Examining Experience Points, Part 1

Recently I had an opportunity to create a character and play a round of Witch Hunter Revelations.  Which was great, because while I run WH on a regular basis, I haven’t actually PLAYED the game since DragonCon in 2008 when the game was first released.  And as any GM knows, the experience on the other side of the screen is completely different.  But one of the biggest revelations (haha) I had was when it came to Survivor Points (Experience Points in most other games) and Character Advancement.

Character Advancement and Survivor Points received a big overhaul in WH 2nd edition.  Suggested SP awards went from 3-5 to 10-15 and, with the sole exception of skills, character advancement costs are completely different.  I’ll go into those differences more in a bit.

In a post DnD 3e world, fast advancement has become the norm, based on the new reality that 90% of RPGs that are NOT D&D (those including Pathfinder and most OSR games) do not get exclusive play by most groups.  Usually, your talking about episodic one-shots or a dozen sessions before the group moves on to something else (usually back to some formula of D&D).  Now, that’s not always the case, of course.  Our game is an example of that.  We’re a year and a half in and the big mysteries are only now starting to be revealed.  Savage Worlds is a great example of what I’m talking about.  Advancement is pretty quick (level ups happen every other session on average) and the expectation is you play through a plot point campaign, then create new characters for a whole new world book.  You finish 50 Fathoms and jump to ETU, then follow that up with Deadlands.  Point is, quick advancement is now the norm when before RPGs were built for much slower progression.

Organized Play adds an extra wrinkle to this.  When I started writing for the Living Greyhawk game, one of the things I found curious was that while the core DnD 3e book sped advancement up considerably, the RPGA guidelines slowed it back down to a crawl.  I get it; the idea was to maximize campaign playability.  A player who lives in the NE could hit a different game day every week, play 3 different mods and quickly outgrow the available scenarios.

So back to Witch Hunter.  As I’ve said before, I’m willing to bet 90% of Paradigm’s audience is built around their Organized Play.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this thread from their Arcanis RPG forum.  When I started my game, I low-balled SP awards for the first few months, hoping to slow down fast advancement.  It soon became clear that “core” WH is built on slow(er) advancement.  Not AD&D slow, where it can take years of continuous play to reach modestly high levels, but definitely not DnD 3e or SW rates of advancement.  So I corrected and started awarding SP as recommended in the text (10-15/session).  Flash forward a year as I prep my character for a night of Revelations play, it hits me.  There is no way my character will EVER advance in a meaningful way.  That led to a full re-examination of the SP/Advancement scheme.

Here’s a table where I break down the WH1 vs WH2 advancement costs, as well as the number of sessions it takes to raise any one character feature (Abilities, Skills, Talents, Rites, whatever).  Remember for this latter figure, these are the number of sessions it takes to save up the SP to advance these features at the exclusion of anything else.  So when I say it takes 10 sessions to raise and Ability level from 4 to 5, you aren’t advancing anything else during those 10 sessions.  You’re not dropping a few points here and there on skills or a new Talent.  You are saving exclusively to raise that Ability.  For 10 sessions.  Our game meets twice a month.  So that comes out to 5 months of play, assuming we don’t skip a game night in there. WHR rounds max out at 5 SP, which matches the SP award recommendations for 1st edition, but remain unchanged with 2nd edition’s new advancement scheme.

Ready?  Here we go.

Witch Hunter 1st Edition Witch Hunter 2nd Edition
Required Sessions Required Sessions
Feature SP Cost Home (5) OP (5) SP Cost Home (15) OP (5)
Ability 1 to 2 10 3 3 60 4 12
Ability 2 to 3 10 3 3 90 6 18
Ability 3 to 4 20 6 6 120 8 24
Ability 4 to 5 30 9 9 150 10 30
New Elective Skill 10 2 2 10 1 2
Skill 1 to 2 (Background/Elective) 10/20 2/4 2/4 10/20 1/2 2/4
Skill 2 to 3 15/30 3/6 3/6 15/30 1/2 3/6
Skill 3 to 4 20/40 4/6 4/6 20/40 2/3 4/6
Skill 4 to 5 25/50 5/10 5/10 25/50 2/4 5/10
Skill Specialization 30 2 6
Basic Talent 5 1 1 50 4 10
Greater Talent 10 2 2 75 5 15
Heroic Talent 20 4 4 100 7 20
Rite 50 4 10

As you can probably see by the different advancement schemes, WH 1st edition put a LOT more emphasis on Talents.  WH 2nd edition appears to put more emphasis on skills.  But since the skill benefit is still capped by your Ability score, that doesn’t do you much good.  It makes for some interesting priorities in play.  But these numbers assume you are such a boss player your GM is handing you 15 SP after each game session.

Now as someone who favors slow advancement, these figures don’t bother me too much (expect with organized play which is pretty abysmal once you realize there are maybe 10 rounds available each year).  But I do see a point at which advancement is going to come to a dead stop no where near the top of the power curve.  And right now, I’m not sure if that’s because WH breaks beyond that point or if this was a simple advancement scheme (“hey, 30 SP x next level sounds about right”) that just has that unintended side effect.

In the next installment of this article, I’m going to re-examine the suggested SP Awards in light of all this.  Stay tuned…


3 thoughts on “Examining Experience Points, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Examining Experience Points, Part 2 | …and a Brace of Pistols

  2. Pingback: Examining Experience Points, Part 3 | …and a Brace of Pistols

  3. Pingback: 2015: A Retrospective | …and a Brace of Pistols

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