Saturday, December 8, 2012


Handling XP's is one of the most difficult parts of gaming for the designer, referee and players.  The system used to award XP to players says much about how the designer views the primary activities during play and what is most important to successfully play the game.  Thus, XP (and levels) are the yardstick in a game to determine a player's individual success. Adventure games are unique in this just as they are for not having a singular winning condition.

In classic D&D, XP is rewarded for killing critters and picking their pockets clean.  As you increase in experience, you fight tougher monsters (more XP) who give you more treasure (more XP). So the game is an ever increasing ladder of tougher creatures and bigger hordes of treasure as the characters gain XP. So what does this tell the player about kind of game they can expect to play? What does this tell the referee about the kind of game they should be creating?  Is there room in such a system for being anything but murder hobos? Conceptually yes, on terms of rewarding player efforts in the game  for doing so? Not so much.

When I was designing Heroes & Other Worlds, the question of awarding XP was troubling.  My own prejudices against treasure being a dual reward (better/more equipment & XP reward) meant no XP would be awarded for treasure.

Second, while I agree that tougher foes means better loot, that is also in itself the reward for the risk.  At one point in design, the XP of a foe was equal to the creatures ST. Yet, that did not last long in play test.  It worked, but it did not fix the original limitations I saw in D&D.  XP awards for the death of foes only leaves the range and options for players to interact/defeat foes rather one dimensional.

Last, being a game with a range of skills, I needed to insure every skill from sword fighting, to spell casting to tracking or acting had an equal XP weight in the game and the equal opportunity of being rewarded.  In other words, when all options or actions provide the same potential XP reward, then the adventure design potential becomes wide open for a referee, and the possibilities for players to act also becomes unlimited.

In Heroes & Other Worlds, you roll 3d6 for a test.  The sum of the roll is compared to the total of the Hero's Attribute+Skill level.  Roll equal to or lower...and you pass the test.  Each test passed earns you 3XP. That's it clean and simple.  Any test from casting a spell to freeze a Yeti, using a bow to slay a dragon, or juggling fruit for coins in the market, all provide the same XP reward.  This is the basic reward system. There is an advanced option the changes the reward amount for a success, but the system for rewarding XP is the same.

My goal as a designer was to reward action, and XP is rewarded equally for any successful action a Hero may choose to make.  There is no XP weight in the game towards combat, non-combat, or spell use. The system rewards successful actions of any kind equally. With this flexibility it is my hope Referees will be free to design adventures and situation open to multiple resolutions, and knowing this, Players will also feel free to pursue any option they can think of.


Anonymous said...

So far we've played one 4 hour sandbox session and one session testing the programmed adventure.

Having equal weighting to the non-combat skills seems to immerse the players in their characters actions at all times, not just in combat.

In the sandbox session the characters were split up at one point and had to travel back to Damkina. In many games they would just make their way back, relying on the odd wilderness encounter to provide some XP. My players each looked to their concept of their characters to get back - scrounging a ride on a cart, haggling a job with a merchant caravan, stealing a horse. Action, intrigue and picaresque exploration are equally rewarded through the XP system.

Within combat, non-martial skills, with one of the characters successfully employing Charm to plead for his life as a diversion, then Acrobatics to escape. So, you aren’t limited by Feats and always-optimal non-choices. Players aren’t punished for not choosing the uber-build.

As for writing a programmed adventure, I don’t feel I’m cheating players out of XP by offering non-combat, non-treasure options. Plus you end up able to emulate the wider fantasy genre rather than just emulate D&D.

Fenway5 said...

Thank you Geordie! It is gratifying to know that independent play confirms my own play testing and design. Thanks for your detailed post.