MM-Game Thoughts: Hard Mechanic Advancement Methods

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Continued game design theory on MM-LARPs in building the foundations of Gnostica. (Ed. 10/1/2023)

Hard Mechanic Power Advancement Methods

Advancement methods (regardless of the specific names I’ll call them XP) regulate the progression of a character’s advancement in power in hard mechanic powers and abilities. Advancement methods play a critical role in game design, as they are one of the primary drivers of player activity.

XP is a rationing device. The supply of XP is more limited than the players want for it. XP is used to convey information, determine value, and differentiate amongst items, characters, and powers. XP is not subjected to supply and demand (though that’s an interesting theory) rather the methods of earning it are usually set and can be universally achieved by any player following those methods successfully.

Most online and LARP games use more than one advancement method listed below. I’m sure I’ve missed some, comments or additions are welcome.

Attendance Method –Gain XP by attending events, the rate may either be fixed or variable and is often capped to how much you can earn each month. Used in: Camarilla, AIT, Shattered Isles, Wildlands, NERO, Everhate Pro’s: Rewards participation in the game while increasing the size and retention of attendees, gamers show up because they don’t want to miss out on XP. Con’s: Either requires significant administration to track who has attended what games or is open to abuse as players log XP for games they didn’t attend. If there is no cap per month system rewards those who can attend many games, i.e. 4 to 5 a month.

Reward Method – Gain XP as a bonus for positive activity such as roleplaying, or taking exceeding risks often via a vote amongst players or game officials. Used in: Camarilla (sometimes), Shattered Isles, Wildlands (I think) Pro’s: Allows activities that benefit the game to be identified, rewarded, and propagated amongst the membership. Incorporates player feedback in rewarding fellow players they feel have done well. Con’s: In most games, it is impossible to be in all places at once and defining “good” types of such a subjective topic of roleplaying is difficult. The result can be an inconsistent method of applying bonus rewards.

Skill Use Progression –You gain skill in an activity by performing the activity itself: digging for mining, cutting down trees for forestry, using a sword for swordsmanship, etc. The total skill possible may be capped by level (determined by XP) or the total max cap of all potential skills a character may have. Used in: Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call (I believe), EverQuest (for crafts and skills) Pro’s: Perhaps the most “realistic” experience system it allows the greatest variety of character progression paths that make sense. A skilled artisan doesn’t have to justify why he crawls dungeons looking for monsters to kill to advance his trade. A fighter can learn a new weapon by picking it up and slowly becoming effective at it. Generates greater mindshare in players examining best methods to advance skill. Con’s: Currently viable only for online computer games or tabletop games due to need to track attempts, successes, modifying events etc. Easily manipulated by macroing. Susceptible to players’ min/maxing skill tasks and achieving advancement faster/cheaper than originally designed.

PvE Method of Advancement – You gain XP (or coin to spend on XP) by killing enemy NPC’s or monsters controlled by the GM or. Since the only way to gain XP is to kill the monsters on average the monster’s power is gauged so that on average the characters can easily overcome them. Used in: Solar, Everhate, ADD, EverQuest, NERO Pro’s: Advancement is based on actual ability to compete in non-PvP combat or work with groups that do. Players must attend games and must be actively involved in the primary activity to advance. Con’s: Railroads all character types into having at least some method of being effective in combat. Game activity tends to revolve around combat and can become very repetitive. Steep leveling curves reduce the ability of the casual gamer to participate and hardcore gamers set up “camps” often staying in a single spot for hours/days at a time (EQ). If XP is given in the physical form (like coin for many LARPs) it encourages PC on PC theft/murder as you can “steal” the XP earned by someone else.

PvP Method of Advancement –The only way to gain XP is to kill other player characters. Since death is an expected outcome the penalties for character death are minimal and do not include XP loss, item loss, or significant time delay. Used in: Planetside

PvP Alternative Method of Advancement – In addition to gaining XP via other methods a player may gain XP or other hard mechanics advancement by killing (either temporarily in MMORPG’s or permanently in LARP’s) other player characters. Examples include diablerie in the Camarilla, and RPS Points in DAoC. The victim of the death may suffer little loss (in DAoC) or complete final death (in LARP’s). Used in: DAoC, EQ (PvP), Camarilla Pro’s: PvP is more difficult than PvE conflict and the rewards are usually greater. If there is little penalty for deaths and rules to prevent rampant “ganking” (destruction of players far weaker in power than the most powerful) can be perceived as an enjoyable “end-game” of more challenge than static encounters. Con’s: If death is final, or significant losses occur with death, then player friction rapidly escalates over character death, especially when instituted by another player solely to advance their mechanical power. May reduce attendance at events (in LARP’s) if there is a belief that PvP is likely to occur. Most LARP systems have a hard rule on gaining power for PvP, but only soft rules for enforcing consequences for PvP. Inevitably this results in players ignoring the soft consequences and thus unbalancing the intended game design.

