Monthly Archives: March 2015

Combat Experience and Levels

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.

That sure dropped a boatload of silence on the audience, didn’t it?SkillUse

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)

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Tuesday Campaign, Session 3

Having arranged for passage on a ship bound for Hamburg, Freja and Morelli directed their steps back to the inn where Alek, Hilde, and Klaus were enjoying a fine meal and a song.  However, a cry for help found it’s way to Freja’s ear, and she dashed down a nearby alley to help the poor girl.  Morelli followed close behind, and luckily they spotted the figure lurking in the shadows before he had a chance to surprise one or the both of them. It was a tense standoff, escalating quickly when the little girl they had heard before jumped on Morelli and nearly dragged him to the ground.  He escaped only by wounding the girl grievously, and the bandit lost heart when he saw that Morelli was actually a spellcaster.  Both he and the girl escaped.

Staggering back to the inn, they joined their compatriots for dinner, and overheard the locals talking of a “beast, of huge size” ravaging the countryside.  Going to the hospital attached to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Calais, they secured an appointment for the morrow for both Alek and Morelli to be healed.  Freja conducted the negotiations, and discovered more of the beast’s predations that night.  Klaus contributed some of his father’s knowledge of wolves to the hunt, and they set out the next morning to find the creature.  The beast fell for their trap and they managed to slay it, winning a prize of 300 Livres from the Bishop for their trouble.

Again, there was very little damage sustained by the party in both of the fights, netting a rather smaller sum of XP than might otherwise have occurred.  I am still quite pleased with the idea of awarding XP based on pure combat prowess, though I have revised the level thresholds down a significant number after discussing with my players their thoughts.  In the interest of avoiding a mutiny at the table, I’ve taken the Pathfinder XP tables, assigned the highest column to Fighters, Paladins, and Barbarians, the lowest column to Wizards and Sorcerers, and the middle table to everyone else. Then I took all the numbers on that table and divided them by two for the current advancement table.  I have also modified Mr. Smolensk’s XP scheme up by a bit to 15 per damage dealt, 20 per damage received, and 15 divided among the party per point of damage received.

We will play with that for a while, and see how that sits with everyone.  (They also got 300 XP divided among them for the reward from the Bishop).  So that’s where things are now.

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