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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

David Hargrave's Experience System (AG)

I meant to get this out earlier but life, as usual, put forth a different set of options. I'm also doing this backwards, since I posted it out the Google+ community first and then gave it a home here too.  I suffer in the organization department, what can I say.

Anyway, this is a part II of a look into David Hargrave's (DH) design of Arduin Grimoire. For those familiar with his work, he built on the release of the DnD Basic Set, even though he maintained he had developed along a very similar theme independently. He cited his experience with chainmail as a mainstay to back up this idea as well as his exposure to gaming theory and tactical practice while in the army. I'm not sure I'm very convinced of that, given the path his original grimoires took but it was his stance. Some of it I'm sure was sourced from his legal disputes with TSR at the time. In the end, it really doesn't matter though it makes for an interesting historical point.

My look today is at DH's look at experience. He discarded the experience for gold concept immediately; so much so that he made it a point to put it right up front in AG I. In fact, his opening paragraph goes like this: “In the Arduin Universe, the ability to advance to higher levels is based on earned merit and not on the acquisition of treasure. Therefore, points are given for many reasons but NOT for gold or other treasures. After all, it is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” He then goes on to give a chart as a guideline for situations that would provide experience. For anyone not familiar with the old charts, it was...interesting at times. Each profession had a different experience requirement to advance. One would need 1750 (Thief) to make EL 2 while another night need 6500, like the Assassin. His approach is commonsense to our current sensibilities but back then he was straying from the canon – worse, publishing it for others to follow!

If you glance at the chart, you'll see he strongly enforced the experience behind the experience, if you catch my meaning. Death and dying were, to his eyes, a powerful experience. An important fact, given the high lethality of Arduin. In turn, it provided the greatest rewards, as evinced by the experience chart. So, in turn, did like dilemmas and character changing events: reincarnation, lycanthropy, curses that morph you into something else, sex changes, etc. In fact, if you follow along you'll see that being a sole survivor of an expedition came close to the top, being considered of equal to acquiring the mightiest of artifacts (Satan's own pitchfork!) and beating out defeating in single combat demi-gods and greater demons. Followed by defeating in single combat any creature four times your size, performing spells of tremendous import, and like things. Seeing the trend? This page was probably one of the most overlooked ones in AG I by newcomers. DH laid out a different schema for advancement, one that rewarded actions and experience. It wasn't unique nor was that its purpose. It was, however, a part of his game and endorsed heavily. It opened the door for role play and inventiveness, since being creative and involved was rewarded. The chart provides a guide as to how DH saw that occurring. He wanted to move things from the “I go kill or loot that thing” and into the realm of “I do <insert awesome stuff>”, which is probably contrary to anything the casual spectator of the game would think. Most people saw the fluff and craziness and missed the genuine deep seated thoughts underpinning it. Like remapping experience into something more commonsense. Ponder on the chart again. Normal activity is rewarded: figuring out traps, conundrums, and riddles, even if you blow them (oops, poisoned again!) or miss an opportunity because you thought the rainbow peaks was a reference to the Courtesan of the same name instead of the Prismatic Mountains. In fact, just being involved and getting hurt reaped a rewarded or doing the dangerous and uncalled for acts. This was extended to a reward for doing tasks not everyone cared to do, like being in charge (party leader anyone?) or to fighting a rearguard action, being Horatio at the bridge, or being the one to takes down the BEM at the right moment.

It goes on. Yes, he provided some incentive for acquiring magik items, not to mention spells and other things of note. It was the experience of attaining them that gave the XP, not the actually grasping. If it just fell in your lap, it didn't work. You had to overcome conflict to get there.

As a point, if you relook at the experience system and then consider that the lethality of Arduin was balanced by a couple of considerations. David Hargrave loved to be out thought. He outright challenged everyone to do so. His mantra, as spoken earlier was, “I can be out thought but I can't be out fought!”. He knew that the players, no matter their power or EL, could out fight the amount of danger, conflict and challenge he could muster as the GM. The only and in fact, proper out, in his eyes was to out maneuver and out think him. It was this thought that underpinned his encounters. On paper they were ugly and deadly. In reality, with a good GM (and he was) no encounter is an immediate auto death. That Ibathene you just ran into isn't really after you – its the wiggling BEM that crashed through the brush right before you sauntered along. Give it no grief and it will sail by. Or, it may just take a bite and keep on the trial of its original prey. Just because an encounter came along doesn't mean its always aggressive or right to a fight to the death. DH had a wonderful capacity to scare the pants off his players but he always gave them an out. If the players weren't being idiots he would even give it to them in bite sized increments if necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, and since I venture someone will ask, BEM stands for Bug Eyed Monster (B.E.M.)