On Advancement Mechanics, Experience

Advancement Mechanics drive player behavior.

Advancement Mechanics are common in Role-Playing Games. Unlike role-playing, improvisational acting, or character exploration exercises; games have mechanics to keep score.

These score-keeping mechanics are what motivate players actions.

There is an element of subjectivity to such scoring systems, but one assumes that such systems are used in good faith. After all, when playing chess one could purposely make a bad move in order to lose the game, but it is assumed in play that neither characters or the Dungeon Master are playing in bad faith.

Whatever you attach your scoring system/advancement mechanic to is what players will desire to accomplish. 

Driving Player Behavior -- Old School

In old-school versions of Dungeons & Dragons, experience points are given for gold. Though much maligned throughout most of the 90's, this is actually a brilliant mechanic that drives very interesting play.

There is lots of derisive talk about "taking everything that's not nailed down" and "killing people for pocket change" but for people who have actually played in old school games for long periods of time know that both of those arguments are made out of ignorance.

Rapidly you discover in play that you're not looking for gold. You're looking for treasure. Those who engage humanoids in combat for the paltry experience and gold they have on them experience heavy losses. Those who try to move every semi-valuable item out of the dungeon expose themselves to wandering monster checks that always begin with them at a disadvantage due to the weight carried. Even piles of gold weigh too much for any but the most neophyte adventures to bother with.

What type of behavior does this drive?

From my years of playing experience. . .

  • Characters avoid fights in every situation possible, always preferring to talk or flee. This is possible probably 2/3 of the time.
  • They engage any sentient opponent respectfully out of a desire to either enlist their aid or discover where such a treasure might actually be.
  • When presented with a treasure, they spend a substantial portion of game-play planning how to extract it from any guardians that may be guarding it in the safest way possible.
  • They engage environments as if they are puzzles because they may contain treasure, secret doors to treasure, or clues there-of.
Basically this results in role-playing and planning heavy sessions with a large player buy-in and strong reinforcement for creative and intelligent play.

But how does my fighter swing a sword better by acquiring gold?

*sigh*.  Ok. Ignore the fact that you don't question dragons, people slinging spells, friendly relations between wildly different races. Then ignore the fact that you've never asked who prints the money the banker in Monoply uses, or asked why bishops can just move to any square. Then ignore the fact that it's a game, and the entire purpose of advancement rules and win conditions is to drive interesting play.

They get better at swinging their sword from the experience of acquiring the treasure.

Driving Player Behavior -- New School

Of course this changed when second and third edition was released.

Both editions give away experience for the killing of monsters, instead of for the acquisition of treasure. This fundamentally changes the tone and nature of the game. 

Now, players are driven to approach the game by asking "What non-experience point resources can I extract from this encounter before I kill it?

Any group of NPC's, humanoids, innocent forest creatures that goes unkilled is advancement and rewards you are leaving on the table. The game becomes only about the next encounter, so that we can kill it for our experience points and magic items. 

There are usually two common responses to the above criticism.

The first is that you can also get experience points for "defeating" opponents. This argument is, of course, a strawman, because we aren't talking about the player behavior that's driven when faced with a specific designed objective in the dungeon - we are talking about the player behavior during emergent gameplay. They meet an interesting forest animal? Their best course of action is to kill it. To do otherwise would retard their advancement.

Of course the Dungeon Master can create in-game reasons to cause players not to act on the impulses the advancement system rewards them for, but I shouldn't have to fight the system to make it work correctly.

The second common reply is that 'story awards' or 'role-playing awards' can be given. Games with the subjective methods of advancement are, well subjective. It is neither clear or objective, which are generally considered good things for win conditions to be in games. After all, at the end of a chess game, wargame, or game of charades, no one says "Well, who do you feel won the game?" We look at the score.
  • What's the objective metric of "Good role-play"?
  • How are you measuring that?
  • How do I know what you think "playing my class correctly" consists of? 
  • If it involves you telling me what I should do when, then am I necessary?
  • How do I determine what arbitrary goals you're assigning experience to in this encounter? 
Trying to meet another human beings subjective, and likely poorly communicated, goals is not a way I like to spend my recreation time. There isn't any question about how many gold pieces the necklace is worth, it's written down right there. I can make a decision in the game about what action to take and know objectively how successful I am.

What's Wrong With Experience for Combat Again?

Nothing. In a linear 4e style or adventure path type adventure it's great! I like playing in those types of games. They are fun.

