A while back, I wrote the most popular article on my site – “4e D&D Plays Like A Video Game, And That’s Awesome” though you wouldn’t know that from what my site currently displays due to having to rebuild completely after being hacked by some shitheads. I’m not bitter. Anyway, today I’d like to discuss an idea that came to me during a twitter debate instsigated by the NewbieDM the other day, and that is alternatives to levels in D&D. Particularly in this case, players leveling up.
Now I’m no pro game designer, or even good at being an amateur one so bear with me here – I’m just a guy who likes video games and D&D, and has a (probably) dumb idea. Hear me out.
In A Nutshell, Or Two.
The way the Elder Scrolls games work as far as leveling goes is basically as follows: As you are out adventuring, using your abilities, the more you use something, the better you get with it. Say for example, that you spend a lot of time using a sword – this will earn you a point in Blades which relates back to the Strength attribute. After you have earned 10 points in any skill you achieve a level up, when you level up you get points to spend on your Attributes. In the Elder Scrolls universe, these differ slightly from D&D, they are Strength, Endurance, Speed, Agility, Personality, Intelligence, Willpower and Luck.
Depending on what skills you used to earn you those 10 points will affect the bonuses you get when distributing points to your attributes at time of level up. When leveling you get 3 points to spend on your attributes, so lets say you used Strength 5 out of the 10 times you got a skill point towards leveling, if you chose to put a point into strength, you’ll get a +3 bonus or so, actually resulting in a +4 bonus to strength. Now lets say you want to increase your willpower but didn’t use any willpower related skills on your way to this level, spending a point would only earn you +1 to that attribute.
Specifics, Details, Whatever
The above mentioned math is not verbatim from the games so please don’t rib me on that, and while the system is still technically a labeled leveling system “You are now level 2”, the beauty of it is that really there is no cap unless of course you somehow manage to max out every single attribute you have which takes some real dedication, and lots of time.
Unlike a video game, if a system like this were used in an RPG, no one could put a brick on the jump button and walk away from the game for 12 hours to come back and see “Your Acrobatics has increased to 10,000” Though I suppose it wold be both hilarious and insanely annoying to hear a player at your table say “I jump” or “My character jumps repeatedly everywhere he goes”. Roll those endurance checks!
Anyway. Now I’m fully aware that I’m going to get a ton of comments from people telling me 30 different tabletop RPG system that probably already uses something similar to this. I’m no tabletop RPG dictionary, though I’d like to be, and I’m not asking you to refrain from those comments because I’m definitely interested in being enlightened. Just let me down easy folks.
Adapting This To D&D
Since D&D already has a list of skills that relate directly back to a set of attributes it seems houseruling something like this wouldn’t take too much work. Though I’m sure its no easy task and may break the game entirely so keep in mind that this is just an idea I’m tossing out there and has about zero ranks in refinement.
What if something like after using a skill X times you ‘leveled up’ in it. Perhaps if you succeeded a certain check by a certain degree it would count as two of those X times? Once you’ve ‘leveled up’ in ten skills or so, your character levels up and gains a few buffs here and there. This could eliminate “flat” levels in D&D and perhaps make for some fun mechanics like, let’s say “unlocking” Sweeping Strikes or a Whirlwind ability would only be available once a character has achieved X ranks in blades, dexterity and strength. Attribute bonuses would still be worked out still only rise every 4 levels, and somehow tying this all into power accumulation would be slick!
Of course there are a lot of ideas people could take and run with this on, which is why I’m putting this half-assed idea out there on my blog. What are your ideas? Let’s hear them in the comments.