A lot of the discussion about 4e has been about questioning (and euthanizing, where appropriate) sacred cows – leftover rules and assumptions that are there because they’ve always been there and have been considered to be necessary parts of the game.
I remember back in the day that I used to run an ongoing Vampire LARP, that most of the problems in the game stemmed from the imbalance between PCs who had been around for awhile (and were, thus, powerful) and those who were starting characters (or close to it). We’d have new PCs coming in who were supposed to be ‘Elders’ – but lacked the power to back up their claims. Conversely, we’d have PCs who were only vampires for two or three years – but had been playing for all of that time, so they were ridiculously powerful.
Angela recently ran into a problem in her D&D game. It looked like one of the players was only going to make it sporadically… and the PC would fall far behind the others. She wasn’t sure how to handle it.
GMing can be exhausting – once you hit your comfort zone and can peg your opposition so that they are an adequate, but not overpowering, match for the PCs… the PCs go and gain experience, and you need to learn how to find that sweet spot again.
A number of genres of fiction feature advancement at differing rates. Yes, some become steadily more competent, but:
- some change dramatically (for better or for worse) at a specific point in time;
- some remain at a fairly constant level of competence;
- some advance in fits and starts; and
- some characters even become steadily less competent as time goes on.
D&D – and most rpgs – really only handle steady increases in competence as a default. Should they?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Maybe it is a good default… but maybe a better default would be to pick a character level/amount of xp and stay there for most, if not all, of a campaign… with steady advancement as one option among a few.