Character Advancement


So your Heroes find a map, what do they do with it? Do they mark it on their character sheet, file it away for a future situation, or begin diving into it right away? In Unchained Heroes, that map should be a path to adventure and reward. The reward we are talking about is not monetary though, this reward is Character Advancement through Adventure. As Heroes have new experiences, their level increases and so does their strength and skill. We don’t use Experience Points (XP) in Unchained Heroes to gain levels, though, we base it more loosely on completing an Adventure.

Adventures consist of at least Five Encounters, one of which must be a Major or Critical Encounter. This is called the Five Encounter Rule. Encounters are synonymous with scenes in a movie or play. You don’t need to follow the Five Encounter Rule exactly, it should be considered a guide. If you choose to veer from these rules, feel free to do so. Some of you may wish to bring back the Experience Point concept. You can go Old School style and dish out XP for defeating monsters and gaining treasure, some of you may want to be a New Age style player and give out XP exclusively for good roleplaying. The Unchained Heroes guideline is to use a more abstract method for experience and grant Level Ups based on Adventure completion. In the end, how you grant a Level Up is ultimately your decision, so with that covered, we will jump into the guidelines Unchained Heroes has for handling Level Ups.

Advancement as the Carrot

Character Advancement is a strong motivator, so you can use it to promote the type of play that will please your gaming group and make an enjoyable time for everyone. Unchained Heroes puts the option of when Character Advancement occurs in the hands of the GM. They have a guideline to grant a Level Up after each Adventure or Series of Adventures, but there is flexibility with it. A GM will grant the player’s Heroes a Level Up when it feels right for the story, based on Adventure completion, by reaching Key Milestones, and by finding a Logical Point to Power Up.

Encounter Importance is Relevant

The types of Encounters that give everyone a good experience are varied, but they have features in common. All Encounter are quantified by their level of importance to your adventure, story, or quest. These levels are: Minor, Standard, Major, and Critical. These levels are part of the Scale of Importance. Anything you consider an encounter should be evaluated on this scale in relation to your Story. Whether an encounter is a Combat Encounter or a Skill Encounter doesn’t matter. Evaluate the Encounter based on its relevance to the story and you are on the right track.

You may veer from the number of Minor, Standard, Major, and Critical Encounters that a player must complete in the Adventure by as much or as little as you want, but the more Encounters you put in their way, the slower Character Advancement will be. 

Here are some examples of what can be used an Encounter in Unchained Heroes:

  • Interact with an NPC for the first time

  • Interact with an NPC that advances the Storyline or creates a new Storyline

  • Travel to a new location for the Heroes

  • Travel to unexplored Locations in the Game World

  • Exploring a Location

    • A room in a dungeon

    • A antechamber of a temple

    • A district of a city

    • An inn within a city

    • The topmost room of a tower

  • Discovering new life forms

  • Discovering the denizens of a location

  • Uncovering Secret Chambers

  • Uncovering Secrets of NPCs

  • Overcoming a Trap

  • Solving a Puzzle

  • Defeating Villains according to the Rules of Victory

    • Knowing when to Avoid a Fight

  • Creating new Devices and technology

This list is not exhaustive, you may find more reasons to consider a scene an Encounter that fall along these lines or are a completely new category. We highly recommend that you take these examples to heart and try to include as many of them in your game as possible. If nothing else, they will give you a simple outline for your quest like this:

  1. Interact with a NPC for the first time

  2. Interact with a Storyline NPC

  3. Travel to a remote Location

  4. Explore the top room of a Tower

  5. Overcome a Trap

  6. Defeat a Villain

Those categories are fairly specific, if you are looking for more general categories, Unchained Heroes recommends that make Encounters based on the following situations:

  • Engaging the Fictional World

  • Advancing the Storyline

Above all other things, Unchained Heroes considers an Encounter any time they are Engaging the Fictional World or Advancing the Storyline, both of which when used properly, will get your players more immersed in the game session. They are collaborative goals and are easy to apply to your game sessions.

Player Driven Advancement

The act of Engaging the Fictional World is player driven. Learning about the world around them should be an open ended sandbox adventure with encounters everywhere. The players may take this adventure wherever it may lead them. When players take their Heroes to new cities for the first time–breaking away from the norm–they should be given credit for Encounter during their journey. The act of exploration in a very civilized region may only be a Minor or Standard level on the Scale of Importance in your world, but in a campaign where you are surrounded by a wild jungle, it might be considered a Major or Critical level. This concept is meant to reward players for trying to flesh out the game world and the role that they are taking in it. If you are the planning type, you can do this very simply with your campaign map and outline. If you don’t wish to do any planning, you can still stay true to this idea by granting your players rewards for engaging new NPCs, traveling to the latest locale for your grand questline, or simply giving them a reward for going outside their comfort zone.

Story Driven Advancement

The second way Unchained Heroes determines Encounters is by Advancing the Storyline. This is what all RPGs do, even if they do it in different ways. The concept is simple; anything that moves the players towards the end of a quest, story, adventure, or grand campaign falls into this category. If you are playing a pre-made module, you can pepper the module with Encounters that you can use, ranging from Minor to Standard to Major to Critical. Some of these encounters can be very important and some of them simply help flesh out the story. For example, the players going into an inn and talking to the innkeeper may give them a minor amount of experience in one scenario, but it may give them a major amount of experience if talking to that same innkeeper gives them a part of the story hook.

Advancing the Storyline also comes up when the players meet a major NPC that will be part of their lives for the rest of the campaign. You also have encounters where your players will have to do some of the more traditional methods of Advancing the Storyline such as fighting different monsters, acquiring special items, or weakening the power of a villain. In any of these situations,  when you overcome them, they will get you further down story. These are all Encounters and it is your job to figure out how these conditions match up with the adventure’s progression. Rank them in order of importance according to the story as Minor, Standard, Major, or Critical. If your Heroes engage in any of these situations, give them a little extra credit for their engagement.

I should also add that not all things will be relevant. Some things may have no relevance to the Story and no relevance to the Fictional World. In those cases you can choose to that they are not considered encounters at all and don’t count towards your Adventure.

Advancement without Combat

At first, the your players might be expecting to be getting Experience Points from Adventures. The fact that we don’t use Experience in that fashion, might not be apparent to them as they play Unchained Heroes for the first time, so you might need to explain it to them. The first time most people play an RPG, they will come into it expecting that if they beat up the “Big Bad Guy” and put a few “Little Bad Guys” out of commission they will get XP. If you don’t want the players to play this way, you need to give them different incentives, you need to let them know what those incentives are, and they need to know how to go about completing them. Not many people are used to getting credit for exploring the different corridors of a city, talking to new NPCs, finding an ancient book, or just exploring the world, but they will probably get used to it. The continued use of this approach should give your players the incentive to Advance the Storyline and Engage the Fictional World, making a better role playing experience for everybody at the table.