D&D General An alternative to XP

DND_Reborn

Legend
because the player is not playing. I agree that time-keeping is very important in a campaign, but I like the idea that the players decide if their characters will take a week off doing nothing.
If the player is not playing, the character really isn't doing anything, though. ;)

Seriously, that isn't to say the player can't decide to have the character take time off to do things, etc. and later on the DM and group can "let time pass" and the character's activities are resolved. When I DM it is entirely up to the player if their character takes time off and does something or nothing.

But the idea that 2 weeks of training (in game) equates to two weeks passing IRL so that player can't play that character is nonsense IMO. That is the point that was being made and I asked for a citation on.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You have a number stamped on your forehead that grows over time? People get better at things, there's no artificial number that tracks it. People grow and improve. XP is just a game mechanic to track that process because the granularity of the game's leveling system is not a smooth curve like real life.
About as much as you have a level stamped on yours and get better at fighting because you've worked at your desk job for the last year.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I was not comparing the power of levels in D&D to other games directly (your "men are telephone poles" argument). I was making a broad observation that some form of "leveling" is present in any game that has character improvement. A level in one game is not necessarily equal to a level in any other game, but from the 45000-ft view they are conceptually similar. It was intended to be a humorous dig at RPG players who turn their nose up at the idea of levels as a concept. People can draw lines about particular levels in particular games as "too powerful," "too weak," "not granular enough," "not flexible enough," etc., but they still have the broad game element of levels.

Some games may have a finer resolution than D&D and can create a wider variety of characters, but it is not an infinite range. Some D&D levels offer players a choice from two or three features. A hypothetical game with 200 ways to spend a character point could be looked at (in the abstract) as having many more levels than D&D, and at each level you have 200 things to choose from. Two characters who spent their character points the same way would (mechanically) look alike.
Leveling is a different thing from improvement, though. Leveling specifically means that all improvements come in a package deal, and you get the package deal. If I earn XP through social encounters only (assuming my GM elects to offer this), I still get better at everything else I do if that level includes a proficiency bonus. Further, if I get an ASI I don't have to align it to anything I've done. Levels are dumps of spectrum improvements that behave in a rather unique way that's very different from a number of other possible systems for improving a character.

