The Levels of Cultivation

In Development, Mechanics by jhamilton

What is a Progression Fantasy game without the progression? Well, we got Progression! In fact, that’s what we’re talking about in this entry to the Dev blog. The core book is going to cover 20 levels (I do have an extensive history of D&D in my veins after all), but they’re not necessarily the same 20 levels most players are used to seeing. These 20 levels are considered to be the Immortal Realms or 1st Stage to Apotheosis. Beyond the Immortal Realms are the Empyrean Realms (2nd Step) and the Eternal Realm (3rd Step). What’s past the 3rd Step? Apotheosis. Your Cultivator’s inner core becomes its own Cosmos giving birth to a new Universe. As I said, however, the core book and this article are going to focus on the 1st Step, The Immortal Realms.

When we Chart out the Immortal Realms it would look something like this:

Let’s break this down some, shall we?

  • Level: This number isn’t as important as some other games. It’s mostly just an easy way of organizing things and anytime we reference Character Level, it’s this number being referenced. 
  • Stage: This measures the character’s power level within a specific Realm. The Stage die is representative of this and can be used anytime your Cultivation comes into play, like when performing Techniques or Spells. This can influence the strength of a character’s powers (techniques/spells/etc). At first glance, it might seem odd that going from the Peak of one Realm to the Early stage of the next Realm would lower your power. However, that is not the case because each Realm has a significant advantage over lower Realms. A Peak Genesis Cultivator might have a d12 Stage Die and the Early Stage Ascendant Cultivator might have a d6 Stage Die, but the Ascendant Realm comes with other advantages that still puts them above the Genesis Cultivator. Ranking up between the Early and Peak Stages of a Realm is fairly straightforward.  You earn XP (see below) and your power increases by leveling up through them. Mortals also have a Stage die. It’s a d4.
  • Realm: The Realms are the true denotations of power in the system. At the Early Stage of each Realm, Cultivators get access to new traits and features. They then master those features by ranking up through the stages of that Realm. Leveling up from the Peak Stage of one Realm to the Early Stage of the next Realm is more involved than the other Stages. These are bottlenecks in the character’s cultivation and require certain Insights and involve some adventuring, including Tribulations.

So that is the leveling system, how do we actually level up? Insights!

Insights are essentially milestones that grant the character experience points (XP). You do the thing, you get the XP. When a character gains enough XP they have the opportunity to level up to the next Stage or start the process of raising into the next Realm. The final numbers involved have not been determined yet (the system is still in early development). Insights are sourced from a variety of things:

  • Realms will have Insights tailored towards advancing to the next realm. These are kinda general insights available to all Cultivators.
  • Disciplines will have Insights tied to their themes, available to Cultivators who practice those methods.
  • Legends (our name for Adventure Modules) will also include Insights specific to the story presented in them. (Sages will have guidelines for creating these for their own Legends as well).
  • A Character’s Pillars will also provide a few Insight options based on the choices made during character creation. (Example: Each Root Option will have an Insight attached to it).
  • Emergent Insights are a type of Insight that the Sage can introduce at any time based on their plans for the story and/or campaign. 

Each character will have access to a number of different Insights and can select a handful of active ones. Once you complete one of them, you can assign a new one to replace it. These “Active” Insights are also a tool for the Sage to use to tailor their adventures towards the things that the Players want to accomplish, by working these Insights into the narrative. (Note: Insights do not disappear when they’re done. You can select them again if you want)

The Stages

The Stages of each Realm represent the character’s understanding and acclimation to the power of that particular Realm. These can be seen as a sub-tier of power differentiating cultivators within the same Realm.

  • Early Stage: The Early stage is the beginning of a Realm. The Cultivator is just coming into the Realm and hasn’t quite acclimated to their newly developed power.
  • Mid Stage:  The Mid Stage Cultivator has become familiar with their new Realm and started to adapt to its power.
  • Late Stage: The Late Stage Cultivator has become an expert in the Realm. The lower stages look up to them as seniors and/or mentors.
  • Peak Stage: The Peak Stage Cultivator is a Master of their Realm. They are the most powerful of a given Realm and both feared and respected.

There is also a pseudo-stage called Half-Step. This stage doesn’t have any mechanics and is more of a narrative element. It’s meant to depict a Peak Stage Cultivator that is a half-step away from transitioning to the next Realm. Once a character has accumulated enough Insights for the next Realm, they are considered a half step into that Realm and must complete their Tribulation to ascend.

The Immortal Realms

The real fonts of power in the system come from Cultivation Realms. These represent the stages of ascension along the path of the Immortal. The Cosmos themselves see these Realms of power as threats to its own laws and the fates within which it entangles all things.

Realm 1: Origin – The first Realm is the beginning of the path. When a cultivator awakens they are introduced to the Origin of all things: Essence. Throughout the Stages of this Realm, the Cultivator learns to absorb and harness essence. As they ascend through the stages of the Origin Realm, they develop their Aura,  their body becomes stronger, their health increases dramatically, they shed the need for mundane sustenance, and their longevity increases well beyond mortal levels.  The natural abilities of an Immortal start to manifest in the form of Auric Abilities.

Realm 2: Stratum – The Second Realm is that of the Stratum. A Cultivator ascends to the Stratum Realm once they have absorbed and condensed enough essence within their Aura to start building the foundation of their immortality. As they develop through the stages of the Stratum Realm, their Auric Abilities start to defy the natural laws of the Cosmos, their physical form starts to develop a celestial deity-like quality, their powers take a bounding leap forward, and their longevity expands exponentially. Stratum Realm Cultivators start to appear as gods to Mortals.

Realm 3: Genesis – The Third Realm is that of Genesis. Once a Cultivator has condensed enough essence to finally form the pillars of their foundation, they form their core. The core is like an egg within which the Cultivator’s Auric Soul forms. Their physical form’s strength and health climb exponentially, their powers also leap ahead in terms of strength, their longevity is increased by a significant amount above what they already have, and they start to manifest their Auric Construct. The Auric Construct is a direct representation of their spirit in the form of an asset they can use when needed. This can take the form of a weapon, a tool, or any item of significance to the Cultivator.

Realm 4: Ascendant – The Forth Realm is that of Ascendant. This Realm marks the birth of the Cultivator’s Auric Soul. The abilities of the Cultivator evolve to a terrifying degree. Their longevity expands to an astronomical level. Their Auric Soul allows them to develop their own Auric Domain and exert their will over it. In addition, their consciousness can survive the destruction of their physical form as long as their Auric Soul survives.

Realm 5: Paragon – The Fifth Realm is that of Paragon. This is the pinnacle of the Immortal Realms. This is the realm of True Immortality. The Cultivator’s physical body takes on the full qualities of a deity. The longevity of a Paragon Realm cultivator is extended pretty much indefinitely. The Auric Soul develops the ability to create an Auric Avatar. This Avatar is a reflection of the Cultivator that can be summoned and grows in power as you ascend the Paragon Stages.

So that’s a quick look at the Cultivation Levels in The Sands of Destiny RPG. You’ll probably see the parallels between what we have here and what you commonly see if popular Xianxia and Progression Novels (Qi Condensation > Foundation Establishment > Core Formation > Nascent Soul > Spirit Severing). Thanks for joining us on this development journey! We appreciate you!