Dragonbane Character Advancement and Power Levels


I've really become a fan of Dragonbane, with the rules being pretty much exactly what I've been looking for all these years. And I can't wait to take the game out for a first campaign.

One thing that I really like, that greatly contrasts it from the various D&D editions I've run and played in the past, is that it is a skill based system without character levels. Hit points and the chance to resist harmful effects remain largely the same, and landing attacks against enemies depends only on your own weapon skill and not the enemy's armor or agility. Bigger and stronger enemies simply take more hits to take down as they have more HP to start with and armor that reduces the damage you take, and are a greater threat to PCs simply because they will be up longer and have more opportunity to deal out damage before the fight is over.
What I like about this approach to combat is that it seems to avoid having any content being effectively "level locked". No "you must be at least this level to fight this monster". More experienced characters should simply be able to take on more enemies at the same time and get through more fights in a row than fresh characters.
At least that's what it looks like to me on paper.

Now the mechanic to advance your character is that any time you make a skill check (which includes attack rolls) and roll either a 1 or a 20, you mark the skill. At the end of each game session, or whatever similar interval seems appropriate for a given campaign, you make a skill check for every skill that got marked. If that check fails, the skill advances by one point. (Means low skills are easy to advance, high skills are hard to advance further.) The game has 20 skills, plus separate skills for each weapon type and magic school. In a 3 to 4 hour game, how many of your total skills are you likely to use at all? And of those that you use, how many times are you going to use them?
Based on my experiences with other games, I can easily see players making maybe 20 to 40 rolls each during one game. With a 10% chance that a skill will get marked when it's used, that would be 2 to 4 marks per game. The game also gives players free marks to assign to any skill that hadn't been marked through skill use based on other stuff that was accomplished during the game, so let's say at the end of each game, you get to make 5 to 10 checks to see if your skills improve. Since the skills your character uses the most are going to start high already, skill advance checks will fail more often than not. So pulling some purely guestimated numbers out of thin air, I would expect characters to have maybe 2 or 3 skill advances per game session.
That seems very slow.
Which I am absolutely fine with. Flat power curves are nice.

Finally to the thing that's been on my mind this weekend: When creating a sandbox environment for a Dragonbane campaign, would it even make any sense to think of "high power" and "low power" areas with adventure opportunities aimed a new starting characters and experienced heroes respectively?
It's something that I've seen being largely accepted as absolutely mandatory for D&D sandbox campaigns, but with Dragonbane I am wondering if there is any basis to making such considerations? If I establish the existing of a demon haunted keep on the side of a cursed mountain, I could vary the amount of actual demons roaming the halls from 4 to 50 based on what I think will be exciting for the players when they get there. But there might not be any threshold for how experience the PCs will have to be before they can confront one demon at a time. Which would of course make the sandbox preparation a lot easier.

Any practical experiences with this or thoughts from reading the rules?

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Instead of High power vs low power, high risk vs Low risk is maybe a better way to approach it. I have played mostly player skill based systems and while highly skilled characters are powerful a farmer with a pitch fork can absolutely end them. One of the major benefits of Dragonbane is maintaining that risk consistently through out the character growth arc. A goblin that hits with a with a knife is just as dangerous to a PC with sword 10 as it is to a PC with sword 18. Its one of the reasons I love BRP based games.

Skill advancement can be approximately twice as fast as your estimate per page 29:
Advancement Marks: When you have rolled a dragon or demon (page 31) when using a skill, tick the check box next to that skill. At the end of the game session, the GM asks you the following questions about the session you just completed. For each question that you can reply “yes” to, and justify your answer, you may place another advancement mark next to an unmarked skill of your choice. The GM has the final word, but should adopt a permissive attitude.
✦ Did you participate in the game session?
✦ Did you explore a new location?
✦ Did you defeat one or more dangerous adversaries?
✦ Did you overcome an obstacle without using force?
✦ Did you give in to your weakness (optional rule)?

So even if you don’t roll a demon or dragon you can get up to 5 advancement rolls per session.

In comparison to DnD advancement in dragonbane (and all BRP descendant games) is much slower.

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