Friday, January 23, 2009

More X.P. Babblings

I estimate that about 60% of my player’s X.P. comes from treasure.

Totals for treasure would normally be 40% coin, 20% gems and jewelry, 10% various luxury items such as expensive clothing, spirits, spices, rare books and so on, and 5% magic. The remaining 25% would be for armor and weapons, which the party usually receives experience for even though they don’t often carry them off, which is fine with me since the party has had to fight against these items (thus earning the X.P. that way).

A typical encounter such as the one I describe in my last post will give about 850 X.P. per main party member, 425 X.P. per henchman and 200 X.P. per secondary henchman. For example, the 2nd level fighter, Hig, is the shieldman for the paladin, Neema, who is the henchwoman for the mage, Garalzapan.

At 850 X.P. per encounter, the mage will have to fight about forty more battles before becoming 9th level. Though of course eventually the mage will have a battle royale with huge treasure that will make this happen much sooner.

It is now January. I would estimate that the mage, who has about 95,000 X.P. right now, will reach 9th level sometime in June. Possibly sooner, if the party gets decimated.

Party decimations are rare events but excellent for the survivors. The party winds up fighting something worth 20,000 X.P., with a total cumulated treasure of 50,000 X.P. Because of the devastating potential of the monsters involved (say, eight stone giants, fought simultaneously). More than half the party gets killed. Two main characters and one henchman survive. 70,000 X.P. divided by 2.5 = 28,000 for the main characters and 14,000 for the hench. Instant next level.

Course, it does depress those who die.

Generally the rule I’ve followed in the past is that if you die, no X.P., even if they raise you…unless the party is able to raise you immediately, while still on the battlefield, by means of death’s door, raise dead or resurrection. In which case you can get X.P. for the treasure, but NOT combat experience. That still gets divided among those who did not die.

The changes I suggested yesterday would mean that X.P. for damage was lost, but the general X.P. would still be distributed to those who were left.

My sense for yesterday’s comments is that as DMs, you fellows are not terribly interested in bestowing a lot of experience. 100 X.P. per hit die is fine, until you consider that there are a lot of special attacks and defenses, differing levels of damage and so on that make that system unworkable. You’ve got to balance your X.P. by the use of breath weapons and magic resistance—and this has always created a problem for me.

What if the purple worm which swallows on a 20 never actually rolls a 20? And should the 4+4 HD spider with poison really get 4 times as much X.P. for that ability as the 1+1 HD spider? Especially if you play that the character dies in any case? And what about a spider like the brown recluse, which clearly isn’t massive enough for even 1 h.p., but which is capable of killing a human being? How many X.P. does that poison give?

But I digress.

I have absolutely no trouble giving an entire party 7,000 X.P. after an encounter (as I did with the one described yesterday), primarily because I know I’m not making life easy for them. They had to fight hard to win that combat. As I play by the rule that a natural 20 is double damage, and a second natural 20 is triple damage, it was pretty fucking freaky that I rolled FOUR natural 20s in a row at one point for quintuple damage. I’d never done that before and sadly it only amounted to a total of 20. That alone was worth giving the victim the experience the victim got.

The treasure included no magic, and was a bit scant since the gnolls killed were a hunting group tracking down the party, but I gave bonuses for the value of a trained mastodon (added to general X.P.) and threw in a few nice pieces of jewelry on the useless cleric and the mastodon’s rider.

Why, I ask, would you feel you ought to cheat the party of such things?

I know that as a player I’d be pretty pissed if I spent most runnings sitting around having pointless Expositional dialogues with NPCs and that, when forced to fight in order to escape the kingdom with my life, the DM decided that wasn’t worth rewarding experience because they don’t give X.P. for combat.

Which of course puts the DM in the position of giving the Kindergarten Gold Star to compensate for these ad hoc restrictions. What do I mean by that? That as a player I somehow have to win the DM’s approval for my actions, rather than being able to count on the GAME DYNAMIC to reward me. I’ve played in campaigns like this. Invariably the DM always rewards their best friends, and often fails to respect brilliant, imaginative tactics which fuck up the DM’s carefully designed campaign.

Want an example? We had a DM once who provided us with enough diminution potion that would allow us to slip into a castle as tiny people without being seen. We literally had 30 quaffs of the stuff. Instead what we did was to feed the potions to 30 cows…which one of the characters then picked up in a blanket, flew 4,000 feet over the castle using wings of flying, and at the appointed moment cast a dispel magic on the lot, effectively SPOT BOMBING the entire facility. We then casually went in and mopped up.

Was the DM happy? Fuck no. He had spent weeks inventing little mazes inside walls and bug monsters which would attack us, none of which ever happened. So we didn't get a gold star. We got a shrill, whining infant who repeatedly had to be pushed forward with, "Give us ONE reason we can't do this."

Some of you might like our creativity. But generally, there’s always some way to make the DM unhappy, and the X.P. delivery system should NOT be dependent on the DMs prejudices.

If I had a player in a bar who decided he wanted to get X.P. for beating up the bartender, what’s wrong with that? It isn’t going to be much experience, and it will bring down the weight of the town guard, followed by the possibility that the bar’s patrons may not be 1st level dweebs. I don’t run a world where being poor means being low of level (as who knows how that person spent their youth), so you don’t pick fights with strangers because bar fights are like a box of chocolates.

But still, what do I care? I continue to argue that as a DM, it is not my job to tell the players how to spend their time.

Nor is it my job to give them gold stars for playing the kind of personalities that I approve of. It is my job to make a world. Period. You want to come to my world and be a BUM and lay in the gutter asking for change, I’m good with that. I will find a way to throw ordinary obstacles at you that will make the game interesting.

Well. This was a rambling post.


Chgowiz said...

Good rambles though.

I think you and I are thinking along the same lines about looking at XP not as necessarily just an automatic calculation but taking into account what did a party achieve and what kind of reward should they get? In the example yesterday, I kept thinking that if I were running a battle with a horde of gnolls, it should as hell would be more than 30xp * 25. I'd probably come up with some figure in my head and run with it.

And I hope my players carpet bomb my areas with cows. Hell, I might have to use that myself sometimes. The more fun they have with the challenges I present, then the more fun I'm going to have responding to their fun. All I do is provide the sand and the buckets - what they build or not build is up to them.

Jeff Rients said...

100 X.P. per hit die is fine, until you consider that there are a lot of special attacks and defenses, differing levels of damage and so on that make that system unworkable.

The system isn't unworkable, it's unfair. That's not the same thing and not necessarily an undesirable trait.

Christian said...

Your post reminds me of GMs who award xps based upon how well a player role-plays their character concept. Man, I always hated that. It was subjective, prone to whimsy and unfair to people who feel uncomfortable prancing around the table and talking like an elf.

Well, maybe there wasn't prancing...


Alexis said...


Read it again. You and I both hate the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I was reading your post and I was wondering how you give XP for treasure. I was thinking about creating a system to exchange gold for XP and I wasn't sure if a system like that existed.

Alexis said...

I typically give 1 x.p. per gold piece, when the gold piece is successfully seized. I've considered an idea by James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess where experience is given for gold only when the gold is spent on things which improve the player's lifestyle: clothes, property, rich food, etc. I haven't done that yet.