RPPR Episode 59: Bildungsroman

Zombies of the World is now available in print, PDF and Kindle format!

My book, Road Trip, has been nominated for an Ennie!

Synopsis: Bildungsroman is a fancy way of describing the ‘youth to adulthood’ genre – stories like “to Kill a Mockingbird” where the character grows from a child to become an adult or closer to an adult. Role playing games are often like these stories – characters grow from being relatively weak and naive to eventually becoming epic badasses of destiny. However, many game systems do not encourage character growth – advancement is slow, ponderous and mechanically difficult. Furthermore, most campaigns are relatively short – interrupted or abandoned for myriad reasons. If you want players to grow at a faster pace, what should you do? How is mechanical growth different from role playing growth? Tom and I discuss these issues and more. Plus, instead of a letter, Tom and I read an excerpt from the infamous rpg.net review of FATAL. It’s definitely NSFW.

Shout outs

Promo: Explodey File podcast. 

Song: Growing up and Getting out by Adam Boucher.

Liked it? Take a second to support RPPR on Patreon!


  1. hah, you read the review!

    thanks guys!

  2. That review excerpt made me laugh so hard I sweated and my roommate thought I was having a mental breakdown.

  3. That review was amazing; also, I’m really happy to hear that the Rifts character creation is going to be posted as its own mini-episode. That will be fantastic.

    Fun episode as always, guys!

  4. I think the reason that D&D having highly visible mechanical growth as apposed to other game is because of the genre. In superhero comics, Superman doesn’t get stronger and the Flash doesn’t get any faster (unless there is a continuity error, of course). In horror movies, Characters only get and learn what they can find and keep, and usually don’t get to be awesome cause, you know, horror. In Real Life, it ever takes a lot of training or a lot of luck to be a badass.

    Also, another reason for not a lot of highly visible mechanical growth is that, like you said, most games are one shots. It’s assumed that if you want to play badasses for a one-shot, you just make badasses (expect for horror, which is designed around one-shot and still has weak characters because, once again, horror.) Gurps and a lot of point buy systems gives you as many points as you need, only restriction being what the GM says.

  5. I run New World of Darkness as my primary and I’ve done something similar to Tom. I keep the city as the center and then run stories through it where the characters grow and develop. When they change the city in a major way, I end the current game and have everyone create new characters in the “new” city.

    I handle advancement through front loading and resets. When something major goes down, new characters are created from scratch. If the player wants, they can recreate their old character, representing their new way of viewing the world and their new skill set.

    We’re about to end the fifth edition of the city because the characters are hitting the upper curve of my design in the current edition.

    More games with fast advancement would be amazing. You should make Tom design one.

  6. Good episode – I was cracking up during the Fatal “review” as well.

    Something that struck me during the discussion of dynamic vs. static characters. If the character is static, does that necessitate a dynamic setting?

    I was picturing Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brien from 24. In all the seasons, advancement-wise, Jack is still a badass throughout the day. He isn’t any better with pistols or resisting torture at the end. Chloe is still a smart, quirky analyst, and there isn’t a problem in the end that she finally could solve. Season 8 saw her promoted to interim head of CTU, but that was already in the endgame and her skillset didn’t suddenly improve.

    The setting, though, escalates from minor issues to shit getting real through which the characters navigate, but is it a one-or-the-other situation?

    Does the D&D example show dynamic characters (advancement) as well as a dynamic setting (adventure changing, higher CR’s) due to the adventure not being compressed into 24 hours, or is the D&D adventure dynamic by its nature?

    Thanks for the episode!


  7. Part of me wants you to continue reading the review. On the other hand, I read it and the counter and feel dead on the inside. Conveniently I was already on vacation when I listened so I got the SAN back for relaxing.

    Also, Rifts character generation? That’s going to be great. I got Heroes Unlimited and was planning for a one night gaming session. We have yet to even start the game since it took so much time for character gen.

