Hellas & Glory
I recently ran a game of Hellas: Worlds of Sun and Stone. It's classical Greek mythology meets space opera – fickle gods, spaceships, glory, tragedy, laser pistols, and apotheosis.
Hellas has a really fun parallel experience track called ‘Glory’, which represents your esteem in the eyes of gods and men. As you gain Glory, you gain supernatural gifts from your divine patron. Gain enough Glory and you apotheose, leaving this mortal plane for the realm of the gods.
Hellas is a generational game, so having your uber-powerful PC leave the party to be with her divine patron for eternity is perfectly OK. You just switch to playing your character’s brother or daughter or somesuch, who is also a hero. The same divine blood that ran in your previous character’s veins also runs in hers. (Fail to apotheose before too long and you suffer your predestined Fate, which is something suitably tragic, like being accidentally murdered by your father or dying alone in the dark.)
What’s neat about Glory is that the amount you earn is based less on what you do and more on how you do it. Though there’s chain guns and fighter ships and aliens, the feel is fundamentally Greek, so the Glory rules reward behavior that’s appropriate for a hero out of Greek myth. Slaying the radioactive boar that’s been ravaging the planet of Kalydon will net you Glory. Slaying it in hand-to-hand combat (vice picking it off with a beam rifle) will net you more. Slaying it in hand-to-hand combat while naked will net you more still, as will using your heroics to win the heart of your beloved, and bearing him healthy children.
What the Glory system ultimately boils down to is a way to reward players for playing the game as it’s intended. I think that’s terrific. It can often take several sessions for players to figure out what a new game is ‘supposed’ to be about, and learn what actions or styles of play will be the most fun in this rules set and IP. Glory is an elegant solution to that problem. “Hey, player, you like XP? Here’s a list of things you can do that will get you even more of it! And by staggering coincidence, they’re all things that are super fun in this game!”
It took my players about two seconds to buy into the Glory system. “If I use this mechanic, I get points?” they cried. “And then I level up?” Within minutes, they had cast aside their normally risk-averse attitudes and were climbing a prison wall to fight a man carrying a laser rifle – with only swords. While naked.
I don’t have the historical background to say whether Hellas is the first game to have (one of) its experience track(s) deliberately reward a certain style of play. I’d be shocked if it were. But it’s an elegant solution, especially for a game that works so hard to cultivate a particular aesthetic.