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Author Topic: Concept of Character Level in RPGs  (Read 501 times)

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Offline IStateYourNameTopic starter

Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« on: January 01, 2014, 10:30:18 PM »
Recently I was engaged in a discussion on the meaning of character level in RPGs...it was a lively discussion, but rather different from the original topic of the thread.  So as to avoid further derail, I decided to create a thread to discuss it in its own right.

I am a veteran of the early editions of D&D, and like my campaigns rooted in gritty realism.  I eschew the character-as-superhero ethos.  In my estimation, a first-level character is no hero, but rather a raw recruit who barely knows which end of the weapon to hold.  He really isn't that much better than the no-level/0-level populace of the realm.  He has an edge in ability scores (whilst the mean ability score of the average human is 10 to 11, most adventuring parties I DM probably average closer to 13.  A cut above, but certainly no 16 to 19 across the board superhero.

In my worlds, it isn't until a character reaches third or even fourth level that she can be rightly called a skilled veteran of adventuring--a journeyman, if you will. By then she is usually able to specialize in a weapon, and has been given one or two traits (bonuses I grant to characters based on their adventuring style and action).  Even then, she is quite mortal; there is no leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  She begins to gain a reputation, if only locally.  A rogue at this level is a good cutpurse.  A warrior might be made a squire, or the culture's equivalent.

By fifth to sixth level, a character begins to make a footprint on the world, if a modest one.  He is talked about in taverns; perhaps his name is dropped in passing at the courts of some minor nobles.  By then, the character has certainly specialized, if not double-specialized in a weapon, and has developed further traits.  A rogue at this level can cause no small amount of mischief.  A priest at this level begins to gain a following, and most likely a low office in the clerical hierarchy.  A wizard/MU at this level now has access to some increasingly potent magic, and can do things that get talked about.  For warriors, a knighthood is a distinct possibility by now.  However, the character is still quite mortal.

In modern editions of D&D, a 6th-level character is a superhero in all but name.  This is why I prefer earlier editions.




Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2014, 10:41:34 PM »
How many RPGs other than D&D or D&D derivatives even have the concept of 'character levels'? Might want to edit the thread title to 'character levels in D&D'.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2014, 10:52:51 PM by TheGlyphstone »

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Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2014, 10:51:06 PM »
I'm a second-edition person, myself.  Couldn't be bothered to buy a whole new set of books when third came out.

Offline IStateYourNameTopic starter

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2014, 10:59:12 PM »
How many RPGs other than D&D or D&D derivatives even have the concept of 'character levels'? Might want to edit the thread title to 'character levels in D&D'.

What are some examples of how characters evolve in other systems, then?

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2014, 11:11:10 PM »
What are some examples of how characters evolve in other systems, then?

Let's see...of games I personally have played or know:

World of Darkness (old and new) and Unisystem are granular XP-based systems - rather than accumulate XP that is turned into levels, characters simply earn XP (generally 2-5 per session) which is then directly spent on character improvements such as higher stats, skills, or special powers.

Burning Wheel and its derivatives are tick-based improvement - every time a character uses a skill or ability (say, Archery or Stealth or Pick Locks or Lazy Bastard-wise), they get a 'tick' by that skill, and after a certain accumulation of ticks (varies based on game), that skill improves and you now roll more dice for it.


Dark Heresy and the other FFG Warhammer 40K RPGs accumulate XP then spend it to buy talents that give higher skill rolls, special abilities, or other powers. Once a certain threshold of XP is spent, they go up a 'rank' and gain access to a new set of more valuable talents to spend their XP on.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2014, 11:13:50 PM by TheGlyphstone »

Offline RedPhoenix

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2014, 11:30:23 PM »
I dunno, the way I see it "level" should be the same thing as "scale." The heroes should always be challenged and in dangerous situations that they are required to think fast and use their skills to survive and succeed, the level just tells you what that challenge is and what the tools and skills you have are. For example in 2nd edition a few goblins can require a party to scramble for their lives at 1st level, whereas at 20th level you're dealing with ancient undead monsters and dragons.

The progression should make the players feel like they've accomplished something, which is why I think I prefer sort of ... side benefits as opposed to more power. For example taking over a tower and now you have a new home that you can build into your own castle someday, but then again I like building stuff up like that. Other people may find that boring. This is why flexible systems that can reward with things besides hitting harder when you swing your sword are good.

