Level-less Role Playing

What if–and I’m totally just spit-balling here–when you played a tabletop rpg there was no leveling? What if the progress of your character was based more upon learning how to navigate the dangers around you more efficiently? Sure, gaining gold or credits or what-have-you would be an important part of that; equipping your character better for what they will face is a sort of progression.

All too often the mindset of a player is “Well, we COULD cause a distraction and sneak around this guard, creating a good opportunity for some interesting role play. But then we wouldn’t get the XP. So, nah, let’s just run up head on and kill him, who cares if we’re good guys.”

Players see XP as power-currency for their characters, and thus greedily accumulate it at whatever cost. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone wants to succeed, do amazing things, put the baddies in their place. Usually that means grinding some XP to unlock that new skill.

But what if you gained trainings just by playing a session or two? What if you got paid the same no matter how you completed the job? What if gametime was just about running your character and enjoying it, without worrying about how many XP you are away from the next level?  “Level 4 is when I get such-and-such ability, that’s when it gets fun.”

Maybe you start with all those abilities you want to use. Maybe they get more powerful the more you use them. Isn’t that what the XP system is supposed to represent anyhow? What if you gain experience by experiencing?

Maybe you’re trained in bazookas from day one, but you just have to raise the 40,000 credits to buy one. Maybe your character starts with the ability to cast the most devastating fireball in the spellbook, but it consumes a diamond each time, and you only start with one?

I’m not saying that character progression should be eliminated, far from it. I just think there might be a different way to approach it that doesn’t “force” the player to make certain decisions just so XP can keep rolling in. That’s not role playing, that’s following a  strategy guide.

I’m curious to hear what others think about this, especially those that have tried something similar, and whether or not it works.

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MattySoftmitts

Way into anthropomorphic cats.

3 thoughts on “Level-less Role Playing”

  1. I really like this idea! When running my campaigns, I generally award xp at the end of the adventure, no matter how it was completed or wether or not the mission was deemed a success or not, because hey, it all still experience right? Although I do still use a levelling system I might put some thought into moving away from it.

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  2. I know that for my gaming group, things like figuring out puzzles, successful stealth attempts, clever solutions, etc. are all factored into gaining XP.

    An example would be if I were the DM, and the PCs needed to get into this specific room, and it was guarded. Whether they handled that by slaying the guard, causing a distraction, or using good Charisma rolls with genuine role-playing to convince the guard they need let in, or they’re the next shift, they would earn the XP for the guard because they handled the situation at hand.

    As far as levels go, I like your idea of a sort of point buy system where you use the XP/Credits to earn your abilities, and I think that could lead to some really neat builds. Say you just focused on one thing and became super good at that, as opposed to rounding your character out by buying some skills from here and there.

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  3. Check out Call of Cthulhu for a skills advancement experience system. Basically, you don’t get XP, you just check off boxes next to the skills you used and succeeded with, and then at the end of the session players roll for a chance to improve those skills. Cthulhu has a ton of skills though and uses percentage rolls, so it’s much fiddlier than most systems.

    Alternatively, I’ve also played a system where XP is rewarded based on risk of death per session. Each session the players choose their Hit Points from 3 tiers video game style, easy/normal/insane, which might translate to HP of 18/12/6 for a session. If you survive you earn more Advancement Points for having taken less Hit Points, which can then be used to advance skills/abilities.

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