Sunday, October 17, 2010

Experimenting with Experience Points Awards

Perhaps one of the most well-traveled topics on old school D&D blog and forums is the awarding of experience points. It's a topic that seemingly no single GM likes to do in the same way as the next guy--and least of all completely by the book. To be sure there is a good deal of buy-in on the need to keep gold for experience as a standard objective marker and spur to exploration, but there seems to be a persistent need to tinker around this standard.

I am no exception. I like the feel of good for experience, but could never really see a way around to what to do with all the player-accumulated swag. At first I fell back on my old simple stand-by, handing out either incredibly stingy amounts of treasure or finding creative ways to make it difficult to convert back into hard cash. The players were progressing at painfully slow rates though and it seem to undermine rather than spur the whole exploration impulse.

Moving from there I began to be won more and more to the “pay to progress” school of thought. Not the unsatisfying AD&D first edition of route of demanding high sums each time that level light bulb went off, but the old player-tailored ways of Arneson and company. What follows are the house rule system we've been using in our Labyrinth Lord tabletop campaign.

Experience Points
Players will receive small bonuses for each real-time hour spent in active exploration of a dungeon, wilderness or other dangerous environ. The baseline rate is 100 exp per hour, adjusted by the GM for the relative rigor of the hour.

Instead of simply earning experience for treasure, PCs gain experience from spending the treasure they have acquired. The rate of experience points to gold pieces spent varies by how a player opts to cash in his loot.

Ways to burn gold for experience:
  1. Carousing. PCs can receive 2 exp for each 1 gp of treasure spent in sword-and-sorcery-hero style debauched spending sprees (food, drink, romantic partners, fancy personal accoutrements, etc). Only 100 gp/per level can be spent this way. Obviously, no mentor or training down time is necessary, but there is a 1 in 6 chance that a “complication” may follow (mammoth hangovers, duels, hostile constabulary, angry spouses, etc). Roll on Jeff Rient's Carousing Table for results.

  2. Training/research. PCs receive 1.5 exp for each gp worth of treasure spent on training or research. The PC must find and recruit a mentor of the same class that is at least three levels higher than their current. Game time spent on training sessions will be determined by the GM. There is a 5% percent chance per 500 gp spent in such a way that a player will discover an “object of note” (a well-balanced sword, scroll, treasure map, or the like)

  3. Gear. Finally PCs can receive .5 exp for 1 gp spent on any other possessions mundane or otherwise.
Example: The Swordsman With No Name is a 2nd level fighter returning to the town of Marlankh flush with loot after a sojourn in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. His share of the treasure amounts to 633 gp. He promptly spends the maximum amount he can, 200 gp, on a drunken rampage and receives 400 exp. Fortunately he rolls a 5 and is free and clear of the worst aspects of said rampage.

Sobering up he enlists the help of a crazy old coot of a dwarf on the outskirts of town to help train him in the delicate art of sword-play. He spends 300 gp on this and nets 300 exp. Before the party's next outing to the dunes, he decides to buy 100 gp worth of gear, a new shield, iron spikes, an ungodly number of oil flasks, etc for which he gets 50 exp.
By the time of the next adventure into the Weird he has squeezed a total of 750 exp from the 600 gold he contributed to stimulating the fantasy economy.


  1. > Players will receive small bonuses for each real-time hour spent in active exploration of a dungeon, wilderness or other dangerous environ.

    That's interesting... I fear meta game consequences. I often award "I showed up" xp per session. Never thought about making it an hourly wage ;)

    xp is the major (mutually acceptable) method DM has to "manipulate" his players and their in game actions. Want them to be pansy roleplayers give them rp, puzzle, story awards. Want them to be menaces to society give them xp for killing. Want them to explore and (in theory) avoid unnecessary combat give them xp for treasure and discovery.

  2. We've given some xp beyond monsters and treasure:

    1. Adventure writeups: 10% (or 100, whichever is greater) for a writeup of the session. That 100 is a consolation prize for when the "baar eats you". If you died during the adventure, this would be awarded to your new character.

    2. New Locations. Some places are tricky, dangerous or unknown. Getting to them should be their own reward, but sometimes a bit o' xp emphasizes this. Variable to location - but only awarded the first time.