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A Different Way to Level...

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What if your rate of leveling in RPGs was directly related to what level the characters around you are? NPCs, Mobs, allied characters, etc all could influence how fast you level with their own level. The core idea here is that you can't learn effectively on your own, you would reinvent everything and progress at a snails pace. With even a little help via observing others, you can gain new knowledge though. Hang out with high level NPCs and when you gain exp you level faster, fight high level mobs and you learn their tricks and level faster. Some of this is a bit repetitive of the basic leveling mechanic. After all, you level faster fighting higher level mobs than equal level mobs anyway. The idea here though is to make leveling more intuitive by making it a closer fit to the model of learning from those with experience. Another way to do this might be to have a soft level cap such that under the cap you level quickly as if by practicing what you understand, and over it you progress slowly via reinventing techniques others could have shown you faster. Around the boundary it would transfer softly, as if learning things you have seen but don't fully understand yet. Different sources could raise the level cap, trainers definitely would, situations much higher than your current level would, probably lots of other situations would as well.

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It feels like this is already happening to me in most linear role playing games, or games with exponential exp=level increases. Each level requires massive more experience than the last, but that's okay, because the next level enemies you encounter will have massive more experience.

In some of these games, I almost think it would be better to completely avoid experience, and just level the player up at checkpoints. You spend your points here and there to customize your growth, then off you go to fight again. No grinding required.

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I'm not sure what the point of this would be. RPG game mechanics already tend to favor allying themselves with NPCs of similar or slightly higher level, and attacking monsters of similar or slightly higher level. Given that players already have a pretty good intuition regarding how leveling works, what would be the positive effects of the change-up?

I'm not sure what you're getting at with the "soft level cap". One more thing your character has to do on a regular basis in order to continue character building?

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I've always liked the idea of learning from trainers, and then refining those skills through actual practice. Having the relative levels of party members impart a bonus to XP might be a little awkward, though, since high-level allies are already desirable, and adding this feature would just make them indispensible. It would feel like formalized powerlevelling to me, I suspect.

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The difference is that below the soft cap limit, the player would level quickly and fairly easily, above the soft cap, it would be very slow. This encourages the player to use trainers and other interactions that would increase the soft cap instead of just grinding mobs (high level mobs increasing the soft cap would be a bad idea then) and below the soft cap the grind is lessened by the faster rate of leveling. Leveling as a process then becomes controlled by the process of raising the soft cap via trainers and such and not all about the grind. This also gives the mental impression that leveling is a two step process of learning and then practicing. To make this have a point and be a real choice, there would also need to be benefit to leveling slowly without the trainer's help in raising the soft cap. Overall I think the system would offer more interesting choices to the player.

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But that's already the case. In many RPGs, leveling up allows the player to visit a trainer to gain skills, or upgrade his equipment, or visit new areas, etc. These allow the player to gain experience more efficiently, by pitting him against higher-level enemies whose death is worth more XP. Aren't those functionally the same as your soft level caps?

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In line with Kest's suggestion of just leveling characters at checkpoints... One of the best parts of Chrono Cross (PS1, even though it was nowhere near as good of a game as Chrono Trigger), was that it removed the entire need for grinding by simply removing experience and leveling your characters each time you beat the next boss character, and it was able to add depth in other ways (for example you could get up to 40 different party members and each would have subquests to get them to join, etc.)

As for myself, I'm not a fan of leveling at all. I'd much rather see a game where everyone's stats are the same throughout and they spend their time searching for spells/armor/weapons that affect the way their character plays (and not necessarily how powerful the character is).

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I'm a big fan of traditional leveling, but I could still enjoy a game that granted "spendable points" at certain checkpoint intervals, regardless of how well you play. Especially if those points can be spent in a complex way to improve your character.

In many (most?) RPGs, the equivalent is happening anyway. Most games pay the player experience for doing things, rather than for doing things well. And often, there are only so many things to do. So you could say the game is just subtracting experience for everything the player isn't interested in doing. At least with a checkpoint system, the player isn't being punished for avoiding things they don't find fun.

But if the character isn't customized by the player with the leveling, this system would make leveling useless.

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Well, I'm a huge fan of character customization anyway, so that would definitely be there, but I can't really understand why there could be leveling without player controlled development.

I like traditional leveling systems as well, and I like the idea of getting better through my actions, not by getting a level up at the end of a section of the game. That for me is immersion breaking and feels a little antiquated, reminding me of the bonus points at the end of stages in old arcade games. Oh look, you beat the boss in 3 minutes 22 seconds, have 132 points! It also removes a feeling of consequence. I level because of how I play. If its via checkpoints then I level because I completed an area. Doesn't matter what I did or how I did it, just that its finished and some little flag in the game switched from off to on.

The Idea I posted in the first post was a though on how to make traditional leveling more interesting, intuitive and maybe interactive. The current incarnation in my mind is the softcap system with distinct differences in how you level when you are under or over the soft cap. Possibly different skills can be learned when above or below or different improvements can be made. That would make the management of the soft cap more interesting than just trying to max it.

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