Thursday, November 4, 2010

“Earn Everything”

That’s the Seahawks mantra/motto this year…I’m not exactly sure what the hell it’s supposed to mean (are they talking about actively seeking a play-off berth instead of “backing in?” Maybe they’re talking about “earning” the big bucks the franchise has lavished on them…I don’t know, really). I could guess it’s supposed to mean, make sure you deserve every win you scrape out…though most NFL teams seem to do this anyway (with the exception of Pittsburgh, right Miami fans?).

Around my Thursday night gaming table (meeting once again at 7:45…be there or be square!), there’s been a little murmuring – not quite grumbling – about the awarding of experience points. Namely, I have yet to award a single point to any character.

And we’ve been playing since…what? September?

Now as my brother ABles will tell you, a lot of this “lack” is due to the meager survival rate. Up until the White Plume Mountain game, the excessive mortality of PCs meant no one was earning anything (well, I suppose they “earned” themselves shallow graves…). But now we’ve met for three sessions (tonight will be session 4), and most of the PCs are still alive. Heck, they’ve even managed to haul a fairly good sized heap of treasure out of the dungeon. Does this mean they’ve “earned” experience points?


Does having earned XP mean I should award XP? Well, that’s another question.

Awarding experience points is something that I’ve seen many DMs handle differently…I, myself, have handled it differently over the years. Make no mistake: I LOVE handing out XP! Really! If anything, I am far closer to the “Monte Hall” type DM than the stingy style recommended in the Hackmaster DMG.

Why do I do it? Because not giving away XP is heaps is practically un-American, that’s why!

But ALSO (and more importantly), XP is the way characters advance in level. And advancing in level allows characters to “open up more content;” i.e. to “explore more.” And from a practical standpoint, it also increases survival rate, allowing the exploration to last longer.

However, right now I’m just running White Plume Mountain as a “one-off” game…really it was just supposed to be a “demo” for Gary’s anniversary deal, but we’ve all had so much fun that continuing it seems like a no-brainer.

[really, I love this adventure. Hell, even if we start up my new “goblin war” campaign I’m probably going to include Blackrazor as some sort of malicious faerie weapon. You could create a whole campaign around this magic weapon…similar to what Moorcock did with Stormbringer I suppose…]

And since I’m running a one-off game, does XP need to be awarded? After all, my plan (right now) is to retire all the characters at the end of the adventure. Sorry, Farnsworth!

Not that one-off games can’t blossom into multi-adventures campaigns…I’ve seen it happen before and seen “one-time characters” turn into long-running player favorites. And I suppose I’m open to the possibility…maybe…

However, even with that, there’s a thing or two in the B/X rules stopping me:

1) The rules.

The Moldvay Basic set states:

“When the adventure is over, the DM gives XP to the surviving characters.”

When exactly is an adventure over? When I say it’s over? When the players say it’s over? When we’ve decided (as a group) that we’re tired of the adventure and want to move onto other things?

In the past, I have generally awarded XP awards (regardless of RPG system) at the end of sessions…or, if requiring extensive calculations, between sessions. Even if an “adventure” took multiple sessions to complete, players would be assured of SOME advancement every evening.

This is especially true of certain low-level, extensive adventure modules like B2: Keep on the Borderlands or X2: Castle Amber. Both these modules provide extensive amounts of treasure (and thus XP) and require multiple sessions to complete. If XP is NOT awarded XP between sessions, it is highly likely PCs will receive more experience points than they can use (regarding the limit of advancing one level per adventure). In fact, I don’t have my copy of Castle Amber with me, but it seems like Moldvay specifically mentions awarding XP during those periods of “protective amber light.”

Which would be in direct contradiction of his own rules set, now that I think about it.

And let me tell you THIS: the more I consider it, the more I approve of the basic rules. I DO think XP should only be awarded AFTER an adventure (actually, BETWEEN adventures)…during a period of rest and recuperation, when a characters have had a chance to reflect on their travails and integrate what they’ve learned.

Though for large adventures, I might allow characters to advance more than one level after an adventure.

2) The rules.

The Moldvay Basic set states:

“When the adventure is over, the DM gives XP to the surviving characters.”

What constitutes a “surviving character?” Huh?

If the party adventures throughout White Plume Mountain – fighting monsters, bagging loot – all the while carrying their dead buddy around and then raise him from the dead once they leave, how much XP does he get awarded?

None – because the dungeon killed him?

Full share – because he’s alive and a PC?

And if a character is killed multiple times over the course of an adventure (hello, Sweet Tito!), constantly resurrected by his colleagues but not doing much, is he considered to have “survived?”

Now some DMs will do some sort of acrobatic insanity with the calculating of XP, only awarding points for stuff characters did while alive, plus modifying depending on participation, plus bonuses and penalties, etc.

I’m not going to do all that.

Shouldn’t a character lose SOMEthing coming back across the River Styx? I think so. B/X doesn’t cause you to lose a point of Constitution for your raising…shouldn’t there be some penalty?

