Rethinking XP in a Kabalistic World
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Over the last couple of weeks I've been thinking about the Experience (XP) mechanic that has carried over from previous concepts I had of this game. Going back to my AD&D roots, XP was a pretty common way for characters to upgrade their skills or go up levels.
Kabal currently requires you to spend a certain number of XP to buy skills, abilities and powers and then more to upgrade them, there is even a fancy formula by which you can determine the XP cost to just straight buy a proficiency at a specific level, see below.
This however, produced a very complex, crunchy, system with lots of point tracking and math just to buy and upgrade. Someone had to explain to me what crunchy meant - yes, I'm that old.
Instead, I'm thinking about this in terms of the setting and what I know, having grown up in a West Indian (WI) culture. In the West Indies, I think "leveling up" really means growing in wealth, capability, and power. Where power is defined as influence, reputation, accomplishment, status and respect. Power, however, can have multiple dimensions. Do you have power with or over people? What about how your family and ancestors view you, do you have power in their eyes? What about the spirit world? Ultimately, if your skills and abilities are to become true Powers, they need to be powers granted by the spirits.
Instead of experience points, I'm gravitating towards rewarding things that attract notice from people (renown), your ancestors (honor/face/accomplishment/wealth) and the spirit world (status, respect, pacts and covenants.) Each one of these brings additional "power" to you upon which you should end up with "upgrades" that can be directly spent on upgrading/purchasing proficiencies.
So instead of purchasing an upgrade with say 10 or 100 XP, instead upgrades come as whole units. One way this could work is that an upgrade is an upgrade to an attribute or proficiency. A more complex way is that you need a number of "upgrades" equal to the level you want to achieve. So moving a skill from level 4 to 5 would require 5 upgrades. The former is easier, the latter perhaps better for DM's/GM's/Griot's who give out awards like candy.
Keeping it simple would mean that all of these sources of upgrades (people, ancestors, spirits) contribute to a direct number of upgrades that you can use to upgrade your proficiencies.
A crunchier version would be to have 3 different categories that upgrades come from - people, ancestors and the spirits, be used for different things. The upgrades from people can be used on skills, those from the ancestors can be used on abilities and those from the spirits on powers or magical based upgrades.
Breaking down the specifics
Here are some initial thoughts on how I think this may play out in the "crunchier" version.
People Category (renown and influence)
Creating and resolving covenants between players and even NPC's could yield rewards from the "people" category, as would performing missions and quests for them.
Special equipment upgrades - from communities that regard you as a hero
New skills or skill upgrades - by completing missions or covenants with players and NPCs.
Ancestors Category (honor, status, accomplishment, wealth)
Answering a call from your family or ancestors, or the ancestors of others
Upgrades for Abilities
Wealth and the ability to increase your social class
Spirits Category (status, respect, powers, magic)
Making pacts with the spirit world, or completing missions for them.
Upgrades for Powers, Abilities and Magic
As your amount of upgrades from the People and Ancestors categories grows - it unlocks upgrades from the spritis
You can eventually become a Lwa / God - choosing one unique Power.
Spirit upgrades bring you qualities of a Lwa - choose a color, food, item, symbol, icon to be associated with you. If people pray to you, or do a sacrifice in your name, that is communicated to you through your Shadow.
Some outstanding questions that I'll need to answer:
Does your archetype influence the categories you can or will choose?
Do I need to add a Legend stat/Attribute that mirrors your reputation? What would the benefits be?
Lower prices of items
Lower upgrade costs for Skills?
Access to higher levels? Perhaps you cannot find upper echelon teachers if your reputation and social class is low, thus limiting skills/ability/power progress to level 3 or 4.
Extension to the Kabals
When discussing this on our Discord server, some interesting suggestions came up for how a system like this could be extended to your party. It's always been my intention that a party that is campaigning together forms some sort of heretical Kabal (one that accepts members from different Vasen) but I've yet to officially put pen to paper. When you form your own Kabal you do it with the goal of beating back the evil, chaos and corruption of the others.
Whenever your Kabal help other communities in the world, they get rewards from the people, that may provide you with weapon enhancements, unique items and specialized training to upgrade to provide new proficiencies. As this happens, your Kabal also grows in esteem, perhaps attracting new followers/adherents and growing into a more powerful organization. As it grows, you attract the attention of other larger kabals who will constantly be trying to take you down. Thus, a part of an ongoing mission is rivalry between the other Kabals where you need to take them out, take over their territory and power, and grow your own Kabal.
Unfortunately my quest to make a system simpler may have resulted in it becoming more complex. It's also raised a bunch of other questions, as in, how does this intersect with the Vasen? What stats does a Kabal need to have to make this work? What does it mean to have more followers? etc. etc.
One consideration that I find intriguing is this may put your Shadow in an interesting position. As your mediator between the world of people and spirits, what dynamics does this imply? A Shadow cannot ever really be trusted. It may betray you and often works against you. That's something I definitely need to think about. Falling to the temptations of your Shadow will damage your reputation, status, power and influence.