And it's not just about resolutions. Leveling systems can have small, common bumps and that still operates different from games that feature use specific bumps. Use specific bumps can be rather large. I mean, take Blades in the Dark. If you have zero dice in an action and bump it to 1 die, your failure chance decreases by 50%. If you bump to 2 dice, your failure chance decreases by 25%. If you manage to get up to 3 dice and then bump to 4 (a large investment because this requires an expensive crew upgrade in addition to PC upgrades) this decreases your failure chance by 6.25%. So a reduction in bump as it goes up -- it halves in effective improvement for every step. But that first jump is huge.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Sure. If you only look at one aspect of motivation.
I’m not even talking about motivation, I’m talking about satisfaction. People like to see progress bars fill up when the do a thing. They just do. That’s why idle clicker games are so popular. Motivation is a much more complex subject though.
Again with the assumptions. I never found getting XP particularly rewarding, it was just overhead and bookkeeping. That's what I'm objecting to, this insistence that because many people find it rewarding that everyone finds it rewarding. I find leveling rewarding but the process of getting and having to keep track of XP? Nah.
Maybe you don’t consciously recognize the impact, but seeing a visual indicator of progress being made still triggers a release of dopamine in your brain. That may or may not translate to you enjoying a game of D&D that uses XP more than one that doesn’t, but that’s a much more complex subject.
Which I hate. Why is the character going out to kill orcs? What's their motivation to do so? The character the person is role playing has none.
For the fourth time now, that’s a complete legitimate reason to prefer not to use XP.
I'm just expressing a preference.
Cool. Thanks.
I want to run a game that as much as possible makes playing the game, role playing a character, it's own reward as much as possible. Different strokes for different folks and all, I just find this insistence that handing out XP is inherently rewarding in and of itself odd.
Well, handing out XP isn’t inherently rewarding. Seeing a clear indication of progress as a result of your actions is inherently rewarding, and XP provides such an indication of progress towards leveling up. Is that something you should include in your game? Maybe, if you and your players like the effect it has on the game. Maybe not if they don’t. It’s a complex subject. I stand by my assertion that XP isn’t right for every campaign, but it could improve most campaigns. If your campaign is one that it isn’t right for, awesome! Have fun!
EDIT: It's also a question of how long something is rewarding. The first time you get XP and watch the numbers grow? More rewarding than the 100th time for many people, if not most. Which is something the studies generally don't look at, the decreasing value, the decreasing return on investment.
Actually that is also a well studied and understood phenomenon. That’s why the amount of XP required to level up increases even though the number of encounters required to gain thar amount of XP stays roughly the same.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Again, I find it a challenge to discuss the game when things that people insert or ignore are treated as the game in question. I'm sure that the way you've decided to implement out-of-combat XP is peachy, but I don't know what that is and I wouldn't expect you to know what I might do. I can talk about what the books say, though.
Well, I was having a conversation with Yaarel, in the context of which I think it was quite clear we were discussing potential ways to use XP, not limited to the rules as presented in the core books. If you’re confused, I recommend reading the full conversation for the context.
Sure, but this doesn't make out-of-combat XP suddenly less loosey-goosy because you've decided to ignore the system and make combat XP more loosey-goosey (we still have combat encounter guidelines, whereas we have no such thing for out-of-combat).
Indeed. I would describe Yaarel’s encounter counting system as loosely-goosey as well, and they are presenting it as a positive of that system. I am pointing out that this is not a positive of counting encounters as opposed to awarding XP, but rather a positive of assessing the difficulty of an encounter after it has been completed and awarding your progress-tracking-abstract-number-of-choice accordingly. Whether that abstract number be XP or fractions-of-an-encounter, the benefits are the same. The only actual difference is in the granularity of the abstract numbers.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
I don’t mean to suggest that using XP is factually superior. It is, however, factually true that human brains absolutely love watching progress bars fill up.
Ergo, if human brains love watching progress bars fill up, then they respond more strongly to gaining XP making it a stronger incentive. Right? Hold that thought.
I think you misunderstand. What I’m saying is deeply viscerally satisfying is seeing a visual indicator of progression advance as a result of your actions. That’s just a fact of human psychology and has nothing to do with what part of D&D anyone focuses on.
I don't think I'm the one misunderstanding anything you're trying to say. Let's keep going.
What you’re describing actually supports my position. These players found the progress bar effect so deeply, viscerally satisfying that in comparison, nothing else about the game even mattered. They needed to make that bar fill up so badly, it became the soul focus of play for them. Now, that’s a perfectly legitimate reason not to want to use XP, but it’s not a counter-example of the satisfaction that XP delivers.
The only thing I'm unclear about is "your position". Or maybe you're not understanding mine. I know how XP affects play in some people, and how removing it can influence some behaviors. No one seems to be arguing that it isn't acceptable or legitimate if that's how someone wants to run their games. But you're taking a pretty hard stance over... what exactly? I think it's coming up actually.
Well, if a player is being rude to the other players, trying to force them into situations they don’t want to be in, that’s a player behavior problem, not a rules problem. It is, however, indicative of the potential power of XP as incentive. If you give XP for fights, then yes, players are likely to try and get into fights. For some campaigns, that may be a desirable thing. For others, there might be something better to give XP for. Gold acquired, quests completed, conflicts resolved peacefully, areas of the map explored, or any combination of those things. Or whatever else you want the players to pursue. Heck, you could give XP for reaching story milestones, which is just story-based advancement with more granularity and more visibility to the progress being made (and also the thing the DMG actually describes as “milestone XP”)
I get it. XP is easy to quantify. You can give value to whatever you like. Players will lap it up like salivating dogs because their brains are scientifically proven to respond better to the XP whistle. Without XP, who knows if they'll bother showing up for the next session. Not without that sweet, sweet XP to lure them in. (Hey, I hear Bob gives way more XP at his table! Let's see if he's got room for us!)

