Thursday, May 5, 2011

Experience and Accomplishments

As the anchor of the campaign, around which everything revolves, the dungeons of the Bleak Beyond will factor into the very rules which govern game play. Along with the various tables and conventions specifically designed to power the game sessions, one will find a game unto itself in what I hope to be a rather brief How to Play section. Just the nuts and bolts of a game, one which can be adopted or ignored in favor of one's preferred edition.

The How to Play section of the Bleak Beyond is not intended to be a clone of D&D. It is more or less a generic system which will cover such things as Dice, Hits, Combat, Armor, Saves, Tasks and Character Advancement. The mechanics that run behind the scenes of the game. Tasks have been covered using the 5+ guide in the Art of Delving. The other terms are fairly self-explanatory. Combat is distilled to a table-less formula, which was covered here and here a few years back.

A bit of a departure from the old school? Not in my mind. I just find the method more logical and simpler to implement. The true major departure from the accepted rules is found in the guide for Character Advancement. Here's where we find the dungeon itself influencing the rules.

The Bleak Beyond does not use a hard and fast advancement via experience points system. Since nearly all of the players' efforts will involve dangerous plunges into the underworld, the only set-in-stone method for gaining levels is by successfully looting manually placed Treasure Troves. Not your run of the mill loot stashes but rather those specific riches which are mentioned in Vol. III with the suggestion to “thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures” before dicing for random distribution. Here's the core of the approach:

Experience by Plundering

Characters gain one experience level whenever they are a member of an expedition which makes off with a Treasure Trove, by successfully returning with it to town, providing the loot was plundered from a dungeon level which is of equal or greater value than the character's own current level.

Yep. No experience points whatsoever.

There are restrictions to the experience by plundering system, however. Normal advancement halts at the top level of each tier, levels 3, 6 and 9. In order to unlock the subsequent tiers which begin with levels 4, 7 and 10, the character will be required to meet certain criteria based on successful exploration of the Bleak Beyond.

The dungeon rewards characters who accomplish certain goals. For humankind there are currently 13 such accomplishments, along with one race accomplishment for each non-human class which lifts their standard maximum level and allows further progress. Players must track the number of each specific accomplishment, along with the reward gained, on the back of their character sheet for future reference and to prevent possible double-dipping.

Refs might of course allow alternate methods of advancement. It is certainly not a game world in which the only method of advancing as a character is by gaining Bleak Beyond experience. This is simply how one does so within this particular dungeon. Exploring the wilderness of the Unbidden Lands holds its own rewards, after all (which will be explained in an upcoming post).

I may or may not add to this list in the future, and since none of this is quite set in stone there is no accompanying PDF this time. Here's what I've got so far.

Accomplishments / Rewards

1.Etch name on the Big Block of So and So's Fate / Unlock 4th Character Level
2.Shake the hand of Skellington in the Writhing Sepulchre / Unlock 7th Character Level
3.Obtain a Morkevagten Writ of Passage from the Citadel / Unlock 10th Character Level
4.Bring a Fallen Knight to justice / +1 Primary or Random
5.Oust the Mayor of Awfulville / +1 Primary or Random
6.Earn a Key to the Swallowed City / +1 Primary or Random
7.Release a Trapped Soul from the Chapel of the Jilted Bride / +1d6 Hits
8.Smuggle an intact Ubernana to the surface / +1d6 Hits
9.Ring the Gilded Bell of the Excommunicated / +1 Primary or Random
10.Awaken the Sleeping She-Paladin / +1d6 Hits
11.Lay the Evil Dude to rest in his Domain / +1d6 Hits
12.Learn Sham's Secret from Sham himself / +1 Ability of Choice
13.Visit the Four Corners of Balmorphiact / +1 Ability of Choice

Non-human Accomplishments / Rewards

The following non-human accomplishments remove the standard class level maximum for each respective race. They do not however supersede the advancement accomplishments required as detailed in numbers 1-3 above.

Enter the Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten through the front door / Unlock Dwarf 7th
Survive an arena match in the Swallowed City / Unlock Elf FM 5th
Learn a new spell in the Palace of Ceaseless Extravagance / Unlock Elf MU 9th
Taste Chuckhole Hooch straight from a still in Chuckhole Hollow / Unlock Hobbit 5th
Bring home the head of a Nisse / Unlock Aelfar FM 7th
Take a nap in the Dens of Undesired Dream / Unlock Aelfar MU 7th
Pull one of Vrimnas's levers and live to tell the tale / Unlock Doende 7th
Perform guard duty at the Shrine of the Sleeping She-Paladin / Unlock Dvergar 7th
Bring home a real live Crumblebumian / Unlock Irkling 7th
Tithe at the Church of the Excommunicated / Unlock Troldekin FM 7th
Become irradiated on the Level w/ No Name / Unlock Troldekin MU 7th

Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?