I think the games where the mechanics get in the way are the ones that really fail, which is why I'm not a fan of anything made recently other than Dungeon World (dungeon world is extremely awesome btw) because it seems like you need eight books and spreedsheets and a search engine to look up what you need to know just to roll the dice (I think White Wolf games are really bad about this imo). 2nd edition was not a perfect game by any means, hell you could make a pretty decent argument it isn't even a good game, but at least you knew what to roll and what the result meant in a matter of seconds.

Of course without dice there's no random chance involved and there's no real genuine feeling of doing something "impossible" when you have a 1% chance to do something and you actually hit it, so the diceless systems, well, they kind of kill the whole idea for me.

And then you've got games like Warhammer Fantasy where the idea of progression just goes out the window because you can start out 10x stronger than anyone else in the party if you get lucky with your starting class and even when they've gained five levels you could still wipe out the rest of the group without too much effort, and of course the combat in that game is so unforgiving it's a miracle if you even make it through your first career anyway and even the mightiest hero could end up brain damaged by a rodent if the dice make it so.

This talk is making me want to play a system game now...

Offline Chris Brady

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2014, 01:37:43 AM »
Speaking of Levels, the only games that I've played with them have been D&D and it's many, many, many derivatives, like the retro-clones and Palladium (Which is nothing more than a heavily house ruled AD&D rules system.)  And an old independent game called Furry Outlaws, of which there were other variants, like Furry Pirates.  And those latter games used level mainly for skills.  Like (and I'm making this up as it's been years since I saw the game) you'd have level 3 in swordsmanship, but only level 1 in riding, and all that.

Offline IStateYourNameTopic starter

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2014, 01:35:58 PM »
Speaking of Levels, the only games that I've played with them have been D&D and it's many, many, many derivatives, like the retro-clones and Palladium (Which is nothing more than a heavily house ruled AD&D rules system.)  And an old independent game called Furry Outlaws, of which there were other variants, like Furry Pirates.  And those latter games used level mainly for skills.  Like (and I'm making this up as it's been years since I saw the game) you'd have level 3 in swordsmanship, but only level 1 in riding, and all that.

I like that concept.  It's kind of like a certain house mod I made to 1st and 2nd edition: traits.  A character can develop traits which give bonuses in certain situations.  Characters can level up in a trait, which grants additional bonuses and abilities.  It's not like the "leap tall buildings in a single bound" feats in 3rd and 4th edition, but it allows some customization and flair to RP and character development.  There are no pre-set traits--I make it up as I go along, so no two traits are ever totally alike.

For example, one elven warrior loved to perch in trees and pop off arrows at foes.  So after a couple battles, she earned the trait "Arboreal Archer," which gave her a +1 bonus when using a bow while perched in a tree.

Offline ofDelusions

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2014, 02:02:45 PM »
How many RPGs other than D&D or D&D derivatives even have the concept of 'character levels'? Might want to edit the thread title to 'character levels in D&D'.

Both L5R and Wh40k rpgs have ranks which sort of work like levels.

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2014, 02:49:59 PM »
Both L5R and Wh40k rpgs have ranks which sort of work like levels.

L5R works like the WH40K rpgs that I'd mentioned, yeah, but they're more like anti-levels, or inverse levels. Rather than accumulating XP and at a set total earned you automatically advance and gain a specific set of increases, you spend your XP on individual increases and once you've spent a set total you advance and gain access to new options.

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Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2014, 02:55:34 PM »
In general I treat levels as metrics for a GM not a player. They allow the GM to do some quick and easy estimations based on the party's level allowing them to more easily create encounters.

Offline Moraline

Re: Concept of Character Level in RPGs
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2014, 05:04:06 PM »
In general I treat levels as metrics for a GM not a player. They allow the GM to do some quick and easy estimations based on the party's level allowing them to more easily create encounters.
Yup, this pretty much. I ignore levels when role playing, they are irrelevant for anything in character. It's just an OOC mechanic. That's pretty much true of all stats of any type unless they have a directly apparent IC trait (ex: Charisma/charm), essentially until the stat is used then it's mostly invisible IC'ly to the other characters..