Roll to Advance (pt 5)

This is the conclusion to the 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. Part 3 discussed demi-human races and the penalty paid by these characters, plus the elimination of the racial level limits. Part 4 looked at two options for multi-classed characters using this system. Today I’ll offer a few final thoughts and point out some feedback from readers.

In the limited time we’ve used this system, it has performed more or less like we expected. We haven’t had a lot of characters level up yet, but then we don’t get to play as often as we’d like, either. I expect with more use I will have better ideas about how to do things or at least some tweaks to try.

With one d20 roll becoming of such paramount importance, game masters might want to specify a special die for the roll to advance attempts. We’ve chosen a particularly ugly purplish d20 for the task. That way when we fail to level up we can just hate the sickly thing and then get on with our lives. I will have to run it through Delta’s Testing a Balanced Die, though, just to be sure.

Something that I maybe should have spent a little more time on in the first post is the obvious fact that a lot of serious gamers will not like the idea of ditching traditional XP tracking and replacing it with a die roll, even using a system like this which is meant to mimic the advancement rates of the standard system. At one time I would have dismissed this, too. But now I’ve become a lot more laid back in my gaming and think that this system not only simplifies book-keeping, it’s fun. This is a game, after all.

I do happen to like the “XP for Gold” rule, and in fact awarded 3 or 5 XP for every gold piece until we began using this system. Despite buying the idea that XP for gold represents a measure of “success,” I wasn’t happy with the amount of treasure that I needed to hand out to get characters sufficient experience to advance. That was working fine but, being a tinkerer, I decided to fix what wasn’t really broken and ended up coming up with a system that doesn’t track in-game results at all.

Something I meant to include in the post on multi-classing is the following level comparison of some various classes and multi-classes in my simulator after 10, 20, and 50 sessions:

Elf Elf Elf Human
Ftr Ftr/MU Ftr/Thf Ftr/Thf
10 sessions
2 or 3 1 or 2 1 or 2 prob 2
20 sessions
3 or 4 prob 2 2 or 3 3 or 4
50 sessions
prob 6 prob 4 4 or 5 5 or 6

This is using the single-level option and actually strengthens my suspicion that the demi-human adjustment level might be a little high. Timeshadows pointed out some misgivings about the idea in a comment and proposed alternate tables for elves and half-elves in a follow-up. Here are the numbers she suggested:

Elf Half-Elf
1 0 0
2 1 0
3 1 1
4 2 1
5 2 2
6 3 2
7 3 3
8 4 3
9 4 4
10 5 4
11 5 5
12 6 5

Now, I’ll say right off that I think these are a bit low. However, it demonstrates how easy it is to customize the system for your campaign and your sensibilities. And, as noted in the original post, if you don’t like the idea of demi-humans paying “extra” for their abilities and long lives, go ahead and stick with the level limits and ignore racial modifiers when rolling to advance. Simple.

Another suggestion from the comments was this:

You might wish to consider having a bonus XP and allow players to vote for whomever did the best role-playing that night. That also might foster more imaginative play among at your table.

This might not be a bad idea, sort of along the lines of how the NHL awards the “stars of the game” after it’s over. Could lead to grandstanding in an attempt to pick up precious XP, and players who are a little more reserved or don’t want to talk in squeaky elf voices might be at a disadvantage. But I can see it being a lot of fun with the right group. (For what it’s worth, I can see doing this with regular XP in the standard system, as well.)

Another slightly related idea was to possibly award XP for “spectacular achievements.” Stupendous maneuvers, amazing clutch shots, or wildly unorthodox approaches (that succeed) could all be awarded with a bonus XP. Taking it even a step further, some truly momentous moves could possibly allow a “spectacular advancement check” right then and there. Maybe, just maybe, some moves are so overwhelmingly awesome that the character goes up in level immediately. Now, I’m not necessarily endorsing this. But I think it shows how the basic roll to advance system can be tweaked to fit any style of game.

Also brought up was the idea that maybe the single-level multi-class scheme (where levels for each of the classes are NOT tracked separately) could be adapted for a standard experience and advancement system. I’ve got no doubt that it could be without too much work. The question was asked how to convert the simple “subtract 12” modifier to standard XP charts, and my answer is this: That “subtract 12” number came from what I decided “seemed about right.” There isn’t any secret mathematical formula to anything in this system. I simply took numbers that looked right, simulated the heck out of them, and adjusted them until they looked like they’d get me the results I wanted. So go ahead and try the same thing with regular XP charts. Add the two classes together and subtract a certain number (or maybe a certain percentage) and see if it seems right.

Because if you look at the original game, you’ll see that the original designers didn’t use too many secret mathematical formulas. They just did what they thought seemed right. And, despite what was probably an awful lot of trial and error, those numbers have stood up fairly well.

Finally, here is a different roll to advance system over at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. Reading through the follow-up posts, I can see that it isn’t exactly what I’m wanting. But I wish I had been aware of it earlier, as there are some good ideas there. I must also admit that I do believe I had seen Geoffrey’s simple d20 advancement system comment (quoted in the post) somewhere, though it is a bit too random for my tastes.

