Monday, April 13, 2009

Experience Solved

I am in love with my new experience system.

Just to recap, as that was quite a few posts ago, I have started keeping track of experience according to the following principles:

A) 20 X.P. are awarded for every point of damage a character suffers.
B) 10 X.P. are awarded for every point of damage a character causes. This is subject to a few addendums: a magic spell which affects multiple persons gives experience to the caster only for the damage total of the spell; thus, a fireball which delivered 26 h.p. to four creatures would only award 260 x.p. to the caster, and only if one of the four creatures failed its saving throw. If all four creatures succeeded, the fireball would only give 130 x.p. to the caster. Other spells like burning hands, magic stone, magic missile, call lightning and so on work similarly. I am at the moment unsure of how to deal with certain death dealing spells such as telekinesis or cloudkill, which do not have a specific hit point motif. Thankfully, no member of my party has a spell of this level as of yet.
C) All damage caused against the party is totaled, multiplied by 20 and then distributed to those party members who were witnesses and who specifically took some kind of action in the events, even if that action failed to cause damage or the member was unharmed. This is in lieu of at least attempting to take an action, taking a risk, and thereby gaining experience from it.

The principle of this method is that experience is something that is gained more through suffering and failure than through success, and that it is a much more profound experience to endure damage than to inflict it.

The main problem is keeping track, as I am not used to doing more than saying, “take such and such damage” and then forgetting about it. Now I must keep records.

I have now been running this system for two months, for four runnings for my offline party and for my online party. No one has complained about a decrease in experience because of the change in system, nor has anyone suggested that experience has been higher lately.

Here is why I love it. The old system demanded a highly subjective declaration of the value of a creature’s special ability, which was then assigned a flat number based on the creature’s hit dice. It did not matter that the creature never got to use its particular ability before it died, or that the ability was pretty much useless against a party that were all armed with magic weapons or silver weapons or none of which were spellcasters (thus magic resistance is pretty much meaningless). It did not matter that a creature which surprises 4 in 6 was itself surprised, or that a cave bear never hit with both claws and got the opportunity to mawl. Nor did it matter that a dragon got lucky with its breath weapon or that players on this occasion consistently failed their saving throws against ghouls, whose X.P. bonus is rather paltry as they have only 2 hit dice. It was expected that the DM would make another subjective call in this situation and decide what experience to award in light of these instances.

Well, fuck subjectivity. Suddenly I find myself no longer having to be concerned about any special abilities a creature might have. I can even add or subtract special abilities at will, creating subspecies of each type of monster, without having to concern myself with what experience this might award due to the change. If a 20 hit point monster goes down without a fight (usually because I can’t seem to roll above a 4), the party gains 200 X.P. delivered to whoever gets lucky enough to hit first. If, on the other hand, the creature rolls astoundingly well, causing 20 damage to the party before dying, the party gains 1,000 X.P., with 400 of that distributed to everyone.

Combat experience freed from ad hoc formulas. If the creature doesn’t threaten you, you get squat.

The second thing I’ve noticed about this experience system is that the monster doesn’t have to die! If you do 12 damage to a hill giant, which then does 15 damage to you, and you think to yourself, “Fuck this noise, I’m getting out of here,” you still get 420 X.P., just for standing up to the creature for two rounds of combat. Tell me that doesn’t make sense. Tell me it wouldn’t be an eye-opener to stand toe to toe with a giant for the space of two rounds.

Plus the added bonus that the party doesn’t feel as if running away means it gets nothing, encouraging it to fight things out to the bitter end, however that turns out.

At this point I can’t see myself going back to the old way. The new way will definitely require some fine adjusting, as I discover monsters that don’t quite fit the system as well as spells I’ve already mentioned—but I believe I am on the right track. I should have done this years ago.


There's something else that occurs to me, that I meant to add to this post. It concerns magic users.

Typically, I have found that mages at low level run out of spells almost at once, but because of their low hit points they are hesitant to get into combat unless absolutely necessary. This is understandable: they have the same to hit table as thieves and zero-levels (poor) and no hit points. Often a mage will take armor as a spell, which will let them fight for a few rounds, but they typically miss and then fall back. I have always advocated that a low level mage should stock up on daggers and get comfortable standing back and throwing.

However, a side effect of this is that by 4th to 6th level, when it still happens that they will run out of spells, they will refuse still to mix it up--even though by now with a standard 15 constitution (hardly anyone running in my offline campaign has less than a 15 constitution) they have an average of 17 to 23 hit points. In other words, they can take a couple of solid hits with a sword, or a round against a vicious tiger, without dropping below zero. Altogether, I'd have to cause 30 damage in a round (given that death in my system occurs at -10 hp) to actually threaten them.

But they won't fight. "What's the point?" they'll ask. "I'm just getting damaged and I'm going to miss anyway"--since at 4th and 5th they're still on the crummy table. Usually, I'll try to explain to them that if they could kindly accept 20 damage from some monster in some round, that's 20 damage I'm not causing one of the fighters or clerics, thus enabling them to do their jobs. Come on, I tell mages, take a hit for the team.

Still they won't. It is inbred in mages to be cowards.

With this new system, however, if the mage insists on hanging around in the back, they might get some experience for getting a few spells off, but they're not going to get any bonuses for being damaged. This works for me in a mental kind of sense--if you as a person were afraid of being hit with a sword, and you perpetually hid from the possibility, then you would be ignorant of how to take the hit, or that the hit was not as bad as you thought (ie., it didn't kill you). The opposite of ignorance is experience.

So if a mage wants to advance in levels, the mage better be ready to get dirty.