Monday, January 11, 2010

Level and Attribute Advancement

A while ago I posted some of my ideas about level advancement and increasing attributes in Tunnels and Trolls on Trollbridge. This topic was generating a lot of discussion on the 'bridge primarily due to the differences in these mechanics between the 5th, 7th, and 7.5 edition rules. As written in the rules, characters in 5th edition gain experience which eventually increases their level. The benefit of this advancement is that one or two attributes are increased. In the 7th and 7.5 editions, gaining experience allows characters to directly increase their attributes. As a side effect, this increases the character's level once a level attribute reaches a certain number (10, 20, 30, etc.). In both cases, levels and attributes are directly related. In 7th edition, however, advancing in levels offers some additional bonuses.

Here are some of the possible rewards of increasing an attribute (same for 5th and 7th editions):
  • Increased saving roll success (all stats)
  • Increased combat adds (STR, DEX, LK, SPD)
  • Wield better weapons (STR, DEX)
  • Cast more complex spells (IQ, DEX)
  • Cast more spells (ST or WIZ)
  • Survive more punishment (CON)
Here are the additional benefits of an increase in level in 7th edition:
  • + Level # to saving rolls (all types)
  • + 1 new talent (all types)
  • + Level # to combat adds (warriors)
  • - Level # cost to lower level spells (wizards - also present in 5th edition)
Of course, some of these level benefits have been added as house rules to 5th edition over the years, but this fact just points to the value of these mechanics. Increasing your level should provide some benefit other than simply improving your attributes. Ideally, some of these benefits should be unique to your type.

I see attributes and levels as functionally separate. Level is a measure of your character's skill in her or her profession, while attributes are a measure of his or her physical and mental capabilities. This separation is made mechanically feasible with separate level benefits other than just increasing attributes. Whereas increasing levels had no real advantage in 5th edition with the exception of lowering spell cost (as written), 7th edition introduced several benefits to increasing level. I liked these benefits because they made levels mean something on their own. Unfortunately, level advancement currently offers no special advantage to rogues.

To illustrate the difference between levels and attributes, first consider Strength. You can increase your strength to make yourself generally better at hand-to-hand fighting (hitting harder, wielding heavier weapons, tiring less quickly), but it does not necessarily make you a better 'warrior.' A wizard or rogue can also increase their strength for similar results. Your skill as a 'warrior' is gauged by your level and the resulting increase in bonus combat adds. Level is also an indication of your experience in dealing with dangerous situations and complex problems. This is reflected by the added bonus to saving rolls. Of course your additional world experience also results in gaining new talents which may reflect actions performed by the character in previous adventures.

My house rule for level and attribute advancement makes advancement in these two areas completely separate. Adventure points are used to increase either a character's level or attributes depending on how they were earned. As stated in the T&T rules, adventure points are earned from daring, combat, saving rolls, casting magic, or other actions at the GMs discretion. These categories can be divided between attribute AP pools and level AP pool.

Earning APs Toward Attributes
  1. Adventure points earned from saving rolls would go toward the attribute against which the roll was made. If the SR was against an average of multiple attributes, divide the APs between them.
  2. Adventure points for casting spells would go toward the WIZ attribute.
Attributes can be increased by 1 point when you accumulate 10x the current attribute value in APs.

Earning APs Toward Level
  • Combat
  • Daring (completing dungeon level or a mission or performing heroic deeds)
  • Other (GM discretion)
A character's level increases by 1 when you accumulate enough APs as per the 5th edition rules. An increase in level does not increase your attributes, instead it provides the following bonuses:
  • + Level # to Saving Rolls (all types)
  • + 1 new talent
  • + Level # Combat Adds (warriors)
  • - Level # Spell Cost (wizards)
  • + Level # Roguery Talent
Advantages of this system
Levels and attributes are unique measures of your character's capabilities.

Adventure points are spread out to avoid attribute inflation. Bonus APs earned at the end of an adventure, often amounting to 100-500 APs, do not count toward attributes.

When an attribute is increased, it is a direct reflection of the use of that attribute rather than arbitrarily raising whatever attribute is low or may generate the most new combat adds (like Luck in 5th edition). This means that if a player wants to improve some aspect of his or her character, then those attributes must be used. If you want a stronger wizard, you had better try bending some bars or kicking open a door. If you want a smarter warrior, try reading that book on the shelf or figuring out how that spike trap works.

Level will not be affected by changes in attributes due to combat or magic as is possible in the7th edition rules. This is a major problem I have with tying attributes and levels together. If a character drinks one of the potions in the 7.5 treasure table that increases an attributes by 1d6 thereby increasing one of his level attributes to 20, 30, or 40, then suddenly he is a new level. The character didn't gain any new experience that made him a more effective warrior or wizard, he just drank a potion. It might make him stronger or more dexterous, but not more proficient in his profession.

Final Thoughts
This system does require some kind of special bonus for Rogues. My suggestion (given above) is an increase of 1 per level on their Roguery talent.

Some players may find this system a little too complex. It does require more bookkeeping to keep track of APs in various pools. I have been using this system for my solo adventuring, however, and I am quite happy with the way it works. The bookkeeping is not that bad. You do need to add an AP column next to each attribute. These APs should not be awarded until the end of the adventure, so you just need to keep a running log of what saving rolls you have made, what attribute they were against, and how many APs you earned. When the adventure is over, you add up the APs for each attribute and record the value.

Here is an example:

Phineas Red decided to start off his adventuring career by raiding the Temple of the Timeless Serpent in search of the infamous Eye of the Serpent. In the course of the adventure Phineas slew a temple guard (20 AP), three serpent priests (24 AP each), and a giant snake (100 AP). He also overcame many obstacles amounting to seven L1-SRs on LK (95 AP), one
L1-SR on DEX (9 AP), two L1-SRs on the average of DEX and SPD (15 AP), and six L1-SRs on the average of DEX, LK, and SPD (64 AP). In the end, Phineas stole the Eye of the Serpent as well as a small fortune in other treasure and escaped with his life earning another 100 AP.

Using this system, Phineas earned 296 AP toward his next level, 38 AP toward DEX, 116 AP toward LK, and 29 AP toward SPD. Phineas has made a good start in his career as a warrior; two more such feats and he'll be 2nd level. With a starting LK of 14, Phineas is also well on his way to increasing that attribute. Given how much his Luck was tested in the burglary of the snake temple that is to be expected. Phineas experienced no great feats of Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, Wizardry, or Charisma so these abilities were not improved. In straight 7.5 edition rules, Phineas would have earned 479 APs to spend on improving his abilities. He could then raise his STR of 14 to 16 and still have 19 AP to spare. That's just after one short adventure and he never performed any great feats of strength.


  1. Hmm. That looked odd. Was it intentional that the text be that big. It was a bit hard to read.

  2. To specified for my tastes. The players should be able to put AP where they want. Maybe it'd work in a "Type-less" T&T variation.

  3. I considered having saving rolls only count as a.p. for the attribute tested. Decided against it. K.I.S.S. While it doesn't make sense to have Lk saving rolls get you STR attribute points, in the long run (and it could be a very long run) the little imbalances should even out.

    --Ken St. Andre

  4. Interesting ideas, and reminiscent of Runequest/BRP

    I think i would agree with the 'too much work for me' appraoch that most have said, but what i love about T&T is how tweakable it is with such great straightforward core rules.

    Your solo covers look beautiful by the way. Look forward to playing them!

  5. The only thing that doesn't work for me is the 7.x obsession with bookkeeping... I've played several games 'by the book' and players are forever recording APs... Less bookkeeping for me please. Otherwise, brilliant ideas.