Thursday 15 September 2011

Character Rise and Fall

I've never really liked experience points.

I get that they can encourage a certain type of play and I understand the difference in play that results when you switch between treasure as XP, kills as XP and completed objectives as XP. I just don't really like using them. No real logic to it.

So how do I want character advancement to work in Into the Odd? As I've described before, the zero to hero to superhero progression isn't really something I like in my fantasy. Wouldn't it be more appropriate for characters to rise to a peak, where they've rounded out their flaws and maybe even improved their strongest abilities, before slowly declining in their elder years, perhaps deciding to retire and hand the torch to a new generation of adventurers.

How about this?



Characters may take time to reflect upon their experience between adventures. Doing this takes at least a month of game time. The player describes what their character has been doing in this time and may spend their wealth in ways humble or grand. Any gold they do not spend in this time is halved. Hazards may arise over this time that the players decide how to deal with, though nothing as long as a full adventure.

When this time is complete roll 1d20 for each of the character’s Ability Scores. If the roll is equal or higher than the score it is increased by 1, unless it has already reached the human maximum of 18. However, if the roll is a 1 the character suffers a setback and subtracts 1 from this Ability Score.

If none of their Ability Scores change the GM will provide the character with some sort of fruit of their labours. This could be an Arcanum found in this time or one or more followers rallied to their cause.

The first time the characters go through this process they also assign themselves a job title. This could be thief, mercenary, adventurer, wizard, or any other term that can be agreed on. This may change over time. Upon gaining this title they add the descriptor of “Aspiring” before it. Each time they reflect on their experience they move to the next level, rising to the peak of their abilities at “Paragon”.

Rise Levels
Aspiring - Developing - Journeyman - Hardened - Paragon

Whenever the characters reflect on their experience after Paragon level they move to the Decline scale. Although they will likely have more fame, possessions and war-stories than an inexperienced character they will inevitably start to fade in terms of raw physical ability, perhaps handing off more adventurous tasks to their followers or allies.

Whenever a character moves to a Decline Level they do not roll to improve their Ability Scores as they did on their rise to Paragon level. Instead they roll 1d20 for each Ability Score. If the roll is equal or lower than the score it is decreased by 1, unless it has already reached the human minimum of 3. However, if the roll is a 20 the character has new life breathed into them and increases the Ability Score by 1.

Decline Levels
Veteran - Seasoned - Senior - Venerable - Elder


Let's take our sample character Kinru the Swift through the process. No fudging of rolls here, this is a live test!

Kinru the Swift
STR 8 (-2), DEX 13 (+3), INT 11 (+1)

Kinru the Aspiring Thief
STR 8 (-2), DEX 12 (+2), INT 11 (+1)
(Rolled 6, 1 and 2, actually getting worse! This is a risk of the system and one I'm unsure of so far...)

Kinru the Developing Thief
STR 8 (-2), DEX 12 (+2), INT 11 (+1)
(Rolled 5, 5 and 6. Some awful rolling here and Kinru still doesn't improve her stats)

Kinru the Journeyman Thief
STR 9 (-1), DEX 12 (+2), INT 11 (+1)
(Rolled 9, 11, 10. What's with these rolls? At least she gets a little stronger here.)

Kinru the Hardened Assassin
STR 9 (-1), DEX 12 (+2), INT 12 (+2)
(Rolled 8, 5, 14. INT improved. Still not good rolling! Figure she's due a change of career title by this point)

Kinru the Paragon Assassin
STR 10 (+0), DEX 13 (+3), INT 12 (+2)
(Rolled 19, 15, 8, much better! This is most likely the peak of her Ability Scores and she'll move into the decline levels next)

Kinru the Veteran Assassin
STR 9 (-1), DEX 12 (+2), INT 11 (+1)
(Rolled 6, 9, 12. Ouch! Almost back to her starting condition already. Early retirement time before it gets any worse?)

Kinru the Seasoned Wanderer
STR 8 (-2), DEX 11 (+1), INT 10 (+0)
(Rolled 3, 10, 9, another triple whammy. I'm starting to regret a live-fire example... Kinru has really let herself go. I figure a title change is in order, time for her to find a place to settle)

Kinru the Senior Wanderer
STR 7 (-3), DEX 11 (+1), INT 9 (-1)
(Rolled 6, 8, 13. Low rolls are killer here.)

Kinru the Venerable Wanderer
STR 7 (-3), DEX 11 (+1), INT 8 (-2)
(11, 18, 9. More INT loss, I figure due to blindness and/or deafness)

Kinru the Elder Wanderer
STR 7 (-3), DEX 12 (+2), INT 8 (-2)
(Rolled 17, 20, 9. A resurgence of life in her elder years! I figure she'll head down into a dungeon for one last adventure, probably failing to notice a horrible creature descending from the ceiling to eat her)

How do I feel about this example? Mixed... I still think the system has potential but I wonder how much it'll hurt players that get a streak of bad rolls.


  1. I really like this idea of rise, decline, and retirement, but it seems like the time scale is off to really make it work. If I'm reading this correctly, there is a month between each adventure in game time? So the above example could be completed in only a year?

    I would love to find a way to build a retirement mechanism into the advancement system. This is still a 2011 post, so maybe something you have done more recently will touch on this.

  2. I've really been wanting to accomplish this too. It's a way to keep the game low-level but still allow long term play for a character.

  3. The best rise-decline arc rules that I have seen are those in King Arthur Pendragon. Great game for long campaigns.