Friday, October 1, 2021

"Story Awards"

[file this under the "bashing someone's edition" category]

Comments on my Wednesday post had me going back and forth a bit with Dan regarding 2nd Edition AD&D and its reward much so that I had to go back to my battered copy of the 2E DMG (I keep one on hand for reference) and try parsing out the system yet again. 

First, a note on my experience with 2E: it ain't much. I quit playing AD&D around 1988 after my original gaming group "broke up." Met some kids in my high school who still played, but A) they continued to play 1E even into the '90s, and B) D&D just wasn't my "scene" any more (at that time). We gamed together, but it was generally Palladium, Vampire, Stormbringer, or something weird (Toon or random shit). Later on, in my 20s and looking to get back into D&D I delved deep into the RC/BECMI realm...and could find no takers. So I decided to buck up and get the 2E books. Ran one aborted game (the group dissolved in argument before we even started) and played in another with an experienced 2E DM...however, while I had fun with the latter the whole thing degenerated into a shit-storm because:

A) we wouldn't play on the DM's rails, and
B) all the PCs had different agendas

[the party consisted of a ranger, a rogue, and a "war-priest" (this latter being a mechanical fighter who fashioned himself the holy man of a god who did not grant spells or turning ability, but instead allowed edged weapons and better combat prowess). The ranger was happy to do whatever (as long as he could shoot guys with arrows), the "priest" wanted to build his religion (asserting dominion over bandit groups and whatnot by besting their leaders and converting them), and the rogue was being played like an old-school thief, picking pockets, sneaking around and stealing shit, etc. The DM eventually threw his hands up at trying to manage us into his adventure]

I own exactly three 2E-era modules, and only one of them have I tried running (as a 1E adventure); two of them I picked up"research" purposes. We'll get to those in a minute. Point is: not much experience with 2E. Had a buddy in college that wanted to start a 2E campaign (can't remember, but he might have wanted ME to run it. Didn't happen), but that never got off the ground. Still, while I have read the books, once or twice, I'm far from an expert on 2E, nor have I any experience of running or playing in a 2E campaign. Its nuances are bound to escape me.

[oh, wait...I did some SpellJammer stuff with/for Steve-O. That's 2E, right? But that was a loooong time ago; we played far more Rifts than SJ]

Back to yesterday...Dan wrote:
You keep calling Individual XP "standard" when it's specifically called out in the book as an optional rule. Never used it, and never played with any else who used it either.
Dan is correct. On page 46 of the 2E DMG; here is what it says in the Experience Point Awards section:
There are two categories of experience point awards: group and individual. Group awards are divided equally among all members of the adventuring party, regardless of each individual's contribution. The idea here is that simply being part of a group that accomplishes something teaches the player character something useful.

From a strictly game mechanics point of view, this ensures that all player characters will have the opportunity to advance in experience points at roughly the same rate. Individual awards are optional, given to each player based on the actions of his character and his character's class.
Emphasis added by moi. This is the only place where it is noted that class XP awards are is NOT noted on page 48 (where the class awards are listed), although there is a side bar regarding individual awards for clever ideas, role-playing, encouragement of others, etc. that is EXPLICITLY noted as being an "optional rule." When you list one "optional rule" in a sidebar to another section, I think you can be forgiven for making my mistake (especially when the section text begins with "there are two categories of XP awards: group and individual..."). Ah, well. 

[I will note my one stint playing in someone's 2E game, these individual awards were NOT deemed optional, which was part of what led to our breakdown in play: fighter was trying to fight, thief was trying steal, etc. Does not make for a cooperative atmosphere]

SO there are only two ACTUAL, non-optional XP awards in 2E: combat awards (hello 3E, 4E, and 5E!) and story awards. Combat awards are strictly mechanical: there's a table based on a defeated opponent's level/HD which is modified by special abilities...very similar to all prior editions of D&D. The "story award" is different; here's what the text says:
This other group award is that earned for the completion of an adventure. This award is determined by the DM, based on the adventure's difficulty. There is no formula to determine the size of this award, since too many variable come into play. However, the following guidelines may help:

The story award should not be greater than the experience points that can be earned defeating the monsters encountered during the adventure...

The story award should give a character no more than 1/10th the experience points he needs to advance a level...

