One of the few things I dislike about my current L5R game is that somewhere along the way I lost control of the passage of time. This isn't a serious problem, but over the course of about 18-24 months of sessions we've passed maybe 2 months in game. This means that in a short period of time in character my PCs have gone from relatively new and inexperienced characters to high level characters that are ready to take their place among the best in the Empire. It's not a problem for the game itself, but it means I have to go for a different feel going forward. it also got me thinking about different ways to do XP and what that could mean. Today I want to talk about that.
XP Over IC Time Passage
The idea behind this would be that instead of giving out an allotment of XP per session, players would only get XP when a certain amount of time passed in game. Say 1 xp per IC week, which would add up to 4xp per month, 48 xp per year, and so on. I could then give bonus XP (1-5 xp depending, perhaps more) for significant events, completion of major story arcs, or other big growths.
In this way when running a game where I intend to go with the PCs for the majority of their IC life, I don't need to worry about characters max-ranking by age 17 and then go through the next 40 years of their active life - provided they don't die - with little in the way of development because the system says they're maxed out, or them running out of things to buy with XP.
That said, like all systems, it has pros and cons...
The biggest con I see in this system is that it can discourage taking action or getting involved in side stories going on in the game. If the PCs don't get XP except for when time passes in the IC world, then things that slow down the passage of IC time become things to avoid. That means not getting as involved in scenes, or going the extra mile to find out what is going on because the player doesn't want to go 3-4 sessions without getting any XP at all if they end up in a lengthy to resolve but otherwise short in character time wise plot.
Pros come in a larger variety for certain types of game. For one, it incentivizes letting time pass. That means getting players to not always go for 100% victory or always fighting to find a way to turn things around so they feel like they unlocked every last part of whatever is going on in front of them.
Another is that it normalizes growth over time. The spread of getting XP makes a natural gate for raising certain skills and traits. You want to get a skill from 2 to 3? You need to work at it for 3 weeks to get the XP needed.
It also enables you to make longer lasting plots without having to worry about the players out levelling the content. Things like a gifted warrior for a rival clan who can be active in the game for a year or more IC without the PCs fighting them, and not need to be rank 5+ when they do meet him while still being good.
Something for Epic Fantasy
I think this type of XP system would work best for a long Epic Fantasy type story or campaign. Something like Game of Thrones or Birthright type stories where the idea is for things to progress over years with notable and lasting changes made to the world.
Still, that is a type of game that L5R can work very well for if the GM does it right.