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


I like Fate’s Milestones, actually. I’m playing a longer campaign, and I find being able to change Aspects to reflect what happened very evocative. Also, you don’t necessarily need XP to get better - maybe you just lean into one kind of abilities more and another less, and then you just can exchange that.

On the other hand. Advancement for mages in Ars Magica is a huge, complex endeavour, but to me, it sings, because there are alway so many possibilities! Am I learning from a book? Am I studying the nature of magic? Am I improving my laboratory? Am I inventing spells, or creating magical wonders? There’s never, never enough time for everything (at least not for me). Yes, this can be daunting, and it involves a lot of number crunching and creativity, but I actually like both.


I love the XP gain from Star Wars World the most right now. Everyone gets XP on a miss, but on top of that, every playbook has their own set of triggers that grant you xp, and encourage you to play a certain way.

The XP on a miss, I will always love, because it sort of lessons the blow of a hard move/encourages you to learn from your mistakes.

I’ve been working on adding an XP system to World Wide Wrestling, where the normal advancement triggers give you XP instead, plus the XP on the miss, because that game seems to encourage players to do everything possible to avoid the hard move.


There seems to be a lot of folk who like XP on a miss (and a not insubstantial dissenting voice). I wonder if one tweak, for Forged in the Dark in particular, might be ‘XP for accepting consequences.’ Like, if a character suffers a consequence in Risky or Desperate position and doesn’t Resist, they mark XP? Maybe as an alternative to XP on Desperate actions?

I can see it pushing a game towards suffering porn, which could be gross or unfun game feel.


That reminds me of the custom tracks used with mantles in Dresden Files Accelerated which I totally stole for my Armageddon Accelerated game. I love that addition to the Fate system.


As the “dissenting voice,” I like that alternative a lot. It makes seeking XP a more active choice on the player’s part.


Well, @RefreshNinja just saved me a lot of typing.

I’m particularly a fan of the Unlock aspect of XP Marvel Heroic, because in the comics, heroes don’t really ‘level up’, except the occasional reboot or change of writers.

Maybe a tangential conversation, but we should also be payig more attention to how ‘advancement’ works differently in different genres. DND ‘zero to hero’ is great for that milieux, but doesn’t work for Supers, where once your Origin Story is out of the way advancement works very differently.


@Thoobn you are not alone!!!


Back in D&D I used the approach of ‘XP for spending GP’, with a cap on the maximum amount that could be spent in a week (this might be spending on training, on research, on carousing… whatever was deemed appropriate). It was useful because it gave an incentive to remove money from the system and it gave an incentive to advance the clock a little too.

One of the general advancement systems that I like in recent years was the one that I first saw in Night Witches by Bully Pulpit Games. There are a series of ‘Marks’ which you get to check off, including things such as ‘tell a war story’, ‘witness the death of a comrade’, ‘speak truth to power’ and ultimately ‘embrace death and face your final destiny’. Each of these is interesting from a story point of view; furthermore, you don’t have to leave ‘embrace death’ to the very end if you want… if there is a dramatically appropriate moment, you can ‘embrace death’ when you want. I like it a lot!


XP for desperate actions in Blades is there to encourage the players to push the fiction, so that they consider “how can I aim for more in this situation?”.
If players are not accepting consequences they are telling you something about what they find important. That’s an important function that shouldn’t be muddled, I feel. Also, this might likely be revisited at the end of session, too.
Seeking xp is already a super active part of what players do in Blades.

XP on 6- in Dungeon World and Monsterhearts 2 work because it encourages playing loose and fast. You don’t want that in every game. Remember 6- is a miss, it’s not per se failure. The MC is a fan of the character and they should be out for making you look cool (whatever that may mean in the fiction) when they get the “narrative initiative”.

So, I find this is a difficult topic. It varies by game because the aim of games are different.

Personally, I like the dynamic in Burning Wheel where you play from session to session evolving your Beliefs and from that non-linear progression all other progress is generated. Reward (Artha) for that and character change are separated and only may feed back very late (Epiphany and Aristeia).

But that’s not for every game. The Veil 2020’s xp system matches 80s cyberpunk brilliantly but only makes sense there.


Legends of the Wulin has Deeds.
A player or GM can nominate another player who did something awesome for a Deed. This means they get some Joss (bennies, essentially) and then a number of entanglement XP based on the Virtue that corresponds with what they did.

The player who awarded the XP gets to spend that Entanglement to tie the PC who got the deed into the world. This can be used for adventure specific stuff (Gaining the attention of a certain NPC, discovering a needed secret, etc.) or it can be used to buy things players want to see into the campaign.