But what about my Character exploration role-playing feel-goodery?!

If you want to eliminate the scoring and advancement mechanic from the game, more power to you. I'm specifically talking about advancement systems in traditional role-playing games, which are generally very objective.

I understand that people like to do other things, but without an objective metric, it has moved too far away from 'game' for me and too close to 'unstructured play'.

Tracking Experience is a lot of work, so I just level people after so many sessions of attendance. 

I can understand why this is simple and attractive, but personally if what I'm being rewarded for in the game is showing up, I might find myself a bit bored when no action I take has any effect on my ability to advance.

But you're supposed to have personal character goals in role-playing!

Well, that's sort of exactly my point. I am. There is the explicit condition set by the game for advancement that drives my behavior and then there are the goals I decide to peruse. 

None of the alternate experience options do anything other than hinder my ability to do that. If I'm given points for attendance, then there's no behavior I can engage in to increase my rate of advancement to achieve my goals faster. If I'm hoop-jumping to figure out what you're handing experience points out, then I'm perusing your idea of what my goals should be, and I already have a day job, thank you very much. 


  1. Started on a reply, realised it was a bit long, posted it here.

    In short: I share your scepticism of "level up every X sessions, everyone pursues their personal goals", but for different reasons.

  2. Some point and arguments re: How does acquiring gold make my fighter a better sword swinger?

    * The gods decide "oh yeah, this fighter is darned cool". But the fighter still has the money! Well go ahead and make the fighter sacrifice those funds for favor.
    * The fighter spends a fortune off camera on training, like real fighters do. Oh you don't do that in your camapign, who is being unrealistic now?
    * The fighter spends a fortune on influence and property as part of the end game is becoming a lord. Oh you skipped that part, well you are missing out, try playing the whole game sometime.

  3. Excellent post. I'm not sure I agree with all of your points. But it is defintely giving me food for thought. I've never liked the idea of giving XP for GP, but lately, in my efforts to write a variation of a retro-clone, I have been re-thinking it.

  4. Great post! Sort of like Tom, I've been working on a sort of a clone (not exactly a retro-clone, but I digress). I'm aiming for a balance between the two - that defeating a creature and recovering its treasure, on the whole, each account for about 50% of your advancement (in the rules as presented). You can lean one way or the other in your approach, but completely ignoring one or the other has the potential to leave a lot of xp on the table. I want the players to really think about whether to wait until the dragon leaves to steal some baubles from its hoard, or man up and take the thing out, claiming its entire treasure and the xp for the beast itself. Like you allude to, these situations result in meaningful choices for the players, based on the mechanics that the game presents.

  5. Possibly a bit of a tangent, but it seems like you're assuming a connection between character advancement and character goals that doesn't need to be there. This is maybe more true in old-school gaming than later editions, because for example 3.5 explicitly ties skills to character level. But you can certainly have in-character goals that depend on things other than your mechanical attributes, such as gaining a certain level of social influence, exploring, establishing particular relationships with NPCs, resolving mysteries, and so on. In some cases a higher level may help, but not always. People often have vague or ongoing goals rather than tick-box goals, like "be happy" or "play more games". Or things like "read War and Peace" that an adventurer could do regardless of level because they're about effort rather than skill.

    Another thing I'd mention is that if you use treasure XP as the metric for advancement, this makes the game one about treasure, in the same way that XP for combat makes the game one about killing. That's fine, provided that a game revolving around treasure is what you want, but it isn't necessarily the case.

    True, in later editions of D&D you'll get most XP by killing everything you come across, but that doesn't mean people necessarily do that, any more than they pick up and sell every possible item. "Those who engage humanoids in combat for the paltry experience and gold they have on them experience heavy losses", remember? There are reasons to refrain from random murder, just as there are to refrain from stealing everything in sight.

    I do agree that XP for roleplaying is an awkward thing and probably best avoided in a game like this.

    I don't have a problem with session-based XP. Rather than doing things primarily to gain XP as an indirect way to achieve a goal, this encourages me instead to work directly towards my goals. Advancement becomes a thing that happens as I work towards my goals, rather than an end in itself. "No behaviour to increase XP gain" is not the same thing as it being irrelevant what I do. Obviously we disagree here, but I feel like achieving my goals can be the reward for my actions.

