Thinking about Experience Levels and Journeyman

Journeyman doesn’t have levels. It is a skill-based system where characters accrue expertise through training over time. Some characters accrue those skills faster than others.  There are four types of people: Background, Colorful, Significant, and Heroic. The difference between these is how quickly they accrue skills. Heroic characters develop skills twice as fast as Significant characters, who develop twice as fast as Colorful characters, who develop twice as fast as Background characters. Player Characters are Significant characters, and can acquire mastery of weapons by the time they are 21, whereas it may take a Background character 50 years or more to become that skilled. Heroic characters are NPC characters like Conan, who is a master at the age of 14 or 15. Normal NPCs are usually Colorful characters — better than Background folks but about half as good as the Player Characters.

So what does this have to do with levels? Well, a lot of players come from systems like D&D which does have levels, and they are sometimes confused about how to rank characters. The way to think about it is to remember that in Original D&D, a warrior’s level was the number of men that character was worth on the battlefield. So, a 7th level fighter was as good as 7 other men. In Journeyman, a typical Background warrior youth might have a 5 skill in Weapons. A Colorful Character of the same age would have a 10, while a Significant character would have a 20, and a Heroic character might have 40. If the Background character is level 1, the Colorful is level 2, the Significant level 4, and the Heroic is level 8. That’s one way of thinking about it, though the better the warrior is, the more critical hits he will score and the less fumbles, which makes a big difference.  Heroic character would actually deal more like 10 times the damage that a background character would, thanks to critical hits, which would make him the equivalent of 10th level.

An important difference between level systems and Journeyman is that one does not increase in the amount of damage that one can take in Journeyman. There are no hit points. The amount of damage one can take is determined by one’s MASS and by the armor or protection one has. More than that, one typically divides one’s skill against multiple attackers, which make it even easier to get hit. Because of this, it is much easier to get wounded or killed in Journeyman. Combat is usually short and bloody, which I like. The combat feels like combat, and for that reason players will often try to either stay out of it or work to gain an unfair advantage, just as in the real world. Spending less time on combat also makes more time for character interaction and development outside combat, which leads to more richly developed characters. Finally, without experience points and levels, there is no reward for killing everything that moves (unless one’s character just loves killing!).


About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
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