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)

Categories: Campaign, Discussion, Rules | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Combat Experience and Levels

  1. Stacey

    I like the idea of leveling skills by using skills, and it makes sense. 7 seems like a random number to start with, but the part about each level requiring more uses makes sense.

    Will spells be leveled in the same sort of way? Or is that leveling still going to be linked to your combat level? (As the resident bard, and waiting until I’m one level higher to be able to cast any sort of Cure spell, I’m curious.)

    • Spells are one of those things that I think (at least for the moment) require the sort of cathartic epiphany to advance in prowess that the stress of battle (specifically, surviving the battle) brings on. The thing about Cure spells is that healing your allies allows them to take more damage, and thus grant you more XP from their damage.

      Another point about XP and loot: at 1 XP per GP, loot is a valuable resource. And while gold is typically split evenly, the XP for the the gold does not have to be. Say, for example, the 300 GP for killing the wolf was all dumped into your possession, and therewith all 300 XP for it, then you could split the gold up evenly between all participants. So that’s an option for the rest of your party as well, deciding how to split the loot XP up.

      As for 7 points, yeah, it was kind of arbitrary. I figured max ranks for a skill is level + 3, so 4 at first, add another 3 for a total of 7. It’s an achievable goal, and the bonus is incremental. I think I will revise the schedule from one extra use to make higher achievements more meaningful.

  2. Bethany

    Spells in general have nothing to do with how much battle one has experienced unless you are going to start splitting up spells that do damage and benign spells like making water. Leveling in the 3.5 system is so much more involved than combat expertise and a few skills like you imply. Forcing straight up skill checks in order to advance those skills causes me to wonder if one should spend extra time making spot and listen checks (etc) just to make sure they get brought up as per usual.
    I have more thoughts but Littles are distracting me at present moment. More later.

    • However, spells are essentially wrenching energy out of the universe by sheer force of will. The understanding and clarity required to do this I would argue comes from the same kind of catharsis that surviving a bloody battle provides. Creating water may not be a “combat” spell, but being able to cast a bigger spell to create more water would require a certain larger amount of insight. This insight is part chance, part inspiration, derived from succeeding in an extremely stressful situation.

      Spot and listen (combined into Perception) do get used a whole bunch, and I fully expect you guys to “level up” those skills rather more quickly than others.

      As far as what you mentioned in the car last night, being skilled in slaying things enough to survive to 15th level does not automatically correlate to being able to craft weapons with supreme skill. If you are repairing weapons along the way, sure, perhaps, but you will also be using that skill along the way, and thus leveling in skill experience too.

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