I don't expect you're going to understand my perspective, and I'm not trying to say XP isn't a good way to do things. I'm not sure we're disagreeing about anything. It's just one way, and like some others in this thread, I've moved away from that old standard for different reasons. It has nothing to do with anything you're trying to say because most of us here already know how it works and why it works. I've simply found that not using XP hasn't had any worse effects than using them. In fact, I found that it has worked better for me and my groups.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, I was having a conversation with Yaarel, in the context of which I think it was quite clear we were discussing potential ways to use XP, not limited to the rules as presented in the core books. If you’re confused, I recommend reading the full conversation for the context.
The quote was that out-of-combat XP was loosy-goosy. What context did you put that into, because no other context other than how 5e presents it was present.
Indeed. I would describe Yaarel’s encounter counting system as loosely-goosey as well, and they are presenting it as a positive of that system. I am pointing out that this is not a positive of counting encounters as opposed to awarding XP, but rather a positive of assessing the difficulty of an encounter after it has been completed and awarding your progress-tracking-abstract-number-of-choice accordingly. Whether that abstract number be XP or fractions-of-an-encounter, the benefits are the same. The only actual difference is in the granularity of the abstract numbers.
 

You're right, it is pretty similar to the DMG there but there's a very important difference: practically all of the interesting and often weird alternatives presented in the DMG are too noodly and too well defined.

To me narrative leveling basically means the opposite of thinking there should even be rules regarding when and how to progress, my only concern is there being enough reason in the story itself for the characters to gain a level. And those story reasons could be anything, I have neither any clue what they might be nor the desire to pigeonhole myself at all.

Heck I may not have any idea it's going to happen when I start a session, as my style of DMing is highly improvisational. Sometimes I wonder why I even prepare the content that I've prepared because things so often go in other directions organically and at times most of the NPCs are ones that I simply discovered through play.
I would say, if this is your table's playstyle take milestoning to a whole new dimension:
  • The players that did well in combat, whether they were creative or rolled well, move faster on the narrative "level" chart.
  • The players that roleplayed well or rolled well during roleplay sessions move faster on the narrative "level" chart.
  • The players that were true to their character motives move faster on the narrative "level" chart.
Then you can take this, and piecemeal their benefits. Maybe the ones that roleplayed well have specific attributes or skills move up. Maybe if someone did great in combat they get that next class feature. I mean, if it is narrative you want, there is no better way to show that than to have levelling be by pieces, and not as a whole construct.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Ergo, if human brains love watching progress bars fill up, then they respond more strongly to gaining XP making it a stronger incentive. Right? Hold that thought.
A strong incentive, certainly. But stronger? Stronger than what?
I don't think I'm the one misunderstanding anything you're trying to say. Let's keep going.