Within these guidelines you have a great deal of leeway. 
There is more to the section but it offers nothing concrete, only discussing how XP is used to monitor (and regulate) character progress, some notes about handing out arbitrary "survival" awards (properly noting "survival is its own reward"), and penalizing XP earned by PCs that died during an adventure.

What isn't discussed is...well, a lot. Like the fact that different character classes require different XP amounts to level so that "one-tenth" limitation isn't going to apply equally among classes. Nor is there a discussion of what constitutes a "story" or its "completion" or what to do when the party deviates from what the DM feels is the story proper.

[is Bilbo's story about killing a dragon or is it about stealing some gold from its hoard or is it about finding self-reliance, courage, and leadership? And is his story the same as the Thorin's?]

So, I spent the morning digging through the closet in my office (a monumental feat if you've never seen it) to find the three 2E adventures I own for a little guidance on this whole "story award" thing; they are: Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (John Rateliff), Return to White Plume Mountain (Bruce Cordell), and Night Below: an Underdark Campaign (Carl Sargent). Hoo-boy!

As I noted back in 2017, Rateliff in RtKotB strongly urges DMs to use the "optional" (old edition) mechanic of giving XP for treasure found. This in addition to "any appropriate story awards." Regarding the latter Rateliff writes:
Appropriate story awards are listed at various points in the text; generally speaking, rescuing hostages, defeating the plans of evil characters, and eliminating a threat to the Keep are all achievements worthy of experience point awards. For each cave in the Caves of Chaos that is completely cleaned out, give the group a story award. 
He then lists some actual numbers: 100 XP for Caves A through E, 200 XP for Caves F, G, H, and J, and 300 XP for Caves I and K. 
These story awards are in addition to any experience points gained in actually exploring said cave [note: Rateliff's emphasis, not mine]. When the adventure deviates from the established script [??], extrapolate the story awards listed in the text to come up with appropriate awards for your player characters.
Okay, then. What story awards are actually listed in the text? Nothing. There are none. Good work, Rateliff.

[please feel free to point out any I missed. I read/skimmed the book twice today and found nothing]

Okay, so: "completing the adventure" equals "genocide." Or something. I see why he "strongly urges" DMs to use the old x.p. for gold system. Moving right along...

Cordell's Return to White Plume Mountain is the adventure I have (years ago) tried running with 1st edition rules; it didn't go very far, but I am familiar with it. Cordell's a pro's pro and explicitly lists the (2E) XP Awards in a prominent section at the end of the adventure:
The characters may be eligible for additional experience points based on their actions. Each character actively involved in ending the threat of the False Kerapti should receive an XP story-award of 1,000 times his or her level. If the heroes save the child-Keraptis from the shade of the vengeance, each receives an additional 2,000 XP. If they refuse to give the child-Keraptis up to the Resistance (the easy way out), but instead find a good and proper foster home for him, award each PC an additional 3,000 XP. 
Well, that's all pretty cut-n-dry right? Defeat the bad guys, save the kid, and get him to a good home and you can earn 12,000 to 15,000 XP (the adventure is for characters 7th - 10th level). Which is a bit outside the one-tenth guideline limit for story awards, but it's close (unless you're playing a rogue).

What's NOT cool, though is this: you've got a fairly brutal, 80+ encounter dungeon with a "hook" that has NOTHING to do with defeating "false Kerapti" or "saving a [special special] child." The (multiple) hooks boil down to:
  • Retrieving a stolen magic weapon (yours or someone else's)
  • Rescuing an old friend
  • Investigating "rumors of evil"
  • Curiosity (anything in that-there mountain?)
Screw. You. Cordell.

SO, assuming you're running the adventure straight AND you're not using any optional rules AND your DM isn't telegraphing the plot like a madman (i.e. railroading, etc.) THEN the only x.p. you could potentially end up with is from the monsters you fight? What does that encourage PCs to do?

I *thought* (briefly) that perhaps "story XP" would be awarded for recovering the various magical weapons. I mean, that's one of the main hooks for the adventure (go find Wave). And look here! Each of the magic weapons lists an "XP Value" with its description. That must be what it's for, right?

