I'm designing mechanics for a Naruto campaign using Savage Worlds, and was thinking about how characters improve in media and in RPG's. In RPG's characters usually earn XP each session or each encounter and advance between sessions. Some have this presented as lengthy downtime spent training between sessions, such as in Dark Heresy. Others simply have advancement happen between sessions, but the XP is only representative of what they learned in the session.

I've never seen a tabletop rpg in which heroes are "made". A lot of media depict characters who improve in skill when they are placed in dramatic situations, their skill rising to meet the challenges they're faced with. In reality, both lengthy practice and rapid advancement due to challenge are true, and Naruto depicts this as well. I'd like to have a way to show that in game.

What I'm hoping to get out of this is the classic scene of a character whipping out a new skill or improved abilities to take down an opponent that they couldn't defeat before the fight started. Whether it's a character putting in new contact lenses and breaking out a literal death glare, or a character deciding that it's "now or never" on a new technique they'd never been able to pull off before.

Heroes being forged in the fires of battle is the cause of so many Crowning Moments of Awesome in media, and I think that having that represented in an RPG would add a lot to the experience.

What I've been considering is essentially allowing players to pre-purchase advancements during dramatic fights, with the idea being that they can use them to improve and overcome the challenge but must spend their next advance on that improvement. This could work as is, but I think it needs a bit more to it before it really fits the bill.

There are a few things that I'm worried about regarding pre-purchased advancements mid-fight. The first is that if the players have an option to level up now, but earn xp later, the system would incentivise doing so every single time. In fact, it would almost feel like a punishment if the player didn't pre-purchase every time, as otherwise it would take up to double the usual advancement time to reach a new level. They'd wait the duration of their pre-purchased advance, then an entire new advance to improve again.

The second is that the advance might not actually be worth enough on it's own to allow the dramatic scene of an underdog rising to defeat their superior opponent. I'm not entirely sure how well Savage Worlds works for one on one combat. I've found that a vastly overpowered individual is still no match for groups, though I think I've hit on a way to allow for individuals to be more powerful than groups by altering the action economy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great question. I'll be interested to see what tried and tested solutions come out of this. If I'm honest, I've never seen anything that does this suggested, and I'm a regular on the official Savage Worlds forums. However, it wouldn't suprise me if someone has done something similar at some point \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Aug 1, 2016 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you already have an idea with pre-purchasing advancements. Could you please let us know more about what you think is lacking with that approach? That would help us better understand what sort of suggestions would be "a bit more before it really fits the bill". \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2016 at 0:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ The second point regarding the idea that an advance might not be enough to actually have the intended effect is bothering me, I don't suppose somebody more experienced with Savage Worlds could playtest that? I don't have enough experience with the system to run a mock combat to test it (don't know how players will act, etc etc) but somebody else probably does. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2016 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Warning to answerers - don't post stuff you haven't used or seen used. Anyone can make up something that sounds good, we're looking for playtested solutions here on RPG.SE for house-rules questions. You'll get downvoted if you don't indicate the provenance of your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 8, 2016 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a sidenote, you might really want to consider trying a different system. I actually do have quite a lot of experience trying to run shonen-based campaigns with generic systems (who has never tried running Dragonball d20?) and all those experiences were terrible. If you have to struggle so much to fit the campaign in the system, it's time to look for a new system. I am still searching for THE good system for those campaigns, but things like MHR, Fate, BESM, or even Shonen Final Burst, are an incredible improvement for those kinds of games. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2016 at 6:12

5 Answers 5


Eden Studios published a Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG that did not really include level advancement. Once you created your character, it pretty much remained unchanged.

Included in the rules system was the idea of "Drama Points" that are spent for dramatic effect just like you are describing.

You can spend Drama Points to perform a heroic feat, to add a plot twist or to miraculously recover from horrific injuries just like characters on TV do all the time. Drama Points were limited and players should use them to add to the drama of the story.

