Arcana Evolved was a D20 game that Monte Cook did after leaving Wizards post D&D 3.0. It was superior in every way, and a very clear precursor to what Paizo would do with Pathfinder. It only ever got two books (this was partly due to popularity I am sure, but Cook doesn’t seem to be one for “let’s publish 20 add on books” type stuff), so it doesn’t suffer from the rules bloat issues that plague 3.5 and Pathfinder.
What it changed from D&D 3.0 (and 3.5) and did better:
- Classes had more inherent powers.
- It had a more interesting magic system.
- It had superior classes.
It suffered for having some of the d20 traits that cause problems in all d20 systems. E.g. getting another HD every time you level (as opposed to capping that in 0/1/2e). Or wealth by level/CR driving balance. Arcana Evolved > Pathfinder >> 3.5. But I think 1e is superior to d20 overall (I do like the idea of trying to bring the snazzier classes of say AE or Pathfinder down to 1e though, giving classes more abilities and powers).
I am perfectly ok with not getting some shiny new power on a level up, in party based games. Usually someone in the party is getting something, so not every class needs to be on the same schedule. And the idea that every level needs to bring something big and new can be dangerous. See: Fallout 3 (which served up watered down perks to compensate for getting so many, and a simpler, and weirder, skill system than what Fallout 1&2 did), which is one of Bethesda’s worst advancement systems to date.
I am not a big fan of Advancement By Use. The only TES advancement systems I haven’t hated are Arena and Daggerfall (which was mostly the same). It works in some games, but doesn’t work as well in PC RPGs IMO. But really I would never do anything Bethesda did in terms of designing advancement mechanics. They are bad at it. The only game that did ABU that I didn’t hate was Tom Proudfoot’s Nalakh. But it still had some issues in using it (and he ditched that for Natuk and the sadly never released Pirates of the Western Sea). Using a skill just made it go up (over time). You purchased attribute increases via “training” in town wirh gold. No levels/xp/etc. I think lots of weirdness has resulted in CRPGs that tried to do ABU but tie it into xp/levels somehow.
Wizardry - still has an amazing system for keeping things class based. The idea that could class change into something better, getting increased hd/attack powers/spells/what have you was super cool. The original does it elegantly and wonderfully. Wizardry 7 is the best example of going deeper in terms of having skills to go along with everything. Wizardry 8, while good, screwed this up by trying to put every class on equal footing (which simply missed the point). And trying to correct “flaws” in the Wiz 7 system but doing so in a bland way.
I generally perfer that everyone get credit either based on participating in [xp earning activity] by being present. Giving a small xp bonus for getting a kill (e.g.) is an enticing idea but it ultimately leads to minor annoyance. And making it a larger bonus just leads to obnoxiousness. Likewise, I’m generally in favor of giving xp credit to say members that didn’t survive combat conscious or alive. I just don’t want to hassle with that (where as I wouldn’t mind in a table top game). That said, a special shoutout to the Phantasie series. Upon returning from an adventure, you apportioned shares of treasure to each party member (1-3). In this way, you could give out extra to some members if they were behind (e.g. assigning a single share to each of four members, but then three shares to the remaining two). That’s an interesting idea with roots in the tabletop, and I wish more games would explore that sort of mechanic.