Character advancement feels like an arms race: as our protagonists get uniformly stronger with cooler stuff, I’ve got to start bumping up the opposition. We start off in a cyberpunk dystopia battling biker gangers for turf and — if we want to stick with that storyline — soon we’ll be seeing go-gangers that just happened to be flesh-form Wasp spirits, jacked up with move-by-wire 2, using dikoted monofilament whips, just to provide a hint of challenge.
This leveling up of skills and abilities and attributes, in my mind, comes from the early days of D&D play. Remember wading through six levels of suck until we could do anything? And then the next six levels were all scope creep: instead of wearing burlap and waving pointy sticks at goblins, we’d have to be dealing with much more powerful villains to vanquish.
From my view on the other side of the GM screen1, it’s just not fun.
I’d rather a game where your character is competent right at the start. Characters don’t improve by stats and numbers; characters grow with beliefs, relationships, and other narrative rewards. Instead of getting another rank in Intelligence, I’d rather improvement in the story: being invited to join a secret society, have my Jedi apprentice create his own lightsaber, the dwarf mechanic starts seeing my character romantically.
This is why I’m also drawn towards games that downplay a list of skill ratings, like the Powered by the Apocalypse games. Or for that matter, Cinematic Unisystem where the GM’s characters don’t have that point tweaking as the other players’ characters do2.
One Year Ago: Favorite Fantasy RPG
It’s still D&D 5th Edition.
Two Years Ago: Funniest Game Played
Don’t force humor into your games. It’s a thing that naturally happens.