Advancement and Continuous Play

Mausritter is an excellent little game. Totally free, excellent layout. It’s simple AND has great GM tools. That’s the best combo I can think of. You have no excuse to not pick this up.

I’ve talked about it before and I think it’d be fun to run as a play-by-post.

It uses the Into the Odd engine with its saves, auto-hits, and random character generation. There are a couple changes to the game, one of which is how levels and experience work.

“Your mouse earns Experience Points (XP) by bringing treasure and useful goods back from places of danger to the safety of a mouse settlement. For every pip-worth of treasure brought to safety (divid- ed equally amongst the party), your mouse earns 1 XP. Your mouse can earn additional XP by spending their pips selflessly on improvements for the whole community. For every 10 pips spent this way, your mouse earns 1 XP.”

Mice gain levels at 1000, 3000, 6000 XP, and every additional 5000 XP after.

Now, I’ve whined about coins-for-XP before somewhere I on the blog. I say whined because I understand why it works for some people and the intentions are totally good. It just feels arbitrary when the numbers are that big. Finding 2000 instead of 2001 silver coins doesn’t make a meaningful difference. XP needs to be reduced to a meaningful unit in order to feel… well, meaningful. That’s why I like Maze Rat’s XP system, which keeps everything from 0 to 3 XP each session. The numbers are small, which is better for those of us who aren’t keen on all that adding, but more importantly each XP matters more because the units are smaller.

Maze Rats, using end of session XP, feels good. I love ending each session by reading the list of questions aloud and getting a “yes” or “no” from the players, awarding XP for each “yes.” It’s a celebration of the completion of a session and the victories and defeats of the players. You end each session with a summary like you might for a presentation or a class.

But how to do that for a play-by-post?

You don’t.

You as the GM COULD say, “well, I guess that was a session, I guess” after some time of playing, but remember, we’re looking to cut the arbitrary elements of the game. We’re already playing pretend, so there’s not much logic in keeping things “fuzzier” than they need to be, or giving ourselves chances to sell our integrity short or to forget to implement the rules. Keep it lean and mean.

XP itself and the idea of “levels” could also stand to be cut from many games. That’s two more numbers on the character sheet than anyone needs that only has little impact on the play of the game. Stats like Strength and HP have a direct impact whereas “level,” especially in Into the Odd, has no true meaning. Cut the fluffy bits.

“Advancement” then, or any sort of reward structure, needs to be tied to PC actions instead of bound to sessions. Online play is more continuous, meaning you need specific triggers in the fiction of the game, absent of the temporal and spatial confines of the gaming session.

What I’m saying is that advancement is best when it’s diegetic, meaning when it happens IN THE GAME.

The base of Into the Odd does some of this. It’s reward structure is tied to surviving expeditions, taking on apprentices, and when your apprentice advances. Survival and legacy as its themes:

Novice – You are ready to go on an expedition.

Professional – You have survived at least one expedition.

Expert – You have survived at least three dangerous expeditions since reaching Professional Level.

Veteran – You have survived at least five expeditions since reaching Expert Level, and have taken on an Apprentice.

Master – You have an Apprentice of at least Expert Level, and have survived a dangerous expedition with them since reaching Veteran Level.

Beyond – Even upon reaching Master Level, a character may have greater ambitions. This could be a desire for a legacy, immortality, or cosmic transcendence

These are functional. They’re tied to actions in the game. In order to reach Veteran, you have to take on an apprentice. But why do you need to survive five expeditions? It’s not so bothersome that you need to go on expeditions, that’s *the* game. But why five? It’s a rule to help with the pace of advancement, but it’s up to the designer how many of a given thing is required before advancing. Could the arbitrary elements here be cut? I think so.

To summarize, we need something that

  • Still gives the players an aim to shoot for.
  • Reduces the arbitrary nature of the game and takes little math.
  • Happens in the game, in the fiction, is diegetic, however you want to say it.

Let’s get back to Mausritter. Here are the diegetic advancement triggers I chose that fit with the criteria above:

  • When you emerge from an adventure site with treasure, Advance.
  • When you share a meal with new friends, Advance.
  • When you restore lasting peace to an area, Advance.

The first settles the classic treasure-hunting aspect. The second is pure Redwall, with its camaraderie and delicious foods. The third is Mouse Guard, keeping the peace and making it sustainable.

What’s this “Advance?”

Here’s the rule for advancement in Into the Odd: “Each time they advance a level, they gain d6 HP and roll d20 for each of their Ability Scores. If the roll is higher than the score it is increased by 1.” Mausritter does something similar.

With the advancement triggers I suggested above, you’ll notice there’s no cap. You could pull each of those triggers forever, thereby advancing forever. The cap comes instead from the new Advance mechanic:

When you Advance, roll 3d6 for STR, DEX, WIL, and HP. Each roll equal to or above its maximum increases its maximum by 1.

It keeps everything, ability scores and HP, to a cap of 19 while still keeping that random increase that gets progressively difficult as the numbers grow. Feel free to steal it for your own ItO/EB/Mausritter game.

When you finish reading an article from Dreaming Dragonslayer, Advance...

Get more (36+6) examples of advancement triggers here!

4 thoughts on “Advancement and Continuous Play

  1. Oh damn I really needed this! I’ve mostly swapped over to strictly diegetic advancement, with a little bit of injury- -> max hp increases, but I’ve always loved end of session questions. Would you have an Advance trigger potential increases for all four stats, or just pick one?

    1. All four is how I’m doing it. If you love the end of session questions, the next post is for you 🙂

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