The only thing I'm unclear about is "your position".
I have been quite explicit and clear about my position. XP is not right for every campaign, but most campaigns would benefit from using it.
Or maybe you're not understanding mine. I know how XP affects play in some people, and how removing it can influence some behaviors. No one seems to be arguing that it isn't acceptable or legitimate if that's how someone wants to run their games. But you're taking a pretty hard stance over... what exactly? I think it's coming up actually.
I don’t think I’m taking a terribly hard stance over anything. You and Oofta sure seem to think I am though, and I’ve mostly been arguing the softness of my stance here (which, again, is “XP isn’t right for every campaign, but most campaigns could benefit from using it.” Pretty soft.)
I get it. XP is easy to quantify. You can give value to whatever you like. Players will lap it up like salivating dogs because their brains are scientifically proven to respond better to the XP whistle.
That’s a pretty distorted caricature of what I’m saying is the main benefit of XP.
Without XP, who knows if they'll bother showing up for the next session. Not without that sweet, sweet XP to lure them in. (Hey, I hear Bob gives way more XP at his table! Let's see if he's got room for us!)
And that’s just silly. Again, people wouldn’t be playing D&D if they didn’t want to adventure, and XP won’t change that fact. What XP will do is make very visible to players what actions and activities directly result in progress towards character advancement, which is very satisfying and I think most campaigns (but not all campaigns) could benefit from it.
I don't expect you're going to understand my perspective, and I'm not trying to say XP isn't a good way to do things. I'm not sure we're disagreeing about anything. It's just one way, and like some others in this thread, I've moved away from that old standard for different reasons. It has nothing to do with anything you're trying to say because most of us here already know how it works and why it works.
Well, you asked me how it works, so I answered.
I've simply found that not using XP hasn't had any worse effects than using them. In fact, I found that it has worked better for me and my groups.
Great! Then it would seem your campaign is one of the ones XP isn’t right for.
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
Leveling is a different thing from improvement, though. Leveling specifically means that all improvements come in a package deal, and you get the package deal.
My point was that one can define a "level" to be as large or as small a package as one wants (even if the game itself does not refer to it as such). A package deal of "one thing that improves at the smallest resolution the game offers" can be a "level" by this point of view. It's a frame of reference. I suppose I am not expressing this point clearly, but it's not all that important in the long run.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The quote was that out-of-combat XP was loosy-goosy. What context did you put that into, because no other context other than how 5e presents it was present.
The quote was that the CR system is loosey-goosey, which it is. There’s numbers, but if you crunch them, all they result in is a very rough idea of how likely an encounter is to kill a party of 4.5 adventures of a given level. Its loosey-gooseyness is a well known and much-maligned fact, and most experienced DMs I’ve heard from either don’t use it, or treat it as an extremely rough way to eyeball encounter difficulty. If you’re awarding progress (be it XP or Yaarel’s fractions of encounters) for how difficult the encounter felt after-the-fact, rewards for combat encounters (again, be they XP or Yaarel’s fractions of encounters) are really no more or less precise, let alone “real” than rewards for non-combat encounters.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
My point was that one can define a "level" to be as large or as small a package as one wants (even if the game itself does not refer to it as such). A package deal of "one thing that improves at the smallest resolution the game offers" can be a "level" by this point of view. It's a frame of reference. I suppose I am not expressing this point clearly, but it's not all that important in the long run.
That renders the terms useless, then. You've turned it into a generic term that holds no value in discussion. And because of this widening of the term, people not aware of the dilution will have misunderstandings when discussing it. I don't see much value to doing this.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The quote was that the CR system is loosey-goosey, which it is. There’s numbers, but if you crunch them, all they result in is a very rough idea of how likely an encounter is to kill a party of 4.5 adventures of a given level. Its loosey-gooseyness is a well known and much-maligned fact, and most experienced DMs I’ve heard from either don’t use it, or treat it as an extremely rough way to eyeball encounter difficulty. If you’re awarding progress (be it XP or Yaarel’s fractions of encounters) for how difficult the encounter felt after-the-fact, rewards for combat encounters (again, be they XP or Yaarel’s fractions of encounters) are really no more or less precise, let alone “real” than rewards for non-combat encounters.
??? Here's the quote, bold for emphasis:

I find counting encounters more helpful for the tone of my campaign and its adaptability to players preferences. What counts as an encounter is normally obvious. And neutral, as it might be a noncombat encounter or a combat encounter. Whether the challenge turned out to be easy or hard is also fairly obvious. Indeed the players themselves know how difficult it was. Difficulty is a neutral metric, whether noncombat or combat.

Even for a combat encounter, counting encounters is more helpful than xp. For example, hostiles might flee, thus ending the encounter. The encounter evaluates according to how much effort it took to get them to run. Then a decision to chase after them counts as a separate encounter. Similarly, if the party captures the hostiles alive, there might be several encounters before handing the hostiles over to authorities.

Counting encounters is more open to diverse scenarios and players choices.

My difficulty with xp is it incentivizes lethal combat.

DMs can and do give xp for noncombat challenges. However the xp for combat is carefully micromanaged according to killing hostiles. In contrast, xp for noncombat feels more arbitrary and loosey-goosey to quantify. Combat is more reliable. Noncombat feels less "real" in relation to combat xp. All of this situation incentivizes combat, in the eyes of the players, and in the eyes of the DM. For example, I have never seen a DM award more xp for noncombat than for combat. Even if the noncombat challenge is far more difficult than the combat challenge, the DM routinely undervalues noncombat, because combat so tightly defines xp, and noncombat is so different.
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
But the idea that 2 weeks of training (in game) equates to two weeks passing IRL so that player can't play that character is nonsense IMO. That is the point that was being made and I asked for a citation on.
Again, not really arguing in favor of the suggestion, but I do not read the DMG suggestion as saying this is what happens. Groups of players in the same campaign that don't always play together can get out of sync with each other. The full example given in the DMG (the entirety of which I did not quote) illustrates this somewhat, as some players choose to not play a session. By the time they get to play, time has passed and other players have looted a sizable treasure in the dungeon. If players are not willing to wait for their friends that are off training, they may miss out. Still a stupid result, IMO, but not as bad as you read it.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
They'd be more motivated, but in the wrong way: they'd start playing specifically to level up rather than just play and have level-up occur as an occasional side effect.