Tsojcanth said...

1: this is awesome
2: I've been working at a similar approach for a bit but yours seems much better
Id love if you wanted to discuss it further :)

Tsojcanth said...

Btw, I'm tsojcanth postig from my phone. That's the reason for the strange account :)

Sham aka Dave said...

The thing with this method is you have to maintain a balance of risk/reward. What might sound like an easy way for fast advancement will turn into TPKs in the Bleak Beyond.

Typically the act of actually battling your way to and uncovering one of these troves should/would garner enough XP for a level in a normal game, anyway. It seems logical to me.

I'm curious what readers think of the accomplishments. Might be too gamey for many.

Taketoshi said...

They're definitely gamey, but I like them. I think tying advancement in a limited context like this to the mythical/legendary attributes of the adventuring locale makes a lot of sense. It doesn't eliminate any of the sandboxiness of the setting, except that it eliminates the possibility that a straight xp-grind is going to make it easier to descend/explore further.

Plus, it gives the players major touchstones they can refer to--one item I'm having difficulty with so far in my Stonehell campaign is in thinking through the context of engagement with the dungeon. That is, what other adventurers are saying about it, what kinds of experiences they're having that they might be willing to share with other adventurers, either to boast or to warn...

-C said...

That's awfully specific.

It's a bit like a carnival attraction where players *have* to take certain rides to advance.

What about player directed play? What if they want to ally with the mayor of awefulville?

Sham aka Dave said...

One of the earliest bits of lore characters learn about the Bleak Beyond is that any true delver worth his salt that wants to earn "street cred" needs to etch his name on the Big Block. So, bragging rights, and unlocking advancement to tier two, character levels 4-6, all in one accomplishment.

How I filter these rumors out during the campaign will go a long way to providing the opportunity for the type of character - dungeon engagement you refer to.

Sham aka Dave said...

-C: This is the type of input I am looking for.

That said, you have to understand a bit about Awfulville. Go ahead and befriend the Mayor. In a week or so he will be ousted and after much Phlemok bloodshed a new Mayor will "win the election". It's a never-ending cycle of gang wars in Awfulville.

I want these to be fairly specific, that's the charm from my design approach.

Maybe that particular one does limit player choices, but all of these accomplishments are optional. Only three or four are required in order to attain max level.

Thanks for the input! I know this is fairly unconventional stuff.

Anonymous said...

Darn blogger ate my long comment. Twice.

Anyway, achievements are gamey, but are also extremely storey. They don't only express a way to gain cred/empowerment/trust/will to fight/"oh i've seen such things you would not believe" but they also make sense as a rite of passage, which is extremely important in tribal, primitive and traditional societies so central to fantasy and also in the myths and faerie tales that they generate, where the rite effectively changes the nature of the person, allowing different behaviour and also, interestingly, barring other behaviours. can you imagine archmages being barred from level 1 spells, or swordmasters being barreed from wearing heavy armour because it harms their cred and shows that their skill is not that high? that would be interesting indeed.

Anonymous said...

I can perfectly see accomplishments like "defeat 10 knights singlehandedly", "sail across the world", "rescue a prince/ss from a dragon, marry up and get an heir" not only as rites of passages or ways to pass a level but also as possible endgame targets, where the traditional D&D one is "build a mighty stronghold". Such goals can be class/race/campaign specific, with possibly players and GM agreeing additional for specific PCs, like "kill the man with 12 fingers so to avenge my father" or "destroy every copy of DarkMantle's Codex"; even better such achievements can be either fully decided at the beginning of the PC or campaign or decided during the game.

Sham aka Dave said...

Some very interesting thoughts, tsojcanth. I like the idea of tailor-making individual goals/accomplishments for each PC at the outset. Currently my How to Play has a level cap of 12 for each class. Perhaps Level 13 can be unlocked by meeting that ultimate goal. I will have to consider that one further.

By the time more of the Bleak Beyond is written I should be able to flesh this out further...probably adding more minor accomplishments to the list along the way.

Anonymous said...

