For many years, I had a real problem with the “1 GP = 1 XP” rule. I thought it was grossly unrealistic and failed to reward players for role-playing their characters or PCs for being clever and reaching goals. I spent a fair amount of effort trying to work out a system by which PCs could be fairly rewarded for performing actions that would advance their career and truly represent the gaining of “experience.”

Sometimes I would do things like give small XP awards every time a PC used a class ability (i.e., 100XP bonus for a thief picking a lock, 100XP bonus for a cleric turning undead, etc.) and incorporated “story” XP awards for the adventure. Saved the princess? 1000XP bonus to all PCs who took part. Destroyed the goblin war party? 250XP bonus on top of combat awards. I would even levy XP penalties against PCs who failed at something important. The paladin ignored the children in need of help? -100XP, sir.

And then there were the “role-playing” bonuses for players who went the extra mile making their PCs shine for being “in character.”

All of this, of course, was completely subjective and subject to my whims. Now, I don’t have a problem with DM fiat, as such, as long as it’s applied more or less fairly and consistently. But tracking so many variables, almost all of which were themselves so subjective to begin with (would a paladin really be required to help those poor homeless kids just because he’s lawful good?) made the whole exercise a mess.

What I was really wishing for was some sort of objective scoring system to rate the performance of PCs. In fact, I studied the tournament scoring systems in some of the early AD&D modules and wished that I had the time and wisdom to install a similar system into all of my own adventures. My guess is that many DMs have wished for the same type of objective scoring system to measure how successful PCs are.

Today, I came across this post on Dragonsfoot in a thread about using the OD&D XP awards in Basic D&D:

Am I the only one that felt that awarding xp for gold found (if characters find 20 gp it equals 20 xp) a little excessive and makes the players jump in levels too quickly? I always awarded xp for monsters killed and for good decision making instead.

I responded:

For a long time I had trouble getting my mind around the “1GP=1XP” equation, instead trying to come up with systems to reward successful play and “good decision making.” The problem with rewarding for role playing and making good decisions is that it’s so subjective. If only there was an objective measure to gauge “success.”

There is. It’s the gold piece.

I see the XP component of a PCs career somewhat akin to a business: No matter what sort of company we’re talking about, the yardstick used to measure success and compare to other companies is the bottom line. As in: “How much money did the company make?” Particularly in the old school line of thinking, looting dungeons and ruins is a prime objective of most PCs. How better to measure success than with the amount of treasure recovered?

On his most excellent Musings page, Philotimy writes:

Many gamers sneer at the notion of awarding XP for treasure, preferring goal or story-based awards and similar schemes. I see their point, but I don’t find XP awards for treasure objectionable. On the contrary, I see it as a story award. I also see it as a convenient abstraction, much like hit points. Does it make sense that a magic user gains experience by hauling loot out of the ground? Nope. Does it work well in the context of the game? Absolutely.

And Robert Fischer puts it this way:

In the de facto D&D campaign, PCs didn’t adventure for the chance to be killed by monsters. They adventured & risked being killed by monsters & traps in order to collect wealth. It was the promise of riches that lured adventurers into the dungeons beneath castles Blackmoor & Greyhawk.

So the “XP for Gold” system already does what the critics of the idea say is better.

By ramping up XP awards for monsters, suddenly the focus becomes “kill monsters.” And not just the monsters guarding the treasure hoard, or the monsters who kidnapped the princess. Any monsters are legit targets.

Thee times per day, check for wandering experience points?

I prefer PCs see wandering monsters as something to be avoided (or parleyed with) if possible. I want players to see their characters on a mission and unwilling to risk derailing themselves by getting sidetracked (or killed) by those bugbears who just happen to be passing through. If you greatly expand the combat XP awards, now there’s no reason NOT to fight. In fact, heading out and HOPING for wandering monsters could become a decent strategy. How is that “good decision making”?

If PCs are advancing too quickly, just give a little less treasure. It’s very easy to regulate. This helps keep their bank accounts from overflowing, as well, and keeps them needing to adventure.

All that said, I personally wonder if the monster XP values aren’t maybe a little low. I’d just as soon tweak monster XP up a bit and treasure amounts down a bit. Nothing much, but enough to keep the piles of silver, gold, and gems a little smaller while still allowing PCs to advance at a “normal” rate.

Another option pointed out on Dragonsfoot is something I’ve never considered: Award MORE than 1 XP per gold piece.

This seems backwards, as so many people seem to think that even 1 XP per gold piece is senseless. But giving more XP per GP allows smaller treasures to give the same experience award. I’m a bit embarrassed that I never considered this route, but I’m going to give it some serious thought now.

Also, inflated monster XP values might be called for in some specific situations. For instance, if the PCs have been charged with clearing a forest of dangerous creatures or are clearing territory for their own stronghold, take into consideration the fact that killing everything might, in fact, be the point of the whole thing. Treasure is secondary, so make most of the XP dependent on combat.

Finally, keep in mind that different XP systems will fit different campaigns and gaming styles. For what it’s worth, in the past I’ve run story-based campaigns were we didn’t bother tracking XP at all. I just told players when their PC leveled. That sounds a bit crazy, but in the context of a plot-heavy campaign story arc, it was surprisingly liberating not to have to worry about the numbers. Now, I’ve since decided that railroaded campaigns like that are completely bogus, but it worked at the time.

It took a long while, but I finally discovered that XP for Gold gives me what I want. And it was there all along.

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4 Comments to “XP for Gold”

  1. bat says:

    Of all the systems out there, the Palladium Fantasy and RIFTS games had excellent suggestions for awarding experience that I have tweaked a little to bring them to an S&W level, but basically they are rewards for roleplaying well over rolling dice.

  2. Kilgore says:

    To be honest, I’ve never played either system. Considering that I started gaming in 1982, the breadth of my gaming has been relatively narrow. I’ve looked Palladium Fantasy over, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever done any more than page through some RIFTS material.

  3. bat says:

    Consider yourself lucky for the most part as far as your RIFTS experience goes. It did start off a nice little game that got a bit blown out of proportion.

    I do believe, however, that MOST rpgs have something good in them here and there, little gems that can be thrown into any roleplaying game.

  4. Ainatan says:

    I was reading through the Mystara gazeteer books, and i found a nice system for rewarding XP in the Glantri book for mage-users.
    They received less XP per gold and monsters killed, since the mage-users don’t go on adventures after mundane things or blood, but to gain power and knowledge. In this system, the m/u receives XP for finding spells, via scrolls, learning and researching, etc.
    I won’t use it as written for it’s a bit complicated, but I really liked the idea of awarding XP based on class motivations.
    The fighter gains more Xp from monsters, and some extra xp for defeating them using skill in arms.
    The dwarf gains a little more Xp for killing monsters and finding gems and jewerly.
    The MU some extra xp for finding magic stuff and learning spells, less for killing and looting gold
    Thief less xp from monsters, more for stealing gold and extra xp for doing thief things.
    And so on.