I could play a game where power progression was slow. I wonder how different the game would be if you didn’t gain levels as a reward, and instead you simply explored, or “unlocked” areas of the world. I don’t think many people would enjoy that, and it would be very dependent on an imaginative GM who could weave a world around you that you wanted to explore. That’s a lot of pressure. I think we’ll have some power progression in Lost Worlds, but the question is of scale. What should a “level” provide. How often will you level, and do you have a hard cap or do you taper out at some point?
That will depend a little bit on how many levels of progression there are. Let’s start with a classic table-top war game. It’s easy to see how “levels” would be used there. Units that survive a battle could gain battle experience and be more effective in the next one. It’s also easy to see how you could personify that stubborn unit that just. wont. die. The next battle, that unit might now be promoted to a lieutenant. Naturally, when the focus of the game became individuals instead of units, you want your surviving characters to advance in some way as well.
So how much do you advance, and how quickly? I think it’s fun for players to expand their power, but I think the way 3.5 and pathfinder does it is a little too uneven. The difference between a 3rd and 5th level character is pretty severe. I think a level represents too much all at once. Also, I think the main issue for a game like 3.5e is that power gets extremely high past level 10. You’re only halfway through your power progression, and spell casters are already flying while invisible and launching massive fireballs around – and there’s still 10 levels to go!
The E6 Variation
3.5 and Pathfinder have four distinct quartiles of play:
Levels 1-5: Gritty fantasy
Levels 6-10: Heroic fantasy
Levels 11-15: Superheroes
Levels 16-20: Demi-Gods
Each group eventually finds the quartiles that suit them best. I happen to enjoy the first quartile the most, and I still find the second quartile pretty enjoyable. After that, the game begins to go off the tracks a bit for me.
Read more about E6 here.
What levels mean in E6
Levels 1 to 6 are a period when a character comes into his own, and a crash course in action and danger transforms them from 1st-level commoners to veteran adventurers (or corpses). Once transformed by their experiences, a character’s growth is no longer a continuous, linear progression. Instead, they specialize or broaden their abilities: There are still major differences between the master warriors and the veteran mercenaries, but it’s not a change of scale. This change in progression, which we see frequently in fantasy literature, is modeled through the acquisition of feats.
Character progression from level 1 to level 6 is as per d20. Upon attaining 6th level, for each 5000 experience a character gains, they earn a new feat. A diverse selection of feats should be made available in any E6 campaign, however, feats with unattainable prerequisites under this system remain unattainable.
For the purpose of experience awards, treat each 5 feats as +1 CR (or level), to an upper limit of 20 feats. After this, it becomes more and more difficult to bring all a character’s feats to bear in a given situation; although they continue to gain feats, 6th level characters with more than 20 feats can continue to be treated as if they were level 10 for experience and challenge purposes.
The E6 system was designed to bring the game back into the first two quartiles of play. In the system, your class level is capped at level 6. For every level after level 6, you gain feats instead of additional class features. This rescales the game so that it begins in gritty fantasy and ends in heroic fantasy, and you don’t have to rework your whole world around the idea that heroes logically should keep progressing through the experience chart right into superhero and demi-god status. You’re no longer dealing with hundreds of hit points vs a dozen hit points. I always liked the concept of E6, but I think that the players in my group will want to have some sort of mechanical gain more frequently than say, six times in the character’s progression from level 1 through the top end of the power curve. I like the idea of having a number of smaller incremental upgrades.
So, I’m thinking that Lost Worlds will have a similar number of levels to 3.5e and pathfinder, which should keep the game a bit more familiar, but that each level will be a bit more incremental so that it fits the entire scale into the gritty fantasy and heroic fantasy range of power. To visualize, I’ve put together a chart of progression for Lost Worlds as compared to a game like 3.5e using 25 levels.
In this version, you’d gain something every couple of times you played the game, but at some point you’d hit a max and start smoothing out. Using this method, each level would have to provide something more incremental than it does in Pathfinder, and this will make multi-classing rules more complicated.
If we play twice a month, that gives us about 24 sessions a year. I think a year is about the right amount of time to go from start to finish of the power curve for a campaign. I want our play experience to be tigher using Lost Worlds, more like a good short story or novella than a trilogy of novels. Our lives are too busy and unpredicatble to think we’ll be able to devote several years to any given campaign! So I think the amount of gain needed to level should be approximately an evening of play, and that would allow us to play a full campaign experiencing the range of power from start to finish. Of course, additional rules could be added for “epic” play similar to what d&d added in, so if you prefer playing a superhero or demi-god type fantasy game, you could certainly do that – but I want the focus of Lost Worlds to be in the gritty and heoric range.
To summarize, I think I’ll have 20 levels. Each of those levels would come a bit more quickly than in 3.5 or pathfinder. The cap of those levels would be at approximately the level of power of level 10 of 3.5 or pathfinder. After level 20 you would gain some small incremental increase to taper things off.