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:
- Improve one inherent trait (+1 HD or +⅙ ability score)
- Improve saving throws
- Improve 2 path traits or 1 off-path trait
IMPROVE AN INHERENT 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.
IMPROVE SAVING THROWS
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).
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.
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.