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    Character Trees and Character Levels

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    How Would You Prefer Multiple Characters and Character Levels Be Handled?

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    Total Votes: 5
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    dhlevine
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    Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-16, 15:06

    So, both the issue of what level characters can start at in The Waste and how multiple characters should be handled have come up on the boards here. As I mentioned to Fuschia'tude, I stole the current version of the character tree straight from Dark Sun 2E. However, in that version, it was ambiguous between being a way of swapping out multiple characters and a way of having a character close in level for when your main dude got killed by an anakore. As F't points out, it's actually better for the latter - if you are swapping characters a lot, you will tend to "lose" XP.

    Anyway, I thought I'd throw the question out to you, the player and DM-base, for opinions. I can't promise that Angela, Chris, and I will just take a majority vote, but heck, I'd like to know what the majority thinks.

    From my perspective, the desiderata (not all of which point in the same direction are):

    - Levels should be *earned.* Having a high-level character should be an achievement (note that this *is* compatible to some extent with rubber bands - everyone might be able to start with a level 10 character, but the level 13 characters might only be the veterans).

    - The game should be accessible to new players. This pulls both ways. If we end up with a level N player base, it might suck to have to start at level 1 (unless vets have some way of playing a level 1 character without losing out - which the current character tree allows). At the same time, for a new player, starting with a level N character can be intimidating and complex.

    - The system should be fun! No one should have to grind away at a low level beyond the point where the setback makes the challenges fun.

    I'm an inveterate character-maker, so I like the idea of being able to have a few different ones to use (even if I'm mostly DMing). But that's a matter of taste, and I could see dropping it if something else makes more sense on other axes.


    Since the question of what level new characters can start at and how multiple characters should be handled are tightly linked (since, if new characters can start at, say, the level of anyone else, you can just bring in a new character rather than swapping in one you've been carefully growing), I've put both on the list of options above. Some commentary on what the options mean:

    Traditional one-player, one-character. What it sounds like. You have one character at a time. If it dies, or you retire it, you start over at the base level for the game (default 1, but maybe one of the 'rubber band' options).

    Character tree, separate XP. You can have multiple characters at a time, but each earns XP separately. If you start a new one, you start XP over.

    Character tree, level-for-level. The current system. You can have multiple characters at a time. Each time one levels, you can level a different one for free.

    Character tree, XP-for-XP. You can have multiple characters. Each time you give one XP, you can give another one the same amount of XP. (This avoids "lost XP" relative to the above, but is less good for players "slumming" with lower-level characters, such as to play with new players)

    Character tree, all advance. You can have multiple characters. When one gets XP, they *all* get the same XP (i.e., everyone in your tree is the same level).

    Rubber band, personal. When you start a new character (maybe you can have many, maybe not), it starts at some level relative to the average level of your existing characters (e.g., AVG-2).

    Rubber band, game-wide. When you start a new character, it starts at some level relative to the average level of all active characters in the game.

    Rubber band, party. When you start a new character, it starts at some level relative to the average level of all characters in the party you're adventuring with for the first time (e.g., lets new folks pick an expedition then create an appropriate character).

    Please do expand on your views in the comments. The poll is multiple-choice esp. since the tree and rubber band options can be combined in various ways. And I may not have thought of all the good options.
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    ZeroTheFool
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by ZeroTheFool on 2010-10-16, 19:55

    The rubber band methods are interesting, but I still think the most streamlined process is XP for XP. Alternatively, we could do a method that gives you XP based on a ratio, not direct XP.

    Example: Level 5 character runs a session and gets X amount of XP. That amount of xp translates to 25% of his XP pool to next level. Thus, you can grant another character XP equal to 25% of his total XP pool. In this instance, a Level 1 character would be granted 250 XP.
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-17, 20:06

    I guess I'm inclined to keep things easy, so I'd favor XP-for-XP over a ratio system.

