Class-based RPGs give you new stuff to add to your class as you level up; what race you are does not really affect this. But what I am wondering, are there systems where you can level up your character's race separately from their class?

I am aware that certain monster races in 3.5e have monster levels apart from any character levels they might have (Savage Species, I'm looking at you), but this is a completely separate class that gives the player an either/or choice, instead of giving both. And I think that certain 4e races have abilities that become more potent as you level up, but that's only one or two per character at best.

But this is not what I am looking for: I am wondering if there is a system where a character's race leveling is completely separate from its class leveling, giving similar but smaller bonuses as it does?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You're not likely to get an answer, I think. What you're looking for essentially seems to be a game in which you get rewarded twice for doing the same work. The thing is "monster level" progression (or any other form of "level" progression) is essentially the acquisition of certain attributes relevant to the theme. You might find some games explicitly dedicated to empowering the monster side of things but any game that lets you have both is far more likely to do so by using non-level mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Jul 7 '14 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ My biggest problem with this question is that almost every game I've seen that puts a priority on "growing" a race tends to be a point-buy system. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jul 7 '14 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ D&D 4e was supposed to do this based on some of the original designs they released, but it didn't make it into the final version. \$\endgroup\$ – Bobson Jul 7 '14 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bobson I'm pretty sure the real prototype was D&D 3.5's bloodlines from UA. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 8 '14 at 0:55

The Legend system has something akin to what you describe. All characters are built from class templates, which themselves contain three "tracks" that represent the progression of different sets of abilities. Characters may swap out tracks from the core class to achieve a kind of multiclassing.

When playing one of the six "standard" humanoid races in Legend, there are no racial abilities that get leveled in. However, playing one of the "unusual" races entitles you to an ability track based on the race. This track progresses alongside but independently of the character's class-based abilities as they level up.

Using the example from the rulebook (p127), we make a Paladin with the Dragon race, retaining the Judgement and Dedication tracks from the Paladin class, and replacing the Oath track with Dragon. Every third level (starting at level 2) we gain a Dragon ability:

  • At level 2 we gain flight and claw attacks.
  • At level 5 we gain a good chunk of bonus hit points.
  • And so on until we achieve quasi-immortality at 20th level.

Note that this system doesn't involve choosing which track to progress at each level-up. The staggered progression is baked-in to the game design.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ wargh, I crossposted. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jul 7 '14 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, this is embarrassing. I wrote parts of Legend and I didn't think to mention it in my haste to bring up my 3.5 experience. Excellent answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 8 '14 at 3:24

Some RPGs which don't really have the "class/race" distinction may be relevant:

  1. In Vampire: the Masquerade (part of a previous edition of the World of Darkness system), you play a vampire. Upon completing a "story", you gain some advancement points which are spent on improving skills, powers etc (somewhat like leveling-up in D&D, only in smaller, more often increments).
    A vampire also has a "generation" statistic (representing how diluted is his mystical blood and how powerful he is) - this acts as an upper limit to many of his abilities (such as how many powers he may use simultaneously, or how strong they are...). A vampire can only improve (lower) his "generation" by drinking-dry a stronger vampire - when/if a character accomplish this, she immediately becomes much more powerful (basically "racing-up" and becoming "more vampiric")

  2. In Mutants & Masterminds (an action-comics themed system), each character is unique and it's the player's responsibility to build her powers and abilities in a thematically sensible way.
    At the end of a story, you gain experience points which can be spent on any abilities and powers - If you build, say, a werewolf-ninja themed hero (because, why not?), you can spend some of the points improving stuff like stealth, combat maneuvers and cool pointy weapons (improving the "ninja aspect" - the class - of the character), but just the same, you can use the points to enhance strength, senses, or control over your shape-change (improving the "werewolf" - the "race").

  3. In Eclipse Phase (a futuristic sci-fi game), you have two separate sets of traits - one for your "ego" (basically, your mind) and one for your "morph" (the body which currently hosts your mind).
    Not only are there many ways to upgrade your "morph" with cybernetics and bioengineering means, but you can actually transfer (or even "copy") your ego to a new body. Possible morphs range from standard humans, through genetically engineered humanoids and all the way to wired stuff such as outer-space construction robots, "cat-people" and sentient squids.
    Any such body-upgrade or body-switch gives you different morph stats, but you keep your ego. Both can be improved when "leveling-up", body transfers can also come-up as part of the story.

