In this game, we’re going to use a variation on milestone leveling. I call this variation “Utterly unfair, whenever I feel like it, and don’t ask.”
The mechanism we’re going to employ is relatively simple:
1) Each Player will have envisioned and calculated what their PC will look like when they reach their next level – what powers, abilities, and other benefits will be acquired.
2) Perhaps the Player will even have a Character Sheet with all the Level-Up done on it… that would be nice.
3) I will hang onto this information, and in a dramatically appropriate moment, I will tell the Player their Character is more powerful, perhaps handing them their new character sheet.
This will work something like how these examples play out:
The Fighter is fighting a mass of orcs, holding the portal as a choke point, knowing that if he falls too soon, his friends won’t escape… A blow lands and the Player says, “My character falls. Sorry guys!” I get to say, “In this desperate hour, you dig deeper and realize that you have more in you to give. You take a knee, but commit giving your life, and that commitment gives you power you didn’t know you had.” And tell everyone that the fighter has leveled up and continues to fight!
Or the party’s wizard is defending against dark forces, raining deadly energies down, sweat dripping from her brow as she flings her last spell. “I don’t have any more to give my friends! I’m spent!” she calls. “Then we’re doomed!” the fighter calls, knowing that their foes are too numerous to withstand. “What else is there?” she cries. I tell her that she digs deep and can choose to give up part of herself to power one last spell (giving her access to the “new” spell slots that open as a result of leveling up), and Boom! she lets loose with the most powerful spell she’s ever cast in her life. The new energies running through her swell her soul and her ego as she blasts the creatures with fearful arcane might!
For me, this sort of leveling scheme takes away the Players’s need to track things like ExP, it takes away their anticipation of eminent up-leveling, and it allows them to focus on playing their characters where they are, right now, in the present moment.
It also gives us the ability to work toward and foreshadow the leveling-up growth by, perhaps, unlocking parts next level before unlocking everything, so that leveling up is a process rather than an event.
That turns me on, and isn’t that what RPGs are really about?