“So, that NPC you got into an argument with this session? I want to buy her as a love interest for you. She’s got a thing for you and we want to see her more.”


I like how Shadow of the Demon Lord does away with XP. At the end of each session, the group levels up. There’s no XP to track, everyone is the same level as everyone else. I like that because it tells me, as a player, that I don’t need to worry about specific actions or tasks to advance. Just play the game.

I like systems with XP too, like L5R where the characters are more finely tuned. But i dont think a game has to have an XP system.


I prefer systems that forego advancement in favor of other types of character change. In all out of bubblegum and honey heist for example your characters capability is constantly shifting back and forth. In FAE there’s a mechanic that allows you to swap two approaches modelling how you might get worse at one thing as you focus on another.


I like this. Reflecting on character actions at the end of the session would be my favorite system.

Burning Wheel does something like this, but for “Artha,” a resource that can be spent to reroll or otherwise influence rolls at crucial moments. At the end of every session, you look at your stated goals, instincts and traits, talk about how those affected your play, look at whether or not any of them should be changed, and award artha accordingly.

Unfortunately, advancement in BW is handled by accumulating Routine, Difficult and Challening skill checks, a designation that changes based on your skill rating, and a different number of which are required based on your skill rating. It’s fiddly af and one of my least favorite parts of the system. I’d love to be able to handle advances of skills in a similar way to Artha — talk at the end of the session about how a player used skills towards their goals and nominate certain skills for advancement or XP.


Judd Karlman–a guy who’s played a lot of Burning Wheel–mentioned to me recently that BW is so intricately crafted that it’s hard to mess around with it in this way; you really have to know what you’re doing in order to avoid messing it up. But I think it’s not unreasonable to adopt some more qualitative approach to advancement, along the lines of “note what skills you used and why, show how the reasons are connected to your Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits, and then when you’ve done that, go ahead and advance the skill–or go ahead and roll to advance.” Something like that.


I like how Adam Koebel refers to Burning Wheel as “the Swiss watch of RPGs.”

I personally dig the skill advancement system in BW since it is entirely linked to your actually getting better at the things you actually do in play. It drives you to put your skills (whatever those may be (including accounting)) into the service of pushing for your beliefs. I think it can lead to situations and character evolutions no one would have expected at the start of a campaign.


The more I play games, the more I realize how much the advancement system can make or break a game.

Though I find the questionnaire approach simple and elegant, my players and I are sometimes frustrated that the questions nudge us toward a certain style of play and storytelling. We want to tell our stories and still have the opportunities to advance.

I’ve been playing a lot of Coriolis and find that system incredibly frustrating, as even when the character gets an advance, there’s not much to add. Adding talents or skills seems to fly in the face of the fiction, so also rubs me the wrong way.

The systems that seem to work best with my tables are those where there are skills that go through a natural progression. Unlocking new moves or more expert versions of the skill fit well enough with the fiction. I keep coming back to Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars games, where you use to buy upgraded skills and powers, or bump stats. It’s pretty “brute force” but puts the incentives in the right place.

The most intriguing mechanic I’ve seen recently (though haven’t played with) is in Comrades, where individual characters can advance, but mostly the advancement happens at the “crew” level. (I’d imagine Legacy and Blades might have something similar…?) In Comrades, as the characters contribute to the revolutionary cause, they can advance the group along five different tracks, affording them different advantages and narrative opportunities.


I believe that’s the point of those questions.

I would suggest adding or swapping out the existing questions (that don’t match the type of story you are trying to tell) with questions that do.


Yes! I should have mentioned that we have been experimenting with different questions. In fact, I developed a (yet-untested) model that lets players pick what style of play they want to be rewarded for. I’ve gotten feedback on another thread, so I’ll just include a link to the latest model.


Just cause this thread necro’d I’ll add that I’m a big XP=GP (recovered from mythical underworld or wilderness - including bounties and rewards) fan. I know this is predictable, but to me the transparency of the mechanic (meaning it allows players schemes without GM buy in or planning), the moral flexibility of both using and obtaining wealth (placing moral play decisions into play) and the way it fits well with exploration and discovery all really win me over.

Obviously it’s not going to work for a lot of settings or even systems - superheros for example would be strange, but even a fantasy system less about exploration might be a reach. For example a sort of Tang detective fantasy thing (Judge Dee via troupe play meets CoC) wouldn’t make sense if wealth recovery were the advancement mechanic.

For anything low fantasy, Western or post-apocalyptic though I find XP=GP very useful.


Also self managing because as you get better, you miss less often.