... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Truth About Levels

There's a side issue to the level drain debate (on Grognardia, with my own contribution in my Friday afternoon post.) Perhaps it should be a central issue instead. I think people have a serious misunderstanding about levels.

Despite the fact that you increase your character's level by earning "experience points", levels do not represent experience.

I know there was a shift towards "level advancement represents improvement of skills" with every later edition, but it leads to ludicrous things like NPC classes for bakers , merchants and sages, or a proliferation of high-level NPCs. What levels represent are that tiny bit of heroic drive that makes a character better than normal. Expert skill is better represented another way, through time and training (which is one reason I came up with Blanc.) Earning "experience points" is an abstract measurement of seeking out and completing extraordinary adventures; the more adventurous the character is, the more likely they will rise far beyond normal humanity.

So, a wight draining a character's levels does not cause a character to forget anything. Instead, the character loses some of that extra spark, and must fight to regain it.


  1. Hmmmm...That sounds good, though I'll have to ruminate on all the ways level comes into play before I'm completely convinced. The first couple of things that come to mind: why is it more difficult for certain classes or races to gain that heroic spark? If two characters do the same heroic deed, why do some get less benefit than others? Also, why is it so specifically tied to killing and money acquisition rather than the "epic-ness" of the deed done?

    Not saying I disagree with the basic premise--and it does help with the level drain issue--but similar to issue I have with most hit point apologetics, I wonder if all the related game mechanics can be explained this way.

  2. I'd love to see some further elaboration on this, because I think you're really on to something here. I'd just like to see it teased out a bit more.

  3. @James: Not sure what more I can say, other than publicly disavowing stuff like the training time/cost listed in the AD&D DMG or discussing more detail on why I feel level-as-amount-of-training doesn't work. But I'll see what I can come up with.

    @Trey: Not all the game mechanics can be explained away, because the more recent mechanics were definitely added by people who believe in levels-are-training. Sort of the way people who believed in hp-as-physical-damage added rules that contradict the hp-as-luck viewpoint. Gygax himself seems to have sided with the less abstract side in later writing. Supplement I was the start of it all unraveling.

    I was going to answer your questions in a comment, but maybe I'll do a post instead.