Sunday, February 20, 2022

Doing the Impossible

Lately I’ve been riding the bandwagon of interest in FKR-inspired design. I’m especially intrigued by diegetic advancement. This is a concept that holds a lot of promise in terms of replacing my least favourite legacy system: XP. However, I’m not convinced diegetic advancement has quite arrived in terms of implementation.

A quick and probably incomplete inventory of approaches to this design of which I am aware:

  • Advancement as gear– The growth you seek is out in the world: Go fetch it! This implements diegetic advancement as a reward for acquiring things, like a less abstracted gold for XP.
  • Advancement as trainingCairn suggests GMs populate the world with fighting trainers. In so doing, it ties advancement to diegetic investments in character time and relationships.
  • Advancement as survival – We see this in the “scars” system used in Electric Bastionland and some of its offspring. In those games, scars resemble a traditional level-up, increasing HP and perhaps providing some other random benefit. This implements diegetic1 advancement as a reward for risk-taking, but given that that it only occurs when you hit exactly 0 HP2, involves a significant element of luck.

What I have not seen is represented is this:

To me, this is the most interesting kind of advancement: The breakthrough in which the necessary forges the impossible into the actual. I’m not saying one needs to force the matter; one advantage of the diegetic approaches outlined above is they are not mutually exclusive. In fact I suspect they are better in combination. However, it seems like a blind spot, or at least a missed opportunity, not to include some means of simulating the ways we learn and improve through doing, and the amazing things we can accomplish when we are pushed to our extremes.3 How can diegetic advancement work in the ways we grow through our own efforts?

Sadly, this is all I have to contribute for now. Am I missing something? Did we already figure this one out? If not, how can we incorporate this kind of character growth into less mechanized, more diegetic designs?

  1. Actually not super sure if this counts as diegetic? Oh well. [back]

  2. Assuming a system where it is possible to go into negative HP or something analogous. [back]

  3. To be fair, traditional XP systems don’t pull this off either. [back]


  1. its not a clean break from the scar system, but if you are trying to get a limitbreak without adding any ither mechanics, 'leveling up' on reaching 0hp (even if only temporarily) gets you there. Maybe make it work like 13th Age's escalation die?

    Could even have different styles of limitbreaks, make each one fill an inventory slot, the more slots filled for one means the bigger escalation die used when activated; fills double the slots after expending to explain exhaustion.

    That or its linked to saves, but FKR doesnt assume those are present from what ive read

  2. Welcome to the bandwagon~

    Great to have you. :)

  3. I've made a hack of Messerspiel inspired by those sorts of power-ups, which I aptly named "Shonen Anime Messerspiel." I definitely think it's an area that is largely unexplored in TTRPGs, at least rules light ones I'd be familiar with.
    Here's that game:

    1. Hey! I don't get notifications for blog comments and did not see this until now. This is a really compelling approach to this design. Thanks for sharing, I'll be thinking these ideas over!