On Old School Pathfinder

My brother, astounded by the changes in
3.5 ("Whadda mean there's no
 level drain?!")
My home game is a modern version of Dungeons and Dragons. Here's what happens.

"I mortalbane anything that appears."

Skum jumps out of the water? Mortalbane. Kick open a door? Mortalbane. That plus the 2d6 from the arcane blast is pretty effective at level 3. Not that the combat druid and her trip happy wolf aren't pulling their weight.

The point is, if there's something coming, our default move is to kill it every time.

We had an encounter with an albino bear. My wife says "I don't think we should kill everything."

I say, ok, but that's experience points drifting away on the wind! That's one more encounter we are going to need till we reach level 4.

What's your point?

Well, gaining Experience from Killing Monsters drives a very specific sort of play. The play where you kill people after talking to them because that's how you extract experience points from the game. It's a very different play-style than old school play.

But all is not lost! You can give Experience for Gold in Pathfinder with almost no changes and I'm here to tell you how!

What's this Sorcery? 

Initially this seems like a very complicated problem. Design-wise, equipment, and by extension wealth-by-level, are a substantial portion of player power. If you handed out gold for experience and the players were over or under-leveled, then their power level would be off versus the CR of opponents. This might not seem like a big deal to anyone who's never had to run combats week after week for a 9th level Pathfinder party, but having those numbers off makes things a lot more difficult. (Not impossible, just difficult)

Thankfully, however, we can give Experience for Gold and lose nothing.

The wealth by level table tells us 15% of every level should be in disposable goods. This means the actual gold awarded to reach the appropriate wealth by level will be 10%-20% higher than what's listed. 

Here is the expected player wealth at level 2: 1000 gp. Here is the experience needed for fast level advancement: 1300 xp. Here is the expected gain it wealth between level 2 to level 3: 2,000 gp.  Here is the experience needed to gain level 3 from level 2: 2,000 xp. Here. I will make a table. Note that this table shows what you need to acquire between each level, and not the totals, like the Wealth-By-Level chart here or the Character Advancement Chart here.

Level Fast XP Wealth per level Difference
1 0 0 0
2 1,300 1,000 -300
3 2,000 2,000 0
4 2,700 3,000 300
5 4,000 4,500 500
6 5,000 5,500 500
7 8,000 7,500 -500
8 9,000 9,500 500
9 16,000 13,000 -3,000
10 21,000 16,000 -5,000
11 34,000 20,000 -14,000
12 40,000 26,000 -14,000
13 65,000 32,000 -33,000
14 85,000 45,000 -40,000
15 130,000 55,000 -75,000
16 175,000 75,000 -100,000
17 250,000 95,000 -155,000
18 350,000 120,000 -230,000
19 500,000 155,000 -345,000
20 700,000 195,000 -505,000

Let me answer your questions!

But the chart breaks down around level 9! The players will get waaaay more gold then they should have. 

The Wealth-By-Level chart indicates the amount of gold players should have invested into magic items. Any gold or wealth they receive beyond that, as long as it is non-convertible to magic items, still provides experience and does not increase player wealth.

What kind of things are we talking about here? Taxes. Land deeds. Castle expenses. Army Upkeep. Magic item theft and destruction. Disposable magic items. Exactly the same types of things old school characters begin to deal with at that point.

But what if I don't want to use the fast level advancement chart?

Conveniently pathfinder includes this handy Treasure Values per Encounter chart, meaning that if you use the fast advancement chart and hand out treasure based on the slow treasure values per encounter, you will get some slow advancement! This assumes a party of 4. You can further adjust the advancement rate based on the number of party members using fractions. E.g. if you want to do the slow rate, and have 5 party members, 170 gp times 5 party members is 850, divided by 4 is 212 gp per encounter with 5 players instead of 170.

This is dumb because you have to do shenanigans to remove gold, and experience for gold is dumb, and your blog sucks. 

