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OSR How Do You Award XP?

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
For my Curse of Strahd game, I used a structured-milestone approach based on this DMs Guild product: Structured Milestone XP for Curse of Strahd - Dungeon Masters Guild | Dungeon Masters Guild

Basically, you give points for:
  • defeating important antagonists
  • visiting/exploring different areas
  • finding different macguffins
  • completing important story milestones

I found it to be an elegant way to reward all pillars and any style of play. It can be a little challenging to come up with a system like this for your own games. Because you'll need to play around with the numbers to avoid unanticipated leveling issues and to determine the right amount of points to level up based on party size. The effort, however, is rewarding. Unlike more typical milestone leveling, it puts control of leveling into the player's hands.

In my current campaign, I'm going with XP for GP. Players get one XP for every extracted GP worth of value for non-magical items extracted from the dungeon (I'm running Rappan Athuk). I really like how it affects the flavor of the campaign and style of play. It works very well for old-school mega dungeons crawls.
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
I ran a typical 2 hour session last night, and we wrapped up before the first combat of the evening. The night was spent with roleplaying, exploration, mystery investigation, etc., just not collecting gold and killing monsters.

So how would you give XP for this session? I'd hate to give them nothing for their characters, especially when even the quickest advancing character at the table will need 10+ sessions to get to level 2 based on our current rate.

I would eyeball a certain amount of XP to give them a the feeling that they got some work done, moved towards the success of their quests, and (possibly) overcome some risks.

I certainly do not like the game to focus granting XP only on combat, because the character stats (which is what improves by level) are not only for combat. But it is more than understandable that XP for everything else than combat is difficult to write rules for, and can mostly be eyeballed.
 

Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
For 1st Ed, I award xp at the end of each adventure, however many sessions that takes. I track the monster XP as we go and keep a running tally for the group. If some characters handle monsters on their own and others are absent, I'll divide that xp up for those players, but either way nothing gets awarded until the adventure is done and the characters are ready for downtime. (I also track the passage of time and 'bank' the days. As per the DMG, real time away from the table = in game time passed, but since that's not always practical mid-adventure, I just bank it all and apply it when the scenario is finished)

Once we're at that stage the players then go about dividing the loot and rewards - at which point I can add their treasure totals to the monster totals, and 'story' awards which I occasionally use as well.

After that we fast forward the banked days, and the players can use that time span for training etc. After that's resolve the game picks up from there and off we go.
 

I'm coming off a "milestone-only" XP philosophy to playtest an OSR adventure, which has XP awards as a staple of the system (even down to classes needing more or less XP to go up in level based on their perceived power level).

I ran a typical 2 hour session last night, and we wrapped up before the first combat of the evening. The night was spent with roleplaying, exploration, mystery investigation, etc., just not collecting gold and killing monsters.

So how would you give XP for this session? I'd hate to give them nothing for their characters, especially when even the quickest advancing character at the table will need 10+ sessions to get to level 2 based on our current rate.
I wouldn't award any xp. None of the awardable conditions have been achieved.

OSR xp (at least AD&D) tends to come in bursts, with loot xp greatly outweighing combat xp. Obviously, there is some flexibility- if you are able to gain a noble's favor without combat or loot that can be judged to be worth 5,000 gp in good and services. Thus, it's 5,000 xp.

Part of the point of xp for loot is that it abstracts the other activities the characters do beyond combat. Wizards have to pick appropriate spells, clerics banish evil, thieves sneak and scout. If they do so creatively and expertly, they are able to gain more loot with less danger. This allows for more hazardous adventures with respectively larger payouts.

This is also how players are able to choose the amount of risk their characters are willing to take. Greater risks offer greater rewards.
 

FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
I assign a level to the quest undertaken or area explored, then use the adventuring day table to award xp.

If not completed in one session (do aim for this though), I pro-rata the amount awarded.

Up to the players how they achieve their goals, though the patron typically offers an obvious choice.
 

