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Tanuki Tales
2011-10-17, 09:27 AM
Now, I know that character levels are an abstract concept that don't have any real in-game recognition or ability to denote that Character A is level 6 while Character B is level 20 other than that Character B is going to stomp Character A into the ground if they ever fight, but how do you justify them and gaining of more levels in-game?

Do they represent knowledge and experience?

Well, then what about those venerable level 1 characters and npcs? They've lived long, fruitful lives but are no more powerful than a teenager or young child who also is level 1.

Do they represent adventures had and glory won?

Well, then does that means you can never have a character above level 1 who you don't have to sit down and come up with sagas of past deeds for them to have lived through and accomplished? Do no green horns or first time adventurers exist at higher levels?

Do they represent raw power and innate skill?

So is Character B just more powerful and of a higher level because of luck, happenstance and the way they were born as opposed to the birth and raising of Character A? The study and training they have gone through forging them into something more when they start their adventuring?

Yora
2011-10-17, 11:04 AM
In my games, character levels are just indicators which people are stronger compared to others.
How an NPC got the strength that he has does not matter and I usually don't hand out encounter XP. At the end of the adventure everyone gets a fixed amount of XP, plus an occasional bonus if one player really managed to shine. Like most mechanical things, they work best if you don't overthink them too much.

Anderlith
2011-10-17, 11:28 AM
I hate levels, I prefer open skill systems

awa
2011-10-17, 11:31 AM
In one game I ran(not dnd but d20 so still relevant) normal people were capped at level 5 but pcs were "destined" and this was what made them pcs they had a much higher level cap. And the logic why the grizzled old military veteran and the young soldier gained levels at the same rate was before they were pc they were dormant destined. it was also why you could have a cult hidden in a city for a thousand years and the no one knew but the pcs would discover in the first week in town.
But that was a very setting specific solution

tyckspoon
2011-10-17, 11:56 AM
I usually think of them as primarily knowledge and experience. The trick is that most NPC lives are just not worth a lot of XP. Unless he lives an unusually exciting life your average Commoner won't make it above about level 3 in a lifetime of farming/raising livestock/making small items; a soldier or a city guard working an especially dangerous beat might hit 5, but he's likely to retire, get killed, or be promoted out of the active XP earning positions before then. Adventurers (I categorize spies/monster hunters/other specialist troubleshooters in this group, mind, not just traditional dungeon-raiding parties) are the only people who regularly face truly difficult situations often enough to level up quickly or very high.

Mastikator
2011-10-17, 01:04 PM
I hate levels, I prefer open skill systems

What he said.

Pinnacle
2011-10-17, 02:17 PM
Level represents how powerful you are. The starting point might not be the same for all characters.
Annie the sorcerer had to figure out how her powers worked and learned from there; she had a background that detailed some interesting accomplishments before she was level 1. Maggie the fighter excelled at combat training and was level 1 by the time she finished. Joe the wizard didn't join the party until 5th level, and he'd only just left his tower to try practicing his magic first-hand; he had learned enough to be that powerful from just studying his spellbooks.

Practicing things makes you better at them. Experience for adventures makes you better at the relevant skill--being powerful. Sure, a farmer may have experienced many years, but not many years of learning which methods of sword-swinging are better at killing quadrupedal monsters or that raising your voice slightly on the second syllable makes it slightly easier to control fire spells.
Farmers don't get better at that. They get better at farming. Maybe. It's probably not atypical for them to keep doing the same things all the time. Maybe they can plant seeds slightly faster after doing it for a few years, but they haven't learned any new techniques so it's not really an appreciable difference, enough to give them another +1.

Now, things other than power being tied to level can be weird, but remember that the system is designed to model adventurers and using a different advancement system for other things would be overcomplicated for them. The skills the wizard learns are probably related to the magic he's practicing, so it makes sense for them to improve as his power does. If it works out right for the wizard but not for the farmer, well, working out for the wizard was more important.
For the farmer who seems like he deserves a higher bonus in some skill even though he shouldn't be above level 1? Just give it to him.
If your players really complain about him having a higher bonus than they could've at his level, call him 4th-level (or whichever) with terrible everything else.

