Harbinger returned my attention to achievement-based advancement as mentioned in one of my previous posts. Obviously, my original concept was designed for a video game that could track all the achievements for you, but with the correct phrasing of achievements you could allow your players to take on the role of the computer: there’s a ton of bookkeeping potentially involved, but it’s the fun kind of bookkeeping where players do it for you and it’s in their own self interest to keep on top of it.

Effectively, you’d need all the possible achievements typed up and printed out (potentially on several sheets of paper), kept with the character sheet, and checked off by the player as they’re fulfilled. You’d probably also want to have a blank line next to each achievement for the player to summarize when it was achieved in case the GM has doubts.

A lot of inspiration for this is taken from the Dungeon World variant of Apocalypse World.


The core intention of the system is to provide players lots of directed goals, accomplishing any of which will support the concept and intended playstyle of the game. Additionally, the intent is to reduce grind/repetition: each achievement can only be gained once, so repeating the same action has little further system benefit (unless there is a more difficult version of the achievement that incorporates the same actions as the easier version). To that end:

  • Each player character has a list of possible achievements. These are short phrases with a method of accomplishment that requires minimal interpretation by the GM.
  • Achievements are divided into groups based on similar theme. These groups might vary based on the kinds of actions incentivized by the current game and campaign.
  • All achievements completed in a category are totaled, as well as a global total of achievements completed. Achievements vary in difficulty to accomplish, but each contributes the same amount to these totals: there will be low hanging fruit that players can get early on, and harder achievements that will serve as higher level goals.
  • The total achievements are used to allow characters to level and to determine what classes they have access to when leveling.

Note: Any numbers below are purely arbitrary and used for illustration. Actual numbers used will depend on how many achievements you come up with and how fast you want the players to level. A game with a ton of achievements that expects several sessions between levels will need higher numbers than a game with fewer achievements and a faster leveling pace.

Level Up

A character’s total level is determined by total achievements across all categories. When a character accumulates the requisite number of total achievements for each level, he or she is eligible to level up. This level up can happen instantly, at the end of a session, or after training (however the GM would normally award a level up).

For example:

  1. 0 total achievements
  2. 10 total achievements
  3. 20 total achievements
  4. 30 total achievements
  5. etc.

Note that the achievement total is linear: in theory, as you level up you’ll run out of low hanging fruit and be left with the harder achievements, keeping the expected time between levels that normally is accomplished by a curved exp-to-level requirement.

Class Requirements

This system expects D&D 3-style multiclassing; some modifications should be required for versions where you’re less free to multiclass. When you level up, you can choose to take a level in a class that you meet the sub-requirements of. Level 1 in any class has no requirements: you can always multiclass into the first level of a new class. The subsequent levels have increasing requirements in specific achievement totals within different groups appropriate to the class.

  • Barbarian: Combat and (Neutral + Chaotic)
  • Bard: Combat, Spellcasting, and Lore
  • Cleric: Spellcasting and (Deity’s Alignment)
  • Druid: Spellcasting and Neutral
  • Fighter: Combat and Adventuring
  • Monk: Combat, Lore, and Lawful
  • Paladin: Combat and (Lawful + Good)
  • Ranger: Combat and Defeat
  • Rogue: Adventuring and Neutral
  • Sorcerer: Spellcasting and Adventuring
  • Wizard: Spellcasting and Lore

For example, a Paladin’s requirements might be something like:

  1. None
  2. Combat 2 and (Lawful + Good) 1
  3. Combat 4 and (Lawful + Good) 2
  4. Combat 6 and (Lawful + Good) 3
  5. Combat 8 and (Lawful + Good) 4
  6. Combat 10 and (Lawful + Good) 5
  7. etc.

Note how this interacts with leveling up: a single-classed Paladin with 30 total achievements is qualified to level up into level 4… but might not have gained the requisite Combat or alignment achievements since the last level to take the next level of Paladin. In that case, the player would need to choose whether to hold off on leveling until the necessary achievements are completed, or to multiclass.

Example Achievements

All achievements are both things that characters might describe as learning experiences in character and also actions that the GM believes supports the style and goals of the campaign.


Each completed quest in the game counts as an achievement. These are not required by any particular class, but contribute toward leveling up. It’s the GM’s choice (based on overall number and difficulty of achievements) whether only large quests count as an achievement or even smaller goals might count. In the former case, players will often have the same number of Quest achievements, but in the latter there might be divergence due to personal quests.

  • Quenched the Black Flame of the Boneyard
  • Recovered the Princess of the Platinum Lands
  • Slew the Dragon Gygyragax


Combat achievements are devoted to doing interesting and dangerous things in physical combat. They are typically required by non-casting classes.

  • One-shotted a 1 HD creature (full HP to unconscious/dead) with a melee attack
  • Was attacked and missed by 3 different enemies in a single round
  • Hit a target with a ranged weapon at its maximum range increment


Alignment achievements are subdivided into Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral. They are required for several classes with alignment restrictions.

Note that a GM might choose to determine a character’s alignment based on achievements: Subtract the lower of Good and Evil from the higher, and then subtract Neutral; if the number is positive, the higher alignment is the character’s; if it’s 0 or less, the character is Neutral on that axis. Do the same for Lawful and Chaotic. For example, a character has achievement totals of Good 5, Evil 1, Lawful 1, Chaotic 0, Neutral 2; this character is Neutral Good.


  • Took damage while defending an innocent
  • Accepted the surrender of a repentant foe


  • Sacrificed an innocent to gain another achievement
  • Killed a surrendered and bound foe


  • Delivered a defeated criminal to the rightful authorities
  • Accomplished a city-based quest achievement without breaking any laws


  • Set a prisoner free
  • Accomplished a city-based quest while breaking laws without being caught by the authorities


  • Killed a dangerous and untrustworthy foe when taking it prisoner was an option
  • Allowed an innocent to die to accomplish a greater good


Spellcasting achievements are based around doing interesting things with magic, and are required for most casting classes.

  • Used a 1st level attack spell to defeat a target
  • Used a 1st level attack spell to accomplish a non-combat goal
  • Used a 1st level defense, heal, or utility spell to defeat a target


Lore achievements are based around learning more about the setting, and may often be similar to more general Quest achievements. They are required for certain educated classes.

  • Found a rare tome in a monster’s horde
  • Spent 100 GP at one time to buy books
  • Translated a warning in a dungeon


Adventuring achievements are more general actions appropriate to dungeon-delvers, and are required for classes of a more mercenary bent.

  • Possessed 1000 GP worth of cash and gems at one time
  • Disabled a level 1 trap (either intentionally or by blundering into it)
  • Defeated a 1 HD enemy during a surprise round


Defeat achievements are triggered based on getting in the blow that drops a creature unconscious/dead or by being the primary negotiator that convinces an enemy to surrender. As such, each defeated creature generally only contributes to one player’s total. They are used for hunting-related classes.

  • Defeat 5 goblinoids
  • Defeat 15 goblinoids (10 more)
  • Defeat 30 goblinoids (15 more)