Monday, February 16, 2009

Level Up

The sidebar next to the Excavation Site suggests that players may be ready to level up after this encounter. This is strictly true, providing the players have hit every encounter, received no XP bonuses from quests or roleplaying, and have incomprehensibly backtracked after the Torture Chamber in order to see the encounters in the order they are presented in the module.

Levelling up in 4th Edition is an odd experience. On face value, it's never been easier. Page 29 of the Player's Handbook has everything you need to gain your new level bonuses. All classes need the same amount of experience to level, and they all level in the same way.

On the other hand, 4th Edition persistently uses the concept of "half your level"; you add this number to your skill totals, your defences, your initiative, some of your attacks but not others, and in certain situations to your ability modifiers. Mechanically, this is a good way of ensuring that characters scale up appropriately, but in practice it means that every second level you'll be re-writing nearly half of your character sheet.

The problem with the half-level mechanic is that it's not consistent. If you simply added it to every roll, you could note it once on your character sheet and just play through. But it doesn't follow such clear-cut rules. You add it to your defences, but not your saves. You add it to your initiative, but not your speed. You add it to attack rolls, but not to damage. These distinctions aren't hard to remember with some practice but they're neither intutive nor clear.

Still, it's a huge improvement on previous editions.


[1] Keep on the Shadowfell has its own little twist on levelling up. It suggests that rather than players levelling immediately upon hitting their XP target, they should instead only level after taking an extended rest. This not only contradicts the Player's Handbook, but also runs counter to the 4th Edition philosophy of discouraging rest-related downtime. I understand why you might not want characters to pause combat in order to level up, but why is a short (five-minute) rest not a good time?


yasu said...

Where possible It seems aesthetically best to me to leave leveling up to during between modules. This is fantastic for very short modules, and obviously not practical for ones where you are gaining more than a single level during the duration. Failing this, I suggest doing it between sessions. It doesn't make much more sense than it happening whenever, but it does mean your game session, and especially your character role-playing aren't broken up by additional scrambling through rulebooks.

At the very least, I am in favor of waiting till the end of a session to had out XP allotments.

Greg Tannahill said...

I suppose this is more a matter of play-style than anything else, but to my mind levelling up is the single greatest mechanical reward in the game and players should be allowed to access it as soon as it's available. They should at the very least get their immediate boost to hit points and stats, even if "training" in their new power needs to wait until later.

Under 4th Edition there's only once relevant choice per level and most players have a pretty good idea what they'll be choosing before they hit the level, so there's not a LOT of downtime involved in levelling. And it's generally something that players find even more enjoyable than encounters so I don't mind using it to artificially inflate the average fun count of a session.

That's a distinctly 4th Edition point of view, of course. It's not necessarily how I'd do levelling up under other systems.

Anonymous said...

"levelling up is the single greatest mechanical reward in the game"
Oh god yes.
"They should at the very least get their immediate boost to hit points and stats, even if "training" in their new power needs to wait until later."
I really like that idea, but I can imagine it being hard to figure out when the player has actually leveled, in regards to other effects.
Funnily enough, I've always thought the actual combat to be far more entertaining in 4th Ed, but the character creation and leveling up (and interaction, and diplomacy, and stealth...) are so much better in 3.5. It's difficult to finish a 4th Ed character and say "This is original", but 3.5 Monk Archers, Mage Warriors and Insectoid, Quad-wielding Barbarians are abundant, but most importantly, obtainable.
They may not be original in the grand scheme, but they will be at the table. And that's enough to make a player proud of his character.

Greg Tannahill said...

You're right to some extent that first level 4th Ed characters are difficult to differentiate. To some extent that's to do with the lack of published material to date, and the Player's Handbook 2 and the various Power books will go a long way to addressing it.

I actually find it something of a blessing, to an extent. The sheer variety of choices in 3rd edition almost always resulted in completely ridiculous parties that read more like a "three half-drow walk into a bar" joke than a coherent, believable team. For me, the storytelling is actually enhanced by not having to explain away where a yuan-ti bard 2/duallist 5 comes from or why it's working with a half-ogre mentallist.

Greg Tannahill said...

I award myself some kind of medal for using the phrase "to some extent" three times in three sentences. Go me!

Blogger needs to let you edit comments.

yasu said...

>For me, the storytelling is actually enhanced by not having to explain away where a yuan-ti bard 2/duallist 5 comes from or why it's working with a half-ogre mentallist.

Ugh. Well WOTC are always going to keep producing expansions long past the point where they all logically fit together into the party framework. They stop getting money when players stop buying books, and since most of their market are players not DMs, its in their interest to produce stuff that players can imagine adding to their character. This problem will end up existing under any edition if you give them enough time.

As a GM, just restrict the choices you allow to what makes sense in the campaign. If its a monster campaign, allow the yuan-ti. If its not, then only allow it if the player has legitimate in character explanations for why his or her yaun ti fits into the style and setting of the game you are running. Just let them know what you are aiming for, and then shut them down if they arent providing characters or reasons that fit well with it.

As for levelling up mid game:

Well if its easier now, and that's what you want to do, then fine.

If there's trouble monitoring XP then I suggest putting together a little applet or spreadsheet to allow you to have encounter-by-encounter xp already listed, and have it automatically total it as you check boxes for which encounters characters have been rewarded for... this would allow you to have the fun without worrying about takign time out to calcuate mid game. Assuming you have a laptop to hand.

I might try throw a spreadsheet together next few days and see if its a practical idea.

Greg Tannahill said...

In the spirit of 4th Edition we've thrown "roleplaying bonuses" out the window, partly because we're all experienced players who don't really need the incentive to perform our best, and partly to fit the tongue-in-cheek regression back to dungeon crawling that I'm absolutely revelling in after a decade of story-centric gaming.

That means that everyone is gettting the same experience; we may as well just have one box called "party XP". It's not the way I've done it in the past, and I'm well aware that some groups take a lot of pleasure in running individual totals, which I have nothing particular against.

Anonymous said...

"As a GM, just restrict the choices you allow to what makes sense in the campaign."
Everytime I've played, DM or not, we just haven't used XP. Of course that's half because we rarely utilize monster manual monsters, and can't be arsed adding xp to every rat and three-second villain.
Levelling up always took place at the end of sessions, and often they would end with cries of "have we levelled up yet?".
Going back to the sheer ridiculousness of 3.5, I definitely like how 4th gives every basic goblin a tactic, and a series of abilities to exploit it, class balance has also been improved. But making a 3.5 character based around special attacks (trips, sunder, etc) that actually works was very pleasing, and came as a shock to all the 'hit repeatedly until dead' characters.
My 3.5 Ed players encountered a recurring villain who was fond of using disarm and flinging their weapons to the other side of the terrain. Their inability to handle the situation was entertaining.

Jeff said...

somebody recently gave me a wonderful explanation of where the half-level bonus applies: Anytime you roll a d20, you add the half-level bonus. if it doesn't involve a d20 roll, you don't.

the sole exception is saves, which are a flat 10 or better.

endymion said...

The leveling advice in the adventure indirectly contributed to a TPK in my (ongoing) runthrough of KOTS. I'd read the advice, accepted it without really considering it, and put it into practice when my players leveled just outside Irontooth's lair.

Thinking that I didn't want to pause the game while everyone figured out their characters, I suggested they level at the end of the session. I knew the cave encounter was tough, but being totally new to 4th edition didn't have any clue about how brutal it really is. Those extra hit points from 2nd level might have made the fight much more survivable.

Your point about everyone loving to level is totally true.