Ideas for level progression


Here is a bit of game design question.

If you would need to make ICRPG character progression go from lvl 1-20

How would you do it? What things would you rise, add, change - upon level up?

How would you see that progression system?


My first question is: what is going to be more powerful a level or an item of loot? In my setup for a leveling system I said levels should be worth less than loot because they have the advantage of being unalienable. Once a player is level 2, there is no going back. Unless you really enjoy the days of old style DnD level drain.

I am building a west marches game for ICRPG (when I get the ground work down I will bring it to the forum), and I added a leveling system where each level gets the character a quality. Only going to 10 and with scaling xp costs to attain (2,4,8,16, etc). However, these xp are gained primarily through attendance, surviving, player voted MVP of a session, and several one use only events on the map (slaying named monsters, restoring the bridge to the next town, etc). Each thing is worth 1 xp. Killing monsters is motivated by loot and money.

Now the qualities. Each class has 12 on a list and there is a list of 12 general qualities available to all classes. No character can have repeat qualities. For examples, a general quality is +5 HP, and a guardian quality is while using a shield. Both of theses are less powerful then an item of loot. This design means that more experienced characters can adventure with new players and not totally outshine them because of levels. Most importantly, for monster purposes I just consider 2 qualities is on par with about 1 piece of loot so I don’t have to design to challenge leveled up characters. That is one of my big problems in games like DnD. As players level an increasing number of monsters become trivialized.


Again, the primary question is “what are you trying to accomplish here?”

If you are looking for a way to give incremental upgrades, there are STAT points, TAGS, Minor LOOT, and ABILITY PERMANENCE (Taking LOOT abilities and having them be permanent to the character).

A lot of the times, in D&D, there were dead levels. That is because there were too many levels that only give a handful of skill points or some extra few HP. You can go down in level cap, would recommend 10.

If you need ideas in XP, you can look at:

This gives you a comprehensive idea of how to get experience and how to get MILESTONES that make a BIG DIFFERENCE! And it’s a story reason!


I’m not a fan of leveling, it gets too unwieldy. I really like the way Chris McDowall puts it, “character growth over character advancement”. Loot, stat points, tags all contribute to growth.

However, if you had to create some sort of level system you could put Stat bumps every couple levels, HP bumps on others, and loot. One of those every 3 levels or something.

I still think it’s funner if it’s built into the game… Every time you go down from 0 HP you have a 1/6 chance to boost your HP 1d6 (or whatever) when you’re brought back around. Every X misses roll to see if you get a Stat point increase. Etc.


I dont like Leveling too but the weird thing is a lot of players seems to need that. I hear that a Lot. We need progression… But what is that progression. Just a few Numbers. Isn‘t it much cooler if a Charakter finds something related to the story that could be useful in the future… or maybe not. For me that does the Trick much more than some Numbers. Maybe STR get a +1, but the Question is for me always: why. Not when.

In a game from last week, the heroes encountered a mad Gnome Mechanic and in my Setting they build awesome clockwork stuff, but they are crazy and so the Tech is is kinda unreliable. The Barbarian searched the Workshop an found an iron clockwork arm. He can activate it to get STR boost, but it only has 10 % of success chance. If he will try to get that arm fixed or evolved in further adventures i maybe raise that %.
But it was just perfekt for the story and they all loved it very much and every time it disfunctions it gives the player character the Chance for a good laugh and when it works he crushes walls.
I mean, i could have given them all a point to spend on their stats, but . . . .


Yes, this I enjoy much much more! A box of saint’s bones that rattles when a lie is told. A rope that becomes solid as steel on command. The weightless muffin that, when eaten, reverses gravity for d6 minutes. Ring of goblin invisibility makes you invisible, but the stench! Floating umbrella that can float you down 60 feet.

So much more interesting than a stat point.


so to give an Answer:
I would say, let them find cool stuff, let them learn new Spells. skills, give them boons, make them legends.

Once per Session there should be something like that or at least in between the sessions.


To answer your questions

WHY: I am planning to run games for young RPG group. I think that they will need a tangible reward system provided by levels.

POWER: Good question. It should not be linked to item. I think kids would need to feel they grown as character. The reward should be tangible, something they could strive for. However it should not break game balance.


  • I am all for milestone quests. I think its great for kids and it will build their character
  • I am wary of too many abilities ( like for example 4e D&D ) I think it will be hard for kids to keep track
  • As someone here mentioned 10 levels seem like a better choice.

( ps at the moment. Looking at your great comments. I am thinking of 10 levels with progression similar to Dr.DungeonMaster - question remaining still what would be level up rewards )

( psps - If you can invite me to forum when you start creating this ruleset, it would be great )


Great question!

