I Have No Game, and I Must Blog

Achievement-based leveling

S. Ben Melhuish • Sunday, October 8, 2023 • filed under hacks

Modern D&D still clings to its experience point system, but also suggests other approaches, such as leveling up after finishing an adventure, or after a certain number of sessions. (There’s a short discussion in the Fifth Edition DMG on pages 260–261.) Here’s a half-baked idea for another system.1

In brief, leveling up is based on achievements. Different character classes would have different achievements to reach; for example, a fighter might advance to 2nd level after dealing 25 points of damage to a single foe, while a wizard might do so after learning spells from two new schools of magic.

One could imagine many variants: The achievements could be different for each subclass; leveling up might require three achievements instead of one. A player and DM might agree to customize a character’s achievement list, to better match the player’s vision for the character, or the DM’s vision for the campaign.

I’m not sure this is actually a good idea.

First, coming up with the list of achievements could be pretty onerous, especially when trying to roughly balance them between the classes — and that’s without even considering subclass-based lists. Of course, once it’s done, it’s done forever, and if a group is coming up with the list for themselves, they only need to do their own classes and probably only for a small number of levels at once.

Second, other than being a possibly-cool alternative to XP, I’m not sure this actually makes play better. This would give the DM a fairly strong hand in controlling individual characters’ advancement (though we can assume a DM who’s playing in good faith here). The flip side is that it might constrain their scenario creation, making sure there are enough tough enemies to kill, spells to learn, locks to pick, squirrels to talk to, or whatever.

Nevertheless, I’m still intrigued, and still toying with the idea in the back of my head.

  1. This could probably be used for any level-based system. ↩︎