    The likely outcome of this system will be for everyone to keep two "main" characters around, with maybe one for playing with lower-level groups. A non-ratioed XP swap will also mean that, if a PC dies, it'll be relatively easy to bring a new "backup" up to speed, as playing with the higher-level character will beef up a 0XP new character pretty quickly. The net result is that losing one character will be relatively painless but losing two in quick succession will hurt quite a bit.

    I can live with that kind of environment if everyone else can (though it will be abandoning the vicious Haagenti to lower-level play, probably).
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Elvorix on 2010-10-17, 23:28

    I have to put my vote in for the XP-for XP system as well. I think I provides less opportunity for DMs to take advantage of the character trees while still allowing everyone to have more than one character to have at a potentially higher level.

    Alternatively, we could use a single character system and combine it with a rubber band game-wide. This way when new players come in or when someone dies they will be able to make an appropriately leveled character and jump right back in to the action. Of course, this probably won't appeal to as many people but I have less tendency to create a lot of characters so this idea intrigues me.


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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-18, 09:22

    By "DMs" you mean "me," right? I promise, I came up with the rules for trees by stealing them from 2E and the rules for DM XP b/c they seemed straightforward. It's just that, given a rule-set, I try to optimize. Smile

    I'm fine with XP-for-XP. One likely consequence of the game-wide 'rubber band' is that, if we have a fairly steady stream of new players, the starting level is likely to hover around 1 for quite some time (which may not be a problem, b/c then there'd be a steady group of level 1 PCs to adventure with).

    Anyway, I'll go with what folks want. I think it *would* help to get some clarity on what folks want out of the system, though.

    I'll be honest - one of my ulterior motives, as a DM, is that much as I like the "step on up" nature of a game where XP is treated absolutely by the rules, and if you die, you start over at 0, I'd like to eventually be able to run adventures for PCs above level 2-3, which was the average we hit in almost a year of play in EE. I suppose there are lots of options to address that, though (e.g., I've encouraged DMs in TW to hand out more quest XP, or we could just do what I did in my last home game and double all XP awards). But *players* may be happy hanging out in lower levels (and it's not like I can't mechanically ratchet down more powerful monsters).
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Elvorix on 2010-10-18, 13:35

    Bah, I totally didn't mean only you when I said DMs, I have a tendency to optimize as well (just think back to Kuori Frosthide...).

    I actually like the idea of doubling XP rewards. Since this is an open campaign I think people will appreciate the faster leveling rate and it will make players feel more accomplished. Also it would allow us (the DMs) to quickly get to the juicy upper level encounters. Smile


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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-18, 13:51

    Maybe irrationally, the fact that it *is* an open game gives me a bit of pause on a solution like doubling the XP awards.

    I *did* like the fact that - for the first time since I'd played Basic D&D - getting Elena to level 2 in EE felt like an *accomplishment*. But I'll admit that, much as I liked Nergal, starting all over again when she died seemed like that much more of a drag. In a home game, it feels like it's much more about following character arcs and less about the inherent challenge of the game. I dunno - I guess I'd like to hear more players (and potential players?) weigh in.
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    Adam Dray
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Adam Dray on 2010-10-18, 14:40

    The challenge and accomplishment is only fun for those people who play regularly. If you're not starting on equal ground, not playing as often as everyone else for RL priority reasons, the challenge isn't comparable and thus not interesting or fun.
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-18, 14:49

    That problem in the abstract, Adam, is likely to be constant across reward models and even - I think - across systems. Any set-up that rewards you for *success* in challenges will require you to attempt them to be rewarded, and attempting challenges inevitably takes time.

    Home games effectively mask this issue by one of two options. First, is just letting everyone advance, even if they don't show up (which is fine, and often what I've done, but really kills the sense of *individual* challenge-and-reward... of course, you might still feel good, when you are there, that you helped the group overcome something). Second, is "capping" the advantage anyone with more time on her hands can get, by having a set schedule. I may have enough time to play 1/week, but if we're only playing 1/2weeks, I can't convert that into levels.

