Power Creep
  • Power Creep


    I was reading about the level cap increasing from 60 to 70 in an online game, with many new possibilities/abilities. "How do people keep track of so many abilities at such high levels?" I thought. Then I realized yet another reason why I prefer simple games: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Another version, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."


    Games are sets of artificial (separated from the real world) constraints, even games as "loosey-goosey" in rules as RPGs. Players agree to use and abide by these constraints. The best players are usually those who cope best with those constraints.

    "Power Creep virtually always leads to a Broken Base, with the most ‘conservative’ players stating that the new unbalanced content is an insult to the original game (which might be true or not, depending on the case)." --TV Tropes

    Good play comes not from having lots of things you can do, many of them really “OP” (overpowered), but from making good use of what you've got. Another case of creativity benefitting from constraints.

    Power creep is a common online (video) game problem that we can see in tabletop RPGs. The cause isn't online play, it's the frequent changes and additions to rules and to "content". New "stuff" is more attractive when it's better than the old stuff (duh!), so that's what the makers produce, and over time the entire game sees an increase in power, in what the players can do. (See “The Dilemma of the Simple RPG.”) This must be matched by an increase in the power of the opposition (more dangerous monsters) or the game becomes too easy. Some games handle the escalation better than others, but if the game was well-designed to begin with, power creep is likely to hurt the design.

    Make no mistake, I like blowing things up with tac nukes - well, fireballs anyway - and megawatt lasers (lightning bolts). But when you get up into Timestops and other Immense Godlike Powers, I think the GAME suffers in favor of the POWER TRIP. And at the same time it becomes less skillful, less clever, and harder to GM.

    I’ve often said, about 1e D&D, that the “sweet spot” for play was 3rd-9th level. Early on players were too fragile (not a problem in recent editions), and later on the game couldn’t cope well with double-figure levels. It got to the point that (as in WW II armored battles) whoever fired first usually won, because the attack capabilities were so strong. This is especially obvious where surprise is involved. If a game then “power creeps” to where 9th levels are as strong as 11th used to be, the situation worsens.

    Of course, many players and GMs don't care about skill or cleverness, they care about other things (among them, power trips). What I’ve said is descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't care how you run or play your game (unless I'm involved!).

    contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
    Comments 108 Comments
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
      That doesn't sound right. The stats on a goblin, ogre, or dragon aren't supposed to change as the PCs get stronger. If an ogre presents a tough challenge when you're level three, it doesn't stay a tough challenge when you're level five; it gets way easier, because your numbers go up while their numbers stay the same.

      Or what, do you just stop fighting level 4 green ogres and start fighting level 6 red ogres?
      In tabletop games, I see it more as an encounter building problem. If everything is keeping up with the PC's developments, the person building the encounter may be trying to "extend the sweet spot", but it's really just a treadmill. There really should be things that don't level with the PCs in a campaign so that the players get a real sense of improvement. Paizo have had some chapters in their APs that involve fights with obviously inferior enemies to give the players a chance to revel in crushing encounters that would have been more challenging a few levels earlier.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      It is useful to consider the fact that preferences in games like RPGs is rooted in psychology (of course). Mostly I'm focusing on D&D here, just to put some fences around things.

      Players of RPGs like future advancement, much like people in the real world do. People vastly prefer salary increases to the opposite: Think about whether you would prefer to have $50K, then $60K, then $70K in years 1, 2, and 3 of a job versus the opposite. From a purely rational standpoint you should prefer the opposite because it's got immediate payout. I'm sure there will be folks that argue this point because it seems counterintuitive, but consider: You might not survive to collect the $70K in year 3. Furthermore, inflation will have reduced its value to some degree. Therefore, you should go for the immediate payout. However, people tend to prefer the first one. There are various arguments about why, but one reflects on the value of "savoring" future advancements as a psychic good. So power growth in characters feels natural: You think about the goodies you can't yet do but will be able to and work towards it. A lot of the enjoyment of the game comes from thinking about what you can't yet do but hope to do someday.

      Managing challenge levels and expectations require balancing the probability of victory to make it "just right". A combat with a bunch of goblins at low level is tough. A few levels later and they're chumps. Eventually they're not worth the RL time to fight so they stop appearing in the game. Again, real life tends to work this way. Young animals that play fight with each other give up when they consistently lose and the victors stop bothering, seeking better challenges. A game that's too easy prompts boredom, while a game that's too hard prompts learned helplessness.

