Monday, December 28, 2009

Yes, Another Blog About Experience Points

For the longest time and the current campaign my group is in is GURPS so experience points for treasure, monsters, gold or exploration isn't really factored it. To tell you the truth there is very little thought put into handing out experience points. For the current campaign four experience points are given at the end of each session. Sometimes a power gained during play can be given shooting up your character point total, but the four xp rate is standard. This fits our group for the time being.

For the past year I have been exploring all the systems and seem to gravitate toward Castles & Crusades and my new fondness for HackMaster. These are level based systems which makes the awarding of experience points more interesting. Now there is a number for magic items found, monsters slain, loot and exploration. Here are some of my theories on how I think experience points should be awarded. Any GM should explain their system of awarding experience points to his players before play begins. We all have our quirks.

1. I don't believe experience points should be given at the end of each session. It should be given at the end of a trip, dungeon delve, or an interesting time in the character's development. These may last one session, but could last several sessions. The GM can award the xp when there is a conclusion to an experience the players are having.

2. Experience points for magic items is awarded only to the character who can use that item and only gets that experience once. Joe Basher get his hands on a +2 Axe of Whoop Ass he will get the 2500xp for it, but Ricky Firehands won't get one drop since he can't use it. If Joe Basher finds another +2 Axe of Whoop Ass he will gain no experience since he already had that experience of using one.

3. I am not a fan of 1gp = 1xp. I never understood that math or the reason. I don't give any experience point for a pile of gold. I see that pile of gold as the funding/opportunity to continue onto other places to gain even more experience.

4. After reading Jeff Rients blog on exploration xp I am completely on board with that. I guess the only adjustment I would make is the players would need to interact with the place. Finding the Mines of Moria is great. Taking pictures of your buddies in front of the door will get you a big goose egg for experience. The players will need to get dirty. Some others who dislike the xp for exploration because they believe their players will go on a grand tour, but I think this is short sighted. If the GM is awarding xp for site seeing then yes this will probably get abused. But make the players interact and this is no longer a problem. Again, like with the magic items, the experience points are given once. This total is not split among the players, but each one is given the entire amount. So when Joe Basher and Ricky Firehands explore the Caves of Chaos they will both be awarded 250xp.

5. Monster experience points are divided among the players that were somehow involved with the interaction. This doesn't have to be the death of the monster. Depending on the situation different levels of experience points could be given. For unique critters, I will award xp just for seeing them. Like if Joe Basher was camping by Loch Ness and Nessie came up and took his bait. I would award xp just for seeing the creature.

6. Experience points for henchmen or followers or lackeys or can't find a job cousins. First off, I don't keep track of their experience points. If the players have a significant follow than they can keep track. When the players defeat a monster and Joe and Rickey have three followers with them I divide the experience in three shares, the followers all share one share. Giving a follower magic items will gain them only 10% of the xp value and this holds true for the exploration xp value. This is due to their secondary nature to the game and interactions. But this does allow a follower to gain in levels and become more useful as the character rises in power.

This is how I plan to award experience points to my players the upcoming campaign early next year. Of course I will discuss my plans with my players and see what input or changes they would like. As a GM I am flexible with my rules and I always like to see what the players want and often they come up with an idea that was so obvious that I whack myself in the head for not thinking of it. The one thing I strive for is being consistent. The same rule/system applies the same one the first adventure as the last.


  1. I agree with the no xp for gold rule. However most of older edition were designed with the idea there were several sources for xp.

    What I did was substitute a roleplaying xp in lieu of the gold xp. The formula was 50xp to 200xp times your level time a factor from 1 to 5 with 3 being the average.

    I did this early on in DMing AD&D so I think you played under this rule throughout the time when AD&D 1st was our main system.

    Typically I used 100 xp as the multiplier. However if you remember the campaign where you were 1st level for practically forever I was partially able to do that by setting the multiplier to 50xp.

    Another thing is that I am not too keen on awarding xp for magic items. I rather jack up the roleplaying award and award xp for monsters. The reason is that players tend to zoom up way to fast as a result of a lucky find.

    However I am onbroad with the exploration xp idea. Although I am a bit amused at how quickly it spread around the OSR because unwittingly Jeff reinvented, in part, the achievement system that so many MMORPGs have. I guess all about how you word it as Jeff's post was very evocative.

  2. Experience isn't about describing how the character learns. It's a reward mechanic for good gameplay. It seems like you've internalized that, but it's good to get it out there.

    If a game system gave XP in each skill separately, based on how much you used it, then XP would be less a reward mechanic and more a simulation of character learning.

    The original basis behind the 1 XP = 1 GP rule was to encourage treasure-hunting gameplay. Monsters gave little XP, and wandering monsters had no money. You got most of your XP from discovering treasure hoards. So players were encouraged by the XP system to avoid or outwit monsters to steal their treasures. As wandering monsters were effectively a punishment for wasting in-game time (poor playing skills) it would make no sense for the game to reward slaying monsters above discovering treasure.

    If you wanted characters to hunt monsters regardless of the monetary reward, give no treasure XP and bump up monster XP. If you want to encourage exploration, or roleplaying, assign XP awards for those things.

    In the 2E D&D "Complete Handbook" series each class had individual experience awards for performing class functions. Thieves would get XP for picking locks and such. This was meant to encourage people to utilize their class skills, as previously there was no incentive for a Thief to try disarming a trap. Except that he really should hold up his own weight in the adventuring group, of course.

    I think it's more interesting to award XP not for treasure found but for treasure squandered. I want to encourage players to spend lavishly on consumable luxuries, because I like the image of Conan doing the same thing. This adds an interesting choice for the player: do you want to keep your money, or trade it for XP? It also solves the problem of why adventurers would go out and risk their lives only to spend the gold on better equipment. You don't need magic shops to cater to wealthy adventurers, because there is another way for them to spend their money.

    In practice I find that players quickly realize that there aren't any magic shops in my campaign, though trade in occasional pieces is possible, and so they tend to blow all their gold on parties or charity for the XP award. They're left nearly penniless and hungry for the next adventure - which is what I wanted in the first place.

  3. I tend to give awards only for increasing amount of loot found and plundered, not on lower-totals, so that once a hoard of 1k worth of treasure is found, only more than 1k will award a boon.

    As lethal as my combat system is, combat success awards are still significant, but not the only primary motivator, as I tend to play Humanoids as simply alternate intelligent beings with their own reasons for doing what they do (and often with more justification).

    The primary award mechanism in UWoM is geared toward exploration and accomplishing goals, not simply looting Ancient gear or completing Complex-crawls, but stating that they want to clear the region of pirates, and then doing so, one ship or sub-fleet at a time, then confronting the King of Pirates in a grand if not always heroic/epic conflagration of death and mayhem.

    Travel to remote/exotic/other-planar realms is a huge reward mechanism, but is also on an escalating curve, requiring more amazing vistas to receive the boon. Once they have travelled to the Plane of Shadow, they don't get the award a second time, but then travelling from there to another place is still worthy.

  4. Regardless of the method, I have always done #1 on your list.