I think experience awards can completely change the way the game is played.  The GM can weave NPCs with a myriad of needs and quests on an epic scale, and the players are still going to be truly interested in how their particular character gains in power.  If combat is the engine that drives character advancement, players are going to seek out combats.  In the hex-crawl portions of the game we’re playing now, the players are divided about using their non-combat skills to avoid encounters, or seek out encounters.  If they were being rewarded for finding gold coins, they’d pretty likely be spending their non-combat time chasing down leads for lost treasures instead.

Below is a list of the ways I could see awarding experience:

  1. Combat
  2. Completing Quests
  3. Finding Loot
  4. Spending Loot
  5. Exploration
  6. Class Specific Goals

Experience is one of the main carrots an RPG can provide for players, and the source of experience tells you a lot about what type of game you’re playing.  Old-school D&D rewarded acquisition of wealth.  This meant that players would focus more on bypassing potentially lethal combats in order to acquire it.  Acquiring wealth became a two-fold benefit, since you needed wealth for improved equipment and acquiring wealth also increased a character’s abilities. It encouraged a lot more combat as war, rather than combat as sport encounters.  Since combat itself was not assumed to be the engine of progress, combats were not assumed to be fair either.

I have some conflicting ideas on how to handle this.  One idea, designed to help squash the 15 minute adventuring day, is to make xp from combat worth variable amounts, depending on how many combats the party has been through since the last extended rest.  For example, your first combat after a rest would be worth 50% of normal, your second would be worth normal, third would be worth 150% of normal, and fourth would be worth 200% of normal.  The numbers probably need to be rethought, but that’s the gist of it.

Another part of me wants to change the game so that combat is no longer an end goal.  To do this, you’d remove all experience benefits from combats, and instead award experience for something else – something you want the game to natively reward.  In this case, I think I’d want to reward experience for the completion of quests and mini-quests.  I think the idea of rewarding experience for acquisition of loot is out for two reasons.  Number one, acquiring loot tends to be its own reward.  I don’t think the game needs to work too hard to motivate you to find it.  Second, I think old school D&D was built around the concept that the quest goal WAS finding loot.  Rewarding the acquisition of wealth was the immature version of awarding experience for completion of quest goals.

One issue I can see with this method is: who decides what’s worthy of a quest reward?  Most of  the time, this probably isn’t a real issue, but it does beg the question a little bit of who is driving the game, the GM or the players.  I’m not sure anything formal needs to be done about this – I think the GM can seed the world with some hooks and see which way the players want to interact with it, and then award XP as they complete either the seeded goals, or ad-hoc experience as they achieve goals of their own design.

Another option is to combine several methods.  Maybe some percentage of the experience is awarded from combat, some is awarded from quest completion, and some is awarded for exploration.  At first, I was thinking this sounds pretty complicated to both balance and to manage during play, but the Kingmaker campaign from pathfinder does exactly that (xp awarded for explored hexes, xp awarded for combat, xp awarded for mini-quest completion, and xp awarded for kingdom milestones!).  To be honest, and maybe this is because I’m not a player, I don’t notice the XP as much coming from all the different directions, probably because a bulk of the XP is still coming from combat.  I wonder whether the players feel motivated to explore more hexes because of the xp award (100 xp per player per hex!), or whether they feel compelled to grow their kingdom because of the potential xp awards that can provide.

I think on a whole, I’d want to reward those three elements (quest completion, combat, and exploration) and the real question is how to do it.  I think the first step will be to put together a regional map and sprinkle xp awards for exploring various areas of it.  For example, finding the lost temple of the moon might be worth 100 xp, and traveling to the black fire of Uhl might be worth 500 xp.  These exploration xp awards would probably need to be categorized and then given a consistent xp bonus award.  Categories might be based on the distance from the starting location, remoteness of the area, level of wonder, whether the location was hidden or secret, and level of danger involved in finding it.  In theory, a party could decide to increase their percentage of experience that comes from exploration by becoming explorers and purposefully exploring as much as the world as possible.  That sounds fun to me, so I don’t think there needs to be any mechanical adjustment for it.

Experience for combat would follow the 50%, 100%, 150%, 200%, 250%, 300% etc rule.  This might need to be adjusted, for example if the party faces some minor little encounters first (or even meta-game seeks them out) they could artificially inflate their xp.  I would need to mechanically address the issue of different weighted combats.  I think experience would be static based on the power level of the creature fought.  Similar to a core resolution mechanic, we can push the escalating strength of monsters in terms of experience into the static numbers needed to level.