      Unfortunately, these two aspects are not completely simpatico, particularly with a simulationist type world design. In a simulationist world, the PCs should actually meet chumpier monsters like goblins with fair frequency. However, the players and DM will get bored with that. This is true even in CPRGs, where too many chump encounters is boring and frustrating to the players and DM alike. Game time is, after all, limited. Furthermore, really huge hordes of monsters are frustrating to run using the base rules, meaning that the "quantity" method of threat increasing becomes challenging to run.

      There are various ways to handle these design dilemmas, but because they are dilemmas, there won't be a totally satisfactory solution.

      What has been called "Gygaxian naturalism" posited that characters would start with smaller threats (kobolds, goblins) and continually graduate to bigger ones (over time, orcs and hobgoblins, bugbears, ogres, etc., up to giants and dragons). Similarly they'd have better capabilities and items become available. Some characters, particularly spellcasters, changed qualitatively over the course of an adventuring career. Most notable was the wizard, who started as a feeb with a few rare tricks but had some pretty notable bumps in power at level 5 with the advent of fireball, and going up with "wall" spells (level 7), teleportation (level 9), and so on. Over time, the wizard became one of the mightiest characters in the game, though still vulnerable if mobbed or caught after a long battle. Threats similarly scaled: Often this involved going further "down" in the dungeon or from relatively tamer environments closer to civilization to more dangerous ones further away. Of course you could subvert this with "killer kobolds" or having the chump monsters flee occasionally. Higher level characters also tended to switch into other tasks, such as founding a stronghold, reflecting a certain life cycle of a character.

      3E was pretty hardcore simulationist, and had a huge power scale advancement over the course of a campaign.

      A game like 4E, which is explicitly and very stridently gamist and strongly rooted in video games and minis games, tiered threats and put a number of them at different levels. So you'd have orcs that were leveled up. You didn't really graduate from threats, they advanced with you just as much. There still was some qualitative shifts in advancement but characters' powers didn't shift so much the way they did from lower to higher levels either.

      5E seems to be kind of halfway between 4E and older versions of the game.

      Power creep is a separate concept from advancement. If often happens because original content becomes obsolete when newer content gets released. In some cases this isn't bad: The original content might have been underpowered and should have been replaced. In other cases, it happens because designers just aren't as careful with later content. Finally, it is likely to be inevitable when one considers that more options provide more opportunities for synergies, some of which won't have been anticipated by the designers but will be found by people really focused on optimization.

      I very much agree with another poster who notes that the action economy is the key to preventing real power creep issues.
      Things that happened in prior editions were things like off-turn actions, free action, or the ability to chain attacks together. The bonus action and the reaction (much as Mike Mearls, who IMO seems to have a decidedly poor feel for rules design, dislikes them) are actually pretty good things because they cut down on how much a player can milk those off-turn actions. (Off-turn actions also slow the game down a lot, which is really annoying for people who are sitting and waiting.) The action economy always was the way. In 3E you could allow Unearthed Arcana "gestalt characters" in a campaign. I did. On paper they look terribly OP, but in reality they really weren't because they could still only do so much in a round. Furthermore, they tended to have some MAD issues, which helped too.
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      I'm not sure that Magic is a good example though. While, sure, there are exceptions, they've managed to keep things pretty decently balanced have they not? It's not like older cards or decks have been entirely phased out because the new cards are so much better. You still see lots of decks containing cards from earlier releases.
      How much of that is due to previous episodes of power creep? I recall much discussion about toning things down after Urza's. Then things seemed to wobble for a few years. I haven't played in a while, but my son says my old killer Kamigawa and Invasion era decks can only stand up to modern casual decks, not tuned ones.

      Sent from my LG-TP450 using EN World mobile app
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Was right with you up until that last paragraph:
      Right, but without that last paragraph how could he fit in a useless dig at all these kids playing on his yard?


      Sent from my LG-TP450 using EN World mobile app
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by EvilDwarf View Post
      I've said for years--well, at least to my gaming group--that level increases are an illusion. My AC increases, Monster BAB increases. My BAB increases, Monster AC increases. My skill levels increase, DCs increase. It's all a wash. I've also wondered for years what a game would be like in which you entered a game world as a more or less static character, but the game world contained low "level" and high "level" Monsters. Say, maybe you'd enter the world at the equivalent of 5th level D&D, so there would be orcs and goblins, but also liches and ancient dragons.

      Then the action would shift. Need to kill that high "level" ancient dragon that's awakened? Search for some lore, and/or search the sky-high Towers of the Dragon Riders for the weapon you need. I think it would be interesting to see how such a shift might encourage planning and strategy and adventuring to survive in such a world. Progress would be measured in something other than Levels. It might be measured in an Arrow of Dragon Slaying, or the Blessed Sword of Sir Gawain the Dragon Slayer.