And that variation in xp requirements by class effectively pegs the edition as 2nd or earlier. You need to have an appreciation for how the game was intended to be played at that time. It's not just a matter of plugging or unplugging one xp award system for another as if they ARE interchangeable. 1E and 2E gave out xp for two things - killing things, and successfully getting gold and other treasure back home securely. Why? Because the game was supposed to be like Conan the Barbarian who would... KILL things and end up with piles of gold which he then would gleefully but recklessly spend on ale and whores. And then go look for more things to kill. These were not game rule systems intended to tell complicated stories with drama, pathos, and emotional complexity. These were systems intended to "tell stories" of a continued cycle of gleeful, righteous slaughter and then wasting all your cash in celebration. Whatever you give out rewards for, you naturally prompt players to do more of.
1E and 0E gave out XP mainly for loot and a little bit for killing things. 2E defaulted to ad hoc XP (the DM makes up the award based on how quickly they feel the players should be advancing and how well they feel the players role-played), with optional rules for quest-completion XP ("saving the baron's daughter is worth 1,500 XP") and class-specific XP (thieves get 100 XP for picking a lock, mages get 500 × spell level XP for inventing a new spell, etc.). In fact 2E devoted one small paragraph to XP-for-treasure, saying that DMs could optionally do that instead, but cautioning against it since it "tempted DMs to hand out too much treasure." (The text of 2E could sometimes feel very passive-aggressive about the way 1E did things.)
I'm coming off a "milestone-only" XP philosophy to playtest an OSR adventure, which has XP awards as a staple of the system (even down to classes needing more or less XP to go up in level based on their perceived power level).

I ran a typical 2 hour session last night, and we wrapped up before the first combat of the evening. The night was spent with roleplaying, exploration, mystery investigation, etc., just not collecting gold and killing monsters.

So how would you give XP for this session? I'd hate to give them nothing for their characters, especially when even the quickest advancing character at the table will need 10+ sessions to get to level 2 based on our current rate.
I would award no XP for the session. In old-school games, XP is supposed to be objective and (at least for treasure XP) tied to a number that exists in the fiction as well as at the meta level. That's what's so great about it: if the party found 3,683 GP, it's perfectly clear why they've earned 3,683 XP (plus or minus prime requisite adjustments). It puts the players' collective eyes on the prize.

That said, classic D&D isn't entirely without options. The Rules Cyclopedia has a provision for awarding XP for story-related activities or exceptionally good role-playing. Such awards are supposed to be infrequent and should never amount to more than one twentieth of the amount of XP a character needs to gain a level (so e.g. for a 1st or 2nd level fighter who needs 2,000 XP to level up, a story award should never be greater than 100 XP). You can do that if you really want to, but it does somewhat compromise your stated goal of playtesting the adventure.
 
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Bupp

Adventurer
I prefer milestone leveling.

As a player, I like getting XP for the session. Watching the points tick up. Planning out my next feat taken. Looking forward to the new abilities.

So as a DM, I award XP at a rate that will allow them to level up at milestones.
 

Richards

Legend
For my latest 3.5 campaign, I decided to try something new - I'm not bothering with XP at all. Instead, I've decided to have 5 adventures for each level, allowing the campaign to end at the completion of adventure #100 when everyone's retiring at 20th level. And the adventures I run are all going to be stuff I've written for the campaign, each about the size of a standard Dungeon adventure, not the current 5E adventures that take the PCs through half a dozen levels or more. We're only three adventures in so far, so they have two more to go through before they hit 2nd level. But I figure this will give everyone enough time to get used to the abilities their PCs have at each level before leveling up again and gaining even more abilities. We'll see how it goes.

