Monday, November 28, 2011

XP and Levels

It seems that I am not the only one thinking about the issue of XP and levels. I am not really comfortable with the way Lamentations of the Flame Princess is handling XP. You get them for treasure, but relatively few for slain monsters. Partly because in Lotfp you're not expect to slay that many monsters.

Handing out XP for treasure has its own issues. Because suddenly I feel compelled to place enough treasure everywhere so the PCs can level up. To me that's not helpful. If they don't find the treasure, they don't level up and I can't bring on greater challenges. For my group that's further complicated by a player pool-style of the campaign.

Therefore, I need another solution. Either I am going to hand out a large sum of flat XP each session. So that you can be sure if you show up, you'll get maybe 750-1.000 XP per evening plus XP for monsters. Also, I tend to award additional XP, if you come up with something game-related that makes the game more fun for the other players or the GM. That could be, but is not limited to: a character portrait (either self-drawn or found on the internet), a character backstory (nothing fancy, just a couple of sentences describing who you are, where you are from and what you want) or even a session log. That would fit right into an XP model. Say 1.000 XP for attending and 500 XP per thing you do for the game.

That's huge chunks of XP at lower levels. But that's me. I want to play through the low levels, but not get stuck there for ages.

The alternative system would be to award a new level as soon as the character has participated in a number of game sessions either equal to his level, equal to his level +1 or even double his level. Thus honoring the investment of time and getting each character to advance roughly at the same time. I am not worried about game balance for the same reasons the blog post mentioned earlier isn't. You are hyper-specialized. You can as well get better at the same time everybody else is.

But currently, I think I am going with the flat XP model for honoring the time spend in the game.


  1. I've been playing in a game that pretty much awards flat XP. What I really miss is a sense of success. No matter how much and now well I play the game, I don't see it reflected in my character's advancement. If I do well, I expect to be rewarded justly. This just doesn't happen.

    At the same time, I see your problem and have the same difficulties (too much treasure lying around just doesn't do it for me).

    One of the things I've done is to have to a few huge treasure cashes spread scarcely throughout the dungeon. That way it doesn't feel like gold is just lying around everywhere for character's to pick up. And when they do find something, it's quite significant, and praiseworthy.

    That being said, I'm not trying to convince you to change your methods. If it works for you and your players, then great!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. I much appreciate that. You are right about the sense of accomplishment. That's why I would hand out XP for defeated monsters.

    Maybe the key would be to use a higher XP award for defeated monsters, and have the flat XP account for 500-750 XP per session. Hm...

  3. The problem with going to monster XP without treasure XP is that it leads to a much more blood-thirsty game; in my experience, at least, players then tend to approach all monster encounters with the goal of killing the monsters, rather than reasoning with them, avoiding them, or tricking them. Another thing to consider is giving exploration XP (per hex or something).

    An approach that I have been toying with is leaving the level system in place, but deemphasizing it in terms of PC power. This would probably involve more houseruling toward 3LBB-style OD&D, but my thoughts are not yet fully formed. That is, I want to flatten the power curve so that a 10th level character is not that much more powerful than a 1st level character. This also might fit a nonlinear hexcrawl game better, as the PCs might go in any direction. I'm not sure if this would work psychologically (players are really used to the level system), but I think it is a worthy goal.

    I was partially inspired by this thread regarding handling monster challenge level.

  4. I was going for flat XP (instead of treasure), plus monster XP (granted for defeating not neccessarily slaying the monsters).

    But I like your suggestion about explored hexes (and taking this further to explored dungeon levels). I remember that MERP handed out XP for miles travelled.