      I guess what might be missing would be a sense of achievement on the players' part? Maybe instead of "stronger" powers they would gain more powers/skills, could do more things, learn more "3rd level" spells, etc. Or you could invent a rewards system based on some in-world mechanic called Reputation or something.

      Anyone ever tinker with or play a game like that?
      Yes, but not in the way you describe.

      First off, in AD&D and now 5e, the system does stay fairly static, and when you level up it does increase your effectiveness. Monsters don't increase in difficulty themselves, although you tend to challenge more difficult monsters. In contrast 4e was designed so everything scaled. Your AC, attack bonuses, etc. were all higher at 10th level than 1st, and the monsters scaled with you.

      So my campaigns have (always had) very, very slow advancement. Levels 1-3 are fairly quick, you're learning your craft, and I like that many of the classes don't gain their archetype until 3rd level. After that, level advancement slows to a crawl in my campaign. Two years of play might get to 5th or maybe 7th level, and after that it levels off even more.

      One of the reasons is exactly what you describe. It presents a world where a skilled team of adventurers succeeds not because of increasing power, but because of good use of the power they have, and finding solutions. Research, alliances (including with enemies), finding legendary items, etc. are all a big part of the play.

      The sense of achievement is constant, and I'd argue, lasts much longer than most campaigns. Why? Because the goals are different. Instead of one of the major goals being advancement, and the acquisition of new powers, the goals are firmly rooted in the setting and the adventures themselves. Success is measured by...success.

      WotC has talked about trying to expand the sweet spot, but I think the best way to expand it is to not leave it. If the adventures, the goals, the stories, and such are compelling, then achievement is through the success of the adventures (and they are never 100% successful).

      I have had players that have played the same character for 6 or more years. With the ever increasing speed of level advancement in the rules, most characters level-out of the game now in as few as several months.

      A mechanical or rules-based reward system really isn't needed. Although I tend to have more magic items in my campaign, most of them are consumables of some sort or another. Wands still have a finite number of charges. Which means that they also don't typically always have the same options all the time. For several adventures, they had a wand of fireballs which obviously affected their tactics. As the few charges were used up, they started saving it for "the right time" and switched to different tactics and abilities. So their "abilities" are always changing, based on what they have available to them, among other things. With most of them being temporary, it has a built in mechanic to encourage further adventure to gain new "abilities" without having to worry about their power level as much since they aren't permanent.

      It also means the abilities are not given as much importance by the players. They don't define their characters, they are just tools. Instead, the characters are defined more by their personality and actions, their relationship to the world around them. Yes, there is nothing stopping any campaign from doing this. But when you remove the level-ups, many of the "cool" special abilities, then the focus shifts away from those cool special abilities.

      To look at it a different way, when character gain special abilities, players want to use them. They often get annoyed when they don't come into play as often as they'd like, or if circumstances reduces the effectiveness, or removes their ability to use them altogether. But when the special abilities come from a magic item, and is known to be of a limited number of uses, they look for opportunities to make the most of that ability, and it's very cool when they get the chance to use it. Then it's done.

      Anyway, I highly, highly recommend considering slow (or even no) level advancement. We also have level limits based on ability scores, they are more restrictive than AD&D, and ASIs only give you a +1 to an ability, so in many cases you're limited to a maximum level. And yet parties of 5th - 7th level characters still do take on dragons and such. A further step is to carefully consider what abilities to keep, modify, or remove/replace altogether.

      I still buy every D&D book for ideas and such, but rarely use any of the new races, classes, etc. For a game company, publishing new stuff obviously makes a lot of sense. That's their business. But it doesn't mean we need to get caught up in all of the new stuff ourselves. Just because Power Creep might exist in the publications themselves doesn't mean it has to affect my campaign.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      Sounds like Subtractive Design. There's definitely a significant value to saying "does this rule bring more value then the weight of it". But it does not mean complexity is bad - it means that needless complexity is bad. I could cut down all conflict resolution in an RPG to an unbiased coin flip - and some people would have a great time RPing and adventuring, and some DMs good at failing forward so the results of both sides of the coin were different, meaningful, and fun. But for all that, you'll probably engage more people if you increase the complexity.