Jolly
2011-10-17, 02:29 PM
As someone else pointed out, it really doesn't make any sense so it works best to just not think too hard about it. This is especially important in terms of HP. "I've spent years learning how to cast more powerful spells, so now I can take a great axe to the face and it doesn't bother me!"

PersonMan
2011-10-17, 03:21 PM
As someone else pointed out, it really doesn't make any sense so it works best to just not think too hard about it. This is especially important in terms of HP. "I've spent years learning how to cast more powerful spells, so now I can take a great axe to the face and it doesn't bother me!"

Well, one could say that you've been trained by being in combat, that you have some inherent magic strengthening you or that those all-nighters you pulled make axe wounds seem weak in comparison.

...Still doesn't make much sense, though.

I generally go with the 'levels = inherent power' thing, with more levels being training to use that power, or whatever. It varies a lot between character to character.

Notreallyhere77
2011-10-17, 07:19 PM
As someone else pointed out, it really doesn't make any sense so it works best to just not think too hard about it. This is especially important in terms of HP. "I've spent years learning how to cast more powerful spells, so now I can take a great axe to the face and it doesn't bother me!"

I see hit points as a combination of luck, physical toughness, and conviction, but mostly conviction. At higher levels, you should have both. A first-level warrior has little keeping him going except soldier's pay, and the gods or other powers that be don't care enough about him to bestow extraordinary luck. Conversely, a mid-level barbarian just plain has the will to keep getting back up after being thrown through a stone wall by a dragon. Also, luck kept him from getting any bones or organs hurt too badly.

After enough adventuring, even the wizard will ignore a nasty wound long enough to keep slinging spells.

Anderlith
2011-10-17, 09:56 PM
I see hit points as a combination of luck, physical toughness, and conviction, but mostly conviction. At higher levels, you should have both. A first-level warrior has little keeping him going except soldier's pay, and the gods or other powers that be don't care enough about him to bestow extraordinary luck. Conversely, a mid-level barbarian just plain has the will to keep getting back up after being thrown through a stone wall by a dragon. Also, luck kept him from getting any bones or organs hurt too badly.

After enough adventuring, even the wizard will ignore a nasty wound long enough to keep slinging spells.

Conviction needs to be roleplayed. If I have a suicidal 20th level guy should he only have 13HP? What if I have an Iron Will Monk that believes himself to be destined for greatness? What if I roleplay as a down on my luck mercenary that never truly gets what he wants? Luck & moxy are lousy excuses for HP. You could almost argue training, but since when did knowledge of Profession (Weaver) ever get anyone more HP? (I'm talking about the level of a commoner)

Mark Hall
2011-10-18, 10:11 AM
Character levels are like money... they're a concrete thing that represents abstract concepts. There's no Goblins-esque (http://www.goblinscomic.com/) dinging when you level up, but more a coalescing of several improvements.

An interesting take on the whole "level" concept was from Earthdawn, where levels were descriptive. You spent Legend Points to improve individual Talents, but you only reached 2nd Circle (read: Level) when your talents reached a certain threshold, both in depth and breadth (i.e. you had enough 1st circle talents, and their level was high enough). When you reached 2nd circle, more talents became available to you, and improving those (and your original ones) pushed you towards 3rd circle. It is a good compromise between levelless, "skill-based" systems, and the class and level based systems many are familiar with.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-10-18, 10:26 AM
Now, I know that character levels are an abstract concept that don't have any real in-game recognition or ability to denote that Character A is level 6 while Character B is level 20 other than that Character B is going to stomp Character A into the ground if they ever fight...
Not universally true!

