# Custom rules for character advancement

Normally a cleric would gain +1 to attack bonus, +1 to fort save, +1 to will save, +1 1st-level spell per day and +1d8 hit points (+CON) when he reached level 2. I've always found this mechanic kind of strange. Why, after plumbing the depths of the skeleton king's lair, does my character suddenly become so much more powerful? Shouldn't he become more powerful as he explores and fights? I think it would make more sense from an in-game point of view if he became a little bit stronger one day, learned something new the next day, became more resilient the day after that, etc., instead of all this occurring at once.

In light of this, I thought it would be more fun for players in my campaign if I distributed these gains more evenly. For example, since the cleric gains five things after getting 2000 XP, he would instead gain one thing every 400 XP:

400 XP: Attack bonus + 1
800 XP: Fort save + 1
1200 XP: Will save + 1
1600 XP: + 1 1st-level cleric spell per day
2000 XP: Hit points + 1d8 + CON

In addition, I think it would be easier for new players to grasp things this way because they aren't having to deal with so many changes occurring at the same time.

Has anyone ever tried modifying the rules this way? Are there any downsides I'm not thinking of?

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I've tried to modify my games to use a non-standard leveling system. Basically, it amounted to each character gaining an npc-class level halfway through leveling up, giving them appropriate skills, BaB, and hit dice, but denying them class features until they level up fully, including feats.

While it was interesting, it came with three primary flaws. I foresee each one being an issue for the system you proposed as well, and likely more so.

1. It added another layer of book keeping to the game.

In my game, it meant each player had to basically level up their character twice as much as they would normally have to. Even a small change can mean a lot of re-writing on a character sheet, and as often as you're planning on doing it, chances are it will bog things down even more, especially since they'd likely have to do this mid-game, as opposed to at the end of sessions like in my game.

2. It doesn't really add anything to the game.

While it may seem like it makes character growth feel more natural by making the change less abrupt, for the most part, it really only makes it worse. In my game, I did it because my group is a bunch of power-gamers, and I thought it would let them feel like they're leveling up more often. In reality, it only drew attention to how slowly they were leveling up, by making it something they were doing nearly every session. In your game, I see something similar happening, for a different reason. If you say it's to make character growth feel more organic, then all it's going to do is draw attention to the few things that don't. For the most part, a single level is really not that jarring of a change. The big differences are feats, spells, and a few other class abilities. When a character 'suddenly' gains those things at a new level, everything else they gain doesn't seem like that big of a deal. They can take a few extra hits, they know a bit more, and they are a bit more accurate. Compared to a wizard suddenly learning how to go from burning hands to fireball, the fighter being able to jump an extra foot on average doesn't seem all that jarring.

3. You still have to have a good campaign.

In my game, the campaign was lacking because I had a few issues implementing the new rule. The players got bored of it, quickly, because the rules of the game really aren't important so long as the campaign is enjoyable. Any rule can potentially be a stumbling block that interrupts the flow of the game, but the more often that stumbling block is a rule you made, the more often the players will blame it on just being a bad campaign, something they can move past and forget.

Ultimately, this rule will have the same primary issue all house-rules have. It's not a part of the core book, so it really only exists because You, the DM, wants it to. If it doesn't add to the fun of the game, or worse, subtracts from it, then it will be seen as bad DMing.

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I think it would make more sense from an in-game point of view if he became a little bit stronger one day, learned something new the next day, became more resilient the day after that, etc., instead of all this occurring at once.

From an in-game point of view, that is exactly what does happen. The game-mechanics numbers all improving at once are an abstraction of this, intended to cut down on the bookkeeping and make manually tracking your character's abilities feasible. (Not everyone has spreadsheets set up that automate everything, and when this game got started in the mid 70s, no one had those.) Just like the characters (in most campaigns) aren't aware of hit points as discrete packets of un-injured-ness, but just see scratches and cuts and punctures, et cetera, your cleric also sees his ability to aim a blow increasing gradually with every swing. These individual tiny improvements, however, are not worth tracking until they get big enough to be a +1 on the die roll; until then, they're a rounding error, a slight imperfection in the game's modelling of the fictional world.

This rounding error can get a bit more egregious in some cases, such as new levels of spells, but even then, the idea is that, within the fiction of the game, your cleric is gradually becoming capable of generating stronger and stronger effects, but it's just the abstraction of the game mechanics that turns this into discrete levels of spells, with every spell within a given tier becoming castable by a given cleric at the exact same moment in their progress toward greater power.

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Excellent point! I needed to be reminded that the game mechanics are an abstraction of what the character experiences. – Dave Kennedy Jul 24 '14 at 17:30

Upsides: More natural level progression

Downsides: More effort required from the DM to determine when the characters get things in sub levels.

More interruptions to your campaign as people constantly need to be adjusting character sheets, choosing spells etc.

At low levels, if you give out new spells and BaB before you give out new HP and saves, your characters become glass cannons. If you do the opposite, you could slow combat down too much as everyone becomes harder to kill.

Some characters will benefit more from the change than others, potentially making classes even less balanced. For instance, with your proposed changes, your early changes help martial classes do damage and stop spellcasters doing damage.

Some gear is given out during the session, smoothing out the process of becoming more powerful.

Determining appropriate challenge rating encounters to throw at your party becomes even less easy.

Ultimitely, it's a call for you and the players, but I would say this will make things slower and more difficult for newer players.

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Be careful of changing things like this. First, you never know what sort of subtle things you might break, and then your players have to deal with the fact that its no longer standard rules. It tends to cause problems.

And then, once you go down that road, you start changing other things you don't like, and then more things. I used to do that and finally got tired of band-aids and wrote a whole new system from scratch. It directly addresses your concerns in that the XP you earn is earned in the skill you are using (and everything is a skill) at the time you use it. The amount of XP in the skill determines the bonus to rolls. There is more to it than that, but you get the idea.

Point is, its sometimes better to change everything or nothing. If you do start making changes, I find it helpful to set down some ground rules:

1. Inform the players of exactly which rules are being changed and why and make sure they are OK with this.
2. Never change rules in the middle of an adventure unless absolutely necessary, and even then don't do it in the middle of a session. Wait until you finish and then discuss why you think a rule needs to be changed after play.
3. Don't change too much nor too often. Your players will kind of get the feeling that the rules of physics in your world is changing.
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Your first paragraph is very vague, can you maybe give an example of something subtle that might break, or what problems will be caused? – ioanwigmore Jul 23 '14 at 6:45
A friend of mine wanted to add facing to D&D 3.5. At first, its not much of an issue, but how do you turn around? What sort of action is it? And how is game balance affected, especially when up against creatures without an anatomy that would have a "facing", and creatures with an all-around site wouldn't need it either. Or a more subtle change, people always want to change horses to a long counter, but counters are always square in 3.5. It may look better on the grid, but you just changed the number of threatened squares. Others have mentioned other examples, so I won't repeat them. – Evan Langlois Jul 24 '14 at 4:22