Experience Point: Level Appropriate Challenges

I had to go to the doctor today. Nothing major but I'm having a slight pinched nerve in my neck that is radiating a little pain into my arm. It sucks a little. But then I started to look at my resources and it didn't seem quite as bad.

First of all I've got a pretty great doctor. She immediately spotted the fact that using steroids (often prescribed in such situations for their anti-inflammatory effects) would play hell with my blood sugar since I'm diabetic. Instead she gave me a prescription strength anti-inflammatory more like ibuprofen. Also a muscle relaxer to get my shoulder muscles to calm down. So I've got a great doctor and modern medications going for me already.

Then there is my wonderful wife. In addition to being kind and sweet and caring, she's also a physical therapist. So that puts me way ahead of the game because she's able to help with not only the diagnosis but also the treatment. And she looks great doing it! ;)

You may be wondering why you should care about any of this but it's because, as I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, I got all nerdy and wondered whether this was a level-appropriate encounter. At first it seemed like it was pretty bad. But after I had a chance to go back and review my available resources, I understood that this wasn't nearly as bad as I thought.

I've played a lot of characters in a lot of campaigns over the years and it's been interesting to watch what different GMs have thrown at me. Some are strictly "status quo" GMs. If there is a dragon over there on that mountain and you go over there at 1st level...there's a DRAGON over there. And you're probably dead.

Others run a more "level appropriate" game where you mostly get challenges that are within your ability to handle. The GM knows that there is something dangerous on that mountain. If you go over there at 1st level it might be a dire pig. If you go over there at 3rd level maybe it is an ogre. At 5th it might be a troll. You know the drill.

When examining my own style of GMing, I think I tend toward more of a "level inappropriate" game. I routinely throw my players in over their head. Probably not "dragon at 1st level" kind of inappropriate. But stuff that is clearly a bit out of their league. I don't contend that this is the best way to approach this. It's just the pattern I've noticed I bring to the table if I'm not thinking about doing it some other way.

I think I do that because I know my players are smart and I feel confident that they will figure a way to survive those encounters. Granted, I throw it at them without the faintest inkling of what that way is. But they pull through the vast majority of the time so obviously I'm not too horribly mean. They do call me a Rat Bastard, a title I wear with a bit of pride.

I like to think that part of the whole leveling up process is about dealing with tough challenges. I mean thats what Experience Points do, right? They track how tough your challenges were. And when you have tougher challenges then you level up faster.

I'm not sure that I think life always works that way. I mean I'm dealing with this shoulder thing right now and I don't think I'm going to be better at fighting orcs in a couple weeks when it clears up. But in some ways it does work that way. You can sometimes choose to do things today that will make you better tomorrow.

The easy challenges might seem not to have that much value. They don't award as much XP. But they are very good for giving you a sense of progress. Traction. And traction can really help to bring a sense of confidence and momentum.

Just like in my GMing challenges, I gravitate toward the ones that are a little tougher. I tend to set goals that are maybe a little too big. Or try things I've never done before (this past summer I flew a plane!). I think these probably get me a bit more XP. But they take longer and sometimes I fail (don't worry - I didn't crash the plane). I don't contend that this is the best way to approach this. It's just the pattern I've noticed I bring to the table if I'm not thinking about doing it some other way.

I need to remind myself to more often break off the little, easy tasks. They remind me that I've gotten pretty good at stuff. I need that traction. But I also need to remember to look at my resources. Those things that make the bigger challenges easier to accomplish. I have a lot of good people and books and materials to work with. And I also need to remember to sit back once in awhile and take stock of all the stuff, big and small, that I've accomplished. Maybe it's time to recognize that I made a level.

What were your big challenges, gaming or life in general, recently? Which ones were easier once you got certain resources involved?
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