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General Forge Forums => First Thoughts => Topic started by: tarafore on April 06, 2008, 03:38:55 PM

Title: PC Advancement Struggles
Post by: tarafore on April 06, 2008, 03:38:55 PM
I've been working on an advancement system for my Tarafore System ( (I should probably put an SRD document on the web instead of directing people to the RPGnet column in which I outline the game.  Also, please ignore the GNS-related column.  Turns out I conflated the terms with the GNS terms...which led me to start lurking here again, so I'd actually know what I'm talking about).

The system's almost 8 years old, and has seen extensive alpha testing, some beta testing, and a ton of revision.  But one thing that's never really gelled is an actual system for "character advancement." 

Tarafore uses a questionnaire and conversation based character creation process, with the people involved bearing the responsibility for creating appropriate characters.  Though I do have an alternate method for groups who don't feel comfortable with the default "Subjective Character Creation Process," nobody's ever chosen to use it.  It didn't feel right to duct-tape an "experience point" system onto this (and levels were just out of the question). 

In all of the chronicles I've been involved in (which is probably fewer than 1/2 of the ones that have been run using my system, a fact that really makes me smile), nobody's ever complained about the lack of an advancement system.  But I still want to make one, mainly because I'm thinking of taking this puppy public, and I think the RPG world at large might have an issue with the utter lack of an "experience" system.  Maybe this is because, with the way we do character creation, they get the character they want, not the one they can afford.

However, I may have a solution.  Inspired by Ben's "Motivations:" (, I've decided to base advancement off of similar concepts.

I prefer the term "Beliefs" to "Convictions," because I think it's clearer.  But that's just semantics.

Basically, your character “advances” by moving toward his Goals, having his Beliefs develop and change, and moving forward or resolving issues in his Relationships.  If the character's Goals require an increase in power in order to accomplish them, then that may well occur, as a part of the overall advancement.

Goals should be broken down into sub-goals (though this doesn't have to be done at character creation).
As the character accomplishes sub-goals that lead him closer to his goal, his player should write them down (or cross them off if the list of sub-goals has already been written).

So if the goal is:
“Overthrow the false king and put the heir to the true king on the throne,” the sub-goals might include:

Find the heir to the true king
Convince the heir to take the risk of rising up
Secure a leadership position in the heir/true king's service
Gain allies among the dissatisfied factions in the false king's city
Gather enough power (army, magic, whatever) to overthrow the false king
Actually overthrow the false king.

Along the way, if you learned that the false king was being propped up by a magical cult, you could add “Destroy the cult that gives the false king his power.” 

The "Gather enough power to overthrow the false king" sub-goal could be broken down into further steps, perhaps as you get into it.  If your character makes allies of a tribe in the north that hates the false king, you could write that as a sub-sub-goal under "Gather enough power...".

If your character has to gain personal power in order to accomplish his goal, you should write that as part of the goals.  "Become a great swordsman" might have been a sub-goal of Inigo Montoya's goal of "Avenging My Father."  The degree of advancement at each juncture would be handled along the same lines as character creation:  through talking to the GM and keeping the overall group and chronicle in mind.

As a character moved along the steps to his goal, that would be advancement.  You don't need experience points, so much as a method to remind the players that their characters are advancing through play.

As far as handling in game downtime, such as “While we're traveling, Joe gets Lisa to teach him to fence.”

I think a simple rule will suffice:  A character can learn any skill up to Average(10), or raise any specialization up to Average(10), just by studying while she travels.  It takes about a month per “step,” or roughly 10 days (a week and a half, ish) per single point of increase, up to Average (10).  But she can't raise it beyond 10 without serious study, field work, etc.

So, what do you think?

Title: Re: PC Advancement Struggles
Post by: Troy_Costisick on April 07, 2008, 10:24:20 AM

In all of the chronicles I've been involved in (which is probably fewer than 1/2 of the ones that have been run using my system, a fact that really makes me smile), nobody's ever complained about the lack of an advancement system.

Welcome to the Forge!  I recently wrote an article on my blog about advancement.  Here's the link:

I think it's useful to not look at advancement just as a mechnaical process of the rules but also a a negotiation process between players.  Characters change in significant ways over time.  Not all of those changes need to be explicitly laid out in mechanic steps in the rule book.  If you read the article and have any questions, let me. :)



Title: Re: PC Advancement Struggles
Post by: tarafore on April 09, 2008, 09:36:08 AM
Thanks for the advice!  I read the articles, and I've found them very helpful.  I like your blog overall - you have a lot of good things to say.

Thanks again!

Title: Re: PC Advancement Struggles
Post by: FrankBrunner on April 09, 2008, 05:24:16 PM
I like the idea of players setting their own goals and using those as milestones for advancement. I have a couple of comments/questions/issues.

1) When are the goals set? Can they change afterwards? Is there a limit on the number of goals a character can have? I can imagine characters (especially in a group game) becoming side-tracked by other characters' stories, new discoveries, plot developments, and more. A player might feel torn between investigating a new story or relationship and his old goals (which reward the character with advancement). A more open-ended advancement system, which awards experience based on whatever a character does, doesn't present this conflict.

2) If the system is sufficiently player-driven, do players really need to set goals for advancement? That is, if the players are in control of the story, then something as simple as a "2 points per session played" system could suffice because the players are by definition moving toward their goals? They are, after all, the ones deciding on the course of play. On the other hand, perhaps a codified goal-based advancement system will prevent games with the intention of being player-driven from going off-track (on-track?) and becoming railroad games on the GM's chosen train.

Troy, I like the points you bring up in your blog about the necessity of character advancement and the three areas of advancement. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about advancement systems that combine those three areas and help them to play off of each other. For example, advancement systems that combine small scale with mechanics could employ some sort of interpersonal or emotional mechanic.