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Because UTTAS doesn't feature a leveling system like other role playing games, advancement is dependent entirely on the Game Master and how they want to structure their game. Ideally, input on how characters gain more power should be split between the players and the Game Master; players should get to choose what aspects of their character are important for them to focus on, and Game Masters should control resources that make characters more powerful to fit the pace of their story. Since UTTAS emphasizes free form character creation and dungeon design, it makes sense to offer multiple resources for characters to become more powerful.

What follows are 3 systems for advancing characters in UTTAS: downtime, loot, and story rewards.

Downtime Edit

Campaigns in role playing games rarely take place over the course of a single day; characters spend days, weeks, and occasionally even years off between adventures to purse their own interests. When they aren't delving into dungeons, fighting epic battles, or exploring other dimensions, characters have lives of their own to attend to, and they often spend that time improving their minds, bodies, and skills in preparation for their next adventures.

This is where downtime comes in. Any time during a campaign when characters have free time to spend outside of adventuring or pursuing story leads, they can spend those days building their bodies, sharpening their minds, recovering from injuries, learning new skills, and developing new powers and martial arts techniques. This gives players a sense that the campaign world isn't just window dressing for increasingly difficult encounters, and that every moment not spent exploring is not time wasted. More adventurous players can also use downtime as an opportunity to initiate side quests, though such extracurricular adventures are best conducted away from the table.

Improving Characteristics Edit

Generally, it takes 720 days, or about 2 years, for a character in UTTAS to go from being completely average in a single stat to maxing out that Base Characteristic. This estimate takes into account the character spending 8 hours of extensive training per day, getting proper nutrition, and spending an adequate amount of time sleeping. In reality, people would need to spend a substantial amount of a time maintaining their bodies and mental faculties to retain these stats, but since accounting for these factors in a table top game and enforcing penalties for character who don't continually perform exercises to maintain their stats would be unnecessarily time consuming and tedious, UTTAS takes any advancement of Base Characteristics during downtime to be permanent gains; once a character spends enough time to improve a stat, nothing outside regular gameplay can reduce that gain.

Taking this extrapolation in mind, it takes the following amounts to time to raise a stat from 10, the complete average for a human being, to a 20, the maximum human potential without taking into account templates that can potentially raise that limit.

Value for Base Characteristic

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

Downtime to raise the stat by 1

30

45

50

55

60

70

80

90

105

125

Working on a single Characteristic for a single day isn't going to do the character any good; someone can go running once a week and see no meaningful impact on weight loss or an increase in their stamina, and the same logic applies to stat gains in UTTAS. If a character wants to improve any Characteristics during their downtime, they must do so in 5 day chunks, representing continued effort to improve over the course of a full week. This keeps the math simple for both players and Game Masters, and it's more reflective of reality without getting too tedious.

Learning New Skills Edit

Characters don't just have to improve their Base Characteristics; they can also learn new Skills and improve their proficiency in their existing areas of expertise.

Not accounting for variances in intelligence and personality, it takes roughly 10000 hours for someone to master a single skill, going from untrained to performing the task flawlessly. However, this time can be cut down considerably depending on the person's characteristics, making it difficult to accurately measure how long it should take a character to gain a rank of Proficiency in a Skill.

To make the math simple, UTTAS assumes it takes 30 days for someone to go from being completely untrained to possessing basic proficiency in any particular task. From there, players and Game Masters should consult the following table to estimate how long it should take a character to progress their Proficiencies:

Ranks of Proficiency

0

1

2

3

4

Time to raise to the next rank

30

50

60

100

120

Just like with improving Characteristics, players cannot just chip away at skill proficiency by spending a day here and there when they have time; it takes over no less than 5 days to cement their training, and as such any time spent improving skills should be done so in 5 day blocks.

Developing new Abilities Edit

Outside of working on their Base Characteristics and Skills, characters can develop new combat techniques and Powers. Through study, experimentation, and training, the character can learn a new Martial Art or Power, or they can improve or modify an existing Ability.

How long it takes to develop, improve, or modify a Martial Art or Power is dependent on how many character points the technique is based on; the more points the Ability is based on, the more time it takes to create or change.

Generally, characters must spend 1 day of downtime for every Character Point the Martial Art or Power costs to develop or modify. Unlike learning skills or improving Characteristics however, these days need not be consecutive or in larger chunks; a character can start and stop the development of Abilities as they desire during downtime.

