Drifter: Advancement Ideas

by Andreas Walters on March 05, 2020

was recently re-watching Adam Koebel’s first look, of Drifter (you can view it here). As a designer, I find it really interesting to see what specific elements other designers will pick up on. In the case of Adam I was especially curious about how he would view the Thresholds of Drifter, it’s an interesting interpretation of PtBA success thresholds adapted to fit a d20.

Nevertheless during my recent rewatch, at 51:28, I realized Adam misunderstood how the advancement system worked (he got it when he got to the Advancement section later on) but his first interpretation gave me an interesting design idea I got to mull over today. Now to start here’s how advancement currently works in Drifter:

Characters have a linear progression path. Composed of alternating Major Advancements ( one diamond) followed by 4 Minor Advancements (a diamond of 4), with the cycle repeating 4 times. Minor Advancements allowed you to choose between increasing your health, energy, new talent, or reducing your dicipline thresholds. Whereas, Major advancements were then intended to provide the player with more advanced choices, a sub-class/specialization/prestige class so to speak. These would give you access new features, and provide you with talents that you could select from that would be unique to that path.

Now, in Adam’s first interpretation, he read the advancement track as “I am an Explorer, with 1 of 4; and I am a Hero with 3 of 4.” This is interesting because he initially saw the Major Advancements as different ‘talent trees’ where the players could choose how their players diversified. This decentralizes linearity of the advancement track but also makes it very interesting for players to decide how they want their characters to grow.

For instance, if we wanted to chase this idea down the rabbit-hole a bit further (because this is a really interesting idea that could actually work for Drifter). I could imagine that there would be three to four open talent trees. For this example, Explorer and Hero actually work quite well, since they’re two abstracts that aren’t covered by class or discipline (which actually makes coming up with new ones fairly hard). These individual talent trees would have a slate of options unique to their own. For instance, Explorer would have talent boons that would aid Survival and Exploration disciplines, whereas Hero might cover Survival and Combat (just ideas here). This leaves the potential design idea of having special abilities or trees that require, for example, Explorer-4 and Hero-2.

Why this idea is cool!

Decentralized advancement options is something we really haven’t seen much of in ttrpgs and is pretty cool in it’s own right. As a designer, it gives me a lot of Diablo/Wolcen/Path of Exile vibes, providing players with a great depth of specialization and customization.

Why I’m likely not going with this design choice:

There are two main complications that I would have putting this sort of design in Drifter. (1) UI and (2) easy to learn. In regards to UI, we initially constrained ourselves to have Minor Advancements only have 4 points. With this change, we would have to accomedate each Tree to have several layers to them. The character sheet was slated to be small, so there isn’t much real-estate to work with in this sense.  The second issue is the learning curve. For most gamers, it should be relatively easy to pick up on these different options, but for a newcomer it can be difficult to decide which to pick. This is why in the current iteration of the advancement track, we make the first Major Advancement (explorer) very simple (just ability scores), then as the player gets more familiar with the system and they hit the next Major Advancement (Hero) and ar provided with a broad array of options that they can evaluate using their knowledge of the system.

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