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In Defense of Milestone Leveling

CleverNickName

Adventurer
In an earlier, unrelated thread, the subject of milestones vs. XP points came up. I didn't want to squash the discussion, but I also didn't want to derail my own thread...so I forked it over here.

In a nutshell: I plan to use milestone leveling in my next campaign, instead of assigning XP points. Here's how it all went down.

I would like a d20 Modern 2.0. but there are some problems about balance of power. How to explain it better? Do you remember the survival horror videogame "Alien: Isolation"? Only a xenomorph is a true nightmare, but in other games, for example the 1994 Capcom arcade "Aliens vs Predators" you can kill literally hundreds. A psycho-killer with a knife, for example the night slasher from Stallone's movie "Cobra" is too dangerous for an unarmed civilian character as Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen) but Marion "Cobra" Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) could kill all the cult of "the new world". With the right weapon you can kill a dinosaur and only a shot is enough. With remote-control drones you can kill enemies from other town, or country. You could drive a truck to run over horde of zombies. Buffy the vampire slayer only needed a RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) to kill the judge (season 2 episode 14) and the Mayor was tricked to go to a zone with lots of explosives.

How should be the XP reward and the challenge rating when the monster is too hard, or easy?
To which I replied:

I don't mind experience points, but the way they are assigned has always seemed silly to me., and slanted toward violence. Why do we get experience for combat, but not for anything else?

It's a little bit off-topic, but to answer your question: I plan to do milestone leveling in this campaign instead of handing out XP.
And [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION] joined the discussion.

Experience Points are slanted toward violence, because levels primarily reflect your capacity for violence. Fighting is how you get better at taking a punch, which is the only stat that goes up with every level. If you're not going around and fighting everything, then it doesn't really matter what level you are.
So I kicked it over here with this response:

That's certainly true for some games.

However, exploration scales with level just as combat does. With a higher level comes greater skill proficiency in things like Perception and Investigation, and better access to magic items (sorry, I mean "technology" and "computers"), vehicles, and other gear. You unlock class features and spells that let you move more easily, travel farther, carry more, and find things more quickly.

Same for the social interaction pillar, as well. The higher your level is, the more proficient you have become in things like Deception and Persuasion, you've acquired items that buff Charisma, you've unlocked class features and spells that let you charm or influence others. You've met more factions and made more contacts, and the quality and importance of those contacts are higher. And so on.

Anyway, this is off-topic...it has nothing to do with running a sci-fi campaign using 5E rules. I'll make this a different topic in the forum so that we can discuss it there.
Please discuss! I didn't want to kill the discussion; I just wanted to keep it on-topic. How do you feel about Experience Points, and how they are distributed?
 
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FrogReaver

Explorer
I like milestone xp. I hate killing xp.

That said. Combat/Killing xp is fine if the game is sufficiently deadly and if there is a penalty attached when you create your next character like start over at level 1 or something like that. Then there is a risk-reward paradigm to consider. The general method of 5e play doesn't seem to involve any of those things. You rarely die and if you somehow manage to you usually come back at the same level as everyone else (in my experience). Because of the lack of risk/reward experience by combat serves no purpose other than to put you on a kind of leveling treadmill that incentivizes you to play murder hobos!

Milestone XP is based around goals that typically have multiple possible resolutions. That incentivizes roleplay to overcome the problem and obtain the XP.

I guess technically XP for killing enemies is a form of milestone Xp. Your milestone is always just to kill another enemy ;)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It should be noted that while many people say "milestone XP," what they mean is what the DMG refers to as "session-based advancement" or "story-based advancement" (generally the latter in my experience). Milestone XP still uses experience points - it's just that the DM awards them when the PCs have engaged in certain events or earned designated achievements. See the DMG, pages 260-261 for details.

But regardless of what you call it: Players in a game will tend to do the things for which they are incentivized.

Therefore, if the DM wants the players to focus on following, for example, the plot of an event-based adventure, then milestone XP may be a good choice. The DM gives them XP when engage with and earn specific achievements that presumably the DM has made clear ahead of time. They don't gain XP if they ignore events or challenges and go off-track. So, naturally, they will tend to follow the plot the DM has prepared.

If the DM is running a location-based adventure instead, then standard XP may be a better choice than milestone XP, awarding XP for overcoming combat or noncombat challenges as appropriate to the DM's vision of the campaign's theme and tone. In many of my campaigns, for example, I emphasize the combat and social interaction pillars. Therefore, if the PCs break some NPCs' bones with sticks and stones, that's worth XP, but so too is adjusting their attitudes with words instead. Overcoming exploration challenges is rewarded with treasure and other non-XP benefits. In this set up, the players know that if they want to advance their characters in levels, they need to fight or talk. If they want some loot, they need to poke around for it.