Retraining Edit

Not all characters turn out how their players want them to, and only an unfair Game Master wouldn't allow for a mechanism players can use to re-spec their characters. However, allowing players to completely change their characters without some kind of restriction is both overly meta and potentially a pain for the Game Master. Therefore, the developer of UTTAS recommends that players be forced to spend 1 day of downtime for every 2 Character Points the player wishes to rearrange.

Loot Edit

The second option for improving characters is to give them resources such as money and items that increase their attack power and defense, improve their existing skills, or grant them new Abilities. Players can either find equipment during normal game play or purchase them from shops, though the later method requires some planning on part of the Game Master and can slow down play at the table.

Finding and placing loot Edit

Predetermining what items players can pick up is by far the easiest way for Game Masters to manage their game's power level. If the player's are too powerful, the Game Master can limit the amount of treasure in a dungeon until the power curve comes back down to a level the they are comfortable with. If one character is lagging behind the others in effectiveness, there can always be an item that suits them better than anyone else in the group that the party just happens to find. Character's won't pick up anything they aren't supposed to, enemies will always have a chance of hurting the players thanks to guns or specially-built powers, and the promise of treasure will always motivate players into exploring a dungeon.

When deciding on what equipment players find in a dungeon or combat encounter, Game Master's should keep the following in mind:

  • If there's a weapon or piece of armor not being used, the Game Master needs to consider what this piece of gear is doing there. If it's stronger than the average gear enemies are likely to possess, there's no reason someone, even a low level grunt, shouldn't be using it.
  • If the weapon or armor isn't something any of the bad guys can use, there needs to be a contextual clue as to why it's there. For example, say the Game Master is running a medieval, high fantasy adventure, and the players find a shiny, well made greatsword in a bandit hideout. Several of the thugs were strong enough wield this blade, and yet they all stuck with make-shift mauls and oversized axes. It could be that weapon has some undesirable properties such as a curse. Maybe the weapon has its own intelligence and tries to make its wielder follow a strict code of ethics that clashes with the bandits' activities. There are quest-giving opportunities here, and ignoring them in favor of just handing out treasure is a wasted opportunity.
  • If players are entirely reliant on what they find for equipment, Game Masters should have fun with the items. Don't just hand out swords or sets of plate armor with increasingly high bonuses to stats; hand out rods that create blocks of ice or summon endless streams of frogs. Let them find staffs with random effects, and let these items be used for puzzles and side quests.
  • Small bonuses add up. A +5 to Strength doesn't seem like it would have much effect on the game; just an additional 1d6 damage, +2 physical defense, and an increased carrying capacity. However, it also means they wear heavier armor and wield more powerful weapons, further increasing their potential damage and defenses. Before the Game Master realizes their mistake, they could very well render their players unkillable without resorting to overpowered enemies.

The only problem with relying entirely on item drops to improve characters is that it takes away player choice in how they improve their characters, at least in as far as they don't get a choice in what they what tools they can acquire to assist them. It also devalues currency, since there isn't much role for money in a campaign where players are entirely dependent on discovering items. A good way to fix this might be to implement a crafting system, providing players with materials to create their own gear so long as they have the appropriate Knowledge or Profession skills to construct what they want. It gives players more choices in what they want to create, retains the value of currency by giving players something to trade money for, and it gives players a tangible goal to go out an accomplish by seeking out rare substances.

Story rewards Edit

Story rewards is a catch-all term for benefits acquired during a campaign that cannot be taken away, such as bonus Character Points players are free to spend as they wish, templates and permanent power ups, or assets such as property and titles that have no benefits in combat.

Bonus Character Points Edit

Rewarding players with character points just for playing in the campaign is the most direct way to power up characters; characters don't need to spend weeks or months building muscle or hoping for a useful item drop from enemies, and instead they can spend these points however they want, just as if they were building a free-form character. Game Masters should take the following into account before going down this line of character advancement:

  • This tactic of advancement is extremely meta and can break immersion for players in the setting if it's the only form of improvement. Going off the time in the game world, characters advance extremely quickly following this method, potentially going from physically weak to an Olympic weight lifter in span of weeks if enough points are handed out. The developer therefore recommends that Game Masters using this method set up some sort of resource that symbolizes the Character Points players earn during the session.
    • For example, the Dark Souls franchise hands out what are effectively Character Points in the form of souls, acquired by killing enemies and consuming the essences of dead warriors, and these souls can either be spent to improve the player's stats or traded like currency for new weapons or armor.
  • Because Game Master's have no practical way of monitoring how players spend their points aside from asking them to send their character sheets to them after every session, this method, more than any other form of advancement, can potentially break game balance since they're putting character advancement entirely in the hands of their players. Some will spend their points conservatively by only buying up Base Characteristics and Skills, while others will purchase Powers on the cheap by attaching multiple limitations. Left unchecked, this can prioritize min-maxing over role playing and lead to some characters being extremely powerful while leaving others much weaker.