Well. It requires very little for 9 levels and what happens at that point usually requires gold that doesn't turn into gear, there's a ton of literature about the type of play gold for experience drives, and I have often found that people that hate on this blog (oh, and they are out there) often have not released a ton of content for free.

I've gotten rid of handing out experience points and just automatically level the party-


Enjoy a completely new Pathfinder experience!

*Pathfinder pendants: Yes, my home game is 3.5 and uses a warlock. The example is from a very similar game that hands out experience for very similar things! Do not get hung up on the details!

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  1. Another way you can reinforce this old style of play is to increase the difficulty of encounters and have many encounters that players aren't able to beat. This not only changes the focus of play, it brings back some of that vaunted lethality.

  2. This article comes perfectly timed for me - I'm working on the start of a Pathfinder megadungeon for my home group, and was looking for a way to veer from the "Kills for Skills" mindset. I think the chart you put together might be just the thing I need. Thanks!

    1. must be in the zeitgeist, because I was trying to apply the Wealth By Level ideas to give the players more options than the built in Kill for Skill one that does direct play in very distinct ways. These ideas cleaned up a lot of my thinking. Thanks!

  3. Meh, I just recognize the difference between kill and defeat.

    Most people will mentally see "experience is gained by defeating monsters" as "experience is gained for killing monsters." Defeat is different from killing, though not mutually exclusive, and I play with this.

    My favorite example is the monster that needs to die to complete a ritual, like Blackbeard in Tim Powers "On Stranger Tides." In the novel Blackbeard stages an "escape" from the navy, but sets up the battle so that he and his entire crew will die at sea, allowing Blackbeard to come back to life in a new body. Understand the plan worked beautifully, and the marine do kill Blackbeard. If experience is awarded for kills, then XP is won and the marines get to level up or whatever. But they failed completely if it was required to defeat Blackbeard. Blackbeard got everything he wanted, his plan worked, and he lost nothing.

    So, i get my players into the old school mentality by awarding experience for defeating an enemy, thus they gather information, explore, and interact with their surroundings cautiously in an effort to best understand how to defeat their foes. After all, it is easier to defeat a target with clear goals than it is to defeat a stranger who you just met a second ago.

    1. Your thesis of "every monster must be killed or defeated" is not an accurate representation of old school play - unless you give XP for avoiding, talking, and bargaining in every encounter to accomplish the acquisition of treasure

      It is always in the players interest to slay or "defeat" any encounter after extracting whatever resource you decide to non-RAW add in as a DM because that is how you get experience.

      "Defeat" is for all intents and purposes equilivant to "kill" which is the problem. Or, you know, not, if you are cool with each week being a series of combat encounters.

    2. And there is the trap again. Killing is a method of defeat, but not always the prudent option, and sometimes very counter productive depending on the target.

      For arguments sake, lets say that you are to guard a small idol, worth a ridiculous sum of monies, from theft. Possible methods that would constitute defeat might include the following:
      Killing you, rendering you incapable of further actions
      Disabling you, such as via paralytics or strong depressants
      Sneaking past you, acquiring the item without your knowledge
      Plying you, convincing you to give up your objective
      Destroying the idol, voiding the purpose of your objective

      Out of all of these options, only a few necessitate direct confrontation. Hell, it may even be safer to just avoid you entirely, especially if you are just Guard #4 on the opposite side of the keep. But you are still defeated if, somehow, the idol is no longer protected. It does not matter if we matched blades or if you were on the opposite side of the world from me.

      Thus, framing objectives, creating agendas for foes and generally thinking "what is the goal here?" frames much more interesting game play harkens an old school vibe into a newer game.

    3. Your argument is a straw man because, as the article and my reply above both point out -

      We are not talking about killing or defeating opponents!

      Experience points are given just for that. So when encountering someone or something that isn't an opponent it is still in your best interest to kill tem to avoid missing out on the experience.

      Why did we slaughter that bear in the woods? Because we're now one encounter closer to the next level.