    1. Becoming more powerful makes your goals easier to achieve, because you have access to more resources, spells, etc.

      The connection isn't one of "need". It is a straightforward fact in the game. All of those things you list are more easily accomplished at a higher level.

      Is your comment about "Be Happy" and "Read War & Peace" supposed to be a strawman? We are explicitly talking about in-character in-game goals. I wouldn't have a lot of patience with a player who wanted their character to read a Russian author instead of, I dunno, exploring the sandbox.

      I find your statement that "if you use Treasure as the advancement mechanic that means your game is about treasure" to be the simplistic misunderstanding this post is designed to address. When I go to the gym to lift, my body needs protein to build muscle. That doesn't mean going to the gym is about protein.

      I wrote it in the article, but it's understandable if you didn't actually read what it said and thought it was making some other statement it didn't make. I'll repeat myself. Advancement mechanics drive player behavior. Experience for behavior drives creative play.

      No one can make any statement on what people do in games that they are not present for do, that is not what I am doing.

      If you fail to kill something after you meet it, then you are making your ability to play the game more difficult because you have let (substantial) experience points needed for your next level go. I am not going to address the strawman of economies of scale. Eighth level B/X adventurers are not worried about 5 gp vases, and 8th level pathfinder characters are not worried about a single 1/4 CR orc.

      But if I do run across another living creature in the game that is of significant worth to my level, then there is no case in which not killing it is to my benefit UNLESS the DM does extra work to drive me away from that course of action. Any time that occurs, it is making my job of running the game more difficult.

      I should not have to fight against the primary mechanic to drive player behavior.

      This, obviously, is much different then the wealth in the Keep, or opulent furnishings inside a ducal estate, or treasure in the dungeon. All the reasons or not to do things are there and in the open, and the player choice to say "Yes, We are going to rob this duke." drives interesting play.

      This is much different then "I kill the bear in the woods." which is not an interesting encounter in and of itself, nor one likely to lead to interesting play.

    2. No strawmen intended, I am entirely in good faith. To be clear, I'm not actually disagreeing with most of what you said. XP for treasure is a perfectly decent way to model advancement and encourage interesting play.

      Being more mechanically powerful, or having more resources, makes it easier to achieve goals that depend on resources or any skills modelled by the game. If those are the only goals you want to worry about, then fair enough. I don't agree that all the goals I listed fall into that category.

      "War & Peace" is a bit tangential, I was aiming to make the point that characters don't necessarily have goals that are worth mentioning in-game. They might just be content to kind of get on with whatever's in front of them. Again, if you want characters to all have strong goals, that's your right.

      I find your statement that "if you use Treasure as the advancement mechanic that means your game is about treasure" to be the simplistic misunderstanding this post is designed to address.

      It's really not. I'm not talking about "taking everything that's not nailed down" and "killing people for pocket change" or specific behaviour. What I'm suggesting is that the availability of treasure will tend to determine the shape of the game and the kind of activities that characters engage in. Broadly speaking you'll tend to end up with characters who act like acquiring treasure is important, because it is, rather than characters who don't care about treasure. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's neutral.

      I'm afraid I don't really understand your gym analogy, I'm not sure which part of it is supposed to correspond to what in a game.

      I don't think I talked about economies of scale?

      The thing about killing is, I think we have very different perspectives on what makes sense. Yes, there's XP to gain, but there are reasons not to randomly attack things. One is that it's dangerous. Another is that killing things may create new problems for you: law enforcement, vengeful relatives, lords with hunting rights. The DM doesn't necessarily have to actually implement those, because they're things that a character should logically worry about. You might also kill things that would have been more useful alive. But one that I think is major (and I think perhaps you don't?) is that if you kill everything you encounter for the XP, you're playing the kind of character who arbitrarily slaughters all kinds of things for no particular reason (since XP doesn't exist in-game). That limits you, and it will also influence how NPCs react to you. Personally, I feel there are good enough reasons to limit killing without the DM having to work hard.

      I'm afraid I don't see the obvious difference between robbing the duke and killing the duke.

    3. "What I'm suggesting is that the availability of treasure will tend to determine the shape of the game and the kind of activities that characters engage in."

      This is the core thesis of the article stated in the first sentence and then in italics before the first header.

      I mean, it is my point, so I agree.

      Just because there are a lot of rules for combat in B/X doesn't mean B/X is about combat. Just because treasure is the advancement mechanic, doesn't mean the game is about treasure. They influence player actions, they aren't what the game is "about". (Adventure, explicitly, if we were unclear).

