I was reading a random blog a few minutes ago called Dungeons and Dragons (which hasn't been updated since August of 2010), and something struck me. I've liked role-playing for the last few years, but there's always been this nagging itch that's been bugging me. Thanks to a few choice words on that blog, I finally pinned it down...
Take your typical fantasy game (heck, any RPG), and characters start either as a normal person, or as someone already a cut above the rest. Either way, chances are that if they get into a scuffle with a group of thugs, those PCs will prevail. If they got into a fight with a large dragon, they'd surely perish.
Fast forward a few or more adventures, and our heroes have grown in skill and power (simply from the experience of going on adventures). When the group gets into a fight with a group of thugs, the floor is thus mopped by them in a single round. Should they face that dragon again, they will now have the skills to prevail in a glorious battle.
So, what's my problem?
My problem, then, is that after those heroes take down that fierce dragon (in what should be nothing but all manners of heroics), they will now walk the streets as tough as a fierce dragon. No matter the city, region, or kingdom, those heroes will walk the streets knowing that it will take two fierce dragons to bring them down.
Villager: "Hey gnome... Mr. Higgins Thunderbottom sir, would you and your group of mighty heroes like to go across the valley to take care of a little zombie infestation? Us common folk, town guards, and kingdom's soldiers haven't a chance, but you guys should have no problem."
Higgins Thunderbottom, the gnome adventurer: "Yeah, sure. No problem. First let me slap the king for being a scared little bitch. Hey, I can do that because I'm 20th level... as if his elite guards could stop me."
If I had a problem with role-playing games, that would be it.
What I'd like to see in a game is for the heroes' heroics to escalate as the need arises. For instance, when beginning heroes get into a fight with some thugs, maybe it's skill vs. skill (where either side could fall). If the thugs are actually scary-ass zombies, perhaps the zombies' skill is still comparable to the heroes, but now the heroes get Tier 1 Heroic Points. These allow for bonuses to rolls, or perhaps they unlock abilities not normally available.
Now let's throw a fierce dragon into the mix, making the encounter almost impossible for normal folk. Let's give the heroes some Tier 3 Heroic Points, which are more powerful than Tier 1. It's not really the power of the heroes that's increasing, it's that special thing that the heroes can pull off in the face of extreme situations, you know, situations that call for heroes.
I know what you're thinking... "Well that doesn't change their ability to kick ass any time they want."
Sure it does, because those Tier Heroic Points do not belong to the PCs; they are handed out by the GM as he sees fit. The players face a dragon that's terrorizing the area, the GM hands out Tier 3 Heroic Points. The players confront some town thugs, that's Tier 1 Heroic Points. The 20th level gnome decides to slap the King? That's NO points.
It's not about how tough the player characters are, it's about what kind of heroics they can pull out of their ass when needed most.
Is there a game like this already?