite advancements is the Moment of Truth in Masks. It’s basically how it sounds: a one-time opportunity to narrate how you pull off something totally awesome and important. A description of what this might look like is provided for each playbook. In addition it allows you to “lock a label”; In a game where your identity is constantly being questioned by yourself and others, this lets you concretely define one aspect of your personality and truly come into your own, both fictionally and mechanically. So good.

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I like advancement systems which change my character in some way other than skills. Like having them realise a new motivation, a new complication or similar. I’m really excited about Girl Underground for that reason - but I also like the adult moves in Monsterhearts for the same reason.

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In Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, every character is defined by two names: one that tells you how they help people, and one that tells you how they get in trouble. And after each adventure, you take a moment to reflect on what you experienced, and what your character would have learned from those events. And you change one name. You both change what the name is (so White Tiger might become White Lotus or Leaping Tiger) and you change either how yo help people or how you get in trouble.

That’s it. Simple and elegant, and it directly addresses what the game is about (helping people, getting in trouble, learning and growing).

In the Project Dark beta kit (probably the only version we’ll ever get), every character is a deck of playing cards. You start with Ace through 5 in the 4 suits. As you level up, there’s a deckbuilding sort of minigame, where you spend XP to purchase better and better cards for your deck. Higher value cards are better, and face cards have unique special abilities. So you have to make some choices about what to advance in and how to tune your character’s deck. I find that to be fun in the same way that making decks for CCG games was fun: thinking about what outcomes are likely and how to make combos happen and how to tune the deck to produce the results you want.

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I like that too.

I just remembered that in Dogs in the Vineyard when you take Fallout in a conflict, right after the conflict ends you adjust your character, which to me feels more interesting from a fictional point of view. And in Dogs you can have a positive and a negative, or one or the other.

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Generally I’m a fan of no advancement.

However, currently I’m playing (and making) games with a simple advancement system: a maximum roll on a die advances the skill that supplied that die. However, since you roll multiple dice, it can be the case that this demands you choose between success (say an 8 on your d10) and advancement but success with cost (your d6 got a 6).

Since lower ratings are smaller dice, advancement is automatically faster for using weaker skills.

So far I like it and the pace of the game is such that advancement is also slow (you’re not rolling dozens of times per session). And I have a plan for when skill start to peak out (adding stunts instead of advancing a die).

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I like a goal-based experience system. I somewhat came up with one of my own. I allow my players to set 3 goals at the start of the session. If they complete a goal the earn experience for it. This allows the players to tell me what is important to them, and where they want to go with the session. While it does have some issues, mainly it can lead to asymmetrical advancement. I think it has been better for allowing the players to engage with the world.

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Yes, I was coming on here to say the same thing. Conceptually I love the idea of 7th Sea’s stories. Its a brilliant idea and perhaps a better implementation of Fate’s milestones. But in practice it’s wonky and hard to use.

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That sounds nice.

Has anyone used any of the options in the Fantasy Flight Games Backgrounds like Obligations (Edge of the Empire) to help build this into character creation as well?

I like to use the Tag Scene mechanics in Cortex Prime for some games or an epilogue scene where the narration helps to define a change fictionally and/or mechanically too.

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How many use something like Keys from Shadows of Yesterday / Lady Blackbird?

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I’ve done something similar to the questionnaire method that @Dissonance mentions in the D&D 5e game I’m running right now. It’s tied exclusively to alignment. Whenever the players take a long rest, they go around the table and give each other ‘checks’ in a particular alignment based on specific things they’ve done during the adventure. Once you get a certain number of checks in a given alignment (i.e., equal to your level in your current alignment, 1.5 times your level in a compatible alignment, or twice your level in an opposed alignment) you can roll a d20 trying to roll higher than your current level. Make it, you level up. Fail, you erase a check mark, get a stackable +1 to subsequent rolls that persists until you succeed, and can try again whenever you get enough checks again.

It has been working very nicely, since it makes the players seek to characterize themselves as doing whatever they’re doing for reasons that have to do with their alignment motivations. It also makes us appreciate the things that other players are doing. I really like it.

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Others have mentioned XP-on-a-miss, which I like, not so much because it encourages trying (as others have pointed out, I don’t think that’s a problem for me or for many players), but because I like the way it motivates people to think about characters learning from failure (I think UA called this rule ‘experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want’). I also like Call of Cthulhu’s simple learn-by-doing mechanic, where using skills improves them but this gets harder the better you get.

I have a problem with intricate training systems – I always think I’m going to enjoy them and then I use them for a session or two and then I get bored with them and feel guilty because some poor player has bought the Teaching skill. This has currently happened in my Other Dust game, where the game’s study mechanic (which is still relatively simple) has just drifted into ‘yeah, learn whatever,’ which is less realistic but much simpler.

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@Bill_White, is that system just for tracking how alignments shift, change, and strengthen or do you use it for leveling?

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@Bad_Quail I use it for leveling up in place of XP. It makes advancement out of the lowest levels pretty rapid, but now I can see it slowing down as the players are reaching 4th level; I find these middle levels to be a sweet spot for play.

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Barbarians of Lemuria has a system where you lose all the treasure you gained in the previous adventure and get advancments based on your description of how you wasted it. It is very conan where we loot the snake temple, get drunk, throw gems around and wake up being dragged by guards. we dont spend any time shopping or contemplating retirement because the loot is gone and all that remains is the experience and the need for more loot.

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All the stuff folks have mentioned is great, but I wanted to also mention Godbound! It’s got a standard XP track for half of what’s required for each level, but the real method of character advancement is spending Dominion to change the world. It has the dual effect of making you care a lot about your cult (how you get Dominion) and encouraging you to spend the Dominion and expand your influence. It also makes leaping forward in time make a lot of sense!

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