      Economies of scale, is a comment that means we aren't dealing with extreme silliness here, we are talking about actual real world play. 9th level pathfinder characters aren't going to bother with an Orc so let's not address that.

      I expand on some of my thoughts about what you say in other comments. But here, I'd like to point out as a emphasize in the article, I'm talking about playing a game.

      If you give experience for killing things, then I will be slaughtering all kinds of things -- but not for no reason. I will slaughter them because I am rewarded for it!

      Now, again, not psychoticly so, I'm not going to run through town murdering townspeople. But in any situation in which there is no strong overriding reason to not kill someone, I will kill them.

      Your comments indicate why that is not desirable.

  6. Great post! I decided to adopt an XP model that rewards the PCs for investing their treasure in towns and settlements through "Public Works." At lower levels it can be as simple as staying at an inn, making donations to a temple, or hosting a feats, while at higher levels they can fund construction projects, raise armies, and invest in a new generation of heroes.

    I'm trying to work out the bugs before turning my players loose on it, but I have high hopes that it will reduce the murderhobo shenanigans. (Especially by minimizing the amount of treasure they can loot directly from a town.)


  7. Although I have no problem with XP for gold, like Shimmin Beg, I'd like to point out that stating that "They meet an interesting forest animal? Their best course of action is to kill it. To do otherwise would retard their advancement." is true for XP for combat advancement schemes only inasmuch as "taking everything that's not nailed down" is for monetary gain based advancement.

    1. They are not equivalent.

      If I run into a non-hostile opponent that is within 3-4 CR of my level, there is no disadvantage to me as a player to kill it. If there is a reason it is one the DM must create.

      If I am in an area where there are lots of goods, then each one I choose to take necessitates a consequence. It weighs me down. I have to hold it in lieu of something else. Is this going to cause more wandering monster encounters? Will it prevent me from fleeing?

    2. How come combat is without such consequences? I cannot kill everything that comes in my way because I may need that HP, spells, charges, whatever; plus, someone may hear the sounds of battle, or later hear about it and it affects my reputation. Just like I can't loot everything freely because of the consequences.

    3. A few quick reasons you might not want to kill the interesting forest creature regardless of advancement metrics:

      -- its big brother will come after you,
      -- you won't gain its wisdom/aid in the future,
      -- it might not be as killable as it looks
      -- the character you're playing is not particularly bloodthirsty

      Any decent player will be able to come up with these--and probably many more--on their own without any help from their DM or the rulebook.

      Also, and I say this out of respect for your work, the "you don't question dragons..." argument is beneath you.

    4. The confusion here seems to stem from natural, logical, and applied consequences intersecting with game design.

      Experience for combat games are designed for you to be able to win every combat (go ahead, check out some modules). This design means that most of the consequences Yans mentioned won't apply by design.

      The list provided by Timrod is an example of a mix of logical and applied consequences -- things the DM does to motivate player behavior. Having to create those in opposition to the core player motivating mechanic in the game is giving the DM extra work.

    5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    6. Although I understand that the system as is designed and the GM's behaviour-altering decisions are effectively opposing forces, I still think resource management (HP, powers, spells, wand charges, etc. vs. time, encumbrance, wandering monsters, etc.) is still the same, although different resources are taken care of.

      Also, I don't think the fact that most games which award XP for the killing are also balanced regarding possible combat encounters is a built in assumption; I mean, the two ideas can be separated.

      What is more, even old school games tend to be balanced towards the PCs; you don't start a campaign with first level characters dropped into G1-3, for instance, or other high-level modules. Which means, player characters face challenges they are expected to overcome: thus they are given the opportunity to gain treasure which opportunities are favourable for them.

      In an "XP for the killing" game one could build a dungeon mostly with level-appropriate monsters and a few very dangerous high level creatures. Its fairness would be similar to a dungeon where most of the treasure is acquirable by characters of a given level, but there are some very difficult cases (powerful guardians, very tricky traps or tricks, possibly requiring high level spells, etc.).

    7. I think some of your assumptions are off.

      All of the 3.X line contains RAW verbiage that says combat encounters should be balanced for the parties level. They should take about 1/4 of the resources of the party. Some should take a little more, some should take less, but the expectation is that players can win every combat (except maybe the 5th one).

