Sunday, December 10, 2017

Admitting Defeat

The other day I blogged about picking up a few 2nd edition AD&D books (used) in a moment of birthday self-indulgence. One of these books was the adventure Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. Return is one of those "silver (25th) anniversary" adventures put out by TSR shortly after TSR's acquisition by Wizards of the Coast; it is, of course, based on the old B2 adventure Keep on the Borderlands of which I've spilled plenty of internet ink. As I've only played 2nd edition on a couple occasions (even after it was published, my friends and I continued to use 1E), these were never a priority of acquisition, although I have owned Return to White Plume Mountain since it was first published...a lovely little adventure that greatly expands the original, creates several interesting challenges, encourages faction play, and has a nice little moral quandary and multiple ending "solution."

Nice art, but I prefer Roslov.
Return to the Keep on the Borderlands isn't quite as expansive, appearing to adhere much closer to its original source material (though I'm still in the process of giving it a really thorough read). It is also, much like the original B2, designed to be used with beginning players and characters, offering all sorts of tricks, tips, and advice to the new Dungeon Master which, as I recently mentioned is sadly lacking in the 2nd edition DMG.

Of special interest is the following note on page 3:
Dividing Treasure & Experience
The original D&D and 1st edition AD&D games gave experience points for treasure gained and monsters slain; 2nd edition AD&D shifts the emphasis to story awards and specifies that it's only necessary to defeat the foe, not necessarily kill them (sometimes it's better to take prisoners). For purposes of this adventure, the Dungeon Master is strongly encouraged to use the optional rule that grants experience for treasure (at the rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value); this sends the message to the players that there are a multitude of right approaches to take (combat, stealth, negotiation), not a single preferred method of play.
[a slight quibble, but per the 1981 Basic D&D set, "Experience points are also given for monsters killed or overcome by magic, fighting, or wits." Outright slaying is not required]

Emphasis added by Yours Truly.

While (as might be imagined) a crotchety old grognard like myself is inclined to cackle a bit upon reading this (oh, you finally figured out your 2E XP system was silly and counterproductive), I mainly find myself wondering why this reasoning wasn't carried over and implemented in later editions. After all, the author of Return to the Keep is John D. Rateliff, a WotC employee for years, and co-editor for both the 3rd edition PHB and DMG.  After all-but-outright conceding that an XP-for-treasure reward system is a road that opens D&D to something other than straight combat, WotC defaulted the other way, making the game about fighting monsters ever since.

Fuck, dudes.

I took the time to review my old 3E books this afternoon, just to see if there was some "optional rule" about calculating XP based on treasure I'd missed or failed to remember. Nope. Just challenge ratings and "story awards." I wonder what the reasoning was, what was discussed in the brainstorming sessions and design meetings when they decided this would be the way to go. Were they already considering the plethora of other-genre D20 games that would be published based on their proprietary OGL? I know that the OGL itself was developed as a tool to rope in and destroy D&D's competition in the marketplace.

Hmm. Maybe something to look into.


  1. Intriguing.

    I stopped giving XP for monsters killed, and treasure found around 1982' or 83'. It never made sense to me.

    For starters, my players and their PCs were rarely after the gold and the treasure. They preferred to save kingdoms, thwart evil, and perform other heroic deeds beyond killing squatters and stealing from the dead.

    Second, we played (and continue to play) a lot of games that don't really feature treasure or killing very often, such as Star Trek and Superheroes.

    Can both approaches work together? Is there a way to balance the two? Is it worth doing?

  2. @ BA (Adam):

    There's a some useful aspects that come from using a "gold standard" reward system. First, it's at least semi-believable (adventuring is the PCs' "career;" how else will they make money). Second, it's objective: they know the more treasure they acquire, the more "points" they get. Third, it's universal...all the players are on the same page as to what the "goal" is. Fourth, it provides variety: there are many ways in which to acquire treasure (not necessarily reliant on slaying).

    Finally, I've always considered it appropriate and sensible: given that adventuring is the PCs' career, the money they earn is a gauge and measure of their success. A person who is poor at their job earns less...especially when the job itself is "acquisition." But does it prevent the PCs from being "heroes?" No...they could acquire rewards from saving villages or ransoming captives or rescuing townsfolk in distress. An ogre or troll (or dragon) has been terrorizing the countryside? The extent of its "evil threat" is going to be commensurate with the wealth the creature has stolen/extorted, and defeating the monster should yield a rich payday.

    I will say this: I've played in (1st edition) games that do not involve a lot of traditional adventuring...more intrigue, role-playing, etc. But in those games, the acquisition of XP and level weren't as important, either. If you're not engaged in combat, why does it matter how many hit points your character has or what your THAC0 is?

    Having written all THAT...recognize that it's not the best reward system for EVERY genre of RPG. Superheroes, especially, aren't motivated by money/treasure. For other RPG genres, different reward systems are needed and necessary. The Enterprise isn't discovering new planets for exploitation (I hope!)...they get paid by Starfleet and have different motivations (usually related to duty or conscience). But for the fantasy adventurer genre? It works very well.

  3. Yes, I rediscovered the gold standard for XP over this past summer. Your post contains all the major reasons.