Hexagram Advancement Draft

Here is a draft of the way Hexagram characters gain levels and accumulate traits, which are the measure of bonuses, powers, and pretty much everything else associated with progressing. Tables of traits will be included in future posts about the specific paths. The three paths are: steel, guile, and sorcery. I’m sure it should be clear which archetypes the various paths should represent. Right now, there are approximately 10 traits per path, each trait being measured from 0 to 6.

A future post will also cover character creation, but for our purposes here just know that beginning characters have two or three different learned traits, making the choice set for improvement eminently tractable, but flexible through the mechanism of diegetic quests for new traits or off-path traits. Please let me know if the distinctions are not clear in the text below. Also, all five saving throws begin at 15, with one trait-specific bonus (that is, one of the five will start at 13, based on the character path). That will also be covered in more detail in the character creation and saving throws sections.

Hit dice end up being limited to 6d6 (reached at 7th level) for most characters. Constitution potentially offers +1 HP per die, and the path of steel offers a specific “bonus HP” trait, which allows the HD for the toughest characters to potentially reach 6d6+12, upon reaching the medium levels (which, as you will see below, come slightly faster than in the traditional XP progression, though of course advancement speed is ultimately determined by referee placement of rewards).

Quick summary: gain a level every 1000 XP, either improve two path traits or go on a quest to improve an off-path trait. If improving path traits, you can either advance in traits you already have, roll on the trait table for your path, or go on a quest in search of an item or teacher to help you learn a specific new trait.

Checklist for gaining a level:

  1. Improve one inherent trait (+1 HD or +⅙ ability score)
  2. Improve saving throws
  3. Improve 2 path traits or 1 off-path trait


Inherent traits are things all characters have that can also improve, and include hit dice and traits associated with ability score advancement. All characters begin with 1 hit die (HD). The number of hit dice is the number of six sided dice rolled at the beginning of each session to determine hit points (HP). After gaining six levels, characters will have maxed out their hit dice trait and can no longer gain any more hit dice. Note that an extraordinary constitution score also provides a small bonus to HP (see the section on ability scores and the section on combat for more details). Additionally, there is a path of steel trail which provides another small HP bonus.

Each ability score has one associated inherent trait for advancement. After that trait has been improved six times, the ability score increases one point. Improving ability scores by mundane means may only be done once per score, to keep the initial 3d6 in order meaningful. (Diegetic features, like enchanted fountains, are another matter, but are generally just as likely to hurt a character as they are to help.) For example, if a character improved no other inherent traits, it would take three levels to improve one ability score one point, and it would not be possible to improve that ability score again. This option is mostly available for high level characters who have already maxed out their hit dice. How characters work within their limitations is one of the most interesting consequences of the game, so unlimited ability score progression should not be possible, but limited and gradual improvement of ability scores fits the Hexagram philosophy of logarithmic advancement.


There are 6 intrinsic traits for improving saving throws. Every level, players may choose one to improve. The first is a general saving throw bonus which applies to all saving throws. The other five are each specific to a particular saving throw. For example, there is a specific bonus trait for the dragon breath saving throw. So for the first 6 levels, all five saving throw categories improve at every level. After that, the saves improve individually; a single +1 bonus per level may be allocated to the save of the players choice.


Upon gaining a level, characters may improve two path traits or one off-path trait. The same trait may not be improved twice per level.

Players may choose to improve any two learned traits that the character already has numbers in. For example, if a path of steel character has melee combat +1 and damage +1 the player may just choose to improve both of those traits by 1 (each to +2).

To learn new traits, more is required. Instead of improving existing traits, players may instead opt to gain training in new traits. There are two ways to go about this. The first is to roll on the path trait table for the chance to begin advancing in a new trait. The tables are designed with the most general and archetypal traits at the bottom, so any die may be used for this roll (including d1; the first entry is always available for improvement, assuming it is not already at 6). Traits selected randomly in this way that are already at 5 or 6 may be re-rolled (if desired).

Another option is available if the player wishes to improve a particular trait that they don’t already possess any skill in. To do this, the character must seek out a teacher or item diegetically which will allow them to progress. Note that such self-directed quests are the only ways a character can advance in a non-path trait. Additionally, such quests are always required for advancing to 6 in any learned trait, even path traits.