With those points in mind, the game developer recommends the following method for determining how many character points players should earn through Story Rewards.

  • For every planned combat or role play scenario, determine the conditions for success and the degrees to which players can succeed or fail under those conditions. The closer to ultimate success that players come to the set conditions, the more points they should earn. Simple "success or failure" encounters might only be worth 1 or 2 character points, while giant, multi-session battles might be worth as many as 10.
  • Define some side goals players can fulfill during that same scenario. These achievements should provide cool role-playing moments, advance or open up side quests, or reflect another angle of the Game Master's main plot that the players have not yet considered regarding an antagonist's plans or motivations. Single session missions should have 2 or 3, while a large dungeon can have as many as 5.
  • Recognize the players' actions and reward them for coming up with inventive, unconventional, and unexpected answers to problems set up in the dungeon. Players can, and most likely will, break encounters in ways the Game Master can never see coming, and rather than throw a fit and punish them, Game Masters should reward these moments and encourage players to continue being inventive. Game Masters only get better in the face of continued failure, and every moment the players break the campaign is a valuable learning experience.

Here's how this process might work in action: Tom is setting up a mission for a high fantasy campaign in which the players are invading the keep of a giant that has been raiding the countryside for months. This battle is meant to be fought over the course of several sessions, and Tom decides that players should be rewarded in part with bonus Character Points for completing the adventure.

  • He expects the party to finish the adventure in 3 sessions, so he plans on rewarding them a possible 10 character points, depending on their performance. Killing the head giant is the ultimate goal, and their level of success will be measured by how thoroughly they crush his forces, how long it takes them to complete the dungeon, and whether the giant king escapes or not after the players attack. Tom decides completing the adventure on its own is worth 5 points, since the battles are meant to be challenging and require some planning on part of the players.
  • As part of the 10 possible character points his players can earn, he sets up some side missions taking place during the attack.
    • The giants have some humans they're keeping as slaves and food, and rescuing them on the first day, before the giants have a chance to eat them, will earn the players 1 Character Point and some other potential Story rewards.
    • Another concerns a hidden cache of treasure paid to the giants by a third party wanting them to raid, and finding a note revealing the third party earns the group another character point.
    • Finally, he sets up a third condition prior to the adventure from a wizard requesting the heart of a hydra; the wizard needs one as a component for some research he is conducting, and he heard the giant has one as a pet, so the party will earn an additional Character Point along with a monetary reward if they bring one to him.
  • For the remaining 2 points, Tom inserts an easter egg meant to foreshadow some future events. Intending to shock the players in a future encounter in which the enemy has the players completely scouted and optimized to fight them, he builds an overpowering enemy meant only to follow the players and observe them, keeping notes on how they fight, what Powers they possess, what equipment they use, and who does what in the group. This character is never meant to be found, and just discovering evidence of his existence is worth 1 point. If they actually kill him and find a note on his body detailing his mission and where he's supposed to meet up with his employer, they will earn a second point for their competence.

Templates and Power Ups Edit

If the Game Master cannot come with any gear that the players want, they can instead design a template that grants the player some new powers and bonuses to their Base Characteristics. This method of powering up is much more drastic than other methods, granting the player anywhere from 10 to potentially 100 Character Points worth of benefits, so these should be handed out sparingly and carefully monitored. The designer recommends that Game Masters consider the following when designing templates and handing them out:

  • Certain combinations of Powers can be game breaking together. For example, Damage Reduction and a triggered heal that goes off every time the character is hurt on the same character can mitigate any Stamina damage done to the player, making them potentially unkillable by whatever defense their Damage Reduction is set to.
  • Templates should be flavorful and tailored to an idea rather than a character's specific needs. For example, if a Game Master notices that there's isn't a viable front-line fighter in the group, they shouldn't just give one player some Armor and Damage Reduction physical attacks; rather, they should construct a type of enemy that has those traits, establish how the enemy got their powers, and present how acquire the template those enemies got the powers from.
  • If the Game Master is going to allow characters to possess multiple templates, they need to make clear how the abilities in each template interact. If each template a character possess have copies of the same power, it needs to be established whether the benefits from each overlap or stack. Left unmonitored, these bonuses can turn an otherwise balanced character into an overpowered mess.