Johnathan
 

1E and 0E gave out XP mainly for loot and a little bit for killing things. 2E defaulted to ad hoc XP (the DM makes up the award based on how quickly they feel the players should be advancing and how well they feel the players role-played), with optional rules for quest-completion XP ("saving the baron's daughter is worth 1,500 XP") and class-specific XP (thieves get 100 XP for picking a lock, mages get 500 × spell level XP for inventing a new spell, etc.). In fact 2E devoted one small paragraph to XP-for-treasure, saying that DMs could optionally do that instead, but cautioning against it since it "tempted DMs to hand out too much treasure." (The text of 2E could sometimes feel very passive-aggressive about the way 1E did things.)
Well that wasn't how I remembered 2E working so I just went back over it. Re-reading the 2E DMG, saying that it defaults to ad hoc xp awards is... inaccurate. It starts by talking about giving xp for fun, survival, improvement and story, but without presenting any numbers. When it comes to advancement the classes still use the same xp charts that they did in 1E. Those awards still come in numbered amounts. So, actually adding up points means you still start by adding up xp for monsters killed (and the values for that are about the same as they were for 1E except that 2E smartly eliminated a lot of the pointlessly nitpicky calculations for that which 1E had). Story award value was then constrained by that number from the monster tally. Essentially, instead of giving xp for gp, 2E said to assign a value you think is fair based on the completion of the story/adventure/whatever - and that the amount of that award should not be higher than the amount for killing the monsters, nor should the story award be higher than 1/10th the amount that a character needs to gain a level. So if you need 100,000 xp to advance to the next level and you gain 15,000 xp for killing monsters on a big adventure, the story award for that adventure (which would normally then get as high as 15,000) should actually not exceed 10,000 xp. Also, it says that the story award is most importantly for use in simply pacing advancement where the DM thinks it should be.

The inference that should probably be drawn from that is that ad hoc portion of 2E's xp awards is less about what actually happens on an adventure than it is about ensuring that PC's continue to gain xp and advance regardless of what happens on an adventure, or that if they kill a LOT of stuff that they not advance TOO fast, so give them a smaller story award. So, if it should happen that you do no combat at all, being limited to 1/10 what you need to advance to the next level you'd then need to do 10 NON-combat adventures. If you matched monster-killing xp with story xp every adventure you'd still need 5 adventures per level. Only if you're getting more xp killing monsters than you are in maximizing your story award would you advance faster than that.

It also says that any award for survival should actually be very small and such an award should even be reserved only for very special occasions. I'd note that the way the survival award is talked about anyway makes it not a group award but an individual award and they don't specify that. Otherwise, your PC's award for survival gets lumped in with all the other xp and then divided equally among the group.

Replacing 1E's xp-for-gold with other things is not a bad idea at all. 1E still had a VERY narrow and actually outdated view of what the game actually was and how it should be played. It was actually already being played quite differently than it had been in OD&D and ideas about xp needed to expand - but 2E is NOT entirely ad hoc. Its gameplay is still solidly rooted in killing things and taking their stuff - it's just that the stuff is mostly now its own reward, so to maintain the SAME pace of advancement and make up the rest of that xp that 1E handed out they said:

"For something like half the xp award just... MAKE UP what it's for rather than saying it's just for the gold. The pacing of advancement is as important a thing as much as what you're actually doing. So start with the same numbers as 1E had for killing things, and then just add some more to make up for the removal of xp-for-gold. Call it a "fun" reward, or "story" or "improvement" or whatever. Oh, but don't make it TOO much. Still gotta keep the PC's actually adventuring for that xp."

2E made changes, even improvements to xp awards, but they weren't revolutionary, just evolutionary. Just don't get me started on the disaster that was 2E's optional individual award system to show that they were not entirely on top of their game in designing xp systems. :)
 

I believe the question is really "what is XP and why do characters get it?" If you take rules as written, you get experience points for earning treasure, and defeating (not necessarily killing) monsters. You don't strictly get experience for overcoming traps or solving puzzles (though those are suggested as optional sources). I think the commonality between the main sources of experience gain is that these are actions that further the cause of civilization. You get XP for bringing wealth into the local economy, removing chaotic monsters from the area, or convincing those monsters to leave the area or get jobs and contribute to the society. Most of your XP from adventuring comes from that wealth accumulation, and the little bit you do get from monsters seems to have less to do with the challenge those monsters pose to the party than it does with the impact those monsters have on the locals.

I think you could easily alter the why/how of XP gain with literally any system you want, but the game would and should very much become "about" whatever it is you end up rewarding, and you may need to deprioritize some player character abilities and mechanics in favor of new ones that actually simulate the new pursuits you're rewarding.
 



Quickleaf

Legend
I'm coming off a "milestone-only" XP philosophy to playtest an OSR adventure, which has XP awards as a staple of the system (even down to classes needing more or less XP to go up in level based on their perceived power level).