My key point here is that it doesn't always have to be all one way for every adventure and campaign the DM runs. I frequently change it up based the group dynamic and the campaign's structure, theme, and tone. Let it be a thing that reinforces the behavior that's going to help the DM and group achieve their shared vision for the play experience.
 

the Jester

Legend
I feel compelled to point out that most editions have awarded at least some xp for non-combat stuff. 1e and earlier had xp for gps; 2e had class-based extra awards; 3e had guidelines for xps for traps and roleplaying; 4e had skill challenges; and 5e has (optional) guidelines for awarding xp for non-combat situations (e.g. traps in DotMM).

That said, milestone xp is great at what it's great at. But for it to work well, your campaign has to have a storyline, and it needs a consistent group of pcs of the same level. If either of those things aren't part of your playstyle- for instance, if you run a sandbox with no main storyline, or if you let pcs of mixed levels adventure together- then milestone xp becomes less useful. After all, if there's no storyline, how do you decide when you've reached a milestone? And if the pcs are mixed level, how do the lower level characters catch up?

So yeah, milestone xp is okay, but limited in its usefulness to an old-skool sandbox DM like me.
 

S'mon

Hero
I spent a lot of time thinking about this (& some discussion here). I don't mind 5e XP but I'd like it simpler and less combat centric. For my latest campaigns I went over to:

XP System
PCs advance a level every 10 XP 1-3, 20 XP 3+, typically receiving 1 XP per significant encounter or achievement. Lower level PCs may receive additional XP, eg 1st level PCs adventuring alongside 5th level PCs may earn x2 XP.

Typical XP awards
Moderate encounter - 1
Minor quest achievement - 1
Major encounter - 2
Significant quest award - 2
Major quest award - 3
Deadly encounter 3-5
Carousing (100gp per PC level) - 1
Incredible carousing (1000gp per PC level) - 2
Doing a session account.- 1

XP Table

Level XP Needed
1 0
2 10
3 20
4 40
5 60
6 80
7 100
8 120
9 140
10 160
+1 +20

Beyond 20
At 20th level, every additional 20 XP earns 1 Advance that can be spent on either +2 to an attribute, +1 to two attributes, or a Feat. Attributes are still capped, though now at 22.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
I feel compelled to point out that most editions have awarded at least some xp for non-combat stuff. 1e and earlier had xp for gps; 2e had class-based extra awards; 3e had guidelines for xps for traps and roleplaying; 4e had skill challenges; and 5e has (optional) guidelines for awarding xp for non-combat situations (e.g. traps in DotMM).

That said, milestone xp is great at what it's great at. But for it to work well, your campaign has to have a storyline, and it needs a consistent group of pcs of the same level. If either of those things aren't part of your playstyle- for instance, if you run a sandbox with no main storyline, or if you let pcs of mixed levels adventure together- then milestone xp becomes less useful. After all, if there's no storyline, how do you decide when you've reached a milestone? And if the pcs are mixed level, how do the lower level characters catch up?

So yeah, milestone xp is okay, but limited in its usefulness to an old-skool sandbox DM like me.
Depends on what you are calling milestones right? If your sandbox currently has 3 factions each asking you to complete a different task then having milestone xp for completing such a task seems very appropriate for a sandbox to me, doesn't it to you?
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
I think some of you here are confusing Milestone Leveling with Milestone XP. There is a system where you level up characters based around certain milestones. There are also systems where completing a goal awards the party with a certain amount of XP.

Milestone leveling removes xp from the game entirely and instead just awards levels. The systems are a bit different.
 

CleverNickName

Adventurer
I think some of you here are confusing Milestone Leveling with Milestone XP. There is a system where you level up characters based around certain milestones. There are also systems where completing a goal awards the party with a certain amount of XP.

Milestone leveling removes xp from the game entirely and instead just awards levels. The systems are a bit different.
Yep, this distinction is very important. In the campaign I am putting together, I will use Milestone Leveling. I will not award XP at all. (Guess I should update the title of this thread, huh?)

The players will gain levels when they pass certain points in the plot. Like the very first adventure will be escaping the intro dungeon by any means necessary...if they do, they gain a level. It won't matter if they fight their way out, sneak out unnoticed, or sweet-talk the guards and schmooze/buy/intimidate their way out, either way they all gain a level when they see daylight.

I like this system for a number of reasons, but the top three are:

1. Simplicity. One less thing to keep track of on the character sheets, one less thing for them to fuss over, one less thing for me to worry about.

