In Defense of Milestone Leveling

I use milestone leveling almost exclusively, mostly because that is the preference of my players. But I keep the milestones decentralized, so that destabilizing a thieves guild is just as worthy as reinforcing the supplies of the local guard, etc. There are several major story elements available to be chased for milestones, but the party can wander off and do other notable things to earn them.
 

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akr71

Hero
"Learn from your mistakes." I find it odd that a character's success and growth should only hinge on combat success. As such, I don't mind rewarding XP for failed combat ("Well, let's not do THAT again!"), finding traps - whether by clever investigation and disarming or by a good, old-fashioned 'Oops!" and role play.

As a DM, I'm a fan of milestone leveling. There's much less accounting for me and I tend to think of levels as 'chapters.' When a chapter is done, the characters should level or receive some other reward. Then I design enough combat encounters to get the characters 'in the neighborhood' if I were doing XP and I assume that the rest of the XP comes from role-play, finding traps, exploring the area, etc.

As a player, I must admit that I like when the DM at the end of the session says "You all get x Experience for tonight's session."
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Except hit points reflect something a PC might recognize - how beat up/exhausted they are (albeit in a crude and not too precise way). There is no equivalent for an XP scale. A PC at 75% might feel there’s still a lot of fight in him, at 50% maybe thinking of an exit strategy, and at 25% - panting and aching - feel they need to get some rest. There’s no real feel for being halfway to improving their skills.

"I want to get better at doing my job" seems like a reasonable justification for choosing to engage with a thing that grants XP.

In any case, it's nobody's business how a player arrives at a decision to have his or her character do a thing in my view except that player.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Running a chain of WotC adventures (LMoP->ToD + SKT > OotA) led me to doing milestone leveling at the end of a particular chapter/major accomplishment - things got looser with OotA as it's a remix). This has led me to feel unsatisfied because the leveling seems to come from DM fiat: jump through my hoops and you'll eventually get to level when I say so.

In future campaigns I'm going to switch to milestone XP in order to provide a bit more granularity (and visible progress!) for the players. Definitely don't want to just do plain encounter based XP though.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
In future campaigns I'm going to switch to milestone XP in order to provide a bit more granularity (and visible progress!) for the players. Definitely don't want to just do plain encounter based XP though.
I didn't think about the "visible progress" that tracking XP can provide...as a player I really like the little feelings of accomplishment and kudos that the DM gives out. Getting them all at once might feel a little hollow, especially if it takes several gaming sessions to see any progress of any kind.

I'll have to think about this a little more, and try to find a way to provide that same feel. Switching to milestone XP (instead of milestone leveling) might be the way to go.
 

cmad1977

Hero
I grant xp at the end of every session. The dirty secret is I award enough for players to get about 1/3 to 1/4 of the total they need for the next level.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I didn't think about the "visible progress" that tracking XP can provide...as a player I really like the little feelings of accomplishment and kudos that the DM gives out. Getting them all at once might feel a little hollow, especially if it takes several gaming sessions to see any progress of any kind.

I'll have to think about this a little more, and try to find a way to provide that same feel. Switching to milestone XP (instead of milestone leveling) might be the way to go.

I always award XP at the end of the scene in which it is earned, so the players are getting little bumps all session long. If anyone levels up, it's handled on the spot and then we continue forward.
 

Running a chain of WotC adventures (LMoP->ToD + SKT > OotA) led me to doing milestone leveling at the end of a particular chapter/major accomplishment - things got looser with OotA as it's a remix). This has led me to feel unsatisfied because the leveling seems to come from DM fiat: jump through my hoops and you'll eventually get to level when I say so.

In future campaigns I'm going to switch to milestone XP in order to provide a bit more granularity (and visible progress!) for the players. Definitely don't want to just do plain encounter based XP though.

I've been having a similar internal dialog about XP and leveling. I agree that Milestone leveling seems to be "leveling by DM fiat". In my campaigns, I'm awarding XP for many things including: defeating monsters (not necessarily just killing them), discovering plot elements, successful social interactions, thwarting traps and solving puzzles, and completing quests. Perhaps this, too, is "leveling by DM fiat" but just on a more granular level. In fact, maybe anything that is not 1. pure XP for killing enemies or 2. leveling for participating in a set number of sessions is some form of DM fiat leveling.

In our future campaigns, I think I will dabble with session participation leveling - I just need to find something that works well. Maybe by Tiers: 2 sessions to level up in Tier 1; 4 sessions to level up to/within Tier 2; 6 sessions to level up to/within Tier 3; 8 sessions to level up to/within Tier 4. Of course, that means 98 sessions to get from 1 to 20... so probably need to think that over a bit more. I could assign each session a set XP to make it a but more "milestoney" - but that will only work if I want all PCs to be the same level.

In any case, I think any and all permutations of XP/leveling can work, as long as the DM makes it clear at Session 0.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
I run (almost) the very laziest game I possibly can. I run published adventures so I don't worry about that side of things. Likewise I use session (well adventuring-day based) based leveling. If you survive enough adventuring days you advance to the next level.

I want to use all my limited brainpower on thinking about players approaches and coming up with interesting consequences for them.

I know there are awesome things I could do to us XP to reward certain styles of play. I also know my life would be dramatically improved if I knew a lot more about investing my finances. Still I am too lazy to do either.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Running a chain of WotC adventures (LMoP->ToD + SKT > OotA) led me to doing milestone leveling at the end of a particular chapter/major accomplishment - things got looser with OotA as it's a remix). This has led me to feel unsatisfied because the leveling seems to come from DM fiat: jump through my hoops and you'll eventually get to level when I say so.

I've been having a similar internal dialog about XP and leveling. I agree that Milestone leveling seems to be "leveling by DM fiat".

I would say it only meets the threshold of "DM fiat leveling" when the standards by which a player earns a level is not made clear in advance. To my mind, "get XP for killing monsters," "get XP for completing a quest," and "get XP for showing up to X number of sessions" are not examples of fiat in this context. They are specific metrics by which the player can make decisions, rather than the DM going "Eh, I feel like you should level up now."
 

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