Gaming Tonic
8Mar/1212

Experience 5th Edition a New Way: A Call to Dungeon Masters

RPG think of the experience points teddy bearThe group of gamers that I play with regularly are a mixed bunch as far as their styles and tastes go in their rpgs. In my recent Dungeons & Dragons game this has really become apparent. Some of my players are more combat and adventure oriented, while others enjoy character interaction with other character, NPCs, and the environment.

5th Edition should take a different approach. Mike Mearls stated the goal of the new edition as this:

"We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game. In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire."

With the current system of gathering experience in 4th Edition D&D this is almost impossible to achieve in my opinion. The reason is that those who enjoy gaining in numerical power (hit points, feats, powers, etc) will want to fight things because even with a few meager quest rewards the bulk of all the experience gathering is done during combat. I would like to propose a different way for a DM to deliver XP to the characters that allows everyone to play the game with a relaxed feeling that doesn't favor one type of player versus another. Give massive quest rewards for completing the story.  Give far less XP for completing individual elements of the story.  This allows the adventure to unfold at any pace and rushing off to combat something doesn't necessarily gain you a level.  Lots of other systems use reward systems like this.

Now I will explain what I mean and how I propose it to work. Let's say that you are designing an adventure about a kidnapping of a princess that will take characters from 1st to 2nd level and that takes 1,750 XP to achieve.  What if the successful return of the princess was worth 1,350 XP for successfully completing. Then the other 400 XP were made up of combat, information gathering, trap finding, or whatever else you as the DM think is worth some experience points. This could be smaller quest rewards if you choose like befriending the local druid or return the signet ring found to the rightful owner.  I believe much more than combat should gain experience.  In life I have learned many things and my ability to drive a car is in no way because I was streetfighting earlier in the week.

This system might not make combat the focus of some of your players as there is less to gain.  Some players will still want to get in fights, that is just the nature of some gamers and the game.  There is no right way to role-play as long as your style doesn't interfere with the other players ability to enjoy themselves.  That is also true of the actor style gamer who enjoys long interactions with other PCs and NPCs.  Your style is fine as long as you bear in mind that other players may enjoy a different style.  The system for XP I have described above awards all the players when there characters interact with the environment that pushes the story forward as finishing the adventure is where the bulk of the XP are to be gained.

This would change the way parties operated when it came to encounters.  I rarely find myself in 4E taking the time to prepare a battle field, have the rogue sneak up and lure the fire giants back into a well designed trap.  I am tough enough and am aware that the rules are designed that whatever is challenging me should be defeated assuming I began the encounter with a reasonable amount of resources still available.  If your bow ranger lures the fire giants out of their lair while the rest of the party infiltrates and steals all of their loot and rescues the princess the adventure is successfully completed.  If the party goes in with swords and spells blazing and defeats the fire giants the the adventure is successfully completed.  The experience point reward would be the same because the mission was completed.  If you choose to give out XP for the encounter with the fire giants does it matter what tactic was used to defeat them?  Should the manner that the party used to defeat the fire giants and rescue the princess adjust the XP reward?  I don't think it should.

The current XP award system discourages creative thinking.  Since 4E isn't as deadly as previous editions and other systems this is magnified even more.  If we only learn by engaging in combat then why do school systems have zero tolerance policies in our public schools?  If we want to produce children who are capable then by the current system schools would be gladiator camps.  In my life I have learned many things from talking to other people.  I have learned much from researching.  A good role-playing game will include the opportunity for many elements for the players.  That is the duty of the Dungeon Master.  We could all learn to share the game better by experiencing the same goal regardless of how we get there.  Until next time Roll Hard!

Comments (12) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Since switching to 4e, I don’t think I’ve played any D&D adventures that tied XP to monsters killed. Instead, XP has been awarded by session or adventure module.

    Basically, you get XP or level up at story-based milestones, chapter breaks, the end of the adventure, or whenever the GM feels the party needs to level up to meet the next set of challenges.

    In fact, this method is so popular among my friends, we adopted it for our 3rd edition game as well.

  2. Great compromise! When I run I prefer to just tell the party when they level, usually this is after some story reward. Some players don’t enjoy this as much, following the experience chart rules adds a sense of legitimacy. Objective based rewards gives the same sense that the experience was earned, but also allows the creative thinkers to use outside the box strategy and tactics.

    I don’t always roll, but when I do I Roll Hard.

  3. I have played it all types of ways over the years. I enjoy just controlling the leveling process as the DM but in systems where you can spend XP on magic item creation it is a bit stickier as XP means something. When the 5th Edition DMG is released if it had one sentence that said “or just level at the DM’s discretion” then lots of gamers would relax because there is no definite rule to break. This is true of lots of situations in the game.