      Old school games are pretty explicitly not balanced towards the players! In Keep on the Borderlands, there's an ogre in the kobold cave, an NPC designed to betray the neophyte party and save or die spiders on the encounter table!

    8. I get your point, I really do. Even if I feel that advancement mechanisms should, at best, be a tertiary driver to PC behavior.

      But dismissing consequences based on the context of the encounter as "extra work" for the DM negates the point of having a DM at all. Providing background for an encounter--or having the ability to do so on the fly--is the primary job of the DM, not extraneous busy-work to be avoided.

    9. I think you're sort of misrepresenting 3.X and 4E. There is RAW verbiage which explains what a balanced encounter should *look* like, but the same RAW verbiage makes it very explicit that a proportion of encounters *should* be above the party's level/CR.

      I don't have the 3.X books to hand, but 4E (the most rigidly level-scaled of every D&D edition) makes it very explicit that encounters being "balanced around the character's level" is not at all the same as "every encounter always being at their level."

      The suggested breakdown of Encounter Difficulty on page 104 is 1 encounter at party level -1, 3 at level +0, 3 at level +1 and 1 at level +3. 3.X suggested a similar breakdown.

      Keep on the Borderlands includes an ogre in the kobold cave. In 3.X that would be a *perfectly* level-appropriate encounter for a first-level party. In 4E, I admit, it wouldn't, because Ogres are relatively more powerful than they are in other editions. On the other hand in Keep on the Shadowfell (the 4th Edition introductory adventure) the kobolds are led by an *actual white dragon*.

      Even B/X adventures were, as several people have pointed out, scaled to some extent for party level. The kobold cave contained an ogre, it didn't contain an Ancient Red Dragon or an avatar of Demogorgon.

      I'd also point out that save-or-die effects are actually far worse at higher levels than low levels (since at low levels straight HP damage can one-shot you *anyway*), and that an NPC who might betray you isn't related to character level at all.

      I also agree with Timrod that working out what happens as a result of PC actions is basically the GM's primary job.

  8. Generally I haven't much cared about character advancement... at least not in regards to mechanics. Traveller was more my preference, where the rewards came in-game as resources, reputation, contacts... but the PC himself didn't change much in stats.
    Also, the way Runequest does it... getting better at the things by doing them... seems to allow a more personalized approach to choosing your own rewards... vs. being pushed into what the rules decide to value.

    Still, obviously D&D is the focus here... and within that I prefer the Gold for XP situation vs. the others you describe. I've played with GMs who just doled a set amount of XP each session and that just seemed so inert. If there has to be a reward system let it be something I can actively seek out.

  9. It seems like changing "kill it" to "overcome the challenge" style of play in modern editions would bring a lot of the favored old-school critical thinking back.

    For my groups, sneaking past guards counts as "overcoming the challenge" just like killing them would net their "challenge rating" in experience. It can also be the more favorable outcome, because the guards are still there, so that when you are on your way out, you can sneak past them again or kill them for more XP. It isn't something you can do without consequences; if you decide to sneak past them on your way in, you might not be in as good of shape when you come out, making them a serious threat. If you get into a fight in the dungeon, they might hear it and reinforce the threat you are fighting, making a potentially hard fight unwinnable. Those are risks weighed against simply killing them for a single lump sum of experience.

    I see that kind of decision making all the time in my games, along with concerns over resource conservation (spend HP/Spells/Charges now, or skip this fight to save them for later, harder-to-skip fights?). It also helps make sense of why disabling/nullifying traps awards XP; they're challenges of a sort.

  10. "I understand that people like to do other things, but without an objective metric, it has moved too far away from 'game' for me and too close to 'unstructured play'."

    You say that like "unstructured play" is a bad thing. I've played with a non-objective XP system for something like 30 years, and it was a lot of fun. Not class-and-level, which might be a big difference, but yeah, fun, and I can't remember arguments over earned XP so it clearly wasn't just me okay with it. I play with a strictly objective system now, same game rules but different metric, and it's fun too. Different fun, but still fun. I'd go back to "unstructured play" in a heartbeat if my players asked me to.

    I think you're overstating the downsides of the systems you don't like instead of just persuasively explaining the upsides of the system you do like, honestly. I'm swayed by the arguments about the coolness of an objective gold-driven mechanic, but the rest - sorry, it just seems like "different is wrong" with equally overstated problems.

