Luke and Han and XP

I’ll do my best to be concise here, but this is all a bit of a jumble in my brain, so there’s a distinct possibility of rambling. [Spoiler: I rambled.]

Since I first took up roleplaying in the Gygaxian Waybackwhen, I’ve always been a little bit frustrated when games didn’t lead to the stories I had in my head. Like when epic battles play out as “okay now you swing” hit point attrition. I had fun - enough fun to hook me for 40(?!) years now - but there was always something a little bit… off.

Experience was always one of those things. Experience systems are largely built around the idea that “growing” means becoming objectively more potent, usually dramatically so.

And yeah, this is a thing that happens in stories. Star Wars leaps to mind. We’ve got a humble Farm Boy that becomes the Last Great Space Knight Wizard. He becomes objectively more powerful.

But he’s got these friends…

Like this Space Pirate Guy. When we meet him, he’s a bad-assed pilot with a cool ship and a cool sidekick. He’s quick with a blaster (quick enough to shoot first), and he’s really bad at talking his way out of trouble, which is a pity, because he does that a lot. And there’s a Bad Guy who wants to have a chat.

Then by the time Farm Boy has become the LGSKW, Space Pirate Guy is a bad-assed pilot with a cool ship and a cool sidekick. He’s quick with a blaster (quick enough to shoot first), and he’s really bad at talking his way out of trouble, which is a pity, because he does that a lot.

He’s gotten some recognition in the Good Guy Army - they made him a general. And we’re introduced to another friend who’s a bit of a mixed blessing at first, but by the end, he’s a good ally. And the Bad Guy thing resolves, so he doesn’t have that hanging over his head.

But what he has not done is become objectively more powerful. He is as capable when he begins this adventure as he is when he celebrates Teddy Bear V-Day.

So now, here I am, decades later, tinkering with games myself, tinkering with an existing game {and my current favorite system no less), and I’m wondering if I can make XP work more like the fiction I’m trying to imitate. Can I allow the Rise to Power without forcing it? Can I provide other interesting rewards and paths to players?

I don’t want to get too complicated, but I’m considering shifting some XP rewards to Coin. Doing that would make self-improvement one of several options. You could spend Coin for extra Downtime Actions to train, blow it on something else, or you could save it.

But it doesn’t feel as rewarding, does it?

Or I could just give those XP as Downtime actions… but that feels like it could wreck the Downtime economy. Strangely, more than the extra Coin?

I feel like I’m close to something, but I’m at the stage where I could use some input from clever people who are doing clever things with their own clever games. Any thoughts would be appreciated.


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I’ve seen the issue you’re describing as well. In the context of B/FitD games, I’m not sure how to address it. Back in the day Mekton had a system where you chose whether your character was a Rookie or a Veteran at character creation. Rookies started with lower skills, but earned XP in-game more quickly. Veterans started with more skill points, but earned XP more slowly (relatively speaking).

– Ben

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Good example. Since posting this, I’ve been thinking a lot about the old TSR Marvel Superheroes. The game had its flaws, but I did like the way they turned experience into a currency to improve rolls and to use existing powers in new ways. Again, not sure there’s much to apply here, but interesting all the same.

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Band of Blades has Rookies that can advance to Soldiers, then to Specialists. Specialists are more like standard playbooks, although Soldier is pretty good too.

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Something like a “prestige playbook” or Dungeon World’s compendium classes might work. I’m not sure shunting XP into coin solves your problem, since you’d probably still have a low ceiling on Action ratings.

Like, in Blades, the power gulf between a new Vampire or Hull and a four-advancement Cutter is much wider than the difference between a four-advacement Cutter and a two-advancement Whisper.

To go with your example: Luke, in Empire, isn’t just adding a dot to his “Attune” rating–he’s switching his playbook to “Jedi,” which is only possible “When you track down a hidden remnant of the Jedi religion.”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a related issue - how do you make the Scooby Gang fun to play when they’re in the same group as a Slayer?

They do it with fate points - essentially OOC points to spend that can add to dice rolls, reduce damage, or set details in the background that are to the players advantage. Scoobies like Zander have fewer skills, abilities etc than Buffy but has twice as many fate points. So the player can intervene even if the character can’t.

As an example, I had a game where the vamps were attacking the party in the museum. One of the scoobies said ‘what if this exhibit has been set to be lit by natural daylight so the lightbulbs are like sunlight?’. Great idea and it gave the party the edge but it was the player not the character who came up with it.


Okay, that’s a really good point.

See? I knew the clever people were here!

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I’d push back a little on the idea that Han never advances over the movies: Han is a bad-ass pilot with a cool ship & sidekick in ANH but he demonstrates a number of skills and abilities in the later movies that aren’t in ANH.

  1. Survival skills, riding skills on Hoth in ESB.
  2. Han’s piloting skills either improve or he rises to greater challenges in ESB. In ANH he fights off a squadron of Tie Fighters and in another scene gives support to the rebel squadrons. In ESB he’s escaping from the entire imperial navy while flying through an asteroid belt.
  3. In RotJ General Solo is leading soldiers in ground-based combat, something that’s never suggested he’s good at in ANH or ESB.

These improvements aren’t as flashy as the Last Great Space Knight Wizard, but they’re significant improvements. Also, the attention isn’t really on Han; he’s not the primary protagonist. Luke is on a Joseph Campbell Hero’s Quest of self-discovery. Han’s along for the ride.


In my hack, characters only get stronger when the Crew gets Claim, and can die or retire rather easily. Totally workable in a Blades-like system. I did keep experience gaining as an option, but it only buys Special Abilities from a special Playbook of niche modifiers (respec a real Special Ability, give your team a bonus in the fight where you die, your first Assist each mission is free, etc.) So far players have been quite happy with it! I also took out Long Term Projects (I actually took out Downtime altogether) so everyone progresses at the same rate.

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