      On the other hand, a game with 70 levels may mean it just has more granularity. How many things advance your standard D&D level? Well, you usually get a feature. Sometimes more than one, let's call it 1.5. Oh, and HD. Oh, and every few levels your proficiency goes up, so that's light 1/4 of a bonus a level. But proficiency helps to hit (1) , and trained saves (2) , and caster DCs (.5 - only half the classes), and skills (4-5) - if we broke all of those out it would be like 8 every couple of levels. Taken all together, maybe it's 12 things every 4 levels (or an average of 3 things per level) - and if you wanted more granularity you could expand 5e to 60 levels. At this level one skill goes up +1. At this level you gain a HD. At this level you get a class feature. At this level one of your two trained skills gets +1. It would be the same amount of bonuses but more levels. Now, would that be more complex or actually easier since there is so little to worry about changing at any given advance? If you're getting a skill point in a tree and each step can take up to 5 points, what it really means is they wanted a lot of gradations because, you know, people like to be rewarded for playing RPG games by advancing in level. So they make it happen more often, but actually give you only a little each advance.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      First off, in AD&D and now 5e, the system does stay fairly static, and when you level up it does increase your effectiveness. Monsters don't increase in difficulty themselves, although you tend to challenge more difficult monsters. In contrast 4e was designed so everything scaled. Your AC, attack bonuses, etc. were all higher at 10th level than 1st, and the monsters scaled with you.
      Absolutely agree.


      So my campaigns have (always had) very, very slow advancement. Levels 1-3 are fairly quick, you're learning your craft, and I like that many of the classes don't gain their archetype until 3rd level. After that, level advancement slows to a crawl in my campaign. Two years of play might get to 5th or maybe 7th level, and after that it levels off even more.

      Anyway, I highly, highly recommend considering slow (or even no) level advancement. We also have level limits based on ability scores, they are more restrictive than AD&D, and ASIs only give you a +1 to an ability, so in many cases you're limited to a maximum level. And yet parties of 5th - 7th level characters still do take on dragons and such. A further step is to carefully consider what abilities to keep, modify, or remove/replace altogether.
      It really depends highly on the gaming group. Slow advancement really fits some groups very, very well.

      For example, I am still running a heavily house ruled 2E game that was started in 1999. The main PCs started as level 4 and are now about level 10. We haven't run go go guns the whole time, but it's seen a lot of play. However, I've given them lots of opportunities for growth separate from pure level advancement. For instance, one character has as his background being a trader. So he has founded a business, lost one, and founded another. This doesn't really make him more personally powerful but gives the player a sense of satisfaction and character development.

      I've also been in a Greyhawk game (with mostly the same players as the campaign I just mentioned) that adopted an "ensemble cast" model, where there is an interlocking group of characters that mix-and-match depending on the adventure. A variant on this approach is to have interesting henchmen in the party that the players can control. In fact, this is how the "ensemble cast" approach got started. We had some players leave and rather than find new players (it just didn't work out for whatever reason) we continued with the smaller group and just had the ensemble cast develop. In that game we had characters at the high and mid levels (2E that is, so between about levels 5 and 12). It's like the idea in Ars Magica, actually, where players might play a magus or grogs as the game needed in the adventure.

      One big advantage of the ensemble cast approach is that you get a chance to play different characters with different abilities and personalities. In that game I played a fighter/mage, a paladin, a cleric, a fighter, another fighter, and a ranger, all of which got a chance to feel quite different and who didn't all get along. The other main player played a mage, a cleric/mage, a fighter/thief, and a few other characters I can't recall. For instance, our mage or mage multiclass characters were involved in various degrees with the Greyhawk Mage Guild and there were sessions that involved Guild politics things or times when those characters were busy doing things like learning spells or taking mastery tests and couldn't do something else, providing a reason for one of the other PCs to show up. Another decided to retire for in game reasons (after seeing one of his friends in the party one shot killed by a demon). His wedding ended up being an event at which other characters got introduced. These characters didn't really advance all that much but we were able to have high level and more mid level adventures in various configurations. I think the "ensemble cast" mode is actually how the old Lake Geneva guys did things.

      With other groups, especially larger ones, this kind of format really doesn't work though, and people expect more level advancement in the whole "zero to hero" mode, having no other real idea of how to run things.

      White Wolf offered some really interesting "no" or "limited advancement" options in the last book that got released to stores, Mirrors. It's hard to summarize all of the things in there but if you have access to it, check them out.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      Absolutely agree.




      It really depends highly on the gaming group. Slow advancement really fits some groups very, very well.

