Basically I want to counter, in a way, the standard "kill shit, become more powerful" views of roleplaying games. Instead I'm thinking of tying advancement to what the character learns directly. Not in the way The Elder Scrolls does it, though, but through specific learned knowledges. This is partly based on the way bards went up in rank.
For a rough idea, the ancient celtic bards had seven grades, the obligations for graduation survive in old irish law texts to some extent. The highest ranking bards (Ollamh) had to be able to recite 350 stories, to be a master of all four branches of poetry as defined in ancient celtic cultures, and of course to be able to compose and to know law and all that stuff; the bottom grade (Fochlucan) needed to learn 20 stories. Rather than learning poems and stories, however, the artificers would learn new blueprints, obtained through various means, services, etc (i.e. quests) - minor blueprints, major blueprints, and probably branches of artifices, which would, eventually, allow the character to gain in level, effectively tying level entirely on character progress rather than on a kill counter with quests tacked on. I have a vague idea of how I'd implement it, separating these from actual skills. It would probably be a somewhat harsher form of Black Isle's SPECIAL (significantly less advancement but also more starting power) - except probably using the 8 attributes system I've been using for many tabletops (which was technically four attributes with two branches).