We straight up Sisyphus in this blog, yo.
As I mentioned very briefly in my last post, Stars Without Number doesn't really give you a set method for awarding experience points. It lists some of the methods and it provides a handy chart for determining level-up rates and roughly how much experience you should dole out to level in X amount of sessions, but what exactly you give experience for is sort of left up to you, with an implied default of xp for treasure earned (and "earned" can take a lot of forms, as can the precise definition of "treasure.)
Experience points are kind of a funny thing. They've been done differently in just about every iteration of D&D that's ever been iterated. In the Olden Days, experience was granted for combat, but that paled in comparison to the xp given for loot carted back from the dungeon. Last summer, in my brief and sadly aborted online B/X game, I discovered that the paltry 125 xp you get for killing a goddamn can-kill-you-twice-in-one-round medusa is a tiny drop in the bucket for adventurers who are at the appropriate level to challenge her with hope of success; her treasure type, by contrast, is worth an average of around 10,000 xp. I use this little tidbit of data whenever I try to explain the futility of combat in older versions of D&D.
Talking to my group about it last week, it was suggested that I hand out experience entirely by my own fiat. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this, if only because experience points have been Holy Writ in D&D for so long that I feel the game is somehow incomplete without them. (If I'm handing them out by fiat, I am essentially deciding how many sessions we play before the players get to level, right?) If I'm going to get rid of experience points, I might as well give the magic-user plate mail and a d12 hit die. It's anarchy!
...ahem. I did end up giving them 600 points each, which was mostly an arbitrary number derived from the suggested 750 that SWN suggests for 1st level characters.
So as I sit here an spin my tires, I find myself going back and looking at the various ways experience points are awarded in the versions of D&D that I am familiar with:
*B/X D&D: Experience is awarded for combat, with monsters being worth an amount based on a loose formula that calculates Hit Die and special abilities. Generally, monsters are worth relatively little experience points considering the threat they can pose. Experience is awarded for treasure on a 1 xp per 1 gp basis. The emphasis is clearly on the acquisition of treasure. (Let's not forget that a great deal of horded treasure is also necessary to build that 9th level stronghold, but that's another post entirely)
*Cyclopedic D&D- Same as above, though the formula for monsters might be slightly different. Treasure is still the way to go. The cyclopedia also has rules for giving experience for quests/objectives completed and for roleplaying. Objectives (which are left very open) are worth an amount equal to the experience gained from foes overcome to attain said objective. In theory, this is good, but in practice, I've found that it essentially just means double xp for monsters, but you have to wait until a good stopping point to collect. The roleplaying is calculated at 1/20th of what the character needs for the entire level. (So for a 1st level fighter it would be 20 points, 5% or 1/20th of what he needs to go from 1st to 2nd level, which is 2,000 total points.)The percentage keeps the award from being disproportionate for the classes, although some players might balk at the notion that an elf's role-playing is worth double the number of points of a fighter's.
*AD&D 1st Edition- Points are awarded for monsters, which seemed to be higher rewards-wise, but xp for treasure is still in effect and still totally the way to go. No awards mentioned for roleplay. I think this is where xp awards for magical item construction and other obscure bits comes in to play. I'm mainly focusing on stuff that most characters can cash in on.
*AD&D 2nd Edition: Points for combat.I recall that there was an optional system for class based experience awards, but I recall it being poorly implemented. A 1st level thief can climb a dozen walls and level, while a fighter still has to single-handedly kill something like 100 orcs solo.
*D&D 3rd Edition: Combat only. The experience you get is now determined by a monster's Challenge Rating, an arbitrary and sometimes wonky estimation of monster danger vs. party level. Experience awards are also scaled so that monsters that are "beneath you" in terms of CR are worth progressively less experience. (By the same token, fighting a monster who is a few CRs higher is worth more) This is the first version of D&D where all classes level at the same rate.
*D&D 4th Edition- Experience is awarded for combat, with monsters being worth a flat award determined mainly by the monster's level. (Yes, they have levels now) Experience points are also awarded for major and minor quests, quests being goals set by the DM. (Infiltrate the Black Tower, safely escort the diplomat to the Elf Queen's palace, etc.) Experience points are also awarded for Skill Challenges. (Essentially a sort of combat against a situation using skill checks) While I actually sort of liked the alternative options for experience in the wake of 3.0/3.5, the emphasis is still heavily on combat. All classes still level at equal rates in this version. Disclaimer: my knowledge of 4e is congruent with the state of the game in December 2008. It is my understanding that there have been revisions to the way Skill Challenges work, and possibly to other mechanics, but I have not kept up to date. (...and there's no need to update me on it, either)
Sooooo, what have we got?
I can award experience for monsters and make it worth relatively little, a la B/X, or make it worth their while a la 3rd ed.
I can award experience for "treasure" (my definition being money and valuables taken from an expedition/adventure), or on an xp-per-credit basis. \
I can award xp for "quests" or objectives, either scaling it or being totally arbitrary.
I can award a level after a set number of "encounters" or some other defined mark of progress.
I have seen other good ideas on the blogosphere as well; things such as xp for distance traveled or xp for places visited.
I can hand out experience points for "good roleplaying."
I suppose the best way to determine what I should give experience for should be based on what activities or styles of play I want to encourage in my game. Bingo.
Allow me to table this for the moment. I have to get up in a little less than six hours. To be continued...