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D&D General Experience Points & Leveling: A Brief Primer on XP in the 1e DMG, and Why It Still Matters

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
i admit that my exposure beyond this message board is limited, but I don't see many arguments for this approach. I'm curious to hear your reasons why this works better. (This may require a separate thread)
Because rewarding PCs for killing things or subduing them encourages PCs to go round looking to kill things or subdue them.

There is so much wrong with the way XP used to work.

Levelling up classes differently - eughhh

Awarding XP to different players differently - Oh lord no.

Forcing players to start at lower levels when they die - Not on my life.

Xp for treasure - Wow, wealth as a synonym for power isn’t my idea of a heroic theme.
 
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So GP means XP. Once you have enough XP (based on GP) you can exchange GP for a level advancement.

Why not cut out XP entirely? "Advancing to level X will cost you Y amount of GP. Go out and find some!"
The answer is simple, at least in the original troupe play 1e paradigm. It would then be easy for a player to simply 'pay up' a new character. That would work both for a single player (though Gary forbade all such cooperation, so there is that) but also between players. When Joe gets a new Dwarf because his old PC died, Fred gifts the new character with 10,000 GP and he just trains himself up to level 3 without ever setting foot in the dungeon. There's NO RISK. The game was meant to be a test of player skill. Such shenanigans undermine the whole basic concept of play. So XP, in 1e's paradigm, is vital.

Now, is it vital in a 5e game which runs in the most common 5e paradigm, of a single party of unified level where the object of play is to advance while having an interesting narrative? Probably not. Of course 5e doesn't have training rules either... In fact you are usually going to bring in a new PC of party level if one dies. The game isn't really ABOUT "can I get to level 20?" which is basically the entire goal of classic 1e AD&D (and the other TSR editions, mostly). 5e using 'milestone leveling' actually makes more sense IMHO than XP, and this is what we normally did in our 4e games as well.
 

For me, it means dropping the xp accounting as a DM and a player, allows the pace of leveling not to be dependent on things the system awards xp for, and allows the whole party to maintain general power balance by advancing together.

It ended unnecessary murder-hobo behaviour to hunt for XPs. Levelling up is based on story advancement and resolution. And like Voadan said it eliminated the xp accounting.
Right, instead leveling becomes more a signifier of the PCs progress in their narrative. First they start out as some locals handling some minor local threat, then they gradually progress to bigger and bigger stuff, based on a sort of natural story line. Instead of everything being motivated by 'moar loot' it is motivated by the actual character traits of the PCs. They defend their village because it is their home. They overthrow the evil warlord because he is unjust and threatens their home. They march out to the Ogre Hills and put paid to some ogres because they killed their friends. Etc. You can get more creative than that too.

I like to use a sort of reverse concept. The player specifies some sort of goal, "get the magic sword" and when they accomplish that, they have leveled up. As GM I can always insure that there's some drama and action involved in that. Maybe sometimes the characters fail, so they may end up needing to go do something else instead, though usually if it is appropriate you can find some alternate leveling logic, like finding a mentor or being exposed to weird magical effects.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
The answer is simple, at least in the original troupe play 1e paradigm. It would then be easy for a player to simply 'pay up' a new character. That would work both for a single player (though Gary forbade all such cooperation, so there is that) but also between players. When Joe gets a new Dwarf because his old PC died, Fred gifts the new character with 10,000 GP and he just trains himself up to level 3 without ever setting foot in the dungeon. There's NO RISK. The game was meant to be a test of player skill. Such shenanigans undermine the whole basic concept of play. So XP, in 1e's paradigm, is vital.
Other actual player shenanigans to abuse the system: Enter a jewelry, kill the owner and grab all the loot, then ask the DM to give them XPs for the gold value. That is why every NPC in town was a retired level 15 character.
 