Assets and non-combat relevant rewards Edit

The final, and arguably most important, method of advancing characters through Story Rewards is to grant them intangible rewards that have no bearing in combat or character advancement beyond role play value. These kinds of assets have no intrinsic value beyond the Game Master saying this things have value, but they make for cool additions to the players' story and reinforce the impact they have had on the setting.

Examples of assets and non-combat relevant rewards include the following:

  • Treasure, usually in the form of gold and other precious metals, artwork, and antiques.
  • Property within the game world, giving the players' characters someplace to live while they aren't adventuring.
  • Relationships with NPCs, romantic or otherwise. Sometimes, friendly NPCs will repay players for their help by performing favors or joining the group on their adventures.
  • Stocks or ownership over side businesses that promise to profit the group.

The entire point of these kinds of rewards is to make players feel more connected to the world. All the property, money, and relationships with people in the game world are part of a grand story written and experienced by the entire group, and without these non-combat assets, the players' character sheets are little more than statistics on a couple pieces of paper, combat is nothing except performing addition and subtraction, and the players have no reason to invest themselves in the Game Master's world.

Why No Leveling System? Edit

Imagine you are playing a traditional table top RPG such as Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. You're starting off at 1st level, and you're playing a simple warrior-type class such as a Barbarian, Fighter, or Paladin. Your primary role is to grab the biggest sword you can find and hit bad guys with it. It doesn't particularly matter what the bad guys are, be they kobolds, hobgoblins, or orcs; you know they're bad because they're raiding the country side and killing people for no reason you can see, and the most effective solution in ending this is to cut them to pieces with your blade.

Flash forward to level 10: the spell casters in your party are more competent, the thief is more difficult to find, and the bad guys are slightly bigger. On a fundamental level though, what has really changed about how you approach combat? You have some feats that make it easier for you to hit enemies and deal more damage, your sword is larger and shines with magic, and you've even learned how to make multiple attacks in a single round, but the flow of combat hasn't really change at all, nor have the jobs of your party members. The wizard still throws around control spells to keep the party from being overwhelmed by enemies, the cleric is still keeping the party healthy by healing and buffing them, the rogue is still hard to find and picking out their target carefully, and you are still swinging your sword and cutting down whatever is in front of you. By all rights, the only difference is that you are either facing enemies with slightly more health and damage, or larger amounts of smaller enemies you used to have trouble with but can now kill in only one hit. The numbers have inflated, and everyone can do what they do for a longer period of time, but the tactics are still roughly the same.

In the developer's opinion, traditional leveling systems are an anachronism in modern role playing games. It's important to have some sense of progression to keep players from thinking that they haven't gotten more effective, but in the long run, the only thing leveling systems do is inflate the numbers involved in combat without changing the tactics. The difference between 10 hit points and 50 in theory should be being able to take 5 times more damage, but in reality the Game Master wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't throw out enemies capable of dealing out 5 times as much damage to keep pace with the power curve. No matter what, the party will always find minions they can kill in one shot and suffer minimal damage from, a couple beefier grunts that can take between 3 and 5 hits and dish out about as much pain as they can take, and a boss creature that can take up to 10 hits and will likely kill their target in 2 to 3 hits.

What leveling systems change is how players approach building characters. When they join a game, a player will typically consult with the rest of the group to see what roles everyone else wants to take in the party, and then they'll use that information to decide on what role they want to fill. There will usually be one of the following:

  • A support character that keeps the party healthy,
  • A front line fighter with plenty of health take distracts the enemy so the rest of the group can do their jobs properly.
  • A high damage dealer who carefully picks out their targets and focuses on the biggest threat currently facing the group.
  • A tactician who alters the conditions of the battle field to suit their group's talents.

Once these roles have been assigned, the player will look at their role and ask, "How do I do this job to the best of my capabilities?" They find the class that fits their needs, they might consult a guide or two online to find the most effective way to play that class, and then they come up with a rough outline of what feats and class levels they need to take for the next few levels, if not to the highest level cap.

This isn't role playing; this is accounting. Role playing is finding what attracts players to the Game Master's world, interacting with the characters existing in that place, and reacting to danger as it presents itself, not what the player thinks the challenges will be.

What's more, even for players who want to optimize every part of their character, classes are a terrible system to facilitate that behavior. It usually takes 4 to 5 levels for players to get the best features out of a class in D&D or Pathfinder, and in the meantime the player has to deal with features that they don't want. By divorcing features from levels and letting players take whatever they want, optimizers will be happier with their characters and create more unique builds.

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