The experience system of Purun Bhagat

He had been, as the Old Law recommends, twenty years a youth, twenty years a fighter — though he had never carried a weapon in his life — and twenty years head of a household. He had used his wealth and his power for what he knew both to be worth; he had taken honour when it came his way; he had seen men and cities far and near, and men and cities had stood up and honoured him. Now he would let those things go, as a man drops the cloak he no longer needs.

— “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat”, The Second Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

I have run campaigns (many of them) in a setting in which there was a social feature inspired by the above quote from Kipling’s “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat”: in my old fantasy setting Gehennum it was a norm that a man should be twenty years a child, then twenty years a warrior, then twenty years a magistrate and twenty years a priest, before finally retiring at eighty. Non-citizens, and citizens in despotic states, resented not being allowed to live “the Four Lives”. But it did not occur to me when I was running any of those campaigns to award a different sort of experience points according to which life a PC was in, nor to award experience points for different goals to characters in different lives¹.

It struck me while we were discussing the old D&D expectation that characters would start to do a different sort of thing once they reached “named level”, that perhaps the thing would have been to stop giving characters experience for killings and loot once they reached tenth level, and to start giving it instead for accomplishments in the expected and desired kinds of play at the higher level. That might result in players retiring characters who could no longer get experience points, or perhaps a levelling moment while the named-level characters could still cut a dashing figure in the dungeon, but were essentially marking time until the whole party should be ready to move on.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a game that worked that way. Has anyone?

In James Bond 007 characters had a “rank” that was determined by a weighted total of their attributes and skill levels, and each character’s rank determined his or her base experience award: characters of higher rank got more experience. The purpose of that rule was to provide an incentive for rookies and “agent” rank characters to specialise, while freeing “00”-ranked characters to generalise. The understanding was that low-ranked characters were suitable for team play and 00s for solo games. Anyway, I don’t think that that’s quite the same thing, because it’s not aimed at producing a changing incentive for the character’s actions during adventures.

So: does this seem to be an interesting idea? Have any games tried it?

¹ I did award merit points for different deeds to characters in different lives, the totals and resulting ranks determining perceived eligibility for promotions and offices.

Original D&D got very close to this in that you could change classes and start working up the new class’s level, though you had to not use your old class abilities while you were doing it. But the experience points you got were still for the standard slaying and looting. I gather later D&D has made “taking a level in X” a standard thing people do.

But I think most campaigns these days tend to be shorter than in the 1980s; if I want a complete change in PC activities, I’ll generally start a new campaign.

The nearest thing I remember seeing to this is the Idealist nation of Loskalm in Glorantha as depicted in RUNEQUEST 3rd Edition.

The idea was that everybody started as a Farmer, a member of the commonality. (Those Farmers who were the children of high ranking nobles tended to get the plum positions such as squire or assistant to the Priest but this was something that was not mentioned.) Then when you had mastered (reached 90% in) the core skill of your trade as a commoner you were entitled to become a Soldier and learn the art of fighting things. And once you had risen to become a Knight you were entitled to become a member of the clergy, the Wizard Class. And the top Wizards became nobles. I think. It’s a long time ago and it was clear from the start that both in terms of the game system and the world as described this was something that would only work if there were ludicrous amounts of rule-breaking magic involved.

I wrote as a reaction a Malkioni Heresy (the Julianists) who didn’t believe in hereditary castes but did believe in the benefits of specialisation.

Honestly, even modest schemes such as the Roman cursus honorum broke against reality more often than people admitted.

Enlightenment and purpose come about despite the structures of society more often than because of them…