    For The Waste, I'm also sensitive to the way that D&D ramps up complexity with PC power. Remember how confusing and occasionally painful my first home game was, when we jumped 3-4 levels between sessions? Already, we have players who are learning how to play level 1 characters effectively - and asking new players to jump in at level 4, 5, 15, or 28 would massively exacerbate that problem. *Some* kind of progress through lower levels is helpful for the learning curve.

    There's also the option of choosing your group, in a game like this. As long as we have a set-up that doesn't make it "wasted time" for a player with a higher-level PC to play a game at level 1, or there are *other* players who don't play as often around, there should be a place to play a lower-level character if you don't enjoy playing a lower-level PC around higher-level ones.

    In general, though, OK, yeah - I understand your concern. But it'd be a lot of help to also have your opinion on what set-up would make you happier.
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-18, 19:52

    OK, so thinking about Adam's complaint more...

    I think XP-for-XP may be the best solution to the cluster of issues that come up.

    Basically, the problem is that it's nearly impossible to create adventures that are meaningful challenges for PCs of widely varying levels. Much as I like the idea of swapping characters around - that's why I should be a DM! New monsters every week! - the main point of the tree should be that it's a way to facilitate new and old *players* playing together (in my opinion).

    So here's what I propose.

    1. You can have as many active characters as you like. Go crazy, whatever.

    2. Each time you gain XP (either for playing or DMing), you can apply it to both the character you used that session (or your self-determined "main" character, if you're a DM) and to one other character.

    3. Maybe there's some "bonus" for playing with lower level PCs, to encourage it - e.g., if you play a lower-level PC that's within 2 levels of someone's character who's just starting out (i.e., no bonus if you and your veteran buddies just want to play with new characters), your main guy/gal gets a bonus award equal to a major quest? I dunno if this is necessary, and I can't think of a way to do it that doesn't seem at least a little bit fiddly.

    The way this system would (hopefully) work is:

    1. Having a high-level character is a mark of distinction for those who have survived lots of challenges.

    2. However, players with high-level characters can always *play* with players with lower-level characters. If they don't have one, they can start one with no penalty. And while it may not be as "profitable" to play with lower-level PCs, they still gain some XP, so it's relatively painless.

    3. Someone like me might have half a dozen different characters hanging around, but at most two will have any significant XP on them. So it's not a great way to just "bank" PCs against defeat.

    This saves the "step on up" element of things, which is why I'd rather make it easier for vets to level down than for new players to start with higher-level PCs. But it also shouldn't be boring/unfun for people in Adam's position. If you don't play much, you won't get to the higher-level challenges, but who cares - you don't play much so you won't be super-bored with the low-level stuff, either.

    I also think that we DMs should endeavor to make the challenges involved fair but difficult and deadly. I know, at least for me, much as I complained about DM Steve in EE killing my characters, part of the fun for me was feeling like I *wasn't* just getting XP b/c I was willing to put the time in, since I was putting my PC at serious risk each time I showed up. I'm not saying we should strive for a TPK every time, and I personally like to keep the challenges in-principle beatable, but achievement of higher levels will feel more like achievements and less like people who don't have RL priorities that way, I think.
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    Adam Dray
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Adam Dray on 2010-10-19, 11:20

    It remains to be tested, but I suspect that when I have time to play and organize a game for other level 1-2 characters, I may find a few people who want to join in. I also suspect that they won't be the veterans who are 4th level, because there's an opportunity cost. They'd rather play their 4th level characters and apply 4x as much XP to their 1st level character than vice versa. Also, they have way more investment in a 4th level character, have cooler powers, get to fight cooler monsters, etc. It's a tough sell to drag vets back to 1st level.

    Nonetheless, I like your system. I'm just pretty sure that I'm not your audience. I'm looking for casual pick-up gaming in Dark Sun, when my other commitments don't overwhelm me. I tend not to organize these games; rather, I jump into one someone else organized when I happen to have that night free. The Waste rewards dedication and commitment, not my casual attitude towards the campaign. And there's nothing wrong with that.

