D&D General An alternative to XP

Oofta

Legend
It was in response to you saying this:

Which was a response to this:

Which was a response to this:

Which was a response to this:


Do you now follow why I made that statement? I say it's weird to argue XP is gamey but levels aren't, and you appear to challenge me by saying people level up in real life. I note that this argument -- that if people level up through experience -- also supports XP just as well. You return with asking if people have XP stamped on their forehead (a rather bizarre introduction) and I say as much as they have their level stamped there. You respond by saying you do level up, but not in classes you don't have.

In all of this, I haven't introduced new and exciting things. You have (people level up in real life, XP stamped on foreheads, classes that you belong to). Trying to pin how weird this has gotten on me is itself fairly weird. Also it seems like an attempt to get me to believe in a chain of events that didn't actually happen that way.


Context matter, man. You can't claim your statements are entirely anodyne when they're entirely in the context of me pointing out that claiming XP is gamey while levels aren't. Unless you're not challenging that at all and this is a strange and colossal misunderstanding where you insist one something because you think I'm saying something in challenge to it?

I should know better than to bother trying to have a conversation with you, I'm done. I've made my opinions clear on the subject.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Ovinomancer, Oofta, please both of you disengage. Put each other on ignore if you have to.

@Ovinomancer, you have a whole bunch of post reports about you, and not all from one person. I suggest you find a different thread to participate in.
 

the Jester

Legend
And 1 XP was awarded for keeping 1 GP worth of treasure found during the adventure. It's difficult to overstate just how important that is in driving play — with that rule in place, you quite literally never have to "dangle hooks" in front of the players. They'll seek out dungeons on their own, because they want treasure, because they want to level up.
A thing that is sometimes overlooked- and I didn't read the entire thread, so someone else may have already brought this up in more detail- is that if you use xp, you don't have to use it as written. Instead of just giving xp for defeating foes, you can give it for treasure. You can give it for roleplaying. You can give it for achieving goals, personal or party, or for whatever you want to motivate your party with. I love xp- I love the granularity of it and tracking it, and how it allows different characters to swap in and out of a group without artificially tying their advancement together, and I love how it enables mixed level play (by letting lower level characters catch up with their higher level pals).

I'm currently running a group using what I call the "ale and whores" xp system. Basically, the only way you get xp is by burning money on stuff nobody gets any real benefits from- thus the name. This pushes the characters toward a playstyle that reflects old Conan stories and the like- find adventure, get rich, party down with some Stygian lotus until you punch a horse in the face, get broke, find a new adventure. It also encourages things like hocking your armor for a few extra gp to drink away if you are just a bit short.

On the other hand, in the past, I used a system where you got half the normal xp for overcoming threats and then, at the end of each session, you could get xp for role-playing. For a while I had a "four categories" system- you could earn xp for role-playing your class, race, alignment, and personal traits. At a different point I had a system where everyone picked ten personality traits, with the option to add more as they leveled up, and at the end of the session they got xp for each trait they roleplayed (to a max of ten) during the session. These traits were completely player-defined. "I like dogs. I'm scared of spiders. I like the color blue. I prefer to be barefoot." Whatever.

Another thing I liked about this was being able to tailor my group's advancement rate. So for instance, I ran my "four categories" system in 3e, where you needed 1,000 xp to hit second level. I decided that if a group didn't do anything dangerous, but did do consistently good role-playing, I would like them to hit 2nd level in ten sessions- so rp xp should come out to a potential 100 per session, so 25 per category at first level. (And given the way the xp charts worked in 3e, it was easy to scale this up.) Under my ten traits system, each trait could earn you 10 xp per level per session and you would get the same (or a similar) advancement rate.

(This rather slow advancement rate also served to incentivize risky play for those quicker, easier combat xp. The combination of combat xp and rp xp tended to advance the group slightly slower than the standard just-challenge-xp system, but one could easily adjust to taste.)

Anyway, point is, xp can be versatile and serve a lot of different purposes. I think it's biggest advantage is decoupling the advancement of pcs from each other- which I know is a controversial stance these days.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Just a suggestion, but if you haven't already you might want to post a few links to the studies that have proven this; else you're not likely to get anywhere in advancing your point. :)
Wait for it...
All one needs to do is step into a casino, and its stimuli tactics, to see that what @Charlaquin is saying sounds about right. Popular video games too.
Glad you brought this up.

