Wednesday, July 9, 2008

OD&D: Earning Experience

Every D&D version I’ve ever played or refereed used the 1 XP per GP method for awarding experience from plundered treasure. I also include a magic item experience award in Solstice, but I’m beginning to rethink that approach (and to echo others, the magic item itself is reward enough). From what I understand, this is not the case in modern D&D versions where experience is awarded for slaying monsters but not from recovering their loot.

There are alternatives for gaining experience in all versions of D&D, as determined by the individual referee and his or her campaign, but I want to focus on the tried and true 1 XP per GP method.

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start, original D&D was never about a hack and slash approach to gaming. Certain referees may have developed adventures or entire dungeons and campaigns with such a theme, but this was never the intent of D&D. Even the earliest players of D&D realized that Rule Number One of each campaign was simply survival. By surviving each game session, adventure or dungeon crawl, the characters accumulated experience and increased in power.

To quote Trollsmyth from this post, "the players were simply scared to friggin' death of the dice." As I commented back then (and apologies for quoting myself!), "I've always felt that in OD&D, the idea was to avoid encounters whenever possible." and that, "Monsters are supposed to be deadly, not just walking bags of experience. Avoiding their claws and spears is normally a good idea."

At first level, the players actually strived to avoid rolling the dice at all. Rolling the dice meant someone was potentially going to be creating a new character. Clearly this is almost always the case throughout the D&D character’s career, but the point is that at first level, a single 10’ pit trap or single blow from a Goblin’s spear might mean that the player must begin anew with a zero experience character.

At second level, the characters begin to develop a hit point buffer, and can choose to take on more difficult challenges, or continue to fight those same 1-1 HD Goblins while avoiding those same 10’ deep pits. Getting to second level should be the goal of every first level character, and this is accomplished by surviving.

Using the 1 XP per 1 GP method promotes this survival mentality. It is actually a GOOD thing to perhaps parley with those Goblins, or avoid them, or trick them into leaving their hidden stashes of Silver unguarded. Certainly some referees will award experience for ‘overcoming’ monsters without actually slaying them (an alternative, as mentioned earlier).

So, why then are these first level characters even adventuring if they are trying to avoid melee and the experience that is inherent with slaying the bad guys? You need to stop and think of this from the character’s perspective. They’re Human, after all (well, most…but you get the idea), and they are in search of the almighty Gold Piece. What good is treasure hunting if you cannot emerge from the dungeon and enjoy the spoils captured therein? These guys are risking life and limb to, quite simply, get RICH.

Sure, you might have the odd character from time to time who has sworn to eradicate the Goblin scourge upon mankind; or the devout Cleric charged with clearing the Ghoul infested sepulchers beneath their Temple (and good luck bringing along any other adventurers to face said Ghouls without the promise of cold, hard Gold), but for the most part, they’re in it for the money. Plain and simple.

The players, on the other hand, are in it to attempt to make their characters successful (with whatever that entails for each individual player). It’s about survival and treasure. There just happens to be traps and monsters between the characters and their goals.

Traps and Wandering Monsters are the bane of dungeon delving for these intrepid adventurers, obstacles along the way to their ultimate goal of securing a comfortable living for themselves and their family, or of making a name for themselves, or of becoming more deeply vested in the magical arts. Traps and Wandering Monsters are to be avoided if at all possible, for they often mean high risk, and little or no reward. All monsters yield some experience, but as a character, the most important ones, those monsters worthy of actually risking one’s own life, are those guarding coins, gems and possibly magic items. The rest are just ‘in the way’.

Zulgyan over at the original D&D forum started a thread a while back about dispensing with all experience from monsters, and simply awarding experience for treasure. I think he gets it; the notion that the characters are involved in this dangerous business of dungeon delving in order to get the treasure, and not seeking out walking meat bags of experience points. While I cannot say I’d use such a method, because logically characters should gain experience from slaying monsters, the idea is worth discussing, and you can do so here.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the reference!

I am now awarding Xp for treasure only. Monsters are an "obstacle" that must be sorted to reach the final goal: treasure!

BUT, some encounters do shed XP. I just "declare" which are worth a reward on themselves and are not just "obstacles".

- Zulgyan

Anonymous said...

sham is my fave blog nowadays! good work!


Sham aka Dave said...

BUT, some encounters do shed XP. I just "declare" which are worth a reward on themselves and are not just "obstacles".

More wisdom doled out by Zulgyan. This is such a great compromise between the 'for treasure only' and 'mix' that I currently use.

I'm going to have you write a guest blog post soon, Zulgyan!

Frank said...

If you go with treasure XP only, it's still easy to set an XP reward for defeating a pack of goblins - give them treasure equal to the desired reward. This means the PCs do have to defeat or trick the goblins to get the XP, which may eliminate one of the distasteful parts of the 3.x method where you can get the goblin XP for a successful diplomacy roll allowing the PCs to bypass the goblins because such a roll will probably NOT let the PCs have the treasure.