Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My thoughts on Experience

Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of debate and discussion about experience in D&D, particularly about what earns a character points.

One of the main traditional thoughts has always been that you get XP based on the monster you kill. There are various methodologies applied to that principle (like having the party split the XP, versus each member getting that set amount), but the basic notion remains the same. This is how I have always played, and until recently, I would never have even considered second-guessing that.

However, there are large swaths of gamers who contend that this sort of system promotes needless, and meta-gamey violence. Their thought is, with this logic, why would you not attack that random wild beast and thereby leave potential XP laying around? So, basically, they disregard or heavily modify a major rule of the game, based solely on the potential for abuse. I hate that. It’s a pet-peeve of mine.

Sure, there are always going to be those gamers who will attack anything with an XP value. These power-gamers (min-maxers, munchkins, etc.) are focused on “winning” D&D by getting to the highest level possible, as fast as possible. And of course, there will always be DMs who pander to that style of play (did I ever tell you about the DM who had us fight a brontosaurus, simply because it had a huge XP value? Needless to say, I never played with him beyond that one session). And if they enjoy that style, great for them! But, I would wager that these types of players are the exception rather than the rule. Most gamers I know only attack monsters/NPCs that their characters would logically attack.

However, another traditional view is getting XP based on the value of treasure found. This one I actually disagree with. And it has to do with how I define “Experience points.”

In my mind, Experience Points represent what your character learns through…wait for it…experience! When you fight and defeat a monster, your character learns a little bit from the encounter. He gains a bit in fighting ability simply by using it, and perhaps a bit of knowledge about his foe. And these bits of learning add up, thus you level when you gain enough “experience.” What does a character “learn” from finding a pile of gold?

The argument is always that he had to get past some obstacle to get to the treasure. Fair enough. But, why not give experience for bypassing the obstacle instead? If I have to kill a dragon to get his hoard, I should get XP for the dragon, not the gold. What if I walk into his lair, and he has left and gotten killed by a crusading knight leagues away? What have I learned from walking into a cave filled with treasure? What experience do I have to reflect on, making me a more seasoned adventurer?

My solution is Encounter-Based XP. The character gets experience by surviving to the end of an encounter. Whether that end comes at the tip of a sword, or at the end of a fine oration (or skill check), is irrelevant. Either way, the character did something worth reflecting on, and they learned something from the encounter. Thus, they get experience. Any treasure found is its own reward.

That’s just my thoughts. Obviously, many will probably disagree. But, if and when I run a D&D game, this is how I will do it.

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