    1. My text was specific. I am not interested in improv theater, unstructured play, etc. I do not state anywhere that those are bad things, though they are explicitly outside the RAW of core Dungeons & Dragons.

      I am saying, in my years of experience, experience for gold produces a much more varied player experience than experience for monster killing. In actual play, you are highly motivated to kill a great many things that don't have any applied or logical reasons to avoid killing them.

      In actual play it becomes a waiting game for the next thing there is to kill. And then you kill it. And then there is more waiting.

      As I say over and over again, can a good DM overcome these factors? Yes. But why should she have to fight the core motivating mechanic of the game?

    2. In actual play it becomes a waiting game for the next thing there is to kill. And then you kill it. And then there is more waiting.

      How is that different from XP for gold, where it is a waiting game for the next thing to steal, and then you steal it?

      Once again you're comparing XP-for-treasure played in good faith by motivated players with a good DM and XP-for-kills played in bad faith by unmotivated players with a bad DM.

      XP-for-treasure encourages players to seek out high-value treasures. This leads to one sort of play. XP-for-combat encourages players to seek out high-value enemies. This leads to a different sort of play. Neither variety of play is intrinsically better, worse, more or less D&Dish or more or less interesting than the other. Neither one requires more DM input to make it interesting. Neither one is more likely to lead to inappropriate player behaviour.

    3. Dan H ninja'd me on this. I think you're seeing a problem in XP-for-killing ("But then you just worry about killing things!") and not the same exactly issue in XP-for-gold ("But then you just worry about looting things!"). It's fine that you like one more than the other . . . but I'm saying the case you make against the ones you don't like is kind of weak, because you're focusing on the theoretical weak points of those systems vs. the strong points of the system you like.

    4. I think both of you are thinking in the abstract.

      "If you give xp for killing, you'll worry about killing things, and if you give XP for gold you'll just worry about looting things -- it's all the same, right?"

      In my experience, in the concrete reality of play there is a huge divide between the two types in terms of design in how the game is approached. I'm talking about the specific experiences generated by the combination or rules in B/X versus Pathfinder/3.X.

      I am going into a dungeon as a mid-level adventurer in a mid sized party.

      In XP for gold for B/X: I am only looking for treasure. If I found a room with 100,000 silver coins, it would be worthless to me. If I'm fifth level I need, what? 16,000 experience for the next level? If there's 4 of us, that's 2,500 experience each, but the silver weight 10,000 pounds. Can we even carry that? Players of 5th and 6th level will routinely leave such "treasure" behind. Often "topping off" whatever they can't carry on their way out. Each turn (or 2 turns or 3 turns) we spend puts us a huge risk from an encounter (because in B/X, odds are not good at straight up surviving a "level appropriate" encounter.) Something showing up is a sign to get a move on. If something does show up, because of the design of B/X it is in our interest to A) flee B) talk, and only if there is no other choice C) defend ourselves.

      In XP for Combat 3.x: I am looking for the next creature to kill. Let's say our DM designed the dungeon adventure so that we aren't dealing with the actual linear modules published. If he followed the advice in the rulebook, the vast majority of 'level appropriate' encounters would, on average sap 1/4 to 1/5 our resources. We basically explore each area seeking out any living creature to attack. We are in a dungeon, so why wouldn't we kill everything? There's no cost to it. Once that monster is slain, we have everything to gain - there's nothing else to worry about. Our only concern is making sure after four or five encounters we can bee-line out of the dungeon to rest so we maintain our ability to slay everything we run across.

    5. I really hope the following is clear Yes, the DM can, as you have provided examples, create both logical and applied consequences to the slaying of monsters. The options listed above are clear - but the DM has to do that.

      If I'm in an XP for treasure game, like B/X, then the consequences have nothing to do with the DM. They are all natural. I have to carry the treasure back to town. Treasure is often very heavy and carrying it affects my ability to survive. Looking for treasure is a highly risky activity. Trying to carry 4 tons of silver out of the dungeon is a quick route to death.

      If I'm in an XP for Killing things game, like 3.X, the game is designed to have no natural consequences -- beyond the expenditure of combat resources. After killing the monster, I instantly have the experience and have to do nothing else. The game is explicit that monster encounters should "provide an appropriate challenge" and not be too hard. Monsters aren't kept secret or hidden like treasure, you just keep going in the next room till you find one. The one time WotC did put a non-level appropriate encounter in a module (the roper in Sunless Citadel) the world lost it's mind and it never really happened again. I want to point out that I am aware of "natural consequences" of you can't talk to the things you kill, etc. but in the concrete reality of play, those things rarely come up as opposed to the natural consequences listed above for XP for gold which are always a factor (IMHE).

