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Chimera Advancement

Let’s try this.

Character advancement in Chimera is a tricky thing. The idea of “level” in Chimera is decoupled from “ability,” and while I have my reasons for this disconnect, I don’t think it really works in the player expectation department. So here’s a bit of a tweak.

 My Beef

In most RPGs, class abilities are tied directly to level. There are a few issues I have with this model.

Level Up

You think these weirdos are carbon copies?

First, it creates carbon-copy characters, so if you know a character’s class and level, you pretty much know exactly what he can (and can’t) do. In a D&D-ish system, all magic-users of a certain level have the same number of spell slots at each spell level. All 4th-level fighters have 4d8 (or 4d10) hit points. All 1st-level thieves have an 85% chance to climb walls. Depending on the system, 1st-level clerics can’t cast spells. Et al.

Second, level-based abilities can limit character development. What if you want to play an elementalist pyromaniac wizard? No fireball until he reaches 5th-level. What if you want a crackerjack thief who excels at picking locks, but sucks at finding traps? No dice–thief abilities are level-based. The issue here is that character ability can’t deviate from the level-based path.

Third, level can get in the way when building NPCs. You want a street urchin who can pick pockets with a 60% chance of success? Better make him a 9th-level thief. But then you get all the 9th-level baggage, like 9d4 hit dice and 9th-level saving throws, and the ability to read magical scrolls. This is an urchin–some street kid who runs with Fagin, not the Grey Mouser. As a GM, I want to assign abilities without necessarily abiding by level requirements.

Chimera’s (Original) Approach

Granted, I could address all of the above with some house rules or new classes, but that’s extra work. What I really want is a system that addresses these issues with a built-in mechanic.

Now, Chimera already decouples level from ability–in the rules, ability is a measure of what you can do; “level” is a measure of overall capability. Two 4th-level Chimera fighters could have vastly different fighting ability, and their non-combat skills are based on player choice, not class restrictions.

But it really doesn’t solve the problem of “level” being an indicator of class effectiveness. A 4th-level fighter should be better at fighting than a 2nd-level fighter, though this isn’t necessarily true in Chimera. By allowing full player agency to character advancement, “level” loses some meaning.

Maybe too much player choice? Problem not solved.

So here’s a potential solution.

Alternate Advancement Rules

At the end of every adventure, your character can check to see if he’s improved his capabilities. Make an Advancement Roll against a Target Number equal to your Advancement Cost plus your current experience level, with the following results:

Critical Failure (CF): 1 improvement point
Normal Failure (NF): 2 improvement points
Normal Success (NS): 3 improvement points
Critical Success (CS): 4 improvement points

1-point Improvements

  • Remove an existing Flaw; at the GM’s discretion (and depending on the Flaw), this may require constant effort
  • Gain 1d6 mana
  • Gain a non-class Ability at AR +0

2-point Improvements

  • Improve a non-class Ability by AR +1
  • Gain new Perk
  • Gain a new power

3-point Improvements

  • Improve existing Perk
  • Improve a class Ability by AR +1.
  • Gain a new Sperk: Choose from race/class options; increase AdCost accordingly

4-point Improvements

  • Level up: add one level and apply +1 bonus to one of the following: class Ability, MR, WL, DF, or IM
  • New Class: Gain access to the new Abilities and Sperks (Abilities already possessed gain a bonus of AR +1); increase AdCost accordingly

Final Words

So you make an Advancement Roll, determine how many points you get, and spend accordingly. The weights are such that levelling up means being better at your class, and thus level becomes a better indicator of class ability. If you roll badly, you can still improve your character, but those improvements tend to impact non-class abilities.

Also, no matter what result you get on your Advancement Roll, you get something. This is different than the current advancement guidelines, wherein it’s possible to fail roll after roll and get nothing for the effort. Talk about demoralising. On that basis alone, I think this approach is a little more encouraging.

And, because of the Improvement Point weights, the advancement arc is such that as the character’s level increases, it becomes harder to improve class-based abilities. But characters still have opportunities to round-out their non-class skill set.

Thoughts? Does this make more sense than the current model?

  1. Woodthorn
    June 13th, 2012 at 06:52 | #1

    Wouldn’t this new system make it possible for me to make a Scholar with higher WL and/or Fight AR than someone who makes a knight using Veteran?

  2. Philo Pharynx
    June 13th, 2012 at 12:35 | #2

    [Begin Devil's Advocate Mode]
    So, if character abilities are separate from level, why do you still keep the concept of level? Lots of point-based games have individual advancement and don’t have level. Is there any mechanic to avoid somebody focusing on one aspect and becoming a munchkin?

    As for roll-to advance, you might end up with one lucky guy who has a lot more resources than an unlucky guy. It looks like increasing the advancement roll will provide a little balance, but what if they advance in thos emodifier at the same level as other charactre, but just geta lot more 1 and 2 point advancements?

