Rather than a set of formulae or tables, Phoenix uses a highly simplified system for awarding experience points. Every level is worth 1000xp, so once you earn 1000, you level up, and start again at 0xp. Every encounter is worth between 50 and 200xp depending on its difficulty. At the end of every game, the GM totals the XP from all the encounters and awards that amount to the players. On average, it should take about 10 encounters to gain a level, and you should have somewhere between two and five encounters per game. Remember that both combat and role-play can qualify as encounters: anything from straight-up fights, to search-and-rescue operations, to social interactions, or character/plot development.
There are five tiers of difficulty: Trivial, Easy, Moderate, Difficult, and Deadly. Each tier is rated by risk, resource use, and time.
- Risk can be both tangible (physical safety) and intangible (mental/emotional health, reputation, etc.), and it refers to the safety of the heroes as well as any supporting cast and innocent bystanders.
- Resource use includes both short-term (HPs, PPs, per-game abilities, purchases that don’t reduce your Wealth) and long-term/permanent resources (Action Points, single-use items, purchases that lower your Wealth).
- Time is simply a measurement of how much of a given gaming session a particular encounter takes up.
These encounters involve no real risk to anyone, are a piece of cake to overcome, require little if any expense of resources, and take up very little time.
These encounters involve some risk of temporary injury, require some effort (but nothing the heroes can’t handle), require some expensive of resources (HPs and PPs, primarily), and take up only a few rounds of combat or a short time at the table (15 to 30 minutes).
These encounters involve real risk of injuries that require either medical attention or superpowered aid, they require some effort on the part of the players (e.g., tactical thinking, resource management, creativity/ingenuity, dramatic flare, etc.), they will usually involve expending long-term or permanent resources (Action Points, Wealth decreases) as well as significant temporary resources (PPs and HPs), and they take up around a quarter of the gaming session (i.e., a good hour).
These encounters involve a great deal of very likely risk and always require medical attention or super-powered healing afterwards. They require significant tactical and strategic thinking. Some characters might drain all their short-term and significant amounts of long-term resources. Finally, it will take up a good half a gaming session.
These encounters involve risk that is extremely difficult to avoid, usually end with one or two heroes dead or permanently disabled (save for superpowered healing), and require seriously outside-the-box creativity just to survive and/or save all the bystanders. The heroes will drain all of their resources: PPs, HPs, Action Points, items/devices, Wealth, favours from NPCs, etc. A Deadly encounter will take up most if not all of a gaming session.
For example , a team of five heroes has three encounters during a game: a search-and-rescue operation on a burning building (easy: 50xp) at which they learn about a ring of firebugs, then a meeting with the city fire chief in which they convince him to give them use of a squad of firefighters and a truck (medium: 100xp), and finally, a combat encounter with a team of villains with fire-related powers (difficult: 150xp). Each hero would receive 300xp from that session.
Alternatively, you can make one, big encounter and break it down into separate XP rewards. A fight against The Moon Man, Master of Tides, and his Fightin’ Lunatics might break down into one Deadly and two Difficult encounters, depending on how many Lunatics there are.
Alternative XP Reward Systems
Every ten encounters, level up the characters. No calculating XP. No adjudicating difficulty. Ten encounters = one level. Simple as that.
If you’re especially comfortable with playing it by ear, and your players are especially comfortable with you doing that with their characters, then you can level them up “at the speed of plot.” After an important encounter, have them level-up. If they’re getting bored with their abilities, have them level up. If you haven’t played in a while and you feel they need a boost in confidence or morale, have them level up. If they’re not powerful enough to face the Big Bad you have prepared for the next game, have them level up. Whatever you and your players prefer is fine. It’s your game. If you’re having fun, then you’re doing it right.
Rather than granting heroes 10 character points when they level up, Phoenix grants CPs half-way through each level at the 500XP mark. We do this for a couple of reasons, which bear some explanation.
First, everybody likes getting rewarded for their efforts in an RPG. It’s like getting presents that you earned. It combines the fun of new toys with the pride of work paying off. By giving out CPs every half-level, Phoenix effectively doubles the number of times players get to collect rewards but doesn’t change the power level of the game. It should also help those players who are accustomed to RPGs in which they earn rewards every time they loot a defeated villain. Phoenix doesn’t use looting as a reward system, but earning 10CPs or a full level every 5 encounters is a lot to look forward to.
Second, both levelling up and spending CPs can be involved processes filled with finicky math and lots of note taking. Separating them simplifies both and effectively halves the amount of time you spend on them. Of course, they’re related processes, but splitting them up makes both easier.