Faction-based Advancement

— Wilhelm Jordan, late 19th century

Advancement Through Training

I prefer that rules and game mechanics tie into the diegetic fiction of the game world when possible. For me, this increases immersion—the feeling that I’m interfacing with a living world rather than an abstract mechanical system. And because I strive to run games that I’d enjoy playing in, this preference extends to my refereeing.

When I first discovered the OSR, the concept of experience-for-gold perplexed me. I soon grew to understand how pivotal experience-for-gold is in reinforcing a specific playstyle and core gameplay loop, but something still irked me: how could one justify this in the game’s fiction? How, diegetically, did accumulating wealth improve adventurers’ ability to wield weapons and magic?

These days I’m content to accept experience-for-gold as an abstract indicator of PCs’ success as adventurers. However, introducing training as a prerequisite for advancement not only further grounds experience-for-gold within the fiction, but it can also accentuate faction play and expand what constitutes treasure. (Training serves an additional function as a money-sink, incentivizing PCs to risk their necks scrounging for more treasure).

In my series on rebellion-focused campaigns, I proposed that if characters advance by receiving training from the rebel faction, then additional avenues for earning experience become available, such as freeing political prisoners or liberating occupied territory. In this post, I’ll further explore faction-based advancement.

Faction-specific Treasure

I would implement faction-based advancement in the following manner:

  • In order to advance in level, a PC must accumulate sufficient treasure and expend a portion of that treasure to attain training—40%, for instance. (In B/X, a fighter would need to accumulate 2,000 gold pieces and spend 800 on training in order to advance from 1st to 2nd level).
  • A PC must receive training from an appropriate faction according to their class.
  • Meeting certain criteria reduces the amount of treasure required to gain a level. These criteria vary and are based on the specific faction from which the PC will receive training. (Stealing a map from one gang of thieves and presenting it to their rivals might allow a thief to advance to second level after acquiring only 1,000 gold and spending 400 on training, rather than 1,200 gold with 480 spent on training).
  • Rather than pay for training, clerics must instead offer a sacrifice, fund the construction or repair of temples, or recover and return plundered artifacts.

These criteria serve as faction-specific treasure; objects or achievements that may not have significant inherent value are valuable to a specific faction. For example:

  • The Fraternal Order of Dilettante Burglars will provide discounted training to any thief who executes and recounts a heist—the more audacious and convoluted the heist, the better.
  • The Institute of Besotted Archivists will provide discounted training to any magic-user who donates an obscure text on methods of distillation or fermentation.
  • The Dwarven Heritage Society will provide discounted training to any dwarf who submits evidence indicating that the existence of dwarves may predate that of elves.
  • The League of Insensitive Nimrods will provide discounted training to any fighter who donates a trophy harvested from some rare beast.
  • The Faust Family will provide discounted training to any fighter or thief in exchange for an unspecified favor to be redeemed at a later date.

While faction-based advancement does add complexity to the game, it creates intriguing opportunities, and I’m eager to implement it in one of my own games:

  • By expanding what constitutes treasure, faction-based advancement can incentivize greater variety in adventures; when accumulating gold and gems isn’t the only path to advancement, PCs will face less pressure to spend all of their time in the dungeon.
  • Faction-based advancement encourages players to engage with factions earlier and more often, including factions outside of the dungeon.
  • It also lends greater weight to faction play; when access to convenient training depends upon remaining within the good graces of specific factions, threats to factions, factions’ goals, and conflict between factions all become more important.
  • It provides opportunities for world-building that the PCs can interact with, not only in the form of factions but also in what it is those factions desire and value.

That’s all for now. My attention has been particularly divided lately between the blog, life, and role-playing game projects of a larger scope. I hope to write about those soon. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

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