Legend of Zelda Adventure System: Levels, and Adventurers

The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past Fan Art: Link Battling Dark World Crows, by Neko
Link battling Dark World crows. Fan art by Neko, (I think)

In my experience, there are two kinds of leveling systems. The first is designed around the idea that the player will always have another level to strive for. The majority of the game, if not all of it, is played below the maximum level. This is mostly used in games where levels offer only minor benefits, or in games where acquiring the next level is the primary motivation for play. The other type of leveling system serves as a kind of extended tutorial. The game is fully featured and plenty of fun during the leveling process, but the gradual acquisition of levels serve as a means to gradually introduce players to the abilities they’ll be using at max level.

Both methods have their place, but I’ve always felt a certain frustration with the former option. As much fun as the game may be, the last few levels always have some really fascinating abilities that you can’t wait to get your hands on. But you know that if you ever do get them, it won’t be too long before the game is over anyway. Most console RPGs are like this, in my expereince, as is Pathfinder. Those games where levels offer only minor benefits, such as more traditional versions of D&D, are a little less frustrating in this regard. There aren’t any fancy abilities at max level you’re eager to get, so when you end the game 80% of the way through the leveling process, you don’t feel as though you’ve missed out on something you were looking forward to.

I want to model the Legend of Zelda Adventure System on the latter type of leveling system. The game should be just as fun once you’re done leveling as it was before. At max level, characters become more concerned with finding magical or wondrous items to aide them in their future adventures. And individual character progress continues, because health increases separately from the leveling structure. A max level character will probably only have between five and ten health, which isn’t much! They’ll need to continue adventuring if they want to increase their survivability.

As an example of how the leveling system works, here’s the current class description for the Adventurer class. The adventurer is the class which I think best represents Link himself. It’s a little bit like a rogue, a little bit like a ranger, a little bit like a monk, but not quite any of those. And while many of the adventurer’s abilities were never demonstrated by in the Zelda series, I think they are true to the spirit of the gameplay.

Adventurer

Equipment: Adventurers may use light armor and shields, as well as any type of weapon, without penalty. An adventurer who wears heavy armor does not gain the benefit of any of their special abilities unless otherwise stated.

Level Abilities Gained
1 Spin Attack
2 Long Jump
3 Attack +1
4 Climb, Battle Maneuver +1
5 Sneak
6 Attack +2
7 Run
8 High Jump, Battle Maneuver +2
9 Attack +3
10 Great Courage

Spin Attack: Make an Agility Check. If the check is successful, make a normal attack against all adjacent enemies. Such an attack can not specifically aim for a creature’s weak spot. If the agility check fails, you may still make the attack, but at a -3 penalty to hit and damage rolls.

Long Jump: You can jump up to 20ft distant without needing to make a roll. You can reach distances of 21-30ft with a successful agility check. A long jump can’t end on an area more than 1ft higher than the area the character began on.

 Attack: At levels 3, 6, and 9, an adventurer becomes more adept at making attacks with their weapon. They may add the indicated number to their attack rolls to determine if an attack hits.

Climb: The adventurer can move vertically or horizontally along walls so long as the walls are reasonably rough, such as an old brick wall, or a rough stone wall. The adventurer can also support themselves between two walls no more than 6ft apart for an indefinite period of time. With a successful agility check, you can move up to your normal movement speed while climbing, though failure results in a fall.

Battle Maneuver: At level 4, and 8 an Adventure becomes more adept at performing battle maneuvers, and more resilient against them. They add the indicated number to both their Battle Maneuver Attack, and Battle Maneuver Defense.

Sneak: A sneaking adventurer is able to move with complete silence, and hide themselves within deep shadows. While sneaking, an adventurer can move only half of their normal speed. While hiding in deep shadows, an adventurer must remain still while someone is looking at them, or they will be seen.

On particularly noisy ground, such as dry leaves or a creaky floor, the GM may rule that an agility check is needed to move silently.

Run: For a number of rounds equal to their Body score, an adventurer may move up to six times their normal movement rate.

High Jump: May leap up to 6ft straight up without the need for an agility check. May reach heights of up to 10ft with a successful agility check.

Great Courage: The adventurer becomes completely immune to any form of fear effect, be it mundane or magical. This ability works even if the adventurer is encumbered by heavy armor.

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4 thoughts on “Legend of Zelda Adventure System: Levels, and Adventurers”

  1. I think the “levels as training system” is a concept that really came in with World of Warcraft. Or maybe one of the earlier games like Everquest? My knowledge here is shaky. I have been quite struck by how many MMORPG players consider attaining level 80 (or whatever the current cap is) to be the start of the real game, not the end. I don’t mean this as a criticism; I think it’s a very interesting pedagogical system.

    It’s relatively new to me, as someone who has never actually attained even close to the highest level in any tabletop RPG through actual play.

    1. That’s my problem. The highest level character I’ve ever had is level 14 I think. And that GM has been fast-tracking me through the game, just because we both want to experience high level play for a change of pace.

      My experience with MMOs is limited, but if they originated the concept, then it’s a genius move on their part.

  2. You inspired me to start a dungeoncrawl, and I really enjoyed the ideas you had as far as implementing Zelda-style major magic items and Great Monsters. Pointing out Katsuya Terada’s art also has helped me get building with a unified feel.

    I think that a possible system that would work really well for this–or at least as a core system to mod–is Old School Hack. (http://www.oldschoolhack.net) Since it’s free, and much more in line with Zelda-style mechanics than 3e or later versions of D&D, you might want to give it a look. (I’m not affiliated with them, for the record.)

    I do like the first look at how you made an “Adventurer” class, but I personally don’t see a Zelda system using classes. Rather, when each character beats a Great Monster, why not let them get some interesting perk along with their extra heart? Alternatively, there could be dungeon locations that give new abilities, like a sacred fountain that makes the PCs lightfooted and allows them to sneak. (The downside to the last idea is that any replacement PCs from deaths are going to want to go visit all of the old ability-granting sites, but that may give you some opportunities as a DM anyway–or maybe the room with the fountain collapses as the PCs leave.)

  3. You inspired me to start a dungeoncrawl, and I really enjoyed the ideas you had as far as implementing Zelda-style major magic items and Great Monsters. Pointing out Katsuya Terada’s art also has helped me get building with a unified feel.

    I think that a possible system that would work really well for this–or at least as a core system to mod–is Old School Hack. (http://www.oldschoolhack.net) Since it’s free, and much more in line with Zelda-style mechanics than 3e or later versions of D&D, you might want to give it a look. (I’m not affiliated with them, for the record.) I do like the first look at how you made an “Adventurer” class, but I personally don’t see a Zelda system using classes. Rather, when each character beats a Great Monster, why not let them get some interesting perk along with their extra heart? Alternatively, there could be dungeon locations that give new abilities, like a sacred fountain that makes the PCs lightfooted and allows them to sneak. (The downside to the last idea is that any replacement PCs from deaths are going to want to go visit all of the old ability-granting sites, but that may give you some opportunities as a DM anyway–or maybe the room with the fountain collapses as the PCs leave.)

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