No. ALL magic items in 2E have an XP Value. But I thought 2E didn't award XP for finding treasure. It doesn't:
Note: XP Value is the number of experience points a character gets for making an item.
[DMG2E, page 135]

Remember those "optional" individual XP awards? Right. Wizards (optionally) earn XP for enchanting items. If your 2E wizard makes Blackrazor (and the DM is using the optional individual awards), you character will get 8,000 XP. D&D, that.

SO...we go on this cool adventure...that has a hidden goal/objective. We spend multiple sessions exploring its multiple levels of danger. We maybe NEVER accomplish the "hidden" story award of the thing. But as long as we're fighting and killing everything we encounter, we'll earn experience towards leveling. 

Great. Plowing ahead...

Big Fat Adventure
Night Below!
This book is massive. I ordered it POD off DriveThru sometime back, and it's a couple hundreds of pages (not counting dozens of maps). Originally a three-book boxed set, it is considered one of the finest offerings of the 2E era (here's a review); it is an ENTIRE CAMPAIGN designed to take PCs "from 1st level to 10th level and beyond." Check this part out (from page 9 of the introductory chapter):
Earned XP
This campaign assumes that characters gain XP for monetary treasure, at the rate of 1 XP for each gp value of the treasure. DMs not wishing to employ this optional rule should increase XP story awards to compensate, ensuring that the PCs advance at a sufficient rate to meet the challenges of the adventure. Playtesting shows that to maintain campaign balance, PCs should earn some 60% of XP from sources other than slaying monsters.
Oh, 2E.  When it comes to XP for treasure, 2E says "I just can't quit you."

Night Below offers an interesting sub-system called Social Collapse Points (SCPs) that PCs earn as they destabilize the evil subterranean societies, and succeeding at bringing about this collapse does earn the characters bonus XP in the thousands, but almost all of the things that earn SCPs are either slaying monsters or destroying/vandalizing property. But that's part of the "story awards" for Book 2 of the campaign (that section effectively ends once collapse had been achieved). The story awards I could thus find include:
  • 1,000 XP for concluding Book 1 IF the PCs can wipe out the bad guys in a single foray.
  • 5,000 XP for earning 50 SCPs in Book 2
  • 5,000 XP for earning 100 SCP's in Book 2
  • 100,000 XP for destroying the ultimate Big Bad in Book3
But there IS a lot of treasure in Night Below....though probably not enough, considering the lack of XP awarded for magic items in 2E.

Hey, folks. I know the following thought is probably going to be met with some ire, but I'm going to post it anyway. In my last post, with regard to "story awards," Dan wrote:
I have no idea where you get the idea that this discourage self-starters. An adventure is an adventure, regardless of whether the DM lays it out on a platter or the PCs choose it themselves. Finding a goblin lair in the wilderness and looting it is a completed adventure just as much as slogging through a boring Dragonlance module is. I have never run a game with XP for treasure in my life, and player engagement has never been a problem.
How does one define adventure? In B/X, it is a single game session; does this hold true for 2E? If not, where is the adventure's beginning? Where is its end? Who says when it's over? The DM? In a B/X or 1E game, PCs can beg off at any time...because they don't like the scenario, the risk versus reward, whatever. But this idea that a "story" must be "completed" is a shitty, shitty concept.

What it SOUNDS like...and please disabuse me if this is that 2E advancement is, at its simplest, just "combat experience multiplied by two." That is, you get experience points for defeating opponents, and then you get the same experience ("x.p. equal to defeated opponents") whenever the adventure is considered to be "done." Which...well, that's just 3E again, but with a different formula for calculating it, no?

Am I mistaken?

I want to continue this discussion (somewhat) in my next post, but it won't be about 2E specifically. In an effort to be constructive, I'm going to talk about the positive aspects of 1E's reward system.

Have a good weekend, folks.
: )


  1. I DMed 2e for years and I don't think we ever had a PC above 4th level. I would just hand out 15 XP every time they killed an orc.

