Now and then I get to thinking about the nature of escalation in terms of threats to player characters, as well as meeting their relative competency based on just how much experience points they’ve spent on getting various resources, from higher stats, better weapons or more contacts.
The standard RPG practice is to have opponents “level up” along with the characters. Everyone’s used to the standard pattern, level 1 characters run into level 1 threats. Goblins and Kobolds first, Orcs and Hobgoblins in the near future. I can’t help but shake the fact that there’s something incredibly artificial about that kind of progression, but it’s one that I can easily ignore or at least write off as a necessary evil.
I suppose this is part of the reason why I like games without hard “levels.” The World of Darkness, and the venerable Call of Cthulhu games are prime examples of these, as neither has a means by which characters suddenly get a bonus across multiple stats upon reaching a certain level of experience. By losing the levels mechanic, there’s a certain amount of organic growth with the characters, (especially in CoC, where players have to roll to see if a given stat increases… and they only get that roll if they’ve used the skill successfully in the session.)
In fact, I usually ask for my players to justify their expenditures of experience on skills and powers when playing World of Darkness. For example, a meek libarian might not exactly find herself buying two dots of Weaponry or Firearms at once out of the blue. If this meek librarian wants those dice, then they’d better do something in game to justify it. Enrolling in shooting lessons and gun handling seminars would be a start, and would certainly be a nice way to spin off some good rp moments for that character.
It’s this kind of “Cause-Effect” behaviour that interests me when it comes to games like these. Players are then motivated to do more for their character, rather than suddenly grow proficiency with nunchucks overnight. (Changeling: the Lost fans, yes, I’m aware of dream teaching, but that isn’t done in a single night either. :p) I’ve never been that strict with regards to the use of training times for learning skills and powers, but now that I’m relatively more used to things, I should seriously consider using a strict timeline now, especially for nMage and people picking up the habit of using massive rituals that take hours to perform.