  4. I agree with the majority of this.

    One way to help is to change the terminology. For example, from your article: “Should the manner that the party used to defeat the fire giants and rescue the princess adjust the XP reward?”
    The word ‘defeat’ carries heavy connotations of physical conflict.
    Think of it like this – how different will the play responses be if you ask Players, ‘how are you going to defeat the Fire Giants” versus “how are you going to get past the Fire Giants”? Sure, you’re going to have some Players who immediately jump at the idea of facing them down with spears, swords, magic missles and ice themed magic, but you’ll also get more Players suggesting sneaking past them or negotiating with them rather than just combat.

  5. Personally I think leveling exclusively by DM fiat is not as satisfying. I do not mind it being objective based with bonuses for role playing, good and narrative appropriate ideas, being at the session (i know that seems silly but it is a staple in many systems), and for smaller goals like defeating monsters or disarming traps. But I find giving concrete reasons why experience is earned lends a sense of gravity to the players choices. Also magic item creation being a function of experience points is a silly relic from older iterations of D&D. The rationalization for it was to prevent magic item creation from “unbalancing” campaigns. the limiting factor on magic item creation should be in game resources like money and time and not nebulous meta-narrative statistics like experience points. Another benefit to concrete experience rewards is to help set a pace to character development, but there should be some sort of sliding scale for people who would like the pace to change.

  6. Oddly enough, the Warhammer FRP game I’ve been running handles experience points almost exactly like this.
    The idea is that a single point of experience can go a long way in the 3rd edition rules. With a single point a player can purchase a new talent or action card, train a slot in a skill, purchase a specialization in a skill, increase his Wound Threshold (Hit Points) by 1, etc. Now some types of character advancement, such as changing careers (classes) costs a little more and has more requirements.

    In all, I think handing out larger XP rewards at the end of a story/session, and/or making individual xp more valuable is a fantastic way to run a game.

  7. I totally agree with this. Xp should be based on success, no matter what method is employed to achieve it. Otherwise what is the motivation to do anything other kill every passing creature. That doesn’t enhance the story.
    Until 4e I always considered myself one of those players who only really enjoyed the combat part of the game. Now I find that (in LFR at least) much of the exploration and roleplay has been replaced with the skill challenge mechanic. I find I miss our old style of gaming. Hopefully Dndnext will change this.

  8. I think the idea that my character doesnt have to show up at the end bathed in the blood of many other evil races is great…. to many times does he have to sit by the fire resharpening his sword and cleaning the armor just to learn something…. from all of that all he really learned is that there has to be another way.
    finally here is a decent idea to keep us from having to kill anything that moves and is worth some xp… no more elephant grinding!!!

  9. Most dms, myself included, already do it this way. That is, level up the pcs along the storyline. I’ve played with maybe thirty dms over the life of 4e; not one has handed out xp after a session. Still, xp has its uses for encounters; the 4e method of using it to judge difficulty is quite handy.

  10. D&D 4E, rules as written, has XP for Skill Challenges, so it already works this way. Could Skill Challenges use better and more comprehensive system support? Absolutely – but it seems they won’t get it, now :-(

    A design paradigm I’m trying out: imagine a Skill Challenge of complexity 5 and the same level as a combat encounter. There could even be more than one tied to the same combat encounter. Each success in the SC gives some advantage when the combat begins (surprise, reduced foes, information on what you are facing, good starting position, etc.). Total success at the challenge means you completed the required task without actually fighting. Failure, at any stage, means a risk that the fight will start – maybe you need to kill a sentry (played out as a combat) quickly and quietly or the combat begins, with only those benefits you have earned in the SC so far.

    Now imagine that the SC is replaced with a system, similar to the 4E combat system but designed to handle social or exploration situations. THAT is what I had dreamed 4E would turn into with time. Alas, it will not be (except, maybe, in my homebrew, if I ever get time to complete it).

  11. I gave up on XP a long time ago and I just give out levels when I deem it necessary, my players feel alot more relaxed and the game can focus more on the story at hand.

  12. Yep, adding to the chorus here. I have enough on my plate with work, kids, storyline, organising adventurers, balancing the needs of players and running a session to worry about calculating xp. I think my players have figured out (after 9 levels) that they magically seem to level up just after the end of each adventure.

    Basically, I design each adventurer arc in 8-10 encounter blocks, be they combat, exploration, role playing or skill challenge (blerrrg) and just tell them after that block is complete “oh, you’re all on 10,483xp, which means you can level up!” (I just make up the xp total so at least it feels like I’m calculating something. This means they have no idea if any one of those encounter types are worth more xp than another (they’re not, I just tick off that an 1 encounter out of 8 has been completed) therefore combat and roleplaying encounters equally contribute to the pc’s moving forward – it’s just that there’s more combat encounters than anything else.

    This has the added advantage that players can miss a few sessions and still be at the same level as everyone else.

    As someone else above said, the only useful thing XP does for DM’s is working out an appropriate difficulty in a combat encounter: much easier than the CR system from 3rd ed


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