Other actual player shenanigans to abuse the system: Enter a jewelry, kill the owner and grab all the loot, then ask the DM to give them XPs for the gold value. That is why every NPC in town was a retired level 15 character.
Thief's Guild didn't get its cut, jeweler paid for protection, City Watch is after you now, etc. Your days of being able to rest, recuperate, train, heal, etc. in town is now shot. Roll up a new PC, lol. Only a very unimaginative DM needs 15th level jewelers. If the character can somehow plan it so he avoids all these problems, then good for him, but you can count on that will be harder than looting a dungeon level! ;)
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I do think this is a rather elegant approach.
I can't find where this was (I keep thinking it was in Mongoose's Conan d20 game, but I'm not able to confirm that), but I distinctly recall seeing an RPG where you received XP for GP, but only for GP that you spent. Furthermore, it had to be spent on inconsequential things, rather than stuff that had game mechanics.

So for example, if you spent 15 gp on a new longsword, then you gained 0 XP. But if you spent 50 gp on ale and whores, you gained 50 XP for that. The idea was that this kept driving the PCs to go adventuring for gold (rather than murderhoboing) and then immediately spend what they recovered so that they'd have to keep doing it. It was a great mechanic.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
1. Calculating the XP Value for Monsters.
"You do not talk to me like that!! I work too hard to deal with this stuff!! I work too hard!! I’m a Division Manager in charge of 49 people!! I drive a Dodge Stratus!!" -Your DM, ruefully.

As much fun as we like to make of ye olde fashioned hobo-murderin', killin' stuff (through combat) has always been deeply baked into D&D. It is hardly surprising that the first part of the section on experience in 1e begins with ... wait for it ... defeating monsters. What might be somewhat surprising is just how discretionary it all is! To start with, Gygax stresses that the difficulty of the monsters alin should affect the reward of XP, and then provides the exact rule to use. It's pithy and simple to understand!
If the average hit dice or level is 10 times greater than the average level or hit dice, there must be an adjustment of at least halving or doubling the experience point (x.p.) award as the circumstances dictate, except if the lesser group is approximately 20 times more numerous than the greater value group.

See! Simple. Notably, Gygax also instructs the DM to award (subjectively) XP for outwitting monsters and overcoming traps or tricks, if it leads to treasure. In addition, there is a table (because this is the 1e DMG, and it has more tables than an IKEA Warehouse) that shows you how to calculate the base XP for killing/defeating a monster based on the monster's hit dice, hit points, special abilities, and super-duper special abilities.
That to me is the single most useful table in the whole damn book! Why? Because it's a) absolutely essential and b) nigh-impossible to reverse-engineer from the xp values given for monsters in Appendix (E?).
Finally, there is one more kinda important note (well, more than one, but I'm trying to simplify this)- if you get killed during the combat, you get zero. And if you have henchmen with you (fairly common back then) they get a half share ... and then you divide those previous XP amongst the surviving party members.
Henches get half, yes. We also give half to anyone who dies (relevant if they are later revived).

And "the surviving party members" only includes those who took part in the combat. Someone away scouting, for example, doesn't get any if the rest of the party has an encounter while the scout's away.
3. The Insanely Complicated Rules for Level Advancement.
"Life is not a fairytale; if you lose your shoe at midnight, you're drunk." Me, inebriatedly.

Now, there are those who say that the old ways didn't reward roleplaying. Ah, but that's not true! Because they did in terms of judgin'. You know those old DMs ... always judging. So here's the deal - imagine you're in the middle of your dungeon quest, and you (the Thief) just got to 1,251 XP to get to level 2. Awesome, right? Level 2, more hit points, and a slightly more marginal chance to succeed at basic thief skills (but not really).

How about (record skip) NO! Because you have to train to gain a level. Which means a few things- first, that you don't get to earn any more XP until you have trained and gained the level. That's right, you're stuck.
While I love training and will keep it forever, this hard-stop always bugged me. Long since modified. :)
4. Putting the Rules Together, and why Many (Most?) Tables Didn't.
"Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes." - Garry Hoy, unfortunately.

