WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

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WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

Post by Big Mac » Wed Oct 12, 2011 12:14 pm

After talking to Bonetti about the epic progression of characters in Ivellius's How Big a Hero? - Suspension of Disbelief thread, I've been thinking about the conflicting needs of the players (who often want to move upwards from 1st level) and the GM (who may "need" PCs to get to higher levels to be able to throw certain plotlines at them).

You may want to review the entire thread, but here is an extract of my reply, where I started to form the idea:
Big Mac wrote:
Bonetti wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I know that a lot of D&D players I've met don't like to go anywhere near to 20th level (let alone beyond it) and some settings (like Dragonlance) seem to have a feel that expects NPCs to tail off below 20th level. That can make Epic level play seem a bit over the top for some settings. That makes some people feel that high level PCs should be retired when they get to a certain level.

But if there has ever been a D&D world that was specifically designed to not just support Epic-level play, but to demand Epic-level play, I'd say that World of Warcraft is that setting.
Other than a couple one-shots, I've never had a game go long enough to get there (and everyone wants to start at lower levels, for some reason). That being said, I second this.
Thanks. For what it is worth, I think that I find the low levels a good way to "get into a character" and would much rather take a PC from 1st level to 30th level than start at 8th level, go to 25th level and be bugged about how much more awesome it could have been if I'd "started at the beginning".

However, I know that GMs have a "big story line" that they want to push and that doesn't always involve going back to square one if the players get their PCs killed. I've got an idea about this. I might start another thread tommorow.
In the MMO, the PCs are effectively "immortal". Blizzard is quite happy to let you die countless times. It just charges you a cost in equipment repair and time (to walk back to where your body was). This means that Blizzard can do the monster heroic progression from PCs that start off as a hero to a small girl who has lost a necklace and end up as heroes to entire nations.

Unfortunately tabletop RPGs have realism that means that if the PCs make a mistake some of them will be killed. If they make a really bad mistake (or get very unlucky) you could be looking at a TPK. That is obviously going to be bad for the players, but it could also derail the work of the GM who is trying to build them up to some sort of epic adventure path.

I wonder if the MMO mechanics could serve as inspiration for a system to get past this risk. I've already suggested in my Guilds as a tool to make RPG PCs work together thread that the group of players could sit down together and create a guild for their PCs to belong to. But suppose that we went past that and used the other system that the MMO has: allowing multiple characters and giving them an XP bonus when they have not been played for a while.

Character creation can sometimes be looked at as a chore by some D&D players (I know I've groaned a few times), but perhaps there could be a way to make it as "fun" as the character creation system in the MMO. I got the Hero Builder's Guidebook a while back and wonder if a similar sort of thing could be knocked up to allow players to randomly generate Warcraft RPG PCs (or pick from the options).

I think that part of the desire for PCs to start at low levels is to help them "try on the PC" and start to form the character of the PC. I wonder if the GM could maybe do a starter solo adventure for a secondary PC to get started and then use some sort of process similar to the Traveller RPG to bump the PC up in the background.

If you have a look at the Commoner Campaign thread that Ashtagon found* you can see that there could be a way for individual background PCs to get small bumps during the times when some of the players can't turn up to a regular session.

* = Warning - this thread will eat your life. I'm linking to a thread on The Piazza that talks about it, but if you surf over to the WotC forums, I'll see you in a week or so and will accept no responsibility for your actions.

I think that the GM could have some grinding missions for the secondary PCs to do (that don't involve as much preperation as the main campaign arc). But it might also be possible to have all the secondary PCs as "lesser members of the guild" and have them carry out secondary missions that could tie into what the primary PCs are doing.

Most importantly, if the primary PCs earn their XP legitimately, but the secondary PCs get the occasional "boost" by the GM, it should be possible to get the players to turn a secondary PC into a primary PC if they get a PC killed.

I'm not sure that you need to have a big formal way to organise this (although that might help a GM who has not tried this before) but I do think that if the PCs are made to be responsible for creating a team (a guild) that goes way beyond the primary PCs that should give the GM a way to keep plugging away with a single adventure that has a logical connection to the players all the way through the story line.

It would be nice to take a single PC from 1st level to 30th or 40th level. But if that is not possible, then being able to take a team of PCs from 1st level to 30th or 40th level would be the next best thing.

Does anyone have any suggestions on ways this could be done without looking "cheesy"?
Last edited by Big Mac on Sat Oct 06, 2012 9:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

Post by Ivellius » Wed Oct 12, 2011 2:21 pm

I'd think one of the simpler methods would be for each player to create multiple characters (hey, there's no one saying alts have to be restricted to the MMO). The biggest problem you'd probably see is that characters wouldn't have as much distinct personality; hopefully you get a group of players that want to distinguish the different characters under their control.

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Re: WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

Post by Big Mac » Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:50 pm

That is the idea. Hopefully people would at least make an attempt to roleplay the PCs differently.