There are obviously many more, these are just some examples - Anything specific you are looking for?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like class-less/race-less games like M&M don't really answer the question, since they're just entirely different, while V:tM and Eclipse Phase seem like they make the "race-up" thing a fairly rare event disconnected from typical success-accumulation (i.e. you don't get it just because you've completed X things, but because you specifically went out and did the specific thing that causes it). It's still a good answer and I like the descriptions, but I'm holding off on an upvote hoping to see you address these issues a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 7 '14 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. The question is explicitly about levels. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jul 7 '14 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Vampire's Generation/Blood Potency (in NWoD) may not have been the best example, but the disciplines are strictly race based. They are in fact given abilities by level. Mage would have been more ideal since you can buy up your Gnosis/Arete with XP, same as your magic 'spheres' which opened new abilities and when it comes down to it, in WoD (old or new) your race is your class for all intents and purposes because almost everything (save Wraith and Changeling) is born the way it is. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jul 7 '14 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CatLord, Vampires can learn out-of-clan disciplines, they just need more XP and a teacher. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Jul 8 '14 at 14:22

EDIT: I crossposted with @Grubermensch. This answer is really similar to his one but expands a little bit more on homebrewing in the end, so I'm leaving it here anyway.

I know one system that might qualify, depending on what you mean by separately leveling up.
If you want to get two separate XP tracks, one for race and one for class, you might as well ignore my answer. If you want a race that improves along class features, as if it was a parallel class such as KRyan's gestalt suggestion, Legend can do that.

Let's start by saying that Legend is a heavy hack of D&D 3.5e.
As heavy that it's completely unrecognizable in some aspects and one of those is character classes.

First of all I need to explain you the basics of character creation:

  • Tracks are sets of seven related class features (called the seven circles of that track), unlocking as the level goes up;
  • Every class is made up of one chassis (saves progression, attack bonus, hit die) and three tracks. This allows for what I call vertical multiclassing: you don't stop progressing as a paladin to start again with monk features, instead you lose some class features from paladin and gain some monk ones, swapping out your whole track and getting seven synergistic circles;
  • Except for the first level where two first circles are gained, circles are unlocked one per level, drawing from the three different tracks in alternance - this means that every track has one circle unlocked every three levels (again, except for the track unlocking the second circle at level 3, because it also unlocked the first circle at level 1).

While most races are just a set of ability score and skill modifiers, some races such as Dragon or Vampire are full fledged tracks (and a chassis that has to be used instead of the class one).
This means that, if you chose one of those races, they level up along your character and are as important and character-defining as your other tracks.
A Dragon gets seven dragon-related racial features (the dragon track's circles) that unlock one after another, every three levels.

While the manual has sample races, drawing from the classic D&D Player Handbook's ones, there are rules for creating new "regular" races and creating a new racial track is on par with homebrewing a new track (which is routinely done and balanced against the other tracks on their forums).
This is to say that creating a new track+chassis for a race such as human does not really go against the existing races (which are just examples) and making a racial track mandatory is not unbalancin the system (at most it's limiting the possible character builds).

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I have played in many 3.5 games using monster classes à la Savage Species in conjuunction with Unearthed Arcana’s gestalt rules. Many a “monster game” required players to choose monsters with a racial class, which is run in gestalt next to regular class levels. Angels, dragons, and fiends are particularly popular because they tend to have a large number of levels.

It works about as well as 3.5 generally does, which is OK enough if you have a good group that’s solidly on the same page with respect to expectations.

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The anthropomorphic fantasy games from Sanguine Productions — Ironclaw and Jadeclaw work this way. The main mechanic involves six Trait dice: Body, Speed, Mind, Will, Species, and Career. They're rolled in circumstances appropriate to the relevant trait. Characters can spend experience to increase their "Species" and "Career" trait dice separately, boosting different elements of their character as they become better at their natural, inherent talents (like tracking by scent) or their chosen profession, respectively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you elaborate just a little more? \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jul 8 '14 at 1:48

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