The training rules, while annoying, served two useful purposes- first, it stopped the accumulation of XP. This is a weird thing to think about, but this helped slow down rapid advancement; you were forced to either stop what you were doing, or (and this was more common) not get the "full share" of the XP that you gained when divvying up the treasure because you exceeded the amount you needed. In addition, it was a useful sop for GP and downtime- especially at lower levels, you had to maintain enough money to advance, and it provided a useful reason for significant downtime between adventures.
Indeed - that to me is perhaps the biggest side-benefit of training: it both causes and enforces downtime.
That said, the rules were complex and many people did not apply them in whole or in part; the wording of the rules suggests that XP for monsters is awarded on a per-combat basis, while XP for treasure is only awarded at the end of the adventure. While this makes sense (especially if you have the XP value for the monsters handy, and treasure is divvied up at the end of the adventure), it could be difficult to do on the fly. Constant discretionary adjustments were difficult. And as I stated before, it is difficult to imagine DMs "policing" your RPing as a factor in the cost and length of your training. While I am sure that there are those that will pipe up in the comments, IME you rarely saw DMs apply all the rules, as written, for XP and leveling.
The RP-policing piece isn't something I've ever had affect xp, only alignment. I dropped xp-for-treasure the moment I started DMing, partly replaced with a "dungeon bonus" after each adventure; but the end result is much the same - complete the mission, get a bonus.

Giving out xp for monsters (and other activities) on the fly isn't difficult. It soon becomes tedious to give them out after every single encounter; much easier to just track them and then give them out in a batch every few sessions (unless someone's really close to bumping). I also have it that characters don't get xp until after an overnight rest.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Another effect of the training rules, and I think a major one for Gary, was to soak PCs gold. It takes a HUGE amount of gold to advance!
Yes, this is a pleasant side effect of having training in the game. :) That said, my training costs aren't quite as extreme as the originals you're referencing.
BEST CASE you spend 1,500gp x level per levell So by the time you are level 3, you will have spent 1,500 + 3,000 + 4,500 = 9,000 GP! This is actually far more GP than you are likely to get from the number of monsters which would yield the XP and treasure XP to get to this level (you would, as a cleric need 6,000 XP for third level, so probably 5000 GP, roughly). This is BEST CASE. So, in practice, GP is the main gate on level advancement for PCs, and at least 50% of the time (and if the GM is not nice and gives ratings of 1 most of the tim it will be a lot more) you would be adventuring only for gold and tossing the XP.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hiya!

We tried the "training for your level" thing for a while. It bugged us. Not the cost or time, just the idea that an adventurer would need to stop adventuring and "attend school" in order to get better just made no sense to us. It's like someone being in the military, going into a war zone, fighting off the enemy, saving dozens of lives, gathering vital intel and then having to fly back home to take a 6 page test that includes a written essay in order to get promoted. LOL!
I always look at it the other way round: you're not writing a test on what you've already learned in the field, instead when training you're learning a new round of theory which you'll then take into the field and put into practice.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I can't find where this was (I keep thinking it was in Mongoose's Conan d20 game, but I'm not able to confirm that), but I distinctly recall seeing an RPG where you received XP for GP, but only for GP that you spent. Furthermore, it had to be spent on inconsequential things, rather than stuff that had game mechanics.

So for example, if you spent 15 gp on a new longsword, then you gained 0 XP. But if you spent 50 gp on ale and whores, you gained 50 XP for that. The idea was that this kept driving the PCs to go adventuring for gold (rather than murderhoboing) and then immediately spend what they recovered so that they'd have to keep doing it. It was a great mechanic.
That’s awesome. I might use it if I run a sword and sorcery campaign.
 

Yes, this is a pleasant side effect of having training in the game. :) That said, my training costs aren't quite as extreme as the originals you're referencing.
Yeah, I reference that costs between 150 GP/level and 300 GP/level actually aligns expected gold with training costs such that training will basically suck up right around 100% of treasure table treasure. Oddly enough, this casts 4e's 'fixed treasure per level' in a whole new light! In effect classic D&D is taking away 100% of the expected treasure, and leaving PCs with ONLY the residuals, which is whatever 'bonus' or 'adventure' treasure the DM is choosing to place. 4e is kind of doing the opposite, just assuming that there isn't really 'bonus' treasure at all, and you keep what you get, but probably have to spend it on consumables, rituals, and extra gear anyway (since it doesn't specify any other costs that is pretty much the only option, aside from 'story uses').
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Because rewarding PCs for killing things or subduing them encourages PCs to go round looking to kill things or subdue them.

There is so much wrong with the way XP used to work.