So if we're gonna go full research on the subject, here's some links on related studies to consider:

Why are Some Games More Addictive than Others?
Links between video games and gambling
Cognitive behavioral therapy for problematic video game players
BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS AND GAMBLING
Weapons of Mass Distraction: Random Rewards

Yeah, its effective alright. And no, I don't think it's an issue for most people playing D&D or anyone still using this traditional approach. BUT. It can, in fact, be useful to change player behaviors if employed with such intent. And it is not unheard of.

I don't think anyone has been arguing that the science is wrong. In fact, most of us, being intelligent and reasonable people, are already aware of what it is and how it is useful. But useful to what end? It is a technique for behavioral modification. Put the carrot on whatever stick you want your players to follow, and they will likely follow. That is, unless your players aren't motivated by XP. So if your players don't mind the subtle manipulation, go for it. A lot of us who have been playing the game since the early editions where this was the accepted norms. Times have changed since and we now see an evolution of less adversarial DMs and less manipulation in favor of player agency and choice.

So, if anyone is still determined to die on this hill, don't worry. I won't be claiming the XP. ;)
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I am always a bit conflicted on this topic...

Many of my 5e games have been one-shots. In that case it doesn't even matter because I don't level up.

In longer games I want the players to get the feeling of progress, and I don't want fast levelling, so XP serve me the purpose of marking gradual progress even when there's many sessions between levels.

But at the same time I don't care about precise calculations. If I have time to spare I might grant XP by the rules, however this usually results in too fast levelling. In addition I definitely do not want XP to be earned only from combat encounters. So usually what I do instead is grant subjective XP based on what they did during the session, moderated by how soon I want next level up.

Practically this is a bit like milestone-based but still using XP.

In addition I stopped granting individual XP decades ago. Same XP to everyone who is present to the session, no XP to absent players.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Winning the contest is an intrinsic reward, not an external reward. In many cases getting an external reward for something that you would have done for the intrinsic reward can be detrimental and lower your overall enjoyment.
Again, enjoyment is a much more complex feeling than what I’m talking about, which is pure, base dopamine release. Things that we call “intrinsically rewarding” generally feel that way because they trigger a dopamine release. Again, it’s the “I did a good job” chemical. When you get that sense of pride and accomplishment from a job well done? That’s dopamine. Mostly. The abstract thinking parts of our brains form opinions about what we feel and why, but fundamentally, it comes down to neurotransmitters.
Let's say I enjoy bicycling. I just do it because I enjoy the fresh air and getting to zone out for a bit.
Again, that’s dopamine.
Then I get an app on my phone and it tracks how far I bike and how many calories I use. If my motivation becomes do X miles or burn Y calories, the intrinsic value I had for biking can be lessened. Biking, which I used to enjoy just for biking becomes work, something I need to do for the number of calories burned external reward I get from my phone app.
But seeing progress being tracked on your phone app also triggers a dopamine release. This can be helpful for people who don’t find the “intrinsic reward” of exercise worth the tradeoff for the effort it requires. There are lots of reasons this may be the case. It isn’t for you, and that’s great, but that doesn’t change the fact that the activity, and the progress tracked on the phone app, both trip your brain’s reward system. Preferences, cost-benefit analysis, motivation, these are higher-order, more complex thinking than what I’m talking about.
I view D&D and XP the same way. I want the game play to be intrinsically rewarding, XP is externally rewarding. Instead of just having fun playing the game in the moment it can become grinding out XP which lowers the overall intrinsic reward. We still have levels but if people know they're going to level at the first opportunity after X hours of play like I do, they stop thinking about doing things in order to level.
Great. That’s a perfect valid reason to not want to use XP. Again, I am not saying, nor have I ever been saying, that this preference you have is wrong. I am just saying that human beings do in fact get a hit of the “I did a good job” brain chemical from gaining XP. Whether the overall effect that has on the game is desirable to you is an entirely different question I have zero interest in weighing in on. I do think it has a net positive effect on most campaigns, but I believe you when you say yours is not one of them.
 

Oofta

Legend
Again, enjoyment is a much more complex feeling than what I’m talking about, which is pure, base dopamine release. Things that we call “intrinsically rewarding” generally feel that way because they trigger a dopamine release. Again, it’s the “I did a good job” chemical. When you get that sense of pride and accomplishment from a job well done? That’s dopamine. Mostly. The abstract thinking parts of our brains form opinions about what we feel and why, but fundamentally, it comes down to neurotransmitters.

Again, that’s dopamine.

