That’s the title of a post by Shamus Young over at twentysided today. He’s discussing the matter of not receiving experience for killing enemies well below your level. That’s more applicable to MMOGs than SP games. However, the title itself sparked thoughts of a different kind.

All RPGs are numbers-heavy, and we focus a lot of attention on those digits. We chart our characters’ development by the numbers, and we’re always looking for ways to build them up. And I think that sometimes this fixation with numeric growth gets in the way of the rest of the game. We’re so busy building up that much of the story is ignored.

So what if we didn’t have those numbers to worry about? What if the game had zero x.p.? What if development was based entirely on what you did in the game?

The Elder Scrolls has that, partially. The more you swing that sword, the better your sword skill. The more spells you cast, the better your magic abilities. And there are some trainers around to provide limited advancement.

However, that system is only partial. Let’s dump the experience points and skill points entirely and see what can be done. Of course, the first thought that comes to mind is: what about the stats?

Those could improve over time through physical and mental effort. Strength would increase through melee combat; it takes muscle to swing those weapons, especially larger ones.

Dexterity would get better through shooting bows or throwing missiles. Intelligence would increase by using magic. Endurance could go up the farther you went in the game, as a measure of your survivability.

In this regard, fighting enemies doesn’t provide the immediate payoff of more points. On the other hand, it does work towards increasing abilities over time.

Obviously, there are no levels; instead, a steady progression upward in those areas the player favors. For that matter, what if you only saw the stats at creation time, and after that, there was no screen displaying stats or skills?

You would have to judge your progress by what you could do, and how well you could do it. By the in-game results of your actions. Yesterday, you could handle a longsword. Today, a 2-hander.

Now this may seem interesting, and a way of getting numbers out of the way of the game, but there are a couple of problems. The first one, of course, is that it’s much too easy to game the system.

We know all about that. Sit in your room at the inn and cast those handy non-combat spells, such as light. Swing that sword and cut air. Shoot arrows at the wall. Sneak around in stealth mode. You’ve done it, I’ve done it, practically everyone has, at one time or another.

More important, though, is whether players would accept such a system. We have all come up, be we old-time veterans or more recent players, on a steady diet of numeric obsession. The stats. The skills. The levels. The experience points. Could we handle a game that didn’t have these?

That’s the heart of the matter. Suppose, for a moment, that the problem of “gaming the system” could be overcome in a reasonable way. Would you be willing to play an RPG as described here (more or less), provided it was done intelligently? Or would you be uncomfortable without all those numbers to “guide” you along?

(As a courtesy, I include a link to Shamus’ post, although it’s somewhat tangential to this one, or this one is tangential to that one ;)

Zero X.P. on twentysided