I hope that this series of posts has been worthwhile and that at least a few players will consider using the system. If anyone does, I would LOVE to get your feedback, particularly the tweaks you’re almost certain to apply as you adopt it into your game. I certainly don’t expect many to adopt this wholesale, and maybe no one will really get into it at all. But I hope it’s been an interesting read and has stoked some fires of creativity along the way.

I plan to put together a quick PDF summary of the numbers for this system so that those who want to give it a try have a handy reference. It should be up in a couple of days. In the meantime, I look forward to even more feedback from readers.

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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15 Responses to Roll to Advance (pt 5)

  1. Geoffrey says:

    Awesome series and awesome ideas, Kilgore. Ever since you first mentioned the idea in the comments of Grognardia, I’ve been very impressed with it. I love the fact that levels are gained simply for playing D&D. The DM need not feel constrained to include treasure just to provide xp. The players need not feel constrained to be treasure-hunters just to acquire xp. The players need not feel constrained to whack monsters just to acquire xp.

    In short, both the DM and the players can simply do whatever they most enjoy in D&D. The levels will come naturally just from playing D&D. Awesome.

    • Kilgore says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment. Very much appreciated.

      In short, both the DM and the players can simply do whatever they most enjoy in D&D. The levels will come naturally just from playing D&D.

      I should have emphasized this more in the wrap-up. This idea isn’t meant to only simplify record keeping. It’s meant to simplify adventure design from the DM’s point of view and to simplify actual playing from the player’s point of view.

      We talk a lot about “role playing” in RPGs, but the advancement system doesn’t really reward “role playing,” it rewards combat success and treasure acquisition. So the “role playing” takes a bit of a back seat, mechanically. This is exactly why so many have tried to award XP for “role playing” or “story awards” rather than gold.

      As I stated, I fully support the idea that treasure is a concrete measure of overall “success” in the game, and I do think it actually does a better job than nearly any of the “role playing” award systems out there.

      But I’ve come to think that, as you put so eloquently, the reward should be for playing the game.

  2. Timeshadows says:

    Looking forward to the .pdf.

    A quick question:L Are your Half-Elf figures the actual average of the generic Human and Elf values?

    • Kilgore says:

      No they are not, though they have turned out to be quite close. I simply looked at the half-elf abilities and lifespan and worked out where I thought the numbers should be.

  3. Risus Monkey says:

    Next time I run D&D, I’ll definitely consider using this system. bravo.

  4. badmike says:

    I’m going to use this as soon as I start my grandson playing in the next year or so with Basic D&D or Labyrinth Lord. I like the idea of awarding a “point” for good or heroic play and that might help the player that feels slighted because his fighter killed the gorgon singlehandedly while everyone else was turned to stone and watched him….they would get their point for participating, while the fighter would get his point plus a bonus point for basically saving everyone elses ass. I like the ability to customize these charts.

    Can you put this out on a downloadable pdf?

    • Kilgore says:

      Yes, as I wrote a PDF will be forthcoming within the next couple days. I’m pretty busy this weekend, so it might not be until early next week.

    • Kilgore says:

      Oh, and you’re absolutely correct in saying that a “bonus” XP for the session’s MVP would do a lot to offset the idea that slackers stand just as much to gain as those who take the gorgon by the horns, so to speak.

      That’s a great point and I wish I had thought of it. It strengthens the argument for such a system.

      Also, it could also offset a little of the penalty that demi-humans have. Particularly at lower levels where everyone’s class abilities are limited, their racial abilities give them some extra chances to score that extra point.

  5. jcftao says:

    Thanks for the great article! Question for you…what about henchmen XP? Would you give them 1/2 point of XP each session and roll as usual?

    Also, if this is done, it could lead to henchmen with more XP than the PC. That might be an article in itself. Why wouldn’t more experienced NPCs hire themselves out to wealthier PCs?

    • Kilgore says:

      Ah, henchmen XP. That is something I meant to mention in this wrap-up article but totally forgot.

      Yes, my first reaction would be to award a half-XP for each session and allow a roll as usual.

      I’m not following how that could lead to more XP for henchmen than for PCs, though. When XP are “used” as a bonus to meet a roll to advance, the XP are deducted from the PC’s total.

      So if a PC that has 8 XP and needs a 25 to advance rolls a 19, 6 XP are needed to reach that 25. The PC now has 2 XP and advances to the next level.

      It COULD lead to henchmen leveling more quickly than PCs if they roll well, however. Which might be what you meant. At the early levels, especially.

      Personally, I’d rule that a henchmen that exceeds the PC’s level has “graduated,” but I guess I don’t see any reason why the henchmen would quit if it appears to be a beneficial relationship.

  6. jcftao says:

    Yes, I meant “level” not XP 🙂
    I’m going to try this system with our S&W CR game.
    Get working on that PDF, looking forward to seeing it!

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