Man, my brain has really been addled by all things D&D lately ("The Sleeper has awakened!")...if I wasn't so busy with a gazillion other things, I could/would be posting multiple blog entries on a daily basis (and probably still find the time/energy for drafting some campaign notes/house rules). *sigh* Such is life...when I have LOTS of time on my hands, my inertia always seems to be the other direction.
ANYway, I was combing through a bunch of old Dragon magazines the other day (specifically the first 50 or so), looking for a particular article, and kept coming across little buried "gems," pertinent to my own thoughts and musings. As I've often found over the last ten years of blogging/researching there really isn't all that much new under the sun...people have been obsessing and coming up with ideas and putting 2 and 2 together for a long, long time. The execution wasn't always quite right, but the early days of the hobby were still "early days;" lots of stuff hadn't been worked out yet. And yet some of our adaptations of these ideas (or decisions to go 180 degrees directions, in certain instances) are/were even more flawed than the original stab at the kernel of a concept.
[I'll give you one quick example: I've recently come to the conclusion that Alexis Smolensk's system of awarding experience points based on damage inflicted and received (in addition to XP for treasure found), is really the only sensible way of handling combat/encounter XP, and have decided that I'll probably adapt it wholesale in my next campaign. Welp, Dragon #36 (April 1980) already proposed this variant system ("Experience Points to Ponder: A New System" by William Fawcett). Alexis has the advantage of a bit more thoughtful design and about a decade of play testing...but someone had a similar idea (and for the same reasons) almost thirty years prior]
But I don't want to get sidetracked...the reason I decided to open up Ye Old Laptop and post something (instead of doing what I should be doing) is because I just have to mention this idea from Dragon #28 (August 1979). In an article entitled "Level Progression for Players and Dungeon Masters," writer Jon Mattson proposes a method of awarding experience points to players and DMs (not characters) based on their actual gaming experience, in order to provide an objective measure of ability.
This is something I've been thinking about for years, and only more so since considering the discussions I've had (both on the internet and in-person with other designers) about the possibility of training or certification for game masters. My opinion is that some sort of training for individuals who want to run games is not only desirable but necessary, and that the lack of good, codified training is detrimental to the hobby (some of my blog posts have mentioned this in passing). But I've often wondered how one would go about certifying a person as a credible, proficient GM.
Because here's the thing: it really doesn't matter all that much to me how experienced a player is at a table (neither as a DM or a fellow player), but it matters a LOT to me how competent a Dungeon Master is running the game. Because my enjoyment of a game session hinges on whether or not the DM can do his or her job at the table. And it is, frankly, very difficult for me to come back to the table of a DM whose game I neither appreciate nor respect (I don't think I've ever walked away mid-game from such a DM...I'm a little too polite for that...but I have come away from game sessions feeling frustrated, angry, and vowing to never waste another chunk of my time with that same dungeon master)...even if the person running the game is a friend that I like and respect.
Mattson's article provides the following experience point awards for DMs (he also provides some awards for playing/running other games that might have a certain "carryover" effect, but I'm just going to stick to the ones that are Dungeons & Dragons specific):
Per campaign* of basic D&D you play: 60
Per campaign* of basic D&D you DM: 900**
Per campaign* of Original D&D you play: 80
Per campaign* of Original D&D you DM: 1200**
Per campaign* of Advanced D&D you play: 100
Per campaign* of Advanced D&D you DM: 1500**
* Mattson considers a campaign to be "one full adventure, i.e. if a group of characters set out to explore a five level dungeon, the whole five levels (and only those five levels) would count as one campaign." While I take this to mean that XP is not awarded every session for a multi-session, site-based adventure, the article does not indicate what counts as finishing a "campaign;" should a DM be awarded full XP if a party abandons an adventure site, or if the delve ends in a Total Party Kill? I'm inclined to say "Yes" since that's the outcome of the "campaign," but I'm not sure that's the author's intent.
** Per Mattson, only two-thirds of this amount is awarded if the DM did not design the adventure (for example, if a published module was used). This seems reasonable to me, awarding one-third XP each for writing/designing, game prep, and actual running.
Being written in 1979, the only "basic D&D" the author could be referring to is the Holmes-written basic set. B/X (published in 1981) is much more similar in complexity and rule scope to OD&D and I'm inclined to put both it and the later BECMI in that category. 2nd edition AD&D would go into AD&D, and you could probably put all "later editions" (3rd, 4th, 5th) there as well...but then some might argue that the objectives of play are so different for later systems (especially 4E) that they really need to be put into the "other games" category for simple "carryover" XP.
[maybe you'd need to have "multi-class DMs" these days with XP split between Old and New school. Ha!]
The advancement table for Dungeon Masters in the article looks like this:
Level 1: Initiate 0-1499 experience points
2: Apprentice 1500-2999
3: Expert 3000-4499
4: Overseer 4500-5999
5: Supervisor 6000-8999
6: Moderator 9000-11,999
7: Mediator 12,000-17,999
8: Arbitrator 18,000-24,999
9: Referee 25,000-34,999
10: Referee, 1st Class 35,000-49,999
11: Judge 50,000-74,999
12: Dungeonmaster 75,000-99,999
13: Dungeonmaster, 13th level 100,000-124,999
14: Dungeonmaster, 14th level, etc. 125,0000 plus 25,000 per level after 14th
[ha! There's also a note that Dungeonmasters of 18th level or higher may also be called "Overlord." I dig on that!]
I'm sure that some folks reading this are going to just shake their heads and call it all ridiculous. After all, the mark of a good DM should include something about how they're evaluated by their players, right? How they interact, how they arbitrate, how they smooth over difficulties and deal with troublesome issues? Not to mention how they improvise and adapt, how they role-play monsters and how much fun is had by all? Certainly, if a DM is giving the impression to everyone who joins the game that he/she is an asshole, it shouldn't matter whether they've run five adventures or five hundred, right?
Maybe. But maybe we need to have some concrete "measurables" to measure. Maybe there is something about a person who writes, preps, and runs a game getting better at writing, prepping, and running games. And maybe that's kind of important when you're emphasizing the game aspect of the hobby and not the "oh, it's just another way to socialize and interact with buddies in a casual, geeky fashion." Sure, yes, that's a thing...but some folks want a higher standard of gaming. I know I do.
Mattson's article isn't a bad starting place for such a discussion. Going over my own DMing history (as best I can remember it), and sticking with only these XP awards (and counting B/X play as "basic" rather than OD&D, and not counting any post-2E experience), I'll say I conservatively calculate my own experience as 65,420, giving me a rank of "Judge," but being about 10,000 shy of "name level." If I upped the awards for B/X campaigns and included awards for other games I've run (there have been many...including 3E D&D), it's possible I might crack 12th or even 13th level, but I'm inclined to leave it as is...a good indication of my "rank" in terms of Old School D&D.
Which...frankly...is about all I care about these days.
And which ALSO means, I've got room to grow. I'd certainly like to be worthy of the "Dungeon Master" title ("Overlord" seems like a pipe dream any time in this lifetime). But, being honest here, I've still got plenty to learn and discover. "Judge" actually sounds about right (I'm pretty judgmental). "Mastery" is something I'm working on.
Anyhoo, I welcome thoughts and ideas on the subject, and ways one might use this (or a similar) objective system to analyze quality, skill, and competence...or any differing opinions from folks who feel this line of thought is unnecessary or impossible. Also, I invite anyone who feels so inclined to post how they level themselves (using this system) in terms of "old school DM experience." To be perfectly honest, I'd like to see how I rank in comparison to the other DMs out there.
Just please: no taking XP for 5E games. I don't care if they're run in an "old school" way or not.