      For example, I am still running a heavily house ruled 2E game that was started in 1999. The main PCs started as level 4 and are now about level 10. We haven't run go go guns the whole time, but it's seen a lot of play. However, I've given them lots of opportunities for growth separate from pure level advancement. For instance, one character has as his background being a trader. So he has founded a business, lost one, and founded another. This doesn't really make him more personally powerful but gives the player a sense of satisfaction and character development.

      I've also been in a Greyhawk game (with mostly the same players as the campaign I just mentioned) that adopted an "ensemble cast" model, where there is an interlocking group of characters that mix-and-match depending on the adventure. A variant on this approach is to have interesting henchmen in the party that the players can control. In fact, this is how the "ensemble cast" approach got started. We had some players leave and rather than find new players (it just didn't work out for whatever reason) we continued with the smaller group and just had the ensemble cast develop. In that game we had characters at the high and mid levels (2E that is, so between about levels 5 and 12). It's like the idea in Ars Magica, actually, where players might play a magus or grogs as the game needed in the adventure. One big advantage of the ensemble cast approach is that you get a chance to play different characters with different abilities and personalities. In that game I played a fighter/mage, a paladin, a cleric, a fighter, and a ranger, all of which got a chance to feel quite different. The other main player played a mage, a cleric/mage, a fighter/thief, and a few other characters I can't recall. Our mage characters were involved in various degrees with the Greyhawk Mage Guild. These characters didn't really advance all that much but we were able to have high level and more mid level adventures in various configurations. I think the "ensemble cast" mode is actually how the old Lake Geneva guys did things.

      With other groups, especially larger ones, this kind of format really doesn't work though, and people expect more level advancement in the whole "zero to hero" mode, having no other real idea of how to run things.
      Great stuff.

      Yes, I have an ensemble mode campaign and it’s based off of how I think the Geneva guys played. Everybody has multiple characters and we can jump to a different group of characters depending on who can make it to the game that week. I’m even planning on expanding this to a public campaign and players from the home campaign can jump on with their characters too.

      I’ve started moving in this direction in part to safeguard against the inevitable attrition. When an interesting arc is happening, a particular group might make a 3-6 week commitment, but then when somebody can’t make it we continue the campaign with a different group.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      Absolutely agree.




      It really depends highly on the gaming group. Slow advancement really fits some groups very, very well.

      For example, I am still running a heavily house ruled 2E game that was started in 1999. The main PCs started as level 4 and are now about level 10. We haven't run go go guns the whole time, but it's seen a lot of play. However, I've given them lots of opportunities for growth separate from pure level advancement. For instance, one character has as his background being a trader. So he has founded a business, lost one, and founded another. This doesn't really make him more personally powerful but gives the player a sense of satisfaction and character development.

      I've also been in a Greyhawk game (with mostly the same players as the campaign I just mentioned) that adopted an "ensemble cast" model, where there is an interlocking group of characters that mix-and-match depending on the adventure. A variant on this approach is to have interesting henchmen in the party that the players can control. In fact, this is how the "ensemble cast" approach got started. We had some players leave and rather than find new players (it just didn't work out for whatever reason) we continued with the smaller group and just had the ensemble cast develop. In that game we had characters at the high and mid levels (2E that is, so between about levels 5 and 12). It's like the idea in Ars Magica, actually, where players might play a magus or grogs as the game needed in the adventure. One big advantage of the ensemble cast approach is that you get a chance to play different characters with different abilities and personalities. In that game I played a fighter/mage, a paladin, a cleric, a fighter, and a ranger, all of which got a chance to feel quite different. The other main player played a mage, a cleric/mage, a fighter/thief, and a few other characters I can't recall. Our mage characters were involved in various degrees with the Greyhawk Mage Guild. These characters didn't really advance all that much but we were able to have high level and more mid level adventures in various configurations. I think the "ensemble cast" mode is actually how the old Lake Geneva guys did things.

      With other groups, especially larger ones, this kind of format really doesn't work though, and people expect more level advancement in the whole "zero to hero" mode, having no other real idea of how to run things.
      Great stuff.

      Yes, I have an ensemble mode campaign and it’s based off of how I think the Geneva guys played. Everybody has multiple characters and we can jump to a different group of characters depending on who can make it to the game that week. I’m even planning on expanding this to a public campaign and players from the home campaign can jump on with their characters too.

      I’ve started moving in this direction in part to safeguard against the inevitable attrition. When an interesting arc is happening, a particular group might make a 3-6 week commitment, but then when somebody can’t make it we continue the campaign with a different group.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      'Power creep' - or 'power inflation' as I used to call it, apparently it didn't catch on - is common in some sorts of games as a design shortcut to cool, as the OP pointed out. It's also all but inevitable with certain sorts of designs, and here's another couple terms that haven't caught on...