    That being said, I do have to argue with your take on World of Darkness. While I fully agree that character advancement is mechanically slow, I do believe that that is not what WoD is about. World of Darkness doesn’t have an endgame in mind, that we can also agree on. But World of Darkness isn’t about your character becoming badasses (don’t know about the spinoffs like Vampire and Hunter, since I actually have yet to play those). World of Darkness is about roleplay based character development. How does your character get effected by the discovery of what exists? Does your character play hero? Does your character turn into a sociopath to fight these things? Does your character just curl up and let the bad things happen? That’s what I feel WoD is.

    Of course if you’re just arguing mechanics rather than roleplaying character growth, you’re completely right.

    Thanks for the episode!

  8. One key thing with growth is many modern games have much more important economies. That back when I played Shadowrun, character points or whatever they were naturally were sparse. But we were mostly looking for the money to buy better body parts. In D&D though most of the players who got rich had their adventurers either go on like nothing happened or retired to some kind of pleasure island.

    Attack the Gas Station is a brilliant film. Both because it is fun and crazy and good to watch and because it is addressing many elements of Korean society and cultural baggage (each of the punks represents one kind of “failure of the system” if I recall. I haven’t watched it in years and it’s been half as long since a friend explained it to me.)

  9. Quick character evolution is only one part of the D&D paradigm, the pendant is also a broad spectrum of monsters covering all levels.

    Any system which has a quick experience path for character need to integrate a coherent set of opponents adequate for the character level. If the background of the world try to have some level of realism (or a “belivable feel”), very often it is difficult to answer the question: if this super vilain is so powerful, why did he not try to take over the world/kingdom/city ? And often there is no reasonable answer suitable for the background.

    If the background cannot cope with high power NPC, then the system will prevent characters to evolve to this level because it simply fail to answer why nobody did it before the characters ? and why did they not shape the world to their whim ?

    Long time ago, I was running a Ars Magica campaign involving a Crusade launch by the pope in the area the characters were living. But before I planned that, I had to find what where doing the other (and more powerful) mages living in the same area. They were not going to rely on young magi to save their covenants. It would not be believable. So I had to find for half a dozen groups of NPC magis what would be their agendas, according to their abilities and political/religious belief. Not an easy task.

    So dynamic character ? Yes, if you can have a dynamic setting and most systems have rather static background. The way D&D cope with such large scale of power (from tiny level 1 to mighty level 30) is by assuming that there is some form of balance between each power group and if one try to expand too much, others will gang against it to keep it in check. Is it reasonable ? Yes, because the world is so big that you can expect to find a badass “badasser” than the next one (with the various planes, gods, and things-from-beyond).

    In games set in realistic background, it can prove difficult or impossible to reasonably explain it.

  10. really could hear a whole podcast of you guys reading that FATAL review… great to hear, and to laugh along with you when you get to a point of “oh god what did i just read?”

  11. I know it’s an old episode, but I wanted to weigh in here. I’m actually not a fan of rapid character advancement, and while you seem to expect that games should have a mechanical character advancement in stats, or skills somehow I think that character advancement is one of the things you should take into consideration when you’re picking what game you want to play.

    My group and I played and 4th edition, then pathfinder for about two years, in the span of that two years the player characters became quite powerful, leveling up every couple of sessions. Now, we’ve switched over to eclipse phase, and one of the reasons I switched to eclipse phase is that I like the concept of player characters being mostly mechanically static. In my games I go for a different kind of advancement. In reality once people hit a certain point they don’t tend to improve all that much in skills of stats, but they improve in many other ways.

    I try to encourage my players to find other ways to grow as characters rather than just getting better at punching things. In game I allow for a lot of role playing advancement that can bring mechanical advantages later on, such as making friends and loyal followers or amassing wealth from actions and deeds rather than by spending character points.

    I switched away from Dungeons and Dragons type games because I got tired of the power fantasy, I think that if a player wants their character to advance, they should be willing to put a lot of time and effort into it, or they should play a game that is designed with the power fantasy in mind. Otherwise there are other forms of advancement, you don’t need to go from a 250 point wild talents character to a 700 point wild talents character to have them learn responsibility and have great roleplaying moments to advance as characters.

Leave a Reply