      This isn't some bad faith example. Most Pathfinder/3.X games I've personally seen (society, home, stand in) basically involve about 15 minutes of downtime between 3 large-ish battles over 4-5 hours of play. Sometimes in long term campaign play that's stretched to as long as 1/2 hour, mostly with the wizards trying to figure out if they can just solve our problem with magic. I'm not saying it wasn't fun. It was. That's not a bad faith description, it's just a . . . description.

      The XP for combat games didn't have bad DM's. The players weren't unmotivated. The game is about combat and getting to the next combat.

      I've played perhaps 200-250 games in the last 4 years. About 1/2 of those where Old school games, and the other half were 3.X/Pathfinder/4e games. If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, then I'm assuming you're basing your statements on the abstract, and not the concrete reality of play.

      I know Peter runs a megadungeon, but in GURPS. What does GURPS give experience points for?

      Also: I again request that you both read the article. Dan H. says "Neither variety of play is intrinsically better, worse, more or less D&Dish or more or less interesting than the other. Neither one requires more DM input to make it interesting. Neither one is more likely to lead to inappropriate player behaviour.

      I do not make any of these statements in the article. They are entirely invented by Dan as representative of my position when they are not. I mean specifically what the article says, and it doesn't say any of that,.

    6. In fact, I explicitly in the article say the exact opposite

      "What's wrong with XP for combat games?"

      Nothing. They are fun.

      How much more clear could I be?

    7. Sorry my reading comprehension doesn't match your expectations.


      Fact is, I disagree with you about your conclusions, but now I kind of feel less inclined to explain further why.

    8. No, I apologize. I'm bad at communicating clearly online. I certainly didn't intend any bad feelings.

      I just don't see a problem with experience points for killing monsters, and feel that I've been pretty clear about that, and am not certain why you feel that I do.

      No hard feelings I hope.

  11. A reminder that this is not a public forum, and comments are expected to be clear, concise, and respectful.

    1. Apologies, it was not my intent to be disrespectful. I sometimes express myself too forcefully.

    2. No worries.

      This is a disscussion, not a formal debate. Instead of taking apart every sentence and addressing them individually, instead of as a cohesive argument, I would be glad to hear what it is you think and why.

    3. Fair enough.

      Broadly speaking, I agree with you about the benefits of XP-for-treasure. I agree that it naturally produces logistics-focused, combat-avoiding, treasure-hunting behaviour in the party.

      Where I disagree is in your suggestion that XP-for-combat necessarily leads to the "three encounters then rest" / "30 minutes downtime in 4 hours" style of play you seem to have observed, and which is characteristic of a *particular type* of 3.X play. I would argue that the very fight/fight/rest/fight/fight playstyle is actually a symptom of the 3.X/4E focus on the "encounter" as the basic unit of gameplay. And in many ways I think that style of gameplay is *undermined* by XP for combat (indeed, it's that 3.X/4E style which leads to a lot of people just levelling up the party every 13 encounters - it works out the same and saves on bookeeping).

      What I'm used to playing is AD&D-style XP-for-combat, and my experience was very similar to your experience with XP-for-treasure. It's just that instead of seeking creative, dynamic ways to acquire treasures from dangerous places, they find creative, dynamic ways to defeat powerful enemies. A canny AD&D party can punch significantly above their weight in terms of the enemy they can defeat, by making good use of terrain, clever use of spells, and careful planning (plus occasional strokes of good luck) they can beat enemies that should be "over level" for them.

    4. Hahaha @ AD&D style XP-for-Combat. For what it's worth, I agree. The intensive RAW verbiage in 4e (an in a lesser extent pathfinder, and in a lesser extent than that 3.X) there's a push towards disallowing non-combat actions from influencing the encounter challenge level.

  12. I run a couple of low level campaigns. This is my simple XP system.
    * 100xp per hour played
    * 200xp per session if the player helped keep the game fun
    * 200xp per session if the player's character played his role in the party

    The reason I moved to this system is for the exact reasons C brought up: the XP reward systems motivates player to play the game in a particular way and the DM to design his or her adventure in a particular fashion.

