A long time ago, I posted about an idea for Pathfinder achievements and some feats that went along with them. I am tracking what my players do as far as damage and skill use and so on, but I still haven't come up with any feats with requirements for X amount of skill checks or whatever. Oh well, some ideas sound good but never take. Like achievement feats, this post might go that way as well, but I'm not too concerned about it.
....maybe achievements might be more appropriate in a Fourthcore style game....hmmm.
Anyway, this post is kind of about achievements. I've spoken before about how I am irritated about some of my players and their obsessive need to be high level for the sake of being high level, and having no purpose for having those high levels. I've spoken before about a blog called The Alexandrian and his musings on the idea that Aragorn is not 20th level and in fact didn't do a single thing in the movies that warranted being above 5th level. This post is going to kind of touch on both of those previous topics.
My beef with this level gain obsession situation is kind of humorous, because at the end of the day, I am the guy that awards the levels and it is up to me to determine how fast they advance. Heh.
Last campaign, my players ended up at 15th level. They were badass superheroes among men, skilled enough to lead armies, and powerful enough to alter the very reality of the world through their various supernatural abilities. However, they were essentially acting as low level mooks. They were Nakmander's cronies, his button men. They were not treated, and certainly did not act, as if they were some elite hit squad he sent out when matters were most dire and he needed the earth scorched. They essentially acted like Kirk's red shirts the entire campaign, stumbling around getting blown up and shot and poisoned and so on. They never died, because they were superhuman. Regardless of their status as unkillable heroes, they acted like 0-level red shirt mooks, they didn't really plan anything and really just followed the orders of whoever was talking to them at the time.
Why did they need to be 15th level if they were just going to be mooks or thugs or button men? The inevitable answer is, because high level is cool and we want to be cool and do cool stuff! In my mind, that is lame, because they didn't do cool stuff. They just sat there for fifteen levels and waited for Nakmander to tell them what to do. There was no drive or ambition in them, other than Xein's sword and John's gun getting jury rigged into being bigger and better. Kethranmeer needed to be high level, because he was founding a nation and freeing a race from bondage. He could not have fought off Black Souled Monks of the Necropolis as a 5th level Fighter. There was a clear and present need for him to be more powerful than he was back in the Beltan mines. When Eric thought up Xein building a tavern and an information network, that got interesting, that was worthy of higher levels
Anyway, the concept I am toying with is using the story to unlock higher tiers of play. In 4th Edition, levels one though ten are the heroic tier. You are getting your feet wet and figuring out how things work, trying to stay alive and make some money while doing so. Levels eleven through twenty are paragon tier, your actions are changing the borders of nations and bringing down despots and so on. Levels twenty-one thought thirty are where you are literal gods among men. Your actions now reshape the planes and so on.
I wouldn't want to follow that exact progression scheme, but something similar. I think I would call my heroic tier levels one through six or eight, or something. This is the basic level, you are trying to figure out your class, how your character plays and if you like that playstyle, and also how my wonky rules muck everything up. This is also the period where we figure out if your character has any survivability to him.
If we go back to earlier editions of the game, ninth level is kind of a big deal level, it is the level where you attract followers and gain the option of going out into the wilderness to build a stronghold. Xein building Tesla's Boil, or a quest line that resulted in D'alton reclaiming the mansion, rather than just being handed the deed by Nakmander (which is my fault, I should have turned that into a quest line), would be a similar thing. Anyway, the stronghold kind of represents that you are a big deal and are well known in your area. It represents the fact that you have more on your mind than where you are going to get your next meal or find your next "kill X brigands" quest. Calling men to your banner and carving a chunk out of the wilderness is kind of a big deal, it takes effort and work and determination, and people, friends and foes, take notice. It is something a 0-level mook or red shirt would never think to do. This would kind of be the gateway between mook-hood and person of interest-hood.
So getting a stronghold would be the key to accessing a higher level of play. This wouldn't be simply buying an apartment or killing a farmer and taking over his farm, though depending on how much work they put into that, I guess it could. What happens if they decide to stick their feet in the mud and don't want to go to the effort of creating a stronghold? Does advancement stop? Do you end the game? No. The game is a game and it is a social contract that says we should all be able to have fun. If they have fun with high level play, the GM has a responsibility to allow them to have fun. So yeah, they should be allowed to level.
There are other ways of leveling though. If it is the high level abilities that they want, you can deny them access to higher end gear, or reduce the amount of treasure they find. This sounds dickish, I know, but it just depends on how you implement it. If they rob a wealthy business man, yeah they should find cash, but probably not a sorcerous artifact. If they fight a pack of huge wolves in The Beast Lands, they can probably sell the hides, but they won't find cash, and the hides are only going to be really valuable if the guys properly skin the wolves and tan the hides and such.
I guess this is me trying to force my style of play on my players, and perhaps that is offensive to them, but it is my game and my campaign world and I have bent and broken rules for them to aid their fun. Once in a while, they should bend for me. Also, I would never ever cap their levels or do something that they really thought made the game not fun for them. We're all friends and I want them to have fun. If they don't want strongholds or to create nations or explore the world, that is fine. However, I would slow their progression by using the slow columns in the experience and wealth tables. I've told them multiple times, the more goals they have, the more quests and side quests I can throw out there for them to complete and gain experience points from and I really think the game is about them and the story of their characters, and their goals should drive the campaign. I want them to have goals, so I can reward them for completing them.
This is just kind of a kernel of an idea, and I don't know that my players would even care for this concept. I think it does kind of inch towards railroading. But I just can't understand why they need to be higher than level three, if all they want to do is run around killing street gangs. If Eric had come up with a plan to create his information network and had actually determined a purpose for it, I could definitely milk that for a few scenarios and that would definitely be worthy of higher levels, as the leader of such an organization would need to be a leader of men and one skilled in many different areas of expertise.
I guess I think on it all a bit more and see what crops up.