A perspective on Leveling ad Experience from the Tao of D&D
Over the decades, many folks within the RPG hobby have observed critically that Traveller is lacking for having no XP or advancement. This presumes that level-based games are the standard, and Traveller is the exception. No, it is another paradigm that has held up just as well. Traveller is only 3 years younger than D&D, and has survived and flourished along side it for four decades.
I quote here from the post referenced above although his main point is about something else. It is a good argument against D&D having levels. It also works as a defense of Traveller for not using a leveling system. This was also the first time I'd heard a fan of that game questioning the importance of the leveling system. Maybe there are others, I just haven't encountered them.
Begin quote, emphasis added:
This is my problem with circumventing rules about distribution or reward for the sake of 'fun' or ensuring that player entitlement to rise up a level every two or three sessions is ensured. It isn't a reward any more. It isn't even a measure of relative game play. After all, what if the characters never went up? What if the level was perpetually 5th, without any experience whatsoever? Would it mean there were no goals to fulfill? No achievements? No threat from battle? No reason to play?
Or is it possible, just possible, that we could all agree not to care about levels? Suppose the game simply had no sense of improvement, the players just acted upon their agency or in the stories the DM fabricated. . . would it be any less of a game?
. . .
Play as a 5th level forever or as a 15th level forever, the sense of overcoming obstacles, solving problems and achieving triumph would be the same, would it not?
What is it that makes the level matter?
My answer to his questions is that D&D is a Power Fantasy. To sustain the fantasy, there must be ever higher levels of Power available. Because leveling is mechanistic, it is easy to grasp, and can easily become a substitute within the game for any other goals.
Traveller, without a leveling system, does not have that issue. Players must set in-game goals for their PCs because there are no meta-game goals to set. By the end of character creation, you've already Leveled Up several times. Traveller adventurers are veterans from the get-go.
It should be obvious that the author believes that the game would still be playable and enjoyable without the leveling-up aspect. Traveller concurs.
author goes on to say:
I'm not interested in players whose attention span depends upon advancement.
. . .
I run a world. I place things in it, I introduce the people and show the pathways. I provide the hooks and manage the strange happenstance that drives tension, hilarity and drama. I fill the coffers that pour out when the coffers are found and I put the monsters and other things between the players and coffers when necessary.
But I guarantee nothing. Zilch. The party misjudges the enemy or rolls a string of bad numbers and that is going to be the ball game. Three strikes, that is all anyone gets, and yes, get ready because the pitches are going to be overhand and as hard as I can throw. There ain't no packed lunch, there ain't no sympathy in the big city, there ain't no sanity clause and nobody rides for free.
is how I would like to play Traveller. These days my game group is
playing super heroes in another system. Maybe some day I'll get to do