Monday, June 16, 2008

My Campaign's Experience Rules

This isn't anything groundbreaking or unusual, but "How I Do It" posts are a good way for someone to tell me that there's a better way to do it, so... get to it!

I approve of the traditional editions' method of earning experience. Monsters are worth some, but not too much, and the most experience comes from treasure. (even though this post appears a couple days after the fact, I did write this post the day before I saw this... I hate when that happens, this concurrent thinking stuff.)

It's a great system. It encourages players to want to avoid random encounters (not much to gain, with a lot to lose) which means they hurry along, and it influences them to plan to attempt to avoid needless fights if they can get the treasure without it.

It also discourages the "I kill all the squirrels and beggars for the XP!" style of play that Hackmaster often parodies. Or did back when they did the issues up through those appearing in Bundle of Trouble 17, anyway.

But the standard distribution of experience bothers me a bit. Just by grabbing the big gem and getting back to town with it means you level up? Good game mechanism, but I can't think of a way to translate that to in-game explanations.


Experience from foes slain during an adventure count for experience, which are evenly divided between all living characters at the end of the session. I really don't care to do bookkeeping to show that three characters died halfway through so their replacements shouldn't get experience from the part of the adventure previous to that... aghgh aghghgh ahghgh. No. PCs get full shares, retainers get half shares.

Otherwise, only money spent on training, or completely wasteful non-game activities, counts for experience. The training option is easily accountable with in-game explanations. No specific set-up or rules for this either. Just be somewhere in civilization (so no in-dungeon or in-the-wilds leveling up) and say "I spend 5,000gp for experience." Whether it's a wizard studying something, or a cleric in meditative prayer sacrificing expensive nothings, or whatever, that's all there is to it.

As far as wasteful in-game activities... this is more genre emulation than anything else. "I have a big gem? Boozing and whoring for a fortnight!" You do that enough, obviously you're important in the world. ;)

This means that money spent on things that are needed by the party can't be used to gain experience! Choices, choices. That means how much the party pays their retainers has a direct impact on how quickly those guys level too...

This may lead to excessive looting of the bodies. "This orc's underwear has to be worth a copper for raw materials at least!" First, I require strict accounting of encumbrance. Second, I rule that any armor worn by an opponent is utterly ruined if that guy is killed in combat. If you're wailing on some armored foe until he dies, obviously his armor gets shredded up, right? Yeah. Unless it's an obvious exception like a sleep spell/cut the throat scenario.

Also, when disposing of non-coin valuables, value is relative and dependent on haggling. To simulate this without actually haggling over every bauble, I have the seller make a reaction roll when selling items... and the percentage of the "actual value" they get from the item is determined by how well the merchant/fence reacts to them. Charisma becomes more important. And do characters trust each other enough to give all the goodies to the character with the highest charisma to sell? There is nothing to prevent him from skimming cash off the transactions...


  1. Do you think there's anything to be gained by differentiating between gold spent on training and gold spent on carousing? Spending money on stuff or XP is an interesting choice to force upon players. Giving a choice between dropping the loot on fencing lessons or wenching sounds like another way to force a decision.

  2. Any ideas how that would be done? There would have to be benefits and penalties for each choice, and preferably in a way that doesn't force more bookkeeping. :P

  3. Forgive me if this is a bad question, but do you offer any XP for good roleplaying, or are you one who expects that as part of the game?

    It irritates me that the newest edition removes this aspect completely because it might hurt players' feelings. Give me a freaking break.

  4. I don't give experience for good role-playing for a few reasons:

    1- What is "good role-playing"? Is it deep characterization? Doing things that allow "cool things" to happen at the table? Playing your fighter like a fighter? There's a lot of ways to interpret the phrase "good role-playing" and I'm not going to be the guy to tell someone that their idea of good role-playing isn't mine so they don't get the bonus.

    2- It unfairly impacts the players. A good number of role-players are shy, and penalizing them for not coming forward and being an outgoing player seems rude to me. Also, some players just might not *care* about that aspect of the game, so why force it? Those who want to do the deep role-playing thing will do it anyway. And last, English is going to be a second or even third language to most, if not all, of the players I'll have, and penalizing those who don't practice it as well as others (and therefore don't flaunt it like those others), is really unfair.

    3- It's pure meta-gaming. At least the XP for treasure is an abstraction for the "doing stuff, so gets better with practice" thing. XP for role-playing isn't anything of the sort. Why would having a deep personality make a character better at what they do?

  5. I was all getting ready to write a rebuttal to how you are handling things when I started reading this, but you've pretty much matched my plan, except I'm too lazy to try and split "necessary" expenses from "frivolity and training" expenses. I like you're system better, however, and I may give it a try.

    - Brian

  6. I've been toying with an idea for swords and sorcery flavored games--no clue whether this would actually work in practice, as it just sort of popped into my head the other day--of allowing players to either spend treasure by cashing it in for XP (the "training" rationale you address) or by purchasing bonuses equivalent to magical weapons. In other words, if a sword +1 costs X amount of gp, the player could simply burn that amount of gold (chalk it up to ale and whores) to earn a +1 bonus to his sword attacks from then on. Keeps the magical item bloat under control and works well in the genre.

  7. I think its a good idea. I'm going to try it.

    I think something I'd include is that coin spent on permanent structures, such as fortifications or churches, should be included in XP-positive spending. While my players can drink, study and whore away the money for their own wellbeing, I see anything which develops the character in a framework as a positive thing.

    Equipment bought for adventuring, however, I agree that it should get no XP. I can definitely, from a DM's point of view, see the value in that. Equipment purchases are not character building...and if they won't improve themselves for the sake of buying a new gadget, no XP.

    Thank you Jim for the first decent, meaningful suggestion I've heard about XP in more than twenty years.