Also, any system like this puts far too much weight on DM fiat, and forces a DM to either a) level everyone up at the same time whether each character deserves it or not or b) be wide open to charges of favouritism if she levels up some characters but not others.

We're all family and friends (my brother, my sister in law, her sister and her sister's husband), so this issue of DM fiat you're bringing up is fair but kind of a non-issue here. We're not going to get tripped up or mad at each other over something trivial, leveling up is just an occasional and clear positive.

Lol the hypothetical "psychology-ing" that people do is pretty interesting sometimes. I see you saying that this would motivate the players in the wrong way but have directly experienced that my players are motivated in a very good way to be driven to engage with the world and improve themselves.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
??? Here's the quote, bold for emphasis:
Mhmm, and that was contrasted against their “counting encounters” system, the suggested benefit of the latter being that combat XP is equally loosey-goosey with non-combat XP. My argument was that you can be just as loosey-goosey with combat XP if you want to, so the benefit is not with counting encounters over XP, it’s with judging encounter difficulty after-the-fact and awarding progress (be it a fraction of an encounter or an amount of XP) based on that, as opposed to planning combat encounters around an award budget and then giving that budgeted award regardless of how difficult the encounter actually ended up being. Whether the award is XP or counting encounters doesn’t actually make a difference, except that the former is more granular.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Mhmm, and that was contrasted against their “counting encounters” system, the suggested benefit of the latter being that combat XP is equally loosey-goosey with non-combat XP. My argument was that you can be just as loosey-goosey with combat XP if you want to, so the benefit is not with counting encounters over XP, it’s with judging encounter difficulty after-the-fact and awarding progress (be it a fraction of an encounter or an amount of XP) based on that, as opposed to planning combat encounters around an award budget and then giving that budgeted award regardless of how difficult the encounter actually ended up being. Whether the award is XP or counting encounters doesn’t actually make a difference, except that the former is more granular.
Okay, you just said that "loosy-goosy" was in relation to the encounter system. I showed the quote showing it wasn't. You're spinning to make a case that what you want to talk about it how it applies to something that wasn't in the quote, and wasn't the discussion I was following from that very quote. If you want to talk about something else, let's do that, but let's not pretend that this was the topic under discussion the whole time. I mean, your first response to me about this didn't go down this tangent, it was specifically constrained to how the DMG talks about non-combat XP awards. I'm tired of chasing the pea.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Okay, you just said that "loosy-goosy" was in relation to the encounter system. I showed the quote showing it wasn't. You're spinning to make a case that what you want to talk about it how it applies to something that wasn't in the quote, and wasn't the discussion I was following from that very quote. If you want to talk about something else, let's do that, but let's not pretend that this was the topic under discussion the whole time. I mean, your first response to me about this didn't go down this tangent, it was specifically constrained to how the DMG talks about non-combat XP awards. I'm tired of chasing the pea.
Ok. It’s clear to me you either haven’t been following or haven’t understood the conversation I’ve been having with Yaarel.
 

cavetroll

Explorer
Either system is fine. I liked the XP value levelling in 2e because it made levelling authentic, it wasn't just a DM handing out free levels, or random XP, each level was earned based on the written rules which gives in weight. At the end of the evening, after the big boss battle, that was a break and people would level up then, and it felt rewarding after a massive dangerous fight.

I think for a DM to do milestone levelling works fine if you want to skip the overhead of calculating XP, and make it more tied to the story, or play time in hours.

Where issues arise is in module design. If you have content for level 3 and the next chapters content is for level 5, what happens if the party skips half the content? Are they level 4 for the next chapter and more likely to die or do you give them a free level or do you force them to do an arbitrary side quest? Or is the expectation that the DM makes the fights easier and easier? Or do you ensure that the party can't skip too much content.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I agree it is a silly suggestion, and we never followed it, especially as we would often have to end play mid-dungeon, or even mid-combat! :)
Thanks! A moment ago I stared at that very page in the DMG and missed this passage. I knew I'd seen it somewhere. :)
 

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