Roll To Advance

Kilgore on February 19th, 2011

Our Roll to Advance alternative experience and leveling system uses a die roll for variability. This adds a bit of unpredictability into a system that would otherwise have characters automatically leveling up after X sessions at a certain level. We chose the d20 for our standard system incorporating all the advanced classes and races because the small difference (5%) between each result on the die and larger target numbers allowed for more differentiation between classes and races. We experimented a little with the d12, and though I suspect that this might be the sweet spot compromise, but we settled on the d20.

We wanted to roughly approximate the relative progression speed of the original games (though we did substantially adjust the cleric), and we wanted to maintain noticeable, if minor, differences between various race-class combinations. For example, we wanted the ranger to be slightly slower to advance than the fighter, while the magic-user was to be slower still. Meanwhile, racial modifiers were also present, with the dwarf having a slower advancement rate than the halfling, but being quicker than the elf. And it wasn’t only the starting target numbers we looked at (17 for fighter, 18 for ranger, and 19 for magic-user), but the rate of increase. For instance, the druid and illusionist both begin with an 18 as their target number to advance to second level; however, while their numbers are very similar, the illusionist slowly becomes a little tougher to advance as the levels increase. The magic-user, on the other hand, starts with a 1st-level target number only one higher than either, but the rate of increase is slightly larger than even the illusionist. With a d20 and larger target numbers, these sorts of differences were relatively easy to work in, and I think we did a fairly decent job of mimicking the original scheme.

However, the d20 variability does create a good chance of widely-spaced levels between characters who have played the same number of session, particularly at lower levels. At higher levels, where the target numbers are much larger, this variability tends to disappear as the number of sessions played begins to matter much more than the result of the die roll. However, how many of us really spend a lot of time gaming at higher levels? I know that we don’t. In fact, most of our gaming over the past few years has been in the levels 1-3 range, and I consider levels 4-7 to be the range that gives the most bang for the buck, so to speak. I’ve spent relatively little time gaming at name level (9th) or above.

Another consideration for us personally is the fact that our Wizards & Warriors homebrew game has only two classes and one race. The need for small but noticeable differentiations between multiple races and a wide range of classes just doesn’t exist. Our original plan was to stick with the d20, but additional thought has led me to think we’d be better off with a smaller die and smaller target numbers to cut down on the odds of wide gaps between character levels within the same party. It’s bad enough to roll badly during a combat while everyone else at the table is tearing through the enemy; it would be far more disheartening to roll badly a few sessions in a row and find that your 1st-level character is now running around with a bunch of third and fourth level characters. My initial thought was to go with the d12, but a post over at of Pedantry and further reflection and experimentation has led us to choose the d6. Besides, an oldschool rule of thumb should be “when in doubt, roll 1d6.”

So here is our current plan for Roll to Advance in our two-class homebrew game, presented as an example of how the Roll to Advance can be quickly and easily adapted to whatever sort of game or style you want to play.

Lord Kilgore's D6 Roll to Advance

For instance, we’ve decided that, though we firmly believe PCs should start at 1st level, we don’t necessarily want to spend a long string of sessions with them stuck at 1st and 2nd level; rather, we’d like to see them advance rather quickly through the first few levels, slowing down once they reach 4th (hero) level to maximize the amount of playing time in the “most bang for the buck” zone. So characters have a 50% chance of advancing to 2nd level after just one session (counting the XP they will earn for that session) and a warrior could theoretically advance after each of his first three sessions if he rolled sixes at second and third level.

A note about the uneven-looking progressions: We started with nice even rates for each class and a nice relationship between the rates for the two classes. But running them through a 52-session simulator didn’t give us the results we really wanted. After first unsuccessfully trying a massage the nice even rates into different nice even rates that got us what we wanted, we gave up and began tweaking each number at each level for each class independently. I had cooked up a spreadsheet to show us actual session-by-session results and could look at lots of simulations by quickly refreshing the sheet and watching where advances were likely to occur and how the two classes compared to each other. We kept playing with the numbers until the simulated results looked like we wanted them to and didn’t bother worrying that they aren’t really very “smooth.”

Basically, you can subtract six from each target number to see the absolute minimum number of sessions that will need to be spent at each level before advancing. A warrior who always rolled a six would reach 8th level after his 48th session, or nearly a year of weekly play. A wizard who always rolled a one would reach 6th level after 49 sessions. So with even the most extreme difference possible, the results seem (to me, anyway) to be perfectly reasonable. My simulations show that a typical result after 52 sessions of play will be a warrior well into 7th level (getting close to 8th) and a wizard that has just advanced to 7th level and has a lot of adventuring to do before he gets close to advancing again. The two will have spent most of the time at equal level or with the warrior one level ahead. Once in a while the wizard will be two levels behind the warrior, and in a few instances early on the wizard may even be a level ahead of the warrior.

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Kilgore on February 8th, 2011

First, I must say that I’m surprised (and flattered) that a number of readers are actually interested in seeing our five color Wizards & Warriors homebrew. I also want to thank those who have sent words of encouragement. I was so pleased that I rushed off to Staples and had a few copies of what we’re calling our Beta edition printed up. Right now it’s 41 pages and mostly complete, leaving room for several pages of appendices with lots of random tables in our planned 48-page complete game guide.

We’re planning on getting in some serious playing with this revision, and hopefully those plans come to pass.

