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Thaliak

Proposed Change to Advancement Tables

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While characters with 46 experience, I've noticed that the character advancement tables encourage players to plan their characters' advancement paths rather than spending experience on the areas they find most entertaining. For example, a Kuni Purifier that wants to be good using melee or ranged weapons needs to raise those skills at Rank 1 or Rank 4 if he wants the experience to count toward advancing in rank. Furthermore, any Earth Invocations he gets past Rank 1 won't count toward advancement until Rank 4. This is true even if that invocation is Bind the Shadow, one I suspect almost all Kuni Purifiers would encourage their peers to learn,, or Courage of the Seven Thunders, a thematically appropriate invocation for a school that specializes in fighting creatures so horrible they're rarely discussed by other clans.

Although I'm only creating characters for fun, I find it frustrating that I need to constantly ask myself if I'm raising skills at the right time. As a player, I'm sure I would be even more frustrated realizing that my Rank 2 Kuni Purifier who has just spent an entire session studying people in court for signs of the Taint should wait until Rank 3 to raise Sentiment, because he wants to be good at Performance and Government, skills that won't count toward advancement again until Rank 5.

In addition to forcing character advancement to be out of sync with the story, the need to plan characters in advance makes experience itself less rewarding. With a more open advancement system, I would say to myself, "I want my Kuni Purifier to be great at dealing with Shadowlands creatures but still useful in other situations, so I'm going to raise my Earth and pick up Earth Becomes Sky." Instead, I'm finding myself thinking, "Wait. I can't raise my Earth yet because I want the the skills and techniques available at this rank to count toward advancement. I'll have to wait to be great at using Jade Strike, Armor of Earth, and Bind the Shadow, even though they're techniques that are central to my school's theme."

In some cases, I also find myself thinking, "I want to raise a skill from Rank 1 to Rank 2, but I only have 2 experience left to advance to the next rank, and that would cost 4. I'd better learn a new skill that still counts so none of my experience goes to waste."

The easiest way to eliminate the need to plan characters would be to allow any experience expenditure to count toward advancement. However, that would make the only distinction between schools their school techniques and which technique categories they have access to. I may not like the advancement table, but I'm glad they encourage the Kakita Duelist to master art as well as swordsmanship, the Shiba Guardian to explore the finer points of philosophy, and the Hida Defender to gain the nature skills necessary to survive in the Shadowlands. More school techniques would help schools stand out, but since that is the approach previous editions took, I'll assume it was discarded for a reason, such as keeping certain schools from pulling too far ahead of others.

We could get rid of advancement tables and assign each school a list of skills and techniques that count toward experience. For example, the Kakita Duelist might have all Martial Skills, Courtesy, Culture, Aesthetics, Design, Smithing and all Kata count toward advancement, as well as gaining access to Crescent Moon Style, All Arts are One, and A Samurai's Fate a rank early. This approach would allow schools to stand apart, but it would also make it harder to create characters who break from the norm, such as the Kakita Duelist who has mastered survival and theology while serving as a shugenja's bodyguard and champion.

With that in mind, I'd like to suggest a change to advancement tables: Let experience in any skill count toward character advancement as long as it appears in the current rank or a prior rank. Under this system, the first rank or two would represent the skills and techniques the school considers fundamental or has a knack for, with higher ranks allowing members to be recognized whether they become experts in those fundamentals or broaden their capabilities. For example, the Kuni Purifier table might look something like this:
 

Quote

Rank 1
Earth Invocations
Fitness
Martial Arts [Melee]
Martial Arts [Unarmed]
Skullduggery
Survival
Theology
Bind the Shadows
Rings

Rank 2 (reached at 16 experience)
Water Invocations
Command
Performance
Sentiment
Essence of Jade

Rank 3 (reached at 36 experience)
Fire Invocations
Commerce
Labor
Medicine
Rise, Earth

Rank 4 (reached at 60 experience)
Air Invocations
Culture
Courtesy
Government

Rank 5 (reached at 92 experience)
Martial Arts [Ranged]
Tactics

Rank 6 (reached at 140 experience)
You gain Purge the Darkness. Once per game session, you may spend 1 Void point to wield an invocation against all the wicked in your sight. Instead of affecting its usual number of targets, the next invocation technique you perform targets each being in range that you know to possess the Shadowlands Taint disadvantage or Shadowlands Creature ability.

Note: If you spend experience on a skill or technique that would count toward advancement at a later rank, record the experience expenditure in the appropriate row. It will count toward advancement once you reach that rank.


Like the current advancement tables, the expanding table approach would keep the schools distinct while allowing players to create unusual characters by rewarding atypical experience expenditures at higher ranks. However, it would also eliminate the need for players to plan their characters in advance to ensure they are picking up skills and rings at the perfect time. In addition, it would allow fun and mechanically sound characters, such as a Kuni Purifier that focuses almost entirely on Earth Invocations rather than dabbling in Water and Fire because those are the only invocations that count at Ranks 2 and 3.

