Gaming Tonic

Would You Be Okay With Story Experience?

I have been running a game periodically using the Hero System in my homebrew world.  The players play powerful characters right from the start.  Since we were using a point buy system, I figured just hand them a pile of character points and they should be done.  Since the characters started powerful, with the exact characters the players wanted, the players wouldn’t be motivated by the need to acquire more experience points, would they?

That has been one of the knocks I have heard about the Marvel Super Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game, the experience point system is a bit strange.  Some believe that the xp system for that game was kind of added after the fact.  That the characters are designed to be played in the published adventure how they are written up.  Even when I played higher level 4E D&D, and my character sheets from the DDI Character Builder was nine pages long, I still wonder what another couple of levels slapped on would look like.  Perhaps it is the nature of us to want to increase in physical powers in a way that is represented by the numbers.

Story rewards like titles bestowed, exceptional gear, a companion of some sort do increase the character’s power.  If those were substituted in place of XP handed out to the player to do whatever that player wants, would that satisfy the players need to acquire things like levels and plusses and such?  The tone of the game would matter of course.  If the power was handed out as an in story element controlled by the DM instead of selected by the players, which could be just about anything is the game better for the players and the DM?   The players would probably prefer these story rewards handed out in addition to XP, or however that system of character advancement is handled in the system you are using.

I would propose a compromise of sorts with my players to have their characters advancement mean something.  Perhaps a little less in the way of character points for more story rewards that would make up the difference and a bit more.  The bit more is for allowing me as the GM to have some influence on how their characters progress.  Assuming I am introducing great story elements I can perhaps get my players excited about something in the story and grow their character in that direction, which the player may have done anyway.

As participants in a creative hobby we may be too creative to not have complete creative control, and get what we earned.  Some players may be happy with just that.   For example a player in a D&D game might just want his level and the feat, hit points, bonus to hit, and other benefits that might encompass.  Another might be more than happy to have his fighter join the Guild of the Indomitable, and have his character receive the bonuses that goes along with membership.  Especially if the benefits are a little bit more, like I am suggesting the DM rewards.

I have played in games before where we were required to spend extra time or character points to learn things from scratch.  For example, if you wanted to do demolitions overnight it cost a bit extra than the rules state, but it was a bit cheaper to raise skills and abilities in something that you had used during the mission.  This worked well as a story element to channel character advancement but did not leave the characters room to grow without slowing their progression.  Every so often a player would do something weird as a setup to spend experience after the game in as specific ability they wanted to raise.  Sometimes it was comical so I usually didn’t mind.

In have done things a variety of ways over the years when it comes to handling character advancement.  Each variation brought something to the game.  What devices have you seen regarding this in the games you have played?  I would like to hear suggestions for games that you have used or thought of using.  Leave a comment and until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. I’m a big fan of in-game play determining advancement. D&D has been pretty good about this. The story rewards from living campaigns were interesting and gave a mechanical benefit. Save the princess and get knighted? Your title gives a +2 diplomacy with citizens of that kingdom. There was a line of feats that represented this as well, with in-game pre-reqs like needing to be level drained or dropped to 0 hp with a lightning bolt. In my Scales of War game I had a player fall into the mutagenic vats in the Umbraforge adventure. It was meant to do damage but I thought it was more interesting to have that player mutate. It was well received and the player spent the rest of the game trying to reverse it. In HERO system I routinely give out contacts or favors after good role-playing. Particularly if the characters are already powerful/high-level these rewards still stand out and make players feel like their choices have a lasting impact.

  2. Depending on your game, some of those “story benefits” have point values in games like Hero, GURPS or the like. In Hero, they’re often Perqs: Access, Contacts, Favors, Followers, Fringe Benefits, Money, Reputation, and mundane Vehicles and Bases all qualify, and all cost points. So rather than ditch experience gains entirely, I might make the player just justify the new thing in character. “I’d like to add Professor Goomba as a Contact, just in case we need his skills again in the future…” works, but so does “I’ve been doing all this running and jumping and carrying on, I think I’d like to drop a point into Endurance.” Or you can be a little more controlling about it, and say “Because you saved his daughter, this guy is now a Contact, and owes you a Favor…”

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