6d6 RPG: Character Progression

How fast should a character advance?

This is the question I’m currently pondering as development of the 6d6 RPG moves from focusing on individual abilities to the wider questions that face campaigns and long running games.

Character generation is a points-buy system with starting character having 36 + 6d6 points. A basic 1d6 ability costs four points and an average character starts with around 15 cards and a couple of these cards will be raised to 1d6+1 or 1d6+2.

Progression will also be points based, allowing characters to buy new abilities or increase existing ones. The problem is how fast?

The Miserly GM

A consistent theme in my GMing is a tight control of the power levels. Characters start weak and slowly improve. My adventures tend towards the low-fantasy “realism” reflecting the hardships of life and a scarcity of magical items.

Naturally my gut reaction for the 6d6 RPG is to build an experience system that reflects this. However, I realise that my style of play is not the only one or even the most common. Clearly this is one area of the game where my vision for the game should give way to a more populist view of gaming.

Mechanical Advancement or GM’s Rewards?

Should advancement be based on a game mechanic or purely at the discretion of the GM?

Games like AD&D had a simple experience point mechanic based on the power of monsters killed. More nuanced games such as Call of Cthulhu use a mechanic where successful use of a skill gives the character a chance to improve it. Either approach relied on a mechanic defined within the game and gave GMs only indirect control of advancement.

The alternative approach is to place progress purely in the hands of the GM. Rewards are given out based on the GM’s assessment of the characters or players performance. This could be a goal orientated “complete the dungeon, earn 10,000 xp” approach or a purely discretionary reward.

Both approaches have their own strengths and weaknesses and around most gaming tables, a combination is used. The lesson here is that the 6d6 RPG has to be flexible but this doesn’t help answer the question of how the rules should work.

Power to the GM

One of the aims of the 6d6 RPG is to reinforce the role of the GM as the centre of the game. They should not be roboticaly following a set of rules but be free to, and expected to, use their own GM skills to manage the game. Character advancement is a key aspect to this.

My current thoughts on advancement borrows from the Warhammer RPG where characters get to improve their characters at the end of each session. These are small improvement, e.g. 5% on a skill, but it keeps the character constantly improving. Additional bonuses are awarded at the end of adventures.

One Point Per Hour

The simplest system I’ve thought of so far is to award characters one point per hour of play. With most game sessions lasting around three or four hours it allows characters to gain a new ability every week or two. Alternatively, the same points would increase a skill from 1d6 to 1d6+2 (with one point left over).

Critically it allows the GM to use rewards to manage the game. If the players spend an hour talking about last night’s TV, the GM simply awards less points at the session’s end. If the party is focused and gaming well, reward extra points. Individual excellence can also be reward with an extra point or two without unbalancing the game.

Your Thoughts Please

How does this approach sound to you? Would you prefer a system more focused on achieving goals rather than simply turning up? How would you do it?

5 comments

  1. It was an interesting discussion we had at Mondo about this on Monday. I think there is a real resonance to the idea that you get a card a session – much faster than I think you were expecting to progress, but it fits in so well with the physical components of the game.

    If four points a session is too rich, one thing I do think you could do is to handle part of the progression through GM ‘gifts’, and the slower progression through PC choice. So, for example, let’s say a character has a brush with the law, but they have no Law skill, you could give them a Law card at the end of that session – that basic d6 card that says “you’ve some experience with this now”. Magic types could get a spell, or some Library skill, or a specific knowledge; fighters could learn some fancy moves like Disarm or Parry. They would be appropriate to what had happened in the session, so there would be a sense of PC learning from their mistakes (or rare successes).

    Then a point a session for the players to use for upgrades, etc.

    I think you’d end up with some more broadly interesting characters this way.

  2. I think that a card per ‘episode’ (i.e. not necessarily one playing session, but one significant section of the game or scenario) seems like a neat rule of thumb and in line with the Warhammer idea of a small increase per session. The ref would still have the leeway to award a weaker or stronger card depending on their view of the player’s participation/contribution/etc. The ref is free to hand cards out according to their judgement, or haggle with the player about what the reward is. A good ref will take account of a player’s pleas for a greater reward (occasionally a player will humbly argue for less) or the party’s cries for a player that they feel deserves more.

  3. @Paul – Incorporating some of the reward as GM gifts directly relating to the plot makes sense.

    With a guideline of “1 pt of character advancement per hour played” it is up to the GM to decide how those points are actually awarded. Sometimes they might be planned into the adventure, sometimes the characters are just given points.

    @Neil – Thanks for the input. Giving the GM guidelines for game balance and the power to interpret them seems the way to go.

  4. Hey, i like the idea of “1 pt/hour”, especially for those higher levels where massive amounts of exp is required to get any new benefits, or for games that have a low (normal?) level cap. I’ve often thought about how to reward characters who continue on after the level cap has been reached, experience gained going into skill points, magical weapons that level up, buying skills with gold, etc…

    1 point/hour seems a little more simple, and more quickly rewards player fidelity to the character and the world.

  5. @J.smith – Thanks. With a high level party it might be necessary to switch to 2pt/hr if progression slows down too much but the beauty for this simple scheme is that it leaves plenty of scope for GMs to tweak it for their own style of play.

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