Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Level 9 Guitar Player

Alexis posted in his usual well spoken but curmudgeonly way about XP buy systems of leveling up, or "arcade games" as he calls them.  I love Alexis for not being afraid to just let it rip and write his mind.  Half the time I think he is an old man shouting at kids in his lawn about their arcade games and half the time I think he is a total genius.  Being a genius half the time is good enough to keep me coming back to his blog, at any rate.

I started to write a comment in response to this sentence of the post:  "I'm curious as to how this works out logically, however.  Not that I feel the game has to be 'logical,' but since experience points represent, well, experience, how exactly does one become LESS experienced in the process of gaining a better strength or a nice new gnoll knee knocker?"

My comment grew some roots and sprouted into this post:

On the odd chance this was not a rhetorical question, spending experience points to gain some specific skill at the cost of not advancing another skill as fast or even deteriorating another skill, makes perfect sense to me.  The basic situation as I understand it that you are presenting is a PC spending XP on some bonus ability rather than on leveling up (leveling up being defined as a different set of ability increases).

I have played guitar for going on 17 years now, and in general you could view my playing career as a steady increase in experience and ability, with new levels of expertise achieved over time.  Your traditional D&D model.

Now since this is real life of course I do other things besides just play guitar.  For the last year I have spent comparatively less time playing the guitar, I have not been performing live, I have not been recording, and I have spent much more time at a new job (a salaried position, which has turned out to be a terrible idea in terms of the amount of time I put in).

In game terms, I spent my XP points from this last year of living on a bonus profession to earn me more money rather than continuing the obvious point of the game, to perfect my guitar mastery :)

Perhaps I might have achieved name level this year in guitar if I had not spent my XP on this arcade game of a job!

What has happened to my guitar skills in the meantime?  Can I and do I pick up my guitar regularly and make beautiful, high level music?  Sure!

Is my playing ability at the same level it was when I was devoting much more time to it?

Of course not!

Have I in fact slipped slightly in some measurable levels of player ability due to spending more of my experience points picking up a whole host of new skills related to my new job?

Yes.  Sometimes the run that I hear in my head stutters on the way to the fingers and I end up having to slide a half step to cover a missed note.  My hands are physically weaker to the point that when I get on my friend's bass guitar and jam for an hour my hand feels like it is going to cramp up and my fingers burn.  My calluses are gone.  I am not placing the meat of my fingerpads precisely at the point where the note will sound true and not buzz or vibrate.  The unique vibrato muscles in my left pinkie finger seemed to have almost completely deserted me.

I feel that XP purchase systems are almost always more "realistic" than the standard D&D level up method. That is not to say they are actually realistic, but if they take into account that the average person is simultaneously bettering many skills and letting many skills slip out of practice, they have a massive leg up on D&D with its strange idea about classes.  You could hardly come up with a more unrealistic way to model humans gaining experience than the D&D class based leveling up system.


  1. Up until now I'd not heard about this method of XP spend, but it sounds good to me. Might just be you're very persuasive though, so after I post this, I'm heading over to check out the other side of the argument...

  2. Well, it would be an analogy if it actually was one.

    See, the problem is, Carl, that "experience" isn't something that the player taps on a day-to-day basis automatically, like "life." In this particular case, what you're saying is that by practicing guitar you're getting better at other things and worse by guitar. As if, to be a better public speaker, you only have to sit in your room and practice guitar. To be a better skiier, you need only practice guitar. To make love to a woman, there's that guitar, ready and waiting for you to pick it up.

    Because in the game, experience is something you get for fighting, adventuring and looting. You don't get better at OTHER things just because you fight well. And while it is true that if you don't pick up that sword and swing it regularly, you should get rusty, that's not the equivalent to saying you get rusty with your sword BECAUSE you're using the experience you gained with your sword arm to run for politics. There is no causality here, which you know darn well. You're just not thinking the thing straight through.

    I am, but admittedly only half the time.

  3. I see XP differently. But of course that is the problem inherent in human discourse - without clearly establishing mutually agreed upon definitions of all important terms, there is no such thing as an intelligent debate :) In real life, most people can't even agree on what the important terms are, let alone a definition.

    Experience as I see it is precisely something that the player taps on a day to day basis, automatically, like "life". What else is it? It is a number on the character sheet. Every single time the character does something XP is tapped in the core mechanics of the D&D game. It is tapped invisibly, cloaked under the "Level" system.

    The core mechanic of the D&D game could be stated thusly:

    "Every time a PC attempts something that should not automatically succeed, the player makes a dice throw to determine its success vs a target number determined by the DM. This throw might be modified by PC stats, level, or DM fiat."

    Almost every majors roll made by a player taps their level because level determines chance to hit and saving throws.

    Level is further determined by XP, a number that the character carries with them and which is built up over time in a variety of ways.

    A fighter can level up by fighting (defeating opponents in combat). A wizard can level up by practicing wizardy (gaining XP for creating new spells, engaging in spell duels, etc.). A thief can level up by through successful thievery.

    If you look at the mechanics of the game logically, you could reduce core D&D Class/Level system to this: A class is a profession. A class levels up by exercising its profession in play. Leveling up the class improves those skills utilized by the profession.

    This adequately explains the base D&D classes and leaves room for Arcade Game skill expansions.

    My analogy was that my class is "Guitar Player". Just like a fighter levels up by swinging his sword or a thief levels up by stealing coin or a wizard levels up by researching and casting spells in meaningful situations, a guitar player levels up by playing guitar.

    I don't think it is counter intuitive for experience to increase and ability in any one measurable way to decrease, as long as ability increases in other measurable ways to explain what the character was spending that experience on.

    An arcade game style system of spending XP for bonuses is easily explained as a fighter spending less time actually practicing his art in his off time and more time picking up a hobby. I see it as introducing realism, rather than being somehow more illogical than the incredibly flawed D&D class/level system.

    To each his own

  4. Thank you! I completely agree. The forced Class/level advancement methodology is the number one item that I struggle with in D&D/Pathfinder etc.


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