The default mode of Hexagram is to support non-path trait advancement up to 5. For example, a character on the path of steel may learn to prepare spells, but the spells trait may never go above 5, will take 5 dedicated levels of advancement (5000 XP) and will require locating special items or teachers (to be determined by the referee) before each advancement is attained. Referees, see also the section on setting up scenarios for advice in placing such diegetic advancement necessities prior to play. For a game that privileges archetype role more, consider limiting off-path advancement to 3.

The increase in the number of XP required to gain a level in most games is a numerical illusion, because the reward for defeating a high level challenge (whether it is a powerful monster or a valuable treasure) is usually scaled as well, yet the inflation of numbers to support such illusionism affects all the other aspects of the game, including the economy of both threats and rewards. One of the primary goals of Hexagram is to eliminate numerical illusionism, so that approach is no good. Instead, gaining a new level always requires 1000 XP. Improving traits, however, becomes more and more specific, and very high level characters can always advance in non-path traits (though the advancement is even slower, due to the fact that non-path traits can only be advanced at the rate of one per level and in place of normal path trait advancement, as described above).
Why 1000 XP and not some other number? Some degree of granularity is required for objective reward based on value, and 1000 gives a nice resolution and allows the traditional 1 GP of treasure = 1 XP equivalency. The fact that levels always require 1000 XP also means that treasures do not need to become necessarily ever more valuable as the game progresses. A somewhat objective standard can be maintained. For example, a 5000 GP emerald will always be a fantastic reward, because it is objectively worth a level for an entire small party of adventurers.

Further, as treasure is the primary way to gain XP (the other ways are through exploring hexes and conquering hexes), money will likely remain somewhat scarce, meaning that spending character money is likely to be done more carefully (though note that it is also possible to gain more GP in ways other than just recovering treasure; such earned GP does not award XP). The one downside of this approach is that referees will need to adjust treasure values downward if using modules, but generally modules require numerous adjustments in any case, so I don’t see that as a significant problem.

15 thoughts on “Hexagram Advancement Draft

  1. Gibbering Mouther

    I like the idea that this basically keeps challenge and experience at that of a low level game.

    I do wonder though that the advancement rewards seem a bit slow (assuming increased HP is 1 point of your reward?) I’d like to see how it played out in testing – it might be just right?

    1. Brendan

      Level 1 is one hit die (1d6), level 2 is two hit dice (2d6), etc, up to level 6 (6d6), which is as far as characters on the path of guile or sorcery can get. The bonus HP trait is on the path of steel, and thus offers up to 6 extra bonus HP for warrior types, and probably a little less for the other paths, depending on how off-path advancement is capped. So the advancement awards slow only upon reaching what would be considered the middle levels in a traditional game (which fits the logarithmic advancement model, and keeps everything in ranks of six).

    2. Gibbering Mouther

      Ah yes I see now – there are multiple advantages of going up a level. It’s a good approach and I like the specialization possibilities. I suspect there will be fewer heroic fights against multiple dragons in Hexagram which is to my mind a good thing.

      Also I like the 1,000 XP/GP rule. If costs are OD&D low that makes even more sense – it not only opens up the possibility of multiple level gains in one session, but retains the incentives to avoid combat.

    3. Brendan

      Just changed the summary checklist first item to:

      – Improve one inherent trait (+1 HD or +⅙ ability score)

      Hopefully that makes it clearer to readers.

  2. -C

    It is very important to note that in 1st edition experience point advancement isn’t illusionism.

    This is for several reasons. First, in general the experience growth rate is exponential. It requires as much experience to go from level five to level six as it did to go from level one to level five.

    Second, the rate between the classes varies. A thief is a full level ahead of casters.

    Third, concluding a successful adventure based on the level of the party has a rate of diminishing returns. Yes, for levels one through seven, it is likely to gain a level every three to five weeks. But after that point, the experience it is possible to gain from a single session tends to cap (around 30,000k). And that is with a good haul, average experience gained will be in the range of 10-15,000. meaning that it takes longer and longer to gain each following level, eventually reaching the point where it takes about three, four or even six months to advance if you are playing 3 times a month.

