So we beg the question, what value do levels have?
The title embraces the supposition that levels are a motivation. The characters want more power, so we have created a set of arbitrary plateaus, obtained through an arbitrary award system we call “experience,” which can be adjusted on a whim of the DM at any time by awarding more experience arbitrarily at the appropriate moment.
It is this capriciousness that creates friction. We understand the clear, simple notion that players would like more powers and abilities in the future than they have today. We can lately remember a time when we did not possess a given skill, a well-paying job, a prized possession or other milestone ~ evidence that we’re doing better, that we’re smarter, that our lives are more comfortable and so on. Level-advancement reflects this. The fighter hits a little better, the mage has more spells, the general character is made safer with more hit points and there is status to be gained in the form of titles and game recognition.
But the steps themselves ARE subjective. Why should a fighter advance at 2,000 experience and not 1,500? Why should a given dead monster be worth 100 experience and not 200? And if DMs can just wave a hand and award experience at a whim, they why shouldn’t they, right now, as we’re sitting around the table playing? The very fact that the DM won’t is proof that we’re getting ripped off! We only want what’s coming to us! All we want is our fair share!
So eliminating the level gets rid of all this subjectivity. The players will advance in level when the adventure calls for the players to be a higher level. The players will advance at the beginning of every fifth running. The players will advance when the quest is completed. These principles are still arbitrary, but they’re unilateral, affecting every character at the table the same, and they don’t require nearly as much math.
There is a major drawback, however, that many do not consider a drawback. These substitutions eliminate insecurity. We know we’re going to advance ~ there is no uncertainty about it. Advancement does not hinge on the choices we make, nor the effort we give, nor the risk we’re prepared to take. If we climb aboard, the train will arrive at our destination and the ticket will be stamped.
All the doubt is washed away, as is the frustration we feel as time between upgrades spins out and challenges our composure. We’re not driven to take a bigger risk, to make something happen that doesn’t seem willing to happen ~ and when the achievement is obtained, we don’t think of it as something we did ourselves, accumulating all that experience. We don’t get excited about things we think of as entitlements.
The carrot is a reward, yes, but it is also something we only get after a very long day of dragging a very large load at the expense of our comfort and our privilege. It dangles right in front of us, aggravating us, making our mouths water, while at the same time we can’t get it. In every sense, for anything but a dumb animal, the carrot is a kind of abuse, one we can’t ignore.
The brass ring is a reward also, but only because it is so damn hard to get. We miss it and miss it, leaning out further and further, risking a face-plant in the dirt, because it takes a big risk to win a big reward.
Experience levels work because they’re hard to obtain; and the arbitrary limits we create to put them further out of reach are there to make it very hard. We don’t appreciate anything that is easy to obtain. Naturally, we carp about it. Carping about a lack of something is a part of life.
DMs should not bow to that.
This was a sponsored article
To propose material and fund content,
write to me at alexiss1@ telus.net