The Curious Case of Experience

I recently ran my first full session of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, an old-school d20-style game (recap to come). As I sat here considering the session, I had an odd session wash over me. Something didn’t feel right, and it had nothing to do with the performances of my players (who were awesome) or myself (for once!). Nay, it had to do with the system itself, a very specific part of the system.

I realized I had a problem with experience points and how I had awarded them.

Those that know me best as a Game Master know that I run a lot of Fate. Last year, The Dresden Files RPG was my jam and Fate Core is tops. Fate differs from…well…a lot of systems in a lot of ways…but it differs from d20 games to a significant degree in terms of character progression mechanics.

First, some definition. d20 (and many other games) a character games a number of points (experience, generally) that pays for the progress either directly through buying progress (such as the Storyteller system) or indirectly by paying for the next level (such as in most d20 systems). Fate progression eschews experience entirely and uses a system of milestones which are more akin to the levels we see in d20 games: each type of milestone offers different types of currency that can be used for progression. In a way, Fate’s milestones do things in reverse to the traditional model of progression.

But that, for me, isn’t the truly significant difference between the two systems nor the thing that caused the jarring sensation for me after my session. It’s in how I was rewarding experience versus milestones.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery doesn’t offer an experience reward system of its own, it simply offers some guidance and points to other sources to draw on. Generally though, d20 takes the encounters players face or the amount of kills/loot they gain to award experience. I added some additional metrics, such as good roleplaying (a la Storyteller), for flavor and went with it.

The problem, I realized after some contemplation, was that I am used to all the players around the table being rewarded at the same level mechanically. If I hand out a milestone in Fate, chances are I’m giving everyone at the table that milestone. But in experience-based systems it is possible for variable rewards around your table and I don’t like it.

Where do I go in the wake of this revelation? Well, for one thing, I’ll need a different experience or progression system for my Magic Earth sessions. I am going to take the stance that characters should progress for the adventures they get into and that all player characters should have the opportunity to advance in a similar fashion to one another.

What do you think about experience-based progression or character progression in roleplaying games in general? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.


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