    A loot based XP system meant I would have to continually insert economic incentives into adventures. An encounter based system would push my players towards violent resolutions with NPCs and push me to constantly insert level appropriate encounters.

    I'm playing D&D with friends. Half the sessions are people drinking beer and telling jokes. Its a social gathering as much a game. They aren't there for the XP.

    I want players to arrive on time. I want them to be involved and to fulfill their responsibilities to the other PC's in the group - it is a team game. Most importantly, I want everyone to work at trying to make the game fun, even in a TPK. Its the single most important reason we all showed up at the table in the first place.

    XP isn't even really an award, as the game just scales based to the player character's power. Leveling up is just there to keep things from going stale.

    If my games ever get to mid or high level, I'll probably scale the XP awards up some so it doesn't take 3 years to get from level 10 to 11.

  13. I like your thoughts on xp to drive interesting play. I've actually considered awarding no xp for killing things, and giving increased xp for treasure, for achieving goals (either player-chosen from the environment or original, player-created goals), etc. The monsters would just be there as obstacles to treasure and other goals. Unless the goal actually is to stop monster X from harassing the village or something like that, the monster would merely be the means to a goal -- and achieving the goal (treasure or otherwise) would be what generates the xp. Don't know if I'll actually implement this, but it is something I've been pondering.

  14. I realize I'm kind of late to the party, but I had an idea for a different solution:

    You've mentioned your preference for player-driven, sandbox-style play. You've also mentioned that you prefer to resolve attempts by characters to take action by mutual agreement between GM and player. What if you applied those same principles to XP awards for goal-setting? Have each player determine a few long-term goals, and come to an agreement about the necessary and sufficient conditions to consider that goal satisfied. Then come to an agreement about how much XP each is worth. At the end of each session, do the same thing for a few short-term goals that the players intend to try to fulfill in the next session.

    This way, everybody knows whether the goal is to slay the beast, steal its riches, rescue its prisoner, or all three. And everybody knows how much XP they get for doing so. It's all out in the open, so the players can make a risk/reward judgement about the actions they're taking. Of course, their knowledge of the risk and reward are not perfect because they don't necessarily know how much treasure and how many monsters the dungeon contains, but that's D&D for you.

    On the face of it this seems like a somewhat complicated solution, but you could probably create a table of standardized values for long-term, medium-term, and short-term goals and how much XP each is worth, with modifiers based on specific factors that will increase or decrease the difficulty of the goal. I.e., if they know the castle is guarded by a specific type of monster, that monster's ECL provides a modifier to the XP award. Since the players can only apply these modifiers if they know what to expect, this encourages them to gather information about the game world in order to strengthen their negotiating position and maximize their rewards.

  15. Great post. It really got me thinking about my gaming history and how my group has progressed over the last four years. I use a heavily house ruled d20 system and reward the players with advancement upon completion of quests or story arches both as a team and as individuals, but it's something I do behind the scenes. I'm wondering now if I were to be clearer about actions and reward, if there would be less dead time spent asking "what do we do next?" and more time doing it.

  16. Lovely article. I like your voice, you're a keeper :P

  17. "Those who try to move every semi-valuable item out of the dungeon expose themselves to wandering monster checks that always begin with them at a disadvantage due to the weight carried."

    I think that this statement is as much fighting the system as you would have to do in modern play to prevent people from killing woodland creatures.

    Also, While it was a kludge, XP in 3 and 3.5 diminished for the same creature as you went up in level. So the woodland creature strategy quickly becomes a useless stagey.

    My biggest problem with modern DnD is that each class is balanced against each other and everyone advances at the same rate.

    I prefer 2e where everyone had different XP charts and earned different amounts of XP for different actions.

    With modern XP, I don't get why I even give out XP. Its so balanced you might a well just make a rule - after 13 encounters go up a level or every other game session go up a level.

    1. Wandering monsters being rolled once every three turns, plus when the party makes noise is one of the core features (i.e. rules) of old school play (b/x, 1e). It is literally the timer that makes decisions meaningful in the dungeon.

      It isn't fighting the system -- it is in a literal sense the very system itself. The physics of core gameplay, if you will.

  18. I find it odd that you have not made the (to me) obvious connection between the system you created in "On the Non Player Character" and XP.

    XP for improving reaction and/or for reaching retain Bond Levels; becoming friends with an ancient red dragon is surely a valuable experience!

    I am reading your posts from the origin of time even to this present so this is something you may have already addressed.


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