      Why did we massacre that band of travelers? Because letting them go is letting a simple EL 3 encounter slide from our grasp. You are just trading that eaiser fight for one with more risk later on.

      Can the DM spend a bunch of effort trying to use other factors to avoid this behavior? Of course.

      But I don't think the dungeon master should have to fight against the behavior the reward system encourages.

  4. Experience points are a way to incentivize your players to pursue the game in certain ways. XP for kills makes them want to kill things. XP for gold makes them want to loot corpses. When we played Pathfinder, we also distributed XP based on roleplay to reward talky characters. Now we play Fate, where character advancement is instead based on story milestones -- perhaps not so good if you want to hack and slash your way through a dungeon, but it's great if your party is actually out and about, advancing their narrative.

    1. Thumbs up. This is how I was introduced to gaming. and how I run my games hasn't failed yet. I believe the 4e DMG suggests rewarding xp for role playing too. I've also played with essentially story based leveling, where the DM would tell us to level up when the story advanced far enough.

  5. I don't follow here. The language of this article confuses me. So this proposed system rewards experience whenever a PC accumulates wealth?

    While I'm not suggesting you're making this claim, I'm baffled why people argue that Pathfinder (that game specifically) only grants experience for killing things when the core rules explicitly say the GM should award XP for a roleplay encounter as if it were a combat encounter with a CR = APL (prior to ad hoc adjustments). Since most roleplay encounters take less time than a combat encounter of that CR, this means players receive more XP from roleplaying than fighting.

  6. Very cool. I once did something like this for 3E, though I never playtested it. If I remember correctly, I used the level-independent system from UA, cut monster awards to 10% (so a troll's worth 180 XP) and gave 1 XP per GP. Pretty sure it breaks down at higher levels, but I wasn't too concerned with those

  7. I gave up keeping track of experience points a long time.. ideally PCs should level up every 2nd or 3rd game session (wealth is its own reward).At the end of each game session, each surviving character that has not significantly disrupted play is awarded an experience throw; rolling d6 for PCs and d4 for NPCs:

    Experience Table

    1) + 1 level if preferred class
    2) +1 to randomly determined ability score
    3) +1 skill or language
    4) House rules
    5) + 1 level
    6) + 1 skill or feat

    1) Characters level increases by one iff he belongs to the character class preferred by his race. If the character does not belong to a class preferred by his race (Table 1.3), then increase his primary ability score by one. Humans with a primary ability score of 15+ treat any class to which they belong as if it were their preferred class. Belonging to your race’s preferred or favored class increases speed of level progression; it does not increase your hit points, skills or competence.

    2) One randomly determined ability score is increased by one point, roll d6 to determine.
    . ..
    3) Skills are not automatically awarded with advancement of level; they must be selected. Skills obtained are limited by class and skill rank = half current level.

    4) DM selects one level, skill or desired feat; however, DM may actually confer a single one point penalty from an ability score (p.1) for a disruptive, obstinate or rude player.

    5) A character’s level determines hit points, attack bonus, saving throws and spell progression.

    6) Maximum number of skills, languages and/or feats allowed to a character may not exceed the average of character’s INT score and his level.

  8. Maybe we could ask you to do a follow up post as you gather more info on giving Pathfinder a different focus in XP awarding, cause I'd love to move away from combat for GMing purposes.

  9. Instead of doing XP for Gold, you could instead give XP for encounters.
    If the players manage to talk their enemies out of fighting, cause them to flee, etc, give them XP as if they had killed them.

    If the players have a non-combat encounter (A trap, social situation, skill challenge, etc) give them Xp equivalent to a combat encounter of the same type.

    I don't like XP for Gold, personally, I find it dissonant and strange. Why should finding a million gold give you a million XP? does picking up that gold suddenly fill you with the memories and experiences of everyone that's ever touched it? if not, you're assuming the PCs are spending some fraction of that training, but not enforcing it.

    I dunno.


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