Although the characterization of the game’s avatar will develop through storytelling, characters may also become more functionally powerful by gaining new skills, weapons, and magic. This creates a positive-feedback cycle that is central to most role-playing games: The player grows in power, allowing them to overcome more difficult challenges, and gain even more power. This is part of the appeal of the genre, where players experience growing from an ordinary person into a superhero with amazing powers. Whereas other games give the player these powers immediately, the player in a role-playing game will choose their powers and skills as they gain experience.
Role-playing games usually measure progress by counting experience points and character levels. Experience is usually earned by defeating enemies in combat, with some games offering experience for completing certain quests or conversations. Experience becomes a form of score, and accumulating a certain amount of experience will cause the character’s level to go up. This is called “levelling up”, and gives the player an opportunity to raise one or more of his character’s attributes. Many RPGs allow players to choose how to improve their character, by allocating a finite number of points into the attributes of their choice. Gaining experience will also unlock new magic spells for characters that use magic.
Some role-playing games also give the player specific skill points, which can be used to unlock a new skill or improve an existing one. This may sometimes be implemented as a skill tree. As with the technology trees seen in strategy video games, learning a particular skill in the tree will unlock more powerful skills deeper in the tree.
Three different systems of rewarding the player characters for solving the tasks in the game can be set apart: the experience system (also known as the “level-based” system), the training system (also known as the “skill-based” system) and the skill-point system (also known as “level-free” system)
- The experience system, by far the most common, was inherited from pen-and-paper role-playing games and emphasizes receiving “experience points” (often abbreviated “xp” or “exp”) by winning battles, performing class-specific activities, and completing quests. Once a certain amount of experience is gained, the character advances a level. In some games, level-up occurs automatically when the required amount of experience is reached; in others, the player can choose when and where to advance a level. Likewise, abilities and attributes may increase automatically or manually.
- The training system is similar to the way the Basic Role-Playing system works. The first video game to use this was Dungeon Master, which emphasized developing the character’s skills by using them—meaning that if a character wields a sword for some time, he or she will become proficient with it.
- Finally, in the skill-point system (as used in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines for example) the character is rewarded with “skill points” for completing quests, which then can be directly used to “buy” skills and/or attributes, without having to wait until the next “level up”.