But seeing progress being tracked on your phone app also triggers a dopamine release. This can be helpful for people who don’t find the “intrinsic reward” of exercise worth the tradeoff for the effort it requires. There are lots of reasons this may be the case. It isn’t for you, and that’s great, but that doesn’t change the fact that the activity, and the progress tracked on the phone app, both trip your brain’s reward system. Preferences, cost-benefit analysis, motivation, these are higher-order, more complex thinking than what I’m talking about.

Great. That’s a perfect valid reason to not want to use XP. Again, I am not saying, nor have I ever been saying, that this preference you have is wrong. I am just saying that human beings do in fact get a hit of the “I did a good job” brain chemical from gaining XP. Whether the overall effect that has on the game is desirable to you is an entirely different question I have zero interest in weighing in on. I do think it has a net positive effect on most campaigns, but I believe you when you say yours is not one of them.

It goes back to getting a Hummel figurine. If I don't value overpriced porcelain, there will be no dopamine release.

But again... we're not going to agree. Have a good one.

EDIT: I'm sure a lot of people enjoy XP. I simply don't and don't remember ever seeing it as a reward.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Wait for it...

Glad you brought this up.

So if we're gonna go full research on the subject, here's some links on related studies to consider:

Why are Some Games More Addictive than Others?
Links between video games and gambling
Cognitive behavioral therapy for problematic video game players
BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS AND GAMBLING
Weapons of Mass Distraction: Random Rewards

Yeah, its effective alright. And no, I don't think it's an issue for most people playing D&D or anyone still using this traditional approach. BUT. It can, in fact, be useful to change player behaviors if employed with such intent. And it is not unheard of.

I don't think anyone has been arguing that the science is wrong. In fact, most of us, being intelligent and reasonable people, are already aware of what it is and how it is useful. But useful to what end? It is a technique for behavioral modification. Put the carrot on whatever stick you want your players to follow, and they will likely follow. That is, unless your players aren't motivated by XP. So if your players don't mind the subtle manipulation, go for it. A lot of us who have been playing the game since the early editions where this was the accepted norms. Times have changed since and we now see an evolution of less adversarial DMs and less manipulation in favor of player agency and choice.
You imply here that using XP to encourage engaging with the game in certain ways is inherently adversarial, but I assure you this is not the case.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I am always a bit conflicted on this topic...

Many of my 5e games have been one-shots. In that case it doesn't even matter because I don't level up.

In longer games I want the players to get the feeling of progress, and I don't want fast levelling, so XP serve me the purpose of marking gradual progress even when there's many sessions between levels.

But at the same time I don't care about precise calculations. If I have time to spare I might grant XP by the rules, however this usually results in too fast levelling. In addition I definitely do not want XP to be earned only from combat encounters. So usually what I do instead is grant subjective XP based on what they did during the session, moderated by how soon I want next level up.

Practically this is a bit like milestone-based but still using XP.

In addition I stopped granting individual XP decades ago. Same XP to everyone who is present to the session, no XP to absent players.
Milestones are, according to the DMG, a thing the DM can grant XP for. “Milestone- based but still using XP” is redundant, because milestones do use XP.

Other than that language nitpick, I agree with you on just about everything here. Some campaigns I will use individual XP, but not most.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It goes back to getting a Hummel figurine. If I don't value overpriced porcelain, there will be no dopamine release.
That’s not how brains work. Again, getting a Hummel figurine isn’t even a dopamine trigger; it might be a seratonin trigger. If you won it in some kind of contest, the winning of the contest is a dopamine trigger. Is the dopamine and the figurine (and the potential seratonin) enough to make you want to enter the contest? That’s a more complex topic that I don’t care to weigh in on. You’re trying to argue with me that the contest isn’t worth it for you, but that doesn’t actually contradict what I’m saying at all, and I don’t care.
But again... we're not going to agree. Have a good one.
I agree that a Hummel figurine isn’t rewarding to you. The problem is that that has nothing to do with what I’m saying. So no, we aren’t going to agree, because we’re arguing about completely different things!
EDIT: I'm sure a lot of people enjoy XP. I simply don't and don't remember ever seeing it as a reward.
This is irrelevant to what I’m arguing.
 




Oofta

Legend
That’s not how brains work. Again, getting a Hummel figurine isn’t even a dopamine trigger; it might be a seratonin trigger. If you won it in some kind of contest, the winning of the contest is a dopamine trigger. Is the dopamine and the figurine (and the potential seratonin) enough to make you want to enter the contest? That’s a more complex topic that I don’t care to weigh in on. You’re trying to argue with me that the contest isn’t worth it for you, but that doesn’t actually contradict what I’m saying at all, and I don’t care.