In D&D2 and earlier, class levels were tied in in-game organizations. You couldn't become a 14th level Druid, for example, without defeating one of the reigning Druids -- who would then lose XP if he lost!

http://www.mamapop.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/the-more-you-know.jpg

Notreallyhere77
2011-10-18, 05:09 PM
Conviction needs to be roleplayed. If I have a suicidal 20th level guy should he only have 13HP? What if I have an Iron Will Monk that believes himself to be destined for greatness? What if I roleplay as a down on my luck mercenary that never truly gets what he wants? Luck & moxy are lousy excuses for HP. You could almost argue training, but since when did knowledge of Profession (Weaver) ever get anyone more HP? (I'm talking about the level of a commoner)

The instinctive will to live can outweigh depression or hubris, but I see your point.
If it really bothers you that much, play with the wounding rules from UA that discard hitpoints entirely. But after playing Deadlands, I think of hp as Wind. You get hit, you get the wind knocked out of you, or you lose some in the act of dodging an otherwise deadly blow. Assume some form of armor absorbs a lot of the shock, or that higher level characters are able to ignore more pain because they've taken similar wounds before.

Mystral
2011-10-18, 05:20 PM
I once read something that talked about the reasoning behind characters getting stronger. Not neccessarily as level, but by free skill distribution, as well.

The essence was that, by adventuring, experiencing danger and learning new things, the characters, and npcs, accumulate magic in themselves which translates into a rise in ability. A fighter type character uses this magic to fight better, a thief to get sneakier and skillfull, a cleric to strengthen his bond with his god and a wizard to cast more powerfull spells. All spend some of their magic to get tougher/able to evade more danger and to learn new things.

If you don't put yourself in harms way or difficult situations, you might experience things, but you get the magic far slower. Sure, a wizard can just sit in his dusty library and read tome after tome, work on the intricasies of magical theories, teach his students and all that, but if he doesn't do anything exciting, he'll take a long time to get better. Which explains why most pcs level up to level 20 in about 3 years, while wizened old wizards are level 13, guards that just stand around with halberds cap at level 5 and dirt farmers who have nothing more dangerous then a bad harvest happen to them rarely reach 3rd level.

If you craft magic items, you invest some of the magic that is stored in you in that item, that's why it costs you xp. If you get level drained, the vampire or whatever isn't sucking your blood or life force, it's sucking the magic out of you to sustain itself. And so on.

Seems rather reasonable to me.

Weezer
2011-10-18, 05:52 PM
Not universally true!

In D&D2 and earlier, class levels were tied in in-game organizations. You couldn't become a 14th level Druid, for example, without defeating one of the reigning Druids -- who would then lose XP if he lost!


However I think that was unique to Druids, I don't recall any other class having that kind of system.

Fortuna
2011-10-18, 05:55 PM
Monks and Assassins, most notably. Once could also consider the various forms of stronghold building to be similar, but monks and assassins had damn near identical procedures for reaching levels 8-17 and 13-14 respectively, IIRC.

nyarlathotep
2011-10-18, 06:33 PM
Druids were wierd cause there was a bottleneck where THERE COULD ONLY BE ONE, and after that they became an heirophant and could be one of many.

Anderlith
2011-10-18, 07:16 PM
The instinctive will to live can outweigh depression or hubris, but I see your point.
If it really bothers you that much, play with the wounding rules from UA that discard hitpoints entirely. But after playing Deadlands, I think of hp as Wind. You get hit, you get the wind knocked out of you, or you lose some in the act of dodging an otherwise deadly blow. Assume some form of armor absorbs a lot of the shock, or that higher level characters are able to ignore more pain because they've taken similar wounds before.

I'd like to mix the "Wind" (good word for it by the way) & actual wounds that need to be healed. Also armor as DR is really good.

king.com
2011-10-18, 08:49 PM
Now, I know that character levels are an abstract concept that don't have any real in-game recognition or ability to denote that Character A is level 6 while Character B is level 20 other than that Character B is going to stomp Character A into the ground if they ever fight, but how do you justify them and gaining of more levels in-game?


Also Dark Heresy uses the Rank system to donate their standing within their Inquisitors organisation.

Quietus
2011-10-19, 02:02 AM
I let the character decide what it means to them. A fifth-level wizard fresh out of his tower might have simply been a prodigy who picked up on the "basics" quickly; The bard, on the other hand, may have spent time and effort developing a reputation for himself, securing contacts, and mechanically setting himself up for the Leadership feat. The Barbarian's been fighting off wolves and such since he hit puberty, and the Fighter's spent his entire adult life doing weapon drills until they were second nature to him. It could be any number of things, for any character, but that's their place to decide, not mine.

