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Leveling Up

I want to get some work done on The Temporary Hero today, so let’s tackle a short subject today. This is probably a little off-topic for my blog, but I’m working on (among other things) a LitRPG title, so I guess it fits.

In the vast majority of Role Playing Games that I’ve played, one of the core mechanics is the leveling system. Player characters start out at level 1 and as they progress through the game, they gain experience and their level increases. With each level, the character gets more health points, becomes better at combat or whatever their job is, and has more options when it comes to increasing their capabilities.

This drives me nuts.

Don’t get me wrong. I get the same charge everyone else gets when my character advances to the next level and goes through the aforementioned changes. But, I think it glosses over some key points in an adventurer’s life and in doing so, removes a lot of the drama that the game could represent.

Let’s start with the other core mechanic: combat. I don’t know of a game that doesn’t involve physical danger at the hands of others. That’s fair. The flurry of tactics, dice and math is what a lot of us play these games for. The game developers have to deliver on that. In games with a leveling system, however, it seems like we’re missing out on a lot. Instead of a tense duel of expert swordsmen, we get a turn-by-turn slugfest where the only real tension is who can roll better damage. Instead of playing the hero who just took an arrow to his sword arm and now has to fight off-handed or find another way to survive, there’s just a green health bar above his head that turns orange.

That’s really not all that compelling, is it?

Staying with combat for a moment, let’s look at experience. Most games award experience for a variety of things, but avoiding a fight is usually not one of them. Let’s say my character is scouting an enemy camp. While looking for the macguffin, he happens across a couple of guards. These mooks would be easy pickings for my guy. I could off the both of them, get the experience and loot, and hide the bodies. Or, I could let them go on their way and complete my mission.

The smart move, of course, is to leave them be. In real life, one of the guards could cry out, their bodies might be found at an inopportune moment, or any one of a multitude of negative outcomes might happen. But, if I’m on the edge of leveling up…

I think you get the picture.

I’ll just make one more point and leave it at that. If you’re sitting down to play a spy game, which would you rather play: Ens. James Bond of the Royal Navy, or James Bond, the double-O agent of MI6? Would you rather roleplay the pulse-pounding excitement of standing yet another “balls to four” watch on the bridge, or would you rather get started on thwarting Blofeld’s latest plot?



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