I agree that a Hummel figurine isn’t rewarding to you. The problem is that that has nothing to do with what I’m saying. So no, we aren’t going to agree, because we’re arguing about completely different things!

This is irrelevant to what I’m arguing.
You're the one who keeps saying things like
...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.

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. ...

Triggering dopamine was the phrase you used, I was just echoing your terminology. But I don't care about the progress bar filling up no matter how much you insist that everyone does.

In any case, I agree that XP works great for some people. In other cases the external rewards are detrimental to the intrinsic rewards without even realizing it. But it's largely a matter of preference and choice. If getting XP is how you level, and the source of XP is transparent then people are more likely to pursue the source of XP than play their character. Along with I don't see that extra accounting adds value, I'd rather have people do what makes sense for their character, not what gives them the most shiny XP.

But barring a long term in depth psychological study that proves that everyone agrees with your assumption over the long term in the
context of something as complex as playing D&D, I'm never going to agree and simply don't understand your obsession with this.

People should do what makes sense to them. I've given my reasons for not using it, you have yours.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Great, they are ready for the classroom...

So what?

If the adventure is time-sensitive then they go back and finish before going to the classroom. At which point other PCs can likely join them.
If the adventure is not time-sensitive then they go to the classroom and the others can relax or whatever while they wait. In which case they return to the adventure with some stronger PCs.

As an example, look at what is happening:

A-B can train to gain level 2
C-E are all still level 1
F-G are possible new PCs at level 1

You go back with 5 PCs at level 1, even though 2 can't earn more XP OR
You go back while they train with 5 PCs (adding F-G) that are all still level 1
Indeed, and that's a choice I don't at all mind the party/players having to make.

I'm also mostly ignoring character deaths here, which is often a far more significant cause of character turnover; and merely focusing on training*. I'm also assuming no player turnover in this case.

* - and-or any other reason a still-alive character might have to leave for a while e.g. going to a different city to report to its superiors.
Either way, if you continue the adventure immediately, you have 5 PCs at level 1, but in the first case you are playing the same PCs because those are the ones you are playing for the game. In the second case, you are forced to bring in two new PCs to fill in the gap just so A-B can train. Now, you are starting your merry-go-round of PCs and juggling act of who can go on which adventure when because so-and-so needs to train but others want adventure and XP.
And loot. Don't forget the loot!
Sure, it can happen for story reasons or player interest, but it isn't because you need them while others train...
I don't think you get it: some characters having to take time out to train is the story reason.
It's only an issue if your goal in the game is to gain XP. If your goal is to play the adventure, it isn't an issue.

Also, XP is awarded when you return from the adventure. The DM is not meant to calculate XP and award it on-the-fly, but at the end, when they can look at all the creatures defeated, tally the treasure recovered, etc. and adjust it against the difficulty of the adventure. PCs can adventure as long as they want, but as soon as they return and are awarded XP, they can't earn any more.
I've always given xp on the fly, in theory each morning when the PCs wake up and in practice whenever I get around to it; though I'll monitor it more closely if I know someone's close to bumping. Bumping gets you a few immediate benefits but most of what you gain occurs at training.
For example, if your 1st level PCs return from an adventure, and the DM tallies it so each PC earns 3250 XP, they can train. But the cleric and thief will each train for 2 levels (needing 3001 and 2501 XP, respectively to each 3rd level), while the others train for 1 level to become 2nd level, before moving on to the next adventure.
You're interpreting that bit of 1e RAW far differently than I would. The way I've always read it, that poor Thief would lose every xp after 1250 as it simply cannot normally gain further xp without first training into 2nd level. There's no "double training" like what you posit here.

That said, I can see one obvious reason why a by-the-book 1e DM wouldn't give out xp until the adventure's done: such a DM would be giving xp for treasure (something I've never done) and the PCs don't and can't know what their treasury shares are worth until they get it evaluated and divided.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Milestones are, according to the DMG, a thing the DM can grant XP for. “Milestone- based but still using XP” is redundant, because milestones do use XP.
Probably worth pointing out here that in a 3e-4e-5e system where all classes advance at the same rate milestone levelling and milestone xp work out to being pretty much the same thing in practice.

In a 0e-1e-2e system where classes advance at different rates, milestone xp and milestone levelling would be very different beasts.
Other than that language nitpick, I agree with you on just about everything here. Some campaigns I will use individual XP, but not most.
Being able to break it down by individual is to me about 95% of the reason for using xp in the first place.