    Contrast to my Caldera campaign, where I have a couple core players and a couple others who float in and out. Everyone is always the same level. In fact, we don't track XP; I just tell people when to level based on story goals (essentially major quests). The fights can be tough but if you die, you get to make up a new character of the same level, so there's no loss of XP investment (but plenty loss of character investment). If anyone wants to jump into a game and play just once with no intention of ever returning, I'm cool with that. I have different goals than The Waste, different constraints, and it works for me but probably wouldn't work for you. =)
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Adam Dray on 2010-10-19, 11:47

    You asked what my solution would be. I didn't like any of the options in your poll, so I didn't vote.


    Here's how I'd do it, within your framework and ignoring rubber banding:

    While the XP to level increases with each level, the number of encounters and lethality in general do not. Replace XP with encounter points (EP). You need 10 EP to level. When you complete a worthy encounter, gain 1 EP. If it's a weak encounter, it can be 0.5 EP; if it's a hard encounter, it can be 1.5 or 2 EP. When you earn EP, give any other character the same amount of EP.

    This lets Angela and her 4th level Warden come "slum it" with her 1st level whatever and me and my 1st level Ardent. When her 1st level whatever earns 5 EP that session, she applies the 5 EP to her whatever AND to her Warden.

    There's STILL an opportunity cost, but it's not advancement rate. Angela might wish she was getting to advance the story and magic items of her Warden, but at least she's not giving up XP.

    There's STILL a need for slackers like me to organize low-level games for our lagging characters. There's still a possibility that Angela won't want to give up the evening to play her 1st level whatever with me instead of rocking her 4th level Warden.

    So it's not perfect, but it fixes the advancement rate issue. You play, you earn EP, you advance two characters at an equal rate, regardless of their levels.

    [Also, I am picking on Angela, but she is obviously generous and kind, and would probably bend over backward to make time to help me level up my 1st level nobody. I just needed a concrete example.]


    Here's how I'd do it, given free reign and ignoring your proposed solution:

    There is a maximum level, campaign-wide, determined by true adventuring and XP earning. Characters of this level belong to the active players. These characters have the best magic items, too, since non-adventuring PCs never get them.

    If you've earned your character's levels, great. Congratulations!

    If you are a slacker like me, you get to ride everyone's coattails. Whee! You get to immediately create or level up a character to just under the maximum level. If the maximum level is heroic tier (1-10), you lag behind one level. If the maximum level is paragon tier (11-20), you lag behind two levels. If the maximum level is epic tier (21-30), you lag behind three levels.

    Of course, even if you earned all your levels, you can always go make a coattail character, or level up your slightly-lagging guy to the coattail level.

    Example: Angela and James play a lot. James' Wizard is 8th level! Angela, who played (or DMed) a few more sessions than James, got her Warden to 10th level! They earned every XP and every magic item. I want to play in a game, too, but I'm a slacker. I can create a 9th level character with no magic items and join them. James, if he wants, can bump his Wizard to 9th level, too.

    Note that my solution doesn't require any kind of character trees or giving like XP to other characters. If you want to make a coattail character, just go do it. Make ten. Doesn't matter.

    If you're a total D&D newb, you might still want to play at 1st level to learn the rules. You need to convince James and Angela to come slum it with you at 1st level. Combine this coattail rubber banding solution with my earlier EP system, and you have solved both problems.
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-19, 11:57

    Both of these solutions have, essentially, been proposed upthread.

    Your first solution is basically ZeroTheFool's - if you adventure, instead of applying XP-for-XP, you apply scaled XP. Scaled XP is fiddlier, but lets you get something out of encounters you run from. Both go more or less the same place - there's no benefit to using a high-level PC to feed a low-level PC, and no penalty to using a low-level PC to feed a high-level one. I'm inconsistently allergic to fiddly, but I'd take this option if people wanted to use it (in either the "ratio" or "encounter point" form - though the other advantage of a ratio is it doesn't *seem* as much of a break with standard rules, maybe).