Is it fair for a character to get NOTHING just because they died? Maybe. After all, if their friends hadn’t bothered to raise ‘em back to life, then they sure would have got nothing!

Of course the main problem with giving Tito (or any dead/raised character) nothing is this: how fun is that? He showed up to the table, put in his time, and his character stays bankrupt compared to the other characters? I know Luke would have a fit on Randy’s behalf!
; )

But let’s say we get complete buy-off from everyone and no one’s disgruntled (just for the sake of argument)…what if a new player (like Heron) or a new character (like Sly Jr.) comes into the game in the MIDDLE of an adventure. Assuming the character survives, how do you award XP for this dude?

Because THEN the whole issue of “survival = zero XP” becomes exceptionally important. If you, like me, don’t mind killing your players dead-dead-dead, some players are going to opt to bring in a completely new character, rather than having their old PC raised…especially if there’s a ton of XP at stake to be divided.

This is the kind of gamism that video gamers call “cheats.”

As of right now, I’m not all that worried about XP for our Thursday night game because A) we ARE playing it as a one-off, and B) there’s not enough XP in White Plume Mountain to get players from 7th to 8th level (well, MAYBE…if not many survive and if they have an XP bonus and if they get every last scrap of monster and treasure XP). But I AM thinking about it for any future “new” campaigns (like the goblin thang). Here’s what I’m considering right now:

- Experience points are not awarded until the END of an adventure (before the next adventure begins), such end being determined by the DM and marked by a period of rest and reflection (characters need a chance to heal to full hit points).

- Some mega-dungeons MIGHT be considered multiple adventures, so long as each foray has a separate objective to it.

- DM (me) will strive to not put more XP laden encounters in an adventure than what would bring the whole party up a single level.

- Characters that are killed receive NO experience for the adventure, even if raised (however, if attempting a second foray with a new objective into a mega-dungeon, the character could gain XP). All XP is divided amongst surviving PCs and NPCs.

- Surviving NPCs earn one-half the XP that surviving PCs do (this has nothing to do with the amount of treasure shares an NPC receives).

- PCs that are introduced mid-adventure (and that survive) receive one-half the XP that other PCs do, just as if they were NPCs. In fact, some players may simply decide to “take over” an NPC mid-adventure should their main character die.

Now regarding that last bullet…I can see an argument being made that a new character should receive a full XP share based on what his (or her) player has “earned.” For example, Vince (playing Sly), accomplished a lot before being slain by Blackrazor. Shouldn’t Sly Jr. (assuming he survives) receive a full share…kind of like “half for the first PC and half for the second?” Hasn’t the player (Vince) earned it?

It depends on your philosophy. I’m not rewarding players for “showing up” (though maybe I should buy them beer for being willing to put up with me). Experience is a measure of the character's growth and development, not the player. Sly Sr. (for example) accomplished a lot…and then he died. His son needs to have his own experiences and adventures to grow and develop.

From a meta-game perspective, I suppose this could be considered as “penalizing” the player. However, I’m going to choose to look at the glass half-full not half-empty: it’s really just REWARDING players who can get their character from the beginning of the adventure to the end, fully intact. In fact, I’d probably only award FULL XP to players who show up to every session of the adventure…players who skip a night or two should not be able to cash in like those who are there every night.

But what about those who play really well when they ARE there, even a limited time? Bonuses, baby. See the “Adjustments to XP” section in the basic rules. Yes, indeed…you can “earn” something extra!

All right, I could go on-and-on regarding the subject of experience points. However, I’m sure some folks will want to vent their own opinions on the subject.
; )


  1. I disagree, but I think that disagreement hinges on a single point: I reject all of the proffered standards for when an adventure is over. Instead, I think an adventure, that is to say, the "joint venture" of the characters, is over when the characters say its over, and thus divide the loot, which will likely be the primary source of the XP. So if the characters make an expedition and earn nothing but goblin pocket change, they still get XP for defeated goblins and silver pennies, because hey, they survived to earn something, and there's some glory in that story and worth in the telling of it, even if they didn't smash the big idol and eradicate the threat to the village.

    Of course, I also separate out the actual XP award and the advancement of level -- requiring down-time for the later -- because I believe in giving the players a number to watch going up when they're doing well, even if the scenario is playing merry-hobb with the mechanical effects of that number.

  2. "Adventure" in "when the adventure is over" literally means a game session. Page B3 of the book (under Definitions of Standard D&D Terms and READ THIS SECTION CAREFULLY :) ) says "Each game session is called an adventure". That's about as clear as it gets.

    Goes on further to say "An adventure begins when the party enters a dungeon, and ends when the party has left the dungeon and divided up the treasure."

    JB's use of the word "adventure" matches up closer to what Moldvay called a "scenario".

    Check out Part 8 in the book. It talks about adventuring *in* a scenario. Under the example "Investigating a Chaotic Outpost" it states that the module B2 *is* a scenario (rather than an adventure).