Quests would account for 50% of the experience.  There would need to be some categories for quests, with major quest arcs being a significant amount of xp.  I’d like for quests to be enough experience that it would sometimes make sense to avoid combats in the completion of quests in order to speed up quest completion.  I wouldn’t want a party seeking out every combat in order to maximize the experience gained for the quest.  In theory, with experience award from the quest should be enough that bypassing some encounters would actually allow them to potentially complete more quests for quicker gains.  I want the party to be heroic, but seeking out lethal combats for meta-game experience purposes seems like an issue the experience reward system could mechanically address.

With all of that being said, I could also just do away with the experience point issue, and let everyone who survives a standard session level up.

15 thoughts on “Experience

  1. Andy

    For me, the 100 xp per hex isn’t motivation to explore at all. I’d actually be a ton more motivated if I could actually “unlock” options for my character or future character. In fact, I’d say that’s pretty much why we do it. Not for the 100 xp, but because it feels like roleplaying that we’d be exploring our kingdom and meeting the people. I don’t think the xp is enough to even notice at this point.

    1. Andy

      I also like where you’re going with the “goals.” Maybe every character should have to develop a few personal goals (some short term, some long term). When they accomplish those goals they get XP. When they accomplish main story goals they get xp. I agree with you that combat should reward a much lower portion of xp. I also think that if levels matter less (as we’re focusing more on lower level play,), then it won’t matter all that much if someone accomplishes their story goal first and then is able to level. Theoretically all the story goals would have to be weaven into the campaign though, which would again be more work for you. But the good kind of work, not the work of spending an hour making a monster that gets hacked apart in 5 minutes of game time.

      1. JackOfHearts Post author

        I have trouble figuring out what class goals should be, or even forcing individual goals on people – I think that’s pretty hard for experienced players to come up with, let alone more inexperienced players.

      2. Andrew

        I always liked that aspect of MMOs. I remember really enjoying the summoner’s quests for WOW where you had to go acquire each different summon’s soul.

    2. JackOfHearts Post author

      Would it matter if the xp was ramped up? For example, finding Candlemere tower might have been worth 500 xp, finding the valley of the dead might have been worth 750, etc.

      1. Andy

        Yeah it might. I dunno though, KM might be a bad example. We basically feel like we should explore all the hexes anyways so I don’t know that we really deserve bonus xp. XP is rewarding when you do something challenging. Just going to the next hex doesn’t really give you the euphoria of being a badass adventurer.

    3. Andrew

      Totally agree. The experience is a nice bonus, but I want to explore hexes now for encounters and finding new things

  2. Brian

    So what if you had two different experience tracks…Perhaps one is for combat – and applies towards your feats/character advancement/levels the other being more of story xp – as you advance this track maybe you have better access to weapons or allies – maybe services get cheaper…not sure but I think this might help get combat only oriented groups more interested in story elements (can’t fight tougher monsters without a little equipment boost) or can’t find jobs/missions of great renown without a good community network.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I always thought of having a “renown” stat, but was never quite sure how to objectively run it. I still think I want experience to come significantly from quest/story goals. What people seem to care about, for the most part, are options and mechanical combat improvements. I’m afraid the game would still be about combat if that’s the only way you improved your character’s combat prowess.

      1. Andy

        I like the idea of renown a lot. Lots of video games have it. But yeah, very hard to do and I think it would BY DEFINITON have to be behind the GM screen only. If the players know how it works then it ceases to be cool. Instead you just start making decisions to raise a stat instead of playing your character. But I like the idea that your characters decisions impact how people perceive them. Not sure a stat is really necessary.

  3. Brian

    Perhaps the reason we care about combat is because most of our xp and benefits derive directly from combat. Having a renown stat very well could be beneficial to the characters fighting ability…magic items may be available to high renown characters, certain feats could be tied to renown – much like training with a sword master…prove yourself in the world and then talk to me…

    I don’t think this has to be behind the screen either. As I wrote above – you can tie in feats or equipment availability to higher renown levels giving characters an incentive to be much more than a walking tool of destruction. There are plenty of level requirements within pathfinder that limit your choices based on skills or attributes. Why not just separate them out and have requirements for renown.

    Smitty the magic sword maker makes a few precious weapons per decade…will he want his treasures in the hands of a snot nosed punk noble using daddy’s gold or would he want his weapon to be used by a world class hero of good to slay mighty devils….

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I agree, that makes sense. The hard part is figuring out how to award it and how to scale it. If you slay an ogre in the woods, and nobody was there to see it fall, did you really slay it? Is renown related to one faction vs another? Like light/dark force points in star wars? In some ways, it almost has to be baked into the setting.

      1. Brian

        I don’t think you have to tie renown into a certain faction, but you could certainly see consequences of your type/amount of renown in dealings with different factions. If you are known through rumor to be a Robin Hood type figure then your standing within different groups would be affected. I think the light/dark is a good place to start. It is simple enough to create mechanics for, but allows for some good opportunities for getting away from solely combat oriented gameplay.

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