For Gold and Glory
For years I did not have to face giving away experience points as a DM, because there are no XP in my favourite game: the Saga-System. It uses adventuring days, and you merely have to keep track of active days of adventure and skill use.
Now, that I started a campaign using the Basic Fantasy RPG XP distribution matters again. The player characters started out on level 1 with no XP. After the first session they had about 50 XP, and 200 XP after the second session.
That's not much, I gather.
I gave away XP for encounters, and the gold, and treasure they brought home. And that's the rule for experience points I told my players: Your characters receive XP for encounters (defeated, overcome, evaded, and otherwise successfully interacted with) and the gold they brought home.
Remember that Swuff&Slobosh, the player characters, are a treasure hunting dwarven fighter and a human thief. Both players are beginners. They know that the game system is quite deadly, so they do not charge into combat unhesitatingly. What they have not grasped, yet, is that gold has to be brought back home, or otherwise secured in a place they have access to, that treasure has to be sold.
They found a secret place in the woods, a home whose two inhabitants had been turned into undead skeletons. It obviously has not had any looting visitors before. The PCs defeated the skeletons, but Slobosh took a severe hit, and was down to 0 hp bleeding to death. Swuff bandaged him, and managed to haul him back to Morgansfort on a stretcher where his wounds were treated by Father Thelbain.
Then the session was over. Swuff had brought with them some silverware, an expensive mirror, and some coins.
Slobosh will have to recover first, and then they may try to find the secret place again, and haul back some more of the household to gain more XP.
I like the simple approach of XP for encounters, and XP for gold, because it obviously is a rule of a game. There is no need to simulate learning processes.
Back in the teenage days when we played Das Schwarze Auge (DSA 1,and 2) and AD&D 2nd Edition I placed heavy emphasis on XP for participation and good role-playing.
Today you'd hear me snigger thinking about it. Players who do not participate should leave the gaming table. Participation is part of the game, and it is every player's (including the DM) job to make the game interesting, and worthwhile.
And good role-playing, ha! What did I expect? Professional acting? I fourteen-year-old being able to convincingly portray a veteran elven warrior-mage? Nonsense.
No XP for good role-playing. An occasional ruling, however, is possible: great session for everyone? Of course, I'd give out some extra XP - to everyone.
Hard earned XP
I'm no advocate of hard earned XP. Players should know that they earned the XP with their PCs by playing the game. If they decide to take on any dangerous encounters, they earn XP the hard way, should they survive. But I do not advocate putting a leash on the PCs and keeping them short on XP.
I did not give away too many XP in the first sessions, because the player characters faced only few encounters, and brought back little treasure.
When I think of money, I do not think of wealth, but of possibilities, options, different paths before me. Without money some paths are restricted. Some steps can never be taken.
When I think of experience, I think of possibilities, options, different paths before me. Without experience some paths are restricted. Some steps can never be taken.
The 1 gp equals 1 XP rule should not be taken to extremes. Finding a treasure hoard with a million gold pieces will not boost your first-level fighter to level 15. There are restrictions within the game system. Basic Fantasy allows PCs to advance only one level from XP gained in a single adventure.
The fighter would be well-advised to guard the hoard, keep it secret, and take home shares of a thousand gold pieces per session.
However, I like the idea that experience, and gold allow the player characters to have a certain influence on the game world. They have options they would not without.
I would then define character development, in general, as the amount of influence the player characters gain on the game world.
Other aspects of character development are:
- knowledge of the game world: roads, places, people, history
- magic items
- game stats: more hit points, higher attack bonus etc.
- fame (put those bards to some use, and have them compose songs of your heroic deeds)
- retainers, and hirelings
- friends, and contacts
Some player characters strive for more adventures, more treasure, and more challenging monsters (or they ego-boost themselves by clobbering hordes of 1HD-1 foes ...)
But, in order to device influence you need a plot.
So, here are some questions that deserve an answer:
- What do the player characters believe is their story (or part) within the game world?
- And how can they make use of their influence to spin the story in a favourable direction?
- And what steps in character development would they have to take in order to gain further influence and make still bigger things happen?
What is the truth about experience and the game?
It may be quite simple: Play the game to become better at it.