Drama Points were also created to offset the overpowered (Slayer/Buffy) character(s) from hogging all of the screen time (fun) by giving the weaker "white-hat" (Zander/Giles) more Drama Points to spend, so they could contribute.

As you mentioned already, Savage Worlds uses a similar concept: spending a Bennie to get a Combat Edge (temporarily).

Drama Points work remarkably well in the Buffy RPG and using Bennies for Combat Edges worked equally well in the Savage World games I have played in.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree, I think this system will end up being the most useful. I am hoping that some way of doing actual levels ups will be brought up. Something that can be system agnostic. I've had a character learn to read in a "dramatic" situation in Dark Heresy. He was hospitalised for a while and spent every day accompanied by some other characters who were teaching him to read. The GM ruled it as me being able to take literacy at half the cost. Something like that might end up being involved. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2016 at 4:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Forgot to actually mention my point in that comment after digressing. When the bounty starts to run down, if nothing that fits the full level up bill shows up. This answer will be accepted. You've got experience backing it up, and it matches what I'll be using. Just want to leave the bounty on the line in case somebody has found a more permanent mid-game level up system. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2016 at 4:10

A friend of mine just suggested something that I'm likely to use in my campaign.

The High Adventure setting rule allows characters to spend a benny to gain the one-time use of a Combat Edge. Player Characters must meet the rank and Edge requirements, but may ignore Trait requirements for this one-time use. Multiple bennies can be spent in one round for multiple Edges, either for different effects or in order to meet a needed requirement.

I would make a few changes to fit the intended effect.

  1. The benefit would be for the remainder of the scene rather than one time use.
  2. The benny may be spent on Power Edges and certain specific Background edges (awakening a "secret bloodline technique") rather than just Combat Edges as normal.
  3. I would award a benny to a player for each wound they take so that in the intended situation (multiple wounds, little chance of victory) a player would have enough bennies to get the power they want and something like Nerves of Steel to ignore some of those wound penalties.

In this way the player would be able to turn a bad situation around and showcase improvements to their character caused by "rising to the challenge", without causing disincentives to regular character progression, or having to worry about the improvement not being enough to swing things while suffering from wound penalties.

To prevent rules inconsistencies, I'm going to start using this mechanic with the first change

The benefit would be for the remainder of the scene rather than one time use.

left out. Having players be able to spend bennies to ignore 2 points of wound penalties for an entire scene would be overpowered, but I don't want the use of this mechanic to be available completely arbitrarily. My findings will be posted if they become relevant.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason why this was downvoted? As the person who asked the question I can say that this answer is helpful, as it's what I'm going to be doing. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 6:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably because at this stage its only an idea that hadn't stood the test of actual use yet. Once this is changed to be about what was actually used and explains how it worked and how it didn't, it will probably be better voted. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. I have high hopes for this. It'll probably be a while before I get to test it out though. Several sessions at least. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 11:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here is a link to a related answer on using bennies in Savage Worlds: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/65582/… My GM made us purchase any combat edges if we used them frequently enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – LeHill
    Aug 5, 2016 at 18:38

Without diverging too much from your initial question, I can say a few things for certain.

  1. You need more than a single advancement to turn the tide of battle in Savage Worlds

  2. Advancing in combat should be a momentous occasion. If each player is doing a mid-combat advance roughly every 3 sessions, then you'll have at least 1 player surpassing their limits in every second combat scene. I think that's too much

  3. Gaining advancements before you actually have the exp to support it should definitely be avoided.

  4. Advancements gained should be permanent, unless the effect is described as some sort of limiter release which only lasts a short time.

As the GM, what I would do is this...