  3. June 13th, 2012 at 18:32 | #3

    @Woodthorn : Yeah, you’re right – I think it would. So let’s close that up a bit:

    The WL increase only occurs when you get a CS on the Advancement roll and level up. It’s one of several options, so I’m thinking that it may be diluted by opportunities to increase a class ability, MR, DF, or IM. A Scholar could increase his Fight (non-class Ability) only after getting a CF (to gain Fight), then subsequent NF (to improve Fight).

    I’m thinking you might also impose a +1 limit per level on non-class Abilities.

    It’s not enough to thwart min/max play, but these restrictions might help. Does this help?

  4. June 13th, 2012 at 18:39 | #4

    @Philo Pharynx : Yeah, Devils Advocate mode appreciated.

    The only reason I keep level is because it’s a nice “stat” to have in your pocket, and you can use it in different mechanics: most Sperks, several Powers, and a few odds and ends (e.g., poison onset time is the victim’s level). I haven’t been able to “cut the apron strings” on level, but I admit that there might be a better way to denote a character’s overall ability.

    And yes, the luck of die might just favour an uber-character. I’m hoping the randomness of the d20 aids that, but in practice, here’s what I think will happen:

    Any CS roll results in a level up, and an increase in an otherwise un-advanceable stat (e.g., WL, DF, MR, IM). A NS will help by advancing class Abilities and Sperks. Any failure is an ancillary thing, but the higher your level, the higher your chance of failure, so you’ll end up with low-level PCs being very good at their class and high-level PCs being very good at non-class stuff.

    What if non-class Abilities were capped? Like, your AR can’t exceed your level, or maybe they’re capped at +1 (if you want more, you gotta roll something else)?

  5. Greg MacKenzie
    June 13th, 2012 at 19:13 | #5

    I give this a resounding thumbs up. I must admit, the advancement roll and take your chances had me a bit worried. This offers a more predictable result which players will favour.

    The idea of level is well entrenched as a measure of progress or status. I mean, you’d have to call it something even if you didn’t use the word “level”. The character’s actual “value” is more likely a measure of their improved abilities. That is what matters the most I think as a player, what can I do with this character? And, I don’t want to lay gutted in a ditch after my first encounter! I may be a Veteran lets say, but what have I really tailored the character to do besides fight. The level of the Veteran may not be so important to me as those non-class abilities I’ve added.

    Greg
    :-)

  6. June 14th, 2012 at 08:11 | #6

    I’m in favor of keeping levels, too, for the very reasons both Erin and Greg stated. Some of the mechanics depend on it, and level has always been a measure of character in RPGs.

    That said, I would probably move Remove Flaw up to a 2-pointer. When I choose a Flaw it’s not for the bonus points it gives me, it’s for the roleplaying opportunity. You’ve backed up Flaws with mechanics to enforce that roleplay opportunity. It seems like 1-point is too cheap to just erase something that is that important to the character (at least for my style of play; YMMV). On the other hand, if I were to keep it at a 1-pointer, as a GM I would require some roleplay buildup beforehand for an in-game/character reason why the Flaw disappeared.

    Other than that, I like it. I wasn’t crazy about the chance to *not* improve your character after all that effort, and this fixes that. I don’t see a reason to call the different levels 1-point, 2-point, etc. since you’re not actually spending that amount of points to improve. You’re just improving. But I don’t have any idea what else the levels would be called, so I guess it’s just as good as any. :)

  7. June 14th, 2012 at 08:20 | #7

    What would be the difference between having a class ability at +1, and then gaining a non-class ability at +0 and advancing it to +1?

    ~October

  8. June 14th, 2012 at 23:07 | #8

    @Greg MacKenzie : I do like the fact that you always get something for your advancement roll. And one can always adjust what those rewards are, based on IP costs.

    I do struggle over level somewhat. I realise a lot of generic and classless systems dispense with it. But then you get into static experience requirements for every character, which is definitely not what I want. Chimera characters are built on the principle that you pay for your abilities, and that you can create a character that’s either really good at a few things or generally good a lot.

    I’m getting tangential here, but removing level seems like taking the mercury out of the thermometer. But I do want it to be meaningful – I’m hoping this is a step toward that, but I’m always open to suggestions.

  9. June 14th, 2012 at 23:10 | #9

    @October : This has more to do with the way Chimerapedia Core handles untrained abilities. In Basic, you take a -4 penalty if you’re untrained. In the Chimerapedia, if you’re untrained, you make Action Rolls with 1d12 instead of a d20.

    Thus, getting an ability at +0 means that you’re trained with no modifiers. In game terms, that means you graduate from d12 to d20, but get no additional bonus.

  10. June 15th, 2012 at 00:32 | #10

    Please note that there is some further discussion about this topic on our forum, under Chimera Advancement Revision?

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