Incremental Advance

Leveling up has been, and probably always will be, a hugely exciting experience in role playing games. You get a cool new spell and/or feat that makes you feel that much closer to being invincible. GM’s have a way of giving you a reality check real fast, but hey, the feeling is nice for the ten minutes you have it before that red dragon gives you a good torchin’. This is also the reason why my players hate me sometimes: It so rarely happens in my 13th Age campaign.

With a level cap of ten, depending on the type of campaign you’re running, levels could come to the players as often as a lunar eclipse. My home campaign has been ongoing for nearly four years now and we’re at level seven. Most game sessions we play, the only dice rolled are for skill checks, being a more urban and politically focused campaign. The frequency of combat has declined steeply since the players started rebuilding their guild to take back their homeland. With that, combat has become this sort of ritual for my group, since it typically happens when they’re out in the field or if there’s a rather important reason to be fighting. Combat within a city tends to be a stone cast into the pond, sending ripples throughout the story. Since I don’t follow the model as outlined in the core book (one level per four encounters), it causes level gain to progress at a crawl. My players often moan and groan about it, but thankfully the game has a mechanic that helps keep them interested.

Behold! The Incremental Advance! It basically allows a PC to take a sliver from the next level and apply it to their current character, barring a few options. It even has its own little section on the character sheet.

Incremental advance

As you can see, there’s a swath of things you can choose from. It does a very good job at keeping the character fresh and progressing. What makes it balanced, however is the fact that you can’t take the extra weapon die or +1 to all (or any, for that matter) defenses. Withholding those from the PC until they actually level up puts a good emphasis on the word “incremental,” which the advance is so aptly named.

For the people that either don’t use this rule or don’t play this game, it begs the question: When do you get an incremental advance? The answer is a little nebulous, which can be so often the case in this game. To quote the book, “After each session that goes well…” is when a PC gets an incremental. It explicitly states that the GM can withhold an incremental based off of performance, munchkining or what have you. What the hell is a session that “goes well”? That could mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For a game like mine, that’s tough to say. Giving them an incremental after a game that went “well” usually means that there were a lot of good decisions made in regards to dealing with NPC’s, uncovering the shrouded information in a creative and effective manner, or simply showing some deep growth within the personality of their character. That sounds fantastic when I put it on paper, and it really is when it happens at the table like it so often does. The problem is, nearly everything outlined in the incremental advance section is related to combat, unless you take a feat that has out of combat usefulness or an Icon relationship. Since we so rarely fight at the moment, this means that the players would progress rather quickly without fighting, thus not showing that their martial or magical skills have been honed by experience.

That’s a little problematic to me. So, since the description of when to hand out an incremental is so nebulous, my game slows down even further. We’ll often go two or three sessions without a combat scene, and typically I’ll give out an incremental after one combat (that went “well”) for that reason. From what I’ve learned, doing it this way is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, it makes my characters appreciate progression of their on-paper character a lot more. On the other, it also makes the mechanics of the game less important than the setting. Throughout t he course of the campaign, the pendulum has swung between combat multiple nights in a row (usually a dungeon crawl) and then a long stretch without much of it. Regardless of what point of the spectrum we’re in, the incremental advance has been rather instrumental in keeping things moving forward. For that, I am surely grateful and really appreciate (and love) this mechanic.

To be clear: my moaning and groaning player is always exaggerated in posts like these, they do in fact love my campaign. I don’t think I’d have them hooked in for four years if it was the contrary. My humor can be strange, I’ve grown to realize this.

How do you use incremental advances? Maybe you don’t, maybe your games flow a lot differently than mine. I’d be very interested to know!


Stay Metal \m/

3 Comments on “Incremental Advance

  1. The Incremental Advance is just one of many poorly explained concepts in the Core Rulebook, along with how to handle the outcome of icon relationships, levelling in general and using skill checks. I love 13th Age both for the game itself and just the incredible presentation of the core products but if I read another “play it how it best suits you and your group” rule then I’ll scream.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It can be very nebulous at times, but there’s definitely a certain beauty that can be pulled from that. It heavily favors narrative play so for a more mechanical group that can be very very frustrating lol


  2. I love the “tailor it to your table” approach of 13th Age, it’s probably my favourite thing about it. And I liked the Incremental Advance so much I used a variant of it in Low Fantasy Gaming rpg. As a player I am big on level ups/progression, and the little advances at the end of most sessions is just perfect for me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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