I ran a typical 2 hour session last night, and we wrapped up before the first combat of the evening. The night was spent with roleplaying, exploration, mystery investigation, etc., just not collecting gold and killing monsters.

So how would you give XP for this session? I'd hate to give them nothing for their characters, especially when even the quickest advancing character at the table will need 10+ sessions to get to level 2 based on our current rate.
The only OSR-ish adventure I recall in recent memory that included specific notes on role-playing / exploration XP awards was 3e's Gary Gygax's Necropolis. Compared to the combat rewards, I think the RP/exploration awards ended up being around 30% of the XP required to reach the next level.

I think understanding that ratio is the main thing. Figuring out which ratio works for your play group and the needs of the specific adventure.

For instance, the first chapter (presumably for 10th level PCs, who need 10,000 XP each to reach 11th) says...

STORY AWARDS
Per the DMG, you may award the following XP for certain story accomplishments. While peril lurks at every turn, there is more to this adventure than combat, and the PCs should be rewarded for their actions and interactions in Aartuat!

Locating and befriending Khonsu-khaibet: 200 XP
Befriending Merha-aptut: 150 XP.
Being invited to the temple of Hapy by Merha-aptut: 100XP.
Befriending Atmu-thoth-rahat: 200 XP. Obtaining figurines from Atmu’: 300 XP.
Significant Interaction with any of the other major non-Evil NPCs (Nemekh, Hetet-f, Bas-f-py, Hamephat, Mastuti, Khepifar): 250 XP.
Befriending or aiding Afu-abtem: 200 XP.
Discovering any of the three Evil leaders (Shenau, Gerhit, and Hept-f-hra): 300 XP per Evil NPC discovered.
Defeating any one of the three Evil leaders: 300 XP per Evil NPC defeated (beyond the XI’ for the combat encounter).
Obtaining the Serpent Ankh: 500 XP.
Getting rid of any of the associated Evil NPCs (Hept-fehra’s wife, 2 sons, daughter, 2 guards, or Hep-thait the boy-thief): 200 XP per associated Evil NPC eliminated.
Overcoming the demoncroc: 500 XP.
Locating the statuettes inside the demoncroc: 500 XP.
Taking the statuettes to Atmu’ for his analysis: 300 XP.
Causing trouble in Aartuat: -200 XP. Stealing from any non-Evil NPC: -400 XP.
Harming any non-Evil NPC: -400 XP.
 

And magic items gained.
AD&D 1st ed is the only one of the old school games that has this rule, right? I remember there being some mention of it as a concept in OD&D, but no real rules. It's not a rule in the Basic/Expert or BECMI lines, and they dropped it in 2E, right?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
AD&D 1st ed is the only one of the old school games that has this rule, right? I remember there being some mention of it as a concept in OD&D, but no real rules. It's not a rule in the Basic/Expert or BECMI lines, and they dropped it in 2E, right?
It was for 1e. In 2e it became the amount of xp gained for creating the item, so it was still there, but much more limited. In 2e we still used it for the PCs that found the magic items, though.
 

It was for 1e. In 2e it became the amount of xp gained for creating the item, so it was still there, but much more limited. In 2e we still used it for the PCs that found the magic items, though.
Interesting. We played 2E for years, and the rules for creating magic items were phrased so restrictively that I don't think we ever had a PC create one. (As opposed to 3E, where we did it all the time).
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
At mid-point of 2e I stopped awarding XPs by the book. We played less often. Maybe 12 times a year. I awarded a lump sum of XPs after each session. PCs gained a level every 3-4 games. I've keep doing the same thing since then.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Interesting. We played 2E for years, and the rules for creating magic items were phrased so restrictively that I don't think we ever had a PC create one. (As opposed to 3E, where we did it all the time).
We made a few. The restrictions weren't what caused that, so much as the 5% chance of permanently losing a con point. Nobody wanted to risk that.
 

At mid-point of 2e I stopped awarding XPs by the book. We played less often. Maybe 12 times a year. I awarded a lump sum of XPs after each session. PCs gained a level every 3-4 games. I've keep doing the same thing since then.
Leveling every 3-4 sessions appears to be a pretty good pace, at least once you've gotten up around 5th to 7th or so, into what a lot of folks call the sweet spot.
 

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