      Lots of RPGs, like D&D, are what I call 'list based.' What can your character do? Well, choose from the lists. Choose a race, choose a class, pick a weapon for the table (yeah, they're mostly pole-arms, don't worry about it), choose some spells to learn, a few to memorize, and one to cast. Each thing gets it's own write-up, often it's own rules. Want to do something you couldn't do before? Someone has to add it to the list, preferably the publisher, so it's "official."
      Thing is, each time you add to those lists, you create unexpected synergies among their elements. Choose 1 from column A and 1 from column B is 9 choices when you have 3 in each column, a hundred if you have 10. Even if the design keeps each individual new item in line, those synergies can be game-breaking, once a killer combo crops up, it crowds out everything else.
      Power creep.

      The alternative to list-based designs is 'effects based,' design, where the character's ability is defined by a finite set of things that can be accomplished, not an open-ended list of ways to accomplish them. "Kill an enemy" is an effect, but there's near-infinite ways to do it - swords to lasers to telepathic embolisms to poison to voodoo dolls to dim mak. The effect-based system has one sub-system to accomplish the effect, so if you want to add axes and phasers to the above list, you don't add to the system, just use the existing sub-system. No power creep.
      Not so many supplements to sell, either.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      Yes, I have an ensemble mode campaign and it’s based off of how I think the Geneva guys played. Everybody has multiple characters and we can jump to a different group of characters depending on who can make it to the game that week. I’m even planning on expanding this to a public campaign and players from the home campaign can jump on with their characters too.
      This works with some players, but not all. The DM really has to be on top of things, and the players require a non-trivial level of investment. But it works for the right group.

      I’ve started moving in this direction in part to safeguard against the inevitable attrition. When an interesting arc is happening, a particular group might make a 3-6 week commitment, but then when somebody can’t make it we continue the campaign with a different group.
      Yes, that's kind of why we ended up going that direction, if not for the exact same reason ultimately. Part of it was trying to avoid forcing the characters together when it wouldn't make sense for them to be on the same adventure. One thing that the ensemble did was really help fill the game world out. It also lets players enjoy changes and play at different power levels without having to force their characters into those changes if it doesn't make sense.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      The alternative to list-based designs is 'effects based,' design, where the character's ability is defined by a finite set of things that can be accomplished, not an open-ended list of ways to accomplish them.
      That's essentially how a supers game like Champions or its various clones works. They can end up feeling rather generic, though, and doing the specs on a character can be a fair challenge, though.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by EvilDwarf View Post
      I've said for years--well, at least to my gaming group--that level increases are an illusion. My AC increases, Monster BAB increases. My BAB increases, Monster AC increases. My skill levels increase, DCs increase. It's all a wash.
      Quote Originally Posted by Lylandra View Post
      In literature or shows, power creep refers to the fact that our protagonists keep getting stronger and stronger until they reach levels of fantastidiculous while their enemies miraculously keep up at their pace.
      Are we talking about changing the power level in the fiction, or about changing the way the game plays at the table, in the real world?

      The first seems to be mostly a matter of taste - 4e, for instance, is expressly predicated on a Hero/Paragon/Epic tier approach to the fiction, so that PCs begin the game fighting goblins and kobolds, and finish it fighting demon princes, Tiamat, etc. You can do this without even changing the mechanics, just by changing the story elements from time to time.

      The second is a matter of design. In 4e, for instance, PCs increase their breadth of capabilities over time, and there are some non-numerically rated mechanical effects (eg domination, invisibility, flight) that tend to be the preserve of non-Heroic tier.

      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      A game like 4E, which is explicitly and very stridently gamist and strongly rooted in video games and minis games, tiered threats and put a number of them at different levels. So you'd have orcs that were leveled up. You didn't really graduate from threats, they advanced with you just as much. There still was some qualitative shifts in advancement but characters' powers didn't shift so much the way they did from lower to higher levels either.
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      in AD&D and now 5e, the system does stay fairly static, and when you level up it does increase your effectiveness. Monsters don't increase in difficulty themselves, although you tend to challenge more difficult monsters. In contrast 4e was designed so everything scaled. Your AC, attack bonuses, etc. were all higher at 10th level than 1st, and the monsters scaled with you.
      In 4e, the changes in the fiction are very dramatic with level increase. The mechanical changes are also rather noticeable - a 30th level PC is far more complex to run than a 1st level one, because of the breadth and intricacy of the options available to that PC.

