Roll to Advance (pt 3)
–The Races

This is the third part of my series of posts on our Roll to Advance alternative experience and advancement system for our fantasy RPG. In short: 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 to the next level. Accumulated XP, awarded at a rate of 1 (one) per gaming session, provide a positive modifier to this roll. Traditional experience point awards and tracking are eliminated. We’re using it in our modified Labyrinth Lord game, but it should work similarly in any old-school version of the game.

Part 1 introduced the system and outlined its basic operation. Part 2 looked at the specific numbers for each of the standard character classes. This part looks at racial modifiers to those numbers and the elimination of something I’ve never really liked: the level limit for demi-human characters.

Gamers who like the idea of level limits, and I know that there are at least a few of you out there, could probably just ignore this component of the Roll to Advance system. It’s designed to account for racial abilities and longevity in another manner. Gamers who detest the idea of level limits, and there do seem to be an awful lot of them, may read on.

Basically, every non-human race has a penalty at every level to offset the bonuses and advantages that demi-humans enjoy, including the extended lifespan that conceivably allows them to adventure for many decades or centuries longer than their human counterparts.

The penalties for each race are as follows:

Dwarf Elf Gnome Halfling Half-Elf Half-Orc Human
1 2 3 2 1 2 1 0
2 3 4 3 2 3 1 0
3 4 5 4 2 3 2 0
4 5 7 4 3 4 2 0
5 6 8 5 3 5 2 0
6 7 9 6 4 5 3 0
7 8 11 6 4 6 3 0
8 9 12 7 5 7 3 0
9 10 13 8 5 7 4 0
10 11 15 9 6 8 4 0
11 13 17 11 6 9 4 0
12 14 19 12 7 10 5 0

The appropriate value from this table is added to the standard class target to get the roll to advance number for a demi-human. Please note that, like the class listings, this table shows the number needed to advance from the current level, not to the next level.

Example: A fifth-level dwarf fighter needs a 30 to advance to sixth level, 24 from the class table plus 6 for being a dwarf.

If these penalties seem excessive, remember that demi-human characters will now have no limitation to the level they can reach. And their extended adventuring career, thanks to living so long, will give them the opportunity to reach those levels.

Meanwhile, even at first level, demi-humans enjoy significant bonuses and abilities over human adventurers. Infravision, detection of secret doors and traps, substantial bonuses to saving throws, resistance to various special attacks, extra languages, and so on. The great weakness of the level limitation as a means of balancing these abilities out is that the limitation does not begin to affect the character until rather high levels. The approach taken by the Roll to Advance system is to spread that penalty out over every level. If these abilities are not accounted for in some manner, there would be no reason to play a human.

One way to look at these penalties is to view them as the number of extra sessions that must be spent at each level. An elf, for instance, will have to spend a total of 12 extra sessions (3+4+5), on average, before reaching 4th level. If this seems like a lot, remember that elves have (according to Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion) 394 years of ‘adult’ life before reaching ‘middle age’ and aging penalties. Humans have 40 years. If anything, the advancement penalty for elves is too low. But as few players will actually play out game centuries of adventure with an elf PC, I think the game is better with the penalties where they are. (I actually have the rate increase slightly as the characters reach higher levels, but this isn’t terribly clear until reaching levels beyond 12.)

Here is comparison of fighters using a spreadsheet simulation I created showing the most common levels after the given number of play sessions:

Human Elf Dwarf
10 sessions 3 or 4 2 or 3 2 or 3
20 sessions 5 or 6 3 or 4 4 or 5
50 sessions 8 or 9 prob 6 6 or 7

This seems to fit my view of how things should be. Others, no doubt, will have their own view of this issue and will want to adjust the racial numbers accordingly. This is simple enough to do with a few quick changes.

In play, record the number needed to advance on the character sheet, calculated by simply adding the class/level target and the racial modifier, in the experience section along with any accumulated XP. At the end of the session add another XP, roll a d20, and see if you made it. If your roll plus your XP (including the one you just earned) equal or exceed the roll to advance, you did. Deduct any used XP from your total and advance to the next level. If you didn’t make it, try again next session. And never worry about hitting the level limit.

NEXT: Using multi-classed characters with this system presents some problems. I decided to use these problems as an opportunity to “fix” what I’ve always perceived to be a partially broken multi-class system. If you don’t hate this system yet, maybe you will after seeing tomorrow’s post.

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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10 Responses to Roll to Advance (pt 3)
–The Races

  1. Timeshadows says:


    I feel these numbers are pretty damning, but I completely understand your opinion and its execution in the rules as you’ve written them.

    This is the shakiest part of the plan, so far, for me.

    Just thought I’d say it. 🙂

    • Kilgore says:

      I feel these numbers are pretty damning

      Now THAT’S the reaction I was going for! I’ve been underwhelmed with the lack of hate this has generated so far. Bring it on! LOL!

      Are the numbers too high? Or does the whole concept just turn you off? I’ll admit to not being totally thrilled with it as it is, either, though I think it does what I want it to do.

      • Timeshadows says:

        LoL! 😀
        –Glad to be of service. 🙂

        I find the ‘Elves living long so that justifies them as slow-uptake characters’ angle to be … unpleasant, to put it mildly.
        –I think the whole notion that because something is functionally Immortal that it is in diapers until age sixteen pretty repellent. Likewise, that it takes Elves longer to figure out how to give a good gosh darn enough to advance a level.

