- It makes a character's increase in power more gradual, and less staggered. It gives them something to look forward to between level-ups.
- It reduces the burden on the XP -> leveling system. Sort of like taking some of the eggs out of the basket. This makes things like level drain (slightly) less painful.
- Just as XP -> leveling drives a goal of getting more loot, a different system of advancement can drive a different goal.
There's already an obvious example of this in play: wizards can learn new spells by finding scrolls and adding them to their spellbook. So a wizard, even if they are at the level cap or whatever, still has a mechanically incentivized reason to play.
And there are a few old-school things that advanced characters without just giving them XP. Like a fountain that gave +1 Str to whoever drank from it, for example.
You could also argue that magic swords and their ilk are a method of advancement not tied to XP, but we're getting into gear, and that's almost a different thing.
I've been gradually inserting other examples into my homebrew.
- My skill system (which has been revised innumerable times) ties skill advances to how often you use a skill, with a cap based on your level.
- Fighters keep track of how many kills they get with particular weapons. At certain thresholds, they learn a new ability with that weapon. Because tracking kills is fun, right?
- Bug Collectors gain badges from collecting all the bugs in an area. This is basically pokemon, and encourages bug collectors to tell their friends "Wait! We can't leave the mountain yet! I still need to find a grimbly fly!" which is basically the buggiest collectoriest thing a bug collector can shout.
- Demon Blades have a couple of abilities that hinge on the highest HD angel (or whatever) that they've ever killed. This motivates them to go out and kill bigger and weirder angels.
<digression> I just had this idea about cherubim, and added it to the angels page.
Cherubim are extremely important, for one reason: they are engineering the birth of the messiah. You think saviors are born just by chance? It requires hundreds of generations of careful breeding to bring about the right collection of genes and environmental factors to create the next Prophetess, which only happens if the right people fall in love with each other. And woe to anyone who interferes with the finely wrought clockwork of their fanshipping. </digression>
So, with that in mind, here's my idea about monks.
When I picture a monk, I'm basically picturing a pastiche of all the martial artists I've ever seen in anime. This includes Goku.
And how does Goku become more powerful? Not by winning. Goku becomes more powerful by losing, and then running away and training for a fucking six episode piece of shit why is King Kai even a thing. Fuck him forever.
Anyway, here's my first draft of an ability that you learn at level pXX:
You learn your first Secret Technique: Stunning Fist. You learn additional secret techniques whenever you are defeated by a powerful foe and then spend a day training in some dramatic location in order to beat them.
What constitutes "defeated by a powerful foe" is left up to the DM, but a sincerely-fought combat that ends in player death or retreat should be considered a defeat. Alternatively, the monk could seek out a Hidden Master and receive training from him.
Each secret technique costs 1 HP to use, maybe.
- Ten Thousand Punches (Keep making punch attacks for as long as you want. For every two punches you throw, you take 1d6 damage, hit or miss.)
- Quivering Palm
- Too Many Shurikens
- Fire Punch???
- Flash Step
- Goku Beam????????
- Focus (Spend a turn declaring to your target how determined you are to win. Your next hit on the target turns into a crit.)
- Immovable Stance
- Koan (bonus on a save vs some mental effect, if you save, target must save or be confused)
- That thing that Dhalsim does
- Consider the Lotus (lets you pay XP in order to deal more damage because monks are craaaaazy)
|my next monk will be a voldo|
So Where Is This Hidden Master Anyway?
- On a mountain top, inside a giant, angry tortoise.
- He retreated from this illusion into another. You can meet him if you go into the swamp and smoke a wisp. You'll have to catch it in this magic pipe, first.
- He's in hiding because of his stance against the current king, who has ordered the hidden master to be hunted down and killed. If you cause enough trouble for the king, the hidden master will surely find you.
- He's out fishing. Follow this miniature whale through an ocean full of horrible bullshit, where you will find him on a tiny raft made of sake bottles, enjoying his nine-year bender.
- He's on the moon, you poor fuck. Go catch the Cat's Tail (the dangling end of a space elevator that passes over the Brimstone Waste every once in a while) and ride the elevator-golem up.
- He's dead and in hell. Pack some holy water.
What Bullshit Does the Master Demand Of You?
- A fucking riddle.
- Get drunk with him and his extra-special carousing table.
- Defeat him in single combat.
- Something truly awful, like get swallowed by a purple worm and then survive.
- Serve him for a year and a day. He mostly wants a cook, but also someone to fight off all the annoying assassins that keep arriving.
- Marry his beautiful but incompetent offspring.