2. Less guesswork. I know what level the party will be when they reach certain points of the story, so I can balance the adventures beforehand. No more late nights before a gaming session, rebalancing everything because someone isn't at the level I thought they would be.

3. More uniform rewards. When XP is rewarded only for combat, characters that focus on non-combat stuff tend to feel like they aren't contributing as much. (I suspect this is why the "DPR Rogue Build" became a thing.) This removes the illusion of some characters contributing more or less than any of the others.
 
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Satyrn

Villager
I think @Saelorn was essentially just suggesting a way to explain how "XP for fighting" can be viewed to make it palatable if you think it works weird. He could probably just as readily offer a way to explain milestone XP if someone thought that was the system that worked weird.

I have no preference for an XP system. It's all just game mechanics to me, and I've never found that different XP systems improve or detract from my fun, so I just don't care. I'm not saying I don't care about gaining XP, if it's there to be gained, though. I would totally be chasing that carrot as part of playing the game, doing all the things that netted me that sweet level-up like @iserith suggests would happen.
 

the Jester

Legend
Depends on what you are calling milestones right? If your sandbox currently has 3 factions each asking you to complete a different task then having milestone xp for completing such a task seems very appropriate for a sandbox to me, doesn't it to you?
I mean, you could do that, but you're sort of pushing into story-based awards any time you do. In your hypothetical situation, a group could get no xp at all for engaging with all three factions, taking on all three assignments, and working on all three without actually completing any. One of the joys of sandbox play, to me, is all the dangling plot threads that pcs leave behind them everywhere they go. Milestone xp seems like it would force the pcs clean a lot of those up in order to gain xp.

But yes, you can use milestone xp in a sandbox. I just feel that the very concept of milestones results in a strong push toward more story-based play. And while there's nothing wrong with that, it's not my preference.
 

Krachek

Explorer
Since 3ed I never play or Dm with xp.
Dm and players agree when it’s time to level up.
We have fun, we follow the story, we fight when needed and do out of combat encounter.
Why mess with xp?
 

5ekyu

Explorer
Tier x 3-4 sessions is when you level up in my games.

The 3-4 gives me a narrative window for the level up point to be reached.

That's all. No fuss. No muss.
 

Retreater

Explorer
I was having the discussion about milestone XP with my fiancee today, specifically how following XP rules has made my DMing difficult for years (especially when running adventure paths in 3rd edition.)
Since we've started using milestone XP, we've been able to progress through adventures, cut out inconsequential encounters, and overall enjoy the game more.
Now I will never use standard XP again.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
I mean, you could do that, but you're sort of pushing into story-based awards any time you do. In your hypothetical situation, a group could get no xp at all for engaging with all three factions, taking on all three assignments, and working on all three without actually completing any. One of the joys of sandbox play, to me, is all the dangling plot threads that pcs leave behind them everywhere they go. Milestone xp seems like it would force the pcs clean a lot of those up in order to gain xp.

But yes, you can use milestone xp in a sandbox. I just feel that the very concept of milestones results in a strong push toward more story-based play. And while there's nothing wrong with that, it's not my preference.
I still don't see how giving players rewards for completing the things they agreed to do is anti sandbox or pushes toward a more story based game. They are still choosing what to do. They can still stop doing it and do something else at any time. All of that is still true. Besides it's not like they know how much XP they are getting before the quest is done anyways...
 

Wik

Villager
So, in older editions of the game, XP made a lot of sense. But this was because of a few features of those games:

1. Classes needed different amounts of XP to progress to the next level.
2. Characters with high ability scores earned more XP than those with low scores.
3. Each class had a few optional bonus ways to earn XP.

In addition, older games tended towards this idea that PCs didn't always adventure together - sometimes, three players would grab whatever PC they had on hand to go explore the DM's dungeon. It wasn't always the same five or six PCs adventuring together - the party composition was much more in flux.

With that in mind, it was pretty much a given that every PC had different amounts of XP, and there was a wider spread of levels in the adventuring party.

Compare that to modern D&D versions, and things are a bit different. Each class progresses at the same XP limits, there are no bonus methods to gain XP in the core game, no XP bonuses for ability scores, etc. Plus, the party is assumed to be static - it is, I'd guess, more common than not for every PC around the table to have the exact same XP total (or near enough).

I'd say that if every player at the table has the same XP amount written on his or her character sheet, experience points are really just an illusion. By having the DM say "at the end of this adventure, you all level" or something similar, it saves a bit of bookkeeping and really doesn't change much.

Plus, as it was said earlier, players do what they're incentivized to do. If you remove XP, you are incentivizing the players in a different manner. If you level PCs every six weeks of real play, for example, the characters can really do whatever the players most enjoy. If you level them up when they progress through the adventure, you're rewarding players for keeping the game moving.