    Other uses make it clear Moldvay is using "adventure" to mean dungeon delving during a game session like page B61 talking about mapping during an adventure.

    The Rules Cyclopedia also explicitly uses the word "adventure" to mean game session in Chapter 10 Experience under the Rate of Experience Gain section, saying a character might go up a level "every six or seven adventures".

    Giving out xp at the end of every session solves the issue of dead characters. You don't get xp if you're dead at the end of a session.

    Not giving out xp until the party is somewhere safe makes sense to me. BX doesn't seem to have training rules to go up levels but leveling up in a dungeon isn't something I ever liked as a DM.

  3. I'm not sure how keen I am on revived characters receiving 0 xp. I'm not a big fan of heavy bookkeeping, but some kind of calculation based on the percentage of time they were dead makes more sense to me. Once revived, they are participating in the game again... making decisions, voicing opinions etc. They might not be actually delivering blows (or spells), but they are definitely experiencing something :)

    Say they died approximately halfway through the adventure... that should qualify them for at least half of the XP they would have received. The rest they earn at a reduced rate (50% maybe), so a that a guy who died (but was revived) halfway through would get 50% + 50% of the remaining 50% or a total of 75% of what he would have gotten had he lived. That feels kind of generous now that I've written it out, but the guy(gal?) was freakin' resurrected... that's got to count for something.

  4. I agree with Fumers and his interpretation of the rules. That's pretty much how I've always done it, though there have been some times when I've ended things in the middle of the action and made everyone wait.

  5. This is probably overkill, but Moldvay wasn't the only person at TSR at the time to use adventure to mean game session.

    Gygax on page 2 of B2 Keep on the Borderlands states "Using the KEEP as 'home base', your players should be able to have quite a number of adventures (playing sessions) before they have exhausted all the possibilities of
    the Caves of Chaos map."

  6. Reading between the lines of Fumers' quotes, it seems to me like an adventure, as Moldvay described it, is the time between the characters set out on an expedition and when they return to civilization (though not necessarily the place they ventured out from).

    The assumption, however, seems to assume that the adventure is exploring a location. Many things that I would also call an adventure don't quite fit that assumption, which is why, JB, I think you may be unhappy with it.

    I agree with you though that dead (and risen) characters need to be penalized in some may and "no XP" is a great way to handle that. It also gives a reason to promote one of the hirelings/henchman to PC status--which I always enjoyed, both as a player and referee, far more than raise dead.

  7. @ Joshua: I like this a lot.

    @ Fumers: I like THIS even better! Thanks for clearing that up...YOU know I LOVE rules citations...expect me to hand out some XP tonight!
    : )
    [though I'd still say the rule are ambiguous about characters raised before leaving the Sweet was]

    @ Java: Too much math!

    @ David: Me, too!

    @ Fumers (otra vez): Whenever I've run B2 I've always awarded XP at the end of a session...and SOMETIMES mid-session for multiple forays. I knew I wasn't crazy! I just forgot where this stuff was written!

    @ Ian: I agree on the NPC promotion thing. I like it as well (and have seen it used to good effect in the past).

    RE Non-Site based adventures: Moldvay had a pretty specific task with Basic rules, namely, teaching people how to dungeon delve. I'll have to double-check, but I don't think this is extrapolated on in the Expert set (and Mentzer just copied these books, though maybe it's addressed more thoroughly in the RC as Luke/Fumers cites).

    However, I'd FIRST go back to the LBB's for insight on this before making any strict ruling. As I said there's a lot of room for discussion on XP, it's awarding, and advancement in general. I'm sure I'll be returning to the topic!
    : )

  8. First: an example of how I divvy up my experience:

    Second: It's Hackmaster *G*MG

    Third: You should always, always, always give experience to those pc's who've died in the adventure a share, because otherwise you encourage evil character to kill the other pc's at the end for a larger share.

  9. My personal policy in many years of running Basic and 1st edition was always to give XP at the end of a session, provided the characters had reached a safe haven and divided the loot. Since that happened 99% of the time, it took care of the problem with a new character joining at the beginning of a session; they got a full share from that session like everyone else. Dead characters got nothing, whether raised or not.

    (I believe this conforms to the rules as actually written, although I think other ways of handling it would be equally valid if acceptable to the DM and players.)

  10. In my games when the PCs get a chance to rest, reflect, study, train and research they get the exps awarded to them. That means a few days to a week or so in a base or in civilization. No one get's "bab bing- you've leveled up" in the middle of a dungeon corridor.

    Now in a one shot should they earn exp? All up to the DM.

  11. I'm with Fumers. I think it gets a little more complicated in an extensive dungeon like White Plume, where the PCs will undoubtedly be resting & recuperating multiple times without going all the way to town. I do think that PCs should get xp each time they rest/at the end of each session, though leveling up should wait until they get back to civilization and have a chance to train.