Do not allow players to pre-buy advances. Allow them to store exp and then use that exp later on during a battle. If a character has 10 exp and is suffering at least 1 wound, he can spend a benny to reveal new or hidden powers. He immediately spends at least 10 exp to buy 2 advances, and can spend more exp to buy more advances if desired. For the remainder of the scene, whenever making tests that his new advances would apply to, he rolls an additional die and keeps the highest. This benefit stacks if both advances would apply to the same test. If the advances apply to other static statistics such as Parry, increase those stats by 1 until the end of the scene. As a final benefit, the character ignores wound penalties until the end of the scene.

For example...

Brian Boitano is currently in the alps, fighting grizzly bears to save the maidens fair. The grizzlies are giving him a rough go at it, though, and Brian has already suffered 2 wounds. Things are starting to look grim for the maidens. Luckily for Brian, though, he has 12 points of exp saved up from previous adventures, and a benny reserved for just such an occasion. He spends the benny, and decides he's going to reveal his magical fire breath power! He spends 1 advance gaining the New Power (Blast) Edge and another advance increasing his Spellcasting skill from D8 to D10. Because both of his newly purchased advances are related to the Blast power, Brian will roll 3D10 and keep the highest of them when he unleashes his fire breath on the unsuspecting bears. The maidens will swoon appropriately. If Brian wishes to Teleport down the cliffside afterward, he would roll 2D10 for his Spellcasting test and keep the highest die. His mid-combat advance to Spellcasting allows him to roll an extra die for this power as well, but the advance devoted to learning Blast obviously doesn't apply.

In closing...

By having players save up for their comeback advances instead of getting them before spending the exp, you create a choice for players where they get to decide whether or not it's worth it for them to save the exp or to just grab the advances they can right away. By making it a minimum of 2 advances purchased, you increase the visible effect that unleashing their new technique has on the combat, and make mid-combat advancement both more rare and more epic. Gaining the temporary numerical boosts that represent a momentum shift in the fight will give players incentive to actually save their exp for climactic moments.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this yourself? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Aug 7, 2016 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to know that as well. If this is backed up with experience then it fits the bill for the bounty. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 8, 2016 at 8:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I can't claim the bounty, because I haven't tested this specific method in Savage Worlds. I based my recommendation on a similar thing that I've done previously in BESM campaigns, and general experience with player incentives and rebound mechanics. If you do end up implementing this system, though, please post the results here so we can have a real "tested" answer \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2016 at 7:26

This may be more difficult to implement, but I think it can feel rewarding to your players. And it tends to fit the Anime/manga feel of progression.

I would give a shot at "bonus objectives" as they have in some various rpg games.

Either preselect some rewards for your players that are going to be necessary for the encounter, or discuss with your players what powers/traits/skills/whatever they want to have and design your encounter to rely heavily on them having that ability to succeed.

Next, create some objectives or approaches the players can take to earn those in the middle of the encounter. These can be anything from sacrificing a turn on inner reflection, to taking out a lieutenant first, whatever story suits your fancy.

If they complete these objectives successfully, grant them the reward.

I like to do this in DnD3.5 with the Tome of Battle classes. Having them execute specific objectives can reward access to certain maneuvers and stances. Fits the whole anime feel.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. It would fit some advances quite well. Whipping out a new ability could be hinged on the player doing all the things that power requires on the belief that they'll be able to pull it off. Adding in a roll to pull it off makes that a leap of faith that should be rewarded. I like it. Not quite what the bounty is for, but I'll consider using it. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2016 at 1:29

Just spitballing here. IIRC the Necessary Evil expansion to the Adventure Deck has a card called In That One Issue (or something like that), which allows you to apply your powers in a unique fashion. If you were to convert that into a Setting Rule, it could emulate the situations you describe. Mind you, this is geared towards the power system from the Super Powers Companion. However, I believe the SPC is all but required to convert any shounen series.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey and welcome to the site. I've downvoted this as you admit yourself this is just spitballing. We generally ask that answers are based on tried and tested approaches to a problem, which this isn't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had a look at the card you mentioned. Having it only work for one session, or perhaps just the rest of the fight, could be an interesting effect. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2016 at 12:25

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