We’ve previously written about ways of dealing out XP that are different to standard. An interesting part of the follow-up discussions to that was that many people do away with XP and use milestone levelling instead. That brings us rapidly to our first alternative method.
This is pretty well known and commonly used at this point. The PCs simply level up at points in the story determined by the GM to represent some sort of achievement. Adventure modules often provide guidance on this as well. It’s good for helping with preparation as the GM knows exactly when players will level up, and can plan things out accordingly. It’s also good because it removes finicky tracking of numbers. If simplicity is king in your games, do this.
Achievement levelling via player goal setting
Milestone levelling is cool and all, but it puts the cards in the hand of the GM, and if you run a sandbox-style world, or want to give the appearance of one handing off the goals to the player can be interesting. Instead, take a small bit of time at the beginning of a session for the party to define their goals. These can be individual, group or both. The players decide what they want to achieve within the world, and it shapes the GM’s preparation for what they might do.
An obvious question with this, especially in a sandbox, is “what if the players go in a different direction?”. Just write a new goal, and keep the old one open. The players can build up a quest journal of sorts, giving them some predefined things to do that they know will advance the game.
Achievement levelling via tracing successes
Another way of approaching achievement-based levelling is to create a list of the things the players must do relative to their PCs abilities. It’s a lot like the achievements system used in many modern video games.
Here’s a brief example for a rogue:
- Sneak attack ten different enemies
- Succeed at stealth ten times
- Sneak attack three times in one encounter
- Pickpocket ten people or monsters
- Pickpocket something work over 100GP
- …and so on
This list can be longer or shorter based on how long you want levelling to take. What can really make this work is creating goals that encourage good roleplay. Give your cleric something related to spread the word of their faith. Give your bard the task of writing four new songs about noteworthy events. Give fighter from the rough streets the goal of using every combat maneuver.
The obvious downside of this is that it does involve tracking a whole lot of things. Get the players to manage this, and remind each other to do it. Have a quick recap stage at the end of each combat. With the right group, it can be a fun thing in itself, and there isn’t the maths of tracking XP. If you were inclined, you could make a nice sheet for this with progress bars the players shade in as they move upwards.
Micro-levelling per session
This one is simple. Break what the PCs would get at a full level up down into small components and dish out one each session. Players can choose what they gain until they’ve completed the list for their current level making small incremental gains in skills, or gaining a single hit point a session.
This lets them shape their character slowly, which is arguably more realistic than sudden huge gains in performance that most level systems provide, and lets them weigh up how their character is currently performing and make small tweaks.
This also breaks down the admin work related to levelling into 5 minutes per session, rather than occupying a bigger chunk of time. Some people really enjoy those level-up sessions, so consider that when choosing this system.
These are just a few ways we’ve been dabbling with alternative levelling, and they all have their upsides and downsides. If you go about things in a different way to this, we’d love to hear about it as well, come tell us on Twitter or Facebook.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please have a browse around the site and read some more or check out our products on DriveThruRPG.