Roll to Advance

Over the past month or so I’ve alluded to a new alternative character experience and advancement system we’re trying out. Over the course of this week, I’m going to run a series of posts describing and explaining it as it stands right now. I will gladly welcome feedback on how to improve the system, as it is still very much a work in progress. It is designed to work with our homebrew version of Labyrinth Lord but should work quite easily with any other old-school version of the game.

I’ll start by stating up front that some, and maybe most, are really going to hate this. It’s a pretty radical departure from the standard “accumulate experience points by defeating monsters and collecting treasure” system that forms the foundation of the level advancement system in D&D. It’s more radical than going back to the 100XP per hit die system of the first version of the original game. It’s more radical than awarding more than 1 XP per gold piece, which is the way we’ve played until recently to avoid needing piles of treasure to advance in level. It’s more radical than only awarding XP for gold which is spent. It’s more radical than awarding XP for “role playing” or “story goals” or “mission success.”

In fact, this system doesn’t award XP for any of those things. Kill lots of monsters or no monsters. Loot piles of gold or no gold. Rescue the princess or don’t. None of that affects a PC’s ability to go up in level.

Here, in a nutshell, is how the system works: At the end of each playing session, the player rolls a d20. If the modified roll exceeds a specified number based on the character’s class, race, and current level, the PC advances one level.

Told you you’d hate it.

Anyway, there are a number of reasons we’re going with this “Roll to Advance” system:

  1. No tracking of XP (in the standard way) is required
  2. The actual design of the scenario (amount of treasure, number of monsters) doesn’t affect the chance to advance
  3. Playing is the key element in playing, not the specific in-game results

Point #1, the tracking of XP, refers to the time and effort spent recording every monster, calculating XP values for homemade or specialized versions of monsters, adding up every last gold piece, arguing over the awards for items sold and income from businesses or established strongholds, and working out bonuses for high ability scores. None of that matters any more.

This system does use experience points, but the numbers are small. At the end of every session, each PC gets 1 (one) experience point. This XP is used as a modifier to the d20 roll to advance, where one XP equals a +1 to the roll. So a character who has accumulated 5 XP (by playing five sessions) has a +5 bonus to his roll. If he uses any of this bonus to level up, the XP he needed are subtracted from his total. Unused XP remain and will provide bonuses to future rolls to advance.

Example: A third level PC has a total of nine XP accumulated and needs a roll of 27 to advance to fourth level. At the end of a session of play, the PC is awarded another XP (bringing the total to 10) and rolls a 19. Eight XP were required to reach the needed roll of 27, so the PC now has 2 remaining XP and advances to fourth level.

No numbers in the tens and hundreds of thousands. No calculators needed.

Point #2, the contents of the session’s play, means that it doesn’t matter what sort of adventure you’re on. No matter what your PC does or doesn’t do, it’s their adventuring itself that is providing experience. Yes, this is terribly abstract. But it means that PCs won’t feel they need to attack anything they think they can beat in order to kill it and take its treasure so they can accumulate XP.

Also, game masters don’t have to worry about placing enough treasure without overdoing it and turning the PCs into millionaires with no real need for more gold. Miscalculation during adventure design will not throw character advancement all out of whack, and adventures from various sources designed to different standards won’t, either.

Example: I’ve currently got a few characters going through module B1: In Search of the Unknown. In two play sessions totaling around six or seven hours of play, they would have accumulated a grand total of about 400-450 XP by the book from combat and treasure. That would be split three ways for the first session and four ways for the second (when a fourth PC joined). At this rate they’d level around August or September.

The roll to advance system means that these PCs aren’t limited to snail’s-pace advancement due to low treasure levels, and it means that monty haul hoards won’t have PC’s at level 17 by the end of the month. Advancement is independent of in-game results, which brings me to

Point #3, which refers to awarding for play, not necessarily results. This is probably at the heart of the dislike most will have for the roll to advance system. Characters who do well will not have a better chance to advance in level than characters which do poorly. A third-level fighter who goes out, slays a dragon, and pockets the treasure will not have any better chance to reach fourth level than a third-level fighter who fights poorly, retreats from a band of kobolds, and loses his pack horse (and what little treasure he had found) down a river on the way back to town.

Though many will see this as a weakness, I don’t. At least not a glaring-enough weakness to torpedo the system. In fact, I think that in all but the most extreme cases, it’s a strength. Player’s characters are rewarded when the player plays. Period.

Now, some restrictions might be in order. For instance, I wouldn’t award an XP for quick half hour of play before dinner one evening. But an all-weekend marathon might be splint into several “sessions” with opportunities to advance.

Also, joining during a session might earn a PC either a roll to advance at the conclusion or an XP, but not both. Of course, this would depend on circumstances. A player who joined in thirty minutes into a four hour session would probably be treated as having been there for the whole thing. The key, in my mind, is that, simply by playing, you earn the chance to advance. Period.

By earning an XP for each session, players who keep missing their advancement rolls will steadily improve their chances. Those who roll well and advance more quickly will pull ahead, but as the advancement numbers increase at each level those who are behind will have plenty of chances to catch up.

The numbers are designed to reflect the various capabilities of each race and class, and the roll needed to advance increases as characters move up in level. Tomorrow’s post will look at the numbers needed at each level for each class.

Roll to Advance:
Pt. 1 – Intro and Basics
Pt. 2 – Classes
Pt. 3 – Races
Pt. 4 – Multi-Classed Characters
Pt. 5 – Wrap-up and Feedback

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