My current XP award system is based solely on combat experience. Damage dealt and damage received gain XP. Loot gained from combat also awards XP. The numbers aren’t important for this discussion, because I want to discuss what levels are, and what they do for characters. They mostly work, but with a combat-based XP system (one that gives different awards for different contributions, no less) there are (it has been pointed out to me) certain shortcomings.
My first and biggest point is this: going up a level makes you more effective in combat. You get more HP (resistance to dieing from attack), you get better saves, and you get a better attack bonus. You get better at combat. You get better at not letting the other guy stick his sword in your belly, and get better at putting yours into his. This does not come from talking your way out of fights, this does not come by way of picking locks and running up walls. Training and sparring only go so far. You do the same sword drills as the 50 year old grizzled veteran fighter. You have read all the training manuals. You have the same head knowledge as the other guys as to the physics of the whole “killing other people” business. But until you have been on the field of battle, surrounded by madness and blood and death and fear, you will never become better at it than those who live there. You must experience combat to survive combat, to win combat, and to get better at not getting killed. Your sword arm must know exactly how to maneuver the blade to slide between the plates of armor on the other guy, and it must do so in a timely manner. You must learn to lean away at precisely the right time to turn that killing thrust into a glancing blow. War is a crucible. That is why I really like the XP-for-damage model.
However, there is a problem. In 3.5, there is a certain aspect to characters called “skills.” Many of you are familiar with this concept. Leveling up also gives you a certain number of skill points, so that you can get better at doing things other than killing things. By now you should be able to see my dilemma. What about those characters who don’t do so hot at combat, but do other awesome things like pluck some strings attached to a bit of wood which makes strangers throw coins at your feet? How does killing things while denying those same things the opportunity to do the same to you make you a better lutist? Answer: Realistically, it doesn’t, and I agree, shouldn’t.
So I’ve come up with at least part of a solution. I plan to remove the skill point portion of leveling up from the “combat level,” and make it a category of it’s own.
Moving along. Using skills, unlike combat experience, is much less intense. You can practice to get substantially better at those things. In fact, many of the skills are meant to represent things that are practiced to improve. Some of them, I would argue, are not so much (how do you teach yourself to hear better?), but for the most part they are. How does this translate into a “noncombat level,” you ask? Like so: For each successful use of an appropriate skill (list to be given later), you place one tally mark next to that skill. When you have accumulated enough tally marks (for the sake of argument let’s say seven), you get a +1 experience bonus to that skill. Now, erase all those tally marks. To get another bonus, you will need 8 successful uses of the skill (7 + the current experience bonus). See table.
Now, it doesn’t have as much bite as a level, but it does reflect a more realistic model of skill development. And that’s kinda what I am going for. I hope I’m getting closer. So anyhow, now skills get better as you use them, and that independently of combat levels. Combat wins combat expertise. Skill use wins skill expertise.
But now it’s your turn. What more could I do to make it better? (Players in my campaign especially invited to comment)