Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Legendarium: Diagetic Advancement

Last time I wrote about Big Fucking Treasure, which is the idea that treasure (and levelling up) comes from big, significant milestone treasures, rather than from the gradual accumulation of XP.  Mixed in with that post is the idea that these treasures were part of your character's story--you could append them to your name, as in:
Morbo the Ineffable, who stole back the Nosering of the Elephant King

Famous Loot = Level Ups = Character Legendarium

Many DMs roll their eyes when level 1 characters show up with an extensive backstory, yet players want their characters to have something unique about them.  A lot of OSR games don't give two shits about backstories, so hopefully this will help scratch that itch for players.

The Legendarium

Your legendarium is the part of your character sheet where you record all of your character's exploits, treasures, and failures.  It's all meant to highlight your character's progress, and its all tied to diagetic advancement (improving your character within the fiction, rather than based on abstracted mechanics).  It's your personal legend.

The Legendarium is also the back of your character sheet where you write all of this down.  It doesn't have any in-game impact, except perhaps as a source of titles.

Each section is associated with a particular type of memorable deed, and each section is associated with a specific type of character improvement.  There are three sections.

Tales of Treasure = Notable Treasures = Level Ups

Stories of Skill = Skill Usage = Skill Ups

Reports of Peril = Times You Almost Died = Bonuses to Certain Saves

The idea is that one day you'll be level 5, and you'll be able to flip to your Legendarium and see the adventures that brought you there.

by Ariel Perez
Tales of Treasure

This is essentially the same as what was described in my last post.

You level up by finding a big Treasure.  After you level up, you get to add something to your Legendarium.  If you ended up wielding the magic sword, you get to be

Morbo, Wielder of Blackrazor

Here's how leveling up works in my current GLoG:

Every level beyond the fourth awards +1 Helpful and nothing else.  (Novices struggle to protect themselves.  Veterans learn how to protect others.)

Stories of Skill

At the end of every session, every player describes a skill check that their character made, and then makes an Int check.  If you succeed on the Int check, that skill increases by 1 point.

If you didn't make any skill checks that session, you obviously can't improve any skills.  Trivial skill checks (trying to train Sailing by playing with toy boats) cannot be used to improve any skills.

Alternatively, you can study under someone.  For example, if you announce that you'll be spending the entire 2-week boat ride practicing your orcish with the orcish bosun, you can make a check to improve your orcish language skill at the end of the session.  You didn't make any checks, but you still had a good chance to learn the language.  Libraries work in a similar way.

Each time you improve a skill, you should add a sentence to your Legendarium describing how you used that skill.  Examples:
Morbo danced with Lucky Lady, the dancing horse, and learned several impressive new dance moves.
Morbo sailed poorly through the tornado maze of the Arcade, and was shipwrecked.

(A skill check doesn't have to be successful for you to learn from it.)

Here's how skills work in my current GLoG:

Skills start at +1 and go all the way up to +8, when you become a master of that skill.  You can then undertake a quest (described by your DM) to become a Grandmaster, which increases your skill to +10.  The DC for skills is always 16.

Every character has 4 skill slots.

by Yoshitaka Amano
Reports of Peril (and Scars)

Each time you almost die, you get +4 to save against that particular peril.

"Almost Dying" is defined as anything that deals lethal damage (brings you into negative HP), but can be extended to any save that could potentially kill your character.

Every time a character drops to negative HP and survives, try to find a way to give them an increase to a Save.  The save doesn't have to be proximal for them to get a bonus to it.  For example, if a fireball does 7 damage, but the next turn a sword wound causes them to start Dying, give them +4 bonus vs Fire.

If you well and truly cannot find a way to give them +4 to a type of save, give them +1 HP instead.

Each of these gives you a new line in your legendarium, and a new commemorative scar.

Every character has 4 scar slots.
The filthomancer of Froog stabbed Morbo directly in his bellybutton.  +1 HP.
Morbo survived the bite of the white widow, but the flesh of his left hand is forever bleached, and the nails a wrinkled grey.  +4 Save vs poison.
Here's how saves work in my current GLoG:

Saves are made with Dex, Con, or (most commonly) Cha.  The DC is always 20.

Since the average stat is a +5, the average save has only a 30% chance of being successful.  A +4 bonus to a type of Save is a welcome addition.

This replaces any other type of Save progression based on level.

Why Not Extend This to Attack Bonuses or Other Stuff?

I don't want to bog the GLoG down with too many systems.

"You survived the meltworms so you get Save +4 vs acid." is quick and can be done on-the-fly during a session.

Awarding skill-ups and level-ups at the end of a session takes more time.  Maybe just a few minutes, but I'm hesitant to add more items onto that list.

I'm already thinking about ways that thieves can add heists to their legendariums, or how rangers can add impressive kills to theirs.  (Maybe.)  But for everyone else, I don't want to put any more focus onto combat than there already is, and I don't want to incentive combat as much as I want to incentivize loot.

See also: Chris has a similar diagetic advancement scheme here.

a bone golem breaking out of a statue
from Rahasia, by DARLENE


  1. I've actually been working on a diagetic advancement system for my own game that has a lot in common. Here was the last blog post I made about it with a few sample classes:

    I've also so far worked out the Ranger and the Knight deeds.

  2. If levels only go up to 4, you might as well get rid of the term "level" and replace it with "templates," assuming the new version of GLOG still uses those. Or maybe, "titles," to match the titles you append to your name for finding Treasure.

    There's something about the Treasure system that feels perfect for the kind of game I want to run. It's more dramatic, I think. My only worry is that my adventure design chops aren't at the level where I can convert dungeons from treasure to Treasure.

    1. My understanding of it is that for levels after level 4 they gain the "helpfuls."
      And yes this is certainly thought provoking and makes it much easier to create classes with unique leveling mechanics.

    2. Right! I seem to have read that and immediately forgotten about it. A lot of systems tumbling around in my head.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. No worries. I have about a dozen tumbling in this rotting brain-can of my own and get them confused all the time.
      Not helped by how often they overlap.

  3. Another skill system! GLOG really does sprout variant skill systems like mushrooms, doesn't it?

    I've been looking at DC 20 for recovery from diseases, madness and curses. Things that aren't likely going away for a while, and need a new attempt at a "cure" each time. I like the idea of spending journeys practicing skills!

  4. This is similiar to something I've been trying to implement myself for Electric Bastionland primarily. It's based on above poster's system (Spwack). :)
    Diegetic progression systems is something of a white whale for me, so it's interesting to see more excellent implementations of this sprouting up, Electric Bastionland's scar system is perfection in this regard IMO.

    Thought I'd share notes!