The expanding table approach has the potential to be less realistic than the current advancement tables. The example table would allow a Kuni Purifier to advance by becoming a master of the martial arts rather than communing with the kami. I doubt this will be a major concern. Most people who want to play a certain type of character will choose a school (and school technique) that is appropriate for that character. If they don't, they'll still have an incentive to diversify unless the campaign is laser-focused on one area, for the higher, more expensive skill ranks have a less significant impact on players' chance of success than their predecessors.

The expanding table approach also retains some of the disadvantages of the current system, such as forcing people who go against their school's stereotype to wait a long time before their experience expenditures count toward advancement. However, I suspect it will still be more enjoyable than the current system.

Edited by Thaliak

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I like the idea of including elements from previous school ranks into the “eligible” advancements for the current rank, as well as marking down xp purchases for later use if they happen to be in a later rank’s list. 

Another way to allow a more free form advancement is that literally ALL xp spent count towards the next rank, but there is an “xp tax” for things not in the list for your rank. They cost slightly more xp but you only accrue the base cost for leveling up. e.g. rising Aesthetics from 2 to 3 for an uncharacteristically refined Hida bushi should cost 6 xp... he can count those 6 for his advancement but has to pay 8 or 9 to actually increase his skill. Still keeps the incentive to follow school traditions, but lets you progress, albeit more slowly, if you chose an unconventional path. 

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8 hours ago, Franwax said:

I like the idea of including elements from previous school ranks into the “eligible” advancements for the current rank, as well as marking down xp purchases for later use if they happen to be in a later rank’s list.

I'm glad the idea makes sense.

8 hours ago, Franwax said:

Another way to allow a more free form advancement is that literally ALL xp spent count towards the next rank, but there is an “xp tax” for things not in the list for your rank. They cost slightly more xp but you only accrue the base cost for leveling up. e.g. rising Aesthetics from 2 to 3 for an uncharacteristically refined Hida bushi should cost 6 xp... he can count those 6 for his advancement but has to pay 8 or 9 to actually increase his skill. Still keeps the incentive to follow school traditions, but lets you progress, albeit more slowly, if you chose an unconventional path. 

This fits conceptually and would work mechanically as long as the list of tax-free skills and techniques for each school is broad enough to allow a range of character concepts. However, it has the downside of making characters who go against type less powerful or versatile than others with equivalent experience. It might be better to keep the experience costs for learning unusual skills the same but only count half the cost toward school advancement. That would still reduce atypical characters' power, but only by slowing their rank advancement, which I'm hoping is less significant than reducing their total skill and technique count.

Edited by Thaliak

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XP tax or lower advancement validation is pretty much the same, as long as the GM can adjust with the number of XP handed out ;) Either way is less punitive than having extra curricular skills count for nothing as is now the case. 

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34 minutes ago, Franwax said:

XP tax or lower advancement validation is pretty much the same, as long as the GM can adjust with the number of XP handed out ;) Either way is less punitive than having extra curricular skills count for nothing as is now the case. 

I like that extracurriculars count nothing.., SR in this rulset isn't a power measure as it was in classic L5R.

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34 minutes ago, AK_Aramis said:

I like that extracurriculars count nothing.., SR in this rulset isn't a power measure as it was in classic L5R.

I can see two benefits to extracurricular skills contributing nothing to rank advancement:

  1. It's realistic.
  2. It encourages players to create characters that fit the setting and their likely role in the party.

Is that why you like extracurriculars being ignored when determining school rank? If not, what am I missing?

Edited by Thaliak

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I didn't read your entire post because my opinion on this is very short and direct - School advancement needs to change.  Currently it takes a LOT of paper work, tracking, and timing to rank up which can get in the way of actual gaming.

I would much rather see advancement done with a simple x total xp spent as a character with certain school skills at a certain rank.

No reason to get more complex then that...

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2 hours ago, Thaliak said:

I can see two benefits to extracurricular skills contributing nothing to rank advancement:

  1. It's realistic.
  2. It encourages players to create characters that fit the setting and their likely role in the party.

Is that why you like extracurriculars being ignored when determining school rank? If not, what am I missing?

It's part, but not all.

  • It represents a much more flexible advancement  than  FFG Star Wars
  • It allows players to advance in competence without advancing in school rank. For some character concepts, this is important.

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11 hours ago, Franwax said:

Either way is less punitive than having extra curricular skills count for nothing as is now the case. 

I don't think it is punitive.
The improvement is its own reward: you roll an extra skill dice; you are better at doing that stuff.

I'm all for removing the planning/optimisation aspect of XP spending (character improvement should be organic), but school rank should be about what your school emphasises.