An example from last night's session (and @DND_Reborn will like this as it involves training! :) ): on completing a mission a PC Cleric needed to train but as he's an Elf operating in Human lands the nearest place he could train was Elven lands, about three weeks journey away. The rest of the PCs agreed to stay put and wait while this PC and another went off to train.

However, when that Elf PC arrived at the Elven lands he walked face-first into a local religious conflict (VERY long story behind this!) and spent several days helping sort that out before he could start his training.

Why should anyone else other than that one Elf get any xp for what that Elf did while three weeks away from the rest of the party?
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
You're interpreting that bit of 1e RAW far differently than I would. The way I've always read it, that poor Thief would lose every xp after 1250 as it simply cannot normally gain further xp without first training into 2nd level. There's no "double training" like what you posit here.
Yeah, I thought you might. But my reading is supported by the text here (see highlight):

1646086723381.png

If you stop the XP the moment a PC reaches XP for the next level, such as in your example of stopping the Thief at 1251 XP for level 2, they would not have added the qualifier "OR GREATER THAN", which indicates it is certainly possible to earn XP sufficient to gain more than one level. Once the adventure is done and the DM calculates XP and awards it, then you cannot earn more until you train. You cannot, once XP is awarded, go back out (prior to training) to earn more XP for the sake of convenience to train for two levels at once.

The difference arises (as you note) when XP is awarded. If you award it daily (as you indicate?) then you are capping your PCs and restricting them more than necessary. If you award XP when the adventure is done (or has a significant break maybe?) then PCs can level accordingly, sometimes (albeit rarely) gaining more than one level if they gained sufficient XP and train for both. (FWIW, this only happens, if at all, typically in the first few levels...)

And loot. Don't forget the loot!
Well, that is really just tangible XP... never forget the loot! :D
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
An example from last night's session (and @DND_Reborn will like this as it involves training! :) ): a PC Cleric needed to train but as he's an Elf operating in Human lands the nearest place he could train was Elven lands, about three weeks journey away. The rest of the PCs agreed to stay put and wait while this PC and another went off to train.

However, when that Elf PC arrived at the Elven lands he walked face-first into a local religious conflict (VERY long story behind this!) and spent several days helping sort that out before he could start his training.
Ah, yes, this is a nice example! Me likey very much. :D

This is a perfect example of story related to training (which is totally good!). And how you choose to handle this as DM is up to you, but this would have been my approach...

Elf PC heads out and others are waiting. Why wait? Is there nothing for them to do in the area for a minor side-adventure while they wait? The player of the Elf PC could bring in another PC, but IMO that just complicates things. I would offer that player an NPC or (a favorite of mine) ask them to play the bad guys and get them involved on my side of the DM screen!

We play out a bit of that and everyone has fun.

Returning to the Elf PC now, we see his journeys are interrupted as you said by local conflict. Depending on the extent of this, it is a chance to play out a different side-adventure as a solo, have other players join as NPCs (unless you really want the whole multiple PC thing...) or as bad guys, etc. It could go many different ways.

Why should anyone else other than that one Elf get any xp for what that Elf did while three weeks away from the rest of the party?
They shouldn't of course, they should get XP for something they did while the Elf was away. There is no reason they literally have to do nothing unless you choose that as DM... 🤷‍♂️
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, I thought you might. But my reading is supported by the text here (see highlight):

View attachment 152583
If you stop the XP the moment a PC reaches XP for the next level, such as in your example of stopping the Thief at 1251 XP for level 2, they would not have added the qualifier "OR GREATER THAN", which indicates it is certainly possible to earn XP sufficient to gain more than one level. Once the adventure is done and the DM calculates XP and awards it, then you cannot earn more until you train. You cannot, once XP is awarded, go back out (prior to training) to earn more XP for the sake of convenience to train for two levels at once.
Yet the sentence immediately prior to that, partly cut off, specifically states you can't gain two levels at once.

In any case, I haven't done it this way ever and thus I don't have to worry about it. :)
The difference arises (as you note) when XP is awarded. If you award it daily (as you indicate?)
In the fiction the PCs get xp each morning after having had a chance to "sleep on it" and take in the previous day's events and experiences.

At the table I give out xp less frequently than that, unless I know someone's close to bumping in which case I will do them daily.
Well, that is really just tangible XP... never forget the loot! :D
If one gives xp for treasure. Otherwise, loot is merely its own reward. :)
 

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