As an example of what I’m talking about when I say I’m worried about compatibility with “normal” versions of the game, while also claiming that our game isn’t really all that different, I’m showing our Treasure Class table (You can click for a closer look):

Lord Kilgore's Wizards & Warriors Treasure Class Table

Lord Kilgore's Wizards & Warriors Treasure Class Table

Now, it looks more or less pretty much like a standard treasure table from any of the standard versions of the game. And it should, as it used the Hoard Class table in Labyrinth Lord as its basis. But a few things are different, the first of which might be the lack of an electrum piece column. There isn’t one, as our game uses only copper, silver, and gold as standard coins, with platinum also available. It’s not that electrum pieces don’t exist, but they aren’t considered standard enough to include in a standard treasure table.

The next thing that probably jumps out is the fact that the lair treasures are listed in hundreds of coins instead of thousands. This is partly because I’m a stingy DM but mostly because our game, which uses a version of the Roll to Advance experience system, doesn’t need piles of treasure in order to get characters the XP they need to advance in level. Experience is gained by adventuring (period) and the treasure recovered while doing so does not have a meta-game value. Also, it should be noted that equipment prices are (mostly) unchanged, so that 10gp sword is a noticeable investment and each copper is worth stooping to pick up. No more leaving the ogre treasure behind because “it’s only silver.” We also adjusted the value of gems and jewelry down significantly.

I’ll admit that we don’t have a lot of play in with this, so it probably needs a bit of adjusting.

Finally, we’ve adjusted all of the d% rolls into d20 rolls and the number of magic items has been changed to a die roll instead of a fixed number. Though some adjustment of probabilities and quantities was done, overall I think the results are fairly similar to the original.

So, while it has a number of major changes that make it stand apart from the standard treasure tables, it isn’t unrecognizable and it isn’t impossible to use. In fact, by simply multiplying the coin totals by ten and using a standard table for gem and jewelry values, it could be used as-is.

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Kilgore on March 29th, 2010

Here is a one-page PDF of the Roll to Advance system I introduced last week. Obviously, the one-page format does not allow for in-depth explanation or discussion of the system, but it does provide the basics needed to use it in play.

Roll to Advance PDF by Lord Kilgore

Roll to Advance - Free PDF
Click to download

This PDF currently uses the original racial modifiers despite the fact that I still suspect that they may be slightly too high.

A number of readers have expressed interest in trying this in their games. I would LOVE to hear feedback from those that do, particularly about adjustments that you’ve made and your experiences with the multi-class methods.

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Kilgore on March 26th, 2010

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.
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Kilgore on March 25th, 2010

Welcome to part four of our 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. Today we’re looking at multi-classed characters.

To say that I’m not really a big fan of multi-classed characters would be a bit of an understatement, at least as they’ve been run before. And the dual-class option available to human characters in several editions of the game is even worse. So I’m taking this as an opportunity to made widespread changes to the multi-class system. This new approach looks like it will work quite well in our game, but others may not be fans. So I’m offering two options. No doubt there are others. My recommendation would be to decide upon one of these (or another) and stick with it rather than allowing multiple methods of multi-classing. But that, of course, is up the to players in each campaign.

The first alternative would be for the player simply to choose which class he or she wants to attempt to roll to advance at the end of each session. This is quick, easy, and will give results similar to the traditional method of multi-classing. Accumulated XP could be used toward either class, and a limit could be placed on how far apart the classes could be. Say, no more than three levels may separate them. Alternatively there would be no limit. Nothing would stop a player from making a 10th/1st level fighter/magic-user.

Example: A magic-user/thief may elect to roll to advance in level in either magic-user or thief, but not both. If the magic-user/thief reaches level 5/2, she may not attempt to advance further in magic-user until she gains at least one more level in thief unless there is no limit on the gap between classes. Attempting to advance to 6th-level magic-user would require a 28, while advancing to 3rd-level thief only requires an 18. XP used to gain levels in one class are used and may not be applied toward the other class after a later session.

When creating the character, roll both hit dice and divide by two. When rolling hit dice upon advancing, roll the die appropriate to the class being advanced and divide by two. Fractions could be retained to be used later, dropped, or rounded up. Another option would be to round the larger die down and the smaller die up.
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Kilgore on March 24th, 2010

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.
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Kilgore on March 23rd, 2010

Yesterday I introduced the Roll to Advance alternative system for character experience and advancement in our classic fantasy game. 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 this system in our heavily house-ruled Labyrinth Lord game, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in other similar games.

Below are the rolls needed to advance at each level for each class. (Note that this table shows the number needed to advance from the current level, not to the next level. For example, a 4th level assassin needs to roll a modified 22 to advance to 5th level.)


Ass Clc Drd Ftr Ill M-U Mnk Pal Rng Thf
1 17 17 18 17 18 19 20 21 18 17
2 19 19 20 19 20 21 22 23 20 18
3 21 21 22 21 22 23 24 26 22 19
4 22 23 24 22 24 26 26 29 23 21
5 23 24 25 24 26 28 29 31 25 23
6 25 26 27 26 28 30 32 33 27 24
7 27 28 29 28 30 33 34 36 29 25
8 28 30 31 29 32 35 36 39 31 27
9 29 31 33 31 34 37 38 41 32 29
10 31 33 34 33 36 40 41 43 34 30
11 33 35 36 35 38 42 44 46 36 31
12 34 37 38 36 40 44 46 49 38 33

This table only goes through 12th level. Currently, that is what we’re considering to be our maximum level for any character in our game. Higher levels are possible, but we will essentially deal with that when we get to it, probably with a “high-level adventuring” type supplement to our core rules. The advancement rate for each class continues on in the same pattern it took to reach 12th level.
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Kilgore on March 22nd, 2010

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.
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