XP over Time Method – Characters gain XP as a measure of time, regardless of activity or attendance at games. Used by: Shades of Nightfall, Shades of Divinity Pro’s: Low administration to manage and little ability to cheat except to change the time a character was created. Con’s: No XP incentive for PC’s to actually attend and participate in games.

Out-of-Game One-Time Advancement – Players have the ability outside the game to obtain a one-time boost or advancement to their character. This may occur multiple times over the life of a character, but each time is finite and its advantage distinct and defined. Most commonly these gains are made through purchases at auctions (for charity or profit), as awards given out to players or as a one-time expenditure of volunteer or prestige points. Used In: Just about all games, sometimes with game providers’ permission (Camarilla charity auctions) but most often without and for personal profit (MMORPG EBay Auctions etc.) Pro’s: Allows players to significantly increase the power of the character without a time investment either by payment or award. Can be positively used to increase charitable contributions. Con’s: Can undermine the game design’s intended advancement methods and times, thus potentially unbalancing the game. Causes friction with players who wish advancement to be based solely on hard mechanic in-game activities. Rewards players with in-game hard-mechanic power based on their out-of-game financial ability in a multiple that far exceeds simple travel and attendance costs of the game itself. Establishes a tangible real-world value for intangible in-game items/powers that may lead to claim of damages if these powers are lost.

Out-of-Game Expendable Advancement –Used in LARPs players accumulate points (volunteer points, brownie points, goblin points) for such out-of-game activities as volunteering for the organization, donating to charities etc. These points may be spent to increase one’s hard mechanic power either in place or in addition to existing XP methods within the game. Used In: Wildlands, Shattered Isles Pro’s: Encourages player volunteerism with the game creating a labor pool. Benefits are limited to points expended and once points are gone no more benefits can be gained. Con’s: Requires administration to track how points are earned and spent. Players will try to find ways to min/max accumulating these points. Causes friction with players who wish advancement to be based solely on hard mechanic in-game activities. Since reward is temporary volunteers may not see value in heavily contributing.

Out-of-Game Permanent Advancement – Used in LARPs players accumulate points (prestige, volunteer points) for such out-of-game activities as volunteering for the organization, donating to charities etc. These points are never expended; rather they convey a ranking that allows certain hard-mechanic advantages either at character creation or along character progression. Used In: The Camarilla Pro’s: Encourages player volunteerism with the game creating a labor pool. Rewards long-term volunteer activity with hard mechanic benefits that do not diminish over different characters. Con’s: Requires administration to track how points are earned and any adjustments may impact past earned ranks. Players will try to find ways to min/max accumulating these points. Causes friction with players who wish advancement to be based solely on hard mechanic in-game activities. The reward is permanent; once a player reaches a level they desire they may cease volunteering. Points are not expendable; every character in the play receives the benefits of permanent advancement.

Tim C.


After reading your list of advancement options, I think you have every one I have every played or heard of. My only real comment is that the pros of OOG advancement seem to somewhat understate the importance of creating the labor pool that supports the game.  do agree that OOG advance does tend to annoy those that only want IG advancement, but without the labor pool that OOG advancement can create, there is quite likely no game for the IG advancement people to complain about.  I am also not sure how much of a disadvantage the administrative burden of tracking OOG advancement actually is. If the tracking is built into the system from the start and a proper level of technical sophistication is present, the administrative burden can be minimized to the point that is should be close to a non-issue. This is going to be particularly true from a non-expendable system. 

You are absolutely correct. I tried to avoid using words like “significant” or “overwhelming” because it does vary from game to game system exactly what impact it has. However, the ability to form a volunteer labor pool is one of the very special functions of large-scale LARPs, even for-profit ones.

In my comments on administration, I tried to be equally non-judgemental. These systems require more administration than if they did not exist, on a scale from very little extra effort to extensive extra effort. Going back over my previous point on design I was specifically thinking of out-of-game advancement systems, expendable and permanent, where a flawed or imperfect design can cause so much work as to totally eliminate or substantially diminish the benefit of the system in the first place.


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