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Fair enough. So stick to “including elements from previous school ranks into the “eligible” advancements for the current rank, as well as marking down xp purchases for later use if they happen to be in a later rank’s list”. 

I can get behind that. 

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Actually, it would be way more simple just to throw in a bunch of skills / skill groups that are always “on”, a few technique categories and only have a rank-dependent table for abilities you can get earlier than normal. No convoluted planning involved, and it does not take a full A4 sheet to represent!

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2 hours ago, Franwax said:

Actually, it would be way more simple just to throw in a bunch of skills / skill groups that are always “on”, a few technique categories and only have a rank-dependent table for abilities you can get earlier than normal. No convoluted planning involved, and it does not take a full A4 sheet to represent!

It doesn't. The pages are almost 75% blank. I've been able to fit them two to a page without shorthand. (there is a minimum whitespace needed for clarity...)

Edited by AK_Aramis

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So far, we've had three proposals in the thread that eliminate the need to plan characters and allow organic development:

  1. Retaining advancement tables but allowing skills and technique categories from previous ranks to count toward advancement;
  2. Replacing advancement tables with a list of skills and techniques or technique categories that count toward advancement; and
  3. Replacing advancement tables with a list of prerequisites for each rank and allowing any experience expenditure to count toward advancement as long as those prerequisites are met.

I'd be fine with any of these approaches as long as the advancement tables, skill lists, or prerequisites are broad enough for players to build diverse characters within each school.

As a player, I'd probably enjoy the prerequisite approach the most. It's simple, and it'd give me the freedom to build almost any character as long as I invest in the prerequisites. However, it might have the side effect of making schools too similar and barring unusual character concepts, such as as a Kakita Duelist who is more archer than swordsman or who is notable as much for his political savvy as his skill with a blade.

It's hard for me to put too much weight into the concern that allowing all experience expenditures to count toward advancement will prohibit certain concepts. I'm used to abstracting mechanics enough that I'd be comfortable playing a character with a mechanical school rank that is higher than the one their fluff dictates. Since a low school rank blocks access to the most powerful techniques, I'd prefer all characters gain rank at a similar rate. That will help ensure every player can shine in their character's area of expertise.

But I can understand why other players would prefer school rank fit with their character's fluff. Furthermore, almost freeform character advancement would leave little to distinguish the schools other than their techniques, which might have the side effect of marginalizing the ones with weaker techniques. It'd also give new players fewer indications of how a typical member of each school behaves.
 
Personally, advancement that is too freeform might also make it harder for me to explore new areas of the mechanics with different characters. Even with characters who won't advance from learning Earth or Fire invocations at the ranks I expect to play, I have a hard time resisting the temptation to focus on them, for they seem far more universally applicable and effective than the ones for Air or Water.

If I had to drop near-freeform advancement in favor of lists or retaining advancement tables but allowing entries from any previous rank to count toward advancement in the current rank, I'd go with the latter. Although this approach is more complicated, it has the advantage of allowing higher-rank characters to be recognized for skills their less experienced peers have not had the need to develop. I can't imagine any designer putting Culture and Courtesy on a static skill list for the Kuni Purifiers, but I like the idea that even the unrefined Crab encourage or at least acknowledge their veteran members' efforts to understand other clans' cultures and the finer points of etiquette. After all, it is  easier to hunt those who have succumbed to the taint if you're capable of moving within every sphere where they might hide.

Similarly, I like the idea that even the generally pacifistic Isawa allow their most experienced shugenja to study tactics and the martial arts. By the time the school will acknowledge such pursuits, the students should have the wisdom to know when violence is the only answer, as well as enough power that their clan will want them on the battlefield if war breaks out.

To me, gradually expanding the list of skills that count toward advancement is a middle ground between freeform advancement with prerequisites and a static skill list. Done well, an advancement table will encourage players to focus on the areas their school emphasizes, especially early on. However, as their characters gain prestige within the school, they'll be able to diversify. For players who have trouble spending experience if it doesn't count toward advancement, this is important to allowing a wide variety of character concepts.
Edited by Thaliak

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I'm more of a fan of having prerequisites for each school rank and allowing any experience expenditure to count toward advancement as long as those prerequisites are met, but that still creates a build path and planning as much if not more so than the current advancement.

Flavor wise having prerequisites to move up in school rank makes sense. It would help if they would eliminate the school rank requirements for non-school specific techniques and have either ring, skill, or technique prerequisites instead. This way characters can branch out without advancing in a school and you get more options for those without a school. 

Really the more the beta goes on, even my players who are not fans of the Genesys system feel like FFG would be better off scrapping this ill-fated beta and going with the Genesys system. The progression system there is oddly a better fit for L5R. 

 

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I could live so much better with this... Actually I think it adresses most of my problems which I have with the advancement tables.

I would be all in for such a change. I think that works much better than the original.

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