Anderlith
2011-10-19, 02:22 AM
The problem I have with levels is that sometimes I want to play the veteran type, I'm more knowledgable about the world, & I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I could have just the same swordsmenship as a man half my age but I'm older now & my stats are poorer. The thing is, you can't have that kind of character in D&D because if you want more Skills, Feats, or BAB you have to go up a level & make yourself more powerful.

Elfinor
2011-10-19, 04:11 AM
I view them as a concrete aspect of a character similar to erm... early Dragonball Z's 'power level' concept:smallredface: - though I allow (N)PC's to fluff away how they gained it. It's kinda hard to get around the fact that Sense Motive detects HD, Intimidate is heavily affected by level, Holy Word's effects are based on HD etc. I've had various NPC's place different importance on them (the arrogant wandering duelist who actually looks for 'worthy' high HD fights, the Wizard who's dismissive of them, mercenaries who take recruits based on HD) so it's not the be all and end all. I'm fond enough of the concept that I've slightly modified the ruleset and items to take advantage of the ability to sense power levels.

That said I admit that to avoid the 'IT'S OVER 9000!' jokes alone or for a different (gritty, mystery etc.) tone of gameplay, abstract may be the way to go.

Hallavast
2011-10-19, 04:37 AM
I once read something that talked about the reasoning behind characters getting stronger. Not neccessarily as level, but by free skill distribution, as well.

The essence was that, by adventuring, experiencing danger and learning new things, the characters, and npcs, accumulate magic in themselves which translates into a rise in ability. A fighter type character uses this magic to fight better, a thief to get sneakier and skillfull, a cleric to strengthen his bond with his god and a wizard to cast more powerfull spells. All spend some of their magic to get tougher/able to evade more danger and to learn new things.

If you don't put yourself in harms way or difficult situations, you might experience things, but you get the magic far slower. Sure, a wizard can just sit in his dusty library and read tome after tome, work on the intricasies of magical theories, teach his students and all that, but if he doesn't do anything exciting, he'll take a long time to get better. Which explains why most pcs level up to level 20 in about 3 years, while wizened old wizards are level 13, guards that just stand around with halberds cap at level 5 and dirt farmers who have nothing more dangerous then a bad harvest happen to them rarely reach 3rd level.

If you craft magic items, you invest some of the magic that is stored in you in that item, that's why it costs you xp. If you get level drained, the vampire or whatever isn't sucking your blood or life force, it's sucking the magic out of you to sustain itself. And so on.

Seems rather reasonable to me.

Yes. This is the most reasonable and intended justification for "leveling" (either as a level or point system). Because when you think about it in real world terms, people don't improve at that speed or scale. The process is greatly accelerated for the sake of metagame pacing.

In truth, the whole concept of "leveling" is a sort of minigame within the game that provides a carrot. Oddly enough, it's a mainstay that doesn't seem to fit into some games.

Imagine writing other kinds of fiction (and yes, gaming is fiction creation) where your characters NEED to constantly gain more power and abilities.
Now imagine that your readers EXPECT that from all your work. It rather pigeonholes you into creating abstract or even contrived constructs for its accomodation. The same is true for gaming, though most players don't mind, because it provides more buy-in for the game on a direct level.

Indeed, I'd say that's one of the main reasons RPGs (especially video game RPGs) are so popular. When you consider the concept of saving a video game, it's kind of the same thing. Your progress is measured in a more concrete way and has meaning even after you put down the controller.

It's a big part of the game that is easily divorced from the progression of the story, but it rarely is absent in most traditional RPGs. If you ask questions like why does an RPG default to fantasy? Why does fantasy default to sword & sorcery? Ect... you'll eventually ask why gaming defaults to power scaling. There's a clear answer for this, but it doesn't fit all games. Makes you wonder where gaming would be if these two concepts were never surgically linked way back in the early days of gaming...