Levelling up classes differently - eughhh
What's wrong with classes advancing at different rates? It's a hella fine balancing mechanism, why not use it?
Awarding XP to different plays differently - Oh lord no.
This doesn't parse - are you referring to the roleplaying bonus, or to the idea of individual xp in general, or ?
Xp for treasure - Wow, wealth as a synonym for power isn’t my idea of a heroic theme.
In real life I'd agree, but default D&D is modelling a different type of reality where wealth largely is power.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Because rewarding PCs for killing things or subduing them encourages PCs to go round looking to kill things or subdue them.

There is so much wrong with the way XP used to work.

Levelling up classes differently - eughhh

Awarding XP to different plays differently - Oh lord no.

Forcing players to start at lower levels when they die - Not on my life.

Xp for treasure - Wow, wealth as a synonym for power isn’t my idea of a heroic theme.
Shrug, your bug, my feature. different xp tables based on class was a balancing mechanism, so making all classes use the same table but changing nothing else? That would cause even more problems with how PCs were balanced.

Zero to hero is also a feature for me, not a bug. And it fits the living world preference I have.

that being said, xp rules in 1e were all over the place. Many of the reasons have already been given. It's pretty odd that you could look at XP values for monsters, look at the table that told you how to assign xp for monsters, and realize that the math almost never added up. shrug

As someone who played 1e as my go-to game from 1981 to 2012, I think somewhere around 1983 we ignored the training time frame requirements and costs (even though we understood that gold was meant to be spent, and that's a way to do it). We allowed leveling up when you got enough XP and there was a good break in the game to do so.

I am very much a fan of xp for treasure over monsters, because it fosters a more creative style of play. if most of your xp comes from monsters, then every encounter will be treated like you have to fight it. That gets boring and repetitive. By contrast, if you get most xp for treasure and mission accomplishment, and encounters have a high risk (which they did in 1e compared to later editions), it encouraged more creative ways to get past the monsters other than fighting them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, I reference that costs between 150 GP/level and 300 GP/level actually aligns expected gold with training costs such that training will basically suck up right around 100% of treasure table treasure. Oddly enough, this casts 4e's 'fixed treasure per level' in a whole new light! In effect classic D&D is taking away 100% of the expected treasure, and leaving PCs with ONLY the residuals, which is whatever 'bonus' or 'adventure' treasure the DM is choosing to place. 4e is kind of doing the opposite, just assuming that there isn't really 'bonus' treasure at all, and you keep what you get, but probably have to spend it on consumables, rituals, and extra gear anyway (since it doesn't specify any other costs that is pretty much the only option, aside from 'story uses').
My usual guideline is 1000 g.p. per level being trained into (thus, training for 7th would run about 7000); but I'm also not running those stingy Scrooge-like 5e modules that you are. :)
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
What's wrong with classes advancing at different rates? It's a hella fine balancing mechanism, why not use it?
If you can arbitrarily balance classes with XP that means you’ve ascribed them a value. Use this value to instead balance the classes without it.
This doesn't parse - are you referring to the roleplaying bonus, or to the idea of individual xp in general, or ?
Should say different ‘players’. Ie. player A does more so gets more XP.
In real life I'd agree, but default D&D is modelling a different type of reality where wealth largely is power.
Nah. In D&D, power is power.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Shrug, your bug, my feature. different xp tables based on class was a balancing mechanism, so making all classes use the same table but changing nothing else? That would cause even more problems with how PCs were balanced.

Zero to hero is also a feature for me, not a bug. And it fits the living world preference I have.

that being said, xp rules in 1e were all over the place. Many of the reasons have already been given. It's pretty odd that you could look at XP values for monsters, look at the table that told you how to assign xp for monsters, and realize that the math almost never added up. shrug

As someone who played 1e as my go-to game from 1981 to 2012, I think somewhere around 1983 we ignored the training time frame requirements and costs (even though we understood that gold was meant to be spent, and that's a way to do it). We allowed leveling up when you got enough XP and there was a good break in the game to do so.

I am very much a fan of xp for treasure over monsters, because it fosters a more creative style of play. if most of your xp comes from monsters, then every encounter will be treated like you have to fight it. That gets boring and repetitive. By contrast, if you get most xp for treasure and mission accomplishment, and encounters have a high risk (which they did in 1e compared to later editions), it encouraged more creative ways to get past the monsters other than fighting them.
Is every D&D game not zero to hero?
 
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