How Important are Character Levels and Attributes to You?

My first poll!

I’m wondering how important either (or both) of these aspects of a player-character in an RPG are important.  Games like Searchers of the Unknown  do away with primary PC attributes, defining a PC’s abilities using the same stat block as monsters.  And the original Gamma World, while it had levels and experience, they pretty much didn’t matter.  In fact, many people didn’t use the experience rules in Gamma World…they just played to find cool death rays and neutron bombs and stuff like that.  Traveller had skill-based advancement, but it was so slow that it hardly mattered.  In Traveller your character started out pretty much as good as he or she was ever going to be, skill wise.

To clarify, by attributes I mean the primary attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, etc.), not secondary combat related attributes.  And by levels I mean character advancement in general, whether using a level based system, skill-based advancement or some combination of the two.  Basically, character ‘advancement’ would come by accumulating wealth and advancing in-game goals (such as establishing a thieves guild in town or taking out a major enemy, for example).

My thoughts on this are two fold:

1) Eliminating attributes makes character creation that much easier, and removes the preoccupation, for lack of a better word, with attribute scores.  The primary concern becomes not “what class do my ability scores allow me to play,” or “my stats suck, I want to re-roll” or “we need a complicated point-buy system so my character won’t suck.”  It becomes “what do I want my character to be?” (probaby still within the framework of a character class or archetype, though).

2) Eliminating levels lets players focus on their goals, whether immediate or long term.  Instead of having to kill every monster in the dungeon just to get the XP, they have more of an incentive to pick and choose their battles (old school D&D XP for GP rules kind of do this, too).  Also, when a PC dies, do you make them start over at level 1 even if everyone else is level 6 or 10?  Or do you let them start over at the same level, in large part removing (in my view, at least) consequential PC death?  If you don’t use levels the issue becomes moot.

So if you combined the two concepts, would your gaming experience crash and burn?  I’d like to know your thoughts on the matter.


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5 Responses to “How Important are Character Levels and Attributes to You?”

  1. gothridgemanor Says:

    Currently in the Weird Adventures game I am in on Wednesdays we use the WARP system and it doesn’t have attributes or levels. You just come up with a character concept and assign it traits and flaws. I enjoy it.

    • edowar Says:

      I’m not familiar with the WARP system, I’ll have to check it out. I have read a few other generic systems that use more descriptive, rather than quantitative, ways to define character’s abilities.

  2. David Jenks Says:

    My first love (in RPG terms) is Call of Cthulhu, a game that does use both attributes and a weird form of “leveling.”.

    Realistically, in CoC, do attributes matter that much? (Except for Power, which determines Sanity points.) Any Lovecraftian entity the characters encounter is almost guaranteed to be many orders of magnitude more powerful than they, so….attributes are a lesser concern. Attributes–specifically your Intelligence and Education–do influence skill points, which help investigators solve the mysteries of the Mythos, so it’s not like they’re unneeded or useless; but they are of lesser importance.

    “Leveling” in CoC is, however, unique: being a percentile system, you “level up” by having a chance to *possibly* increase your skill points.

    Let’s say you have a 30% score in Psychoanalysis and use it dramatically during a game session. Later, you finish that adventure without dying or going (too) insane.

    The “Keeper” (GM) allows you to attempt to increase the Psychoanalysis skill: you roll percentiles. If you roll *above* your current skill percentage (in this case, 30%) you immediately get to add 1d10 points to that score. If you roll equal to or less than your skill percent, you gain nothing. No skill can go above 99%.

    I like this because it simulates actual learning/education to a limited degree: the more you know about a topic or profession, the less you can learn new details of it.

    (e.g. Your Psychoanalysis skill is at 90%–which means, in game terms, that you’re one of less than a dozen people in the world with your level of talent, education and ability with Psychoanalysis. You have only a 09% chance to roll above 90% and increase that skill. No skill can go above 99% because nobody knows *everything* about each individual skill.)

    This simple yet elegant system also de-emphasizes “level grinding” or “leveling euphoria” (a/k/a “level-up madness”) that infects D&D while subtly encouraging role- and game-play.

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