Sunday 7 April 2019

Decoupling XP and Treasure

What your game gives you XP for says something about the game world and the PCs. For most OSR, the treasure you get directly results in XP; as such, your PCs are ruthlessly materialistic, in it for quick wealth. This gives them a sort of roguish charm, which works quite well with the sort of games I enjoy. But what if you got XP for other in-game achievements instead of loot? This will, of course, change the tone of the game dramatically. 
Here are some options for that. For these, I'm assuming LotFP as my baseline game. So, it costs a fighter 2,000 XP to level up, which doubles at each level up to 9th. Other classes require more or less depending on their potency, but 2k is roughly in the middle. 

These all replace the XP granted for treasure. The XP for killing stuff remains in place, or can be removed if it doesn't fit the tone you want - realistically it's such a small source of XP as to make little difference most of the time. And in these methods, treasure is still worth getting, because money lets you buy better equipment, hire followers, etc etc.

The Heroic Option: XP for Rescuing People
A single person rescued is worth 100 XP. They're worth +100 XP for each of the following:
-They are truly innocent (such as children, saints, etc).
-They are of critical importance to a wider community (the only doctor in town, for example).
-They have a personal connection to one of the PCs rescuing them (lovers, relatives, mentors, etc).
-They are being rescued from a fate that is worse than death and unusually horrible (think tzimisce shit).
To count as being rescued, the person must be facing death, indefinite imprisonment, or the sort of long-term consequences that has a good chance to thoroughly fuck up their life. This last one might be things like being blinded, turned into a frog, traumatised to the point where they can't function by themselves, infected with some horrible disease... that sort of thing.
Rescuing people in bulk, perhaps saving a village from disaster, works a little differently. The rule of thumb for 'in bulk' is that if you don't know the names of the people you're saving, then they count. In these cases, then a person is worth only 10xp and you don't care about things like innocence, fates worse than death, etc. Simply multiply the number of anonymous people saved by 10, and that's how much XP they're worth.

So, at most a single person being rescued is worth 500xp. Most, though, are gonna be worth 100xp.
So, you might be able to get to level 2 with a mere 4 rescues if the perfect rescuing-victims present themselves, realistically you're probably looking at 20 or so people rescued. This is a couple of families, perhaps. Not too hard.
To reach level 5, you'll need 16,000 XP. This means rescuing around 160 individuals, which is perhaps impractical. To reach these lofty heights, it becomes more practical to concentrate on saving great numbers of people. 16,000 XP is 1,600 anonymous individuals. This is a small town, or several villages. 

The Exploration Option: XP for Mapping
This is split into two parts; in the dungeon and in the wilderness. Include one or both depending on what you want your PCs exploring a megadungeon or hexcrawling or both. In both cases, the PCs get XP for putting things they find on a map that they then return to civilisation with. Also in both cases, things only count if they're untamed or unexplored by the PC's own culture. It doesn't matter how many Forest Goblins live in the Foggy Forest and know it well, if the PCs are humans exploring on behalf of human civilisations. On the other hand, running around 'exploring' perfectly safe farmland that's already mapped out and under control by local nobles isn't worth XP. 

In the dungeon:
Each room you put correctly on the map is worth 100xp. They're worth another 100 xp for each useful feature in the room that you accurately mark on the map, such as the presence of a trap, a secret door, treasure, a monster that inhabits that particular chamber, supernatural properties, etc.
In order to be able to be count for this sort of thing, the PCs need to be reasonably familiar with what they're putting down; enough that their description is going to be useful to somebody using their map to navigate can do so safely and reliably. To really be a fair judge of this, you should get your PCs to physically map this shit at the table with a pencil and paper, and look over it yourself. Any particular feature that catches your eye as useful information is another 100 xp.
At later levels, you will probably want to be adding rooms to the map in bulk, without having to physically visit them one-by-one. Here, things like finding the records previous explorers took can let you fit stuff onto the map, as can asking the dungeon's residents. Of course, these might not be accurate; if the PCs just put stuff on the map willy-nilly that isn't actually there, or is marked down wrong, they don't get the XP; tell them there's a mistake and that they'll need better information to get the xp.
Here, you're probably getting 200xp per room, assuming each room has on average one interesting thing about it (some have more, some are empty entirely). So a small 10-room dungeon, mapped out properly, is enough to reach level 2. To get the 16000xp for level 5, you're looking at perhaps 8 of those little dungeons, or fully mapping an 80-room complex. 