      I wouldn't agree that 5e doesn't increase effectiveness with levelling - the proficiency bonus applies to a range of dice rolls; and casters get a wider range of spells, some of which are simply numerical in their effect (and so may be "absorbed" by numerical changes on the GM's side of the table) but many of which open up a range of non-numerical but mechanical options (probably moreso than in 4e). It's true that AC in 5e doesn't scale to the same extent as in 4e, but that doesn't mean there's no defensive scaling - it's just built into hit points instead.

      In AD&D, the scaling is also there but built into the attack tables (which tend to scale more rapidly than in 4e or 5e, at least for fighters) and hit points; and a lot of active/offensive scaling is built into the spell system and magic items.

      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      I like blowing things up with tac nukes - well, fireballs anyway - and megawatt lasers (lightning bolts). But when you get up into Timestops and other Immense Godlike Powers, I think the GAME suffers in favor of the POWER TRIP. And at the same time it becomes less skillful, less clever, and harder to GM.



      Of course, many players and GMs don't care about skill or cleverness, they care about other things (among them, power trips).
      Blowing things up with fireballs is a mixture of an arithmetical problem (expected damage) and a geometric one (targetting). It's not inherent in the idea of (say) Time Stop that it poses a fundamentally different and game-breaking sort of problem - rationing effort per unit of time is just another optimisation problem

      Of course, there is the less quantifiable tactical and logistical aspects of being in a position to bring one's fireball to bear, but the same might be said of Time Stop. And to the extent that Time Stop overrides such concerns (eg because the game system doesn't have any way, consistent with its fiction, of posing logistical or optimisation problems to people who can stop time) then that's not an issue with Time Stop per se but simply a problem with the particular design of that system. Fly spells would create exactly the same issue if no one ever came up with the idea of flying enemies and strong winds as elements of the game.

      Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
      In tabletop games, I see it more as an encounter building problem. If everything is keeping up with the PC's developments, the person building the encounter may be trying to "extend the sweet spot", but it's really just a treadmill. There really should be things that don't level with the PCs in a campaign so that the players get a real sense of improvement.
      I personally haven't had this experience. The "sense of improvement" can (in my experience) be conveyed in all sorts of ways -eg goblins surrender when they see the PCs; now when the PCs fight goblins they are in hordes rather than small groups; the PCs can stand with some prospect of success against giants, and hence can easily infer that goblins would cause them little trouble.

      In real life, sometimes you mightn't know if you've improved until you try the same task again. But in a RPG this knowledge is ascertainable simply by looking at the maths of the system, and how that correlates to the fiction. You don't need to actually test it out.

      In addition, as another poster pointed out, there is the issue that repeating past successes can make for boring play:

      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      A combat with a bunch of goblins at low level is tough. A few levels later and they're chumps. Eventually they're not worth the RL time to fight so they stop appearing in the game.
    1. CapnZapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lylandra View Post
      No, this is power creep. In literature or shows, power creep refers to the fact that our protagonists keep getting stronger and stronger until they reach levels of fantastidiculous while their enemies miraculously keep up at their pace
      No, you're talking about levelling up.

      Power creep is what @shidaku explains.
    1. CapnZapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      All that said, what's the point of this article?
      Probably a thinly disguised dislike for either of the two concepts "levels" (and specifically levelling up) and "crunch" (as in more of it).
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      The alternative to list-based designs is 'effects based,' design, where the character's ability is defined by a finite set of things that can be accomplished, not an open-ended list of ways to accomplish them. "Kill an enemy" is an effect, but there's near-infinite ways to do it - swords to lasers to telepathic embolisms to poison to voodoo dolls to dim mak. The effect-based system has one sub-system to accomplish the effect, so if you want to add axes and phasers to the above list, you don't add to the system, just use the existing sub-system. No power creep.
      Not so many supplements to sell, either.
      I generally agree with your analysis. I would refine the "non-list games" category into "tactical effect" and "narrative wrapper" games, as they seem to have their own sets of problems and limitations, IME. Whether that's worth a three-category split is eye-of-the-beholder, I suspect.

      Sent from my LG-TP450 using EN World mobile app
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Power creep in and of itself is not a problem. Someone earlier, maybe even the original poster, defined 'power creep' as being able to do at 9th level what previously required an 11th level character.

      If that was the only problem, then power creep would just be a quirk. You could just change the encounters that you were expecting the party to overcome and overall gameplay wouldn't change. The real problem is that power creep is almost never so tidy. The real problem is (for example) being able to generate the damage of an 11th level character, while only being able to endure the damage of an 8th level character.

