How Important is XP?

I had a great session last night.  The game has felt a big sluggish the past couple of weeks, as the party continued to push their way through one dungeon after another.  It was starting to feel very hack-and-slashy, and I think several of the players were starting to wonder where the roleplay was.  Last night was all in-town roleplay, everyone was laughing and having a good time, and as a result there was no XP to hand out at the end of the night.

The interesting thing is that this seemed to bother me more than my players.  I play pretty by-the-book for XP awards, which means its awarded for monsters and treasure only, though I do use the OD&D 100 xp per monster instead of the B/X charts.  This may seem a lot at lower levels, and yet after eight months of play my players have not yet reached fifth level.  Actually, this seems about the right rate to me.  It means the players will hit level 15 after about two years of play, which is the longest I’ve personally ever seen a campaign go, both in terms of real time and levels.

I’ve come up with rules for plot based XP in the past, but it never catches on.  The players just don’t seem very keen to think about the game at this meta-level.  Interestingly though, it seems they also don’t care if a great night of roleplay is not rewarded mechanically in terms of XP.  Perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit, perhaps they’re high-minded enough to consider the enjoyment of the evening reward enough.  In which case, I guess I think that’s awesome, and I should be happy that XP gain remains a nice enticement to get them back into treasure hunting instead of spending all their time yacking with the locals.

Of course, no XP at the end of the session doesn’t mean there was no XP all night.  The party had just entered a large city, and was very keen on tossing their hard-won cash into some serious revelry.  I decided this was a great time to pull out Jeff Rient’s Carousing rules (actually I used the version out of his Miscellaneum of Cinder, which are somewhat different from what’s on his blog).  The players really got into it, some of them diving right in, others undergoing serious internal debate about the pros and cons, and at least one taking the high road and trying to keep the others out of trouble.  Funny thing is, the results were really not so bad.  Two of the three of them made their saves and bought themselves some XP, while the one that failed only ended up with a poor tattoo.  Actually, two other players got into the description of the tattoo and made up their own tattoos as we described the three of them stumbling into the tattoo artist’s hut, despite not being required by the rules to get one.

I think this was probably the spark at the tinder box for the night, as by the end of the night they were proposing a plan of action so outlandish I really was at a loss of how to deal with it.  I even had one of the NPCs try to talk them out of it, though to be honest at that point I was mostly focused on playing the NPC accurately and not really thinking of the repercussions of what they were about to get themselves into.  Thankfully he failed, and now my mind is reeling with inspiration of new directions to take the game.

I just hope that the players are feeling as reinvigorated as I am.  Having a fired up GM is certainly good for the game, but having everyone at the table fired up is when it really shines.

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2 Comments

  1. XP / play style incompatibilities are as old as the game itself. I’ve always used btb OD&D XP rules, but my current crop of players isn’t showing much interest in the killing, looting, leveling cycle. I made a post about this on my own blog a short while ago and got a lot of interesting comments back on alternate XP/leveling strategies. You might be curious to check out all the different ideas and approaches (apologies for linking to my own blog, I know it’s kind of cheesy!):

    http://cyclopeatron.blogspot.com/2010/07/how-do-i-fix-slow-leveling.html

  2. I think my problem is though that I try to solve problems before they actually crop up. The fact is, I’m actually OK with the rate of advancement we have right now. True, we just had our first 0 XP session, but pragmatically that was countered by use of the carousing rules. (Fantastic rules BTW, not only does it let you double up the XP for treasure, it also drains the party of all that extra loot they tend to accumulate.)

    I think I’m going to just keep going as we are, and only think about new methods of giving XP if we actually find the advancement start to lag.

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