In the wilderness:
This works basically the same, substituting 'hex' for 'room'. I'm assuming spaces roughly 6 miles across here, so roughly 32 square miles of territory. Each new hex* put on the map is worth 100 XP. You get 100 xp more for each landmark, site of interest, peculiarity of the terrain, safe trail through the hex or other feature marked onto the map. Sites of particular interest, such as old ruins etc, can be investigated in more detail, and if a detailed map of them is taken then treat them just like the dungeons up above, with xp per room.
Again, if you find other people's maps, ask the locals, etc, you can add large swathes to your map in one go. Likewise, if you go to high ground, you can spot landmarks, trails and so on in your current space and potentially several neighbouring ones quite quickly. 
Realistically, for each hex, you're looking at probably 400 xp for putting it on the map; the hex itself is worth 100, and then if you find a couple of landmarks or sites of interest, and a path leading through or out of it, then that's 400 right there. This is, admittedly, a reasonably thorough exploration, probably a few days investigating the surroundings at least. This means that 5 hexes is enough to reach level 2, which is probably a few weeks exploring new territory. To reach level 5, you're looking at 40 hexes explored in reasonable depth, an area around 1200 square miles; to put this into perspective, the entire area of London is around half this. To explore this much, you're probably either relying on high ground to sketch out very broad-strokes maps, or talking to the locals. This sounds about right to me.

*or square. Personally, I prefer marking my maps in squares since squared notepaper is easier to come by and the spaces correspond to the four directions on a compass/when navigating by the sun. To each their own, though.

The Cultists of Khorne Option: XP for killing things
Really? You really want to do this? You remember the bad old days of 3.5? Well OK then.
The sensible but boring way to do this is to use the xp rewards in the LotFP book as a baseline, and multiply them by 10. So a 1-hit-dice enemy is worth 100 XP, meaning you need to kill 20 orcs to reach level 2.  (Or a mere 2 wraiths with 5 HD each!). For these purposes, only count things you killed in direct combat. 
The totally insane version of this is to use the XP values as-is. So, a 1-hit-dice victim is worth 10 xp.  You need to kill 200 people to hit level 2. You need to kill 1,600 fucking people to hit level 5. (Or, of course, less victims if they have more HD). But here, you count everybody the pc's kill. Burn down a village and all 200 people in it? That's 2,000 XP right there! Same if you poison wells, incite riots, start wars... 
Obviously PCs in this sort of game are bloodthirsty lunatics and the game will rapidly descend onto total boggle-eyed over-the-top villainy, which strikes me as glorious fun so long as everybody is OK with being gratuitously evil. Which they probably are, since this is apparently the default method of getting XP from 3e to 5e.

But wait there's more!
Obviously, these methods are just the start of how you can fuck around with XP. Conquering territory  (in a megadungeon or the wilderness) for XP might use the same basic methods as mapping it, for example. You probably want to double or even triple the XP rewards in this case, though, because actually securing and protecting territory is much harder than merely writing down what's there.
Likewise, for an EVEN EVILLER campaign, you could combine the cultists of khorne option with the heroic option, so that every named NPC that the PCs go out of their way to ruin the lives of is worth 100xp, or more if they're innocent, important, get truly fucked up, etc. 

Other sources of XP that I considered but couldn't come up with simple mechanics for were:
-uncovering FORBIDDEN LORE
-becoming a living legend through fame and glory
-converting people to the cause of your GLORIOUS RELIGION for cleric-focussed games
etc etc.
But I'm lazy, so maybe they get handled in another post or maybe you have to make that shit up yourself.


  1. Storygame mode: gain XP for every terrible thing you suggest happens to the party.
    OOC mode: gain XP for organising sessions, bringing food, making character art etc.
    Skip the middleman mode: gain XP for solutions to problems that are unique, interesting, simple and/or effective

  2. I like the idea of XP for reaching critical or noteworthy spots in exploration...

  3. One thing about XP rewards: they provide a focus for the players at the table. Players getting rewarded are able to get on the same page and work in cooperation with each other.

    I do like the XP for treasure concept. I think it allows PCs many options as to how they acquire their loot. Rescuing captives is acquiring a different kind of loot, but still loot (not just in the sense of monetary reward, but in building relationships...magic items are loot, too, but not the kind that grants XP). Regardless, I don’t see PCs as “ruthlessly materialistic.” Treasure hunting is their JOB; how much they acquire is a measure of how good they are at their job (reflective in their level of experience).

  4. I don't give XP for treasure, only actions and ideas. I usually have a stack of 50, 75, and 100 XP cards for gameplay. I hand them out immediately when I hear something good. They include the instruction to level up their character on the fly, mid-game if necessary. The players love it, because it gives them the ability to bring on the shock and awe if they level mid-session.

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  6. A while ago I was working on an XP progression for an Against the Wicked City-style "lead a revolution" game that never got going.

    The basic idea was that different factions (which could be swayed to join either the empire or the revolution) had a "strength" rating measuring approximately a combination of their influence and military strength. A single group of mercenaries might be worth 1, while a whole army could be worth 10.