    1. Brendan

      Agree on all points. However. What that means practically speaking is that most people do not play the game as written after mid levels because if they did it would mean that mechanical advancement would all but halt. So the common approach is to increase rewards to compensate for the exponential XP requirements (and the game does build this it to some degree actually with escalating treasure values and monster XP rewards, though the tendency of the rules in First Edition works toward this end much less than, say, 3E). Personally, and this is a matter of taste (though I also believe it is psychologically good game design), I would prefer smaller and smaller rewards on a consistent schedule (as is the goal of Hexagram with logarithmic advancement) to equal rewards on a slower and slower schedule (which is the exponential class XP progression). There has been a lot of study done on the psychology of rewards, and small-continuous is much more effective than large-punctuated. This also makes economic sense (see the time value of money).

      Also, the differing rate of advancement by various classes is itself a kind of illusionism (though there are some benefits here). To actually compare the progression of classes, one should look at the XP to power gained relationship. For example, a 40k XP thief compared to a 40k XP magic-user. There are some other practical benefits to the staggered advancement though. I think it makes the game feel potentially a bit artificial when the group levels as a whole, so having the offset progression does sort of space out rewards, which blunts the exponential progression a bit (if that makes sense). However, the power of big numbers overwhelms that effect past the mid levels as the requirements for advancement in all classes becomes astronomical. As Hexagram does have a pseudo-shared advancement progression, this could be a problem, though shares of XP for hirelings and character death will likely space things out a bit between characters.

    2. Rusty

      Hey Brendan,
      I have a contrary understanding of contemporary theories of the psychology of reward. I thought larger, intermittent rewards are stronger reinforcers of behaviour.

      Also, I like what I’m reading, but find your explanatory text opaque, any chance of concrete examples? perhaps an example that develops in parallel with the text?


    3. Brendan

      I’ll see if I can scrounge up some cites regarding effective reward structures.

      What do you think would be the most useful kinds of examples? I know that my drafts can be wordy and perhaps overly technical to begin with.

    4. Psychochild

      A few other reasons for exponential xp requirements.

      First, it encourages characters to seek bigger challenges as they grow. Killing a cave full of orcs is a massive xp haul at low levels, but it’s a drop in the bucket at higher levels.

      Also, if you require new (and rerolled) characters to start at level 1, it allows them to get up to a comparable level of power quickly… if they survive. For example, the xp required to for a character to go from 5 to 6 is often enough to get anew character from level 1 to 3 (and probably a fair way to 4). This narrows any power gaps faster.

      Now, obviously you can get around this with proper quest design and starting new characters out a bit ahead of the curve, but a few more reasons that haven’t been mentioned yet.

    5. Brendan

      Also, if you require new (and rerolled) characters to start at level 1, it allows them to get up to a comparable level of power quickly… if they survive. For example, the xp required to for a character to go from 5 to 6 is often enough to get anew character from level 1 to 3 (and probably a fair way to 4). This narrows any power gaps faster.

      This is absolutely true, and may become an issue. The power curve is relatively shallow though, and traits gained at high levels will be substantively of less effect. In other words, less bang per level as levels increase, though at equal rate. So, I expect first level characters to be able to adventure with much higher level characters, though there may be a “phase shift” at some level where that might become less practical.

      The point you raise about progressing from level 1 to level 5 taking about as long as from level 5 to level 6 is exactly why I prefer to always start at first level, even when being introduced to a higher level party. However, this does not address how well progression works when everyone is already high level and the advancement system is basically no longer functional because of the huge XP requirements.

  3. Rusty

    I find those books that build a character or a character’s story in parallel with the rules explanations the most easy to comprehend. So, making a character, step-by-step, and making the various choices needed etc..


  4. Charles Taylor (Charles Angus)

    The numerical illusionism you refer to in exponential XP requirements is only present if you’re constantly scaling threats and rewards to the party…

    In the absence of “level-appropriate” encounters, the exponential XP progression would create a logarithmic level progression, as it would take longer and longer to achieve each subsequent level.

    For instance, if you get from 1st to 2nd level in a month in BECMI, it would take you 9 years to reach 9th level, and then another 4 years to reach 10th (if rewards remain the same).

    I realize that people *do* scale the threats and rewards, though, so that’s not really how it ends up playing out.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah. Also, the progression linearizes after (approximately) name level in classic D&D. For example, a fighter requires 120k XP for every level beyond ninth.


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