Krendel: Advancement

I have been remiss in updating this blog. First, I am alive and well. Second, work has moved forward on a new iteration of Krendel. I've been sharing mostly lore, but sometimes mechanics with members of a Krendel community over on G+ on an almost weekly basis. Lore? Yes, for those just tuning in here's the quick and dirty of the new iteration.

1) Where Krendel will still be a modular system, there will be a setting baked into it. Available powers, species, and equipment will be geared towards this setting. The equipment section has definitely cleaned up from.

2) How successes work is being streamlined. As published, some actions and powers as published had multiple options you could spend successes on. This slows decision making and slows game play. There are three way successes scale and each action only uses one: achievement (only need 1 success), fast (each success increases the effect), or slow (every 2 successes after the first increase the effect).

3) Mysticism and Medical skills are no more. They were collapsed into Academics, Reflection, and Science.

4) Target number shifted up to 5 + Skill.

5) Lots of smaller changes. I'd like to talk about one of those now.

16-17 - Experience - Characters.jpg


Specifically I'm going to talk about mechanical growth, both horizontal and vertical.

An issue I faced when originally developing Krendel was how to curb min/maxing and zero-heroing. The former is when you throw all your XP into one or two skills, so you only do that, but you mop the floor with everyone when you do. The latter is when you save up XP and then min/max all in one go, instantly becoming the greatest person on earth in that field. These are problems that plague skill based systems, Like Krendel.

To address this, published Krendel incorporated rules for how you learn stuff and offers GM advice, but these are generally soft barriers. The only hard barrier is the XP scale for vertical growth through skills. This cost followed the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.). Level 4 (maybe 5) became your realistic maximum. Where this encouraged you to buy cheaper things, like powers, it may have been too limiting.

Before we get back to how advancement may be changing, let’s look at the other side: how do you earn advancement? Traditionally this is done through experience points of some sort. Krendel’s no different. I dare say almost all games use this. Let's look at a few methods.

Kill stuff get XP - This has been around since the beginning, and it is sometimes paired with something else. We see this one a lot in video games. The issue is that if killing rewards you then that is what you will do. It encourages killing as the primary solution. Krendel is purposefully not a game that is just about killing. So this isn't a good fit.

Treasure is XP - Early D&D gave [potentially] more XP for getting treasure than for killing stuff. You had an incentive to think of ways around encounters, which was especially valuable when you had characters with limited resources that would be diminished by fighting (e.g. spells and hit points). Where it makes no logical sense, it was a simple approach that encouraged creativity.

Achievements earn XP - I first caught this in Palladium. It had a chart for earned XP based on relative difficulty of tasks players completed (e.g. overcoming a difficult threat). Like Treasure for XP it really opened the door for gaining XP through alternate solutions; though, it wasn't as simple.

Successes and Failures - I'm pretty sure this one was Stormbringer. When you scored a critical success or fumble on a skill, you got XP towards that skill. This was a great measure of organic growth, but it also encouraged you to roll as much as possible for the chance at XP. It could also lead to uneven characters because advancement was based on your rolls. The original Mechwarrior had a variation where successful rolls gave general XP.

Appropriate Actions earn XP - Back to D&D, this time 2nd ed. There was another nifty chart, this time it listed actions by class and the XP that class could earn from them (similar to the 1st ed Honor chart in Oriental Adventures). This was good for encouraging characters to behave in particular ways appropriate to their class. This is somewhat broader than just killing stuff, but something like this also puts interests at odds, which may not be what you want.

Quest Award - A fairly widespread means is reward for completing a quest. Usually this is flat, but 2nd Mechwarrior changed it up by making the reward based on group performance. Some video games do that too.

RP Award - I think I first saw this formalized in Vampire, but it’s pretty widespread. People (possibly just the GM) give XP to people who roleplayed well. I'm not a fan. I like what it tries to encourage, but it misses its mark. Usually everyone ends up with this reward or someone's feelings get hurt. The subjective and uneven nature is problematic.