For me, using a “level up” kind of mechanic would be to make sure I’m rewarding players consistently. I’m working on a small “experience tracker” that’s really just going to be a list of maybe 5-6 things. Each night a player attends game night they’ll check off a box and gain the associated perk. After they get to the bottom of the check list they’ll “level up” and start the checklist over. It might look something like this:
Ability Point
Ability Point
Class/Core ability

We don’t use anything like this in our current game because it wouldn’t fit well, which I think is an important note: your level up method should support the feel of your game. I wouldn’t just tack-on a fantasy style experience tracker like that to just any ol’ thing. :slight_smile:


Honestly my only concern is that 6 initial points in character creation combined with +ability point every two levels.

Player can very easily max out let say Strength making him “always hit everything”

Do you think this kind of concentrated point investment could imbalance the game ?


I think balance is a fallacy in the first place. Mostly every player wants to be an unbalanced force in the campaign world. I myself have played a character who had 8 points invested in basic effort… if there was a 1 heart challenge I had a 50/50 shot at clearing it in 1 success… it didn’t “unbalance” or ruin the game, in some ways it made things move along smoother and quicker. If the player gets some obscenely high stat that is fine, that means they are specialized to rock out at one specific lane of actions. The great news is that there are many other stats that you can devise challenges for that they won’t shine so brightly at. In my experience the “balance” comes from giving each player a chance to shine, not the stats or mechanics themselves, so even if each player maxed out one stat, give them a chance to make that stat shine, but also show them why sometimes it is better (or perhaps even dangerous not) to diversify your skills. To sum it up I will just say, I don’t think you have anything to be worried about, just roll with the punches and I’m sure everyone will have a great time playing.


What you say is perfectly true. For a game master. Or even player. But if you are game designer, and you design a system that is imbalanced. Than you didn’t do your job right.

And I am kind of approaching this problem from game design perspective. So, I am trying to make it at least theoretically balanced…


Kinda weird place to plant that flag. Every time Runehammer is questioned about balance, he dismisses it almost instantly, iirc. Infact in this week’s PF2e Deep Dive, he clearly dissed on the XP Budget for making balanced encounters PF2e has. It’s not a concept that is really in the ICRPG design set - which can clearly be seen with MAGIC, for example. It’s meant to be fun, but it’s not balanced at all.


You are right. But I think it is not entirely true. He does say he dismisses it. But I assure you he tries to make things balanced to a certain degree.

By dismissing balance, he rather says that the ultimate balance is not achievable, so don’t break your noggin trying to make it.

Well at least I see it that way :wink:


I believe balance is irrelevant to most players. It’s the feeling of balance that’s important.

Most players don’t care if every class is recieving numerically equivalent abilities or if the previous encounter was worth 103 exp instead of the obligatory 105 exp.

They care about feeling challenged and rewarded, they care about having a moment in the limelight.

Even if a wizard in a newly-created party has a level 10 meteor strike, the GM can run an adventure in the middle of a mountain. Likewise, even if a warrior has a rusty blade, the GM might create a monster that can only be slain by rust. As long as every player gets a turn at being awesome and especialy if they get to feel awesome as a team, the game is ‘balanced’.

Rules are important. They’re there to provide a framework for the players’ antics. But the GM shouldn’t rely on the structure to make encounters engaging.

I think the beauty of ICRPG is that it places a massive responsibility both on the players and the GM. There aren’t any point-buy encounter builders to stop one from creating an unbalanced encounter. As a GM, one has to research, experiment, and learn from their mistakes to develop a feel for what their players desire in a story.

In the early days of D&D people would phone Gary Gygax. Often people would ask him about unclear wording in a rule or a certain situation. Gary would reply, ‘Well, what did you decide at the game table? Did it work? Then that’s how the rule should be played!’


Very well said. Can not agree more.

Problem is, this thing is very very hard to achieve. It’s like saying to someone going for amateur standup night: “the secret of good comedy is in timing” **

This why to help those of us that are maybe not “natural born GMs” or “natural born players” there are some rules and guidelines that make the game more balanced “out the box”.

But I digress

People made some good suggestions of how they would handle levels. Some are more “balanced” , some less…
… and now we digressed into talking about balance and if it’s important. I feel its important discussion, but perhaps it warrants its own topic.

** Timing … Hope you get my analogy. Because countless books have been written on how to get perfect comic timing. And it’s still considered to be an unexplainable talent that either you have or don’t.


Fair points. My suggestion is that every GM has to go through a few shaky first sessions. Also, consume massive amounts of youtube advice (the Runehammer backlog, Matt Colville, etc.)


Absolutely agree on every point :slight_smile: Being good GM is art not easily achieved, and we are only humble students :sunglasses:


What about a system/mechanic in which PCs gain EXP from filling hearts?

That would encourage interaction moreso than anything else: just fill the session and campaign with many hearts for almost anything!


Add 1 special ability or spell that may or may not be tied to loot, add CON to max HP or add a heart after 3 levels. Make the special ability or spell really define the style of the character.