It creates a different thing than "Man, I need 50 more XP. Who wants to go orc hunting?"

I've mostly done the XP thing in the past. Lately, I've made a tentative switch to milestone and found my group loves it. In my next campaign, starting next month, we'll be following a "1 level per adventure" format that I think will be fun.
 
I do not oppose milestone leveling, but I prefer to award XP and have players level as they get the required amount. That said, I miss the 2e system of class-based awards, and wish we had a rules module for using it in 5e. I may end up designing something myself, but It would be cool to have something official to use.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Milestone leveling removes xp from the game entirely and instead just awards levels. The systems are a bit different.
One just has a layer of abstraction the other does not. Otherwise, they are equivalent. The only question for the GM is whether the ability to sub-divide the bookkeeping into smaller pieces is useful.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
So, in older editions of the game, XP made a lot of sense. But this was because of a few features of those games:

1. Classes needed different amounts of XP to progress to the next level.
2. Characters with high ability scores earned more XP than those with low scores.
3. Each class had a few optional bonus ways to earn XP.

In addition, older games tended towards this idea that PCs didn't always adventure together - sometimes, three players would grab whatever PC they had on hand to go explore the DM's dungeon. It wasn't always the same five or six PCs adventuring together - the party composition was much more in flux.

With that in mind, it was pretty much a given that every PC had different amounts of XP, and there was a wider spread of levels in the adventuring party.

Compare that to modern D&D versions, and things are a bit different. Each class progresses at the same XP limits, there are no bonus methods to gain XP in the core game, no XP bonuses for ability scores, etc. Plus, the party is assumed to be static - it is, I'd guess, more common than not for every PC around the table to have the exact same XP total (or near enough).

I'd say that if every player at the table has the same XP amount written on his or her character sheet, experience points are really just an illusion. By having the DM say "at the end of this adventure, you all level" or something similar, it saves a bit of bookkeeping and really doesn't change much.

Plus, as it was said earlier, players do what they're incentivized to do. If you remove XP, you are incentivizing the players in a different manner. If you level PCs every six weeks of real play, for example, the characters can really do whatever the players most enjoy. If you level them up when they progress through the adventure, you're rewarding players for keeping the game moving.

It creates a different thing than "Man, I need 50 more XP. Who wants to go orc hunting?"

I've mostly done the XP thing in the past. Lately, I've made a tentative switch to milestone and found my group loves it. In my next campaign, starting next month, we'll be following a "1 level per adventure" format that I think will be fun.

total sidebar

"It creates a different thing than "Man, I need 50 more XP. Who wants to go orc hunting?"
"

i recall a cartoon in the dragon of a troll in a big box cage and a slit with a sign which said "for xp, insert sword here."

cant seem to find it anywhere now tho.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
One just has a layer of abstraction the other does not. Otherwise, they are equivalent. The only question for the GM is whether the ability to sub-divide the bookkeeping into smaller pieces is useful.
I disagree. Milestone leveling is mostly just a progression slider the DM controls. Milestone XP is quite a bit different. It still allows the DM to incentivize certain behaviors if he desires. It gives the players a better sense of progression. As such It serves a greater purpose than just keeping everyone all leveled up for the content at hand which is what milestone leveling boils down to.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
I think @Saelorn was essentially just suggesting a way to explain how "XP for fighting" can be viewed to make it palatable if you think it works weird. He could probably just as readily offer a way to explain milestone XP if someone thought that was the system that worked weird.
Actually, I feel pretty strongly that XP for fighting is the way that makes the most sense. Not that it's perfect, but I feel like it makes more sense than most of the alternatives, especially in 5E. The only real problem with it is that spellcasting also progresses through combat, and you'd think that spellcasting would be a broad enough ability that you don't need to fight in order to improve it - there should be some order of pacifist wizards out there, and they shouldn't be stuck at first level forever - but then I remember that the rules are only really meant to describe professional adventurers. Presumably, non-adventuring wizards can progress through study and practice, in the same way that NPC carpenters can improve their skills.

I could rationalize milestone levelling as something that makes sense within the world - that your abilities advance when the DM believes you have accomplished enough to have actually learned something - but I would rather not. In my experience, it doesn't make for fun or exciting gameplay. Fifth edition has already removed all of the danger from combat, since you regenerate completely overnight, so getting rid of the XP would make combat a huge waste of time. If combat isn't tense (because you can't get hurt), and it's not exciting (because you get nothing out of it), then there's no reason to care about it at all. It becomes perfunctory, going through the motions because you feel obligated to, rather than because it's actually fun.
 
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