XP for Letting the GM do his Job - This is a strange one. If you let the GM introduce a complication or encounter, then you get XP, but you can tell the GM “no” and get no XP. Fun and XP or no fun and no XP. I just never understood that.

Participation Trophy - Some games, including Krendel as published, you simply award so much XP per session, moderated through soft guidelines. I took a cue from Star Frontiers for this one. By allowing you to earn XP by approaching situations in any way you wanted. As mentioned above, this was moderated through guidelines for the GM on advancement.

And likely some that I haven’t listed or experienced.

One of the key take aways from that is that how you earn XP goes hand in hand with game play because the way in which its earn incentivizes how players approach obstacles. So long as the means of earning (and spending) XP encourages the type of gameplay you want in your game, excellent!

Getting back to advancement now by way of earning, the approach that I am currently entertaining for earning XP is a combination of achievements earn XP, participation trophy, and quest award mixed with some combination of Successes and Failures and Appropriate Actions earn XP. Yeah, it sounds messy when I phrase it like that, but here's how it would work.

The GM awards so much XP a session based on the accomplishments of the players. Whenever the GM awards XP, she gives half, rounded down, to the player to spend as he likes. The rest is spent by the GM, but no more than 1 XP can be spent on any one thing per session. Further, this XP must be spent in a way that reflects what the character did in the game. The GM can solicit ideas from other players before making the decision. These XP go towards purchasing the thing in question. Where you normally cannot use a partially purchased thing, there's some guidelines for them (e.g. you can sort of understand what someone said with a partially purchased language).

Example: Over the course of the session, Aaron barters for supplies, sneaks through the enemy stronghold with the rest of the group, and casts a ton of fortune spells and rituals. More stuff usually happens, but we’re keeping it simple by noting the highlights. At the end of the session, the GM awards 3 XP, but the GM has to choose how 2 of them are spent. Since Stealth was such a central part, Aaron (and everyone else) gets 1 XP towards Stealth (he has level 1 now, so that puts him half way to level 2). The GM also puts 1 XP towards Kismet, a fortune ritual. Aaron can't make use of these partial purchases yet, but he could spend his 1 XP to fully purchase either of them as they each only cost 2 XP. He could also spend that 1 XP on something entirely different, and finish buying those things later.

One potential issue that arises is the loss of player agency as the player doesn't dictate where all the XP goes, but when you think about it, that’s not true. The player still has agency. He just happens to exert it through his in character actions rather than out of character decisions.

Another issue is the increased bureaucracy. Players will need to mark off how many XP they are along to purchasing a thing. This is certainly an acknowledged problem; though, character sheet design can mitigate it. Also, the costs for most things is low: Traits are 5 XP, Expertise are 4 XP, Powers are 2 XP, and Skills are being redefined (see below).

It is also possible that one character could be underpowered compared to others as he sits on several partially purchased advancements. This is already an issue inherit in skill based systems, only, normally, your XP is in a bank until you spend it instead of already being tagged to stuff. I don’t actually mind this as it is reflective of organic growth. If you try a lot of things but don’t commit to them, then, yes, this is what can happen. Same thing as real life. I like that.

The strength of this approach is that it walks the line between complete organic growth and complete XP autonomy, forcing characters to grow based on their actions but allowing some leeway for “extracurricular” training.

Characters will likely wind up with a decent breadth of skills and powers. Given the core mechanic, the ability to assist others, and the low requirements for many powers, such diverse characters can be quite effective and contribute in a wide variety of situations.

I mentioned that the cost of skills is changing. The original cost to increase a skill level was the value of the next level (e.g. to raise your skill from 4 to 5 cost 5 XP). With mechanical free autonomy to spend XP how you liked, in practice, characters would plow up skills levels because it was so cheap. The published Fibonacci approach was to address this; though, it meant an effective cap to skills and generally having to look up XP costs. With the GM assigning XP based on experiences and limiting that to 1 XP per thing per session, characters can’t plow up too quickly (and naturally becomes more diverse in accordance with their experiences). So why not return to the original scheme?