One other advantage of players running multiple characters would be that if you had an adventure that needed extra clerics or wizards or people with a specific skill (like mining) you could get a couple of players to switch to one of their other (backup) PCs.
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Re: WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

Post by Bonetti » Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:14 pm

One of the weaknesses of the tabletop game is, unless you meet very frequently (or at least more frequently than the groups I've played in), it takes years to get anywhere on one character. Having to level a second character to keep pace would make an already slow-motion story even worse.

That being said, I've heard of a couple approaches that work.

One is the Adventuring Guild approach, where one assumes that every character controlled by the same player has earned experience during a given adventure (but only the one character participated). That way, the "background" characters stay of a level, and the players can swap out on a per-adventure basis (and the player or GM are free to fill in the details, which can also be a fairly cheap way to drop in a new story or adventure hook). The biggest drawback I see here is that one may end up not developing or becoming attached to any of one's own characters. Obviously, it would work best in a well-developed campaign based around a city, where character swapping can be fairly frictionless.

A second is the Star Trek model: divide the responsibilities in an adventure into teams (bridge, medical, engineering, away, scientific), and each player gets one character on each team. Then, as the adventure "camera" switches around, the players swap characters (and, in some adventures, some characters would probably not be used). Everyone stays active at each step, and the adventures can be more sprawling. (This would also be well-suited to, say, Spelljammer.)

I was planning on eventually expanding my group's focus to allow the Adventuring Guild at some indeterminate point in the future, but the game has been on hold for most of this year. (I was also planning on doing some future adventure exposition via "one-off" nights, where I handed some PCs with backgrounds to the players and had them run just for the night, e.g. showing an undead invasion by having them run the villagers, or giving them humanoids as the scouts for an army about to attack a city, etc.)

Hrm, you know, the Black Company may also offer an approach: consider it as the Captain and Lieutenant are NPCs, and they dictate who goes on a given mission or who are assigned to a specific task. The GM then picks out the PCs he wants in the adventure (thus also potentially setting up disadvantages for the group, e.g. leaving the casters out to make it more difficult), and each player picks which one to run for that adventure.
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Re: WoW MMO as inspiration for "background" levelling

Post by Big Mac » Tue Nov 08, 2011 12:38 pm

Bonetti wrote:One of the weaknesses of the tabletop game is, unless you meet very frequently (or at least more frequently than the groups I've played in), it takes years to get anywhere on one character. Having to level a second character to keep pace would make an already slow-motion story even worse.
I agree. I probably didn't explain myself properly.

I was talking about having some sort of "automatic levelling" where you don't have to role play the advancement of the other characters. I figured you would do the main thigns (like character creation) but skip a level from time to time (when playing another character). I've not worked out the exact details.
Bonetti wrote:That being said, I've heard of a couple approaches that work.

One is the Adventuring Guild approach, where one assumes that every character controlled by the same player has earned experience during a given adventure (but only the one character participated). That way, the "background" characters stay of a level, and the players can swap out on a per-adventure basis (and the player or GM are free to fill in the details, which can also be a fairly cheap way to drop in a new story or adventure hook). The biggest drawback I see here is that one may end up not developing or becoming attached to any of one's own characters. Obviously, it would work best in a well-developed campaign based around a city, where character swapping can be fairly frictionless.
That could work well. If you have all of the player's characters in a single guild, you have a built in mechanic to allow the party to swap out a character for another. From an in-character point of view, one character may be injured or ill or needed elsewere (or dead). Then the group can find a way to bring in a new character (one of the player's alternative characters) that fits the task at hand.

I think this would work well for groups that want to have a lot of sneaky people (thieves) on certain missions but a lot of spellcasters on other missions. The larger group could send in a "six man team" with the leader choosing to use certain PCs for certain jobs and other PCs for other jobs. The PCs not involved in the battle could possibly be used as a "support team" that can be stationed nearby and ready to assist.
Bonetti wrote:A second is the Star Trek model: divide the responsibilities in an adventure into teams (bridge, medical, engineering, away, scientific), and each player gets one character on each team. Then, as the adventure "camera" switches around, the players swap characters (and, in some adventures, some characters would probably not be used). Everyone stays active at each step, and the adventures can be more sprawling. (This would also be well-suited to, say, Spelljammer.)

I was planning on eventually expanding my group's focus to allow the Adventuring Guild at some indeterminate point in the future, but the game has been on hold for most of this year. (I was also planning on doing some future adventure exposition via "one-off" nights, where I handed some PCs with backgrounds to the players and had them run just for the night, e.g. showing an undead invasion by having them run the villagers, or giving them humanoids as the scouts for an army about to attack a city, etc.)

Hrm, you know, the Black Company may also offer an approach: consider it as the Captain and Lieutenant are NPCs, and they dictate who goes on a given mission or who are assigned to a specific task. The GM then picks out the PCs he wants in the adventure (thus also potentially setting up disadvantages for the group, e.g. leaving the casters out to make it more difficult), and each player picks which one to run for that adventure.
I think this could work too. It would sort of be similar to when you have hirelings and cohorts and you allow a player to roleplay one of them if their PC gets knocked out of the game.

I certainly like the way that this gives the group a built in connection that would explain any swap if a PC died.
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