        I always thought that the were smarter right out of the cabbage patch, and simply lived longer and thus became smarter/wiser/more condescending with the passing decades.
        –This, in my mind, would place them as -rough- equals to humans.

        I’d be more inclined to have something along the lines of:


        01). 0
        02). 1
        03). 1
        04). 2
        05). 2
        06). 3
        07). 3
        08). 4
        09). 4
        10). 5
        11). 5
        12). 6



        01). 0
        02). 0
        03). 1
        04). 1
        05). 2
        06). 2
        07). 3
        08). 3
        09). 4
        10). 4
        11). 5
        12). 5

        But, that’s just me.

        I can see that the numbers are an attempt to reflect the advantages of the ‘races’ in an XP-less system, but I’ve always felt that making the Demi-humans rare (perhaps requiring a qualifying roll beyond stat-minima), and universally disliked and distrusted by the Humans in a humanocentric game setting, prone to jailing, stonings/lynchings, and general hatred out of fear of the unknown to be the balancing factors.

        Do bears actually pay more XP for upright stance, climbing, and larger territorial ranges than wolves? If so, how does a jaguar or tiger compare in these XP comparisons?
        –Yes, mock-serious, but the argument is the same. Each creature has its own advantages and disadvantages based on environment, and when a creature incurs into Human territory, however clever, strong, or ‘mostly-harmless’ it may be, Humans deal with its presence mighty swiftly.
        —We even kill our own, for far less reasons than that.

        So, I’m just non-plussed with the execution based on its telegraphic-effect upon their development as PCs. I feel that non-meta rules could effect the same desired end result without more charts and more complexity, and more unpleasantness for the non-Humans.

        > shrug <

        • Kilgore says:

          Wow. Thank-you for your detailed feedback. I truly appreciate it. (And I promise I will not quit blogging and delete all my content over some dispute…)

          I won’t disagree with your sentiments, and I do fully agree that I don’t see elves as slow-in-the-uptake. It’s purely a game mechanic in the same way a magic-user needs more XP to reach a given level than a thief does. (I don’t think magic-users are slow-in-the-uptake, either.)

          If in-game pressure could be used to keep everyone from just playing the race that gave the best abilities, I would have no problem with that.

          I also can envision those who don’t dislike level limits to keep them and ignore this section of the system. This was designed to get rid of the limits, which I have always thought made no sense AND did not accomplish what they were supposed to.

          Others have suggested providing humans with a special ability to match those that demi-humans have, but I’ve not seen anything that I like. I would certainly be receptive to something like that.

          • Timeshadows says:

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

            I realise the dynamic is difficult to enforce, especially once beyond one’s own gaming table.
            –I’ll see what inspiration strikes as I am working on my own game.

            Please keep up this excellent work! 😀

          • Timeshadows says:

            On second thought, let me promote my chosen solution of having PCs pay for each Class and (in my game, Human Ethnic) Species Feature.
            –Although I currently use a fairly standard Doubling ‘XP’ methodology to /track/ advancement, it comes from accumulated and *spent* Adventure Points to demarcate the meta-rule of ‘Levelling’.

            Akin to the free-form Class-creation rules in one of the older (TSR-era) Dragon magazine issues, I use a Feature-based purchase scheme to build each individual character.
            –If you were to adopt something similar to that, then the entire Chart-based by-Class and Race Advancement bit would be reduced to a flat threshold, a sort of Unified ‘XP’ table as first popularised by Tunnels & Trolls, and later adopted by 3.x.

            I’d be glad to e-mail it to you, or you could brave the alpha/beta Players’ Manual of UWoM to see it in its roughshod context.

            In any case, I think your Roll to Advance is meritorious and worthy of adoption.
            –Expect to see it in some form in the final UWoM print-edition.


  2. badmike says:

    I’d like to change my opinion of this method…

    It’s effing BRILLIANT. And it works especially good with the retro clones/simulacrums like Labyrinth Lord and S&W. Heck I bet it works well with Basic D&D (Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, etc). I’m not as sure how well it works with a more number-heavy game like AD&D but if I wasn’t so far along in all my campaigns I’d sure as heck give it a try.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’m not as sure how well it works with a more number-heavy game like AD&D

      This is along the lines of what you pointed out yesterday, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree. There are some players and games that are very serious about things and this will probably not sit well with them. And I have no problem seeing why.

      Personally, I’m all for quick and easy. I track encumbrance (barely) by assigning a move rate to each armor and overruling characters who want to carry “too much.” Though we track turns and hours in the dungeon carefully and track torch usage, I’m not a stickler for lots of other time-related things like studying spells or how long it takes to put on armor. The only stats a weapon has are cost, damage, and 1-handed or 2. No speed factors, no minimum room to use (I wing that as we go), and no adjustments vs. armor types. Others dig that stuff. But it’s just not for me.

      • badmike says:

        My AD&Ders are inveterate experience point trackers. The fact someone could go up a level by doing nothing while their druid took out half the invading army would piss them way off, to put it mildly…I figure most grognard AD&D groups are the same way.

        Now, using a rules lite system (or a more casual system) like LL or S&W lends itself to this sort of leveling. I’d definitely use it if I was running a campaign using those systems, and when my grandson is old enough to play in a few years I think “rolling for leveling” is a great, understandable concept for him.

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