    At the time I didn't think much of it, but now I look back in regret at having missed out on playing "real" AD&D where PCs could actually cast a fireball in my prime gaming years. (highschool)

    Anyway, some questionable advice in the DMG aside, 2e is a fantastic product. It's the 90s version of OSRIC. An attempt to make it clear to players what the rules of AD&D actually are (Something I am not smart enough to glean from the 1e books)

    1. That is totally fair. Zeb does a pretty good job with explaining the rules / procedures of the game.

  2. While I would never defend 2nd Edition's XP system, I'll say that it at least gets a perfectly functional implementation in the Infinity Engine video games (Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale). Monsters are worth exactly as much XP as in the tabletop 2e core rules, but every time the party completes a task or mission or quest (or slays the "final boss" of a dungeon), some fixed XP award is granted which appears to bear no formulaic relation to anything else (beyond, likely, the built-in assumption that the party will be of a certain level when they complete the task, and so the reward is vaguely commensurate with the difficulty and XP needed for a party of that level). I would even go so far as to say that Baldur's Gate is an example of the 2e XP system "working as intended" - insofar as it deviates from the text of the rulebooks but lines up quite well with how I remember every single 2e-playing group I've ever encountered actually running things.

    1. I never played any of these video games, so I can't speak to that.

      However, I will say that vids, in general, are constrained by the limits of their medium...and because of those limits, it's easier to have instances ("play points?" there's probably some technical term) or triggers that players can "achieve" for bennies.

      Vid RPGs also tend to have the capability of "saving" your game so that you can "re-load" if your party gets TPK'd.

      RE 2E groups resembling video game play

      Did the DMs in these games place similar "constraints" on players at the table? Or do you mean that players simply received bonus XP every time they completed some "meaningful task" (as judged by the DM)?

      I would presume the latter which would be...fine I guess? If you were already coming to the table with a video game sensibility and expectation of play.

      I wouldn't like it myself...I tend to shy away from RPGs that play like vids. Kind of ignores/hamstrings the organic stuff that makes RPGs a unique and powerful medium.

      Plus it has a tendency to turn a DM from a "referee" into a "storyteller" which (in my experience) leads to poor play at the table.

  3. RC had these kind of XP rules too. They must have originated in E or C from BECMI.

    1. Nope. I own all the BECMI line and there are some differences from the Rules Cyclopedia; these bonus XP types aren't found in Mentzer's books.

      Since the RC came out in 1990 (*after* the advent of 2E), I'd guess Allston was just adding mechanics that reflected the shift in TSR's attitude of the time.

      The "XP for gold" system is still present and non-optional in the RC, however.

  4. Tried to leave a comment but it said "unable to connect to Blogger" - you can delete this if the other comment went through. If it didn't, though, maybe poke me in the comments on the previous post? I do intend to answer you in that comment thread as well, just haven't had time and didn't want you to think I was just riling you up and disappearing.

    1. Ha! I appreciate that.
      ; )

      Nope the comments did NOT come through, unfortunately. Blogger can be a real pain sometimes (though it's free, so I will restrict my complaints to a minimum).

      I'll give you a "poke" on the last post.

  5. I give my players a “story award” of sorts. Since I like to run a living campaign and I don’t want to plan much in advance I base them off of goals the players decide on during play and then complete. I like xp for gold but I feel like it starts to fall apart up economically around 5th or 6th level.

    1. Can you give some examples of how "it starts to fall apart economically?" Just want to get a sense of the issue.

      Thanks in advance!

  6. I meant to do this when this thread was fresh.

    I pulled the Excel file from my last 1e campaign. It started at level 1 and ran 49 sessions.

    227,270 total xp. Of that 56.2% was from defeated monsters, 42.1% from loot, and 1.7% from bonus xp.

    Bonus xp was given in a few heavy role play sessions when a goal was accomplished without violence. But most of it was given for delivering food to a besieged city. Technically that could have been loot as food is worth a lot a gold in a starving city. But the party gave it away and I recorded it as bonus xp so left it as bonus xp.

    The campaign was a sandbox set in a war torn border region. Not the typical 1e play style, but the xp system didn't fall apart even though the PCs where often focused on things besides loot.

    1. Bonus XP isn't a terrible thing (there's a part of me that says magic item XP is kind of "bonus" since one already has the advantage of the item), so long as it's not the bulk of a group's XP...BECAUSE it's mostly arbitrary, subjective, and cannot be counted on by the players, unlike loot and combat XP.

      Less than 2%? I have no issue with that.