Designer Diary: Experience & Advancement

By , in News

One request I’ve received from several new fans of WFRP is to help explain the Experience and Advancement system. The Career structure and series of advances are quite different than systems used in other roleplaying games.

This ties loosely into our in-house playtesting, as well. Our internal playtest group is comprised of a mix of experience levels. Some of the players are relatively new to roleplaying games in general, while others are savvy Warhammer veterans.

So this designer diary serves as a primer to new players, providing a quick look at how experience points and Advancement work in Warhammer.
The Role of Experience Points

Experience Points (xp) are a measurement of how a character develops over the course of his careers. It’s an abstract combination of life experiences, learning from mistakes, introspection, and maturity. It shows how a character has taken things they’ve learned and applied it to self-improvement.

Mechanically, xp are one of the types of rewards a player may receive to improve and upgrade his character. Experience points are then spent to purchase improvements and advances. Taken as a whole, a character’s cumulative xp total also provides a measure of their overall power and ability.

Gaining Experience

Experience can be gained for resolving quests, defeating villains and completing story arcs. Unlike other games, you won’t get a set number of xp for each orc killed – an encounter is usually evaluated as a whole and xp awarded based on how the characters resolved the encounter.

Also, xp rewards in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay tend to be "flat." By this I mean xp rewards are consistent based on how easy or difficult a task is to resolve. So completing one difficult challenge would earn the same amount of experience as another difficult challenge. However, deciding just how difficult an encounter may be is relative to the composition and experience of the party. If an encounter is Challenging for one group, they would earn the same amount of xp as any other group of characters would who also found that encounter Challenging. A more experienced group may find that same encounter as Routine or Easy, thereby earning less xp.

Adjusting XP Rewards

Experience points are usually awarded in increments of five. Earning roughly 20 xp for challenges or encounters of Average difficulty is common. Another common metric in WFRP is to anticipate earning around 100 xp per session. That's a loose measuring stick, but between the different plot, combat, puzzle and roleplaying possibilities, it's something to aim for as a GM when preparing an adventure.

Awarding more experience will allow players to develop at a slightly faster rate, while awarding less experience can slow down the development process.

Since a brand new character in a Basic Career will need between nine and 11 advances to complete his starting Career, the 100 xp/session model means it might take nine to 11 sessions to complete that career. If your group only meets every other week, the GM needs to decide if it’s a quick enough pace to expect roughly five months of gameplay before characters have moved out of their starting careers.

Spending Experience / Advancing Your Character

Nearly everything in Warhammer is purchased for 100 xp — from novice to veteran, improvement comes in 100 XP increments.

If you want to earn a +5% advance from your main profile, a +1 bonus from your secondary profile, learn a new talent or skill from your current career or move into a new career exit you're eligible for, all those things cost 100 xp.

Once you've completed a career (meaning you've purchased all the advances available) you can transition into a new career. This is generally done by selecting a career from the exit path of your current career and spending 100 xp.

One option many players seem to overlook – You can also move into any basic career that's not on your career exit list for 200 xp (so you could jump from a Peasant to a Watchman if you wanted). You can also select any career exit path from a previous career for 100 xp (for example, your character is currently a Witch Hunter, but at one point was a Woodsman - if you don't like any of the Witch Hunter exits, you can select a career exit from the Woodsman list).

One wrinkle to your second and subsequent careers — you must acquire the trappings (equipment) relating to that career. If you want to become a Soldier and its trappings include a halberd or a firearm, as well as a set of Light Armour, guess what, you need to acquire a halberd or a firearm, as well as a set of Light Armour before moving into the career.

Depending on the career, a GM may also set some in-game requirement (meeting the right person, performing a quest, getting a letter of marque, etc). This, coupled with the advancement over time of the experience system, helps show that these changes to your characters are gradual transitions that take place over time, not overnight.

Your starting career will be easier to advance through than others, as you'll already start with all the talents and skills available to that career – you'll just need to purchase the remaining Primary and Secondary Profile advances. Later careers may take slightly longer, as you need to purchase the skills and talents – but if you have those skills or talents from a previous career, they count toward fulfilling the requirements to move on.

Hopefully that helped clarify some of the rules related to experience points for new players. Evaluating the role of experience points in a game and taking a look at the rate of accrual and my group’s expectations helped me get a better feel for the type of game my players wanted to play, and allowed me as a GM to prepare better encounters and adjust the flow to ensure everyone remains interested and feels his or her character is developing as the campaign goes on.