Wednesday, February 7, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance Mechanics - Leveling Up

There's a saying in my line of work: "If you tell me how someone gets paid, I'll tell you how they work." The upshot being that if compensation is the main driver of behavior, you'll see the compensation calculation method optimized by the employees. This is true in a lot of Trad game systems - the game tell you what the core activity is by what it rewards. 

V&V directly rewards one thing: capturing villains and turning them over to the authorities. It rewards it with experience points and reward money, but the only thing discussed to do with the reward money is to convert it to more experience points. There's a small space for GM controlled experience distribution for clever ideas and surviving the impossible, but it is relatively minor. 

But this raises the question: what do experience points get you? What does leveling up mean?

First, I want to take a digression into scaling: V&V directly scales experience value with the Villain's level. The system is highly symmetrical, with villain character sheets looking exactly like hero character sheets and all the rules evenly applied, save that the GM gets to just determine when the villain levels up. But lets say that our first level hero finds and defeats a villain with 15 HP and 60 power who is also first level, making a nemesis who returns once a level.

  • That first level encounter nets the hero (15+60)*1*2 = 150 experience points, or 7.5% of what she needs to level up. 
  • At second level the hero nets (15+60)*2*2 = 300 XP, or 10% of what she needs to go from 2nd to 3rd. 
  • Third level its 450 XP out of the 4000 she needs to get to 4th, or 11%
  • Fourth level it's 600 XP out of the 5000 she need to get to 5th, or 12%
  • by 10th level approaching 11th, it's 1,500 XP out of 11,000 needed, or 13.6%

The villain scales pretty cleanly with the hero, actually becoming more valuable as a percentage of XP needed per level over time. So does the villain also get more dangerous as they level up? Ummmmmm... Maybe?

Leveling up in V&V grants you three things

  1. You gain 1/10th your Intelligence score in Inventing Points, or brilliant ideas, which we will discuss in a later post. 
  2. an opportunity to train. This lets you 
    1. increase one of your basic characteristics by 1 point
    2. increase your accuracy with one attack by +1
    3. increase your damage with one attack by +1
    4. Gain or lose weight. Weight is a factor in V&V for calculating HP and carrying capacity, and will be addressed later, but it gets into some interesting social dynamics with PCs based on the players. 
    5. Gain education in a Knowledge Area. V&V doesn't have a modern design skill system; These are most reminiscent of the Secondary Skills table on page 12 of the AD&D 1E DMG - broad interpretable backgrounds 
    6. Train an animal. Weird that this gets a call out with mechanics; anyone who wants this as part of their character archetype probably has Pet already. 
    7. Whatever: you and GM develop something equivalent. 
  3. Improves your positioning on the Level vs. Level combat chart. 

The positioning on the Level vs. Level table does exactly what you think - as long as the villain and hero are at the same level, the modifiers are the same. Training in basic characteristics, accuracy and damage will make the character tougher (so that 15 HP and 60 power likely shifts upward, making them even more valuable at higher levels), but it's not a rapid shift.  And while the PC is also improving, you can stretch and say that it justifies the slow increase in relatively value. But it's a stretch. 

Still, it's a nice balance: each hero needs to capture and deliver to the authorities about 8-9 at-level foes to level up, assuming you're also getting some GM provided bonus experience (which caps at 500 XP per session at the outside). As you level up, capturing the lower level mooks or villains nets you less relative to your level, reminiscent of the B/X and AD&D curves of monster value based on Hit Die being constants while your experience costs increase. Given the slower rate of growth in XP per level, it's always worthwhile to capture the mooks. 

Is capturing the mooks easier? Yes, because the Level vs Level table works in your favor - at 4th level you're at +2 on all your attacks against them while they are at -3 on theirs. The table eliminates the need for increases to armor class (or Hit Points increases, more in a minute!), where your bonuses balance with at level villains, but let you shine against mooks.

You may notice there are things Leveling Up doesn't get you. It doesn't get you more Hit Points. Yes, if you train a basic characteristic over a break point the change in the calculation might net you more, but it's not as easy as +1d6 HP per level. It doesn't get you more powers. It doesn't make your existing powers (with some exceptions) more powerful. You just get better trained. This makes V&V a great genre emulator, especially of Silver and Bronze age stories, where the heroes aren't constantly getting tougher and tougher. 

All told the leveling up process in V&V is very stable: more so than I thought when I started writing this, and that's going to change some of my planned rules mods. It gives a decent sense of improvement without pushing constant power increase, making the player try to figure out where to 'spend' the XP they just got in a point system, or adding another specific way they can break the rules the way contemporary Trad game design. I'm a big fan, and other than adding some broader examples to the GM bonus experience out of Palladium, and likely making it so the XP earned aren't divided among the participating PCs (so a team of 4 heroes don't need to defeat 36 at level opponents to level up), This is amazingly solid. 

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff.

    One thing: When you write "PCs based on the heroes," do you mean " PCs based on the _players_?"