Saturday, July 29, 2023

Slow and Steady

My House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign began in early March 2015 with six players. Eight years later, there are now seven players, four of whom have been there since the beginning. However, because of EPT's unusual approach to experience points and leveling, the rate at which these characters have advanced has been slow, even though most of them have taken part in more than 300 sessions. Indeed, until our most recent session, there was only a single character who'd reached the lofty heights of 7th level – and he only did so through the use of a magical tome (EPT's equivalent to the manual of puissant skill at arms).

That all changed this week. The characters all received a fairly large sum of experience points, thanks largely to their battles against high hit dice monsters (100 XP per HD according to the rules). This sum pushed two characters across the line into 7th level and brought several others closer to that mark. One of the newly minted 7th-level characters is Grujúng hiZnáyu, played by cartographer extraordinaire, Dyson Logos. Dyson celebrates this milestone briefly on his own blog, which is where the image above originally appeared (that's Grujúng's actual character sheet, in case anyone's interested).

About a year ago, I pondered the question of whether advancement rules are even necessary in RPGs, based on my experience of refereeing House of Worms all these years. I suppose it's inevitable I'd ponder it again after this past week's session. My feeling remains that, while it's not absolutely necessary that characters mechanically advance in a roleplaying game, it is important that they advance in some way. In the House of Worms campaign, for example, the characters have advanced socially over the course of time, gaining new ranks and positions within Tsolyáni society, as well as the prestige and influence that goes with such advances. That higher hit points or more spells were among the benefits they gained didn't matter for the most part. What did matter is that the players could see their successes had positive consequences for their characters, however they were quantified.


  1. first time comment though a long time reader. this resonated very powerfully with me: ". That higher hit points or more spells were among the benefits they gained didn't matter for the most part. What did matter is that the players could see their successes had positive consequences for their characters, however they were quantified." my group has been playing a campaign for 3 years straight, weekly sessions, and their mechanical advancement and your observations are born out with our experience in this game.

  2. Any plans to bring back posts about the campaign?

    1. I'll continue to post about it from time to time, but there are no plans to resume the recaps of each session. They took a lot of time to write and they were among the least read posts on the blog.

  3. When you boil it down to the basics, the mechanical end of a character advancement system generally does only two things:

    1) It makes your character more powerful, and therefore capable of facing more mechanically challenging situations. The purely roleplaying side of a game can partially re-create this by giving PCs access to greater resources via social contacts, etc. Having access to a company of loyal troops will sometimes be more useful than an extra hit die or two - and sometimes it won't.

    2) It changes your character in a concrete, measurable way, hopefully preventing you from getting bored with playing a static and unchanging character. This is probably more easily emulated through roleplaying than advancement of personal power is. Building a good relationship with the local ruler and his court is change beyond your character sheet, as is a lasting romantic relationship - or even a good nemesis.

    The vast majority of game systems accompany those elements with added complexity, which is not inherently a good thing, and can reasonably be seen as a significant drawback.

    Some systems also allow for retrograde advancement, where "levelling up" isn't strictly positive change. The most common forms of these are aging rules and mechanics for lasting harm from traumas undergone. You also sometimes see increasing power/skill/social importance bundled with loss of freedom of action where characters are mechanically required to spend increasing percentages of their time attending to professional duties that reduce the amount of time to go adventuring. Usually that sort of thing is more of a roleplaying effect though, eg being granted a feudal domain requires you to actually administer the place, including providing your own time and service to your overlord when called upon. But some rules do turn that into a bookkeeping mini-game as well.