Friday, July 24, 2009

My Unresolved Experience Dilemma

For the past few weeks, I have been using experience more or less as it was written. After six sessions, the thief and cleric are already third level, the fighter and magic-user should be 2nd level (the players will be awarded the experience their characters earned while they were away... we allow "sock puppets" in my game), and the barbarian and new druid are still at 1st. Usually I award a little bonus to each character for a generally entertaining evening. This award is only for players who are actually present; sock puppets miss out on this. So far the award has been 100 xp here and there... I will have to ratchet it up as characters level, else it becomes meaningless once they hit 3rd and beyond.

Recently I was reading the Palladium Fantasy rulebook, and I am mulling over the subjective experience tables presented in it. (A side note- some of the advice in the Palladium RPG book is surprisingly well grounded, particularly the part about accepting character death and playing characters with average or low ability scores.) Perhaps if experience were divorced from combat, it would cause the players to pick their battles more carefully... there would be less of a "got to kill them all" mentality. (This hasn't actually been a problem in this campaign, but I've noticed it tends to creep into D&D games in general.)

Now, the downside of the Palladium experience system is that I'd have to rescale or adapt it to AD&D1. The other problem is that, as written, it could lead to a lot of one-upmanship. (Then again, that might be kind of cool...)

This is just something to think about... I actually find that the experience rules as written have been working okay so far. However, this might be skewed because the characters managed to kill a very high level monster and find its abundant treasure trove, so the characters might have a lot more experience than they "should." (You will also recall that this encounter killed one of them and would've killed several more if not for an incredibly lucky bend bars/lift gates roll...)

Readers, if you would care to comment, are you familiar with the Palladium experience system? How do you feel about it? Has anyone else tried to replace the D&D experience system with something subjective?

I might be overthinking this. Timeshadows suggested a very simple experience system that I might want to experiment with.


  1. Oh, dude…

    Experience is a reward system. Reward systems encourage behavior. What behavior do you want to encourage? That’s what you want to reward.

    Yes, I am very familiar with it. The theory and advice behind it is fairly sound…as long as you’re running something low key like HU or BTSN or TMNT. Once you start running Rifts it doesn’t work as well…for me, I find the XP give is too low, too light. Plus it doesn’t reward what most Palladium play (in my experience) is about: namely, big juicy combats with lots of kewl powers and weapons.

    Back to the point: reward systems encourage behavior. If you want PCs to pick fights with every monster they encounter, then give the bulk of XP for combat. If not, don’t.

    OD&D, B/X, and AD&D1 give XP mainly for treasure; very little is for fighting, and even less is for “role-playing awards.” By using treasure (=XP) as the carrot you encourage behavior. Let’s apply a cinematic example to D&D:

    In Conan the Barbarian, the party is offered “more wealth than they can carry” and “enough to be kings themselves” by the king that’s wants his daughter stolen back from Thulsa Doom. The party breaks into the temple, cause a distraction, snatch the princess, and leave. They don’t fight and fight and fight till “all the bad guys are dead.” They aren’t looking for secret doors to hidden chests of gold. Conan looks for a little revenge, but once that’s denied (Doom escapes), leaves with the others. They’re going to get more gold (and more XP in D&D terms) for the safe and quick delivery of the princess. Why F around with all that other noise?

    If you want characters to “role-play” give XP for that. Check out the Dying Earth RPG by Robin Laws and how it rewards playing in character (advancement is based on what’s ability to use Vancian language in play!) as a good example.

  2. I am not familiar with the Palladium product which you mentioned, however as far as XP goes, who says that in killing a big monster, you aren't entitled to the XP?

    As a player, depending on the situation, determines how crazy I get. If I feel that sneaking in and snatching what I need is the best course of action, then that is what I do, however if I am afraid that reinforcements will be brought in, that my cover will be blown or I'll be overwhelmed if the enemy gets away, then I'll to my best to kill them all. It isn't about XP, it is about keeping my character alive.

    It can help to just tally out the XP at the end of the session and keep its origins as mysterious as possible.

  3. You ask whether anybody has replaced the D&D experience system with something subjective. In one of my campaigns I'm using the following houserule: "Usually I will just assign points to things done (usually around the average party level) and multiply these points by 300 XP."

    Take a look at the result:

    The last session, with characters at around level 6, had the following XP reward: Bring back 60’000 gp to Sandpoint (2), help the halflings settle in (2), decide to join Shalelu (1), help resolve the situation in Wartle (3), join the reveling in Whistledown (2), determine that the beautiful women is in fact evil (4), figuring out that she charms men (4), steal the medusa mask (5), escape her in the guard captain’s office (4), recovering the mask (4), learning about Bolas’ fate (2).
    The end result was about 2480 XP per person.

  4. In another campaign, our DM follows the advice given in a previous comment: "just tally out the XP at the end of the session and keep its origins as mysterious as possible." We all assume he's doing it by the book, but there's now way for us to verify, and yet we're happy.