      That is to say, power creep is a problem because it usually starts invalidating the overall balance of the design, changing not merely the pace of the game or encounter design, but actually changing the game. In 1st edition, because of the very hard caps on hit points (implicit in the design or actual in what was allowed for a PC) and the corresponding lack of caps on damage inflicted (implicit in the design or actual in what was allowed for a PC) as PC's leveled up, they tended to find themselves increasingly in a world of glass cannons - both themselves and their foes. This resulted in game play that shifted more and more importance to achieving surprise and winning initiative rolls, to the detriment of both gameplay, the social contract, and encounter design. Invariably though, the way power creep was observed in the game, was that over time new rules increased the damage capabilities of PC's and monsters without increasing their durability appreciably. A very good example is the 1e AD&D weapon specialization rules which nearly double the expected damage output of most low level fighters, and give a significant bump in expected damage even at higher levels, yet were paired with nothing to address either the survivability of PC's or monsters. Another example is the repeated attempts to 'fix' dragons that almost invariably just increased there ability to inflict damage, resulting in making the problem of balance worse. Yet another example is the increased potency of magical bows made available in the official or semi-official rules (Dragon Magazine). That is power creep.

      Power creep hits balance in all sorts of ways. For example, weapon specialization made the already very marginal thief class too weak to be worth taking except as a 'dip' class of some sort. The problem was that after weapon specialization a 15th level thief would probably lose a fight with a mere 5th level fighter, and your already marginal utility was even less justifiable. The already problematic combat balance between fighter subclasses and everything else just got worse, meaning that unless you could bring to the table the massively potent spells that themselves scaled up with no limit, you weren't bring anything to the table worth taking up a slot in the party that could be filled by a fighter.

      Power creep has to be distinguished from mere 'number inflation'. Number inflation is the tendency of all numbers across the board, both the damage inflicted and the damage capable of being sustained, to increase between editions. Every edition it feels like the maximum hit points and the maximum expected damage of monsters increases by a bit, but because everything this increasing together its not power creep. It might be fairly pointless, because if you double every number you end up with the same gameplay with just slightly more complicated math (more dice to add together, more digits in the addition and subtraction), but it's different than power creep in that it doesn't in itself change the gameplay.
    1. Imaculata's Avatar
      Imaculata -
      Celebrim, I think what you are describing here is not actually Power Creep. Its an unbalance due to increasing power, and the other aspects of the game not compensating accordingly. And yes, that can definitely be a big problem. But Power Creep is a very specific phenomenon, where new game content is objectively better than older content, thus making the older content inferior. Its like introducing a new feat that is pretty much the same as an old feat, but better. Or adding a new class that does the same as an old class, but better. Say for example that an RPG has one dedicated healer class, and a new healer class is introduced that is objectively better than the older class. This then causes players to move away from playing that older class at all... it eliminates options. Yes, you could theoretically still make use of the older content, but you would be handicapping yourself.

      In magic the gathering Power Creep seems to be kind of by design. They want older cards to disappear from rotation, so people buy new cards. There are both pros and cons to this design philosophy. But when the new content is intended to be on the same power level as the older content (but isn't), then this becomes a problem.
    1. Lylandra's Avatar
      Lylandra -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      No, you're talking about levelling up.

      Power creep is what @shidaku explains.
      No, I'm talking about power creep in shows or literature.
      Power creep in games can be defined a bit different though See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph...CreepPowerSeep which kind of explains both (or many many Youtube videos on why which show or setting handles power creep well or not)
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      Power creep in and of itself is not a problem. Someone earlier, maybe even the original poster, defined 'power creep' as being able to do at 9th level what previously required an 11th level character.

      If that was the only problem, then power creep would just be a quirk. You could just change the encounters that you were expecting the party to overcome and overall gameplay wouldn't change. The real problem is that power creep is almost never so tidy. The real problem is (for example) being able to generate the damage of an 11th level character, while only being able to endure the damage of an 8th level character.
      I have to agree with the earlier post on this one. If they come out with a super-wizard class that could do everything a regular wizard does, only better and at lower levels, then that's a pure case of power creep. If an old Magic card gave you a 1/1 goblin for one red mana, but a new Magic card gave you a 1/1 goblin with the haste ability for one red mana, then that's power creep.

      What you're describing is more like the "Changing Gameplay Priorities" trope. The new way of playing is different than the old way of playing, and the balance changes as some things are buffed and others are nerfed, but it wouldn't really be a case of Power Creep in the traditional sense unless you introduce a new character using the new options and they completely outshine the existing characters because the new options are just better.
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