Friday, November 12, 2010

B/X Advancement Problems (Redux)

Got quite a bit of feedback on my last post in a very short time, and I can already see that people are not quite grokking my beef. let me just elaborate a little bit (and thank you for your indulgence):

RE: Slow Advancement = Normal Advancement

I understand that Holmes D&D is very specific in terms of loooong advancement times (i.e. many sessions between advancing). B/X does not specify a "fairly slow rate of advancement" and (I would say) implies a shorter time between design if not in outright text (see page B61). Part of B/X play (the "X" part) is definitely geared towards adventuring outside the dungeon and taking your games to other realms of adventure (including establishment of strongholds)...three years to reach Name level is waaay outside of my "acceptable limits" for advancement. Three years to get to the additional content? That's just crazy.

RE: Awarding XP for Hours Played

This is the absolute LAST thing I want to do. Reward systems shape behavior...I want players playing smarter, not just "showing up" to the game. I don't ever want to get in the habit of rewarding someone for sitting down at the table...folks have to do something!

RE: Awarding XP for "Mission Objectives"

Similar to the last note, I want to reward creativity...and mission objectives tend to put players on directional courses (i.e. they have the ability to railroad player behavior, even without railroading player action). For this reason, I don't like "mission objectives." I don't mind handing out the occasional XP bonuses for good play, but I want players to know up front what actions accumulate XP (for example, defeating monsters and acquiring loot), and then give them their own method of accomplishing those generic tasks. It's easy for mission objectives to become too specific.

RE: Re-Vamping the System

Re-doing the XP tables for monsters, changing D&D to a "silver standard" instead of gold...all this is, frankly, more work than I want to do. And re-calibrating the economy to make it more "medieval realistic" is definitely out of the question...I don't care that plate mail in B/X costs 60gp and leather armor costs 20gp...a rich adventurer (like any PC above 2nd level or so) should be able to afford whatever personal equipment he/she wants! My main concern is with requiring PCs to figure out ways to haul TONS and TONS of treasure.

I don't think Moldvay's Castle Amber is an aberration of adventure design...I think he stocks his adventure with the proper amount of treasure for a group of adventurers of the suggested numbers (6-10) or the suggested levels (3rd to 6th). He is working with the rules, and it won't take more than six or eight medium length sessions to get through the entire module...and the lower level characters will gain MULTIPLE levels during their stint in Castle Amber (I know, having run this module before). Higher level characters (6th) should still get one, or close to one, full level for completing it...and with weekly sessions, that still leaves at least 44 weeks of the year left over. Enough for 5 or 6 more (similar length) adventures with similar level advancement (i.e. 5 or 6 levels per year).

The PROBLEM with this is that he does it, by stocking the dungeon with a quarter million gold coins worth of treasure. Sometimes this is a single expensive piece of jewelry, sometimes it's 10,000 copper pieces (equal to 1,000 gp in value, but not in bulk/weight). Yes, for converting White Plume Mountain to B/X, I should have upped the treasure amount 5 or 6 times...but how the hell are PCs going to carry that much treasure out of the dungeon? Yes, that IS an interesting "challenge to the intellect;" but it is NOT the kind of challenge I'm interested in throwing at my players...compared to the frictionless room, the heat induction plates, the inverted ziggurat, the boiling bubble, or the mud cavern. The latter challenges are much more interesting, but the way the B/X game is written, the "treasure haul" challenge is going to be a large part of any adventure for characters of 5th level or higher...and it is a challenge that will be happening over and over again!

Reducing the amount of XP needed to advance seems the easiest solution to the dilemma, and the one I will probably end up taking. This is a subject I've found myself returning to (in my head anyway) repeatedly the last few months as I've considered level/advancement design for new role-playing games I'm considering.


  1. For White Plume Mountain you just give out xp for magic items because that's the math the author/TSR used when editing it (because it's an AD&D module). Every +1 sword the party finds is 200 lbs of gold you don't have to add to the dungeon.

  2. B/X does not specify a "fairly slow rate of advancement" and (I would say) implies a shorter time between design if not in outright text (see page B61).

    Please correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Moldvay only says that it takes 3-4 adventures/sessions to reach 2nd level, which is about right. He does not say that this is the same rate of advancement for every level, does he? Likewise -- and, again, correct me if I'm wrong -- the Expert Rules are themselves silent on this question, so I'm not sure you can draw a universally applicable conclusion from that small comment on B61.

  3. @ JM: As I said, I believe it is implied, not outright stated.

    Yes, it only specifically refers to achieving 2nd level. However this IS in contradiction to Holmes's least, I thought it was (I can't find the reference in Holmes to cite, so perhaps that's a slip of my memory).

    Regardless, as stated I do not think Moldvay's own Castle Amber is an aberration of dungeon stocking. Likewise, there is enough treasure XP in B2 to take an average size party to 3rd or 4th level (assuming survival).

  4. Holmes assumes 6 to 12 adventures per level and specifically states that this rate of advancement holds throughout a character's career, but that's likely because he follows OD&D in comparing a monster's Hit Dice to the level of the PC who defeated it to see if they get full XP. So a 3rd-level character gets only full XP for 3+ HD monsters, but 1/2 for 2 HD monsters and 1/3 for 1 HD monsters.