    For each "strength" point you cost the empire you gain... let's say 1000 xp, and for each strength point you gain for the rebellion you also gain 1000 xp. So if you do a quest and convince a small group (strength 1) who was neutral to take up arms for the rebellion that's 1000 xp. If you manage to convert a group from supporting the empire to supporting the rebellion that counts as double their strength value in xp, since you're both costing the empire strength and gaining strength for the rebellion. It could also apply to stuff like finding a superweapon for the rebellion or sabotaging a shipment of supplies for the empire or whatever.

    I remember I had actual xp values calculated out but I don't really remember it now. I still think it was a cool concept though.

  7. Curious to see what would happen if I added XP for rescuing to my game . . . my players have told me out loud to cover the innocents in gems if I want them rescued.

    I do give an XP bonus for showing up for each session.

  8. I recommend grabbing a copy of Neoclassic Geek Revival for it's bundle of XP systems - most are very worth stealing.

  9. I really like the details of asking the locals, heading for higher elevation, and investigating sites of interest. That would definitely add more variety and colour to the hexcrawl than just going to one hex after another.

    Maybe the PCs could be writing a travelogue a la William Dampier or Ibn Fadlan. Give XP for learning about local customs or making sketches of the local fauna.

  10. XP for Fame and Glory could work exactly like XP for treasure and killing things, but you only get the killing XP once you brag about it, and you only get the XP if the people you're bragging to think it's worth bragging about, and you only get the treasure XP when you spend it flashily in a way that supports your rep.

    In Courtney Campbell's Perdition experience is called Prestige, and it is literal, in that you can spend it for social benefits or to bully devils as well as level up. But devils can also steal it from you. It's brilliant, but harder to implement outside a setting that's been taken over by Hell.

  11. Im running a camping centered on investigation, mistery and discovery, so im using a 3 Step xp method:
    1: they gain a base XP (200,400,500) for discovering a New mistery and they get promised 5 times More if they *Uncover* that mistery

    2- they get a Small amount (50 XP) for each clue they gather

    3 if they resolve the mistery they gain the promised XP

    This has driven then to make a lot if questions and explore almost Every córner of the ruina they visit. The promised XP Is a great tool

  12. "Personally, I prefer marking my maps in squares since squared notepaper is easier to come by and the spaces correspond to the four directions on a compass/when navigating by the sun. To each their own, though."
    Only the Gods should ever see hex maps. Mere mortals(players?) draw very badly with charcoal and blood onto cheap found scraps. Unless of course they are picture literate Cartographers or most likely Stone Masons who would make fair maps square.

    Picture literacy is a thing.

  13. Fun (terrible) idea: give the PCs different xp sources.

    Kate is an unscrupulous thief who gets xp for finding gold, John is a heroic cleric who gets xp for people he rescues, and Heironymous is a neutral-ish wizard who gets half xp for both things. They've also got Cecilia the fighter, who only cares about glory and gets xp for killing monsters.

    They get to the dungeon. John wants to rescue the captives from orcs, but Kate spends all her time prying gems off the walls. Heironymous starts off allied with John but quickly gets distracted when Kate finds a giant pile of gold across a pit, and spends his last spell flying across to get it. Cecilia doesn't care about any of that and wanders off to fight the giant dragon since it has 5 HD and is worth enough to get her to the next level all on its own. In the end the orcs murder John, Cecilia gets roasted by the dragon, and Kate and Heironymous escape but are eaten by lions on the way home without their meatshields.

    1. Would this be completely fixed based on class choices, DM-selected, player-selected or, horror of horrors, randomly allotted??? Either or any way, this has got my blood boiling. I love it.

    2. I suspect this would result in a party splitting a reasonable amount as the PCs are seeking different motivations. Plus, balancing the methods might be tricky, and if you get the balance wrong some PCs will level faster than others in a way that doesn't feel quite fair.

      That said, I can see a system where PCs get the bulk (maybe 2/3s) of their XP from the same source and then bonus XP from somewhere else, based on class or personality, or possibly even alignment.

    3. As I recall, this was the RAW of AD&D 2e advancement. Fighter classes got XP for slaying things, wizard and cleric classes got XP for casting spells, Rogue-types got XP for treasure. It was a mess and most folks dumped it for some sort of "overcoming challenges" or "good ideas" or entertaining" play mix.

    4. What happened in 2e was thieves loot-spammed and stole from other party members, levelling up noticeably faster than anyone else (esp. given the low XP requirements for thieves.) I wish it was just the one group, but it was honestly pretty universal. Often players would just let the thief hold the gems till they got to town, got the XP, and then sold them and passed the money around. It was an easy system to hack.

    5. In my memory, thieves loot-spammed regardless of the XP system used.