    Your second solution is, unless I misunderstand it, essentially a version of the game-wide rubber band, except "pegging" the rubber band at the highest level in the game, rather than the average. One aside, that I didn't mention, is that since we're using inherent bonuses, not having magic items b/c you've created a higher-level character isn't that much of a weakness (this is probably a good thing).

    For all the reasons I mentioned about challenge, my preference would be to give players of higher-level PCs a way to come down to the level of newer players, rather than having newer players come up. Especially if we had some ratio/EP solution, the only penalty would be not getting to play more of your fave PC's story - but I hope we DMs could use that as an opportunity to show you something in the world you haven't seen - after all, since the advantage of this over an MMO is that it's not static, even if you go back to that place where you chased Mekhet ten sessions ago, it'll be different. But that's a personal preference and I'm only one person in this game.

    (Oh, and unless we also go with something like doubling XP, I doubt we'll ever have the problem of what to do at Paragon tier...)
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Elvorix on 2010-10-19, 12:06

    I actually like the idea of using Encounter Points. I think it will be easier to keep track of than scaled XP even if it sort of seems like a larger break from the rules.

    I agree with Daniel on preferring a a system where higher level players can step down for more casual players rather than throwing new players into the fray with a high level.


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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-19, 14:47

    The more I think about it, the more I really don't like Encounter Points, guys. It limits my ability to move the difficulty slider in small increments while still rewarding folks, unless we get into fractional EPs and then it becomes a ratio system. I mean, I'm fine with calling them EPs when we hand them out, but I'd prefer the "back end" to be something like a ratio (I mean, we can say, let's not be crazy and round all EP awards up to the nearest decimal or whatever).
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by Adam Dray on 2010-10-19, 16:45

    I won't cry if you don't use encounter points. It just simplifies the math. I mean, who wants to figure out the ratio of 4th:1st or 4th:2nd? If you want finer resolution, say you need 100 EP to level, and give out an average of 10 per encounter.

    Or, you know, it's all too complicated and you can just stick to flat XP unadjusted for level. =)
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    Re: Character Trees and Character Levels

    Post by dhlevine on 2010-10-19, 20:17

    Well, as a DM, I'm doing some of the math anyway on the back end, since XP budgets are how I gauge encounter difficulty in the first place. But I can see the value of EP, especially as a sort of standardized "currency" to apply to other characters.

    So, a revised proposal...

    1. DMs build encounters as usual on the back end.

    2. At the end of a session, the DM totals up the XP and figures out what a share is (like usual).

    3. The DM determines the average level of the group (rounded down).

    4. XP is divided by 1/10th the amount of XP a character of that average level would take to reach the next level, rounded up to the next 0.1. This is the number of EP each player gets.

    5. If your PC is more than 3 levels above the average, you only get half, though. The adventure was too easy for you!

    6. In addition, you get the same number of EP to distribute as you wish among as many other characters as you might have. You can also just "bank" the EP for later use, but only on a new PC.*

    7. Every time a character gets to 10EP, she gains a level, and EP reset to zero.

    That sounds really fiddly, but I think it would actually be fairly easy in practice - just laid out in detail here.

    I know this doesn't scratch the "I wanna play with whoever, not find a low-level group" itch, but I think that Angela and I are in agreement that that's something we purposely want to disallow. And, hey, it's not like organizing is that tough - if you have an upcoming free evening, just post about it!

    * This may seem odd, but I have two reasons for it. First, I don't want to indirectly penalize folks like Angela who may only have one PC. Second, it helps make it possible for someone to not only play their main character *or* a level one character. That way if, say, Adam, you play a bit, and I play a lot, so Jarrol is level 9 and Chernie is level 5, I can, say, create a level 3 character with 30 banked EP rather than being stuck with either a level 9 PC or a level 1 PC. The "only a new PC" rider is to prevent you from gaining 10 with Chernie, banking 10, then leveling Chernie again.

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