    Anyway, I think this is a case where the rules of B/X retain the assumptions of OD&D when it comes to experience gain and advancement, while (perhaps) the philosophy of the designers favored a faster rate of progression. So, from my perspective, the fault isn't with the rules themselves, which are definitely in line with OD&D, but with Moldvay/Cook, who didn't make adjustments to the rules to account for their (possibly) changed stance on advancement rates.

  5. I am doing two things:

    a. Use the house rule that players have to spend the money to get XP. So they won't be carrying around piles of money. It'll be interesting to see what bizarre things they end up bankrolling at higher levels.

    b. I will simply have stinking gigantic piles of coins, jewels, statues, and other junk. As far as logistics on getting it out of the dungeon, that's their problem, not mine. And as far as inflation goes, I'm not aiming for verisimilitude there. It just won't happen. Who's going to complain?

  6. I run the game as-is, and haven't had an issue of slow advancement. I throw in some big money-items during the game (amazing how fast you burn through the treasure when you hire an alchemist who costs you 3k a month to make potions, and occasionally find a cool item or two for about four to five times the cost they would have in 3e), but my last B/X game (actually LL/AEC game) ran up to level 9 in only a few months of play.

  7. I'm with Pat. I've found that after two years in the campaign requiring them to burn gold for xp that it just plain works. Advancement is at a decent pace (especially since I eased up on being so stingy); there aren't great mounds of cash accumulating; and they have interesting choices for where to put it all.

  8. It seems like a simple solution would be to multiply the xp per gold by a set amount. 5x or 10x XP per GP will still reward treasure hunting adventurers without having to re-write existing adventures.

    In my games (I play Pathfinder) I usually just level my players after each longer "adventure" (8-12 sessions), but I do understand wanting to emphasize the rewards for actually defeating foes and gathering treasure.

  9. I think there are a few relatively simple tricks you can pull. The easiest combo, for my money, would be multiplying how much xp the treasure is worth, while simultaneously reducing the weight of coinage to a more real-world level. At 50 or 80 coins to the pound, you no longer need nearly so many tons of gold; especially if you're including a lot of gems and jewelry in the higher-level loot.

    I also like the concept of requiring treasure to be spent to garner the xp. This keeps Conan and Fafhrd & the Mouser spending their cash and hungry for more. As well as giving opportunities for characterization in terms of WHAT exactly they're spending all that loot on.

  10. I think your solution is as sound as any other. I'm tempted to dispense with the xp-for-monsters killed rule, since "I think" that will lead to a more interesting game-style, one in which the players rob, intimidate and bargain with the monsters.

  11. @Pat
    I also like leaving the logistics to the players. In one of my modules, the big payoff is at the end, but getting it back to civilization is not "hand-waved." There are literally tons of coins, plus other treasure. An adventure where figuring such things out would be (to me) an interesting challenge.

    Another method is to place a comparable amount of treasure (GP value-wise), in a different form; like artwork, jewels, or gems. I find this more in keeping with adventure stories like Conan's "Jewels of Gwahlur" or "Tower of the Elephant" (or Hammett's "Maltese Falcon" for that matter) where a valuable MacGuffin is the goal, rather than stealing pocket change from orcs. You can decide whether to award the full GP value of the item(s) or just what they manage to sell it for is up to you.

  12. This isn't really a problem I've thought about, though in designing my megadungeon I was keeping in mind the amount of treasure I was putting in.

    It does seem there are a variety of options to choose from, and I'm going to have to keep them in mind for my PbP game.

  13. Is it just me, or has anyone else ever experienced the "Hell, with this recent haul, I'm a zillionaire in comparison, why adventure any more?" from a player who's just hit it relatively rich?

    I know that there are plenty of ways to get PCs to spend their hard won loot, potions, healing spells, general cost of living, etc., but it always seems like a cheap way out when the DM has to figure out a way to get PCs to spend their money in order to keep the motivation up. I've never been successful in getting someone to bite on the old "build a keep" line. A shortcoming of mine I suppose.

    Still...Once I start handing out high GP awards, it's always created issues.

    Anyone else have this problem too?

  14. i definitely see what you mean about hauling huge treasures around. Making my players deal with an overly-large treasure hoard was fun once, but i don't want to make it a regular feature of the game. That's part of the reason I adopted Delta's stone-weight system over B/X's coin-weight.

    500 coins per stone (roughly 36 coins per pound) and PCs carry stones equal to Str at 60'/turn, twice Str at 30'/turn. If you're not too concerned about the economic angle, or making the PCs overly wealthy, something like this can at least make those treasures a bit easier to haul around.

    I'm intrigued by the aspect of XP for magic items - had forgotten about that. I'll have to dig out my DMG and see if it's something I can harvest.

  15. three years to reach Name level is waaay outside of my "acceptable limits" for advancement

    With respect, I'd submit that this is where your "problem" lies. Since you've already established that the XP guidelines don't work within your "acceptable limits," maybe you should define--clearly--what those limits are, and then work backwards from there.

    For example, if you believe that a character should reach Name level after X sessions, then there's your formula for how many XP to award each session. Done.

    Otherwise, you're looking at a never-ending series of XP tweaks to approximate what you feel is acceptable.