Another lost comment. It was about having different approaches to the fighter endgame through either marrying up or slaying a king and conquering the related kingdom, with different advantages gained (fame & cultural supremacy vs sheer badassery & awe).

Also, was wondering whether cards or badges can be used to store/note achievements :)

Sham aka Dave said...

Cool idea. Cards would work since everyone has access to them. If I do add more minor accomplishments along with fewer group based ones I could see the development of a mini-game of sorts using the cards. Interesting.

I also like your idea in regard to alternatives to the so-called end game. Rather than strongholds allow for other more interesting paths to fame/fortune.

JDJarvis said...

The non-human accomplishments unlocking level limits is a true stroke of genius.

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks JD. I have the tables worked up for all of the classes. While each can get to level 12 once they do the pre-reqs, the demi-humans have only small incremental improvements past that first unlocked level.

For example, a Dwarf does not improve his combat rating or number of hit dice after 7th. He does however gain 2 hits/level and his saves improve. So yeah, level 12 Dwarves are possible, but they aren't nearly as good at Combat as a level 12 FM.

I'll post that info once I hammer out more on this topic which is threatening to spin out of control.

Anonymous said...

I got news for you Sham, this thread spun out of control already, and we're all waiting for more material :)

By the way, I never really used racial limits, preferring to compensate racial bonuses with xp and hits penalties. Once the level is high enough every increase of power given by level is really, really marginal. The only stat relevant at that is save and semihumans have averages that go from +2 to +5 better, putting them in the "2 or more to save" pretty easily at level 10ish with some magic.
Do we need level limits for non-humans? Seriously? :)

Blair said...

This is awesome!

I'm curious if this was influenced by console videogame accomplishments, or is just a case of parallel evolution?

Sham aka Dave said...

tsoj: For me the demi-human level limits are just a matter of taste. There was a time where I agreed with your stance. My experience with ignoring them, or when running Arduin, has been that no one played a human at all. Now, the question then is does this matter? I suppose not. Gygax's vision of the world in which D&D was set encouraged a human-centric campaign. Maybe based on his inspirations, influences and preferences at that time.

If I move forward with things planned as is, there is no true level limit now. Some of the classes, notably the Hobbit and the Elf FM, are downright weak when compared to a FM when both are at 12. The Hobbit has better saves, but low Hits and Combat scores. The Elf will likely be working on his MU class as well, so really the Hobbit is the lone "gimp" at 12.

I should share my mocked up character tables in order to explain. Demi-humans of course have bonuses which make them invaluable members of low level parties, and with my no-thief system, they remain the best at the art of delving.

Sham aka Dave said...

Blair: In my desire to tie specific rules with the campaign's centerpiece I have been considering many ideas. I would like to make some claim of individual inspiration...but it would be naive to do so with much of my work.

I have always blended ideas from various sources in my games, and there's no doubt that the achievements were sideways inspired by computer games (I don't play consoles).

The idea to marry the dungeon and some of its quirks to the rules and to character advancement is mine, but the achievement idea is not really my own.

Marcus said...

I really like your ideas about giving incentives to get the players to interact with the game world more.

I have blogged (in German, though) about using something like Xbox Live achievements to give players an additional incentive for trying out stuff down in the dungeon. I have tied these "achievements" to D&D4's system of major and minor quests, giving out small amounts of XP for doing some stuff like pulling certain levers a given number of times, just to give an example. But my approach was much more heavy-handed than yours and not very well thought out.

Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on the subject. :)

Cheers, Marcus

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks, Marcus. Surely I am not the first to have inklings of accomplishments worked into the fabric of the campaign. I am glad you found the post useful.

I want to get more feedback on the Experience by Plundering style, so I will ask for it with today's post.

Robert said...

I’ve been considering “achievements” that would grant a little bonus XP, but I was having trouble coming up with some. Making them setting-specific was exactly the sort of thing I somehow didn’t think of. Thanks!

Character-specific achievements are akin to other ideas I’ve had. I really like the idea of giving each PC a unique (and potentially secret) goal.

prof Chaos said...

I took a cue from pulpy sci-fi romance and adventure media; The Human Protagonist is always quite adept at Adapting, picks up the necessary skills relevant to the Alien World Quickly, seems extraordinarily Lucky, and proves surprisingly Difficult to Kill! In game terms: Humans receive +10% earned XP, have +1 to all Saves, and add +1HP/lvl to rolled HP. No extraordinary, specific ABILITIES like "Infravision", but rather a few generalized, broadly useful EDGEs

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