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

Probably worth mentioning The Black Hack 2e’s mechanic of “experience” being a story you can tell about your exploits, you can spend them by telling the stories over a round of drinks you buy, and the process involves actually telling the story at the table, which is nicely immersive.

Disclaimer: Never played it, think it sounds great, included a dumbed-down DW version in a homebrew I call The Blatant Hack:

  • Every bad roll is a story
  • When you have a handful of stories (5) one is a memory worth telling at the tavern, and the other four worth drinking away
  • Level up with your hangover
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How does this work mechanically though? I can see this as five adventures or five encounters (please no not encounter based design!) for a decent player - and we should all have decent players, but I can also see jerk abusing it. That’s not important though…can’t write games for jerks.

What I do wonder about is the way that this appears to center player verbal virtuosity as a mechanic. Are you good at what is effectively as an “actual play” write up? 'Cause that’s how you level. Seems like it favors a type of player - the gregarious extroverted and inventive kind over others (fine for me and my table which is largely professional bullshit artists) A player who can make a good story out of whatever levels fast. Plus this also seems like a lot of play time devoted to listening to players talk about their character. Really though I wonder about it because it sounds like a cutesy way of doing milestone XP (that is leveling when the GM decides you’ve completed pre-determined goals - which is fine for some games) with an added bit of room for players to petition the GM. I don’t know, I’m a cranky grognard type, but it feels opaque to the player, time consuming, and highly subjective.

I’d love to hear how this works for people? I can see it working with a close knit group that’s got a lot of space for blarney and no reserved members - but I’d fear it’s a harsh arena of verbs and favoritism for a lot of groups.

Alternatively you level every five failed rolls - which well seems… meh.

Black Hack codifies it by specifying a list of example “experiences” and the last one on the list is “the GM deems it worthy”. You also need more each level, and there’s a related carousing table.

The leveling does not depend upon any kind of IRL performance quality, it’s just a dash of sugar.

In my personal hack, it is absolutely the “meh” version because it’s meant to be pulpier and more casual than TBH2e. I don’t have much free time so I tend to hack things within an inch of their life so that they are slender enough to fit into mine. Anyway, you still need to get back to the tavern to spend them, and can’t hold more than 5.


Yeah, I don’t mean to be prickly about it, I just can’t really grasp how milestone XP works in play. It depends so much on GM authority and GM labor. I can see a pregenerated list of level worthy accomplishments handed to the players at the start of the game, but that seems like a lot of setting by setting work.

Also with this explanation it sounds like there’s 5 XP points to gain a level - still a point system, but a very loose one - again, I’d just fret about tracking and deciding when and what counts.

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@Bill_White, have you written up your “alignment-based” XP system anywhere? It sounds like something I’d love to try. (I could imagine it working with Traits/Bonds/Ideals/Flaws too, perhaps.)

Hi Paul –

It’s here on Google Drive. You’re right; it would totally work with D&D Traits etc., just add them as a category of thing that you can get “experience checks” for. I mention ideals briefly in the write-up, but my players haven’t really noticed and I haven’t pushed it. The next time we play, I think it’ll be worth paying attention to.

– Bill


Thanks so much, Bill!

That’s pretty great.

I like how it puts it into the hands of the players to decide what type of action each other have taken, and that your alignment is descriptive of your actions and levelling

What sort of actions do you want / expect this to create?

I also really like how the alignments are reinterpreted in terms of particular outlooks or moral stances; that makes them easier and more interesting to interpret. Nice work, @Bill_White!

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There was a discussion somewhere recently, maybe on Story Games, about how to encourage players to take “non-optimal” (i.e., something other than the tactically expedient) actions. The nice thing about rewarding alignment behavior directly is that it does this by influencing the player’s calculations about the best course of action. So for example, when the Lawful Good dwarven monk saw the NPC pirate king making one of his own bullywug pirate crew don a potentially dangerous magical artifact, even though it would have been more expedient to continue to watch from hiding, he felt obligated because of his alignment to intercede. Of course, other players can potentially interpret something you intended one way a different way, but that encourages players to frame what they’re doing in terms of character motives.


It’s been a while, but I still carry a torch for The Riddle of Steel’s “spiritual attributes” mechanic.

If memory serves, you defined things that were important to you, let say: Kill Humperdinck and Marry Buttercup. When you did things to advance those agendas, you coul earn points in them.

Here’s the part that’s just so killer: while you have points in those SAs, you can add them to your pools while pursuing those agendas, which can make a huge difference when you’re trying to kill Humperdinck so you can marry Buttercup - you can have huge pools representing your spiritual and emotional dedication to the task at hand. But - you only advance by spending those points, which turns advancement / XP into a meaningful decision - not just a thing that passively happens to you.


So they become XP once used?

I’m not really sure what you mean by that, so please excuse the verbosity of my answer.

If you mean “Once you use a Spiritual Attribute, it becomes a currency that you can use to improve your character.” that’s not quite right.

What I mean is that you can keep the SA points you’ve accrued, to be used over and over again in limited situations, or you can spend them, immediately, to raise certain scores. IIRC, most skills were use-based like CoC, but attributes and combat skills could be raised by permanently spending accrued SA points - usually at a very disadvantageous exchange rate so like…5 SA points for 1 fighting skill point, etc.

At no point do SAs go into a “pot” of XP to be spent later.

I’m gonna have to go get my copy and look this up now…

Okay… So this sounds a lot like how Artha works in Burning Wheel - which is what I was trying to tease out. Basically for pursuing goals meaningful to your character you can generate a resource that can improve your chances at doing something which in turn will lead to improvement in that thing.

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I haven’t played them but I am fascinated by the Uncanny Echoes and Lady Blackbird use of keys to level up in a one-shot that also drives the story forward.

I enjoyed how collateral damage reduced your XP in the old Marvel Supers FASERIP game. any game that allows the use of XP to improve your homebase or your mission status. (FASERIP, Stonetop village upgrades, Comrades - revolution track, Ironsworn system of completing Oaths )
Wolf-packs and Winter Snow build your clan up.

I like getting XP for resolving bonds in Dungeon World.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple system is simple, narrative, and genius.

Apparently, I most love XP systems that build up the shared world elements or storylines the most.

If there has to be an advance system, instead of just playing one-shots or actually being good from the start and then change the values, I prefer to “ding” at the end of a session. This demands that there is a clear end goal in sight every session or that you can finish an adventure (or subadventure) every second or third session.

My favourite would be adding (or removing) tags, keys, badges, and doohickies that come directly from the story. So some of those are about advancement, but most are just about change. I’m not interested in levels, experience points, or long campaigns.